Today’s #DalitHistory month we honor Shantabai Krishnaji Kamble, a Dalit woman writer and teacher. Autobiography is a key form of Dalit literature as we were locked out of many of our larger cultural texts. Through autobiography we could find the mirrors that would represent our struggles and find meaning in the pursuit of our selfhood. Shantabai through her work helped us understand the journey of what it was to be educated and self-realized as a leader and a teacher.
Born in Mahud Budruk of Solapur district. Her parents were poor but wanted her to be educated for they believed education would bring changes in the lives of Dalits. She pursued her education to the fullest but faced harsh discrimination. In the third grade, her teacher made her and the other Dalit students sit outside the class and not allow them to touch him. Upset at this discrimination she wondered what could be so wrong that two humans could not touch. Through her diligence she fought to complete her schooling to become a teacher at the Women’s College in Pune.
Her teaching efforts became part of her activism as she and her husband joined Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s movement. Her memories of the growing Dalit resistance moved her deeply. She drew inspiration from her meeting with Ambedkar in 1942.This led in 1957 to both Shantabai and her husband to join seven other villages to convert to Buddhism. At her ceremony she reflected “We began to live as human beings only having embraced Buddhism.”
After her retirement she penned her seminal autobiography Mazhya ]alamachi Chittarkatha/The Kaleidoscopic Story of My life which was serialized in a magazine in 1983 and is considered the first autobiographical narrative by a Dalit woman writer. It was later teleserialized as “Najuka” on Mumbai Doordarshan in 1990. and has also been translated into French and English.
In remembering her work we close with her book’s dedication “To my Aaye-Appa (mother and father) who worked the entire day in the hot glaring sun, hungry and without water, and through the drudgery of labour, with hunger pinching their stomach, educated me and brought me from darkness into light.” So too did Shantabai bring Dalit women’s writing from darkness to light.
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