Accepted paper:

At Dalits' Feet: Archival Resources of Counteraction


Anna Laine

Paper short abstract:

Dalit bodies are archives of structural violence and discrimination based on caste. Through a process-based notion of the archive and close attention to Dalit counter-forces, the current artistic/anthropological project addresses potentials for increased epistemic and social justice.

Paper long abstract:

Within South Asian groups and communities, also at their diasporic locations, lives are implicated by caste. This hierarchical system has been legitimized through Hindu Brahminical scriptures where the social structure is rendered analogue with a bodily order in which feet and Dalits (as shudras) are placed lowest and defined as impure - a system reproduced by ritual designs and practices where people of subordinate positions revere the feet of their superiors, and enforced by British interventions and racialisations during the colonial era. In scholarly discourse, structural and 'transactional' understandings prevail: the Dalit has been opposed to the Brahmin, and voices of the latter emphasizing a holistic approach have been dominant. The presented project complicates the current order by focusing on Dalit feet. It aligns their subalternity with the paradox embodied in Euro-American museum archives: being controlled by organisational devices of typologies, taxonomies, and sharp binaries while at the same time holding a fragmented chaos that enable critical investigation, refigurations and expanded knowledge making (Hamilton and Skotnes 2014). Dalit bodies as living archival sources have thus conjointly shaped multivocal photographs of their feet during encounters based on extended fieldwork in Tamil Nadu and within the Tamil diaspora, a way of working that engages with collaborative and processual aspects of archives (Manning 2016). By inviting the audience to sit at Dalits' feet, the photographs challenge past and present casteism and propose new imaginations of Dalit futures. As inquiries towards social justice, the photographs in turn bring new knowledge into existing archives.

panel P029
Bodies of Archives/Archival Bodies