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Accepted Paper:

Colonial History and the Rise of the Dalit Middle Class in India  

Author:

Diksha Beniwal (Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur)

Paper short abstract:

To understand the rise of Dalit middle class by examining Ajay Navaria's story "Yes Sir." Is it possible to enter modernity and achieve class mobility without shedding one's caste identity as Dalit? How did colonial history shape modern understanding of caste and the policies adopted by India today?

Paper long abstract:

This paper attempts to understand the relatively new phenomenon of rise of Dalit middle class by examining Ajay Navaria's story, "Yes Sir." How did colonial history shape modern understanding of caste and the policies adopted by India today? Considering the rise of Indian middle class under the British rule, and its involvement in Nationalist movement, can we assume that Dalits can be assimilated into the middle class just by gaining economic mobility? The anthropological studies of the colonial times claimed a racial connection between the Brahmins of India and the white rulers as a superior race while Dalits were claimed to be racially inferior. How does the idea of economic mobility deal with the racial angle of caste? Is it possible to have an empowered class of Dalits given that every opportunity of economic mobility for them is undermined by their marginalized caste identity? "Yes Sir" establishes a seemingly alien and relatively newer power dynamics between a Dalit officer and a Brahmin clerk. Navaria portrays Dalit characters engaged in such struggles of identity amidst shifting caste and class dynamics within a modern city.To understand the contradictions inherent in the term 'Dalit middle class', the paper explores the workings of caste since the colonial rule, leading to contemporary notions that works within the rubrics of a modern society, whose margins are endlessly renegotiated by ideas of individuality and economic mobility. It traces the transformation of the ideas of race and purity as they outlive the traditional understanding of caste.

Panel MV19
Dalits and Social Mobility