Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore.
National Book Trust India, New Delhi.
Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.

In This Issue


  The Dialectics of Human Intellection  and the Semiotics of Translation:A Comparative Reading of Rabindranath Tagore’s Kar¸akunt¢sambada in Bangla and English
Anuradha Ghosh
  Translation Norms and  the Translator’s Agency
He Xianbian
  Training Legal Translators through the Internet: Promises and Pitfalls
Esther  Monzó
  Translating the Translated: Interrogating the Post-Colonial Condition
K. Sripad Bhat
  Translating Cultural Encounters: Hali’s Muqaddama
Tanweer  Alam Mazhari
  Translations into Kannada in the 10th Century: Comments on Precolonial Translation
  Translating Calcutta/Kolkata
Jayita Sengupta
  Shakespeare Re-Configured: Hemchandra Bandyopadhyay’s Bangla Transcreations
Tapati Gupta
   British Imperialism and the Politics of Translation: Texts From, And From Beyond, the Empire
Nabanita Sengupta
  Locating and Collating Translated Short Stories of Rabindranath Tagore
Swati Datta
  Translating Suno Shefali: A Dual Empowerment
B.T. Seetha

  War, Women and Translational Empowerment in Seela Subhadra Devi’s Poetry


  The Problematics of Getting Across Modern Marathi Literature into Nonindian Languages
Sunil Sawant
  On Translating Dalit Texts with Special Reference to Bali Adugal

Notes from The Classroom

Teaching Documentation for Translation Studies:
The Key Discipline of Information Literacy
Dora Sales-Salvador

Language, Literature and Culture: Through the Prism of Translation

Vanamala Viswanatha

Book Reviews

Writing Outside the Nation by Azade Seyhan
Chitra Harshavardhan

Teaching and Researching Translation By Basil Hatim

Meena T Pillai

Translation Reviews

Ravishankar Rao

Short Notices


On Translating Dalit Texts with
Special Reference to 'Bali Adugal' (scapegoats)

S. Armstrong teaches English Literature at the University of Madras. He was a Shastri Indo-Canadian Fellow at the University of Guelph, Canada. He has presented research papers in International conferences held in Sri Lanka, Australia, Italy, Canada and the United States of America. His areas of interest include studies related to Canadian First Nations, Culture, Translation, Performance and Aboriginal Literatures. His postal address is Lecturer in English, University of Madras, Chepauk, Chennai-600005.


The paper is a study in the politics of translation with reference to the Tamil Dalit play Bali Adugal. The play is structured around an inscription on human sacrifice and threaded with a conversation between Dr.B.R.Ambedkar and Dr Mulk Raj Anand, which has been extracted from Ambedkar's book The Annihilation of Caste. The paper contains three sections. The introduction discusses the relevance and importance of translating Dalit texts into English and other foreign languages. The important Dalit translations available in India and abroad have also been discussed in this part. The second part of the paper deals with the personal experiences of the writer of this paper in translating the Tamil Dalit play Bali Adugal into English supported by relevant theories of translation and culture referring to the practice of human sacrifice as narrated by James Frazer in The Golden Bough (Frazer 1993-94). The concluding section discusses the challenges that the translators of Dalit texts find themselves face to face with in the process of translation.

I say to the untouchable: Be a lion! Hindus sacrificed goats to the goddess Kali for power. You be your own light - atta dipa bhav!
-Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (Ambedkar 1980:130-35)

The translation of Dalit literatures in India into English and other foreign languages like French and Spanish is a leapfrogging transformation for providing a space for sharing the Indian Dalit's age-old stigma of untouchability with foreign readers. The Indian Dalit literatures not only discuss social discriminations now, they also assert their identities and prove their creative potentialities. In this process, the translation of Indian Dalit texts plays a vital role in creating a historical awareness as well as historical sense through this interlinguistic process. The inference of historical sense will help the historical recovery of the Dalits through the mode of translation. These translations will create a socio-cultural space for intercultural dialogues among other people and the Othered or Unempowered or Disoriented peoples in this world. In this historical journey, translation becomes an act of socio-cultural practice, which is an alternative sphere for translation rather than a mere linguistic transformation. Recent translators concentrate more on the transformation of cultural milieus than of mere verbal transformative process into an alien tongue. They also play a crucial role in liberating the Dalits in a social system as one can see in India.

