Introduction: Dalit Studies: New Perspectives on Indian History and Society
The introduction maps the emergence of Dalit studies as a distinct field of study, traces its interventions in mainstream Indian academia, and elaborates a new set of research agendas. Outlining the broad context of the 1990s in India, the volume’s editors argue that the emerging visibility of Dalit movements, the expansion of affirmative action programs, Dalit women’s critiques of patriarchy, and broader global debates on discrimination have all helped lay the ground for new theoretical interventions on the role of caste in producing inequality and discrimination. This shift has placed Dalits at the center of these social transformations: Dalits as intellectuals, leaders, critics, and participants in creating new possibilities for social change in Indian society. The volume challenges investments in an underlying Hindu civilizational unity and in class-based and anticolonial historiographies, in which the recognition of caste inequality has been seen as a disruptive obstacle to a desired political unity—something to be denied, or at least deferred. Highlighting gender and other inequities both internal to Dalit groups and in Indian society more generally, the introduction offers an overview of the ways that Dalits have deployed the language of rights, created a politics of social equality and affirmative action, and made human dignity and equality more central to the study of India.