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Dalits Studies

This innovative work of historical anthropology explores how India’s Dalits, or ex-untouchables, transformed themselves from stigmatized subjects into citizens. Anupama Rao’s account challenges standard thinking on caste as either a vestige of precolonial society or an artifact of colonial governance.


Focusing on Western India in the colonial and postcolonial periods, she shines a light on South Asian historiography and on ongoing caste discrimination, to show how persons without rights came to possess them and how Dalit struggles led to the transformation of such terms of colonial liberalism as rights, equality and personhood.


Extending into the present, the ethnographic analyses of The Caste Question reveal the dynamics of an Indian democracy distinguished not by overcoming caste, but by new forms of violence and new means of regulating caste.

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Samapika Mohapatra, an academic research scholar in the Centre for Study of Social Systems, J.N.U., New Delhi, currently posted as an Asst. Pro. In the Department of Sociology, Banasthali University, Rajasthan. In her current capacity, she has been teaching students of Sociology, M.S.W., P.G. Diploma in Women Human Rights. She has accumulated experience more that 10 years in the field of teaching, guiding and research. Earlier she has taught in College of Bikaner University, Rajasthan and J.M.I. (New Delhi).


So far, several research projects sponsored by UGC have been successfully completed by her. Besides, she has presented papers in various national and international conferences. Her articles are being published in national and international journals. Since her childhood, she used to be a bright and meritorious student and during her early youthful days, she managed to be badminton champion of Odisha. She has participated in major tournaments during her college and university days. She has been working intensively in the field of sports. In life she has never shown pessimism. She is always participative in any activity related to personal or professional front. So far her hard work and commitment have brought success to her life which in return she aspires to give it back to the society.

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This commemorative volume is based on Yalavarthi Naveen Babu’s M.Phil dissertation in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Using the more dynamic conception of jati as opposed to a static Western understanding of ‘caste,’ Naveen Babu traces its history in the social, cultural and economic aspects of the formation of ‘Varna into jati’ from the Rg-Vedic period to the end of 20th century. He demonstrates how these changes were grounded into the changing modes of production and its accompanying social formation. Naveen Babu’s work is a modest but significant interdisciplinary contribution to Indian Marxist historiography, sociology and political economy. It is relevant, not only for a scientific understanding of caste, but also for contemporary social movements against the caste and class divided Indian society. It is hoped that readers of this book will be further motivated to dig deeper into the complexity of the present social formation that embodies the subcontinent.

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Jotirao Govindrao Phule wrote Slavery (Gulamgiri)—a scathing and witty attack on Brahmanism and the slavery of India’s ‘lower’ castes that it engendered. Unlike Indian nationalists, Phule (1827-1890) saw the British as people who could tame the local elite—the Brahmans who wielded power simply on the basis of birth. Inspired by Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man and the ideals of Enlightenment philosophers, Phule mounted a critique of the Vedas as idle fantasies of the Brahman mind. With the objective of liberating the Sudras and Atisudras, he founded the Satyashodak Samaj (Society of Truthseekers).


Phule dedicated Slavery ‘to the good people of the United States as a token of admiration for their sublime, disinterested and self-sacrificing devotion in the cause of Negro Slavery.’ Written in the form of a dialogue between Dhondiba and Jotiba—reminiscent of Buddha’s Suttas, of Socrates’ dialogues—Slavery traces the history of Brahman domination in India, and examines the motives for and objectives of the cruel and inhuman laws framed by the Brahmans. This revolutionary text remains relevant today, and given Phule’s rather graphic imagination lends itself almost naturally to graphic art.


Srividya Natarajan and Aparajita Ninan also weave in the story of Savitribai, Jotiba’s wife and partner in his struggles, who started a school for girls in Pune in 1848, despite social opprobrium.This is perhaps the first time that a historical work of nonfiction has been interpreted as a graphic book in India.

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Caste and religion are not just practices. They are two main pillars of Indian society which determine the social structure, status, hierarchy and functional roles of people. Historically, religion performed two functions. On the one hand it was used as an agency of social control and mechanism for social exclusion, and on the other, it brought social mobility. A careful study of India’s social structure helps us understand the religious organisation of Dalits. It can be described as ‘a wheel within a wheel’ where each caste is linked with social, religious and other responsibilities. It is quite clear from the existing surveys, research studies and writings that the Dalit religious tradition as a belief system is very different from that of mainstream Hinduism. Religious exclusion and marginal space within Hinduism pushed most of the Dalits to explore alternative religious identities. The untouchables were always in search of new religions at various historical junctures.