This article is an attempt to highlight the problems involved in translating Dalit texts into English with special reference to Bali Adugal, a Tamil Dalit play, written by K.A.Gunasekaran. The article tries to show that the play itself is a site of multiple layers of translated texts within texts and dialogues within dialogues since the play is built around a fragment of an inscription and threaded with a conversation between Ambedkar the redoubtable Indian figure and Mulk Raj Anand, the renowned Indian English author. The final part of the essay seeks to construct a new theory of translation by taking a cue from one of the characters in the play, who is a eunuch.

The translator who is the second writer of the intended translated text plays a more responsible role than that of the original writer. The translator who willingly or unwillingly takes up the translation of a Dalit text tends to become a cultural ambassador and he has to bear in mind the social commitment of rendering a literature of a people who have been excluded in all realms of society even before their birth. In this context, translations of Dalit texts assume a pivotal role in the process of transformation of the mindsets of people living in a country, which practices caste-based discrimination that denies even a dignified existence of millions of Dalits.

In the kind of freedom a translator takes, there are chances of 'aberration' and 'misrepresentation' of the source text. Dalit literature deals with socio-cultural liberation and a translator needs to be aware of this. Translation is no longer a mere linguistic transformation and the role of translation and that of the translator has now changed. He has become a cultural mediator, who traverses the resonance zone between cultures.

Dalit literatures are no longer emotive expressions of pain and suffering. Being liberative in nature, they talk about the Dalit lifestyle, ceremonies, rituals and rites that form the background of their expressions. They are also intertwined with their real life experiences. These literatures have to survive against distortion and misrepresentation by market forces, both by the mediators within and outside India. Translators who delve deep into these literatures need to be careful in transforming Dalit's socio-cultural practices. In adapting Western theories in translation and literature, the translator and the writer have to conceptualise the Indian Dalit situation in their minds. A translator who is associated with Dalit literature seems to be in a much better position and can bring better impact in translating the source text if he/she has:

  • Personal association with the author, the people and the native speakers of the source language and can avoid problems in the acquisition of dialects and of Dalit slang
  • Familiarity with the marginaled submerged experience to translate the milieus
    Emotional affinity/sensibility towards the social problems of Dalits.
  • An activist's impulse to contribute towards the struggle for liberation.
  • Active participation in creating capacity-building or affirmative actions to help the mainstreaming and habilitation of Dalits in socila space.

These suggestions might help the translator in the process of illumination and representation in a worthwhile and desirable manner and are likely to impact the target text.

Translations of Tamil Dalit Texts into English

Earlier, Dalit literatures often dealt with suffering and pain. Currently, they also discuss the solutions and suggestions for the age-old problem. Translations of Tamil Dalit literatures include Bama's novels Karukku, Sangati and short stories that were translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom. Sangati has also been translated into Spanish and French. Imayam's Koveru Kazhuthaigal has been translated into English as The Beast of Burden. Vizhi Pa. Idayavendan's short story has been translated and published by Sahitya Akademi along with other Dalit Tamil translations. The short stories of Imayam, Poomani and Dharman have also been translated into English.

It is surprising to see that only very few books are written and translated by Dalits themselves. Dalit texts, written by one Dalit and translated by another Dalit, are very few in Tamilnadu. For example, the leader of the Dalit Panthers of India, Thol Thirumavalavan's Talisman and Uproot Hindutva, were translated by Meena Kandasamy.Sivakami, an activist writer and administrator, has written Pazhayana Kazhitalum, Anandayee and Kurukkuvettu and she is currently engaged in translating them into English. He is also translating Captain S.Kaliyaperumal's Tamilar Unmai Varalaru into English as The True History of Tamils.

Bali Adugal (Scapegoats) is a Tamil Dalit play written and directed by K.A. Gunasekaran. He is well known as an activist, artist, actor, scholar, folk musician, playwright and director. Being a Dalit artist, he has authored many issue-based plays, which were performed in remote villages in Tamil Nadu. He has won many state level honours and awards. His major plays are Sathiya Sodanai, Pavalakkodi or Kudumba Vazhakku, Ariguri, Thodu, Maartram [a play about the eunuchs], Mazhi, Kandan or Valli, Kanavulagavasi, Parayai Pilandhukondu and Thottil Thodangi.

Somewhat surprisingly, Bali Adugal is the only written Dalit play in recent times in India. The play was premiered more than 250 times, both at the regional and the national levels, including one at the National School of Drama's 5th National Theatre Festival, held from 20th March - 8th April 2003. The play was premiered on the 26th of March 2003.


Copyright © CIIL and The Author 2005