12 books that expose caste-based atrocities and the ongoing struggle against them

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Inspired by Black History Month, a group of Dalit women in India decided to start celebrating April as Dalit History Month – to reclaim the agency that Dalits had been stripped of. In honor of Dalit History Month, followers of BR Ambedkar commemorate Dalit voices that have been silenced for far too long and shine a light on the lived experiences of the marginalized. This initiative aspires to demystify caste prejudices and attempts to undo a mindset that pushes ostracized minority communities to the periphery.

Poetry: Love After Babel and Other PoemsChandramohan S

This politically charged anthology of poems by Dalit poet Chandramohan S encourages a sense of solidarity among India’s marginalized groups. The poems explore the national silence toward gender-based violence, the beef controversy, the exclusion of women from minority groups from mainstream feminist discourse, and other concerns that require our immediate consideration. The poems are direct, often metaphorical, bear no trace of ambiguity, and revolve around the caste-based atrocities committed against the Dalits. They also tackle other examples of prejudice, like Islamophobia, which we fight every day. Love After Babel and Other Poems examines the ever-changing structure of society and delves into age-old dynamics that disadvantage the marginalized.

Poetry: The days will returnKamal Dev Pall, translated from Punjabi by Rajinder Azad

This is the first collection of Dalit Punjabi poetry to be translated into English. Punjab is largely rendered by popular imagination as a lush and fertile land rich in prosperity. This image, which has been reinforced by cinematic narratives, strategically excludes the Dalit voices that have significantly shaped Punjab. The days will return introduces us to the crucial role that Dalits have played in the history of the region and how the prosperity of the state has been shaped by the love, work and aspirations of Dalits. Pall recalls that Dalit literature, full of hope and literary and intellectual splendour, has been unjustly relegated to an inferior position.

Poetry: A stream of bloodNamdeo Dhasal, translated from Marathi by Dilip Chitre

Namdeo Dhasal, the nonconformist Marathi poet, barely received a formal education. But that did not prevent him from becoming a poet of the highest quality. In this collection, Dhasal does not sugarcoat the current political reality of Dalits. The aggression in his poems is almost tangible and reflects the poet’s personal encounters with caste brutalities. Sometimes Dhasal returns to Ambedkar and asks his forgiveness for idolizing him, as Ambedkar was not a fan of idolatry. Brimming with justified rage, Dhasal hopes for a time when oppressive social hierarchies are invalidated and humanity thrives without caste prejudice.

Fiction: The boy on the runManoranjan Byapari, translated from Bengali by V Ramaswamy

Semi-autobiographical in nature, The boy on the run chronicles the life of Jibon – a Dalit boy displaced by the partition. Jibon is the representative of a large part of our people who live and die in poverty, are exploited without mercy by the powerful and have never had the chance to be redeemed. Jibon’s life in a post-partition refugee camp is heartbreaking, where access to even a handful of rice is a privilege not everyone can afford. When he was barely a teenager, he fled to Calcutta to fight for a better future. But given his Namashudra caste identity, it’s a life that refuses to converge on hope.

Fiction: Storm: Dalit StoriesRatan Kumar Sambharia, translated from Hindi by Mridul Bhasin

Sambharia’s anthology of fifteen short stories highlights the different facets of the Dalit community. Disturbing, ironic and gloomy, Thunderstorm reflects the barbaric injustices inflicted on lower castes and our reluctance to rectify our own prejudices. There is no respite for the marginalized in the world portrayed by Sambharia – here poverty and greed transcend blood ties, money defines the equation between oppressor and oppressed. Despite all the misery, love and integrity make an appearance from time to time, making us believe that nevertheless, humanity will persist.

Fiction: The seasons of the palmPerumal Murugan, translated from Tamil by V Geetha

Murugun’s protagonist, Shorty, is a farmhand for a powerful landlord who spends his days herding sheep and plowing fields. There are fleeting moments of happiness that he experiences in the middle of nature and in the company of his friends, but for an “untouchable” boy like him, misfortunes and hunger are always lurking around the corner. The lives of Shorty and his friends contrast sharply with those of upper-caste children who inherited the authoritarian, casteistic attitude of their feudal parents. The seasons of the palm is a grim portrayal of the relentless degradation that the Dalit community suffers at the hands of the upper castes.

