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Name: Daniel Bilton

PhD: English Literature 

Thesis Title: Dalit Writing in the 21st Century: Activism and Literary Experimentation in Modern India


Thesis Description:

This study will analyse the role of activism in contemporary Dalit literature by focusing on the radical literary experimentation that is present within texts. It will view the start of the 21st century as a juncture that sees writers experimenting with devices such as fragmented plot and shifting narrative perspectives to create innovative and challenging texts as opposed to the politically didactic nature of 20th century texts. The study will interrogate to what extent these experiments represent a new kind of cultural activism that is less reliant on lived experience as an activist device, and is more concerned with challenging upper-caste literature and discourses. Novels, including Cho. Dharman’s Koogai, and Limbale’s Hindu will be studied. This project will also consider graphic novels based on the autobiographies of key Dalit activists Phule and Ambedkar. The graphic novels can be seen as experimental as they challenge Indian comic book traditions based on Hindu mythology, and often break graphic novel structures such as panel layouts. The study will focus on writing in English and in translation; linguistic diversity within India means that working with English translations is common practice.

Although Dalit writing can be traced back to the 19th century (Constable 1997), modern ideas of what ‘Dalit literature’ is comes from the writings of the Dalit Panthers during the 1970s (Misrahi-Barak, Abraham 2015). Scholarship often views Dalit literature in socio-political ways, citing the voice given to Dalits via literature as an activist exercise (Satyanarayana, Tharu 2013). Dalit texts are often described as ‘testimonio’- a genre that place the author as witness to the abuse that their community suffers (Nayar 2006). This study will instead focus on the innovative features of the texts which challenge the idea that Dalit literatures are simply ‘narratives of pain and suffering’ (Rege 2013). Scholarship that focuses on the literary features of Dalit literature is limited (Brueck 2010, Thiara 2016) as is research into Dalit graphic novels (Nayar 2012, 2016, Yadav 2016). This is in part due to the scope of postcolonial literary studies, which has only recently begun to engage with Dalit literature.


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Dr Nicole Thiara (NTU)

Professor Nahem Yousaf (NTU)


Publications (please include full details with page nos. or web links):

Blog Posts

‘Dalit Literature: ‘Dalit Literature: Space and Trauma’, at ECSAS 2016, Warsaw’, Postcolonial Studies Centre at NTU (2016) <>

‘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) <


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.


NTU English Research Fair 28/02/2018, 'In search of a Dalit Culture: Reinterpreting Dalit History in Contemporary Contexts'.

Other Research Interests:

Contemporary Indian literature 

Postcolonial Literature 

Graphic Novel Studies

Experimental Literature 



University email address:


Twitter: @DanielBilton4


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