Literary Shelf

Dalit Women's Autobiographies in Marathi

Sri Arjun Dangle writing about Dalit Literature (read Dalit Autobiographies by women) observes: Dalit literature is not simply a literature; it is associated with a movement to bring about change. It is strongly evident that there is no established critical theory behind (Dalit writing) instead there is a new thinking and new point of view. 1 Expressing similar feeling Dr C B Bharathi says, “The aim Of Dalit Literature is to protest against the established system which is based on injustice and to expose the evil and hypocrisy of higher casts. There is an urgent need to create a separate aesthetics for Dalit literature, an aesthetics based on real experiences of life.” 2 Now we know what actually made Dalit women who are traditionally illiterate to take up to pen. Mukta Salve in her article published in, Bombay’s Gnanodaya Fortnightly Magazine in 1885(February 15 and March 1) writes: The Upper caste people have degraded us so low; they consider people like us even lower than cows and buffaloes. Did they not consider us even lower than donkeys? You beat a donkey and its master retaliates. But who was there to object to the routine thrashing of Mahars and Mangs? (English translation by Braj Ranjan Mani). Mukta Sarvagod throws a beckon light on the conditions of Mahar women in her autobiography ‘Mitleli Kavaade’ (Closed Doors) thus: The Mahar women were forced to take up the occupation of village men. Those who were not willing to do such labour of indignity were excommunicated from the village 3. We can summarize their plights by borrowing this short poem written by an unknown poet of 1890s. We even do not know who has translated this in to English:

Their houses are outside the village
There are lice in their women’s hair
Naked children play in the rubbish
They eat carrion
The faces of untouchables have a humble look
There is no learning among them
They know the names of village Goddesses and the Demon Gods
But not the name of Brahma

According to Ms. Sharmila Rege, Dalit word was first used in 1930s as a Hindi and Marathi translation for Depressed Classes. She further says, “As back as 1930 there was a depressed classes News Paper published in Pune called “ Dalit Bandhu’.4 The autobiographies written by Dalit Women give a picturesque illustration to the afore mentioned poem in an ethnic language. Mr. Gopal Guru in his article ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently’ says,” Dalit women justify the case for talking differently on the basis of external factors (Non Dalit Forces homogenenising the issue of Dalit women) and internal factors (The patriarchal domination within the Dalits.)5. The contribution of Dalit women autobiographers is such that their autobiographies have become a synonym to Dalit Literature. The following autobiographies have niche in the temple of fame:

  • Jina Amuche By Babytai Kondiba Kamble
  • Majhya Jalmachi Chitra Katha by Shantabai Krishnaji Kamble
  • Ratraandin Amha by Shantabai Dhanaji Dani
  • Mitleli Kavaade by Mukta Sarvagod
  • Antasphot By Kumud Pawade
  • Aaydan By Urmila Pawar
  • Maajhi Mi By Yashodara Gaikwad
  • Teen Dagadachi Chul By Vimal Dadasaheb More
  • Maran Kala By Jinabai Kachru Girhe
  • Mala Uddhvasta Vhaychay By Malika Amar Shaik
  • Mi Nanda By Dr Nanda Kehav Meshram

