Ambedkar Jayanti 2017: Here's a look at Dalit History Month to explore forgotten narratives
On Ambedkar Jayanti, here's a look at a website which focuses on the history of dalits.
Come 14 April and India focuses its lens on one of the most marginalised, highly politicised groups in India. The anniversary of Ambedkar's birth brings into focus the struggles of the Dalits in the modern context.
As Babasaheb Ambedkar had once said, "If you want to destroy a society, destroy its history and the society will get destroyed automatically."
And history is only written by the victors. For Dalits in India, their struggle through the years of oppression lies documented but invisible to the mainstream media.
One of the founders, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, says she was inspired to create the project when she was tired of having her aspect of history mistold by 'people of oppressor caste backgrounds.'
She says, "To us, these events, struggles, songs, leaders are not just words in a paper, they are not the blocks through which we build our careers or political propaganda that is slowly stacked up to erase the true history of this subcontinent, they were our own lives, these are our truths. We live the consequences of these truths every day. We are alive because of the resilience and struggles of the past. So we wanted to come up with a process to where the marginalised can own, tell and celebrate their own history. This is what has resulted in the participatory transmedia project that is Dalit History Month."
The women-only collective is made up of Dalit women from multiple disciplines including science and the humanities who have been working on the issue of caste apartheid and Dalit history for many years. This is our life's commitment and we are humbled by the global response to our work.
Black History Month
The founders modelled the idea of Dalit History Month after the internationally celebrated Black History Month. Black History Month, celebrated in October, seeks to put an emphasis on the history of the struggles of African Americans around the world. These were projects that had very specific goals and meant to restore imbalances in knowledge creation that correspond to systematic oppression.
Janvi Sutharesan , who is a part of the initiave, tells us, "These were projects that had very specific goals and meant to restore imbalances in knowledge creation that correspond to systematic oppression. We needed the same and we learnt from the strategies of our black brothers and sisters, who we stand in solidarity with. At a time when history is being actively erased and rewritten by the current administration, Dalit History is a crucial key to a Dalit Future and we are committed to the end of caste apartheid in our lifetime."
Sourcing information from the internet has been crucial in their project. All the information on their website is sourced and approved through different people.
Thenmozhi tells us, "We work closely with other Dalits popular on social media to disseminate our content. Our project is both physical and online but the online is a key component. Through the internet, we are also able to circumvent the gatekeepers of knowledge, community, and the press and build our own power in each of these fields. In many ways the internet allows us to envision an Ambedkar age and through that vision begin to make it material in our lives."
For Art's Sake!
For Dalit History Month, art is really important. Gathering artistic work of people in their community can lead to a lot. For the founders, "Art, particularly socially engaged art, allows using a terrain to explore our liberation and share our visions for our community in a space often dismissed by policy makers. You connect people to an issue through the heart and build empathy in ways that few can match. Fundamentally, our ultimate aim is not simply awareness but liberation from caste apartheid."
Waves of change
For the founders, putting up content for the Dalit history month was a lesson itself. They learnt parts of the history of the Dalits that were completely wiped off from mainstream educational history books. She says, "One of the most affecting lessons from Dalit History Month for us is the story of the Namasudras in Bengal. They were key to their community's well-being, they unified Dalits in Bengal and that gave them real political power which they used through the towering work of Jogendranath Mandal to uplift Babasaheb. Despite attempts at ethnic cleansing and retributory violence, they survive! They not only survive but have been key to the histories of three modern nations — India , Pakistan and Bangladesh. But their story is rarely told and they have disappeared in our modern conversations about Bengal. Their stories and other stories like these show us that Dalit History is the History of the subcontinent and that it is a powerful platform for understanding who we are as a nation."
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