Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Abstract 2014 Nida Sajid

Nida Sajid, University of Toronto

Invisible Caste: Articulating Dalit-Muslim Identity in India

While terms like ‘Dalit’ and ‘Muslim’ are indelible markers of caste and religion in political discourse, they also carry within themselves a profound questioning of the relationship between the nation-state and the construction of the citizen-subject in postcolonial India. In this paper, I investigate the relationship between processes of identity formation and production of inequality in discourses of caste and religion by focusing on three interrelated objectives. First, I explore how a distinctly subaltern Muslim identity – Dalit Muslim – is emerging in North India as a corollary of Dalit empowerment to forge alliances of political and aesthetic sensibility between different minorities. Second, I examine how Dalit-Muslim writers suggest an alternate model of belonging and ‘citizenship’ that overcomes the shortcomings of exclusionary identity labels created by one’s censorial membership in the singular ‘official’ discourse of nation-state and citizenry. Finally, I illustrate how Dalit-Muslim literature has ushered a new phase of ethical responsibility to resist the praxis of communal politics by exposing the possible overlap between registers of difference and marginalization.
In methodological terms, this paper uncovers the spillover effects of inequality from caste to religious boundaries through an examination of archival documents, legal debates, and literary and theoretical interventions of writers like Ali Anwar, Ashfaq Hussain Ansari, Ziauddin Barni and Abdul Bismillah. The historiographic nature of this investigation also challenges the premise of both state policy and public opinion which tends to assume an essentialist separation between Hindu and Muslim communities in India. The overall scarcity of an identifiable body of critical work exploring caste-like practices amongst Muslims creates the need for more research and analysis in this field – an analysis that is interdisciplinary in its organization and utilizes a diverse body of literary and archival resources. I intend to fill this lacuna in current research with my paper by enabling a nuanced understanding of the vacillating overlaps between caste politics and religious practices in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in North India. From literary and ethnographic writings of the late 19th century to the 21st century rhetoric of solidarity politics, I examine the fabrication of a seamless narrative of a homogenous Indian Muslim community that conceals asymmetrical ordering of power in nation-state’s construction of its citizen-subjects.

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