‘I share a bond with every writer who is wholeheartedly engaged in the cultural struggle’- Pradnya Daya Pawar

‘Pradnya Daya Pawar’is a renowned figure
in Indian literature. There are very few writers who break  the barriers laid down by the establishment
to put forth visions and glimpses of a new world. Pradnya Pawar belongs to this
category. She is a courageous writer who bravely puts forth the woman’s side in
a conservative patriarchal society which denies to acknowledge and treat a
woman as a human being. Man-woman relations, woman’s suffocation and sorrows
arising out of patriarchy, her fight with self at physical and mental
levels-these are various themes which find strong articulation through her
stories as well as poetry.

Never afraid to take position and always
articulate to voice resistance to injustice in any forms, Pradnya Pawar
recently returned the state awards along with award money in protest of rising
intolerance and violence against intellectuals and voices of reason. The regressive
forces targeted her and there was criticism all around about this return of
awards. However, she didn’t budge and remained steadfast with her protest of
such intolerance. This interview is especially in this context, while also
discussing her literary journey: 

You came to be associated with writing
and literature through Daya Pawar. So he had a major influence on you writing
or there were other influences as well?
It is a biological coincidence that I was
born to an activist-writer like Daya Pawar and Hira Pawar, my mother who was
extremely strong-willed and strict. However, coincidences like these are
certainly life changing. Indeed, it is my upbringing and family environment
which is responsible for me turning a writer. In fact, I would say, my childhood
played a formative role in my writing. Although the material conditions were
unfavourable, practical life was full of scarcities of every sort&I do not
have some ancestral property; however, I hold a proud lineage of movement, the
world of ideas, study and accompanying rigour, and frank and fearless voicing
of opinion. I would certainly count my father Daya Pawar first among the major
influencing figures in my literary journey-his attitude, lifestyle, and empathy
have deeply influenced me. The second major influence is of Namdeo Dhasal, and
third is the Phule-Ambedkarite movement, especially Dalit Panthers. My readings
in the context of these movements, as well as world cinema, theatre, music have
broadened my horizons and saved me from turning parochial or one-sided. I have
come across many renowned people, whom I consider as centres of living
Perspective on Man-woman relations is
always at the heart of your writing….

