Five Dalit-Feminist Poems

Translated from the Hindi originals by Nikhil Pandhi.

In these five poems, written on the anvil of India’s 75 years of independence, leading Dalit-feminist poet, writer and academic Rajat Rani ‘Meenu’ reflects on the fate and futurity of caste, gender, womanhood and Indian society. Staged within the home, village, city and nation, how do caste and gender become (re)contoured in the trajectories of a New India? How does a Dalit-feminist (re)imagining of India look back at 75 years of independence, and equally envision anti-caste futures? These poems carve a vital space for Dalit-feminist subjectivity as a counter to the triumphalist savarna-masculinist story of the Indian nation.


The echoes
Of 75 years of Independence
Embellish the air
The elixir of emancipation
To flow
A gesture of gaiety and glory
The pinnacle of progress
Each hand, every home
Waving The Flag.
The Dalit woman is counting
The rotis in her basket
In everyone’s share
There are two
In her share, just one.
She’s worried about the next morning
Her husband has lost his job
She has also not received
Her own wage
Her child goes to a school
Where there is no teacher
In the name of a mid-day meal
She receives some curdled gruel 
Yet, today the hand unfurls
The Flag of
The Amrit Mahotsav
The nectar of new horizons
Exudes contentment
While the true lament
Lurks buried within
The Dalit woman’s


Wrinkles of Life

A Dalit woman
Tirelessly tries
To either remove
Or hide
The wrinkles in
Her life
The wrinkles
To be obliterated
Ignored for 75 years
Keep ravaging her
Becoming wounds
Infected with
Pestilence and pain
That trace
Their 75-year-old expedition
And engrave their untraceable
Sometimes by sewing
A patch on the dhoti
Or concealing the sutures
Between multiple pleats
She tries to bury
The wrinkles
Yet fails repeatedly
Sometimes she hides
The moth-eaten vest
Of her child
Beneath a shirt
Sometimes she serves
The home-guests
Several snacks
Despite her meagre means
Yet she
Feeds her own children
Dry rotis
In a corner
Away from their eyes
With some chutney
She singularly swallows 
The scraps of 
Everyone’s leavings
A Dalit woman
Forever chases signs 
Trying to dissolve 
Their wrinkled traces 
In time
In Independence’s Amrit Kaal,
She is swallowing 
A slow poison
Trying to iron-out the wrinkles
Wrecking life’s shattered horizons

The frayed edges of her being
Are becoming totally threadbare
Despite ‘hiding’ and ‘erasing’
The wrinkles
Remain glaringly there
With the Tri-Colour Flag 
In hand 
Echoes of 
‘Glory to Bharat Mata!’
Emanate emphatically
Fists clenched
Bharat’s Dalit Mata waits 
With the wrinkle-wounds
Mottling her life 
And face



I have no hunger for
The throne
Thrones aren’t merely
Made of wood
Thrones emblemize 
Politicians, actors, officers
Keep clinging to the throne
Thrones are also fashioned
From fibre, plastic, rexine and leather 
Thrones are multi-coloured
Thrones are tailored to tussle
Thrones exist in busses, trains, airplanes, ships
Even in restaurants, parks, clubs, homes
To sit on a throne 
Is to expel each enervation 
Schools also have thrones 
However, in government schools
Children sit on the floor and study
There, there aren’t any thrones for the children
In private schools, thrones
Are the personal property of children 
Perching on the throne
Makes them feel proud and prominent
Thrones connote chieftaincy
Power, mastery, hegemony
I too ascended the throne once
When I became the Pradhan of my village
But the moment I sat on the throne
The goons pushed me off 
I was a woman
On top of that, Dalit
They couldn’t stomach
Even my shadow on the throne
So they tried to throttle and dethrone me
They tried toppling the throne itself
The savarna goons
Still brandish their moustaches
The way they’ve done for 5000 years
Yet, we waged a struggle
We salvaged the throne
Me, my husband
After all, a throne
Isn’t just something to be thrown 
It is a mark of might
A symbol of stamina
After 75 years of Independence
We must stake claim to our thrones
Thrones are the 
Prerogative of us women
Thrones aren’t merely
Made for people to sit on
Thrones are the symbol
That we exist



A woman is home
Home woman
Home is within a woman
Within a home a woman
In this homily
Of home and woman
Does a woman ever
Have a home?



Finding a few
Moments of reprieve 
In the afternoon
She started searching
For that poem of hers
Which, while preparing
And serving the morning
Breakfast came to her
Like a rousing reverie
Heaving with happiness
She tried to find
The story that she saw
While turning rotis over
The flame in the kitchen
Giddy with excitement
She searched for those 
Characters of the novel 
Who visited her while 
Serving the evening
Snacks and tea
That she brewed finely
From her innate ingenuity
They were all conversing with her
They deserted her
In her sleep
Then finding some time
She managed to retrieve a few
But the others were lost 
Forever in her memory
Like losing one’s own
In the kumbh mela
They left their pain
The ache itself 
Wasn’t new
She was accustomed to enduring
Retaining the remnants
Nameless and voiceless

The pleasures of her family 
Seemed to satiate her
In reality
There was no longer
A poem or a story
Neither a vision nor a reverie
Just her
Full of self-realization
An Indian

Rajat Rani ‘Meenu’ is a leading Dalit-feminist poet, writer, academic and author who currently teaches at Kamla Nehru College, Delhi University. She has authored and edited several publications including Pita Bhi Toh Hote Hain Ma (2015), Hum Kaun Hain (2012), Hindi Dalit Katha Sahitya: Avdhaarnayein aur Vidhayein (2014), and Jati, Stri aur Sahitya (2020).

Nikhil Pandhi is an Ambedkarite queer-feminist researcher and anti-caste translator. He is currently a doctoral candidate in cultural anthropology at Princeton University. His translations of anti-caste Ambedkarite literature from Hindi to English are forthcoming with leading Indian/international publishers.

The featured image is an illustration by Pariplab Chakraborty. To view more such illustrations, click here.