The Dalit Panthers was a social organization founded by Namdeo Dhasal, Raja Dhale, and Arun Kamble in April 1972 in Mumbai. Formed in the state of Maharashtra in the 1970s, they ideologically aligned themselves to the Black Panther movement in the United States. During the same period, Dalit literature, painting, and theater challenged the very premise and nature of established art forms and their depiction of society and religion. Many of these new Dalit artists formed the first generation of the Dalit Panther movement that sought to wage an organized struggle against the varna system. Dalit Panthers visited “atrocity” sites, organized marches and rallies in villages, and raised slogans of direct militant action against their upper-caste aggressors.
The Dalit Panthers’ Manifesto defines Dalits as “all those who are exploited politically, economically and in the name of religion.” They classified “American imperialism” in the same category as “Hindu feudalism”; with both being examples of caste hierarchy. They also asserted that while Hindu feudalism may have spawned caste inequality, its extension by the modern Indian state had created an oppression “a hundred times more ruthless.”
Their firm stance and rallying message across Maharastra made their members frequent targets of state surveillance and brutality. Their legacy lives on in states across India, including in Tamil Nadu’s VCK Dalit Panthers Political party. Learn more by reading their manifesto.