I would rather consider politics as the
centre of all my writing. Man-woman relations is one prominent form of that
politics and hence it figures accordingly in my writing. In fact, politics is
all-encompassing. It is part of public as well as private spaces; indeed, this
dichotomy of public versus private itself is the fruition of a political move
of hegemonic ruling establishment. What then is this politics, what are its
intrinsic forces, what is its reach, reality of caste, class, gender, the
predatory form of neoliberal economy and changed circumstances under globalisation-I
believe these are the questions which form the crux of my writing. Furthermore,
there is a meta-reality of market and media. The predicament of people in this
complex situation, especially those people from deprived sections and women-how
their lives are shaped up-this is what I try to capture through my
writing.  Right from my first collection
of poems ‘Antastha’to the recently published ‘Drushyancha dhobal samudra’-there
is definite Journey and it is certainly not unilinear.
Even if we speak of ‘woman’in abstract,
still, everything changes with the question ‘which woman’. I have always very
consciously avoided stereotyping or essentialising woman through my writings.
And even men have several facets, several aspects. And perhaps, this is the
reason why young men and women, who think differently, can immediately relate
with my writings-be it my collection of stories like ‘Afawa khari tharavi
mhanun’or a play like ‘dhadant khairlanji’. In fact, I don’t like literature
which is preaching or only agitational. I can never write columns after columns
full of sloganeering and such materials. Just take the simple example of
man-woman relation: it consists of so many different things on different
levels. The narration of my story cannot forego the perspective of historical,
dialectical stages of development and that is quite obvious. Because I am
writing in a period after Baburao Bagul, Daya Pawar, Namdeo Dhasal. So if I
have assimilated and acknowledged this as lineage; then I have no option but to
break through several layers of obvious, common sensical symbolism. In fact,
life of no human being is easy. Nothing is easy. I have learnt this lesson of
life-facing hardships and swallowing insults, I have paid a huge prices to keep
alive my will to write. And sometimes it has so happened that my poetry has
surpassed my life, and is mocking me saying-ab kya karogi, main to nikal padi’-now
what will you do, I am on my path! 
Even if you speak about body, I have
observed that body is never viewed as body as such. Body is always caught in
the clutches of morality, tradition and the ‘social’. In fact, human beings and
their bodies, their existence is always very creative and intrinsically
egalitarian and therefore, capitalism, patriarchy & brahmanism: these
systems turn the human body into a mechanical existence. And in a country like
India, where all three systems coexist, human body, sexuality and human
relations undergo complete perversion. It is a common practice to vilify
something which holds the potential to blow apart the establishment. Human body
holds the inherent potential to transcend all these exploitative
systems-precisely since this potential is known, the human body (especially
that of a woman’s) is enchained more and more. No exploitative hierarchical
system can afford a lively human body. I deploy these structures in several of
my stories. Incidentally, some so-called Ambedkarites tried to run a maligning
campaign terming these stories immoral, however, it didn’t succeed. 
What was your experience of writing a
play like ‘Dhadant Khairlanji’
The Ambedkarite followers were seriously
perturbed after the Khairlanji massacre
[1]. Everyone was deeply hurt with this
terrible caste violence. The horrifying manner in which Priyanka, Roshan,
Sudhir and Surekha were killed, raised a fundamental question-why the Dalits
should face such tragedies time and again while following the path of
self-respect laid down by Dr. Ambedkar. It was the first time after
independence when the entire Dalit community came out on streets without any
proactive leadership. Even people with white-collar jobs participated. I myself
was a participant in several protests and events happening at that time. In
fact, during that period, I wrote a long poem titled ‘Love in the time of
Khairlanji’. I would like to quote few of its lines here:
‘Just when the scars of scarcity were
being healed
just when the ancient puzzle of the dark
was being deciphered
Just when the peace had started to
acquire a tranquil sound.
I had thought-
the past has shed its worn out skin
and these old tears of sorrow
of several ages
we swallowed it
Taking it for a glass of poison
….still kept having horrifying dream of
shedding delusions
For nth time.  
In broad daylight,
at night-middle of the night,
At any spell, any season.
the calendar just kept fluttering-
Back and forth’
Rajdatt, a famous director in Marathi,
wanted to make a film on Khairlanji. He offered me to write the script and
dialogues for this film. We met a few times regarding this film proposal. However,
due to certain reasons, or say, due to my other priorities, I declined the
offer. However, the thought remained with me. This play on Khairlanji was
written in these several contexts.
Of course, I didn’t want to portray on
stage what actually happened in Khairlanji. In fact, for me‘Khairlanji’was not
taking place in some ‘distant faraway place’or ‘some rustic, rural hinterland’or
in some sort of a vacuum. It was a ‘systemic crisis’denouncing the
constitutional values of the entire Indian society. Along with this, I was
trying to take stock of the Ambedkarite movement. I had somewhere in my mind,
the notion of forming of different layers and hierarchy within Ambedkarite
community. I wanted to assimilate all these tracks and depict them together. I
did it in my own way. Several readings of this play were organized, at various
colleges and universities, also in Prithvi theater. Readings were usually
followed by discussions. A fact worth mentioning-Konkan Marathi Sahitya
Parishad, Karjat Branch (District Raigad) staged this play for State drama
competition. Afterwards, few years went past in anticipation that somebody
would step forward to stage this play for commercial theatre. I met many
directors-producers in this regard. However, nobody was much interested now in
Khairlanji. Then I decided to produce the play myself and brought it out under
the banner of our ‘Lokayat Creations’. This was certainly some sort of a brave
act to bring it out on commercial theatre because I had no previous experience
in this regard. However, I learnt a great deal from this play. This play was
staged in various parts of Maharashtra-Mumbai, Thane, Vidarbha, Marathwada,
Western-Southern Maharashtra. I could speak directly with people after the play
as they had lots of questions. Certainly this experience taught me a lot and
enriched me. Basically, play is a collective art. Its success and failure is
also collective. I certainly knew that this play is not going to be money
spinner; but I bore the financial brunt and staged the play out of a political
Could you recount any memorable moment in
your writing journey and any particular piece/form of your writing you feel
most connected with

