[Reader-list] Three Day National Seminar on Interrogating Dalit Studies in India: Towards A Critical Theory

Shivam Vij mail at shivamvij.com
Fri Aug 24 14:09:27 IST 2007

Concept Note:

Three Day National Seminar on Interrogating Dalit Studies in India:
Towards A Critical Theory

Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai,
December 10-12, 2007.

The Social Sciences have yet to comprehend, interpret and incorporate
the struggles of the Dalit and marginalized communities into the
academic discourse. In late nineteen eighties, the phenomena of
institutionalising Dalit Studies, with the formal establishment of Dr.
Ambedkar Chairs and Centres in different universities and educational
institutions, came up as a response to the conscientisation among the
subordinated social groups' and assertion of identity. This process
should not be viewed in isolation but in the background of Dr.
Ambedkar's centenary celebration, and the emergence of Dalit politics
in the 90s. Social sciences academia has now widened the scope for new
disciplines and inter-disciplinary studies to engage the complex
issues arising from the socio-economic and cultural injustice meted
out by the Brahmanical Caste System and Patriarchy. Thus, academic
engagement with the injustice of Caste and the process of
conscientisation among Dalits provide the thrust for the new
discipline – Dalit Studies. It is similar to creation of Women/ Gender

Not surprisingly, Women/Gender Studies, which acquired primacy and
prominence to some extent in the academia, have 'developed' content in
terms of method and pedagogy. This has been made possible because of
the essential link between feminist theories, academic activism and
coupled with other systemic facts. Regrettably, Dalit Studies, as a
discipline is yet to stamp its imprint as a distinctive field of
study.   For, there is an appalling lack of systematic understanding
of the diverse aspects of Dalit peoples' knowledge, experience and
learning as well as unlearning. Dalit studies, hence entails a
disjunction between academic activism and a deficient theoretical

In 2002, the Durban Conference on Racial Discrimination of the U.N,
turned out to be an initiative in linking the problem within a larger
framework, in which, activists and a few academics have made a
transitory attempt to understand the dialectical relation between
Caste and Race. Establishing parallels with Critical Race Theory along
with academic activism, offers a possibility of constructing a theory,
methodology and pedagogy for Dalit Studies.

The present situation has a serious predicament with the establishment
of Dalit Studies/Centres either as an independent subject or within
existing disciplines. Dalit studies thus require
inter-disciplinary/trans-disciplinary or multi-disciplinary approaches
for exploring new paradigms, questions, methods, approaches and
concepts. A prerequisite for this is the understanding of Dalit both
as a concept and as a category. In order to bridge the cleavage
between theory and praxis, it becomes necessary to subject to scrutiny
how it has been treated by social scientists.

Dalit as a concept and category has its value, idea, meaning, culture
and identification with human dignity opening up new possibilities
besides rendering critical understanding. It is no more a mere
substitute for erstwhile ascribed categories, used in academic
exercise. For, the very emergence of the concept envisages a culture
of resistance and assertion of the subordinated. Posing a challenge to
the existing order, it propels the initiatives for the creation of an
alternative paradigm as well as reconfiguring the contours of everyday
materiality. In both the academic and social spheres, study of new
trends requires a critical theory to reflect upon existing realities.

Thus, Dalit studies have to consciously address the subconscious of
not only the oppressed but the oppressor as well, because Caste is a
state of mind having its roots in religiously codified laws. Caste is
undeniably an everyday materiality. Most of the cultural forms are
essentially those acquired, accumulated, and stored in the
subconscious state of a person. To borrow Frantz Fanon's expression,
it is easy to engage with the conscious but too difficult to engage
with the subconscious. Therefore, Dalit critical theory has to proceed
from the critical findings arrived from the process of

As of now Dalit Studies is in an amorphous state. This, it appears, is
a deliberate design exposing the 'casteness' of the establishment.
About two decades of Dalit Studies in existence in the academia is
more generic in nature than being critical. That the Centres for Dalit
Studies are located in an atmosphere of casteness, can not be
dismissed easily. It is being perceived that Dalit Studies' Centres
are for Dalits, to Dalits, of Dalits and with Dalits, an explicit
exposition of the prevailing state of mind in the academic world.
Further, the paucity of studies on the Dalit peoples' political
economy, an academic exercise, which would certainly explain the
capacity to negotiate with power, explain the undercurrents in
academic engagement.

