The Caste Out of Development project has organised and co-organised several conferences and a film screening, and organised panels within wider conferences, while the work of the project has also been presented at several other events.
Feedback workshops with civil society activists and NGOs
February 2012, Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore
Three two/three-day Workshops were held to feed back the results of the research bringing together members of the Caste Out of Development research team and collaborators:
- In Delhi (11-13 Feb 2013) with representatives Dalit action research institutes (eg Indian Institute of Dalit Studies – IIDS, the Dalit Foundation), National campaign organisations (the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights) NGO donors, (Action Aid, Christian Aid), Church organisations (Natiional Council of Christian Churches of India – NCCI) and advocacy organiations (Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion CSEI, Social Watch- Tamil Nadu)
- In Chennai (14-15 Feb2013) with NGO leaders (PEES, AREDS) and activists and members/leaders of Dalit ad Adivasi social movements (eg Vizhuthugal, Arunthathiyar Liberation Movement, Adi Thamilar, Etka Parishad), other activist federations (eg, Tamil Nadu Land Rights Federation, Tamil Nadu Panchayat Presidents’ Federation, Dalit Land Rights Network,) and journalists
- In Bangalore (15-16 March 2013) Dalit movement leaders (Dalita Sangarsha Samiti – DSS), Dalit women’s associations (Karnatka Dalit Mahila Vedike) Child rights organisations (Samajika Parivarthana Janandolana) other social movements, journalists, artists and academics
The internationalisation of Dalit and Adivasi activism
25-26 June 2012, University of London
This inter-disciplinary conference aimed to advance social scientific understandings of key dimensions of the internationalisation of Dalit and Adivasi activism that has gained momentum in the past two decades. These dimensions include the accountability of activists, conflicting or competing frames, divergent interventions by international actors, and the influence of emerging international norms on domestic norms. Whereas the internationalisation of indigenous peoples’ movements, particularly from Latin America, in the last quarter of the twentieth century has been a topic of extensive debate and theorising, there is still much scope to deepen our understanding of why and how similar groups in South Asia internationalised in this period. The insights taken from this conference stand to inform the work on Dalit and Adivasi activism by scholars across a range of social science disciplines who have to date paid less attention to the international dimension or have not engaged explicitly in a comparative discussion.
This conference sought to discuss aspects of the internationalisation of both types of activism, with three major foci:
- the relationship between international and national/local activism;
- the role of international organisations;
- connections between Dalit, Adivasi, and other networks in international fora.
International conference on Caste Out of Development
15-16 December 2011, Chennai
This seminar was organized around key themes and presented the findings of recent village-level fieldwork, the study of institutions, and policy-making and activist discourses undertaken in 2009 and 2010.
- The changing relations of caste in rural south India (village-level research in Dalit communities)
- The context of Dalit activism (a comparative overview of south Indian Dalit activism in relation to development from the 1990s)
- State policy frameworks — from affirmative action to Dalit development (including a critical examination of the policy framework for SC/ST welfare and the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan)
- Civil society advocacy on Dalit rights and development policy
- NGO activism on Dalit rights and development (on the origins and influences of Dalit NGOs and networks, their discourses, strategies, processes and effects)
- Dalit women’s organisations (the discourses, processes and institutional relations involved as a Dalit women’s NGO articulates issues of caste and gender)
- The dynamics of Dalit NGO networking
- Dalit Christian activism.
Caste Out of Development: review of findings workshop
December 2010, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai
This workshop was structured around the following themes:
- Dalits and NGO activism
- Dalit women and activism
- A case study of Karnataka
- Dalit Christian activism
Agenda-setting conference on civil society activism and transnational advocacy on Dalit rights and development
October 2009, Institute of Dialogue with Culture and Religions, Dhyana Ashram and Loyola College, Chennai
The first part of this conference sought to clarify the importance of caste in development by looking in two directions: (1) at how caste is articulated within arenas of regional and international development as a source of oppression and as a basis of resource claims and rights (including as a response to the caste relations within modern institutions themselves); and (2) at how emerging Dalit rights discourse relates to the everyday social relations and competition over resources in villages organised (or polarised) according to caste (in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka)
The second part discussed the methods and methodology that the research should focus. It emphasised longitudinal research, involving comparative field study, institutional research, case-study and personal narrative research.
The developmental turn in Dalit activism: disquieting caste and capitalism in contemporary India
Panel discussion at the EASA 2012 conference
10-13 July 2012, Nanterre University
The durability of poverty and inequality amidst rapid economic growth presents India with the greatest of challenges. The concentration of this poverty in communities of the historically disadvantaged and socially excluded Dalits raises questions about the continuing significance of caste today, particularly amongst Dalits who regard their unequal opportunities and dispossession as resulting from caste discrimination. In consequence, Dalit activism that arose in response to the violence of caste atrocities and demanded compensation for historical injustice seems to be taking a “developmental turn”. It now confronts caste as a structural and modern dynamic in the context of capitalist growth: Dalit NGOs and movements today address the economic injustices and insecurities underlying caste violence more directly, whether they concern denial of Dalit access to common property, land rights, fair wages, or discrimination in education and job markets. This panel seeks to explore this developmental turn in Dalit activism and its various manifestations in more ethnographic detail, including how it has emerged through the complex engagements of different Dalit movements, political parties, NGOs, and networks and how it challenges national governments and international development agencies to rethink their development policy. We invite particular attention to the complexities that emerge as categories for action conceived (trans)nationally articulate with ground-level realities in Dalit communities; as different interests within the broad agenda of Dalit development are negotiated; as the “Dalit” category contends with the politics of gender, (sub)caste and language in pressing for development; and as “caste” operates within the uncertainties of contemporary capitalist development.
