Dalit History Month

Dalit History Month is a participatory radical history project. Our goal is to share the contributions to history from Dalits around the world. We are a parallel model of scholarship to academic institutions that study Dalits without Dalits in collaborative or lead roles of research. We believe in the power of our stories to change the savarna narrative of our experience as one solely of atrocity into one that is of our own making. Our story may have begun in violence but we continue forward by emphasizing our assertion and resistance. Join the conversation at #Dalithistorymonth on facebook, twitter, and your communities.

Rohith Vemula

ROHITH VEMULA was a research scholar at the University of Hyderabad (UoH). In Life he inspired through his activism and in the wake of his institutional murder has now come to symbolize Dalit Bahujan and adivasi revolution in India. Rohith and 4 other students of the Ambedkar Student Association (ASA) were suspended after a state-influenced and biased hearing by the administration that was set-up to investigate clashes between ASA and the right-wing student group Ahkil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). The ABVP members with their deep connections to political heads in the state were able to snake their grievances up to high level offices. Acting under state influence, from none less than the head of the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD), Smriti Irani herself, Vice Chancellor (VC), Dr.Appa Rao Podile, meted out harsh suspensions to Rohith and 4 other ASA students - all Dalit. The terms of the suspension included blocked access to hostels, facilities and fellowships. In protest, Rohith and his friends camped outside the hostel in an area they termed “Velivada” (Dalit ghetto). At the time of Rohith’s death he had been denied over 6 months of fellowship, had been suffered outside in the middle of winter, and faced huge academic and personal losses. Rohith was driven to suicide in January 2016. He left behind a poignant suicide note that proclaimed his love for science, the stars and nature. He wrote, “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of stardust.” The loss of a brilliant, sensitive young Dalit man , shocked and enraged the campus, the nation and the world. Students and citizens broke in protest! They called #JusticeforRohith in their slogans and highlighted the fact that marginalized students experience so much casteism in campus that 80% student suicides all over the nation are Dalit or Adivasi. Protesters, including, Rohith’s mother, Radhika Vemula, called for the enacting of a Rohith Act to protect marginalized students on campus. Their voices resulted in the arrest of Vice Chancellor Appa Rao. However, the struggle is ongoing as the Appa Rao, who was arrested under the non-bailable SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act has freely returned to campus less than 2 months after Rohith’s passing. Peacefully protesting students at UoH were then subjected to extreme police brutality. We honor the spirit of Rohith Vemula, our revolutionary brother. We raise our fists in a show of solidarity for all marginalized students’ in their ongoing fight and salute the spirit of Radhika Vemula, the strong Dalit mother, who is continuing to fight for justice for her son. #JUSTICE FOR ROHITH

Hyderabad Census Report on Adi-Hindu Identity Discussion (Adi- Movements)

It reports, “ A controversy recently raged in the press as to whether Adi-Hindus are Hindus. While the caste Hindus maintained a discrete silence, two opposing sections of Adi-Hindus entered the arena. The Adi-Dravida Educational League argued that, judged by the history, philosophy and civilization of the Adi-Dravidas, the real aborigines of the Deccan, the Depressed Classes are a community entirely separate and distinct from the followers of the Vedic religion called Hinduism. The League’s contention was that Hinduism is not the ancestral religion of the aborigines of Hindusthan; that the non-Vedic communities of India object to being called “Hindu” because of their inherited abhorrence of the doctrines of the Manusmriti and like scriptures, who have distinguished themselves from caste Hindus for centuries past, that the Vedic religion which the Aryans brought in the wake of their invasion was actively practiced upon the non-Vedic Aborigines, and that the aborigines, coming under the influence of the Hindus, gradually and half-consciously adopted Hindu ideas and prejudices. A section of the Adi-Hindus emphatically repudiated the above arguments in a statement in the press and deplored the tendency of the Adi-Dravida Educational League to seek to impose an invidious distinction. The concepts of God, the mode of worship, the system of rituals and code of customs and the manner of dress and the way of life of the socially depressed classes and way of life of the socially depressed classes are identical to that of caste Hindus, and therefore, they maintain that religiously adi-Hindus are Hindus.” This was a clear posing of the autonomy-integration dichotomy in terms of religious-cultural identities. (Dalits and the Democratic Revolution. Dr. Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement in Colonial India, Gail Omvedt, 1994)

Janta Newspaper Report on Gandhi and Leadership

Janta newspaper reported that: 'The greatest presumption on Gandhi's part at the Round Table Conference (first) was that he claimed that he represented the depressed classes and not Dr. Ambedkar…. Leadership cannot be imposed, it must be accepted by those on whose behalf it is claimed.’

