In Conversation: The Uncharted Territories Covered By “Bheda,” The First Dalit Odia Novel

22 September 2017

In 2010, Akhila Naik, a writer based in Odisha’s Kalahandi district, became the first Dalit author to write a novel in Odia. His book, Bheda, follows the story of a Dalit school principal’s son, Laltu, who drops out and becomes an activist. Laltu takes on the powerful upper-caste duo of a businessman and a politically influential lawyer who runs an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh shakha in the village.

The book served as an important corrective to Odia literature, which has seen few representations of the Dalit experience. Bheda also brought to fore issues such as corporate loot of natural resources in Odisha, the resultant environmental degradation, and the Brahminisation of Odisha’s culture, among others.

In July 2017, an English translation of Bheda, by Raj Kumar, a professor at Delhi University who belongs to the same Kalahandi community as Naik, was published by Oxford University Press. Martand Kaushik, a senior assistant editor at The Caravan, spoke to Kumar about Bheda and the society it portrays.

Martand Kaushik is an associate editor at The Caravan.

Keywords: caste Dalit literature RSS BR Ambedkar Odisha Kalahandi Bajrang Dal Bheda Akhila Naik Odia literature Kandhamal Brahminisation Mohandas Gandhi