Patna University gets first Dalit head of Hindi department in 86 years

Prof. Dilip Ram will serve as head of Hindi department for next two years. | Picture by arrangement

62-year-old Dilip Ram is a Dalit Professor who began his career as a primary school teacher and now heads the department of Hindi at Patna University. 

Sami Ahmad |

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PATNA (BIHAR) — Professor Dilip Ram recently became the first Dalit head of the department of Hindi at Patna University after its inception in 1937.

Prof. Ram will serve as head of the department (HoD) for the next two years. In its 86 years of history, the Hindi department at Patna University has had 26 heads of department, including three women and one Muslim.

Born in 1961, Prof. Ram has authored and edited more than half a dozen books of Hindi literature and critique including a collection of poems on Dalit discourse.

A native of the Saran district in Bihar, Prof. Ram has a special knack for teaching. He started his career as a primary school teacher, then moved to high school before finally settling at Patna University in 2003 as a lecturer. He also worked in Buniyady Vidyalaya, which was built by Mahatma Gandhi.

His mother Mateshwari Devi was a housewife who never went to school. His father Mahadev Ram worked a government job and had elementary education. His wife Mina Devi is a housewife.

In a brief interview with, Prof. Ram expressed his happiness that in accordance with seniority he got the chance to serve as HoD but lamented that due to educational feudalism, it took 86 years for a Dalit to become the head of Hindi department at Patna University. “This is not my success, it is my community’s success. The marginalized community was deprived of higher education. At maximum, they got basic education and were forced to earn a livelihood. Unfortunately, it was more in the Hindi field than in other fields,” he said.

He said Dalits did not get many opportunities for higher education. “Even if someone got that chance to make inroads in higher education he or she was forced to struggle. The social condition was not favourable to them. They could not survive”, he said.

Prof. Ram believes that some Dalits have done well purely due to the legal provisions like scholarship and reservation in the constitution framed by Dr Ambedkar. “Our society did not contribute to the upliftment of the Dalits,” he said.

Thankfully he did not face many social problems as his uncle was in a better social position, Prof Ram said there still is an intellectual and ideological fight that Dalits have to face.

“I come from Ambedkar ideology and follow the ideology of Kabir,” he said.

He said Dalit discourse was mainly centred in Maharashtra. “I don’t think there was any Dalit movement in Bihar in the form of Hindi literature but lately the young generation has started Dalit discourse in Hindi literature. In Hindi literature, there was no independent ism of Dalit. It was Dalit writers who established an independent tradition of Dalit discourse which has its own ideology and poetic values,” he said.

He said that Dalit discourse and Dalit literary discourse are two important things. He said that in post-80s writings Dalit literature got momentum and its impact was felt. “In secondary and higher education education, Kabir, Raidas and Sant Tuka Ram were already being taught but these days, many forms of Dalit literature have come to the fore like poetry, autobiography, novel, story and memoirs etc.,” the professor said.

He talks about identity discourse papers, including Dalit discourse, Adivasi discourse, minority discourse and transgender discourse, being taught in Hindi literature for the first time at Patna University. “Through these forms of literature, the life, values and the struggles of the minority community, the Adivasis and other marginalized people are in spotlight.”

Discussing the challenges in identity discourse, Prof. Ram said, “The prevailing situation, the environment being manufactured by the politicians and the attempt to spread religious intolerance in the name of Ram are not good signs. These are diversionary works.”

He emphasised that the narrative of Dalit literature needs to be spread to counter such situations.

Referring to the term ‘Dalit Brahmin’, Prof Ram accepts that even Dalits are being impacted by the fanatical elements.

“Since some Dalits are becoming Brahmins, by their infused feudal mentality, such a situation is bound to arise, though they cannot be accepted as Brahmins as they have the stamp of caste on their back. This is a big challenge,” he said.

Talking about the solidarity between Dalits and other minority communities in the country, Prof. Ram said, “Dalits and minority communities are deprived economically and socially. Definitely, they have a bonding between them.”

Admitting that there is no provision to promote Dalits at the university level, he emphasises self-development. “Dalits and other deprived communities need to try harder to grab opportunities, otherwise they will be left behind,” he said, while recalling how a social welfare department scholarship  helped him in his career as there were not any other resources available.

Sami Ahmad is a journalist based in Patna, Bihar. He tweets at @samipkb