RWCLS Lecture: K. Satyanarayana, “The Cultural and Political Significance of ‘Dalit’ Literature”

Photo of K. Satyanarayana

Dr K. Satyanarayana is a professor in the Department of Cultural Studies at the English and Foreign Language University, Hyderabad, India. Currently, he is Visiting Scholar in the Department of South Asia Studies, University of Pennsylvania. He is the author or editor of numerous essays and books in the fields of Dalit studies, literary history, and cultural theory. These include two co-edited volumes of new Dalit writing: No Alphabet in Sight (Penguin, 2011) and Steel Nibs Are Sprouting (Harper, 2013); two co-edited collections of critical essays: Dalit Studies (Duke University Press, 2016) and Dalit Text (Routledge, 2020), and most recently Concealing Caste (forthcoming 2023 from OUP).

The Cultural and Political Significance of Dalit Literature

English Department Lecture, March 2, 3:00-4:30 pm, Kuykendall 410

K. Satyanarayana’s talk engages the significance of the terms “Dalit” and “Dalit literature”—one of the most exciting literary phenomena globally today—as they are widely used in India and beyond. The talk will also draw attention to the transnational history of Dalit engagement with African American struggles and literature—for example, the Dalit Panthers, the first generation of militant activists, were all writers and invoked the legacy of the Black Panthers and produced “Rebel literature.” The key term “Dalit” is a selfidentity of the castes formerly designated as untouchable and refers to the untouchables (legally known as Scheduled Castes) who demand to be treated with dignity and respect. Hindu society and its literature denied the status of human being to the untouchable, who is described as “someone who is mean, despicable, contemptible and sinful due to his deeds in his past life.” In contrast to this derogatory view of the untouchable, “Dalit” is a political self identification that rejects these predestined and imposed identities. Dalit literature in India is written by a generation of militant Dalits with a Dalit consciousness. It explores the world with insights that come from the writers who belonged to the untouchable community and had first-hand experience of Dalit life. Dalit literature began in Maharashtra in the 1960s and spread to all regions of India. It is a pan-Indian literary movement today in many regional languages. The historical conditions of Dalit literature determined its early concerns such as human dignity, self-respect and equality. Early Dalit literature portrayed the anger, rage and protest against the caste society and, therefore, it is widely read as a literature of Dalit protest against injustice.

Race and Caste in Comparison

Ethnic Studies Department Workshop, March 3, 11:30-1:00 pm, George 301B

All are welcome, but if you would like related readings please email to request them.