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Dalits Studies

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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