Om Prakash Valmiki

(30th June 1950 – 17th November 2013)

Mr. Om Prakash Valmiki was an Indian Dalit writer and poet, well known for his autobiography, Joothan, considered a milestone in Dalit literature. He was born at village Barla, Muzzafarnagar district, Uttar Pradesh. After retirement from Government Ordnance Factory he lived in Dehradun where he died of complications arising out of stomach cancer on 17 November, 2013.

Being a Dalit child, he was tortured and abused everywhere in society. The support and encouragement he gained from the family enabled him to face the dangers of being a Dalit. Right from the early stages of his life, Valmiki was conscious of the importance of studies and hence he was always a bright student. Reading and writing made him an enlightened human being.

In his novel ‘Joothan’ he talked about the discrimination he had to face in the school at different points. He says: “During the examinations we could not drink water from the glass when thirsty. To drink water, we had to cup our hands. The peon would pour water from way high up, to ensure that our hands do not touch the glass”. Om Prakash Valmiki describes his life as an untouchable, or Dalit, in the newly independent India of the 1950s. “Joothan” refers to scraps of food left on a plate, destined for the garbage or animals. India’s untouchables have been forced to accept and eat joothan for centuries, and the word encapsulates the pain, humiliation, and poverty of a community forced to live at the bottom of India’s social pyramid. Although untouchability was abolished in 1950, Dalits continued to face discrimination, economic deprivation, violence, and ridicule. Valmiki shares his heroic struggle to survive a preordained life of perpetual physical and mental persecution and his transformation into a speaking subject under the influence of the great political leader, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. A document of the long-silenced and long-denied sufferings of the Dalits, Joothan is a major contribution to the archives of Dalit history and a manifesto for the revolutionary transformation of society and human consciousness.

Besides his autobiography Joothan (1997) Valmiki published three collections of poetry Sadiyon Ka Santaap (1989) Bas! Bahut Ho Chuka (1997), and Ab Aur Nahin (2009); and two collections of short stories Salaam (2000), and Ghuspethiye (2004). He also wrote Dalit Saahity Ka Saundaryshaastr (2001), and a history of the Valmiki community, Safai Devata (2009), Do Chera(Play), etc.

Published in Issue V, April 2014

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