This narrative was populated by upper-caste authors writing stories on behalf of the oppressed before Dalit writer-activists raised their voices and used their pens to expound on their experiences in a caste-riddled nation. They were unable to move beyond stereotypical depictions of the Dalit community in their works because of their privileged myopia. In any case, these were not their stories to tell.
The writings of Dalit authors, who have greatly influenced Indian literature, flow with startlingly real and genuinely edifying words.
For instance, community women writers emphasize the importance of navigating a two-step patriarchal sociopolitical system as intersectional figures because it has attempted to keep them out of power due to their gender and caste.
Literature written by Dalit authors is the place to jump in if readers are looking for the truth that has been obscured by dominant upper-caste narratives. Here are just a few names you shouldn’t miss.
For those trying to gain an understanding of the social reformer’s principles that influenced the Dalit resistance in India, Dr. Ambedkar is essential reading. Babasaheb, as he is reverently known, was instrumental in the drafting of the Constitution and a leading voice against caste prejudice in Hindu society. He is the author of numerous works that are essential to Dalit literature. Important readings to get you started include The Annihilation of Caste, Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis, and Development, and Who Were The Shudras?
The majority of Bama Faustina Soosairaj’s life has been devoted to writing and teaching about the experiences of Dalit women, especially those who practice Christianity. As a fervent supporter of women’s rights and independence, Bama actively engages in social activism through her creative work, emphasizing in the process the resilience of womanhood towards equality. Some of her best works include her autobiography Karukku, her novel Sangati, and a collection of short stories called Kusumbukkaran.
An outstanding Dalit feminist, Urmila Pawar has left an indelible mark on Marathi literature, especially when it comes to her insightful commentary on the intersection of caste and gender. The book she co-authored with Meenakshi Moon, We Also Made History, is regarded as ground-breaking because it transforms the historical narrative from a traditional patriarchal telling to a Dalit feminist one. The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs is the English title of her autobiography Aidan, which was originally published in Marathi.
Om Prakash Valmiki
Om Prakash Valmiki, the author of the influential work Joothan, his autobiography, is notable for his significant influence on Dalit literature. He was an important literary figure who paved the way for Dalit experiences in Hindi literature, which had previously been largely unexplored. He has notable poetry collections like Sadiyon Ka Santaap and Ab Aur Nahin as well as well-known short story collections like Salaam and Ghuspethiye.
Shantabai Kamble overcame the difficulties of her upbringing, which was marred by exploitative experiences derived from her caste identity, to become the first Dalit woman autobiographer to be published. Kamble spent the majority of her life as a teacher and an activist, and she was greatly influenced by Ambedkar’s struggle against caste. Her Marathi-language autobiography Majya Jalmachi Chittarkatha has been translated into English as The Kaleidoscope Story of My Life.
Yashica Dutt is a writer and journalist who actively speaks out against casteism on social media. Her writing covers a wide range of topics, including her experiences as a Dalit woman in the twenty-first century and harsh criticisms of the caste system that is still in place in India. Her autobiography Coming Out as Dalit describes the difficult process she underwent to accept her identity and the life experiences that shaped her reality.
Baburao Bagul is regarded as a significant 20th-century influence on the Indian short story form and serves as another authoritative voice in Dalit literature written in Marathi. Being a radical thinker, his writings often expressed the plight of those who were marginalized by upper-caste savarna society. Bagul is the author of several ground-breaking works, including the autobiography Jevha Mi Jat Chorali (when I hid my caste in English) and the collection of short stories Maran Swasta Hot Ahe (transl: Death is Getting Cheaper).
Babytai Kamble, a prominent Dalit feminist writer, is recognized for her descriptions of the intersectional lives she and people like her led. Kamble made a significant contribution to setting a distinctive tone for the Dalit women’s story, which had previously been either misrepresented or barely touched upon in writings from the upper caste. The Prisons We Broke, the English translation of her Marathi autobiography Jina Amucha is regarded as a crucial examination of caste exploitation in the 20th century.
Telugu author Gogu Shyamala has significantly influenced the religious-political discussion of caste. Being a strong thinker and a Dalit feminist, she has particularly questioned the Left-wing dynamics in India, which she claims are still influenced by caste privilege. She has also spoken out against the gender violence Dalit women experience. One of Shyamala’s best-known literary works is Father May Be An Elephant And Mother Only A Small Basket, But…, which draw heavily on her own life experiences.