Arjun Dangle in Conversation with Jaydeep Sarangi and Angana Dutta

Arjun Dangle (b.1945) is a significant name in the literary activism, social and cultural movement, and politics of Maharashtra. Dangle is one of the founder members of the militant Dalit youth organization, the Dalit Panthers (1972-). He  was the president of the State Unit of the Bharatiya Republican Party of India. Now he is a leader of the Republican Jana Shakti. Actively engaged in socio-cultural  movements, Dangle writes poems, essays, and short stories which have been translated into several Indian and foreign languages. His book, Poisoned Bread (1992) is a pioneering anthology in the field of dalit studies in India.
Jaydeep Sarangi: A senior faculty, Dept of English, Jogesh Chnadra Chaudhuri College(Calcutta University),Kolkata:33,WB. E mail:
 Angana Dutta: Head, Dept of Sociology ,Jogesh Chnadra Chaudhuri College(Calcutta Univ.),30,P. A. Shah Road,Kolkata:33,WB. E mail:

Question1: What has motivated you to join the movement? Has there been any personal experience of discrimination on you?

Answer: My father lived in Mumbai. He earned his living as a labourer. Since I grew up in Matunga Labour Camp, I did not face those hardships or humiliation which are faced by Dalits in our natives of interior  or rural India. In those two movements were very predominant in Matunga Labour Camp. My mother’s maternal uncle, Com. Shankar Narayan, was a communist activist. That brought me very close to Communist Movement in my childhood itself. Those were my ....... days and I was influenced by communist movement at the same time to Ambedkar’s movement.

Question 2: When and how did you get introduced to the Dalit movement?

Answer: Around 1964, I was just 19 when I had my first active experience in Ambedkarian Movement. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, before his maha parinirvan, had conceived the idea of forming a Republican Party of India, eventually it was founded by .... then followers in 1957. However, very soon, RPI got splintered into groups. Unification of those splintered groups was always a sentimental and emotional issues for Dalits and in particular Dalit Youth. There was with those Dalit youth instrumental to form “Republican Aikya Kranti  Dal” whose only objective was of unification of RPI groups. In 1967-68, atrocities on Dalits were increasing manifold. Dr. M. N. Wankhede, Babarao Bagul & M. S. Chitnis were blossoming as Dalit authors influencing the Dalit youth intellectually. They were actually leading frontal attack against the atrocities against Dalits. Two of my favourites and great authors, Annabhen Sathe and Baburao Bagul, also stayed in Matunga labour Camp. I was totally influenced by their writing so much so that I too started writing poems. Black Panther movement under Bobby Peale was taking shape in United States of America. Taking a clue from them, we, Dalit youth, too thought of doing something actively rather than only indulging in writing. Namdeo Dhasal, J. V. Pawar, Prahlad Chendavankar and myself came to a conclusion of having a similar movement like ‘Black Panther’. It later went on to create history in Dalit movement. It was first of its kind because there was no precedence of authors coming together for forming such a kind of historical movement.

Question 3: Are there specific activists in the movement or outside, who have inspired you to join the movement?

Answer: Thus I grew up with Dalit movement. We participated in the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement, during 1956-60, under Communist and Republican Leaders like S.A. Dange, Dadasaheb Gaikwad, S. M. Joshi, Acharya Atre, etc. Their oration had great impact on our minds those days.

Question 4: What is the role of Dalit literary activism in the Dalit Freedom Movement?

Answer: It should be noted here that contribution of Dalit Movement in shaping up of cultural and social activities was very significant and historical. Movement was started by Dr. Ambedkar, for equality and social change, and human values were very deftly inculcated in the minds of people those days. Earlier literature was normally an expression of romanticism. Dalit literature changed its very ethos and pathos. The real experience of life was embodied in literature by then Dalit authors. It brought to us the revolutionary changes in literature. It started to destroy the very edifices of the literature which was written then. Radical changes and re-writings of the myths practiced then were brought in.

Question 5: Do you have any opinion for the present Dalit freedom activists?

Answer: Emancipation of Dalits is constantly on-going movement. It has seen many changes. It needs to be fought on all front, socially, culturally and politically. But, what I observe is, if this fight is fought only by Dalits, it would be difficult to reach the destination. I think it should be actively supported by non-Dalits as well. Social reconstruction of Society has to be the order of the day.

Question 6: What prompted you to publish "Poisoned Bread" ? Was this publication a part of the Movement?

Answer: Poisoned Bread”(1992) was also an outcome of the same movement and its values that I had treasured as values of my life. It inspired me to write a Marathi analogy, by name Dalit Sahitya – Ek Abhyas. It was edited by them in 1978. It was received in those days by an overwhelming support. Protagonists from other languages too took keen interest in that book. Hence the need to translate it into English became very imperative and I was persuaded by many of my friends to bring it in the present form of “Poisoned Bread”.   Of course, I need to mention here the role of Priya Adarkar who took very active and keen interest to bring this to the light of the day. We all took strenuous efforts and I was assigned to edit it. 

Question 7: Why did you choose this title?

Answer: The very story is written by the very successful author, Bandhu Madhav. The name of the story is “Vikhari Bhakar”, which depicts the actual situation of ethos and pathos of Indian Society.

Question 8: How will you define the term “Dalit” in the present context?

Answer: Earlier Dalits were only the ones who were out-castes and had dwelling outside the native. However, we have tried to make it more pervasive and inclusive. We define and conceive Dalits as those who are depressed and unorganized socially, politically, economically and culturally. This is not a mere caste but a realization, feeling. The feeling is of oppressed and deprived by system. Nothing has changed so far as to change the meaning and scope of the word. 

Question 9: Do you think a literary association and forum can reform a society from caste stratification?

Answer: Caste is the monstrous reality of India. One cannot deny that. It is very deep-rooted and bears the foundation of religion. It has religious sanctions. Historically, it could be seen that many changes had been brought in; however the monster still lives. Social and cultural thoughts inculcated in the minds have, time and again, tried to destroy the edifices of caste-system. I do agree and admit literature alone cannot bring the change but it can at least spread awareness among the masses. 

Question 10: Who are important Dalit activists from your state and how far are they influenced by Dalit activists from other states?

Answer: Maharashtra has many activists who are influenced by Dr. Ambedkar’s thoughts and movement. However, his thoughts and his philosophy itself is the foremost and biggest activists for us.

Question: Can we call your writings as part of literary vehement?

Answer: I do not earn my living through writing. It has always been for me a commitment towards the movement. My writing has always been a part and parcel of my contribution in the movement. 

Question: Are you familiar with Bangla Dalit Literary Movement?

Answer: Yes, I was aware of the happening, but not very familiar with it. Very recently, I happened to come across a translation of Manohar Mouli Biswas’ autobiography, Surviving in My World: Growing up Dalit in Bengal (Stree-Samya,2015). Angana Dutta and Jaydeep Sarangi have translated this autobiography. That really gives the sense of what has been done in Dalit literature in Bangla. I think it would be a very useful book for all Dalits and activists throughout India.

Question 13: How far are you associated with the other Dalit activists and writers?

Answer: I have spent whole of my life i.e. last 50 years among the Dalits activists and leaders. Movement is a part of my life. I have fought along with them many economic, social and political battles.

Question 14: Will the Dalit discourse travel?

Answer: Yes, of course, As long as the Society is based on inequalities and discrimination, the Dalit movement will go on. There would be no closure until then.

Note: This interview was first published in the JSL, New Series 19, 2014/15, JNU, New Delhi, p. 152-156.