This book project undertakes the task of thematically curating and translating an anthology of eight annotated essays of W. E. B. Du Bois from English to Hindi. The project is funded by the Du Bois Fellowship (2019-2020) awarded by the W. E. B. Du Bois center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and is collaborative undertaking with Jyoti Iyer (Linguistics, University of Massachusetts Amherst).
There is a long history of linking struggles for Dalit (term is a political elaboration of “untouchables”) emancipation with those of African Americans. In 1873 in the Bombay Presidency of British India, the anti-caste radical Jotirao Phule began his political pamphlet Gulamgiri (Slavery) with a dedication on the title page to Black struggles in the U.S. Almost hundred years later, in 1971, a militant group of Dalit poets and activists in Bombay (now Mumbai) founded the Dalit Panthers, and firmly linked their anti-caste radicalism to the Black Panthers and Black power in the U.S. The ten-point program in their 1972 manifesto spelled out clearly the links between the radical imaginary of Black power and Dalit politics. Though shortlived, the Dalit Panther movement was among the most revolutionary political formations of the 1970s. Its affect and idiom continues to animate contemporary Dalit politics in India.
In 1965, preceding the formation of the Dalit Panthers, Professor Manohar Wankhade, a key figure in what would become the Dalit aesthetic revolution, returned to India with a doctoral degree from the University of Florida. A year after his return he wrote a manifesto entitled Dalits, write rebel literature. The pamphlet includes an abridged history of Black struggles in the U.S., using the Du Boisian language of “double consciousness”, represented in Marathi as dvidha (conflict) and dvandv (duality). Drawing on Du Bois and Fanon he concludes, “Now we have seen the example of rebellious Negro literature. How do Marathi writers of the bahujan samaj [non-Brahmin masses] write? Do they have anger or insurgence relating to injustice? If they don’t, then why don’t they?” Wankhade’s cosmopolitan engagement with Black politics and militancy was instrumental in rejuvenating the vision for a radical Dalit politics. For a generation of Dalit writers not operating in English, one of the important modes of this engagement was via his translations into Marathi of literary works by African American authors like Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, June Jordan, and James Baldwin.
Thus, radical Dalit politics has historically undertaken two forms of interpretive translations from Black politics. One, the translation of political programs and strategies of Black power for Dalit radicalism, and two, the translation of literary texts in service of this political process. It is within this mode of Dalit politics that we situate ourselves.