Civil society engagement with contemporary caste discrimination: the developmental turn in Dalit activism
Panel discussion at the BASAS 2012 conference
12-14 April 2012, School of Oriental and African Studies, London
Despite India’s growing economy, extreme poverty in communities of the historically disadvantaged and socially excluded persists. Particularly amongst Dalits their unequal opportunities and dispossession have therefore become interpreted as resulting from caste discrimination: from a focus on “atrocities” and “untouchability”, Dalit activism is taking a “developmental turn”. It now confronts caste as a structural and modern dynamic in the context of capitalist growth producing denial of Dalit access to common property, land rights, fair wages, or discrimination in education and job markets.
This panel sought to explore this developmental turn in Dalit activism and its various manifestations, including how it has emerged through the complex engagements of different Dalit movements, political parties, NGOs, and networks and how it challenges national governments and international development agencies to rethink their development policy. Particular attention was given to the complexities that emerge as categories for action conceived (trans)nationally articulate with ground-level realities in Dalit communities; as different interests within the broad agenda of Dalit development are negotiated; as the “Dalit” category contends with the politics of gender, (sub)caste and language in pressing for development; and as “caste” operates within the dynamics of capitalist accumulation.
The growth and diversification of social movements and civil society activism for empowerment among those historically marginalised and subordinated as ‘untouchable’ (dalits) or ‘tribal’ (adivasis) has been accompanied by an effervescence of cultural production.
Visual art, music, dance forms, artefacts, religious or heroic iconography and mythic representations all connect to a politics of recognition and of rebellion. Assembling semiotic elements (artefacts, images, dance, mythologies) in reconfigured settings — special events and new audiences — specifically decontextualizes them from former relationships of exploitation and caste or gender subordination. As ‘art’ these performances break the nexus of social relationships and ritual structures, generating new meanings and changing the semiotic process itself in ways that the panel will explore. Dalit or Adivasi ‘art’ then becomes a field of meaning, authorship and political intent.
The processes of cultural production are differently oriented among Adivasi and Dalit groups and have different social effects, which the panel will consider. Common to all is the production of ‘art’ (in the broadest sense) as a means (intentionally or otherwise) to forge new non-local relationships, to connect to power through works that travel within national and increasingly international fields of consumption, as well as within local social activism.
But if ‘art’ is a means of forging effective political identities, it is also implicated in the complex internal group and gender dynamics of Dalit and Adivasi movements in ways that have been subject to ethnographic description.
Aspects of the work of the project have been presented at several events:
- 25-28 July 2012, Lisbon – Shaping caste and citizenship in “shining” India: effects of the Dalit struggle’s global turn. Presentation by Luisa Steur in a panel on “The partisan manufacture of citizens in India” at the ECSAS 2012 conference.
- 25-28 July 2012, Lisbon – Dalit rights and the development agenda: the promise, progress and pitfalls of NGO networking and international advocacy. Presentation by Luisa Steur, co-authored by David Mosse, in a panel on “Dalit communities in India and diaspora: agency and activism, research and representation” at the ECSAS 2012 conference.
- 21 May 2012, University of Nottingham – On radical realism in critical subaltern research: lessons from the Thervoy struggle in ‘Greater Chennai’. Presentation by Luisa Steur at a seminar on Conceptualizing subaltern politics in India.
- 16 May 2012, Kings College India Institute, London – Dalit rights and the development agenda: the promise, progress and pitfalls of Dalit NGO networking in South India. Presentation by David Mosse at Kings College Weekly Research Seminars.
- 7 May 2012, University of Copenhagen – Caste out of development: a field report. Presentation by Luisa Steur at a Scientific Staff Seminar.
- 2-3 May 2012, University of Copenhagen – Confronting the global land grab in South India: the struggle over the Thervoy SIPCOT Industrial Park in Tamil Nadu. Presentation by Luisa Steur at the Rising Asia, Anxious Europe conference.
- 12 May 2012, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies – Discrimination and development: Dalit women’s activism in rural Tamilnadu. Presentation by S Anandhi at the FINDAS International Workshop “Alternative Public Sphere? Dalit Praxis and Gender“
- 24-25 March 2012, Mumbai – The question of disconnect in Dalit civil society. Presentation by Luisa Steur at “Dalit emancipatory politics today” organised by VAK.
Jai Bhim Comrade
23 February 2013, SOAS, London
For thousands of years India’s Dalits were abhorred as “untouchables” denied education and treated as bonded labour. By 1923 Bhimrao Ambedkar broke the taboo, won doctorates abroad and fought for the emancipation of his people. He drafted India’s Constitution, led his followers to discard Hinduism for Buddhism. His legend still spreads through poetry and song.
In 1997 a statue of Dr. Ambedkar in a Dalit colony in Mumbai was desecrated with footwear. As angry residents gathered, police opened fire killing 10. Vilas Ghogre, a leftist poet, hung himself in protest.
‘Jai Bhim Comrade’ shot over 14 years, follows the poetry and music of people like Vilas and marks a subaltern tradition of reason that from the days of the Buddha, has fought superstition and religious bigotry.
The film screening included a discussion with the director, Anand Patwardhan