The development of dalit literature and history plays a vital part in the effort of dalit communities to (re)gain recognition in Indian society. Victims of multiform discrimination in the name of caste, dalits have used these areas of self-knowledge to assert themselves culturally and socially. Indian society and mainstream intellectuals continue, however, to deny the value and legitimacy of dalit historical and literary productions. There is a tendency to believe that dalits should be kept out of the mainstream and effectively silenced. Therefore, testifying through writings or oral narratives still requires courage and determination. It certainly seems to be a demanding ordeal for those paving the way for dalit expression. This article, based on oral history fieldwork conducted among dalit (Cakkiliyar) communities in Tamil Nadu, as well as on written testimonies, highlights factors preventing dalits from exercising freedom of speech and also discusses some reasons why dalits do decide to speak.
- oral history