5 Dalit women writers whose works challenge the status quo and advocate for women’s rights

We recently observed Dalit History Month. SocialStory spotlights Dalit women writers who overcame odds to make a mark as activists and claim their space in Indian literature.
1 CLAP
0

Inspired by Black History Month, Dalit History Month observed every April since 2015 has started to put the spotlight on the lives and contributions of a historically marginalised community. 

Dalit History Month is marked via various events that showcase the art, literature, and traditions of Dalits. Especially Dalit literature, written in various languages, including Marathi, Hindi, Kannada, Sindhi, and Tamil, and includes poetry, short stories, and autobiographies. 

The earliest Dalit literature dates back to the 11th century in the Western Chalukya dynasty, found in the works of Madara Chennaiah — a cobbler-saint who is considered the "Father of Vachana poetry". 

Here are five women Dalit writers who have made significant contributions to Dalit literature, which has continued to grow in contemporary times.

Babytai Kamble 

Born in the Mahar community in 1929, Baby Kamble — fondly called Babytai — is a prominent Dalit leader and a great follower of Dr BR Ambedkar. 

Known for her reflexive feminist style, her autobiography Jina Amucha was translated from Marathi to English as The Prisons We Broke and is considered a vital insight into the caste system in the 20th century.

Bama Faustina Soosairaj/Twitter


Bama Faustina Soosairaj 

Born in 1958, Faustina Mary Fatima Rani and her family belonged to a Paraiyar community of Roman Catholics. She started her career as a school teacher educating girls from economically backward families. She also served as a nun for seven years. 

A vocal advocate for women’s rights and independence, Faustina writes under her pen name Bama. Her autobiography Karukku is considered a classic example of subaltern writing that depicts oppression, even within the church. 

Her other works include Sangati and a collection of short stories called Kusumbukkaran, which depicts the lives of Dalit women.

Urmila Pawar/Sahapedia


Urmila Pawar 

Born in 1945 in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, Urmila Pawar’s father was a schoolteacher in an institute for ‘untouchable’ children. After obtaining a Master of Arts in Marathi literature, she worked for the Public Works Department in Maharashtra till her retirement. 

 

Her books in Marathi are considered to be some of the leading treatises on the intersectionality of caste and gender. For example, We Also Made History, (co-authored with Meenakshi Moon, a close associate of Dr Ambedkar) is told from the Dalit feminine lens and steers away from the traditional patriarchal narrative. 

 

She had also penned an autobiography — The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs — which was translated to English from the Marathi original, Aidan

Meena Kandasamy/Image credit: Varun Vasudevan (BIO | meenakandasamy)


Meena Kandasamy

Born in 1984, Kandasamy is a leading poet, author, translator, and activist based in Chennai. Her writing appeals to more contemporary audiences, and she is one of the leading English translators of Dalit literature. 

Her parents are professors, and Kandasamy holds a DPhil in Sociolinguistics.  She writes on caste annihilation, feminism, and linguistic identity, and one of her best-known novels is When I Hit You and Exquisite Cadavers

Kumud Pawde 

Born in 1938 in Maharashtra, Kumud Pawde is one of the founding members of the National Federation of Dalit Women (founded by Ruth Manorama) — an NGO that advocates for Dalit women’s rights. 

She broke barriers by studying Sanskrit at a time when it was not permitted for Dalits to learn the subject. Kumud Pawade also served as the Head of the Department of Sanskrit at the Government College in Amravati. Her autobiography Antahsphot is a deep dive into the exploitation of Dalit Women.

Edited by Suman Singh

Latest

Updates from around the world