Dalit History Month, celebrated in April, commemorates the struggles and achievements of the Dalit community in India. Throughout history, Dalits have faced systemic discrimination and social exclusion, but their resilience and determination to fight against oppression have led to significant social and political reforms. In recent years, artists and designers have used their platforms to create poignant and powerful works of art that reflect the struggle and strength of the Dalit community and its activists. These artworks serve as reminders of the ongoing fight against caste-based discrimination and the importance of social justice.
Made by Rahee Punyashloka aka Artedkar, in their signature white and blue colour palette, ‘The Dalit Panther is an Elusive Beast’ paints an abstract picture of the Dalit Panther Movement that was led by Mahar writers in 1972 in Mumbai, Maharashtra. The movement worked to mobilise the Dalit masses to resist and dismantle the systemic exploitation faced by them, and was heavily inspired by the Black Panther Party which fought against racism and discrimination during America’s Civil Rights Movement.
The original motif of the panther used by the Black Panther Party represented strength and dignity for the Black community, and remains a symbol of assertion for the Dalit community.
2. Osheen Siva
Osheen Siva is a trailblazer for their intersectional art which covers caste, sexuality and identity. Their artwork for Dalit History Month, in collaboration with Equality Labs, illustrates the community’s reformers such as Jyotibai Phule, Dr. Ambedkar, Savitribai Phule, Annai Meenambal Shivaraj, Periyar, and P.K.Rosy.
Each of these activists have fought a long-drawn and uphill battle to uplift Dalits, alleviate their traumas, and emerge victorious in their fight for Dalit rights.
3. Sri Vamsi Matta
Artist Sri Vamsi Matta’s design brings B.R. Ambedkar’s strong-willed efforts to dismantle Dalit oppression to the forefront. B.R. Ambedkar’s efforts to end Dalit oppression have been exceptionally impactful and brought tangible reforms in both people’s perceptions of Dalits, as well as in the laws that governed them. His work, ‘Annihilation of Caste’ played a significant role in the gradual dismantling of discrimination and biases against the Dalit community.
“Once you clear the minds of the people of this misconception and enable them to realise that what they are told is religion is not religion, but that it is really law, you will be in a position to urge its amendment or abolition”
- Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste’.
4. Vineet Gedam
Jyotiba Phule was a revolutionary anti-caste activist who worked to abolish untouchability, and to educate the oppressed. He fought all his life for women's education, widow remarriage, and gender equality. The term ‘Dalits’ was coined by Jyotiba Phule to include the lower castes that were oppressed by the upper castes. He worked to mobilise the masses under this umbrella to work together and formed the Satya Shodhak Samaj initiative.
Graphic designer Vineet Gedam’s iteration of Jyotiba Phule is a reminder of Phule’s grit and courage to go against the grain at a time when the oppressed were systemically stratified.
5. Siddhesh Gautam
Illustrator Siddhesh Gautam’s work paints a poignant picture of untouchability, which is socialised right from childhood. The piece depicts a school classroom, where upper castes get to be in close proximity, however, lower castes are alienated to sit at a distance.
Gautam’s illustration is testament to the battles fought by social reformers to integrate the oppressed castes into society right from the ground level.
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