Ms. Sharmila Rege in her much quoted popular book ‘Writing Caste/ Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonies’’ classifies the first six as women belonging to Mahar Caste. Yashodara Gaikwad too belongs to this caste. Jinabai Kachru Girhe and Vimal Dadasaheb More belong to Gopal and Gondhali families respectively. Gopal and Gondhali families are Nomadic families. Malika Amar Shaik and Nanda Keshav Meshram have become Dalits by their marriage. Malika Amar Shaik has married Namdeo Dhasal and Nanda Bajirao has married Keshav Meshram a Dalit. Kumud Sankuvar a Dalit by birth has become an upper caste woman by marrying Sri Motiram Pawade. Out of these 11 autobiographies only five have been translated in to English. Dr Maya Pandit has translated two autobiographies. Babytai Kondiba Kamble’s ‘Jina Amuche’ has been translated as “The Prisons We Broke” and Vimal Pawar’s ‘Aaydan’ has been translated as “The Weave Of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoir”. Ms. Sharmila Rege has translated Shanta Bai Danaji Dani’s ‘Raatradin Amha’ as “For Us These Nights and Days”. ‘Majhya Jalmachi Chitrakatha’ by Shanta Bai Krishnaji Kamble, apart from French, has been rendered in to English also. Malika Amar Shaik’s ‘Mala Uddhvasta Vhaychay’ has been translated in to English as “I Want To Destroy Myself : A Memoir (Speaking Tiger)” by Jerry Pinto. Thanks to Ms. Sharmila Rege who has taken pains to translate some important passages from the autobiographies of Smt. Kumud Pawade, Smt. Vimal Dadasaheb More, Smt. Jinabai Kachru Girhe and Smt. Mukata Sarvagod in her book “Writing Caste/ Writing Gender” to prove her point along with Maya Pandit. The autobiographies by Smt. Mukta Sarvago, Smt. Yashodara Gaikwad, Dr. Kumud Pawade, Smt. Jina Bai Kachru Girhe, Smt. Vimal Dadasaheb More and Dr. Nada Keshav Meshram, have not been translated in to English, yet. People outside Maharashtra are unable to appreciate the beauties of these autobiographies.

We must know that the word Dalit does not denote caste. Eleanor Zelliot says: To me Dalit is not a caste. He is a person exploited by social and economical traditions of the country….Dalit is a symbol of Change and revolution. 6 By the by the word caste according to Dr Wilson is not of Indian origin, but is derived from Portuguese ‘Casta’ signifying race, mould or quality. According to www., the word caste was first used in the 1700s in reference to Hinduism’s system of social stratification.

If poetry, according to P B Shelly is a ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquility, an autobiography is a leisurely chewing of cud of past events, may be at the end of the career or in the evening of life. An autobiography being nonfiction there is no scope for the autobiographer to soar high in the sky with the wings of imagination. Here the autobiographer has to record the events as they happened. If he/she narrates the lies and half truths the history may not spare him/her. Such autobiography may not stand the test of time. This being the reason people may not agree with Mr. David Graham, a Freelance writer who worked at Apple and Google, when he says, “I forgot who said a biography is a collection of lies and half truths you write about another person and an autobiography is a collection of lies and half truths you write about yourself” 7. The autobiographies by the Dalit Women vehemently disprove the half hearted and off the cuff remark of Mr. David Graham. Kumud Pawade in her autobiography ‘Antasphot’ (Thoughtful outburst) writes, “My outburst must not be misunderstood as an emotional one” 8. Ms Sharmila Rege writes, ‘Antosphot’ is not an autobiography but a critical narrative of her experiences. In fact she feels that all dalit life stories are critical narratives and not autobiographies” 9. About her autobiography Babytai Kondiba Kamble, to her book’s English translator Dr. Maya Pandit, says, “Anyway, for me, the suffering of my community has always been more important than my own individual suffering. I have identified myself completely with my people. And therefore ‘Jine Amucha’ was the autobiography of my entire community.” 10 Similarly in one of her Interviews about her autobiography Urmila Pawar says, “I find that my mother’s act of weaving and my act of writing originally similar. It is the weave of suffering and agony that link. 11 About Urmila Pawar’s ‘Aaydan’ (Things Made Of Bamboo) Wandana Sonikar writes, “The Lives of different members of her family, her husband’s family, her neighbours and classmates are woven together in a narrative that gradually reveals different aspects of everyday life of Dalits, the manifold ways in which caste asserts itself and grinds them down”. 12 In a nutshell The Dalit women’s autobiographies merely do not talk about their family or about themselves. They are not ‘I’ centered but ‘We’ centered. Appreciating these autobiographies Ms. Rege observes, “the fact the voice of ‘We’ instead of ‘I’ propels these narratives sets them apart from other forms of Dalit Writings.13

Education, as far as the Dalit Communities are concerned, was a forbidden fruit. Forget about the society even Dalit male members were also against sending girls to schools. Vimal Dadasaheb More’s brother who was in an urban place wanted his siblings to send to school. Vimal More’s mother was in favour of this proposal even though she herself was an illiterate. But Vimal’s father was against this proposal. He says to his son, “Asha (Ashok) have you gone mad. You want to send the girl to school. Do girls go to school in our community.” 14. This conversation is from Vimal Dadasheb More’s autobiography ‘Teen Dagdachi Chul’ (The Stove of Three Stones).

