Noted Kannada Dalit poet Siddalingaiah passes away

Noted Kannada Dalit poet Siddalingaiah passes away

Noted Kannada Dalit poet Siddalingaiah passes away


Noted Dalit poet, activist and former MLC Siddalingaiah died of Covid complications at a hospital in Bengaluru on Friday. He was 67.

Bengaluru: Noted Dalit poet, activist and former MLC Siddalingaiah died of Covid complications at a hospital in Bengaluru on Friday. He was 67.

Known for his powerful poetic expression of caste-based oppression, Siddalingaiah was a native of Magadi in Bengaluru rural. He is survived by his wife, who was also infected with the virus and recovered, a son and a daughter.

Siddalingaiah was admitted to Manipal Hospital here after testing positive last month. He breathed his last in the hospital on Friday afternoon.

"Despite our best efforts, we could not save him. He succumbed to his illness at 3.45 pm on Friday," a statement by the hospital said.

Siddalingaiah was one of the first Dalit Kannada poet, playwright, activist, and politician. Popularly known as 'Dalit Kavi', Siddalingaiah contributed through his poetic work to the Dalit struggle and their fight for social equality. He was one of the founders of the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (DSS), an organisation formed to fight for Dalit cause. He also served as a member of Karnataka Legislative Council in 1988 and, in 2006, as chairman of the Kannada Development Authority. He was head of the Department of Kannada at Bangalore University and a member of the University Syndicate of Kannada University, Hampi.

Condoling the death of the poet, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa said, "Siddalingaiah gave expression to the pain of Dalits through his writings and awakened them. He endured the pain and his poems set the required blaze to the Dalit movement. His services to the State and Kannada language as Chairman, Kannada Development Board, and as a two-time MLC is commendable. In his death, we have lost a great writer with social concern, who strived for the upliftment of the depressed classes. I pray to the Almighty to grant peace to the departed soul and strength to the bereaved family and followers to bear the loss."

Siddalingaiah was a part of the Bhandaya or Dalit Bhandaya movement in Kannada literature. He was the first Dalit poet to receive Pampa Award, Karnataka's highest literary award in February 2020. His poetry was filled with fire and anger for the hardship he faced, and his call to fight atrocities took the form of poetry. His prose was full of humour, youthful excitement and vigour. His revolutionary song 'Yaarige Bantu Yellige Banthu Nalavattelara Swatantra', raising a question as to who are the real beneficiaries of India's Independence in 1947, was popular.

His autobiography, "Ooru-Kare" in Kannada, and translated into English as "A word with you world" by SR Ramakrishna, bears testimony to his humorous writing. Ooru-Keri laid out the tough experiences of growing up as a Dalit with a gentleness, compassion and life-affirming wit not usually seen in Dalit autobiographical writings. He affirmed his selfhood without resentment towards the vicious workings of caste and class while doubting alongside the very value of the stakes involved there. The moral gesture was one of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Serving as a member of the Legislative Council, Siddalingaiah was able to address and table many Dalit issues. Talking about other Dalits in politics and leadership roles, he once made a statement that, "Most Dalit leaders, MLA or MLC, have not been able to raise Dalit issues because they fear they will lose in the next elections. Since most of the deciding votes are by the upper classes, a Dalit leader hardly speaks for his brethren. Many of the Dalit leaders would come to me and say, 'There is this problem in our constituency, can you please raise it?' This is exactly why Ambedkar in the 1932 Round Table Conference said that Dalit leaders should be elected by Dalits themselves. Now since non-Dalit electorate decides the fate of Dalit contestants, a true Dalit leader will not emerge. This is exactly why Ambedkar lost the elections twice!"

"I am shocked by the death of Dalit poet, former member of the Councile and my dear friend Siddhalingaiah who led the fight for social equality by making a poetic sword. Beyond death, He will be remembered through his literary works. I feel the pain of the bereavement of the family," said former chief minister Siddaramaiah.

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