Artists Mirror on Dalit Historical past Month

Huge Fats Bao, “Phoolan Birthday” (2022), digital illustration (picture courtesy the artist)

Throughout the month of April, tens of millions of Ambedkarites and caste-abolition allies have a good time Dalit Historical past Month. Launched in 2015 by a collective of Dalit feminists, together with Thenmozhi Soundararajan and Christina Dhanaraj, Dalit Historical past Month is a participatory group historical past venture impressed by Black Historical past Month. It started as a grassroots-led effort, originating in US-based political and group organizations, and has now spawned a world motion that encompasses story-telling, discussions, and art work — largely powered by social media.

Caste is an historical system of oppressive social hierarchy that divides society into 4 varnas or classes. Dalit and Adivasi individuals are excluded from the rating solely. It impacts over one billion individuals at this time. Ambedkarite is another time period to Dalit, which means one who follows the philosophy of beloved Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (1891–1956), an anti-caste emancipatory chief, revolutionary, theorist, thinker, human-rights advocate, and architect of the Indian Structure. 

Shrujana Shridhar, “Dalit Historical past Month” (2023), digital illustration (picture courtesy the artist)

Dalit Historical past Month is widely known in April as a result of it’s the beginning month of main Dalit icons comparable to Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, affectionately dubbed Babasaheb by many, and Jyotirao Phule, a Nineteenth-century anti-caste reformer, social activist, and literary chief. Whereas celebrations of those auspicious days predated the official creation of Dalit Historical past Month, Dhanaraj advised Hyperallergic, “What this venture did was mainstream the month, make it extra public, and extra celebratory. We’re not simply speaking about victimhood, we’re additionally taking time to have a good time the group’s resilience and resistance.”  

The arrival of social media has lent itself to a rising world Ambedkarite group and, one hopes, elevated consciousness of anti-caste actions.

“If it wasn’t for social media, I might not be the place I’m at this time,” shared Shrujantha Shridhar, artist, illustrator, and co-founder of the multimedia digital venture Dalit Panther Archive. “I don’t have any of the sources, connections, and contacts that come from caste-privileged networks. It’s a medium to impress, create tradition for the Ambedkarite motion, and set up illustration.”

Huge Fats Bao, “Banubhai Yalve: Dalit Historical past Month” (2023), digital illustration (picture courtesy the artist)

Off the again of social media, the month has taken on a lifetime of its personal, particularly within the palms of artists like Shridhar, Huge Fats Bao, Siddhesh Gautam, Osheen Siva, and Rahee Punyashloka. Whereas Dalit Historical past Month has come a good distance, with Washington changing into the primary state to formally have a good time it and California’s Senate currently pending SB 403, a invoice to ban caste-based discrimination, the US has an extended option to go when it comes to allying with caste abolition actions. This turns into much more urgent given the rise of fanatic pan-nationalism and sweeping ethnoreligious edicts throughout the Bharatiya Janata Get together (BJP) state governments which have culminated in countless atrocities.

The up to date socially engaged artist carries the burden of historic consciousness. Is it their accountability to coach the plenty? 

Shrujana Shridhar, “Water & Caste” (2023), digital illustration (picture courtesy the artist)

Huge Fats Bao, a caste-abolitionist, illustrator, and researcher primarily based in Mumbai, India, and I mentioned her April 13 Instagram post, a kaleidoscopic digital mosaic celebrating Bhim Jayanti, Babasaheb’s birthday. It garnered one of many strongest social media responses she has skilled. We puzzled how many individuals could also be studying the identify Babasaheb and encountering his imagery for the primary time. 

Nonetheless, elevated visibility for Dalit-Ambedkarite activists and artists on social media comes at a value. As Bao’s community and attain grows, so does her publicity to internet-based harassment, discrimination, and oppression which she handles with grace.

Huge Fats Bao’s Instagram put up celebrating Bhim Jayanti, Babasaheb’s birthday (screenshot Hyperallergic)

In 2018, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, one of many first overtly Dalit ladies on Twitter and originator of the viral hashtag #DalitWomenFight, and 6 ladies journalists met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in India to debate the vitriol they had been dealing with on the platform. On the finish of the assembly, they gifted Dorsey a digitally illustrated poster designed by Soundararajan, snapped a gaggle picture, and posted it to social media. The poster depicted a lady towards a blue background holding up an indication that learn “Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy.” 

The put up went viral and Twitter unraveled with (largely) caste-privileged individuals, also referred to as savarnas, accusing Twitter of endorsing anti-Hindu sentiment. 

Dalit activists and journalists met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in 2018 to debate the vitriol they had been dealing with on the platform. (screenshot Hyperallergic)

“One thing so simple as a poster bought your complete web to sit down nonetheless. As a result of for sooner or later, Twitter bought the sensation of what it was prefer to be a Dalit lady,” mentioned Soundararajan.

The poster was designed by a collaborative crew at Equality Labs, “a Dalit civil rights group devoted to ending caste apartheid, gender-based violence, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and spiritual intolerance.” Equality Labs recurrently collaborates with and amplifies Dalit-Bahujan artists.

