Book Review: The Prisons We Broke

Book Review_ The Prisons We Broke

babytai dalit historyCommonly known as Babytai Kamble, was a writer and an Indian activist. She was born into an Untouchable caste, Mahar, counted as the largest Untouchable section in Maharashtra. She was a Dalit activist and produced her work which was heavily influenced by Dr.B.R. Ambedkar.

The Prisons We Broke is an autobiographical narrative including insights into the daily lives of the Mahar community, residing in Veergaon, a village in Pune. She has bluntly written about the horrible conditions that the Mahars had to live under as a consequence of the Upper Castes’ tyranny. Kamble is bold in not just presenting a critique of the Upper-Castes’ treatment of the ‘Untouchables’ but attacks the patriarchy existing within the Dalit community establishing herself as a Dalit feminist. Kamble writes extensively about the arrival and impact of Ambedkar on her life which turns her into a staunch Ambedkar follower. She attributes the arrival of Ambedkar as a challenge to Hinduism and superstitious practices which the Caste Hindus had imposed on them for centuries. Kamble gives an unfiltered realistic description of the Mahar culture and calls her community as ‘the real sons’ of Maharashtra.

The reader gets to explore themes such as Caste, religion, intersectionality, and tokenization in the text. Kamble had started writing in her thirties but she decided to publish it after twenty years. For those twenty years, she kept her work hidden from her husband and son because of the fear of misogynistic criticism (which was normalized during that time) but one day when she accompanied Maxine Bernston, (a Sociologist working on Scheduled Castes) for the data collection and in the course of their discussion Kamble opened up about her secret writing. Bernston on hearing about this talked to Vidya Bal who was the editor of the Women’s Magazine Stree and this provided Kamble the first opportunity to publish her work. Kamble is seen as a fighter in her autobiography. A fighter for her community. Kamble never separated her problems from those of her community. She prioritized her community, her people over her personal narrative which is the reason why the readers do not get much insight from the life of the author. But the interview by Maya Pandit at the back of the text answers readers’ questions regarding Kamble’s life. The Prisons We Broke is a masterpiece in the field of Dalit literature which details about the Mahar culture and politics of Hinduism impartially.


Priya, (She/Her) Ph.D. Scholar, Literature, and book reviewer. For any other queries about the article, please contact:

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