Book Review Coming Out as Dalit
Why I picked this book?

Our understanding of the caste system and knowledge about caste-based reservation is very limited and it is formed based on the popular narrative that we hear and see in the mainstream electronic media and newspapers. Nowadays social media is also abounded with information on the merits and demerits of the caste system and reservations. So, we have too much information with no substance and truth to it. To understand why someone would hide his Dalit identity and what it means to be a “Dalit” I decided to read the book Coming Out as Dalit by Yashica Dutt.

the book

Coming Out as Dalit is a personal memoir of Yashica Dutt. The author chanced upon a Facebook post about a Dalit boy, Rohit Vemula, who had committed suicide in Hyderabad University. She read Rohit’s letter that he left behind – “My birth is my fatal accident” and that made her realize how since her childhood she had hidden her “Dalit” identity, be it her school, college, or workplace. The shame associated with the caste (Bhangi) and the fear of being excluded from her group of upper-caste friends and colleagues made her hide her identity. Rohit’s letter somehow changed things and she decided to disclose her caste and come out as Dalit to the world and thus came out this book

The author covers her personal journey and her family background which was very well in terms of education and job. Her grandfather was in a government job, her father was also in a government job and her mother was well educated. But despite all this, there was always a stigma of caste, and since her childhood, she learned to hide her caste and assimilate among her upper-caste friends.

The book moves ahead with the author’s life story, her schooling in Mussoorie, her admission to St. Stephens in Delhi, and her job as a journalist. Along with her personal experiences, she provides information about the caste system and how it began. The reality of untouchability and manual scavenging in 21st century.

As per the 2011 Socio Economic and Caste Census there are ‘1.8 lakh Dalit households manually cleaning the 7.9 lakh public and private dry latrines (not the modern flush one) across India; 98% of scavengers are meagrely paid women and girls.’ An Indian Express article described how female manual scavengers in Meerut remove human excreta with bare hands, without gloves, aprons, or safety equipment ever being used.

Excerpt from the book

The subject of “reservation” always has some extreme views and often the one argument that stands out is it is against meritocracy. People availing reservations are blamed to be unduly grabbing the resources from the deserving applicant. And this is how even the author used to think or was made to think by people around her. The book documents discrimination faced by many Dalit students and professionals in their schools, colleges, and workplace.

The book chronicles various Dalit movements and the role of Ambedkar in those movements. She elaborates on the role of movements by Dalit women, her introduction to Ambedkar, and its impact on her. She points out some interesting observations and facts in her book which will make the readers think. Coming Out as Dalit is a story of the author from being embarrassed by her Identity and always trying to hide it to openly declaring to the world that she is Dalit and accepting her Dalit Identity.

Who Can Read?

Everyone who is interested to know about the caste system and what it means to be born as a Dalit. Everyone who thinks casteism and untouchability do not exist and reservation should be done away with. This book gives the readers a perspective of a Dalit girl from her own lived experiences.

The Writing

Coming Out as Dalit is a first-person account of the author along with some well-researched topics which make the book informative and insightful. It is very well structured and written in simple English and easy to read.

About The Author

Yashica Dutt is a New York-based journalist who writes on gender, identity, and culture. She was previously a principal correspondent with Brunch and the Hindustan Times and is the founder of Documents of Dalit Discrimination.

Our Verdict

Coming Out as Dalit is a must-read for everyone who is interested to know about the caste system and what it means to be a Dalit. An honest account of the author’s life and experiences along with her perspective on socio-political issues that affect Dalit lives.

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