ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Dalit Feminist Thought

Dalit women’s experiences as epistemic spaces form the basis for a new conceptual and theoretical framework of a Dalit “womanist–humanist complex” to analyse the materiality of caste, class, gender, sexuality, local economy, and power relationships, both within and outside of the Dalit community. How do Dalits navigate awkward contingencies, tenuous histories, socio-economic contexts, political pressures, and cultural realities to negotiate with the regimes of power, carve their agency, and contribute to feminist thought, praxis, pedagogies, and politics? The myriad ways through which Dalits have consistently expanded, challenged, and revolutionised feminism, by working on different potentials, hopes, and futures, are demonstrated here.


The author would like to thank Christian Lee Novetzke, Joel L Lee, Balmurli Natrajan, Douglas E Haynes, Leela Fernandes, and anonymous reviewers for their comments and discussions.

Dalit history and women’s history belong to the same field of Indian and South Asian history. Indeed, the origins of modern Indian feminism and the intersections of caste and gender are in the expressions of Dalit womanist–humanists. Dalit women created new knowledge, consciousness, and praxis from the ground up; yet, except a few notable examples (Rege 2006; Paik 2014a; Still 2014; Anandhi and Kapadia 2017), their contribution to India studies and specifically, South Asian feminism is rarely acknowledged by intellectuals and scholars.

Who is a Dalit feminist? What does feminism, womanhood, and gender look like from the vantage point of Dalit women, those most tyrannised by casteist and sexist oppression and beaten down mentally, spiritually, and physically? What are the specific contours of feminist consciousness from the perspective of Dalit women, not even considered “women” or “human” for that matter? I engage with these questions, by centring Dalits’ lived experiences under excess dis­crimination, hurt, and humiliation. I use Dalit experiences, ideas, and politics to create conceptual and theoretical frameworks, engage in difficult but necessary dialogues across communities, and work on different potentials, hopes, and futures.

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Updated On : 22nd Jun, 2021
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