British Association for South Asian Studies

Research Groups

Dalit communities and diasporas in global times: Interdisciplinary perspectives

Convenors: Manuela Ciotti and Hugo Gorringe, University of Edinburgh

The study of Dalits is by now an established field of research within South Asian Studies and many significant publications have arisen from across disciplines. This research group intends to engage with the existing body of literature and ongoing research projects in three main ways: first, it aims to function as a think tank by fostering the exchange and discussion of new contributions to the field and to generate new research themes; second, it intends to act as a platform promoting dialogue with Dalit scholars, intellectuals and activists who have come to form a significant counter-public sphere; third, it fosters a reflexive approach on knowledge production on Dalit communitie

Dalits have been largely investigated as subjects of political participation in their struggle against all forms of caste-related discrimination. In the past few decades Dalit movements have increasingly entered and engaged with political institutions by forging parties, contesting elections and holding representatives to account. Whilst Dalit parties are increasingly prominent in Indian politics, the Dalit struggle extends well beyond the formal processes of interest mediation. Dalit movements have mobilised extra-institutionally to challenge the everyday processes and practices of caste both directly and using symbolic means. Moreover, Dalits have had to find new and more nuanced means of challenging the social order - staking a visible claim to public space through the erection of Ambedkar statues and the construction of monumental buildings suggesting a 'Dalit architectural style', have been significant means of doing this. Alongside these direct challenges are campaigns that adopt a cultural emphasis and stress. For example, Dalit literature is booming at present and translations of regional literatures are increasingly making this work available to a wider audience. There are also numerous efforts to revision Dalit history in ways which pose challenges to the caste system and include Dalits within wider national narratives. Likewise, Dalits' religious performance – ranging from conversion to Buddhism and Christianity, to Hindu temple entry movements - represents a significant subaltern response to discrimination, violence and hegemonic Hindu world views.


The increasing presence and activities of Dalit parties, grass-roots activists, the uses of symbolic means, and an overall cultural renaissance amongst Dalits have catalyzed a great deal of scholarly interest – especially focusing on the ways in which these phenomena interrogate caste society. The group aims to push the inquiry on Dalits, politics and social movements further as well as on less known spheres of social life – such as the economy, marriage and diaspora for example. Research on such topics would provide an organic contribution to the study of Dalits' political subjectivities and practices and would place these in conversation with wider societal trends. It is hoped that rethinking the combination of the political, the symbolic, the economic and the social will lead to a re-signification of the Dalit category and a re-designing of the field of study which centres on it.
The network was launched at the 2011 BASAS conference and the convenors are currently working towards a special issue of papers that were presented there, and are also working towards a Dalit Studies website or blog. Future network events include hosting panels at the BASAS and EMCSAS conferences in 2012. Please contact the convenors if you have any ideas or proposals that would meet the aims of the network.

For further information, please contact:

  •  Dr Manuela Ciotti (
  •  Dr. Hugo Gorringe (