P. K. Rosy

P.K Rosy holds the distinction of being the first heroine and the first Dalit heroine of Malayalam cinema. Most accounts of her life and work are not based on actual meetings with her as she passed away in 1988 and was never acclaimed or even acknowledged during her lifetime. However, her extraordinary life, when examined is full of instances courage, struggle and passion. Before she was discovered by the director of her film, she was already a member of folk theatre groups and had experience acting in Tamil dramas in A Dalit art form called Kaakarashi. In 1928, she was "discovered" by the director J.C Daniel and given the role of an upper caste (Nair) woman in the movie Vigathakumaran (The Lost Child). When the movie was released, members of the Nair community were enraged to see a Dalit woman portray a Nair woman. Upper caste riots ensued. They vandalized the theatre, tore down the movie screen and proceeded to hunt down Rosy. They burned down her house but she managed to escape the angry crowd. Reports state that she fled in a lorry that was headed to Tamil Nadu, married the lorry driver and lived her life quietly in Tamil Nadu. Whatever the case, her abilities and her Pioneering work as an actress in a caste feudo-patriarchal society must be celebrated. Only 5 years after her film was destroyed and she chased away from Kerala, upper caste women safely began acting in Malayalam films without any objection or attack. this means more than ever that we must keep the memory of P.K.Rosy's talented and powerful Dalit womanhood alive.

Dalit, Queer and Proud at Delhi Pride

On 29th November 2015, three young queer Dalits changed the face the Delhi queer pride. Dhrubo Jyoti, a journalist, Akhil Khang, a lawyer and Dhiren Borisa, a doctoral student, held up beautiful signs that they had painted. The signs summarized in three powerful words, " Dalit, Queer, Proud". In one extraordinary moment, both their Dalit and the Queer identities were visibilized and celebrated.Their assertion also dealt a blow to upper caste hegemony over Queer spaces like the Delhi Pride. In reality, poor and especially trans and genderqueer Dalitbahujan contributions surpass upper caste efforts at queer liberation. They are the ones who create queer communities, protest enmasse and bear the brunt of the beatings, torture, rape and murders by society and the state. The criminalizing of the lives of queer folks through oppressive acts like the Section 377 (colonial anti-homosexuality law) also disproportionately affects poor, queer Dalitbahujan individuals, who cannot afford the price of privacy or rely on sex work for a living. The prides in major cities however, had become reflective of upper caste queer activism whose proponents have strived to create "caste-less" spaces to dissociate queerness from caste. In Dhrubo's pride speech, he states his reply to an upper caste individual asking him why Dalits felt the need to "bring caste into everything". Dhrubo replies " We bring caste up because caste is everywhere and in my everything, Caste is in my shirt, Caste is in my pant, Caste is in my sex, Caste is in my being and Caste is in every part of you too!" Together, their compelling Pride statement affirmed that the invisibilization of caste, erased Dalitbahujan struggles, history and identity Their statement was not met without hostility. The majority of dominant castes accused them of derailing conversations of queerness with caste, but they made clear their position was one that was not posing to ease upper caste fragility but one that would help nurture inclusion. They continue to engage by being conscious of their own privileges, by being a part of the interrogation of power structures and by opposing the prevailing silence around caste and queerness that shames Dalit queer folk into silence.

