Dalit Studies has emerged as a major area of research in Anveshi, creating a space for critical/difficult conversations between feminist theory and Dalit politics. The publication, in 2003, of Nallapoddu (Black Dawn), an astonishing anthology of hitherto unknown Dalit women’s writings, edited by Gogu Shyamala, is a landmark endeavor in this dialogue. The work towards the book has enabled a richer political understanding of the situation of Dalit women (and men), the politics of their invisibility, and the critical importance of paying attention to the specificity of their experiences in every aspect of national life.
The turning point in our work with the religious minority issue was the debates around Uniform Civil Code. While discussions on Dalit politics have raised the issues of religious conversions and Christian minorities, the UCC debates have transformed our work on law. Our work with the UCC have given us the insight, from both theoretical/abstract and activist- empirical perspectives, that ‘secularism’, as enunciated in India, is a deceptive and treacherous terrain when viewed from the Muslim perspective. This debate not only enabled us to raise questions about the politics of feminist law reform but also to interrogate notions of nation, secularism and minority.
Currently, there are twelve research projects in this initiative, including a conference and lecture series. These projects are funded by the Hivos Netherlands, Sir Ratan Tata Trust, and the JRD Tata Trust. The individual strands of work are described below.
Dalit Women’s Biographies
This project focuses on writing political biographies of Dalit women leaders, exploring new ways of understanding their participation in the political process, complicating linear narratives of empowerment. Gogu Shyamala works on this project.
Dalit Women and Governance in Panchayat Raj: Short Stories
Exploring Dalit women’s experiences as Sarpanchs, this project aims to document them as fiction narratives. Insights from this socio-political study are opening up the category of ‘Dalit woman’ – shifting it from the terrain of victimization to give it a richness and diversity. Subhadra Joopaka worked on this project. Some of the stories have been published.
Dalit Women in Rural Political Structures
Given the emergence of parallel bodies as loci of power, there is a question about the power that remains with political bodies such as the village Sarpanch. This project explores the complexities in the transfer of local political power from upper caste to Dalits in the village context. Sujatha Devarapalli worked on this project. A report is available in the library.
Dalits and Christianity
This project, which has just begun, seeks to understand the negotiations of the Dalit communities with modernity through the institutional and cultural spaces opened up by Christianity. Sarath Davala worked on this project for a period in Anveshi. He continues to work on this project independently.
Dalit Lecture Series
To introduce Telugu readers to the debates in Dalit Studies, Anveshi has initiated a Dalit Lecture Series, which include interactive sessions and public lectures with leading Dalit scholars and activists. Lectures by Gopal Guru and G. Aloysius have inaugurated this programme. Publication of their lectures in English and Telugu is forthcoming. Sarath Davala, Gogu Shyamala, Subhadra Joopaka and Sujatha Devarapalli organized these lectures.
National Conference on Genealogies of the Minor: Islam in Contemporary India
We are working towards this conference will explore what it might mean to speak of Islam outside the frame of secularism, by steering away from hegemonic preoccupations with “national security”, and also the trope of “victimhood”. The conference will focus on South India as this is a very under-discussed location of Islam in India. Shefali Jha works on this project.
Political History of Old City of Hyderabad
The main aim of this project is to map the reasons for the changing political affiliations in the old city of Hyderabad in the 1950s and 60s. Specifically, the focus is on understanding the reasons for the Communist Party of India’s success in the mid-50s’ Municipal Corporation elections in the old city followed by their rout at the hands of the MIM (Majlis Ittehad Muslimeen) and the Congress in subsequent elections. M. A. Moid works on this project.
Dalit Women Corporators in Urban Governance
Documenting the experiences of Dalit women Corporators in the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad, this project seeks to understand the processes by which they negotiate their functions in the intersection of bureaucracy and local political bodies. K. Sudha Rani works on this project.
SNDP and Ezhava Women: Power, Possibility and Predicament
This project attempts to understand the status of Ezhava women in the community organisation Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogum. Ezhava women have not figured prominently in the history of Kerala. This project will strive to bridge that gap by documenting the history of Ezhava women and their current status in Kerala society by examining the functioning of SNDP’s women’s wing. P. V. Sreebitha works on this project.
Banamati: Miracles Exposed
Banamati is a tradition practiced mostly in the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh. This project attempts to map the various understandings of this practice and investigate the rationality that lies in such a practice. The study is located in the context of the refusal, in modern scientific approaches, of the knowledge of the villagers and their logic. Napari Praveen Kumar works on this project.
In the Mirror of Secularism- Muslim Students in Central Universities (2006)
The aim of this project, undertaken by Shefali Jha, was to assemble a critical, reflective description of secularism, primarily in response to the question: how do we think about the relationship between secularism and minority? The focus of analysis was the central university as one such crucial space for the fashioning of modern, secular citizens, and the research was carried out in three central institutions – the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad Central University, and Maulana Azad National Urdu University . One of the main arguments was that an abstract definition of secularism, as a set of laws designed to keep order and promote harmony between different religious groups, in the process both instituting and ensuring an abstract equality among them, is inadequate to the crisis we are faced with today.
Madiga Dandora: A Study and Celebration of Sub-Caste Cultural and Political Assertion (2006)
This work by Panthukala Srinivas was a documentation of the Madiga Dandora movement which started in 1994 demanding categorisation of reservations for sub-castes. Srinivas conducted interviews with movement leaders, activists, commentators and ordinary people from different Dalit castes, and also used archival footage of the movement collected by him since 2004. The project culminated in a documentary film titled Dandora: Dagapadda Gunde Chappudu (Dandora: Resonance of Deceived Hearts). The film has raised an extremely significant debate in civil society on the condition, culture and politics of sub-castes in India today. A proposed further step is to make a film in English for national circulation.
Telugu Material Production and Documentation (2000)
An anthology of Dalit women’s writings was planned as part of this project, undertaken by Gogu Shyamala. Fifty-five women writers were identified for inclusion in the anthology through a process that involved combing through libraries and archives, meeting different literary figures, and consulting with Dalit intellectuals. The anthology was to cover a wide range of writings, including poems, short stories, hymns, letters and reports, each preceeded by a detailed biographical note. This project culminated in the publication of the book Nallapoddu (Black Dawn) in the year 2003.
The Micro-Politics of Caste in Everyday Life (1988-89)
K Sajaya worked on this short-term research project. This project was commissioned in the aftermath of the Karamchedu caste atrocity, and of upper-caste students’ protest against implementation of the Murlidhar Rao Commission report which recommended raising the reservation quota for Backward Classes in educational institutions. Interviews were conducted with women and men from Backward and Scheduled Caste communities, working/studying in educational and other professional institutions. The focus was on their life histories, day-to-day experiences in the workplace, their self perception and their opinions about job reservations. The findings of this project were published in the Telugu journal Nalupu, in April 1992.