Name: Daniel Bilton
PhD: English Literature
Thesis Title: Dalit Writing in the 21st Century: Activism and Literary Experimentation in Modern India
SAF Rep for NTU
The aim of my research is to explore the current relationship between Dalit literature and activism through an analysis of literature published within the 21st century. To do this, I will use caste cultural identity as a means to explore how contemporary Dalit literature is analysing and debating the foundational elements of the pan-Indian Dalit identity. In his quest to annihilate caste and the practice of untouchability, Dr B.R. Ambedkar unified untouchable castes and communities across India under the collective identity of ‘Dalit’. Differing from Gandhi’s ‘harijan’, the Ambedkarite Dalit was a strong, politically assertive figure who rejected Hinduism, and everything related to caste. In creating this unified identity, Ambedkar was asking communities to put aside their differences, and engage with a radically new way of life outside of the constructs of Hinduism. After his death in 1956, Ambedkarite philosophy all but disappeared from the political landscape of India, until it was ‘resurrected’ by the Dalit Panthers in the 1970’s. Since then, Ambedkar has been translated into many Indian languages, as well as in English, allowing him to be read by Dalits from across the subcontinent. This has created an interesting blend of Dalit politics, particularly in 1990s South India, where the ‘new’ ideas of Ambedkar were mixed with the old traditions of anti-caste activism, that have dominated South Indian politics since the 1920’s. It is also during this period of the 1990s where we see individual Dalit castes begin to assert themselves as distinct groups with their own cultural identities, as well as a new wave of Dalit literature entering publication. This thesis, therefore, will argue that contemporary Dalit literature is debating the use of cultural heritage within political activism. I will explore texts which reinterpret aspects of Dalit culture in an effort to gain self-respect. This includes locating art forms such as dance and storytelling, and presenting them in ways that reconnect Dalits with their cultural heritage. I will also analyse the use of Dalit specific gods, and how writers are able to use these figures as empowering symbols of the Dalit condition. I will also examine texts that have been written by writers who have rejected Hinduism through embracing Buddhism, in a similar fashion to Ambedkar. Throughout the thesis, I will engage with activists and cultural critics who debate ideas surrounding Dalit culture, and what life should look like both within and outside the construct of Hinduism. I will explore how these debates manifest within Dalit literature, and will argue to what extent Dalit culture is important to contemporary activism.
Supervisors and Institution(s):
Dr Nicole Thiara (NTU)
Professor Nahem Yousaf (NTU)
Publications (please include full details with page nos. or web links):
‘Dalit Literature: ‘Dalit Literature: Space and Trauma’, at ECSAS 2016, Warsaw’, Postcolonial Studies Centre at NTU (2016) <https://postcolonialstudiescentre.wordpress.com/2016/09/29/dalit-literature-space-and-trauma-at-ecsas-2016-warsaw-by-daniel-bilton/>
‘Dalit poetry: Response to Gopika Jadeja “You keep the cow’s tail: The Dalit Movement and Dalit Poetry in Gujarat”’, Postcolonial Studies Centre at NTU (2017) <https://postcolonialstudiescentre.wordpress.com/response-to-gopika-jadeja-you-keep-the-cows-tail-the-dalit-movement-and-dalit-poetry-in-gujarat-by-daniel-bilton/>
Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:
NTU Research Fair 16/03/16, ‘Dalit Literature and Trauma’.
European Conference of South Asian Studies 2016 (ECSAS), 28/07/16, ‘Dalit Literature: Space and Trauma'.
British Association for South Asian Studies 2017 (BASAS), 20/04/2017, ‘Tamil Dalit Literature and the Representation of Political History’.
NTU Postgraduate Research Seminar 03/05/17, ‘Tamil Dalit Literature and the Representation of Political History’.
Troubling Globalisation 3 Symposium, 20/09/17, ‘From Victim to Empowered: The Changing Message of Dalit Literature’.
Research Assistant for Professor Philip Leonard on the project 'Troubling Globalisation'.
NTU English Research Fair 28/02/2018, 'In search of a Dalit Culture: Reinterpreting Dalit History in Contemporary Contexts'.
Gave a presentation about my thesis at the University of Leeds as part of the NTU-Leeds Postcolonial Knowledge Exchange, 02/05/2018
Other Research Interests:
Contemporary Indian literature
Graphic Novel Studies
University email address: email@example.com
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