Updated: Apr 11, 2022
April is Dalit History Month in India. Kickstarted by Dalit women in 2013, the month has since been a period of recognizing the cultural and socio-political contributions of the Dalit and Adivasi communities, alongside the institutional and social discrimination they face from upper-caste sections in the country.
Here are twelve books about Indian Dalits (primarily by Dalit authors, some by reputable journalists) you can read to better understand their plight and hard-earned victories.
Bama Faustina's KARUKKU (Translated by Lakshmi Holmström)
Karukku is the first biography by a Dalit woman writer. Bama articulates the caste oppression within the Catholic Church and stations the writing in the conflict between the self and the community.
Hardcover, 108 pages. Published on December 1, 2000, by MacMillan India (first published August 1992).
Ajay Navaria's UNCLAIMED TERRAIN (Translated by Laura Brueck )
Navaria's revelatory collection of short stories thrives in a morally grey zone that questions the past, the present, and the rampant casteism that has upended vulnerable societies and, at large, the nation's democracy.
Hardcover, 200 pages. Published on December 2012 by Navayana
Nirupama Dutt's THE BALLAD OF BANT SINGH
Journalist and writer Nirupama Dutt brings to light the extraordinary story of Dalit agrarian labourer and activist Bant Singh, who suffered a brutal attack by upper-caste Jatt men, yet continued fighting for the rights of his minor daughter, who was gang-raped.
Paperback, 224 pages. Published on January 14th 2016 by Speaking Tiger Books
B. R. Ambedkar's ANNIHILATION OF CASTE
Annihilation of Caste is undoubtedly one of India's most prominent and vital political writings, a seminal piece of Dalit literature. Ambedkar presents a scholarly critique of Hindu scriptures--long accused of promoting rigid hierarchies and unequal social systems.
Paperback, 100 pages. Published on January 1st 2000 by Blumoon Books (first published May 15th 1936).
Anand Teltumede's THE PERSISTENCE OF CASTE: THE KHAIRLANJI MURDERS AND INDIA'S HIDDEN APARTHEID
The brutal murder of an entire Dalit family in 2006 is the foundation for Teltumede's sharp and fascinating analysis of caste bias and its many manifestations in Indian society.
Hardcover, 224 pages. Published on October 1st 2010 by Zed Books (first published 2010)
Devesh Kapur, D. Shyam Babu, and Chandra Bhan Prasad's DEFYING THE ODDS: THE RISE OF DALIT ENTREPRENEURS
Defying The Odds profiles twenty incredible Dalit entrepreneurs who rose above the biases of India's majoritarian society on account of their incredible grit and steadfastness.
Kindle Edition, 271 pages. Published on July 18th 2014 by Vintage Books/Random House India
Susie Tharu's THE EXERCISE OF FREEDOM: AN INTRODUCTION TO DALIT WRITING
Tharu's anthology carries the best of Dalit writing from across the country. It makes a case for Dalit literature as a vehicle for change that can spearhead social movements to attain equality.
Paperback, 184 pages. Published on August 1st 2013 by Navayana Publishers (first published January 1st 2013)
Daya Pawar's BALUTA (Translated by Jerry Pinto)
Baluta is a tough pill to swallow for those raised in privilege. Pawar adeptly sheds light on the acute hardships and helplessness faced by Dalits while writing about little moments of respite and joy that creep in.
Paperback, 208 pages. Published in 1978 by Granthali
Narendra Jadhav's UNTOUCHABLES: MY FAMILY'S TRIUMPHANT JOURNEY OUT OF THE CASTE SYSTEM IN MODERN INDIA
Digging into his father's journals, Jadhav narrates the story of his family's inspiring resistance to a skewed system and the humiliation and abuse they were met with on their way.
Hardcover, 320 pages. Published on September 27th 2005 by Scribner (first published 1993)
Omprakash Valmiki and Arun Prabha Mukherjee's JOOTHAN: A DALIT'S LIFE
Joothan refers to the scarps of food left on the plate given to Dalits to eat. A poet and a literary critic, Valmiki takes on the word and, through it, offers a layered picture of the oppression of the Dalits in his blazing memoir.
Paperback, 134 pages. Published on February 1st 2007 by Samya (first published 1997)
Badri Narayan's KANSHIRAM: LEADER OF THE DALITS
Narayan shines a light on the extraordinary life of Dalit icon, Kanshiram (1934-2006) through multiple oral and written resources, and contrasts his approach toward caste equality and empowerment with that of Ambedkar's.
Hardcover, 256 pages. Published ON September 2013 by Viking
Baby Kamble's THE PRISONS WE BROKE (Translated from Marathi by Maya Pandit)
The Prison We Broke is a profoundly insightful foray into the culture, festivals, rituals, pre-occupations, and hardships of the women of the Mahar community in Maharashtra. Kamble goes back in time when the community was not yet impacted by B. R. Ambedkar.
Paperback, First, 192 pages. Published on 2008 by Orient Blackswan Pvt Ltd
If you think we missed out on an important book, drop a comment below. And we request you to first look for these copies at your local bookstores before hitting that buy button on Amazon. Thank you for reading, subscribing, and supporting us through and through. You can subscribe to our weekly newsletter to stay updated with our work.