Dr. B R Ambedkar realized that Dalit women should have access to education. Through his News Paper ‘Bahishkrut Bharat’ he appealed to the people to encourage their daughters to go to school. About Ambedkar’s vision of social emancipation for Dalits, Urmila Pawar and Meenakshi Moon in their book “We Also Made History” have written, “The education of women and girls was an integral part of Ambedkar’s vision for Dalits”. He used to publish the names of those girls who have completed their matriculation and those who have joined as teachers, in his Newspaper ‘Bahishkrut Bharat’. This publicity encouraged girls to knock the doors of schools. Apart from this in those days Bhim Palana (Cradle) songs were also popular. Look at this Palana Song, A mother says to her daughter,

Oh! Child don’t step back, stand ahead
Bring prestige to the name of Parents.
So you study, such you must study
I will toil hard and make you study
I will take care of you with frugality
What do you think –would you leave school
Tell me what you want.15

Shanta Bai Danaji Dani in her autobiography ‘Ratraandin Amha’ (Our Nights and Days) writes about her mother. She encouraged her to go to school. She (Mother) felt that her daughter should join in a Missionary School than in a Municipal School. Her mother used to say, “Listen girl, for the poor, education is a ray of hope.” 16 She recalls one more incident. She assures Dani Master, the Principal of the school, “I will support her as much as I can but please take care of the remaining things. Pay close attention to her studies. 17” Urmila Pawar too thanks her mother for her encouragement. She writes in her auto biography ‘Aaydan’ (Things Made Of Bamboo) how her mother toiled hard to give education to her children. In one of the interviews she says, “My father passed away when I was in 3rd standard. But he made sure that my mother’s prime job was to look after their kids (we were four) education. My mother was herself an illiterate but by making baskets from bamboos she took care of our education. Education really made a difference in my life.” 18 Vimal Dadasaheb More in her Auto biography “Mitleli Kavaade” owes her education to her mother and her brother. Kumud Pawade in her autobiography, ‘Antasphot’ (Inner Explosion) narrates her longing for education.19. By overcoming so many hurdles Janabai Kachru Girhe gets education. About her tribe or community Gopal she says, “To be born a girl in such community is like boon to suffer eternal pain that takes you almost to the gates of death- ‘Maran Kala’. 20 This is the title of her autobiography. She becomes the first woman of her community to become a teacher and to write her life story i.e. autobiography. Janabai Kachru Girhe dedicates her autobiography ‘Maran Kala’ to her parents:

To them who begged from door to door
Who cared for me, through Sun, rain and bitter cold storms
Did more than they did for their lives
Who crossed mountains of hard labour to put pen in my hands
Rather the customary begging bowl
I dedicate this book at the wounded and tired feet of my parents
(Translation Dr. Maya Pandit, Rege’s book, Writing Caste/ Writing Gender, Zubaan , 2006 , New Delhi Page 310)

Yashodara Gaikwad too dedicates her book ‘Maajhi Me’ to her parents. While paying tributes to her mother she says, “Mother I have acquired all your qualities. You have paved my path with good intensions”. About her beloved father she says, “I always admire your human qualities”. With this statement she dedicates her book to her parents.

