Disha Wadekar | Black Panthers and Dalit Panthers

By Disha Wadekar


Black Panthers and Dalit Panthers: Lessons in Transnational Coöperism

The Black Panther Party in the United States represented a multifaceted movement that sought to address not only political injustices but also systemic socio-economic disparities faced by the Black community in America. It also had influences across the globe, resulting in the formation of the Dalit Panthers in India in 1972 with similar ambitions of revolution and survival programs.

The Black Panther Party in the USA

The party’s ten-point program[1] called for freedom, self-determination, and social, economic, and political justice for the Black community in America. This program drew on principles of equality, natural rights, the right to self-determination, and the right to resist oppressive governance.

The local chapters of the Black Panthers focused on what was called “survival programs,” where close to 20,000 children each day were provided with food.[2] In addition, the Black Panthers supported schooling for black children, legal aid for Blacks, health clinics, etc.[3] Moreover, the Black Panther Party recognized the importance of institutional reform in addressing systemic racism and oppression. Through initiatives such as voter registration drives and prison reforms, they sought to challenge discriminatory practices and empower Black individuals to participate fully in civic life.[4]

The demands of Panthers were to abolish systemic racism and empower the Black community to determine its own destiny. Abolishing oppressive structures means more than simply protesting against them. It also involves actively working to build and empower oppressed communities. The Black Panther Party’s food and survival programs were a true example of this cooperative approach to building and, as a result, they were abolitionist in nature. By establishing programs that directly benefited community members, the Panthers demonstrated a commitment to building solidarity and collective empowerment.

The Black Panthers also demonstrated that social welfare and community-benefiting programs could be initiated and run without the support of the State authorities if there is a cooperation between the members of the oppressed community. By relying on the collective efforts and resources of their own members rather than seeking assistance from the government or other external entities, the Black Panthers emphasized self-reliance and empowerment.

The cooperation within a community needs to be ethical for fostering inclusivity, empowerment, and sustainable social change. The sense of cooperation in the Black Panthers movement was ethical. Rather than solely being led by male members of society, the movement was inclusive and was led by Black women in significant numbers.[5] This approach not only strengthened the movement internally but also helped to challenge traditional power dynamics and advance the cause of social justice more broadly.

Furthermore, the Black Panthers’ emphasis on community empowerment and self-determination served as a powerful model for social movements around the world. The struggles against oppression and injustice often share common themes and experiences across different countries and regions, fostering solidarity and collaboration among marginalized groups globally.

The Dalit Panthers in India

The Black Panthers of the US inspired and led to the formation of the Dalit Panthers in India in 1972. India was going through the third decade since its independence from British rule, but social inequalities were still prominent. The country has a long history of caste, which is a system of graded inequality where the Dalits (or Untouchables) are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. While the Constitution of India, adopted in 1950, abolished caste-based discrimination and untouchability, the systemic oppression of India’s lower castes— known as “Dalits”— continued.

When a group of young writers and activists from India’s Dalit community “discovered a copy of the Time Magazine that featured the Black Panthers of the US,” they decided to build something similar in India.[6] This led to the formation of the Dalit Panthers, “a resistance group against caste discrimination,”[7] to mobilize the Dalits.

Where instances of violence by oppressor castes against Dalits happened, Dalit Panthers “organized, protesting objection towards caste Hindus who had done them injustice, and objecting their degraded status.”[8] They formed groups to protect each other against acts of violence.[9] The members of the Dalit Panther organization started publishing pamphlets full of revolutionary poetry, magazines covering their ideas and the state of things at that time, and literary writings to create conscience among the Dalit community.[10]

One year after their founding, Dalit Panthers released a manifesto outlining their agenda and expressing solidarity with the struggle of the Black Panthers and similar organizations in other countries.[11] The manifesto prioritized the distribution of land to Dalit peasants and the destruction of feudal entities that perpetrated violence against Dalits. Additionally, the group emphasized the need to increase wages for landless laborers(mostly Dalits) and ensure daily wages for all. They also demanded equal access to public places and equal rights.

The Dalit Panthers also stressed the importance of providing free education, medical facilities, housing, and food to Dalits, similar to the programs launched by the Black Panthers in the United States. Through their manifesto, the Dalit Panthers declared that they “will build the organization of workers, Dalits, landless, poor peasants through all city factories, in all villages.”[12]

Although there was no direct collaboration between the Black Panthers and Dalit Panthers, the latter drew inspiration from the former. The two movements had a cooperative exchange of ideas, which highlights the transformative potential of transnational cooperation and shared visions of liberation. Despite operating in different contexts and facing distinct challenges, both movements were united by their shared commitment to challenging injustice and creating a fair and just society.

The Dalit Panthers movement was affected by inner conflicts and oppression by the State, causing it to slowly disintegrate. However, the impact of the Dalit Panthers cannot be measured solely by the duration of their operation. Their legacy extends far beyond their organizational lifespan, as their ideas and principles have continued to influence subsequent generations of activists and movements. The Dalit Panthers were inspired by the Black Panthers and emphasized self-respect, self-defence, and grassroots mobilization, which laid the groundwork for a broader Dalit empowerment movement in India. Generations have been inspired by this kind of radical commitment to transforming politics into a just and equal society.

Inspired by the visionary approaches of both the Black Panthers and the Dalit Panthers, there have been concerted efforts in India to promote cooperation on common issues of discrimination and social injustice. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in building upon the legacy of the Panthers movement. An example of this collaboration occurred in 2022, which marked the Golden Jubilee year of the Dalit Panthers. During this milestone, a landmark conference was held in India with the explicit aim of uniting former leaders of the Black Panther Party from the United States and the Dalit Panthers of India for the very first time.[13]

This historic gathering served as a platform for dialogue, exchange of ideas, and solidarity-building between two iconic movements that share a commitment to challenging oppression and advancing the cause of social justice. By bringing together leaders from different corners of the world who have fought against systemic discrimination and marginalization, the conference symbolized a powerful convergence of struggles and aspirations. Moreover, the coming together of former leaders of the Black Panther Party and the Dalit Panthers not only honors the legacies of these movements but also paves the way for future collaborative cooperation and solidarity.


[1] Black Panther Party, The Ten-Point Program (Oct. 15, 1966) available at

[2] Suzanne Cope, Power Hungry Women of the Black Panther Party and Freedom Summer and Their Fight to Feed a Movement,  Chicago Review Press (Nov 2021)

[3] “The Black Panther Party: Challenging Police and Promoting Social Change”, National Museum of African American History and Culture,

[4] Ibid; See also

[5] Suzanne Cope, Power Hungry Women of the Black Panther Party and Freedom Summer and Their Fight to Feed a Movement,  Chicago Review Press (Nov 2021)

[6] “First meeting of Black Panthers & Dalit Panthers soon: Why this is historic”, The News Minute (27 May 2022),

[7] Trevor Canton, Cheyenne Porcher, & Laura Zhang, “India’s Dalit Panthers”,

[8] ibid

[9] ibid

[10] Ritupriya Basu, “In the ‘70s, the Dalit Panthers Made Pocket-Sized Magazines That Challenged Social Hierarchies in India”, Eye on Design (14 July 2022),

[11] Dalit Panthers Manifesto (Bombay, 1973),

[12] ibid

[13] “First meeting of Black Panthers & Dalit Panthers soon: Why this is historic”, The News Minute (27 May 2022),