The National Seminar cum Workshop on “Counter-Writing: Dalits and other Subalterns” began on the 30th of October 2014. The Chief Guest was Prof. Ramakrishna Ramaswamy and Ms. P. Sivakami as the Guest of Honor. The inaugural session was chaired by Prof Amitabha Das Gupta, the Dean of the School of Humanities. The welcome address was given by Prof. Tutun Mukherjee. The Chief Guest spoke about the relevance of the seminar and the writers of subaltern. Referring to the gathering as a “galaxy of speakers or writers”, he hoped that this seminar would bring critical scholarship to the area.
Dr. Bheemaiah, in his workshop rationale, explained the significance of the seminar. He felt that counter-writing is very appropriate as subalternity cannot be confined to an extent. He is of the opinion that counter writings had already existed before but in its mild form. Counter writings are of the dominated in their quest for social identity. Such writings help in the expression of their voices.
The Chair of the inaugural session, Prof. Amitabha Das Gupta spoke about the importance of history. History has always been unilinear and viewed from the point of view of the dominant. However, recently this point of view has been questioned as more competent histories are available. Prof. Das Gupta spoke about the “incommensurability of paradigms”. He feels that change can only come through dialogues. Prof. Das Gupta focused on the idea of solidarity, community and the dialogue between two different paradigms.
The inaugural address was delivered by Ms. P. Sivakami. In her speech, she reiterated the difference between mainstream writings and counter writings. According to her, there are two kinds of writings or literatures; the literature by the dominant and the literature by the Dalits or the subalterns. The counter writings have different subject matters and perspectives. She strongly believes that counter writings have something to give back or contribute to the world. Throughout her speech, she gives examples of the difference in writings by the mainstream writers and counter arguments by the Dalit writers on themes like poverty, corruption, identity, community, violence, caste system, reservation and education. Miss P Sivakami finally concludes by stating that counter-writings are important as they can present literature from the viewpoint of the Dalits or the subalterns thereby bringing a kind of revolution.
The Keynote address was given by Prof. M. Dasan titled “Counter Cultural Writing: Dalits and Other Subalterns”. He traced the evolution of counter cultural writings, by stating that no period in history has been characterized by mono-culture. In a heterogeneous cultural world, the notion of pure culture is no longer valid. The highlight of his talk was the importance of oral narratives among the indigenous communities in reclaiming their culture. He questioned the binary creation of writing vs. orality and stressed the importance of history writing. Revisionism in the field of history is essential in questioning the traditional modes of historiography. According to him, there is a “partial historical amnesia” towards Adivasis, Dalits and women. In order to deconstruct the construction of the other, by the white/male/upper class/caste elite, it is necessary to have counter cultural writings. The agency of the upper caste to speak for the other is increasingly being questioned through such writings. The emerging trend of pride in one’s own identity is essential in this context to resist the social hegemony. He concluded with the hope that the fourth world writers will continue their counter cultural writings which are significant in the struggle against the dominant other.
The first plenary session discussed themes ranging from the concept of the plurality of the other to the homogenization of women and the alternative to the hegemonic view of hierarchical caste and gender in south India. The first paper presentation session titled “Life in Reel and Text” focused on the representation of subaltern women in the reel and literary sphere. The second session of paper presentations titled “Caste and Tradition” emphasized on the importance of counter traditions in the struggle against the hegemonic other.