Oppressed peoples do not lack history, they are written out of it by intention. For instance, Dalits, a term of self-identification adopted in the 20th century by those formerly deemed “Untouchable” in the caste order, had been forbidden by a sacred Hindu text, the Manusmriti, from reading the Vedas, foundational, but brahminical, scriptural texts. They were disallowed from reading, writing, even going near temples and hearing devotional words being spoken. This prohibition is emblematic of thousands of years of upper-caste efforts to deny Dalits education, political power, and social freedoms.
Over the years, many Dalits, as an act of resistance and disavowal of caste, converted to different religions like Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Some of these conversions happened as mass actions; the radical thinker and leader BR Ambedkar led a mass conversion of more than 300,000 Dalit followers to Buddhism on October 14, 1956. In independent India, affirmative action policies were put in place to assist Dalits and other lower-caste people to escape poverty and privation.
However, caste oppression was and is still a fact of life for Dalits, regardless of their religion, their class, and even their location in the subcontinent or in the diaspora. Dalit History Month is a grassroots initiative, founded by Dalit activists, to highlight the lives, ideas and resistance of a people who have been erased from narratives created by the privileged and powerful. This reading list is our small contribution to the mission to amplify the voices that have always been there, but muffled and ignored. We’ve made an effort to feature as many (self-identified) Dalit authors writing about these issues as possible over those writing about issues from an outside perspective.
Historical Foundations and Leaders
Pradnya Waghule, “A Reading Of Jotiba Phule’s Gulamgiri: A Seminal Text On Caste,” Feminism in India, April 14, 2017.
Ruchika Sharma, “Why we need to know the story of Savitribai Phule, India’s first feminist,” Daily O, March 13, 2018.
Detailed Timeline of B.R. Ambedkar’s life and work, courtesy of Frances Pritchett at Columbia University.
Priyamvada Grover, “Periyar’s legacy serves as a reminder for Dravidian parties to be caste conscious,” The Print, March 8, 2018.
Caste in a World of Oppressions
Naunidhi Kaur, “Caste and Race,” Frontline, Volume 18, Issue 13, Jun. 23 – Jul. 06, 2001.
Khalid Anis Ansari, “Rethinking Pasmanda [Muslims] Movement,” Countercurrents, February 18, 2009.
M. Swathy Margaret, “Dalit Feminism,” Countercurrents, June 3, 2005.
Sanjay Kumar, “Hindu Society in the Mirror of Violence Against Dalits,” RAOIT, January 16, 2018.
Dhrubo Jyoti, “Being A Queer Dalit And The Assertion Of Dalit Identities In Pride Marches,” Feminism in India, June 22, 2017.
Sinthujan Varatharajah, “Politicising the Personal: Who am I, Who are ‘we’ as people?” Roundtable India, June 5, 2014.
Christina Thomas Dhanaraj, “Swipe Me Left, I’m Dalit,” Kajal Magazine, April 23, 2018.
Amrit Wilson, “Why is the UK government wheeling back on legislation against caste discrimination?” Open Democracy UK, May 24, 2017.
Nooreen Reza, “Caste Discrimination in the United States,” Kajal Magazine, April 3, 2018.
Creativity and Resistance
Anusha Chaitanya, “Celebrating Dalit History: The Life of a Revolutionary Poet — Kaleikuri Prasad,” Dalit History Month, April 6, 2018.
Yogesh Maitreya, “Namdeo Dhasal’s poetry, and how it gave form to the Dalit experience in Maharashtra,” Firstpost, October 28, 2017.
Jatin Bala, “In No Man’s Land,” Firstpost.
Manjula Hulikunte, “Love in the Time of Nationalism,” Firstpost.
Sidharth Bhatia, Interview with JV Pawar, “Interview: The Name Dalit Panthers Was Synonymous With Justice for the Poor,” The Wire, March 19, 2018.