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Abstract 49

‘Reducing the Value of a Man to His Immediate Identity’: Reading Yashica Dutt’s Coming Out as Dalit against the Backdrop of Casteism in Universities

Mr Himanshu, MPhil Scholar, Department of English, University of Delhi, New Delhi

The constitution of India grants equal rights to all its citizens, irrespective of their caste or religion; inequality prevails in every aspect of Indian society nonetheless. The unequal education system of India has been largely successful in keeping (quality) education inaccessible to its Dalit-Bahujan population. The spirit of Manu still walks in educational institutions, from local schools to the country’s premier universities. Dalit-Bahujan children start witnessing institutionalised caste-based discrimination from the day they enter an educational space. News of children dying after eating poisonous mid-day meals in government schools to students committing suicide in premier institutes like IITs is testimony to that.

The suicide (or rather an institutional killing) of Rohith Vemula in 2016 stirred several emotions amongst Dalit-Bahujans all over the country. While his death made everyone angry, his last note rendered everyone heartbroken; the boy who wanted to be a science writer could only manage to write his suicide note. His death led to country-wide agitation by student organisations, so much so that it became impossible for upper-caste dominated Indian media to remain indifferent toward it. It brought the question of university spaces being safe for Dalit Bahujans (or anyone who falls in the category of Other in contrast to the Hindu upper-caste idea of Self) to mainstream discourse.

Yashica Dutt, a St. Stephens alumna and New York-based journalist, started a website named "Documents of Dalit Discrimination", where Dalit-Bahujans from all over the world shared their experiences of caste-based discrimination. Shortly after that, Dutt came up with her memoir, Coming Out as Dalit, wherein she talked about her experiences of growing up Dalit and navigating a society that forces Dalits to feel shame for their identity. In addition to that, she also points out that Dalit-Bahujan students often have to hide the apparent markers of their caste identity to survive in upper-caste-dominated spaces, e.g., private schools, universities, offices, and so forth.

“We create upper-caste identities—stolen badges—that help us gain entry to a space that will reject us the moment it finds out who we really are. We nervously flash these IDs anytime we are grilled about our origins. Those who fail to exhibit satisfactory signs of upper-casteness and those who refuse to are punished for trespassing, for being where they don’t belong.”

Coming Out as Dalit is one of the latest and significant additions to the anti-caste intellectual tradition and an important document to understand the functioning of caste in seemingly progressive spaces.

This paper will primarily deal with Yashica Dutt’s Coming Out as Dalit and attempt to examine the ways in which the hydra-headed monster of caste operates in Indian educational spaces and impacts the lives of Dalit-Bahujan students.

Keywords: Reservation, Casteism in Educational Spaces, Suicide, Anti-Caste Intellectual Tradition, Dalit-Bahujan

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