From the Viewsroom

Intolerance returns to Maharashtra

Radheshyam Jadhav | Updated on October 08, 2019

Protests over selection of a Christian priest to chair a literary event

An unseemly literary controversy has broken out in Maharashtra. The Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Sahitya Mahamandal, the apex literary body in Maharashtra, has been organising the annual Marathi literary meet for 92 years. The Mahamandal and its literary meets have been dominated by upper caste writers. The list of writers presiding over these meets and their selectors reflect this reality. However, a new wave of writers from other communities are seeking representation in such literary forums. This year, the Mahamandal selected noted Marathi author, environmental activist Father Francis D’Britto, to preside over its 93rd All India Marathi Literary Meet to be held at Osmanabad in January.

Father D’Britto, 75, hails from Vasai and is a popular well-known Sahitya Akademi award winning writer. However, the Mahamandal officials received threat calls questioning the selection. Upper caste body leaders denounced the move, calling Father D’Britto a Christian missionary and an opponent of majority religion and culture. A Christian priest occupying the chair of a literary meet has not gone down well in dominant literary circles. The priest’s felicitation by the Mahamandal in Pune was held amidst tight police security. The challenge ahead is to ensure smooth functioning of the annual literary meet. Though many literary voices preferred to keep mum on these developments, others, led by linguist Ganesh Devy came out in support of D’ Britto.

The torchbearers of mainstream culture in Maharashtra have left no spared no effort to discredit the alternative cultural discourse. The opposition to Father D’Britto’s election is linked not just to the rising tide of religious intolerance, but also to an earlier history of upper caste domination in Maharashtra’s literary circles and the Phule-Ambedkarite challenge to the hegemonic discourse of the day. Inspired by Jotirao Phule and BR Ambedkar, the Dalit literary movement in Maharashtra held up a mirror to upper caste dominance in all walks of life. This has created a vibrant genre of resistance prose, poetry, film and music.

The writer is Deputy Editor with BusinessLine

Published on October 08, 2019

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