The rise of Dalit studies has provided the necessary platform for a new set of scholarly enquiries in the social sciences and humanities. The Dalit Studies International conference (2008) was an attempt to bring together academics and intellectuals for a productive conversation on new research agendas. This initiative resulted in the publication of an edited volume Dalit Studies (2016). We plan to continue to explore caste inequality, human dignity, democracy and similar concerns to further reflect on the possibilities and challenges of Dalit Studies in the proposed conference.
Dalit Studies may be thought of as a new academic practice rooted in resistance to the dominant epistemologies. It has enabled academia to engage with the grounded knowledge creation by the Dalit communities. Innovative approaches have been devised to read the colonial and missionary archives and to analyse social memories, oral narratives, and cultural practices of the Dalit communities. Such novel research initiatives have resulted in a new set of studies that foreground Dalit subjects as active agents of social change and action. As a location for the study of marginality, Dalit Studies has enabled a sustained critical attention to the anti-caste social movements, religious traditions, literary and performative cultures and the everyday lives and practices of Dalit communities. Another important aspect of Dalit studies is that it opened up the possibility of a global conversation on caste, race, and similar forms of inequality.
The last two decades have witnessed a serious engagement with Dalit struggles, experiences and perspectives. New histories of caste subalterns such as the new histories of Chamars in northern India or the slave castes of southern India particularly Kerala began to be explored. These studies have tried to develop substantial research questions that were either absent or only marginally dealt with in social science research in India. These studies offered new ways of reading slavery and untouchability by re-interpreting colonial and missionary archives. Given the limited historical records left by the Dalit people, the colonial and missionary records have proved valuable sources to recover the lives of the untouchables as human beings with a sense of their body and self. In contemporary India, the Dalit literary and cultural thought is constituted by a number of anthologies as well as analytical studies. The powerful Dalit narratives represented the subjective experience of caste oppression and everyday life. For example, the recent studies on Dalit literatures in Marathi, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and Hindi languages have engaged with Dalit experience and aesthetics to demonstrate its valuable role in shaping a distinct Dalit identity. The explorations into the print and literary cultures have further revealed the gendered forms of caste and class domination. Caste is studied as sites of hegemony and power than simply reading it as an objective and homogeneous cultural system. Another set of studies documented and analyzed the significance of Dalit mobilizations, counter narratives of Dalit feminism, caste discrimination in labour market, inter-social group inequalities, subaltern religious movements and electoral success of Dalit parties. To sum up, questions of human dignity, citizenship, gender and caste inequalities, cultural identity, internal hierarchy of the lower castes, welfare, social justice, minority rights, political power and democratization are freshly posed and investigated in the field of Dalit Studies.
We propose to hold a three day international conference (22-24 January 2018) that would serve as a platform for intense and productive debates on the prospects of Dalit Studies. Given that the objective of this conference is to promote Dalit Studies and stimulate a constructive dialogue among scholars, we are keen to disseminate the new research through publications. We intend to publish the conference proceedings.
We invite proposals from independent scholars, research students, and those working within and outside of formal academic institutions on any theme which would broadly fall under the rubric of Dalit Studies. A committee will select the abstracts and its decision is final.
The Conference organizers will provide economy class airfare and local hospitality to all participants from within India, and local hospitality to participants from abroad.