Rajni Tilak – A Champion Of Dalit Rights

Rajni Tilak

” ….it is true that the women of every community are equally suppressed by patriarchy. Patriarchy dominates caste and class everywhere. It is also true, to a great extent, Dalit women are more affected by patriarchy …..”

( Need to redefine Dalit movement : Rajni Tilak, interview with Neel Kranti Media,published 17 January 2013, https:// roundtableindia.co.in).

At a time when aggressive fascism is on the rise and dalits and women are facing increased oppression, the loss of a great committed leader like Rajni Tilak is a big loss to the dalit feminist movement. She has not only voiced her protest against patriarchy but also questioned the deviations of the mainstream left courageously and gave her unflinching support to a new approach to feminist struggles.

Her life

She was born in a family of limited means in old Delhi ( 27 May 1958 – 30 March 2018) and her father was a tailor. She was first among seven children and to support her family, she had to leave dreams of good education and join ITI in Delhi. She organised a union to protest against the problems women faced. She later merged it with Progressive Students Union (PSU) but due to disillusionment, she parted ways from the union as she said that the union has more emphasis on economic problems leaving out caste question. ( wikipedua.org). In the 1980s, she was involved in dalit rights activities but her major struggle was against patriarchy in caste system. She was among the dalit and non-dalit writers, scholars and scholars who petitioned NCERT to represent correctly the role of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in school textbooks in 2012. She served as executive director for centre of Alternative Dalit Media.

Her work

Rajni Tilak was an activist and poet who worked tirelessly against patriarchy. Around 2007, when Mandal II was intensely debated, Rajni mobilised students and activists to debunk the ‘ theory of merit’ that was put forward by mainstream media and upper castes. She not only participated actively in formulating strategies for future struggles but also contributed in discussions on the subject with writers of ‘ insight ‘ magazine founded by some writers mostly of JNU. She was affectionate and supportive to even upper caste women who were fighting against patriarchy.( Article by Sandali Thakur, 03, April,2018, scroll.in ). She was active with feminist organization ‘ Saheli’ during sexual assault case of Mathura. She was associated with Dalit Panthers, writers collective Dalit Lekhak Sangh , National Confederation of Dalit Movements ( NACDOR), Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) and other organisations.
She was a prolific writer with two collections of poetry ‘ Padchaap’ ( Marching Steps) and ‘ Hawa Si Becchain Yuvtiyan ‘( Restless Women). She was also the editor of some collections and translated Savitri Phule works (‘ Savitri Phule Rachna Samagr). Her works have been appreciated by all.


As an activist, her friend Ajita Rao remembers her as one who supported people across organisations and ideologies.( indianexpress.com, April7, 2018). Anant Kumar, an activist who worked with her said that she had the ability to bring down rising emotions during an argument and bring consensus among people.

She may have differences with some ‘Left’ intellectuals and parties but her contribution to the cause of Dalits and empowerment of women cannot be under- estimated. Her legacy should inspire future generations and carry out struggles against patriarchy, caste discrimination and religious bigotry.
Her ideals and writings are very relevant in these turbulent times .

Sheshu Babu is a writer from anywhere and everywhere


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