I don’t have any discriminate affinity
towards a particular form of writing. I feel equally connected with all forms
of literature l laid my hands on. You have to recognize the strengths and
crucial areas of each form, study them in depth, and you have to devote
adequate time for that. Of course regular practice is must. I have had great
joy and challenges in writing everything-poetry, periodical columns, plays,
stories as well as critical reviews. Perhaps you can say I feel most close with
poetry as I have been writing poems for a longish period of time. But at the
same time, I feel that writing poetry is the most difficult thing to do, as it
swallows you a lot emotionally.
Talking about memorable incidents-there
is one incident when I was studying and writing a bit as well. Till then none
of my poetry collections had been published. However, my poems had started to
appear in ‘Anushtubh’, ‘Asmitadarsh’and several Diwali issues of daily
newspapers. Durga Bhagwat had written me a letter after reading my one poem ‘trishna’.
That was one unforgettable moment for me. I have dedicated my collection of
stories titled ‘Afawa khari Tharavi mhanun’(to make the rumour true) to a great
story writer of Marathi, Kamal Desai as well as Urmila Pawar, the author of ‘Aaydan’.
After reading the book, Kamal tai called me and after showering praises on me,
she said,”I want to feed you at my home. So tell me what food do you like-I
will cook for you myself one day. I was full of tears listening to her. Of
course, it couldn’t happen-she passed away in the meantime. I will always have
this scar.
Which author you like the most?

I said earlier, I became aware of social exploitation through my family
upbringing and the same upbringing made me aware that you can battle with this
exploitation, you can fight even through your pen. The walls of the home were
full of books. Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, Rajkamal Chaudhary, Adneya, Ismat
Chugtai, Harishankar Parsai, Manto, Vinod Kumar Shukla, Kamaleshwar, Mahasweta
Devi, Dhoomil, Qurratul Ain Haider, Premchand, Shreekant Verma, Vishnu Khare,
Sahir Ludhianvi, Jaun Nissar, Faiz, Paash, Amrita Preetam, Sukanta
Bhattacharya, Mayakovsky, Brecht, Ho Chi Minh, Octavio Paz and Neruda have all
broadened the horizons for me.
Certainly I acknowledge the link with the
Marathi poetic tradition in which I write. The strong current of Marathi Dalit
literature and poetry, which took up cudgels with the Marathi literary
establishment-raised certain pertinent fundamental questions about the division
of literature in closets like individualist, collectivist, aesthetic etc. I
felt these questions were very important. The synthesis of reflective thought
and feelings, the sublation of ‘individual’into the ‘collective’, firm
foundation of this collectivity, new social-cultural epistemological insight,
non separation from ideology, and to have an utopian vision of a society based
on humanity and equality: the Dalit poetry gave me many such wonderful
treasures. This is a really glorious legacy and history. The Dalit literature
was described as sociologically analytical, politically explosive, and
aesthetically bewildering. I think the Dalit autobiographies, especially the
Dalit women’s autobiographies are extremely important-because Baby Kamble,
Shanta Kamble, Urmila Pawar, Hira Pawar underscored the Dalit feminist message
of Dalit women’s contribution in making history through such autobiographies.
Even my poetry has been labelled feminist, Dalit feminist, Dalit Bahujan
feminist etc. and I am pretty comfortable with all such labels.
The Marathi poetry prior to emergence of
Dalit poetry was mainly under the influence of B. C. Mardhekar, P.S. Rege and
Sharatchandra Muktibodh. Mardhekar broke the established norms of decadent
romantic poetry tradition and truly modernised the Marathi poetry. Muktibodh
also was defying the tradition of romantic tradition and writing a political
poetry of social commitment. However, P. S. Rege revived the romantic
tradition. However, with Vinda Karandikar and especially Narayan Surve’s
Marxist thought, the stream of modern poetry grew stronger. It is because of
this commitment to modernity, I feel the poets like Arun Kolatkar, D. P.
Chitre, Vasant Abaji Dahake, Tulsi Parab, Prakash Jadhav, Satish Kalasekar,
Manohar Oak, Chandrakant Patil, Arunchandra Gawali are important.
Among the poetesses, I feel closest to
the Saint Janabai, Soyarabai, and in modern times, Bahinabai Chaudhary, and the
ones like Prabha Ganorkar, Anuradha Patil, Rajni Parulekar, Hira Bansode, Jyoti
Lanjewar, and Malika Amar Sheikh; who truly rendered modernity to the poetry of
female sensibility. In a sense, I share a bond with every author who is
wholeheartedly engaged in the cultural struggle. They seem like true relatives
and provide me the strength.
What will you say about the young writers?

