Today in Dalit History Month we celebrate a Dalit Feminist icon Mukta Salve (also referred to as Muktabai) who was born in a Mang community. She was the granddaughter of Krantiveer Lahuji Salve, a revolutionary from Maharashtra. Lahuji had supported Mahatma Phule and Savitribai Phule to establish the first girls’ school that was opened on 1st January 1848 in Pune in which Mukta became one of the 8 girls who was enrolled.
Mukta Salve became one of the first Dalit feminists, laying a key brick in the foundation for Dalit literature. In 1855, at the age of 14, her essay ‘Mang Maharachya Dukhvisayi’ (About the grief of the Mangs and Mahars (Oppressed Castes in Maharashtra) ) appeared in a Journal ‘Dhyanodaya’ (The Rise of Knowledge) in 1855.
“Oh, the Mahars and Mangs, you are poor and sick. Only the medicine of knowledge will cure and heal you.” – Mukta Salve
The essay is core to anti-Caste work. In it, she is critical of not only the structures of Caste but also their religious underpinnings. In an impassioned criticism of the Vedas, the Peshwa period, the superiority the Mahars feel to the Mangs (a result of Brahmanical influence), Brahminism, and misogyny. It ends, ‘Alas, O God! What agony this! I will burst into tears if I write more about this injustice….’
In questioning the Brahmanical supremacy of the Vedas, she asks, “If merely looking at the Vedas can get us into grievous sins (as the brahmans claim), then would not following them be the height of foolishness?” Mukta Salve suggests overthrowing entirely the religion that promotes oppression through Caste, “Let that religion, where only one person is privileged, and the rest deprived, vanish from the earth and let it never enter our minds to boast of such a (discriminatory) religion.”
Mukta Salve also dares to critique the Peshwa’s rule, “Under Bajirao’s rule, if any Mang or Mahar happened to pass in front of their practice grounds, they would cut off his head and play ‘bat and ball’ with their swords as bats and his head as a ball!”
She talks about education and Dalit rights, “When we were punished for even passing through their doors, where was the question of getting an education, getting the freedom to learn?”
She talks about women rights, “When our women give birth to babies, they do not have even a roof over their heads. Was there ever any doctor among you who was human enough to treat such people free of cost?”
“Let that religion, where only one person is privileged, and the rest deprived, vanish from the earth and let it never enter our minds to boast of such a (discriminatory) religion.” – Mukta Salve
Mukta Salve challenges the Brahmanical priesthood and intelligentsia to stop preaching and start listening, “O learned pundits, fold up your selfish priest-craft and stop the prattle of your hollow wisdom and listen to what I have to say.”
“The Brahmins have degraded us so low; they consider people like us even lower than cows and buffaloes.” – Mukta Salve
*This post was written for Dalit History Month by A.S. Mitra