Anti-Caste Thought: Theory, Politics and Culture

A two-day online conference was organized at the University of Wolverhampton by Prof. Meena Dhanda and Dr. Karthick Ram Manoharan on 29th and 30th October 2021 as a part of the EU Horizon 2020 project Freedom From Caste: The Political Thought of Periyar E.V. Ramasamy in a Global Context. Held as an online event, the speakers at this conference engaged with a variety of thinkers across India who have contributed to anti-caste thought – as theorists, political leaders, social reformers, writers, activists, artists, novelists and poets – over 6 panels on culture, spatiality, institutions, religion, anti-caste thinkers, and theory. This academic event presented new exciting research of young and established scholars on anti-caste thought, and sought to be a step in stimulating global critical conversations on caste studies and anti-casteism. Most of the papers will be submitted to a special issue of J-Caste journal and, following peer-review, will be published. Recordings of the presentations will be made available for public viewing soon.

For a gist of what was discussed at the conference, have look at threads on the project Twitter page here for Day 1 and here for Day 2.

The program schedule is below:


9.15 [BST] Welcome Address – Karthick Ram Manoharan

9.30 – 11.00 [BST] PANEL 1: Caste and Culture

Chair: Selvaraj Velayutham (Macquarie University)

• Sunidhi Pacharne (Jawaharlal Nehru University) – The Gendered Politics of Caste in Indian Cinema: Interrogating the Sexual Impurity of Dalit Women

• Drishadwati Bargi (University of Minnesota) – Revolution, in the mirror of love: Facing the “Failures” in Malika Amar Shaikh’s memoir I Want to Destroy Myself

• Swarnavel Eswaran (Michigan State University) – Caste: Cinema and Spatiality

11.00 – 11.30 [BST] – BREAK

11.30 – 13.00 [BST] PANEL 2: Caste, Nation and Spatiality

Chair: Malini Ranganathan (American University)

• Shrinidhi Narasimhan (University of Oxford) – Place-making from the Margins: Asia in the Tamil Buddhist Imagination

• Ganeshwar S (Delhi University) – Periyar’s Spatial Thought: Region as Non-Brahmin Discursive Space

• Anish KK (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) – Conceptions of Community, Nation and Politics: The Ezhavas of South Malabar and their Quest of Equality

13.00 – 13.30 [BST] – BREAK

13.30 – 14.45 [BST] PANEL 3: Caste and Institutions

Chair: Gaurav J Pathania (Eastern Mennonite University)

• S. Sakthi (Indian Institute of Technology Madras) – What’s in a (‘Fancy’) Name? The Many Faces of Caste in Chennai’s Information Technology Industry

• Jentle Varghese (CMS College Kottayam) – Militancy, Radical Democracy and Constitutionalism: Ayyankali and the Dalit Assertion in Colonial Travancore

14.45 – 15.30 [BST] – BREAK

15.30 – 17.00 [BST] – Book discussion of B.R. Ambedkar: The Quest for Justice, 5 Vols. (OUP 2021) with Aakash Singh Rathore (philosopher), Kancha Ilaiah (former Head of the Department of political science at Osmania University), Kanchana Mahadevan (University of Mumbai) and Matthew Baxter (Ashoka University), hosted by Meena Dhanda.


9.30 – 10.30 [BST] – Keynote Lecture – AR Venkatachalapathy (Madras Institute of Development Studies) – Denying and Defying Power: Periyar’s Approach to Politics

10.30 – 11.00 [BST] – BREAK

11.00 – 12.30 [BST] – PANEL 4: Caste and Religions

Chair: Gajendran Ayyathurai (Gottingen University)

• Dhivya Sivaramane (Delhi University) – Repudiating Religion, God and Caste: Self-respecting Social Radicalism and Rationalism of Periyar E. V. Ramasamy

• Nidhin Donald (Jawaharlal Nehru University) – Ambedkar as a Sociologist of Indian Christianity

• Suhasini Roy (University of Calcutta) – Barishaler Jogen Mondal: Construal of the undisputed dalit leader of undivided Bengal through a twenty-first century Bengali novel

12.30 – 13.00 [BST] – BREAK

13.00 – 14.30 [BST] – PANEL 5: Anti-Caste Thinkers

Chair: Dag Erik Berg (Molde University College)

• Mahitosh Mandal (Presidency University) – Dalit Resistance in Times of Bengal Renaissance: Five Untouchable Thinker-Reformers from Colonial Bengal

• Vignesh Karthik KR (King’s College London) and Vishal Vasanthakumar (Independent Scholar) – Beyond Anti-Caste Activism: A Periyarist Gaze at Social Justice

• Prem Ram MR (Crescent School of Law) – A discourse on communication between Iyothee Thass and Periyar: Possibilities of transgressing Caste equations

14.30 – 15.00 [BST] – BREAK

15.00 – 16.30 [BST] – PANEL 6: Anti-Caste Theory

Chair: Scott Stroud (University of Texas)

• Uday Yerramadasu (Jawaharlal Nehru University) – A Veritable Chamber of Horrors: The Annihilation of Caste as a Theodicy on Responsibility

• Sitharthan Sriharan (City University of New York) – Universalism as Foundational to the Critique of Caste: Towards a Comparative Reading of Ambedkar and Hegel

• Jadumani Mahanand (OP Jindal Global University) – Ambedkar’s Anti-Caste Philosophy as Democratic Theory

16.30 – 17.00 [BST] – Concluding Address by Meena Dhanda

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 895514.

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