Challenge and challenges: Dalits’ assertion of right to own land amidst the dominance of the ‘upper’ caste in western Maharashtra, India

Titiksha Shukla//International Development//9th April//1-2 pm//Room C133

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Land ownership among Dalits (ex-untouchables) has an economic and symbolic value. Denial of landownership to them, through the caste Hindu order, was one of the many terms of exclusion on which domination of the ‘upper’ caste was premised. In the post independence years land became a state matter and the ‘welfarist’ nature of the Indian state compelled it to redistribute land amongst its landless marginalized population.

Following the threads of historical exclusion and modern day citizenship, I explore what meaning landownership holds for the Dalits who owned and claimed land in the village that was the focus of my fieldwork. They used institutional and extra institutional means to access the land. However, it emerges from my work that these claims on land are not purely for economic reasons, but sits within a much broader politics of assertion. As this lecture will show, Dalits in modern day India carry multiple and contradictory identities (untouchable, equal citizen) and land is a means through which they struggle to privilege one identity over the other.

Biography

I have an undergraduate degree in Political Science and a postgraduate in Social Work. I did both the degrees in India. As part of my MA, I worked for two years with the People’s movement (National Alliance for People’s Movement, NAPM), on the issue of housing rights for the urban slum dwellers. Later, I joined the research team of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), to study the impact of global tourism on the youths and their livelihood choices in the Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir) region of India.

Following this I started a PhD degree at Sussex in 2010. My research focuses on inter-sectionality of Dalit identities and its role in Dalit politics. Currently I am finishing my thesis, that focuses on how local Dalit politics uses several methods that I describe as identity to challenge upper caste dominance. Concepts like political modernity, citizenship, Dalit identity, politics etc construct and shape my work.

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