Although Dalit literature originated in Maharashtra from the 1950s – 1960s, the genre, that gave expression to a historically supressed community, has emerged in all Indian literatures, from Tamil to Hindi, Bengali and Gujarati.
While not restricted to, early Dalit writing gave voice to “anxiety of a Dalit psyche, the Dalit community’s bondage with Mother Nature, “angry outbursts” against uprooting them without compensation, the paradoxes of caste dis-crimination in religious space, as well as modernized government bureau-cracies.” (Soumitra Chakraborty in Margin Speaks: Indian Dalit Literature. A Review of Writing as Resistance: Literature of Emancipation, ed. Jaydeep Sarangi).
Over the years, several books in the have come out to highlight not just the struggles but also the lives, culture and traditions of the Dalit community, moving beyond the scope and tone set by the seminal Waiting for A Visa by BR Ambedkar.
This curated list covers a fraction of Dalit writing, translated into English.
Days Will Come Back by Kamal Dev Pall
Published by Panther’s Paw Publication
Days Will Come Back is probably the first Punjabi Dalit poetry collection which has been translated into English. Poems in it are simmering with the smell of revolution that the soil of Punjab has begotten among many of its children.
In this, the voice of a Dalit Punjabi is very distinctive and a refreshing change of narrative from the otherwise upper-caste dominant stories that emerge from the region.
Spotted Goddesses: Dalit Women’s Agency-Narratives on Caste and Gender Violence by Roja Singh
Published by Zubaan Books
Built around a powerful core which is primarily shaped by Dalit women’s songs, and oral and written testimonial narratives, including Singh’s personal story, this interdisciplinary work, Spotted Goddesses, is a searing vindication of Dalit women’s right to rise and rage against the shackles of Brahminical patriarchy.
Spotted Goddesses is an ethnography of caste, gender and Dalit women’s leadership. Situated within the ambit of transnational feminisms, this book is rooted in interactions and lived experiences of Dalit women in Tamil Nadu. Singh’s intersectional perspective as a Dalit woman provides a consummate analysis of the power structures that shape the foundation of caste dominance in South India today.
Bheda by Akhila Naik
Published by OUP, India.
Akhila Naik’s 90-page Bheda published in 2010 is considered to be the first Odia Dalit novel, and is centred around caste violence.
‘Bheda’ means a sense of difference, one that’s deeply ingrained in our society; the caste hegemony that has led to economic exploitation, cultural subjugation, social discrimination and political powerlessness of Dalits in Odisha over decades and is an important work in Dalit writing.
“The entire village was in an uproar when the news spread that Laltu had beaten up Yuvaraj. How dare a Dom boy thrash the gauntia’s nephew, a Teli? The Telis set out to seek revenge by breaking Laltu’s limbs.Conscious of the plight of the Dalits and the lower castes and hoping to improve their lot, Laltu leads an uprising against the upper castes. Does he succeed? Or is he silenced and crushed by caste power?Set in a remote village in the Kalahandi district of Odisha, the story draws from the real, lived experiences of the region’s Dalits. Bheda, the first Odia Dalit novel, is not only a poignant tale of rebellion and betrayal, it is also a record of the caste atrocities and cultural politics that have defined India.”
Did you know: The first known Dalit novel to be published was Abhinav Prakashan’s Fakira, by Annabhau Sathe.
The Lost Heroine by Vinu Abraham
Published by Speaking Tiger Books
A fine book on Dalit writing, The Lost Heroine is about a girl. Growing up in a district in Kerala, spinning idle dreams as she worked in the fields, Rosy had never been to the cinema. Her only brush with fame had been to act in the local Kakkarissi plays. So when Johnson Sir, her well-to-do neighbour, asked if she would like to play the role of heroine in a movie his friend Daniel was making, Rosy could scarcely believe it.
In a matter of weeks, Rosy, a poor Dalit Christian girl of the Pulaya caste, was transformed into Sarojini—the beautiful Nair girl who lived in a grand tharavad, wore mundus and blouses of the finest silk and gold jewellery from head to toe. Sarojini, with whom the handsome Jayachandran falls in love at first sight as she sits at her window playing the veena.
Rosy’s dream world comes to an end when the last scene is shot. A harsh reality awaits her when the film is screened at the Capitol Theatre in Trivandrum. There is shock and horror in the audience as the film rolls.
All hell breaks loose, and Rosy narrowly escapes death only to spend the rest of her life in anonymity. It is only in a forgotten roll of film that her story lives on. The story of Vighathakumaran (The Lost Child), the first film ever to be made in Malayalam, in the year 1928.
My Father Baliah by Y B Satyanarayana
Published by HarperCollins, India
Poised to inherit a huge tract of land gifted by the Nizam to his father, twenty-one-year-old Narsiah loses it to a feudal lord. This triggers his migration from Vangapally, his ancestral village in the Karimnagar District of Telangana the single most important event that would free his family and future generations from caste oppression. Years later, it saves his son Baliah from the fate reserved for most Dalits: a life of humiliation and bonded labour.
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