Prestigious A.K. Ramanujan Book Prize for Translation Awarded to Dr. Chinnaiah Jangam, Bringing Dalit Literature to a Global Platform

Dr. Chinnaiah Jangam, an Indian writer of Telugu ancestry and history professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, has won the coveted A.K. Ramanujan Book Prize for Translation (South Asia), which is a major boost for vernacular Dalit literature.

The award goes to Dr. Jangam for his translation of Gurram Jashuva’s “Gabbilam: A Dalit Epic,” which is regarded as the founding work of Telugu Dalit literature. The Sheraton Grand Hotel in Seattle, Washington, USA will host the award ceremony.

In an interview with The Mooknayak, Dr. Jangam stressed the award’s importance and its prestigious standing in the South Asian community. He emphasised the prize’s historical significance as the first time two Dalit books have been chosen for this prestigious award, as well as its widespread recognition.

” This is the first time two Dalit texts are selected for the awards; one is my translation of Gabbilam and other one is Sailaja Paik book. It is significant to note that Dalit literature is being recognized as an emerging field of study that challenges status quo in South Asian studies”, he stated.

Giving details about the author, Jangam said, “Gurram Jashuva, the original author of ‘Gabbilam,’ is hailed as a pioneer in Dalit literature in Telugu and is often referred to as the father of Dalit literature. He broke new ground by becoming the first Dalit writer to compose poetry in classical Telugu, employing meters close to Sanskrit to assert his equality with Brahmin pandits of his time. Through his extensive body of work, Jashuva delved into a myriad of themes, with a particular focus on the sufferings of untouchables. His writings not only challenged caste oppression but also advocated for equal rights and representation for Dalits in all spheres of life.”

Continuing, Jangam explained, “The poetry collection ‘Gabbilam’ provides valuable insights into the Dalit Movement during the pre-independence era in Andhra Pradesh. Jashuva’s works serve as a testament to the multifaceted nature of Dalit struggles, showcasing their ability to articulate their experiences through classical poetry. As an anti-caste thinker, Jashuva highlighted the humanity of Dalits through his literary endeavors, contributing to a rich canon of literature that emerged from the pre-independence Dalit movement. This literary output paralleled vibrant political movements, collectively shaping the socio-political landscape of the time.”

Regarding significant lines or scenes in the novel, Jangam noted, “Within ‘Gabbilam,’ several poignant lines and scenes evoke empathy and shed light on the harsh realities faced by Dalits. The protagonist’s decision to remain celibate as a form of protest against caste oppression stands out as a powerful act of defiance, aimed at sparing future generations from enduring the same humiliations. Moreover, the title itself, ‘Gabbilam,’ meaning bat, serves as a revolutionary symbol, reflecting the status of untouchables who were often regarded as lower than animals in society.”

‘Dalits and the Making of Modern India,’ a book released by Oxford University Press in 2017, is one of Dr. Chinnaiah Jangam’s major scholarly contributions, in addition to his translation efforts. This groundbreaking study makes the case that Dalits have shaped Indian politics and national identity in a fundamental way.

According to Dr. Jangam, Dalits had an equal role in shaping India’s national identity, offering suggestions and promoting equality and human decency. Dalits were instrumental in making sure that these principles were included in the preamble of the Indian constitution, which was written by B.R. Ambedkar.

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