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Dalit History Month: 1 April to 30 April

This entry is part of 48 in the series 20040311_Issue


Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950), born to former slaves in Kentucky, enrolled in high school at age twenty and went on to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. Disturbed by the fact that history books largely ignored black Americans, Woodson established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, a year later founded the Journal of Negro History, and in February 1926 conceived of the Negro History Week. The month is significant for the birthdays of pioneers and institutions: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the first Pan-African Congress. There were accretions and changes over the years-in 1972 it was renamed Black History Week; by 1976 Black History Month. Today, the American government is an official party to the celebrations in February every year.

That the dalits need to undertake a similar exercise is easier said than done. Despite the imperialism, slavery and racism that white western nations imposed, there was no effort to erase or mythify these injustices. They could be challenged; and the blacks, when necessary, had access to concrete records. In the case of the subcontinent we do not have that luxury. What Swami Dharmateertha identified as ‘brahmanic hindu imperialism ‘ has swamped this land in a million myths. So much that myth, backed by an undefined religion, has replaced history in India; in fact, myth is re-staking its claim to historicity more dangerously than ever before in post-independence India-be it in Ayodhya, or in the hindutva efforts to rewrite brahmanize textbooks. Even before textbooks came to be rewritten by the exponents of hindutva, hinduized history in India has been a history of erasures as far as dalits are concerned. To counter this, we need concrete history. Ambedkar was the first to try and unravel the real history that lay sandwiched in these puranic myths in works such as Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Ancient India. Ambedkar undertook this exercise standing on solid buddhist ground.

Brahmanism, prone to the preservation of myths, ensured that the scientific and historically accurate buddhist texts were destroyed. History was burnt. Most buddhist works were recovered outside Indian shores. Not only buddhist literature, even buddhists were exterminated. In a context where history has been subjected to planned erasure, events (Keezhvenmani, Chunduru, Kumher), institutions (Sakya Buddhist Society) and names (Gurram Jahsua, P.R.Venkataswamy, Shankaranand Shastri and Iyothee Thass) from the past century seem unfamiliar even to dalits. ‘Left-progressive ‘ historians have been party to this deliberate neglect. So in R.S. Sharma ‘s work on shudras, Ambedkar ‘s work is no more than a footnote; in D.N.Jha ‘s recent book on beef-eating in ancient India, Ambedkar ‘s work is not acknowledged. The Subaltern Studies group, which has gained immense currency in the academia, has systematically excluded dalits; the group, ironically, does not have a single dalit historian.

Hence Navayana, India ‘s first independent publishing house exclusively devoted to examining the entire gamut of life from a caste perspective, takes the lead in initiating the dalit history month. We appeal to all those concerned and interested in the reconstruction of history from a dalit viewpoint to take this initiative seriously and undertake exercises in their respective languages, culture, regions-and even subcastes-so that we know who we are, where we came from. We must celebrate “Dalit History Month” every year from 1 April to 30 April, the month in which Babasaheb Ambedkar ‘s birth anniversary falls. We must host have a series of independent events in India and across the globe-publications, seminars, workshops, special issues of journals, cultural programs. We must also lobby with the mainstream media to write about Dalit History Month.

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Visit Navayana Publishing at www.navayana.org, join the ‘Navayana Book Club ‘ and avail fabulous discounts!

Ravikumar and S. Anand

‘Navayana Publishing ‘

28, Veerabhadrasamy Koil Street

Lawspet

Pondicherry, India 605008

Email: navayana@ambedkar.org

Phone: 91-413-2253666

In Chennai: 91-44-24422199

‘Publishing for Social Change ‘

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