I do read many of them. I will not name
particular ones, but I find many of the present young writers, poets, poetesses
quite promising. They are extremely serious, conscious and aware. They have a
very good understanding about society, overall system and they have the
introvert attitude along with it. However, this introvert attitude is today
complemented by social media which is totally extrovert. It leads to the
creative expression remaining at a superficial level and doesn’t go the root of
the matter. Sooner they realize this danger, better.
What are your present writing projects?

was busy with my doctoral thesis over last two-three years. Therefore I had
kept aside all my writing projects. But now I have a lot of things in mind. Let
us see how it goes. One book of collection of my newspaper columns is coming up
called ‘Tehaltikori’from Akshar Prakashan.
The regressive forces have murdered Dr.
Dabholkar, Comrade Pansare and Prof. Kalburgi. Not only that, they have easily
moved over.  How would you comment as a
writer on the present social situation? What is the position behind returning
the awards

We are going through a period of
undeclared emergency. This kind of emergency is more horrifying than the
emergency of 1975. That is because, in 1975, it was only the State which was
doing surveillance on common people. Now, it is not only the State, but also the
ruling party members, are carrying out this surveillance on behalf of the
State. And they are everywhere-from places of residence, to places of
employment. There is an unprecedented dictatorial manner in every walk of
life-education, science, arts, literature, and overall entire cultural world.
Our public sphere of debate has become really hideous, obscene.
The gruesome mob killing of Mohammad
Akhlaq in Dadri, the ban on Muslim youth to participate in Garba, the
continuing cycle of Dalit killings, Love jihad, Ghar wapsi campaigns-these are
the things going on. The situation has deteriorated so much so that if you
cannot debate rationally with voices of reason, then simply kill these voices
and shut them up forever-this is where we have come to. Dnyanpeeth winning
Marathi author Bhalchandra Nemade has been provided police protection (after he
received threats). Yesterday, Girish Karnad has received a threat that he will
be killed. The murders of Dr. Dabholkar, Comrade Pansare and Prof. Kalburgi
prove again that any voice of dissent will not be tolerated. The point is not
only about freedom of expression of writers, and their safety of life and
honour. It certainly is, but even common people of Maharashtra, India are
living under this constant shadow of terror. The poison of communalism is being
spread in India on purpose. What to eat, how to live, whom to love, whom not to
love, what to dress, how to express-there are people all around me living under
a constant shadow of fear over these things. While underlining the fundamental
issue of freedom of expression of writers and artists, we should not forget
that the State is attacking the common people’sright to life.
The roots of today’s situation lie in the
demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. Advani’s Rathayatra had 
partitioned the country again on
religious grounds. But even now when they are in power, they don’t seem to
possess the rational, tolerant approach necessary to run the country. The
people in top positions of the government are recklessly making provocative
anti-social statements. And Hindutva organisations like VHP, Hindu Rashtra
Samiti, Sanatan Sanstha are going further and doing actual violence, breaking
the rule of law. It is their rule based on violence and terror. If you do not
follow our diktats, then we have the right to punish you there and then,
because this government is follower of our ideology-this is their stance. It
leads to structures of parallel government, state, and the state becomes a mute
spectator. As usual, the foot soldiers of these regressive forces are from
Bahujan samaj, however, they are remote controlled by RSS. This government has
come to power taking help of such means and such forces. This is an all round
assault on fundamental values and principles of Indian constitution itself. I
decided to return all the state awards I had received along with the prize
money in order to protest this assault.
What has been your experience after
return of the awards? What were the reactions? What will be the next step of
this cultural movement

