Accepted paper:

Mayawati's Lucknow: making subaltern space in a hIstoric city


Melia Belli (University of Texas at Arlington)

Paper short abstract:

Between 2000-2012, Mayawati, UP's female dalit Chief Minister, erected monumental statues of dalit activists, including herself, throughout Lucknow. This paper examines the statues’ communal and propagandistic functions.

Paper long abstract:

Monumental bronze and marble statues of social reformers from the historically oppressed "untouchable" (dalit) caste have become a major feature of Lucknow's urban fabric over the past decade. Now in Lucknow public statues of celebrated dalits stand beside those of middle and upper caste Indian heroes, such as Gandhi and Rana Pratap. The Lucknow dalit statues were commissioned by Mayawati, the state's former dalit female Chief Minister. The statues are arranged in groups in chronological order and include dalit communal heroes such as Ambedkar and Mayawati's political predecessor, Kanshi Ram. The cycles conclude with Mayawati's own image, making her one of the few in Indian history to commission their own public statues. Despite their ubiquity and uniqueness, my work represents the first critical study of Mayawati's pubic statues. Based on interviews I conducted in 2010-11 with Mayawati's artists and dalits throughout the state, I consider the statues' polysemic meanings, focusing on gender and subalternity. Their scale, permanent construction materials, and prominence secure the dalits a place in Indian history- not just in the present, but for the future. I also argue that the statues serve Mayawati's political agenda. Their sequence establishes Mayawati as Ambedkar and Kahshi Ram's political heir, thus legitimizing her authority. This is reaffirmed through the statues' iconography, which presents her as powerful, wealthy, and androgynous. This self-image was perhaps necessary as Mayawati's caste and gender make her twice a minority in Indian politics and thus doubly compel her to commission monumental politically-charged public works of art.

panel P07
Contemporary Lucknow: life with "too much history"