10 Books on Caste by Indian Woman Dalit Writers You Should Read

Plagued by the intersection of gender and caste based oppression, writings by Dalit women provide a unique and essential perspective.

By Yoshita Srivastava:

Marginalised voices have always been absent from the popular literary canon. The only way to see more diverse titles on trending lists or bookshop windows is to read voices from historically silenced communities. Participate in the 2021 Diversity Reading Challenge with Belongg to become a part of this cultural shift.

The prompt for January is to read a book on caste by an Indian woman Dalit writer. Plagued by the intersection of gender and caste based oppression, writings by Dalit women provide a unique and essential perspective. We have compiled a list of 10 books, in no way exhaustive, to help you begin your journey — to read more inclusively.

  1. Don’t Want Caste: Malayalam Stories by Dalit Writers

Editor: M.R. Renukumar

Translator (s):  Abhirami Girija Sriram and Ravi Shanker

Publisher: Navayana Books

The collection of short stories is selected from 70 years of dalit writing in Malayalam. The twenty-three stories, farcical and magical, terse and baroque, domestic and picaresque, reveal that the disregarded laburnum in the forest has blazed with beauty all these years, and we should be the poorer for neglecting it. 

Image: https://www.amazon.in/Dont-Want-Caste-Malayalam-Stories/dp/8189059815 

2. Karukku

Writer: Bama

Publisher: MacmillanIndia Limited.

The first autobiography by a Dalit woman writer and a classic of subaltern writing, Karukku is a bold and poignant tale of life outside mainstream Indian thought and function. Revolving around the main theme of caste oppression within the Catholic Church, it portrays the tension between the self and the community, and presents Bama’s life as a process of self-reflection and recovery from social and institutional betrayal. 

Image: https://www.amazon.in/Karukku-Second-Bama/dp/0199450412 

3. The Prisons We Broke (Jina Amacha)

Writer: Babytai Kamble

Translator: Maya Pandit

Publisher: Orient BlackSwan

Writing on the lives of the Mahars of Maharashtra, Baby Kamble reclaims memory to locate Mahar society before the impact of Babasaheb Ambedkar, and tells a powerful tale of redemption wrought by a fiery brand of individual and collective self-awareness. Breaking the bounds of personal narrative, The Prisons We Broke is at once a sociological treatise, a historical and political record, a feminist critique, a protest against brahminical Hinduism, and the memoir of a cursed people.

Image: https://mayday.leftword.com/catalog/product/view/id/21500 

4. Motherwit

Writer: Urmila Pawar

Translator: Veena Deo

Publisher: Zubaan Books

A Dalit, a Buddhist and a feminist: Urmila Pawar’s self-definition as all three identities informs her stories about women who are brave in the face of caste oppression, strong in the face of family pressures, defiant when at the receiving end of insult, and determined when guarding their interests and those of their sisters. Using the classic short story form with its surprise endings to great effect, Motherwit brings to life strong and clever women who drive the reader to laughter, anger, tears or despair.

Image: https://zubaanbooks.com/shop/motherwit/ 

5. The Taming of Women 

Writer: P. Sivakami 

Translator: Pritham K. Tr Chakravarthy

Publisher: Penguin India

As Anandhayi gives birth to her fifth child downstairs, with only her ancient mother-in-law for help, upstairs her husband Periyannan sleeps with a woman he has summoned to spend the night with him. Women of many generations live in that house at the end of the road, with the tyrannical and charismatic Periyannan always trying to bring them under his control.In her most celebrated novel The Taming of Women , Sivakami vividly evokes a world where women and men are in constant conflict, scrambling for the little power to which they can hold on.

Image: https://www.amazon.in/Taming-Women-P-Sivakami/dp/0143104101 

6. The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs

Writer: Urmila Pawar

Publisher: Leftword Books

Translated for the first time into English as The Weave of My Life, Urmila’s memoir describes the long journey from the Konkan to Mumbai, bringing to fruition the struggle of three generations for Dalit modernity. Urmila Pawar is one of the foremost literary figures in Marathi. Her short stories, though comparatively few in number, have caught the imagination of present-day readers. In the memoir, the author links her mother’s act of weaving baskets, aaydans, to her own act of writing.

Image: https://www.amazon.in/Weave-My-Life-Womans-Memoirs/dp/0231149018

7. We Also Made History (AAMHIHI ITIHAAS GHADAVLAA)

Writer(s): Meenakshi Moon and Urmila Pawar

Publisher: Zubaan Books

Originally published in Marathi in 1989, We Also Made History, a contemporary classic, details for the first time, the history of women’s participation in the Dalit movement led by Dr B.R. Ambedkar. The first part outlines the involvement of women in various Dalit struggles from the early twentieth century, drawing on diverse sources including Dalit periodicals, records of meetings, and personal correspondence. 

Image: https://zubaanbooks.com/shop/we-also-made-history-aamhihi-itihaas-ghadavlaa/ 

8. Father May Be an Elephant and Mother Only a Small Basket, but…

Writer: Gogu Shyamala

Publisher: Navayana Books

Gogu Shyamala’s stories dissolve borders as they work their magic on orthodox forms of realism, psychic allegory and political fable. Whether she is describing the setting sun or the way people are gathered at a village council like ‘thickly strewn grain on the threshing floor’, the varied rhythms of a dalit drum or a young woman astride her favorite buffalo, Shyamala walks us through a world that is at once particular and small, and simultaneously universal. Set in the madiga quarter of a Telangana village, the stories spotlight different settings, events and experiences, and offer new propositions on how to see, think and be touched by life in that world.

Image:https://www.amazon.in/Father-Elephant-Mother-Small-Basket/dp/8189059513 

9. Ants Among Elephants

Writer: by Sujatha Gidla

Sujatha Gidla was born an untouchable. Her family, belonging to the Mala caste, was educated in Warangal and Madras by Canadian missionaries in the 1930s, making it possible for Gidla to attend elite schools and move to America at the age of twenty-six. It was only then that she saw how extraordinary – and yet how typical – her family history truly was. Determined to uncover that history, and understand the social and political forces that made it possible, she traveled back to India to record the testimonies of her mother, her uncles, and their friends. In Ants Among Elephants, she tells their story.

Image: https://www.amazon.in/Ants-among-Elephants-Untouchable-Family/dp/935277423X 

10. Coming Out as Dalit

Writer: Yashica Dutt

Dalit student Rohith Vemula’s tragic suicide in January 2016 started many charged conversations around caste-based discrimination in universities in India. For Yashica Dutt, ajournalist living in New York, this was the moment to stop living a lie, and admit to somethingthat she had hidden from friends and colleagues for over a decade—that she was Dalit. In Coming Out as Dalit, Dutt recounts the exhausting burden of living with the secret and how she was terrified of being found out. She talks about the tremendous feeling of empowerment she experienced when she finally stood up for herself and her community.

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