💬 Let’s dive into the captivating world of Dalits and their compelling literature and explore the rich history, struggles, and inspiring voices of the Dalit community in this enlightening article on Dalit and Dalit literature.”
Now, imagine you’re in a colossal library of Indian society, and you come across a section that’s filled with voices that have been silenced for centuries. Those voices belong to the Dalits. 🤫
Who are Dalits?
Dalit are historically marginalized and oppressed group of people in India who were traditionally considered as “untouchables” within the caste-based social hierarchy.
The term ‘Dalit’ came from a Sanskrit word ‘Dalita’ which means suppressed, smashed, broken into pieces. In the 20th century, the term “Dalit” itself emerged as a self-identifying term, signifying a collective identity and resistance against oppression. It was first used by Jyothi Rao Phule, the champion of backward classes and other oppressed classes of Maharastra in the 19th Century. Mahatma Gandhi employed the word “Harijans”, which means the children of Hari or Vishnu to identify them as children of God.
Dalits were historically destined to perform menial tasks, such as leatherwork, butchering, and manual scavenging. They worked as laborers responsible for cleaning streets, latrines, and handling night soil. Engaged in these occupations, they were often labeled as pollutants, and this perception of pollution was treated as an epidemic. Dalits faced various forms of discrimination, including restrictions on pursuing professions considered impure, denial of access to education, and segregation from the broader society.
Understanding the Caste System and its Impact on Dalits
In order to understand the reasons of the wretched conditions of Dalit, we need to understand the history of social caste system in India that can be traced back to the Ancient Hindu Dharma Shastra. This system categorizes people into distinct varnas (a Sanskrit word which means type, colour and class), groups or castes, traditionally organized into a hierarchical order. According to Indian Brahmanical Books like Rig Veda (Purusukta) and Manusmriti, Indian society is divided into four main varnas or castes.
1. Brahmins: The highest-ranked of the four varnas or traditional social classes of India includes Hindu priests, advisers, and intellectual leaders.
2. Kshatriyas: The second-highest of the varnas. Includes rulers, military leaders, and large landowners.
3. Vaishyas: The third-highest of the four varnas. Includes merchants, traders, and farmers
4. Shudras: The lowest-ranked varna. Traditionally includes artisans, laborers, and servants
But now a question arises that in which Varna or group Dalit can be categorised. The sad part is that Dalits don’t find a designated category or Varna to call their own. Instead, they’re often labelled as “Avarna”,” Panchama” or “outcastes,” which means they don’t fit within the established caste groups. Historically, some people believed that Dalits fell outside the system due to perceived sins and therefore they were even not allowed to let their shadow fall upon a non-Dalit caste i.e, upper class. It’s essential to note that these categorizations are not about sins but rather a reflection of the social hierarchy and systemic injustices. In this context, the upper caste, primarily the Brahmins, promoted the belief that the caste system was not a human invention but rather divinely ordained. It was based on birth and transfer from one caste to another was strictly prohibited. Dalits were often forbidden from entering temples, drawing water from common wells, and participating in many societal activities. The impact of the caste system on Dalits has been multifaceted, encompassing economic, social, educational, and political dimensions.
Michel Foucault‘s theory of knowledge and power provides a valuable framework for understanding how the hegemony of upper-caste individuals operates and influences the lives of Dalits. For centuries, Dalit customs and traditions have been portrayed in a negative light. They have been systematically excluded from English education, and there has been a glaring absence of Dalit representation in the Indian renaissance. Furthermore, they have been unfairly labeled as criminals or thieves without genuine cause.
Tragically, a Dalit man named Budhan Shravan was apprehended by the police and met his demise while in custody due to severe beatings. In response to this grave injustice, Mahasweta Devi played a pivotal role in leading a significant movement that sought justice and accountability for the police officers involved. In the wake of this tragedy, , “Budhan” became a symbol of protest, and a theatre group named “Budhan Theatre” was formed to depict and bring to life his story through their performances.
Dalit Movements In India
The history of Dalit movements in India is marked by a long and arduous struggle for social justice, equal rights, and the eradication of caste-based discrimination. These movements have been instrumental in shaping the socio-political landscape of the country.
Early Dalit Reformers and Bhakti Movement
Lord Gautama Buddha, who advocated for the eradication of untouchability, stands as one of the earliest Dalit reformers. Following that, during the medieval period, the Bhakti Movement played an active role in involving and liberating Dalits. Saints and poets like Kabir and Ravidas emphasized the importance of devotion and selflessness and challenged the rigid caste-system and the monopoly of priestly class.
Ambedkar’s Dalit Advocacy: From Pre- to Post-Independence
By the time India became independent, there was already an air for Dalit Political movements grounding in Indian society. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, one of the most influential figures in the history of Dalit advocacy, emerged as a prominent voice for Dalit rights during the British colonial period. Ambedkar and Gandhi came at odds because of their conflicting approaches to securing the rights and social upliftment of Dalits. Ambedkar favoured more radical and immediate measures to challenge the deeply entrenched caste system and secure social upliftment for Dalits. In contrast, Gandhi, while also critical of the caste system, advocated for a more gradual and non-violent approach to reform, emphasizing changes from within the system.
Ambedkar’s speech in Mahad Satyagraha(1927) gave a boost to the emergence of Dalit Consciousness. On December 25, 1927, Dr. Ambedkar, in a powerful act of protest, burned the Manusmriti, stating—
we made a bonfire of it because we view it as a symbol of injustice under which we have been crushed across centuries. Because of its teaching, we have been ground down under despicable poverty and so we made the clash, staked all, took our lives in our hands and performed the deed.
In 1930, he led the Depressed Classes Association, one of the earliest organized efforts to represent Dalits politically. The association’s goal was to ensure fair representation for the Scheduled Castes in India’s decision-making bodies. It was during this period that the foundation for Dalit political consciousness was laid.
Following India’s independence in 1947, Dr. Ambedkar continued to shape the nation’s future by playing a pivotal role in drafting the Indian Constitution. His vision and advocacy secured affirmative action provisions, including the reservation system, which set aside opportunities in education and government jobs for Dalits. Furthermore in 1956, he took another significant step by founding the Republican Party of India (RPI) to address the socio-political challenges faced by Dalits.
Dalit Panther Movement
Inspired by the civil rights and anti-racism campaigns of the Black Panthers in the United States, a group of Mahar writers and poets, including Raja Dhale, Namdeo Dhasal, J. V. Pawar, and Arjun Dangle formed the Dalit Panthers on 29th May, 1972 in Maharashtra. Their rage was ignited by appalling crimes against Dalits, including the dehumanizing act of parading a nude Dalit lady in Pune district and the gruesome gouging of the eyes of two Dalit males in Dhakali village in Akola district. The movement’s primary goal was to address the issues of caste-based violence and discrimination that Dalits faced, aiming to unite Dalits from various regions and castes under a common political banner. This movement played a pivotal role in the establishment of The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in 1989. However, due to conflicts between Dhale and Dhasal, the movement split in 1974.
Though the Dalit Panther Movement was relatively short-lived, its impact reverberates to this day. It sparked a renaissance in Dalit literature, poetry, and storytelling, allowing these voices to shine and bringing their issues to the forefront. The movement, born in Maharashtra, quickly spread to other states, amplifying its influence.
The Dalit Panther Movement left an indelible mark on Indian society and politics. It inspired leaders like Kanshi Ram, who elevated Dalit politics in North India through the Bahujan Samaj Party.
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?