I returned awards and immediately
afterwards, many Marathi writers returned their awards. At the moment, their
number is quite large. We all went together to Mantralaya (Maharashtra
Government office) and returned the awards. The meaning of this is clear:
everyone was angry and annoyed with the present situation. Only somebody needed
to take the lead. Actually I was also awaiting for this lead to come from
Sahitya Akademi winning writers in Marathi. Anyhow I hoped that, if not Award
Wapsi, at least this cultural movement across the country will receive the
support and boost from the world of Marathi letters. However, nothing like that
was happening. On the contrary there was ridicule.
About the reactions-well, we have been at
the receiving end of endless criticism and mockery. The word is that we are ‘Congressi,
Sickular’etc. Many people say-‘we are exaggerating the actual situation. And
didn’t intolerant things occur during Congress rule’?
There is a difference here. The all round
attack on the constitutional values which is going on at present, was not the
case ever before. There was no interference in the private space-what to eat,
what to write. The literary ‘suicide’of Perumal Murugan, M. M. Basheer-a senior
writer and researcher of Ramayana from Calicut, Kerala deciding not to write
about Ramayana, Chetna Tirthahalli-the Kannada writer who criticised the ban on
cow slaughter receiving threats of rape-we are witnessing a tremendous amount
of pressures upon writers, and they are growing. These regressive forces have
taken a stand that we will not let anybody do a critique/enquiry of Hinduism;
what they say is the final word on Hinduism. Huchangiprasad, a Kannada Dalit
writer who wrote against the caste system, was abducted and beaten up as his
writing ‘insulted Hinduism’and he was further threatened that if he continued
to write in similar way, his fingers will be chopped off in punishment. In such
circumstances, I believe it is my responsibility to take a firm stand and
oppose this terrorism.    
The government criticised the authors who
returned the awards-calling them dishonest, Congressi, living in State provided
housing etc. This is my open challenge to anyone to pick up any of my writing
and show the praise of Congress. The consistent criticism of our decision to
return the awards only goes to prove that this act has really hit them hard.
Hence by invoking irrelevant charges against us, they are trying to shift the
attention away from the issues we have raised. We should not forget that if
rulers try to keep people under terror all the time, then the people one day
can throw the rulers out of power. People taught this lesson to Indira Gandhi
and now the people of Bihar also taught the same lesson to Narendra Modi. I am
a representative of these common people and I am not at all pessimist.
Therefore I feel that everyone should come together and build strength to foil
this attack on Indian democracy. 
To return awards is just the small
beginning. Now the writers-artists need to collectively raise their voice and
that also has started. The writers from Gujarat, Goa and Maharashtra who are
returning awards as well as the ones supporting it, have recently organised a
new initiative named ‘Dakshinayan’. This bunch of writers organised public meetings
in 3 cities-Pune, Kolhapur and Dharwad. Writers are not a strong community. And
they cannot afford to keep paid security guards for personal safety, not they
can fathom such a thing. The pen in their hand and their voice is their only
means of expression. It is the need of the hour to vow to fight with all the
(This Interview was first published in www.mulakhat.com
in Marathi on Nov.22, 2015. Original interview in Marathi was done by Sujata
Shirsath, English translation by Rahul Vaidya)

[1] 2006 case of brutal murders, rape of Dalit Bhotmange
family in Kherlanji, located in Bhandara district of Maharashtra by members of
the politically dominant Kunbi caste.

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