Indeed, in India, for centuries Caste continues to be the core
principle on which people have been organised. Further, a set of
beliefs and practices were created through which caste inequalities
are maintained. Dalit Studies should allow for critical consideration
of the caste-centered supremacies/ graded inequalities as three fold
(Trident) – system, structure and an ideology. Here, a structure
replicates and enforces caste-centered supremacism across the
microstructure (civil society, educational institutions, media…) and
macrostructure (State, Society and others). A system of (un)earned
privilege, represented by a range of benefits and entitlements
attendant to caste domination, developed and maintained through coded
assertion of, and subscription to, caste-centered supremacist beliefs
and practices   encompasses many structures which work in tandem for
an ideology i.e., 'systemic casteness'. Situated in this milieu, Dalit
studies would require the formulation of a Critical Theory in order to
engage with the intersectionality of caste, class, gender, religion

For instance, it has to be acknowledged that the academia is either
afflicted by selective amnesia or there is a virtual lack of
engagement with the literary and artistic domain of the Dalit peoples.
Without exception the literary landscape of every Indian language has
been reshaped and expanded with a surge in the literary and cultural
productions by the Dalits. These creative reflections have to be
incorporated appropriately in Dalit critical theory since, in a
Gramscian sense culture is also a repository of power.

The proposed three-day national seminar looks into historical
trajectory of contemporary Dalit Studies in the academia. It is
imperative to interrogate and deliberate upon the prospects as well as
limitations, which entailed Dalit Studies for the past two decades. A
few pertinent questions need to be reflected upon for a better
understanding and formulation of a Dalit critical theory and a Dalit
perspective. This is to strengthen Dalit Studies as a discipline, with
potential for theorisation of peoples lived experience. The questions
and postulations are primarily from two different engagements (a)
Theoretical and (b) Case Studies, which are not to be taken as
straight-jacket compartments but interrelated ones for scholars who
reflect upon.

•       Does University/Research Institutions effect social change? If so to
what extent and if not, is this a process of appropriating voices of
the oppressed?
•       Has Dalit Studies accomplished the basic vision?
•       Do Dalit Studies provide necessary training to the scholars to
reflect upon community/life experiences through theoretical
•       Do existing studies have an epistemological framework to understand
the Dalit universe?
•       Has there been any attempt to create a Dalit epistemological notion?
•       Why Dalit studies have not attempted to incorporate caste and class
in a dialectical mode? Does the Dalit intellectual contribute to the
theory formulation?
•       Do Dalit studies provide space for counter hegemony?

For Case Study

•       The features/aspects constituting Dalit Studies
•       What was/were basic reasons/purpose for establishing Dalit studies/
•       Kind of curriculum and pedagogy adopted in the framework for Dalit
•       Are existing Dalit Studies are foregrounded with a solid theoretical
framework and if not what would be requirements?
•       Do Dalit studies provide a different approach and meaning than the
dominant mode of understanding?
•       Critical engagement on Dalit literature
•       Who are the people (Teachers as well as Researchers/students) taking
up these Dalit studies?


Style Sheet for Contributors
1.      Papers should be typed/word processed (Microsoft Word) in
double-space and only on one side with wide margins.  Full length
papers should not exceed 7,500 - 8000 words.

2.      Each paper must have a title page which will carry the full title
of the paper, the name and address of the author, and institutional
affiliation, if any.  The title page must also give an abstract of the
paper and may include acknowledgments.

3.      All tables and diagrams should be clearly produced ready for
photographic reproduction, type area 125 mm x 205 mm.  No vertical and
horizontal lines are necessary in tables, but they should be composed
in such a way that the rows and columns can be clearly identified.
All tables and diagrams must carry numbers for identification and must
be given at the end of the text, but the text must indicate the
appropriate place where they are to be included.

4.      Reference to sources/literature cited should be carried within the
text in brackets giving the name of the author, year of publication
and page number, e.g. (Basu 1967: 2000).  Notes (also in double space)
and list of references (bibliography), in that order must appear at
the end of the text, after tables and diagrams.  References should be
listed alphabetically by author and chronologically for each author.
Some examples are given below:
       Agarwal K P. 1975. Peasant Revolts and Agrarian Change in North
India, Lucknow: Rudra Publications.
       ____________. 1979. 'Impact of Green Revolution Technology on Small
Farmers in Eastern Uttar Pradesh'.  Indian Journal of Peasant Studies,
Vol.3, No.2.
       Dharmaraj P and S Ramaswamy. 1984. Conjuctive Use of Irrigation in
South Indian Villages, Madras: Sridharan Publishers.
       Gupta G. 1973. 'People's Participation and Afforestation in West
Bengal', in S. Chakravarty (ed.), Alternatives to State-Centred
Development Initiatives, Calcutta: Mitra Publications.
       Pawar T. 1992. 'Impact of Rural Development Schemes on the Landless',
Ph.D. Thesis, Bombay: University of Bombay (unpublished).

5.      The article follows English spelling, not American (e.g. programme,
not program; labour, not labor).  However, where two forms are widely
in use, such as analyse/analyze, liberalisation/liberalization, one
should be consistently followed throughout the paper.

6.      Quotation marks should be consistently single, except for a quote
within a quote: e.g. Sen summed it up best by saying: 'The importance
of capital in the production process notwithstanding, a distinction
must be made between "foreign" and "domestic" capital'.

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