CFP – Special Issue of CASTE: A Global Journal on Social Exclusion

Freedom from Caste: The anti-caste thought of Ambedkar, Periyar and Others

Guest Edited by Meena Dhanda and Karthick Ram Manoharan

We invite academic papers for a special issue of CASTE: A Global Journal on Social Exclusion (J-Caste)focusing on the anti-caste thought of important theorists, thinkers and movements from South Asia. In recent scholarship, new critical works have engaged extensively with the writings of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar but Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, the iconoclastic anti-caste leader from the state of Tamil Nadu and a central figure in Dravidian politics, has only of late attracted increased academic engagement. Likewise, the anti-caste thought of Phule, from the state of Maharashtra, amongst several other contributions to anti-caste thought from political leaders, social reformers, writers, novelists and poets, has made considerable impact on the discourse around caste in South Asia. We aim in this special issue to bring their thought into conversation to develop a deeper understanding of radical humanism incipient in anti-caste thinking. We seek to understand the meaning of freedom from caste in its fullest sense.

The following themes are indicative suggestions for lines of enquiry that may be extended along other related themes by potential contributors.

  • A new and critical approach to the thought of well-known anti-caste thinkers like Phule, Ambedkar and Periyar.
  • An exploration of lesser-known anti-caste thinkers especially from the ‘regions’ and marginalized communities in South Asia, e.g., Giani Ditt Singh and Sahodaran Ayyappan.
  • A discussion of anti-caste themes in cinema, literature, and poetry.
  • A study of how anti-caste thought informs social and political movements and vice-versa.
  • A discussion of how left, feminist and ecological movements have dealt with caste.
  • A critique of the impact of religion on the anti-caste discourse, its possibilities and limitations, including, but not limited to, discussions on conversions, Hindu reform movements, the neo-Buddhist movement, modern Sikhi, Islam and the Pasmanda question, and the work of Christian missionaries.
  • A critical perspective on the emergence of new debates on anti-caste theory and practice.

The special issue aims to consider these questions from a variety of perspectives. Contributors are encouraged to offer analyses of anti-caste thinkers and their thought from the perspective of cultural theory, sociology, linguistics, history, political theory, area studies, or philosophy.

We specifically welcome interdisciplinary papers. We are interested in discussion of anti-caste thinking in the full range of South Asian countries, including, Bangladesh, Burma, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka and the regions where South Asian diaspora has travelled. 

Please send a paper title and a 450-500 word abstract of your proposed paper by 16 April 2021 to castefree@wlv.ac.uk. Contributors will be informed by 30 April 2021 if their proposals are accepted for consideration and they will be invited to submit full papers (5000-8000 words) for blind review by 1 Nov 2021. All dates are final. Following reviews, the accepted papers will be published in the April 2022 special issue of J-Caste.

This special issue of J-Caste will be jointly edited by Prof. Meena Dhanda (University of Wolverhampton) and Dr. Karthick Ram Manoharan (University of Wolverhampton), linked to the project Freedom from Caste: The Political Thought of Periyar E.V. Ramasamy in a Global Context which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 895514.

Launch of “Freedom from Caste”

“Freedom from Caste: The Political Thought of Periyar E.V. Ramasamy in a Global Context”, a project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 initiative, held its launch event on 11 November 2020 through a webinar hosted by the University of Wolverhampton (UoW). Dr. Karthick Ram Manoharan, who joined the UoW in October 2020 as Marie Skolodwoska-Curie Actions Individual Fellow will be working under the supervision of Prof. Meena Dhanda to provide a comprehensive and comparative account of the thoughts of Periyar, an iconic anti-caste leader from South India.

Prof. Miceal Barden, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Business and Social Sciences, UoW, Prof. Ram Mahalingam, Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan, and Dr. Suraj Yengde, Senior Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School, spoke at the event along with Dhanda and Manoharan.

The webinar was moderated by Dhanda who welcomed and introduced the speakers, and provided a brief overview of the research aims and goals. Barden congratulated and extended a warm welcome to the incoming Fellow, and highlighted the important research on caste that had been undertaken at UoW by Dhanda in the recent past.

Mahalingam, who has researched extensively on the practices of caste-based discrimination, talked about the significance of academic work on Periyar. Noting that the concept of dignity was crucial for “rethinking social relationships”, he highlighted how dignity was a crucial concern for Periyar, whom he called a “radical humanist”. Mahalingam also drew attention to Periyar’s unique sense of humor with which he addressed complex social problems.

Yengde, author of the bestseller Caste Matters, spoke about how important it was to investigate caste from a philosophical standpoint, referring to caste’s “ontological debasing of our own existence.” Yengde noted how Periyar was inspired from radical traditions of the European Enlightenment as well as Buddhism. He drew similarities between the works of Periyar and Dr. Ambedkar, and said “we have much to excavate from the great legacy of Periyar”. He added that in the study of caste in a global context, Periyar was one of the “important theoreticians” to look at.

Manoharan, thanking the speakers, referred to the past and current scholarship on Periyar and Dravidian Studies and the need to expand it significantly. Projecting Periyar as a thinker of global significance, he spoke about how his research will be using new material from the 37 volumes of the Periyar Kalanjiyam to provide new perspectives in conversations on caste, identity and gender. Over 100 people from six countries participated in the webinar. Participants included senior academics working on Dravidian, Dalit and caste politics, activists, journalists, scholars and students. A lively Q&A session involved discussions on the scope of the studies, the contemporary relevance of Periyar, and critiques and prospects of Periyarism.