It has been 5 years since the Twitter incident, however the hate-mongering continues, particularly for activists on the political frontlines who endure focused and arranged cyber-attacks. In an April 11 assertion released by PEN America, the group condemned the relentless on-line abuse marketing campaign waged towards Soundararajan, her colleagues, and allies. 

The Dalit Panther Get together Archive

Cowl for the Dalit Panther Manifesto (1973) (picture courtesy Ramesh Shinde Archives and Dalit Panther Archive)

Based by poets and writers Namdeo Dhasal, Raja Dhale, J. V. Pawar, and Arun Kamble, the Dalit Panther Get together (DPP) (1972–1977) was impressed by the Black Panther Get together. The Dalit Panthers Manifesto labeled “American imperialism” in the identical class as “Hindu feudalism.” The Get together rallied at atrocity websites, organized marches, boycotted elections, and propositioned direct militant motion towards their dominant-caste aggressors — direct cues from the Black Panther Get together. 

Although the group fractured and finally disbanded because of dissenting ideologies, their legacy lives on partly because of the work of the Dalit Panther Archive.

Shrujana Shridhar, “Dalit Panthers” (2023), digital illustration (picture courtesy the artist)

Established in 2018 by Shridhar, the Dalit Panther Archive is a multi-media digital area that “examines and evaluates the aesthetic qualities and design selections of varied Little Magazines related to the Dalit Panthers motion,” as Tanya George reported in Fontstand News. The Instagram archive permits artists to review and rearticulate the male-led motion, ushering it into an more and more feminist area.

In 2017, Shridhar started the tedious and meticulous work of visiting the non-public collections of Satish Kalsekar, Ramesh Shinde, and J. V. Pawar. She listened to their tales and thoroughly photographed, scanned, and translated the fragile supplies, which included e-book covers, magazines, posters, and images.

“It modified me as an artist,” Shridhar advised Hyperallergic. “It taught me how I need to view myself as an anti-cate Ambedkarite Dalit feminist artist at this time. The place do I see myself? How do I find myself within the historical past of the world? What’s my function? It’s not nearly current politics and reacting to these politics. If it may well do this for me, what can it do for others?”

At Satish Kalsekar’s Dwelling (2017) (picture courtesy Shrujana Shridhar)

Rahee Punyashloka, an Ambedkarite multi-disciplinary artist, agrees: “Had it not been for Shrujana’s digitizations, I might not have recognized about this complete creative register. These are artists who’ve created iconography that we will construct on.”

Punyashloka’s current physique of labor, Ambedkarite Blues, is a collection of summary digital illustrations and text-based graphics that reimagines historic literary texts and celebrates up to date and historic figures with an emphasis on feminist leaders. He revives historical past by giving it a brand new breath by way of a definite blue-and-white visible conceptual strand. 

Rahee Punyashloka, “The Dalit Panther is an Elusive Beast #1” (2021), 13 inches x 13 inches, digital print (picture courtesy the artist)

The blue is an homage to Babasaheb who liked the colour, associating it with the vastness and freedom of clear skies. It grew to become the colour of the flag flown by the Ambedkar Scheduled Castes Federation in 1942, in addition to subsequent Ambedkarite-led organizations.

The Dalit Panther Archive additionally permits researchers and artists to investigate the design selections of the booklets and texts. The DPP’s method to design was largely self-taught, evident of their disregard for formal design guidelines. The Get together struggled to entry printing sources, adapting their designs to suit the dimensions of recycled paper, touring as much as six hours to Alibag to make copies through cyclostyling, and utilizing minimal colour to reduce prices.

In her current article for The Futuress, Huge Fats Bao breaks down how the Indian design business is traditionally caste-based, exclusionary, and Eurocentric, traced to the long-standing vocational hierarchy codified within the four-tiered caste system that locations Brahmins (clergymen and lecturers) on the prime, Shudras (laborers, craftspersons, and artisans) on the backside, and Dalit individuals outdoors of the rating solely. 

Dalits had been lengthy compelled to work in “impure” and labor-intensive occupations, together with handbook scavenging, dying material, and weaving. The latter are thought of folks crafts and out of doors of fantastic arts. A historic denial of entry to training exacerbates the hole between expertise entry and social mobility. All the artists I spoke with for this text shared their endurance and legitimate frustration in navigating hegemonic educational areas, accessing creative sources, and apprehension in proudly owning the identification of “artist” versus “designer.” 

“Celebration comes from deep-seated apprehension concerning the world past us. If we don’t have a good time with one another, maybe nobody else will,” shared Punyashloka.

Regardless of these challenges, it’s the resilience charged by millennia of resistance that impresses me and the generosity of spirit that humbles me. 

These individuals are only a few out of 1000’s of artists, activists, thinkers, and leaders who’re standing on the shoulders of anti-caste revolutionary leaders. Now’s the time for caste-privileged of us inside and out of doors of the South Asian diaspora to look at their very own caste places as they amplify and have a good time anti-caste actions and leaders. 

Jai Bhim!