Memory: Strike a blow to change the worldEknath Awad, translated from Marathi by Jerry Pinto

Dalit Mang activist, autobiography of Eknath Awad, Strike a blow to change the world, captures stories of humiliation suffered by Mangs by upper castes. Awad talks about his own struggles in a caste-based society, how he got an education when he was born into abject poverty, and his motivation to join the Dalit Panthers. He looks back on his days of activism, which include leading the land rights movement and working with an NGO doing advocacy work for Adivasis. Awad is candid about his own failures and freely accepts his propensity to resort to violence when resolving disputes. He also talks about his decision to return to Marathwada and continue to fight against the discriminatory policy.

Memory: Coming out as a DalitYashica Dutt

The death of Dalit student Rohith Vemula in 2016 sparked a series of crucial conversations about caste and caste-based violence. At that very moment, Yashica Dutt, a journalist living in New York, decided to stop living a lie and finally accept her identity as a Dalit woman. Until then, she had hidden her caste identity from her friends and colleagues, although she felt the guilt of denying her history and the lived experiences of her ancestors. Weaving personal anecdotes with the experiences of other Dalits, Dutt focuses on her community’s lack of access to quality education, Dalit women’s movements and their contributions, and the lack of Dalit representation in mainstream media. .

Memory: Untouchables: My Family’s Triumphant Journey Out of the Caste System in Modern IndiaNarendra Jadhav

Narendra Jadhav’s memoir tells the impressive story of her family’s struggle for equality and justice in a caste-ridden India. He writes about his father’s refusal to please the oppressor as he raises his voice against bigotry trying to forge a dignified future for his children – an aspiration that continues to weigh on the Dalit community. According to diary entries and stories from the author’s father, Untouchables is a story of courage, resilience and, above all, love. Jadhav shines a light on the world of his parents and isn’t shy about portraying the grim reality of the Dalits – their hunger, their fear and their daily endurance of abuse.

Nonfiction: Dalits and the Making of Modern IndiaChinnaiah Jangam

Thematically divided into three parts, the book examines nationalism through the Dalit prism. It challenges the monolithic concept of nation that has been popularized by caste Hindus and sheds light on how, despite the stigma attached to their identity, Dalits negotiate and work to shape their own identity. Like any other community, the Dalits are indispensable to the politics and creation of India. Jangam zooms into the world of Dalit intellectuals whose work and activism forever changed definitions of nation and national identity. Through the Telugu Dalit writings and their interaction with our socio-political landscape, Dalit and the Making of Modern India urges readers to examine their inherited caste privileges.

Nonfiction: Dalit Panthers: an authoritative storyJV Pawar, translated from Marathi Rakshit Snawane

Pawar’s book is a firsthand account of how and why the Dalit Panthers came into being in Maharashtra. Pawar analyzes its scope and takes us back to the formative years of this unprecedented anti-caste movement. As one of the founding members of the Dalit Panthers and general secretary of the group, Pawar was responsible for maintaining all correspondence and documentation. Dalit panthers highlights caste-based atrocities that have gone unnoticed. The book offers an indispensable perspective on upper-caste fanaticism, including valuable information for Bahujan activists.

Nonfiction: We also made history: women in the Ambedkarite movementUrmila Pawar and Meenakshi Moon, translated from Marathi by Wandana Sonalkar

We also made history documents the lives of over forty Dalit women and testifies to their courage and unwavering determination to dismantle structural inequalities against Dalits. Originally published in Marathi, it describes the legacy of female Dalit leaders whose contributions have not earned the recognition they deserve. The book summarizes their position in the domestic sphere, how they stood up to social stigma and struggled to bring about radical change. Pawar and Moon traveled through Maharashtra in search of women who were at the forefront of Ambedkar’s movement. Drawing on periodicals and personal correspondence, this contemporary classic gives Dalit women long overdue recognition.

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