When I studied English literature at Delhi University among the plethora of white authors we read, we also had dedicated semesters on Indian writing in English. English, the language of the colonisers is also one that has for long been used by post-colonial subjects to talk about the country and its people.
For a long time now there has been an institutional gatekeeping in place wherein the realm of publishing and writing have been driven by Savarnas and Brahmins, thus their narratives either exclude Dalit people or as the editor of Firstpost wrote, “Their writing reveals that they were often elitist and frequently prejudiced in their depiction of society. Where Dalit characters find mention, they appear as ‘subjects without history’, to use the term coined by Edward Said. Indian writing in English, therefore, rarely did serve the purpose that good literature is supposed to: to depict the lives of people through literary imagination.”
Due to this, the very nature of publishing the voices of marginalized communities often gets dismissed by the mainstream, so much so that out of the over 100 books I read for my graduation, only three were by Dalit authors. But the lives and histories of Dalits are now getting representation due to the rise of Dalit literature and a few publishing houses have been founded whose focus is on benefitting the community itself. While Dalit literature is written in several languages across the country, its adaptation to English will certainly help it reach a larger audience.
At the forefront of this movement is Panther’s Paw Publication, a publishing house focused on Dalit literature that was founded by Nagpur-based Yogesh Maitreya, who is both the founder and also the sole staff member of this publication.
A first-generation university-goer from his family and thus the first person to get a doctorate in his family, he has been actively working in English language publishing for almost six years now with the sole aim of publishing stories, lives, and narratives that have undergone a collective amnesia at the hands of a system that deliberately erases them from the public consciousness.
In a 2020 interview with Scroll, he had said, “Seven years ago when I left Nagpur for Mumbai, I wanted to be a writer, not a publisher, but I realised that in order to be a writer I had to also be a publisher of Dalit literature in English. Dalit literature is a movement, its writers and its publishers its soldiers, and I could not see writing and publishing as different tasks. As I started publishing, my vision about its politics and importance became clearer.”
One important book they’ve recently published is Kamal Dev Pall’s poetry collection Days Will Come Back. Translated from Punjabi to English by Rajinder Azad, the significance of the book relies not just on the fact that it is the first Dalit Punjabi poetry collection to be translated to English but also in the way it changes our perspective when it comes to Punjab.
In popular imagination which is further promoted by cinema, we assume Punjab to be a land of greenery and abundance. We are often flooded with images of lush green farms. Many Bollywood songs and films romanticize the beauty of Punjab. But Pall’s poetry collection Days Will Come Back opens up a new Punjab for us, one that is built on the labour and love of Dalits from Punjab who have immensely contributed to the land but have been erased from its history or romanticization.
It’s Dalit History Month and in this month, like any other, the onus of educating ourselves in the fight for the annihilation of caste is on ourselves. For that, extend your support to independent Dalit writers as well as independent publishers and publishing houses from the Dalit community. Panther’s Paw Publication is one such pioneer of this publishing movement that can do well with your support.
You can visit and support Panther’s Paw Publication here.
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