Indian literary works focus on stories related to the stories, romance and struggles of Savarna, excluding the stories, writers, readers and communities of DBA (Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi). The hegemony of castes has infiltrated literature, despite the abolition of “untouchability” by Article 17 of the Indian constitution 66 years ago.
Literature is a powerful tool for making emotional connections with large audiences and for bringing out new perspectives. By representing only the voice of the powerful, the literary world has sidelined the voices of mainstream DBA communities.
“This (the supremacy of Savarna and the oppression of the DBA community) is the fault of the company, and it is a violation of constitutional rights” said S Anand from Navayana. So these communities never feel rrepresented in the books they read and when they try to bring in the representation they wish to see, the readership of Savarna is largely disinterested.
Two Indian publishing houses, independent and anticastâNavayana and Panther’s Paw Publications– challenge Savarna’s dominant dominance in literature, publishing works by DBA writers (for DBA readers and others) in the English language.
Navayana: a new era for literate DBAs
Created in 2003, Navayana put the accent on “the question of caste from an anticast point of view â, by publishing non-fiction books, translations and poetry, written by authors DBA and Savarna.
S Anand, editor and director of Navayana, said: âBeing anticast is not just reading Dalit books. It is about trying to practice equality in everyday life. Most Savarnas who are moved by Dalit literature often do not have genuine interactions or friendships with DBA communities. The anticast writing allows Savarnas to understand how Savarnas practices untouchability without even realizing it.
A three-member team, Navayana has been extremely successful in bringing up unpublished stories and writers. Books published by Navayana like “Bhimayana“, a graphic biography of Ambedkar, are taught in schools and universities to students of Savarna. According to Anand, this is not enough, because:
âSavarna teachers and professors will teach Dalit literature, even Navayana books, for example. But, the main question is: how does this affect and change the mindset of teachers or students of Savarna? Often professors do not ask why there are so few Dalits in their faculty. Does literature have an impact on their lives? For Dalits, this is the life they lead.
Unless Savarnas learns to wonder why and how the spaces they occupy, be it universities, offices or book clubs, often have no DBA presence, read books will never be enough.
Despite their success, they feel that the ratio of Savarna / DBA authors they published remains skewed (33%). This reflection, along with their determination to increase DBA’s visibility, sets them apart from traditional publishing houses.
Systemic Problems in the Publishing Industry
Navayana opened up about the struggles they encountered and continue to face on their journey. Until 10 years ago, Navayana offered a 45% discount on the cover price to distributors across the country, who would reimburse within six months, if they did. Anand elaborated:
âBooksellers are running into debt with distributors; distributors go into debt with publishers. But, you can’t stop supplying your books to non-paying retailers because you have to be in circulation.
Today, with the rise of online retailers, that discount has increased to 60%, significantly reducing their flow of money.
Since 2019, Navayana stores and distributes with HarperCollins India, with the aim of reaching a wider readership in the country. This collaboration was extremely fruitful for a year, the Covid-19 having struck soon after.
Currently, the publishing house is focusing on order new titles, edit and prepare manuscripts for a post-Covid-19 world. While anticast movements across the country have continued to flourish with renewed vigor, in recent years Navayana plays an extremely important role as he fights to normalize anticast narratives through literature.
âNavayana seeks to answer the question of why the Indian elite do not even engage in anticast and Ambedkar literature. Navayana’s objective is to be part of a project for equality which makes it possible to redress the unequal structure of castes â, Explain Anand.
The growth of Panther’s Paw publications
Panther’s Paw Publications, founded in 2016 and directed by Yogesh Maitreya, takes its name from Dalit Panthers. It was an Ambedkarite social organization founded in Maharashtra (inspired by the Black Panthers in the United States), which sought to combat caste discrimination in India.
Growing up with a Dalit Basti, Yogesh Maitreya’s understanding of literature and India was very different from that of his peers in Savarna. From the start he noticed that the stories he read in his textbooks were irrelevant – they were about the people of Savarna, written by people of Savarna, and for the people of Savarna.
Indian publishers are reluctant to invest in the works of young contemporary DBA authors. Instead, they choose to publish the works of writers from Savarna or deceased people. They also have no interest in publishing translated works of well-established regional writers.
Thus, he created his own publishing house. The first book he published was his previously rejected translations of JV Pawar’s poetry. Social media has been a huge boon for anti-caste publishing houses like Panther’s Paw Publications, connecting them with readers who want access to such works.
The main motivation behind Panther’s Paw Publication is to create anti-caste sensitivity among people. As its founder said so eloquently in a previous interview:
âAn idea can make a change and we can do it by ensuring that this literature (communicated honestly) gets published. “
Visit navayana.org to browse their collection of books.
You can get in touch with Panther’s Paw Publications, by writing to them at [email protected], or Whatsapp-ing them on 9987133931.
Featured image is for representation purposes only.
To note: The author is part of the Sept-Nov ’21 batch of Writer training program.