Namdeo Laxman Dhasal was a Marathi poet and Dalit activist. He wrote poems which expressed his pain and also against the people who deprived Dalits. He was inspired by Ambedkar and Baburao Bagul, the latter being his inspiration for writing poetry as well. He was a recipient of many awards in his career and has impacted on people who supported as well as dampened backward castes.
He was born on 15th February 1949 in a poor backward family of Pur district in Khed, Maharashtra. He was brought up in a Maher Cast family being dalits, hence suffered poverty.
Namdeo married Malika Sheikh who was daughter of another poet Amar Sheikh. They had a boy who they named Ashutosh.
Dhasal was a poet with great ideas. He expressed them in Dalit Literature. His works have made a difference among the society and touched those who went through the same as him. The literary journey of his life had these:
- Golpitha – First poetry book in 1972
- Moorkh Mhataryane (By a Foolish Old Man)
- Tujhi Iyatta Kanchi? (How Educated Are You?) in 1981
- Khel (An Erotica) in 1983
- Priya Darshini (about the former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi)
- Ya Sattet Jiv Ramat Nahi (Life is not interested in this Century) in 1995
- Gandu Bagichha (Fragrant Garden) in 1986
- Mi Marale Suryachya Rathache Sat Ghode (I killed the Sun’s Seven Horses)
- Tuze Boat Dharoon Mi Chalalo Ahe (I walked holding your finger)
His poems are translated in English from Marathi in a book ‘Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underworld’. He also has written novels which are famous works such as ‘Ambedkari Chalwal’ and ‘Andhale Satak’ which are also revolving around the degradation of Dalit society. He also worked for Marathi newspapers such as ‘Saamana’ and ‘Satyata’. Dhasal made a very impressive presentation at the Berlin International Literature Festival in 2001.
Found Poetry in Politics
In an interview he said that he thinks poetry is politics. He can use it cleverly in this area. Namdeo was not just a poet inspired from Dalit personalities fighting for their rights he was a political figure. It was necessary to change people’s mind set for Dalits and he thought being a political leader was the best way to do that. He followed American Black Panther Movement and started his own organisation called ‘Dalit Panther’ in 1972. He led it with his friends and its objective was to improve the conditions of treatment that Dalits received. In 1982, the organisation was stumbling away but Laxman tried his best to keep it intact. He was the head of the National office of Indian Republican Party which was a merge of all Dalit parties.
He was awarded with the Indian civilian award of Padma Shri in 1999 for his achievements in Marathi literature. Maharashtra State Award for literature was on his name for four years of 1973, 1974, 1982 and 1983. Before that he was honoured with Soviet Land Nehru Award for his first book ‘Golpitha’ in 1974. Sahitya Akademi also presented him the Golden Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.
Quotes by Namdeo Dhasal
“I enjoy discovering myself. I am happy when I am writing a poem, and I am happy when I am leading a protest of prostitutes fighting for their rights.”
“Poetry is politics.”
“I did not have to consciously turn to poetry. Ever since i learnt to speak my mother tongue as a child, i started playing with words.”
For him by Arundhati Subrahmaniam – “Dhasal is a quintessentially Mumbai poet. Raw, ragging, associative and almost carnal in its tactility, his poetry emerges from the underbelly of the city — its menacing, unplumbed netherworld. This is the world of pimps and smugglers, of crooks and petty politicians, of opium dens, brothels and beleaguered urban tenements.”
After the breakdown of Dalit Panther, he was deeply affected and got addicted to alcohol. This was followed by his serious illness which gave raise to cancer. He died due to colorectal cancer in Mumbai on 15th January 2014.
Written By: Rituparna Desai