Malika Amar Shaik writing about her parents in autobiography ‘Mala Uddhvasta Vhaychay’ I Want To Destroy Myself: A Memoir (Speaking Tiger) says, “ I say this often, that I have managed to acquire a few good qualities of my father…..My mother was an angel who knew how to love unconditionally (The New Indian Express November 26,2014, Dipti Nagpaul)

Mukata Sarvagod is so enamored about education that she organized training courses for school teachers and young girls. Yashodara Gaikwad the author of ‘Majhi Mi’ (Mera My in Hindi) in spite of the fact that circumstances were not very favorable, she gets good education. Inspired by the speeches of leaders like Shanta Bai Dani, she even in her younger days decides to become a teacher. She recalls the inspiring words of Mahatma Phoole who used to say, “If a girl is educated the whole family gets education”. She has four degrees: B A, B.Ed, M A, and M.Ed.21 Most of the Dalit autobiographers, it may be a coincidence, are either teachers by themselves or have close association with educational institutions. Kumud Pawade is a Sanskrit Professor. Dr Nanda Keshav Meshram holds a Ph.D degree. Babytai Kondiba Kamble was not that educated, still she started a government approved residential school for children from disadvantaged communities in Nimbur. (Wikipedia a free encyclopedia). She was inspired by Dr. Baba Saheb Anbedkar;s speech. In her Interview to Dr Maya Pandit in response to one question she says,”Give this generation! Make sacrifices for twenty years. Enroll your children in schools. Go hungry if you must! But educate your children”. (The Prisons We Broke 2020 reprint page 138)


“The Dalit autobiographies propagate the humiliation experienced by Dalit authors. Dalit autobiographies deal with the ideology of protest and revolution” 22. All Dalit autobiographers are victims of humiliation. They diffuse light on caste discrimination, segregation and patriarchy. Babytai Kondiba Kamble in ‘Jina Amuche’ narrates her plights in the school: Our school predominantly high caste. A majority of girls in our school belonged to the higher castes. They treated us like lepers, as if our bodies dripped with dirty blood or as if pus oozed out of rotten flesh. The teacher had allotted us a place in a corner. They would hurl stones at us and throw dust in to our eyes” 23. Shanta Bai Danaji Dani, in her autobiography recalls an incident which took place when she was in Vth standard. The family of her father’s friend had invited them for a feast. As the family belongs to upper Maratha caste she and her father were served food in a cowshed. Go through the conversation Shanta Bai had with her father:

Shanta Bai: Why they are serving us food in this cow shed?
Father: we are Mahar. How can we eat with them? They get polluted by our presence.
Shanta Bai: What is pollution?
Father: We can’t touch them.
Shanta Bai: What will happen if we touch them?
Father: What else will happen? The one who touches and the one touched will become sinners.
Shanta Bai: What is sin?
Father: That which is not good deed.
Shanta Bai: What is a good deed?
Father summarized in simple terms that sin is a bad thing
Shanta Bai: Are we not human beings?
Father: Of course. We are.
Shanta Bai: These people touch cats and dogs, then why not us? 24

Shanta Bai says that her life changed after this conversation. Similar feelings even Urmila Pawar expresses in her autobiography ‘Aaydan’:

Some of the people she (mother) sent me too never allowed me to enter in to their houses. They made me stand at the thresh hold. I put the baskets down and they sprinkled water on them to wash away the pollution. And only then would touch them, They would drop coins in my hand from above, avoiding contact as if their hands would have burnt had they touched me. 25

Majhya Jalmachi Chitra katha’s author Smt. Shanta Bai Krishnaji Kamble about the caste discrimination has this to write: Patil Master was the teacher of standard III. He forced us to sit outside the class room. He did not let us touch either him or the other upper caste students. He used to punish us from a safe distance with a cane….He did not like to be touched by us.26  Smt. Yashodara Gaikwad has also suffered in her school days because of her caste. The Dalit community in general and women folk in particular wanted to put an end to this discrimination. They sincerely felt that they do not belong to Hinduism. As Mukta Salve puts it: aamhas Dharm Pustak Naahin, Mag aamhi Dharma Rahit aahot kaa? Tar Hey Bhagvan, aamhaalaa aamchaa Dharma Kontaa Te saangaa. (We do not have any religious book. Does this mean that we are without religion? Then Oh! God Tell us to which religion we belong)- (From Bombays Gnanodaya Fortnihtly, 1855 Feb15 and March 1.) Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar came to their rescue. In 1956 along with him lakhs of people got themselves converted in to Buddhism. All most all Dalit women autobiographers, along with their family members, have changed their religion. All have recorded this in their respective autobiographies. Urmila Pawar says,….The most important change in to my life came after converting to Buddhism. The fear of God, fate and ghosts went away after converting. (Interview given to Dr Maya Pandit). Shanta Bai Krishnaji Kamble says, “we began to live as human beings only having embraced Buddhism”.27

