This panel explores the emerging significance of caste in the development process and how Dalit activism (locally, nationally and internationally) has changed in response, in particular through the redirection of social movement and campaign agendas from human rights to development policy.
The durability of poverty and inequality amidst rapid economic growth presents India with the greatest of challenges. The concentration of this poverty in communities of the historically disadvantaged and socially excluded Dalits raises questions about the continuing significance of caste today, particularly amongst Dalits who regard their unequal opportunities and dispossession as resulting from caste discrimination. In consequence, Dalit activism that arose in response to the violence of caste atrocities and demanded compensation for historical injustice seems to be taking a "developmental turn". It now confronts caste as a structural and modern dynamic in the context of capitalist growth: Dalit NGOs and movements today address the economic injustices and insecurities underlying caste violence more directly, whether they concern denial of Dalit access to common property, land rights, fair wages, or discrimination in education and job markets. This panel seeks to explore this developmental turn in Dalit activism and its various manifestations in more ethnographic detail, including how it has emerged through the complex engagements of different Dalit movements, political parties, NGOs, and networks and how it challenges national governments and international development agencies to rethink their development policy. We invite particular attention to the complexities that emerge as categories for action conceived (trans)nationally articulate with ground-level realities in Dalit communities; as different interests within the broad agenda of Dalit development are negotiated; as the "Dalit" category contends with the politics of gender, (sub)caste and language in pressing for development; and as "caste" operates within the uncertainties of contemporary capitalist development.