Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Caste consciousness, Dalit women, Feminist anti-caste aesthetics, Politics of publishing, Representation, World literature
Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies | Women's Studies
This dissertation examines key problems in the representation of caste and argues for its importance as a vector of intersectional analysis of world literature. It uses an anti-caste feminist framework to foreground representations of Dalit women in short stories, graphic narratives, autobiographies, Anglophone Indian and Dalit novels, and explores the politics of their publication and circulation to argue that, in a context in which Dalit voices are deprivileged in and beyond India, a focus on intersectional experiences and "caste consciousness" are vital to reimagining collective solidarity of Dalits with other political movements locally and globally. Recognizing the impossible yet necessary nature of such relational politics, this project focuses on how caste and Dalit subjectivity have been perceived, presented, or challenged by Dalit and non-Dalit works alike while paying close attention to how the exclusion, cooptation, appropriation, and absence of Dalit women's interventions underline the systemic erasure of the gendered experience of caste in postcolonial Indian and patriarchal Dalit literature, as well as mainstream feminism. In the struggle against these structural conditions, it argues for an "anti-caste aesthetics" that refuses homogenizing the specificity of the individual, contextual, and intersectional experiences of Dalits. Such an aesthetics sheds light not only on the workings of caste but also on structural oppression more generally and thus offers a fresh approach to engage in a nuanced and reflective global feminism.The first chapter examines the representation of Dalit female characters in select works of Bama, Gogu Shyamala, M.M. Vinodini, Urmila Pawar, and Joopaka Subhadra to explore how a focus on the intersectional experiences and the agency and subjectivity of Dalit women can give rise to a subversive anti-caste feminist framework. It argues that short stories by these writers provide an understanding of the ways in which solidarities can be built through the centering of differences of subject positions without resorting to liberal individualism. Chapter two explores the role of Dalit women, the significance of Dalit leaders (Jyotirao Phule and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar), and the role of upper caste participants in anti-caste struggles in A Gardener in the Wasteland (2011) by Srividya Natarajan and Aparajita Ninan and Bhimayana (2011) by Durgabai Vyam, Shubham Vyam, Srividya Natarajan, and S. Anand. It illustrates how the work of non-Dalit writers can reassess nationalist history and the deeply casteist structure of Indian society, highlight the intersectional experiences of Dalit women, and engage in anti-caste aesthetics through a nuanced understanding of what it means to be "caste conscious." The third chapter examines Omprakash Valmiki's Joothan (2003) and Sharankumar Limbale's The Outcaste (2003) to complicate how the scripting of individual identity and the demands of a collective affiliation, the process of translation for global circulation, and the representation of Dalit women's contributions to anti-caste aesthetics is premised on a struggle to resolve deep divisions and differences of approach, thereby, keeping them in a constant state of double bind. Chapter four examines how Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance (1995), Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things (1997), and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017) engage with the problem of representing Dalit resistance and explores the aesthetic challenges they face in articulating the "slow violence" of caste and the intersectional nature of Dalit women's struggles. While these novels provide a sustained critique of the discrimination and violence that Dalits face, they still align themselves with progressive Gandhian philosophy rather than subaltern Ambedkarite politics. I argue that in contrast to novels by Dalit female writers, in Mistry and Roy's works, Dalit women are either invisible, co-opted, or overlooked in the shaping of Dalit male selfhood.
Sinha, Ruma, "Dalit Women, Anti-caste Aesthetics, and the Politics of Representation" (2021). Dissertations - ALL. 1492.
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