The Dalit Panthers were inspired by the Black Panther Party, a socialist movement that sought to combat racial discrimination against African-Americans, during Civil Rights Movement in the United States, which occurred in the mid-20th century. The initiative to form the Dalit Panther Movement was taken up by Namdeo Dhasal, J. V. Pawar, and Arun Kamble in Bombay. They conceived the movement as a radical departure from earlier Dalit movements, due to its initial emphasis on militancy and revolutionary attitudes, akin to attitudes espoused by their Black American counterparts.
Most members were young men, some of whom were Neo-Buddhists. Most of the leaders were literary figures whose academic qualifications ranged from not having a basic education to master’s degrees. The controversy over Raja Dhale’s article titled “Kala Swatantrya Din” (Black Independence Day), published in Sadhana, the Dalit Panthers’ official publication, on 15 August 1972, created a great sensation and built recognition for the Dalit Panthers through Maharashtra. The Panthers’ support of Dhale during this controversy brought him into the movement and made him a prominent leader. As a result, branches of the Dalit Panther Party were established in many parts of Maharashtra, as well as other states, such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
The Dalit Panthers emerged to fill the vacuum created in Dalit politics resulting from B.R. Ambedkar’s Republican Party of India splitting into factions. The Dalit Panthers led to a renaissance in Marathi literature and arts. They advocated for and practised radical politics, fusing the ideologies of Ambedkar, Jyotirao Phule and Karl Marx. Crucially, the Dalit Panthers helped invigorate the use of the term Dalit to refer to lower-caste communities. This manifesto, issued in 1973, combines the Ambedkarite spirit with a broader Marxist framework and heralds the rise of autonomous Dalit perspective in post-Independence India.