Thus, Buddhism and Jainism in ancient India, Islam in the medieval period and Christianity in modern era attracted Dalits. The book Dalits and Religion contains personal narratives by learned Dalit scholars. These are neither translations, nor creations of non-Dalits, who, at times, are unable to realize the angst of Dalit community. Apart from narratives, there are insightful articles on various aspects of Dalit existence, viz. their religious tradition, forms of indigenous knowledge, conversion of Dalits into Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity and Islam, etc. Critiques on Dalit literature like Narendra Jadhav’s Outcaste: A Memoir, Kalyana Rao’s Untouchable Spring and Joshua’s Naa Katha also form part of the book. Besides, there is an examination of Hindi Dalit autobiographies of North India, while Dr. Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism has been studied with a historical perspective.


The book highlights the relationship between caste and religion and the socio-religious struggles that marginalized castes had to wage against the cultural hegemony of so-called upper castes. It is written in simple style and easy-to-understand language. It will prove highly useful to research scholars on Dalit religion and tradition, Dalit intellectuals and those concerned with the welfare of Dalits.

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Addressing students and the general reader, this series introduces key concepts in feminist theory. Any reader will find the series vitally useful, not just for understanding what new theories mean and how they are used but also for grasping how they have evolved. Examining the crucial linkages between caste and gender, undertaken, perhaps, for the first time, Lima Chakravarti unmasks the mystique of consensus in the workings of the caste system to reveal the underlying violence and coercion that perpetuate a severely hierarchical and unequal society.


The subordination of women and the control of female sexuality are crucial to the maintenance of the caste system, creating what feminist scholars have termed brahmanical patriarchy. She discusses the range of patriarchal practices within the larger framework of sexuality, labour and access to material resources, and also focuses on the centrality of endogamous marriages that maintain the system. Erudite yet accessible, this book enables the reader to understand the interface of gender and caste and to participate in its critical analysis.

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Combative, however partisan, and often beguilingly playful, these essays, many translated from the Tamil for the first lime, bring Ravikumar’s concerns to a wider audience. Ranging from the centrality of caste, the logic of communalism, ideas on culture, the politics of the media, education, censorship, to literature, just to mention a few of his interests, these essays provide an unsettling impact on the consensuses of democratic India.


As he talks of in the Preface, for him the personal is political, and questions of power in society, derived from his engagement with Marx, Bakunin, Derrida, Foucault and other philosophers and his wide readings in Tamil literature, permeate his writings. Divided into five parts, in Part I, The Silenced Word’, the author charts the history of discrimination against dalits in terms of land ownership, labour and education and why the need for exposing Hindu society, its communal ism, derived from its very nature of being, and its oppression are of paramount importance.


In Part II, ‘The Transparency of Death’, Ravikumar condemns the celebration of the golden jubilee of independence, insisting that dalits are not any better off under Hindu authority in ‘independent India’ and goes on to show how fundamentalism pervades one’s psyche, moving hand in hand with consumer culture. He campaigns passionately against the death penalty. In another .piece ho offers a careful discussion of ‘Ambedkarian democracy’, which is yet to lake place. In Part III. ‘Venomous Touch’, he discusses the unanticipated turns and twists of dalit narratives, as in film-maker Lenin’s much awarded docu-feature, Knock-Out, which he analyses as perversely unprogressive and conventional.

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For the first time, Dalits are writing about their lives themselves. They have long been written about by others, by anthropologists, historians and novelists. In fighting against the gross and tremendous injustice that has been their heritage for centuries, Dalit writers give voice to their aspirations for achieving equality. Translated into English for the first time from the original Hindi, Omprakash Valmiki’s autobiography talks of growing up in a village near Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, in an untouchable caste, Chuhra, well before the defiant term ‘Dalit’ was coined.


As he states bleakly, ‘Dalit life is excruciatingly painful, charred by experiences…. only he or she who has suffered this anguish knows its sting’. ‘Joothan’ refers to the scraps left on plates that are then given to Dalits to eat. In some ways it is a symbol of the demeaning existence imposed on the Dalits. Valmiki’s story is one of terrible grief and oppression, of survival and achievement, of his emergence as a freer human being in a society that remains ‘compassionless towards Dalits’.

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