If we look back into history, we see Dalits as non-contributing beings and victims of society. However, reality lies even beyond the making of history. To understand reality and the concerns of Dalits, One needs to understand; that they not only questioned the oppression but tried to bring a change in society. A society in which the mainstream nationalist history rarely discusses Dalits nationalism. Therefore Dalits tried to redefine history and freedom.
Reading Dalit books; Dalit literature will help us to understand the sufferings of backward people. It will again remind us, as Aristotle said,
Dignity does not consist in possessing honors but in the consciousness that we deserve it.
The list of 10 famous Dalit books/ literature to read
- Annihilation of Caste by B.R Ambedkar
- Om Prakash Valmiki’s Joothan- An Untouchable′s Life (translated by Arun P. Mukherjee)
- Critical Writings of Dalit Literature by Dasari Manohar
- Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonies by Sharmila Rege
- Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable
- The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar (English) by Rodrigues Valerian
- Coming out as a Dalit by Yashika Dutt
- Dalits and the Making of Modern India by Chinnaiah Jangam
- Defying the odds: The rise of Dalit entrepreneurs by Chandrabhan Bhushan
- The prisons we broke by babytai kamble
This book was formerly an undelivered speech by Dr. Ambedkar, which was published in 1936. In this book, he tried to question the Dharmashastras as they give legitimacy to the caste system division of labor and discrimination against Dalits. He argued that Dalits were delayed in education, the right to choose their occupation beyond one’s caste. According to Ambedkar, it was not merely a division of labor but a division of laborers. The second important argument put forward by him was that caste destroyed the spirit of public good as people were only thinking in terms of their caste, not for humanity.
- Om Prakash Valmiki’s Joothan- An Untouchable′s Life (translated by Arun P. Mukherjee) ( Available on Amazon)
It is one of the autobiographies which will not make you feel emotional but painful to see one’s unimaginable childhood full of abuse, harshness, and caste-based violence. This autobiography gives insights into the Dalits’ daily fight for survival, but they failed to preserve dignity. This joothan, which is called leftover food is given to low caste people by upper caste people as they were prohibited to eat ghee, fruits, or fry food. In his writings, Valmiki questioned manual scavenging, reaping, and disposing of dead cattle.
This is one of the most prominent works in Dalit literature. The mainstream history was dominated directly by the upper caste people therefore their histories glorified their customs, culture, religion. Dalits were considered untouchable and excluded from the main society. Writers like Mahatma Phule, Dr. Ambedkar highlighted the marginal literature or called Dalit literature. Arjun Dangle in his work defines ” Dalit is not a caste but a realization and is related to the experiences, joys and sorrows, and struggles of those in the lowest stratum of society”.
- Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonies by Sharmila Rege ( Available on Amazon)
This work defines the backwardness and oppression faced by the women of the daily community. They were called the double stuffers because they became the easy targets for not only upper-caste males but for their community. Even in contemporary times, the sexual abuse cases against Dalit women are a representation of women’s subordination. Another important argument made by Rege is that Dalit experiences are testimonies. They not only speak for the individual but beyond also. In this book, she selected some of the autobiographies and expressed the rebellion, revolutionary ideas emerging among the people.
Untouchable is a novel written by Mulk Raj Anand in 1935. The novel revolves around the story of a teenage named bakha who worked as a toilet cleaner. He detailed the abuse of people and their reaction towards even Dalits’ shadows were horrible. Their touch was considered impure and indicate bad luck. This novel too highlighted the sexual abuse with the Dalit girl by the brahmin men which defined how sexual abuse was relevant before independence too. One of the striking things about this novel is that this was written during pre-independence but the mentality has hardly changed towards the Dalit community in the present day.
This work talk about the famous Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956), who not only challenged the oppression but tried to redefine his identity. This book contains the best memories of Ambedkar’s works, like his speeches, memoranda, and letters. These writings were not only the expression of Ambedkar’s journey but the whole Dalit community. Valerian argued that Dr. Ambedkar urged for social change before the political change, which is visible in his writings.
Yashika Dutt argued that her journey which was untruthful as from childhood she hides her identity. Her mother wanted to give her a better childhood to protect them from social discrimination, they lived as upper caste people. Yashika always felt the overburden of this fear of ‘ outed ‘ if she expresses her identity but The suicide of Dalit student Vemula’s and his last lines of the letter “My birth is my fatal accident” made her realized her to come out. She wrote that vermula’s death “made me realize that my history is one of oppression, not shame”.
This book talks about the Dalit’s demands, contribution, during the pre-independence. Jangam tried to question the making of nationalism as there is the exclusion of Dalit history. Secondly, the main theme revolves around the unacknowledged contributions made by the Dalits for the collective imagination of nation-building.
This book examined the Dalit identity with contemporary times. The Dalit history is still prevalent as they see the mistreatment as a violation of the constitution and challenged their marginalization.
This work is slightly different as it talked about the Dalits entering the field of entrepreneurship and defining a new identity with economic status. The author shared the inspiring stories of twenty-one Dalits personality who faced obstacles and give rise to a phenomenon called “Dalit capitalism”. Economic growth is directly related to the upliftment of one’s community and this argument is redefined with the examples forwarded by the author.
Babytai Kamble, born in 1929, wrote The Prisons We Broke (original Marathi: Jina Amucha) autobiography that was later translated into English by Maya Pandit. This autobiography reflects the Dalit identity and their histories. Kamble shared her personal experiences while living in Maharashtra, where the violence against Dalit was brutal, which is expressed in the Dalit literature. Maharashtra has witnessed Dalit rebellion in literature, war, religious practices too. The practices of Hindu religion upon the Mahars for eons have been referred to as prisons in the title of the book by the author.
These books are unheard voices against the ordeals of society but rejected their identity as a shame. These books give insights into the life experiences of Dalit history, literature, and writings. From the past to the present, this fight is for justice, freedom, choice, equality, and most importantly, dignity.
- Deeksha Tiwari, Studying B.A. (Hons) Sociology in Delhi University