Black Americans have protested the slavery and racism thrust on them by the Whites through many forums including those of Black literature and politics. One such forum is Black History Month. They announced and celebrate February as Black History Month to redeem their racial history that has been side-lined so far. February is an important month in Black history – this is the month in which people like Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and W.E.B. Du Bois, who fought against the system of slavery, were born. The big corporate houses and the American government also celebrate Black History Month. Stamps to honour leading members of the Black community are issued in this time.
Using the celebrations of Black History Month as an example, Dalits announced and celebrate April as Dalit History Month to redeem the history of the struggles for social emancipation and political service of Dalit leaders who have been ignored and deliberately forgotten, to write about this history and take it to the people through various media. Towards redeeming for research the histories that were hidden, twisted and re-written vengefully by the Brahmin and middle-castes, pamphlets and books are published and conferences organised as part of the Dalit History Month celebrations every April. It is most appropriate to observe this in April, the month that the revolutionary Ambedkar was born. He remains the most important symbol for Dalit people in the struggle against untouchability and caste.
Tamil Dalit history can be told from the 18th century. However, there are printed documents available only from the 19th century onwards. It is necessary that we unearth the organisations and revolutions of and obstacles in the path of Dalit leaders creating ideas for social emancipation, inaugurating the Dravidian Sangam and thinking about such things as resistance to Vedic religion, rejecting the culture of the Hindi speakers, self-respect, and Tamil language pride in 19th- century Tamil Nadu. The mistaken idea that untouchability and slavery have been the history of the Dalit people has become ingrained in common sense. Untouchability was imposed on Dalits only for a few centuries. The celebration of Dalit History Month will also help to write scientifically-sound answers to such questions as: Why was untouchability thrust upon Dalits? How were the untouchable castes formed?
We must celebrate every April as Dalit History Month to bring into history the unknown documents and speeches of Dalit leaders, in a way that will impact society at large.
Many power structures and traditions work to increase or decrease income inequalities and exploitation through culture. Yet in India, caste is a power structure that enables suppression and exploitation. Unless this structure is removed from the root, there will be no opportunity for equality, social justice and humanitarianism to flourish here.No cultured society can accept the social evil of untouchability. This Dalit History Month will provide an opportunity to discuss in public spaces the everyday violence that Dalits face and resist.
In the struggle to reclaim the rights of the Black people, Whites gathered with humility under Black leadership. Can we expect the same from the daily enforcers of untouchability – the dominant castes – in the struggle to abolish untouchability?
Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.