Malik Amar Shaik and Dr. Nanda Keshav Meshram were not subject this caste discrimination and segregation as they belong to Non Dalit families by their birth. Malika Amar Shaik has a different story to tell. She writes about domestic violence particularly physical abuse, male domination etc.

The following poem included in autobiography explains, everything in detail:

Not One tree remains to protect
The nest of my dreams.
How many years have passed?
The silks of my youth have been
Scooped up in my lover’s beak
And he has flown away.

About this autobiography Ms. Dipti Nagpaul of The New Indian Express, November 26, 2016 writes: Shaik’s is the story of a women torn between the personal and political, the left and the Dalit Movement and her love and loathing for Dhasal. The book pointed to the contradictions with the Dalit Movement in Maharashtra during 1970s and Dalit Panther’s part that led it. In the book she admits that with a hint of regret that motherhood is a role she took on reluctantly. Vrinda Nabur of Hindusthan Times, is of the opinion: Malika Amar Shaik’s auotobiography is also a portrait of Bombay poets, activists, prostitutes and fighters. There is not another memoir in Indian writing as honest and pitiless as this. Almost all autobiographies by Dalit women are known for their honest writings. They have not minced words. They have called a spade a spade. With their frank expressions they have succeeded in hitting the nail on its head.

Talking about the post Ambedkar period Mr. Gopal Guru writes: Dalit leaders have always subordinated and at times suppressed an independent political expression. Dalit male writers do not take serious note of the literary output of women and tend to be dismissive of it. 29  Mukta Sarvagod has criticized the hierarchy of Mahila Mandals that were controlled by Dalit males. 30  High lighting this behavior of Dalit males Dr.Preeti Oza writes: The Dalit Movement has thrown up so many women but articulate women are not invited to Dalit Forums. Dalit women have to challenge Dalit men to reach the leadership posts within their own movement. 31. Babtai Kondiba Kamble in her autobiography says: If Mahar Community is the other for Brahmins, Mahar women become other for Mahar men. 32. Dr Maya Pandit while interviewing Babytai Kamble puts this question: Did you suffer during your personal life? Babytai replies: I had to suffer like many other women…. It was common for a husband to beat his wife because he doubted her faithfulness. And I was not an exception. Once we went Mumbai to attend to a meeting. We travelled in a general compartment that was very crowded and some young men happened to stare at me. My husband immediately suspected me and hit me so hard that my nose started bleeding profusely. But people do look at you in the train, don’t they? How do you stop them from doing so? But there was no point in explaining this to him. He would not listen. We did not stay for the programme either. The same evening we returned and he was so angry that he kept hitting me in the train. Such things were so common. All my life I have to face this violence. 33  About her father she has written in the first chapter of her autobiography thus: My father has locked up my aai (Mother) in the house, like a bird in the cage. 34

The Dalit women autobiographers in their respective autobiographies have boldly depicted their communities’ hardships ‘ without any shame or awkwardness’. In her preface to the first edition of ‘Jina Amuche’ Baby Tai Kondiba Kamble accepts that she belings to Mahar Community. She writes’ “I am the Mahar of Maharashtra. Even the name ‘Mahar’ashtra derives from my name and though you may feel awkward using this name, I do not. I love this word - ‘Mahar’ – it flows in my veins, in my blood, and it makes me aware to the core of my being of tremendous struggle for truth that we have waged. 35 Commenting on this struggle of Dalit women autobiographers Gopal Guru writes his ultimate observation in these glowing words: Dalit women’s testimonies could be seen as the political imitative to engage with the Dalit patriarchy and social patriarchy. Dalit women’s personal narratives are a kind of protest against the exploitation by the state on one hand and market on other hand. Dalit women’s autobiographies are also the statement of protest against their exclusion from public sphere-literary gatherings, academic gatherings, publishing sphere and other spheres of recognition, like political parties. Dalit women’s autobiographies have mile stones of Dalit literature because they have raised their voice fearlessly. They exist because they rebelled. They have ascertained their position in the society like Nora of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House’:

I believe that before everything else I’m an
Individual – Just as much as you are…or at
Any rate I shall try to become one. 36


  1. Dangle, Arjun, Homeless In My land, Translated from Modern Dalit Short Stories, New Delhi, Orient Black Swan, 1992.
  2. As quoted by Mukarjee and Benergee Joy Deep in their article – The Dalit of Dalits: An insight in to conditions of Women as Portrayed in Dalit Literature, WORD 6337, March 2017.
  3. http//=chamar-Today blog 2019/10 Mukata Sarvagod.html
  4. Rege, Sharmila Writing Caste/ Writing Gender: Dalit Women’s Testimonials New Delhi, Zubaan ,2006 Chapter 7.
  5. Gopal Guru Article –Dalit Women Talk Differetly, October 14-21 Issue, Economic and Political Weekly, 1995
  6. http:// Shodganga streach/1063/2261/89/2, 1 chapter% 201 pdf. Prof. Murahari’s quotation
  7. Quora Digest
  8. Rege, Sharmila, Writing Caste/ Writing Gender Dalit Testimonials Chapter 7, Zubbaa, New Delhi, 2oo6, Analysing,
  9. ibid.
  10. Maya Pandit- The Prisons That We Broke, Second Edition, Reprint 2020 Orient Black Swan. Mumbai, Page 157
  12. Pawar Urmila, Aaydan’s Translation by Maya Pandit : The Weave Of My Life” A Dalit Woman’s Memoir Kathsa Publishers, 2008, page 1.
  13. Rege, Sharmila’s Book Writing Caste/ ………..Page 304
  14. Wandana Pathak’s essay in the Journal IJELLH ISSN-2321-7065. stream/10603/163669/10/10 Chapter%207 pdf.
  15. Ibid
  16. Writing Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature, An International Conference at the British Centre for Literary Translation, University of Anglia, 29& 30 June 2015
  17. Shodganga inflibnet, stream 1063/226189/2 Chapter%201 pdf
  18. Rege Sharmila book Writing Caste……….. Zubaan, 2006.
  19. Kable Shanta Bai, Translation by Maya Pandit , Final Chapter V 5.0 conclusions Shodganga
  20. From the Introduction to her book ‘Majhi Mi’ Translation by Dr A B Sai Prasad.
  21. stream/10603/226189/2 Chapter% 201, pdf, Chapter 1
  22. Maya Pandit’s Ennglish translation of Baytai Kamble’s ‘Jina Amucha’ (The Prisons We Broke) second edition, Reprint 2020.
  23. Rege, Sharmila’s Boob Writng Caste…… Zubaan, New Delhi, 2006.
  24. Maya Pandit’s English translation of Urmila Pawar’s Aaydan as ‘The Weaves O Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoir katha Publishers 2008, Page 65
  25. Final Chapter 5.0
  26. Dalit History Month April 21, 2019.
  27. The New Indian Express April 21, 2019.
  28. Gopal Guru’s article Dalit Women Talk Differently in the Ocober 14-21 issue of Economical and Political weekl, 1995.
  29. Chamar 2019/10 Mukata sarvagod.html.
  30. Dr. Preeti Oza’s article: Dalit Women In Modern India, Beyond The Stand Point Theory And Above The Women’s Study Narrative.
  31. Maya Pandit, The Prisons we Broke, The Orient Black Swan, Mumbai, Second Edition, Reprint-2020.Page XV.
  32. Ibid Page 155.
  33. Ibid Page 35.
  34. Ibid Introduction to the First Edition First para.
  35. Ibsen’s A Dolls House, Oxford University Press, Mumbai,1964, Page 115.


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