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International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Between Recognition and Redistribution: A Comparative Study of Dalit Politics in Contemporary India

The economic and cultural aspects of caste are closely linked in India. Dalits (former untouchables) continue to be subject to casteist discrimination and are also the most economically deprived group in India. They are, in Nancy Fraser's term (1995), a "bivalent collectivity": in other words, a group that suffers from both the injustices of maldistribution and misrecognition. Nevertheless, political parties, once in power, have tended to challenge the injustices of caste identity and economic deprivation separately. This project examines two political fields (Ray 1999), which I find exemplify these two extremes. In Uttar Pradesh (UP) the political field has been built by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which attempted to ameliorate the conditions of Dalits through a program of cultural recognition; whereas in Kerala the field was constructed by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) which attempted to redress caste injustice through economic redistribution. I argue that these "one-sided" approaches have not only failed to ameliorate injustices faced by Dalits but have also generated further grievances and insurgent forms of protest. I evaluate this claim by undertaking long-term ethnographic and survey-based research to examine the socioeconomic conditions and political articulations of Dalits—arguably the largest bivalent collectivity in the world—in two major states where ruling parties attempted to transform caste inequalities. I comparatively observe how and why two new insurgent movements by Dalits have recently begun organizing for the neglected forms of injustice.