Dr. S. P. Sumanakshar (M.A., Ph. D., D. Lit., L. L. B.)

The Man Who Gave Dalits a Literary Forum

From a long time the Dalits have been seeking a literary platform for the themselves. The Stuggle for recognition was taxing but in a span of two decades a new literary movement called the Bharatiya Dalit Sahitya Akademi under the leadership of its founder-president Dr. Sohanpal Sumanakshar has successfully brought together Dalit writers under a single roof. The organization is the only non-political forum of Dalits, which has an all India character.
Dr. Sumanakshar was born on October 6, 1940 in Mukhmelpur village (Delhi). He was published 30 books, penned some 2000 articles so far, spoken on all India Radio and Doordarshan over a 100 times. He is also the founder- editor of a Hindi fortnightly-Himayati. A.D.Litt. and highly qualified intellectual, he was twenty two awards to his credit including the prestigious National Ambedkar Award, presented by president K R Narayan.
The Bharatiya Dalit Sahitya Akademi’s annual conference in Capital’s Talkatora Stadium, where over 10,000 Dalit writers from all across the country assemble, has evolved into a virtual literary festival for Dalits. Its importance can be gauged from the fact that in the previous assembly, 25 publishers/distributors had put up their book-stalls at the venue. Almost every Dalit writer his name has been honoured by the Akademi.
The awards instituted by the Akademi have special significance. Since Dalit writings revolve around questions critical to India’s past, focus on Dalit legends/heroes, insistence for an “Ambedkarian” social order, are seen with contempt by the so-called mainstream institutions. “Tell me how many Dalits have been awarded by ‘mainstream’ institutions, or tell me, how many awards are given on anti-caste writings”, asks Dr. Sumanakshar .
Very little is know by others about this manís past experiences, who is so revered by Dalits. And whose sheer genius, dedication, and hard work, has given Dalits a remarkable literary platform! Born to a father who worked in a textile mill in the Capital, young Sohanpal, at the age of 10, visited his native place for the first time. He saw what was for him a new face of society; where cast determined every relationship, every right, and practiced exclusive in a crudest manner. This shook the young child, and seeds of rebellion were sown then at first sight. As he grew up he began thinking on the caste regulated oppression, and realized soon that despite independence India was still tied to the caste order. In his school days he was often confronted with castebased remarks, which he used to rebuff, even if it precipitated violent encounters, especially with robust jat boys. He distinctly remembers one incident, when the local block Development Officer (BDO) had come to tick off the school principal. Sohanpal had topped the middle level examination conducted by the education
board. His classmate, the BDS’s daughter, could not secure even first class, despite reciving tution. The BDS asked the principal, “how come an achchut boy tops the examination, and my daughter does not even get a first class?” this incident branded itself on the young boy’s memory, and he wondered- “Are Dalit students destined to score low or fail?”
He Understood the society rather too well, and was not surprised to see as whyeven till late’ 60s’ the Dalits who came to urban India, had difficulty in expressing their social origins. He understood than an organized movement was the only answer. And,thus started his experimentation with ideas and organizations.
While still in high school he got associated with Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, only to have a first had expressing movements was Gandhian praxis. The gandhian influence did not last long, and he parted ways. He joined the Hansraj Collage for graduation. The collage was then run by Arya Samajis, and the then principal followed the philosophy of Dayanand Saraswati. The campus atmosphere had an impact on him. His deep urge for a viable platform to address the cast question led him to join Babu Jagjivan Ram’s  Dalit varg sangh, of which he was made secretary of the Delhi Unit. In 1961-62, he founded Amir Khusro Sahitya Academi and organized Kavi sammelans. There he saw Hindus Interested in poetry sessions, and Muslims in mushayaras. But he found that the Dalit case was different. Thus the idea to form a Dalit’s own literary forum was born. Meanwhile, he was elected as corporate from Alipur ward, and made deputy chairman, Education. Mr. Sahib Singh Verma, Librarian in his Education Department . Chief Minister Delhi Was his assistant.
The man who has given Dalit’s a literary forum has grand plans for the future. His Akademi has organized two Vishwa Dalit Sahitya Sammelan in Nepal & UK to put Dalit Issues at an international forum. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest living Dalit literary leaders.