Kasaba Jadhav, India's First Olympic Medalist

Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav was widely known as 'Pocket Dynamo'. He was born in Goleshwar Tal Village in Karad Tashil of district Satara, Maharashtra in a poor Maratha family. His nick name was Anna. He was independent India's first individual Olympic medalist when he won the freestyle wrestling bronze medal at the 1952 Helsinki Games. For nearly half a century, his would remain the only individual medal for India at the Olympics until Leander Paes won a bronze in 1996. Hailing from a wrestling background, Jadhav was an ardent fan of sports, mainly wrestling, kabaddi, running, swimming and others. His father, a wrestler himself taught Jadhav about the sport and despite being the youngest in the family he managed to grasp the game and outclassed everyone. Wrestlers from Karad (around 75 kms from Kolhapur) and far flung places used to participate in wrestling events at Kolhapur under the Royal patronage of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj. Gradually he began emerging as undisputed wrestler in the area and soon was competing in national events.Jadhav was fleet footed, which made him different from other wrestlers of his time. English coach Rees Gardner saw this trait in him and trained him prior to 1948 Olympic games. In the 1948 London Olympics, he participated in the flyweight category finishing sixth. Four years later, before the selection for Helsinki Olympics, Jadhav alleged that nepotism among officials prevented him from getting selected for the Olympics. According to him, they intentionally gave him one point less than the eventual winner at the Madras Nationals, and this ruled him out of the Olympics. He did not bow down to corrupt officialdom and appealed to Maharaja of Patiala seeking justice. Fortunately the Maharaja of Patiala who loved sports, saw his point, and arranged his entry in Olympic trials where he floored his opponent and won an entry in the Olympics. Now Jadhav faced his next set of problems. He had to arrange money for his travel to Helsinki. Even the principal of Kolhapur's Rajaram college, Mr. Khardekar, mortgaged his house for a sum of Rs. 7,000 to pay for his travelling cost. Local shopkeepers from his village Goleshwar, in Karad taluka Satara district presented him with groceries and other items of use. At Helsinki, Jadhav had to fight seven bouts in all in the 52 kg freestyle event. In the first five, he met opponents from Europe and the Gulf countries and took barely five minutes to dispose them off. In the sixth round, his opponent was the famed Shonachi Ishi of Japan. Ishi's novelty of the ankle hold surprised Jadhav, but when he counterattacked, Ishi attempted rolling fouls which were penalised giving Jadhav a win. Unfortunately his next bout was soon after this sapping bout. This was officially not permissible, but since there was no Indian official to lodge an official protest, he had to face this bout within less than half an hour of this bout with Ishi. The tired Jadhav took on his next opponent, Manod Bekov of Russia. It is believed that had Jadhav not been tired from his previous bout, he would have defeated Bekov in no time, but tired as he was, he was beaten by Bekov and had to settle for a bronze.Despite his loss, his was a unique achievement in India. Yet like most talented individuals in developing countries, he was largely forgotten. There was no fanfare from his return to Helsinki. No newspaper interviews, no television. Television in fact was not born in India then! There was however a small felicitation for him at Mumbai's Shivaji Mandir auditorium in Dadar, Mumbai. Interestingly there was also a cavalcade of 101 bullock carts from Karad to his village. Instead of being heaped with rewards, Jadhav had to fight an exhibition soon on return to raise funds to help Khardekar pay off the mortgage loan raised for him. After this glorious moment he slid into oblivion and despite serving Inspector in the state police of Maharashtra he died living in poverty – almost certainly a broken man – on 14 August 1984 in a road accident. Ultimately, Government of India realized her forgotten hero and made a remarkable stadium in Delhi for wrestling and honored it by naming it as K D Jadhav stadium. This stadium is at par with the best in the world. http://drambedkarbooks.com/2015/01/28/28th-january-in-dalit-history-first-ever-infanticide-prohibition-home-of-india-was-started-by-savitribai-phule/

Adi-Hindu Conference and Procession in Allahabad

25,000 dalits, led by Swami Achuhtanand and G A Gavai took a procession in Allahabad city as part of Adi-Hindu movement’s conference. The Adi-Hindu movement was a movement for dalit identity. It considered dalits as a non-aryan race that were subjected to harsh and uneven legal system of caste Hindus or Ayrans. The procession went through Allahabad cisit with 25,000 dalits led by Swami Achhutanand and G A Gavai in motorcards, followed by phaetons, buggies, andtongas (two-wheeled carriages); protestors carrying banners and flags; andbhajan-mandlis (singers) singing songs of the ancient glory of the Adi-Hindus.

NYT Article: "Prince and Outcaste at Dinner in London"

Charles A. Selden wrote an article in New York Times titled "Prince and Outcast at Dinner in London," based on an interview with Dr. Ambedkar. The article was the on the from page and first news of the day. Dr. Ambedkar is quoted in the article as saying: “ "The plight of our 43,000,000 depressed people is not the problem of India alone. It should be international, for it affects the economic and social welfare of the entire world, and it is a case for the League of Nations just as slavery or the drug traffic is. 'Untouchability' is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove this stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it.” http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?VISuperSize&item=290610005449

The Battle of Bhima Koregaon

The Battle of Koregaon took place on January 1, 1818, at the banks of the river Bhima in Koregaon, northwest of Pune, India. There a small force of 500 Mahar soldiers of the 2nd Battalion 1st Regiment of the Bombay Native Light Infantry in the British Army fought valiantly against the most brutal Indian state of that times – The Brahmin Peshwa rulers of Pune, Maharashtra. For Mahar soldiers, this was a battle for their self-respect, dignity, and against the supremacy of Manusmriti as the Peshwa rulers oppressed the Mahars, making them hang a pot around their neck to spit and tie a broom around their waist to sweep away their 'impure' footsteps. These 500 Mahar soldiers defeated the Peshwa army of more than 30,000 in just one day. Their victory against such a mighty force is unparallelled in all of Indian history.

International Dalit Solidarity Network is Founded

MARCH 1, 2000: Together with the advocacy of Dalit leaders in India, the work of the activists in the diaspora led to the formal establishment of the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) in March 2000. Based in Copenhagen, Denmark, the IDSN, together with national-level organizations in India and eight state-level networks in Europe, has been critical to the creation of a “vibrant and increasingly dense transnational advocacy network.” The IDSN has helped increase the visibility of Dalit issues through targeted media activism and lobbied states and international institutions. The formation of the IDSN also represented a shift in how the problems facing Dalits were framed internationally; in the past, religious and development organizations had focused on the various problems that India’s poor faced such as illiteracy and forced labor. The IDSN instead argued for “an approach that frames the Dalits’ many problems in comprehensive terms as outgrowths of caste-based discrimination endemic to Indian society.

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