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The Dalit of the new millennium has matured: Sudha Pai

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The Dalit of the new millennium has matured and there is no reason for anyone to analyse their motivations, aspirations, and anxieties as different from those of anyone else in society, Professor and scholar Sudha Pai argued on Tuesday at a discussion to launch her new edited book titled Dalits in the New Millennium.

The book contains 24 essays from 33 scholars about various facets of the transformation of Dalits in the new millennium — from electoral politics, protests, discrimination, aspirations and anxieties to popular culture, representation, and identity. 

While engaging with a panel discussion on the book, Ms. Pai said, “I would submit that you should look at the Dalit as a normal person. As a person who thinks in the same way as you and me and who makes the same kind of lifestyle decisions about what to do in terms of his or her own interest…”

After the launch of the book, which has been co-edited by D. Shyam Babu and Rahul Verma, a panel comprising journalist and author Manoj Mitta, Delhi University professor Aditi Narayani Paswan, and scholar Chandra Bhan Prasad discussed the aspects delved into by the contributors in the book. 

Among some of the chapters are ones on the intersection of caste and class, why certain Backward Castes are demanding Scheduled Caste status, the rise of the Dalit middle class, anti-caste popular culture, and the phenomena of Dalit suicides in India. 

‘Atrocities, causes different’

But even as the panel questioned the lack of a gendered perspective in the book and the stress on the structural bias in the legal system, enabling injustice towards Dalits, Ms. Pai said, “In the new millennium atrocities are different, causes are different, and what they signal is also different. That they happen is very unfortunate and I do agree that the law should catch up. But the question of why these atrocities happen is a very deeper question. “

She argued, “To mention, rising atrocities are themselves a sign of improvement of the lives of Dalits. We’ve moved from ritual untouchability to social jealousy.” Calling the transformation of Dalits in the new millennium a complex phenomenon, Ms. Pai said, “It shows the maturing of Dalit movement in north India, where Dalits with greater self-confidence go out and vote for who they want to, do what they want to, protest when they want to and stay quiet when they want to.”

Describing certain parts of the book, Mr. Verma submitted that the aspirations of Dalits in this millennium is intricately also linked to certain anxieties about what the future holds. For instance, he described that even as more Dalits are using media like the Internet to say and do what they want, the Internet itself has had a way of “replicating social realities”.

The authors added that the purpose of the text was to examine the changes that Dalits have undergone in this millennium, with Mr. Babu submitting that while it might not answer all questions, it does raise some pertinent ones.

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