Since 2013, April has been celebrated as Dalit History Month. Modeled on Black History Month, it is a month-long annual observance that commemorates and celebrates the neglected histories, lives and works of Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi people. Here at Champaca, we’ve put together a list of recommendations for Dalit History Month — books that moved us, and books we think are essential for you to read too.
Annihilation of Caste by B. R. Ambedkar
No list of books about understanding caste in India can be complete without this one. Annihilation of Caste is an undelivered speech criticising the caste system in India and its perpetuation by Hindu religion, written by Ambedkar in 1936. The speech was first published as a book by Ambedkar himself the same year, and went on to become a seminal text on the subject. Pick up Critical Quest’s affordable edition of the book next time you visit Champaca.
Hatred in the Belly: Politics Behind the Appropriation of Dr. Ambedkar’s Writings by Ambedkar Age Collective
Complement your reading of Annihilation of Caste, with Hatred in the Belly: Politics Behind the Appropriation of Dr. Ambedkar’s Writings. Published in 2015 by The Shared Mirror, this collection of essays by writers, academics, students and activists (referred to as the Ambedkar Age Collective in the book) is an essential text on representation and appropriation. It critiques, in particular, Navayana’s edition of Annihilation of Caste, which featured a lengthy introduction by Arundhati Roy, and more broadly, of the domination of upper castes in Indian scholarship.
Riddles in Hinduism by B. R. Ambedkar
In Riddles of Hinduism, by asking fundamental questions about the tenets and traditions of Hinduism, Ambedkar presents a fierce and intelligent critique of the religion. This book, more important now than ever, was first published only decades after Ambedkar’s death by the Government of Maharashtra, when the Shiv Sena sought to ban it. Find this annotated edition, published in 2016 on the occasion of Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary, at Champaca.
Karukku by Bama, translated from Tamil by Lakshmi Holmström
We cannot recommend Bama’s autobiographical novel, Karukku, enough. Bama, who also goes by Faustina Mary Fatima Rani, chronicled her life as a Dalit Christian woman in Tamil Nadu in this novel, and was ostracized and banned from her village when this book was published in 1992. This groundbreaking novel is a powerful exploration of intersectionality in the South Indian context, and the English translation by Lakshmi Holmström won the Crossword Award for Indian Language Fiction Translation in 2000.
Baluta by Daya Pawar, translated from Marathi by Jerry Pinto
One of the first Dalit biographies to be published, Daya Pawar’s Baluta is a brutal and honest account of caste violence and untouchability in rural Maharashtra and Bombay in the 40s and 50s. Originally published in Marathi in 1978 by Granthali, this book is a classic and bestseller in many languages. Next time you visit us, ask for the Speaking Tiger edition of Baluta, translated to English by Jerry Pinto.
Kusumabale by Devanoora Mahadeva, translated from Kannada by Susan Daniel
We urge you to read Devanoora Mahadeva’s Kusumbale, a Kannada classic, which is known for introducing an element of fantasy in the narrative in Kannada fiction. The novel dissolves the boundaries of poetry and prose, and weaves in a folk narrative, making it a difficult book to translate. Originally written in 1984, Devanoora Mahadeva was awarded the Kendra Sahitya Akademi award for it in 1990 (which he later returned in 2015). Susan Daniel won the Sahitya Akademi Translation Prize in 2019 for her translation of the book to English. Pick up this edition at Champaca!
A Word With You, World: the Autobiography of a Poet by Siddalingaiah translated from Kannada by S. R. Ramakrishna, art by Laxman Aelay
Last month, we read and discussed Kannada poet Siddalingaiah’s A Word With You, World: the Autobiography of a Poet for Books for Now. If you missed reading this book then, pick it up for Dalit History Month. Rediscover Bangalore through the eyes and lived experiences of this poet and writer, through his beautiful, evocative, unapologetic autobiography filled with humour and rage.
Ants among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India by Sujatha Gidla
Finally, do read Sujatha Gidla’s Ants among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India. Interlacing the personal and the political, Gidla’s book is an account of her family’s life, and the hardship and ostracism they have faced, as a result of India’s caste system. It is a scathing critique of the humiliation and caste-based discrimination Dalits, even educated ones, face in present-day India.
The Shared Mirror
If you have never read a book published by The Shared Mirror, look them up today, and ask about their books when you are at Champaca next. They endeavour to promote Dalit Bahujan literature and writers, taking inspiration from the publishing efforts of anti-caste visionaries like Phule, Iyothee Thass, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Periyar and others. The Shared Mirror aims to further the anti-caste discourse, following the course set by Round Table India, the Dalit Bahujan information portal, through publishing poetry, fiction and non-fiction.
Don’t miss the books by Critical Quest either! It is a small publication venture that seeks to make available the best and most relevant social science writings in India and abroad to students, teachers and the general reading public. Critical Quest’s objective is not only to inform and enlighten readers but also to impel them towards an emancipatory engagement with the society at large.