Dalit Literature or the literature about the Dalits is the writing of the oppressed class under Indian caste system and it forms an important and distinct part of Indian literature. Though Dalit narratives have been a part of the Indian social narratives since 11th century onwards, with works like Sekkizhar’s Periya Puranam portraying Dalit women like half-naked and sexually exploitable and praising the killing of thousands of Dalits on “Kazhumaram” in the hands of Gnanasambandan, Dalit literature emerged into prominence and as a collective voice after 1960, started with Marathi, and soon appeared in Hindi, Kannada, Telugu and Tamil languages. Through self-narratives, poems, short stories and most importantly autobiographies known for their realism and for its contribution to Dalit politics it created its identity. It was denounced as petty and false by the then prevailing romanticism. The bourgeois Sadashiv pethi literature treated the whole Dalit issue, ignoring the social reality of appalling poverty and oppression of caste Hindus which was the result of the bourgeois character of this culture. It is often compared with the African-American literature especially in its depiction of issues of racial segregation and injustice, as seen in Slave narratives.
In 1993, Ambedkari Sahitya Parishad organized first “Akhil Bhartiya (All India) Ambedkari Sahitya Sammelan” in Wardha, Maharashtra to reconceptualize and transform “Dalit Sahitya (literature) into “Ambedkari Sahitya” after the name of its modern age hero and inspiration Dr.B.R. Ambedkar. Ambedkari Sahitya Parishad then successfully organized Third Akhil Bhartiya Ambedkari Sahitya Sammelan in 1996 and became a strong advocacy force of this transformation. Since then ten similar sahitya sammelans were held in various places. Ambedkari Sahitya Parishad was formed in 1992 with the goal to connect people with common ideals and aspirations to provide a platform to those who are inspired by Dr B. R. Ambedkar’s thoughts and philosophy to express their anguish through their literature against the oppression and bigotry and to make their presence felt in the world.
One of the first Dalit writers was Madara Chennaiah, an 11th-century cobbler-saint who lived in the reign of Western Chalukyas and who is also regarded by some scholars as the “father of Vachana poetry”. Another poet who finds mention is Dohara Kakkaiah, a Dalit by birth, six of whose confessional poems survive.
In the 20th century, the term “Dalit literature” came into use in 1958, when the first conference of Maharashtra Dalit Sahitya Sangha (Maharashtra Dalit Literature Society), a movement driven by thinkers like Jyotiba Phule and Bhimrao Ambedkar, was held at Mumbai.
Baburao Bagul (1930–2008) was pioneer of Dalit writings in Marathi. His first collection of stories, Jevha Mi Jat Chorali Hoti (When I had Concealed My Caste), published in 1963, created a stir in Marathi literature with its passionate depiction of a crude society, and thus, brought in new momentum to Dalit literature in Marathi; today it is seen by many critics as the epic of the Dalits, and was later made into a film by actor-director Vinay Apte. Gradually with other writers like, Namdeo Dhasal (who founded Dalit Panther), these Dalit writings paved way for strengthening of Dalit politics.