The South Asian Studies Council Colloquium Series presents
Shailaja Paik, History, University of Cincinnati:
“The Vulgarity of Caste: Dalits, Sexuality, and Humanity in Modern India.”
This talk, which is also the book title, offers the first social and intellectual history of the Dalit performance of Tamasha, a popular form of public, secular traveling theater in Maharashtra—and places Dalit Tamasha women at the heart of modernization in India. Deploying the vernacular as a method and drawing on ethnographies, films, and untapped archival materials, Shailaja Paik argues that Dalit artists, activists, and leaders negotiated violence and stigma as they struggled to claim manuski (human dignity) and transform themselves from ashlil (vulgar) to assli (authentic) and manus (human beings). In doing so, she illuminates how Dalit Tamasha women became foundational actors in conflicts over caste, class, culture, gender, and sexuality.
Building on and departing from the Ambedkar-centered historiography and movement focused approach of Dalit studies, Paik examines the ordinary and everyday in Dalit lives. Ultimately, she illustrates how the choices that communities make about culture speak to much larger questions about inclusion, inequality, and structures of violence of caste within Indian society, and open up new approaches for the transformative potential of Dalit politics and the global history of gender, sexuality, and the human.