The Vulgarity of Caste: Dalits, Sexuality, and Humanity in Modern India: A Book Talk with Author Shailaja Paik

Thu April 25th 2024, 12:00pm
Event Sponsor
Center for South Asia
Encina Commons
615 Crothers Way, Stanford, CA 94305

About the talk

This talk focuses on Prof. Paik’s second book The Vulgarity of Caste: Dalits, Sexuality, and Humanity in Modern India (Stanford 2022). The book offers the first social and intellectual history of the Dalit (“Untouchable”) performance of Tamasha—a popular form of public, secular, traveling theatre in Maharashtra, Western India—and places Dalit Tamasha women who represented the desire and disgust of the patriarchal society at the heart of modernization in twentieth century India. Drawing on ethnographies, films, and untapped archival materials, it illuminates how Tamasha was produced and shaped through conflict over caste, gender, sexuality, and culture. Dalit performers, activists, and leaders negotiated the violence and stigma in Tamasha as they struggled to claim manuski (human dignity), and transform themselves from ashlil (vulgar) to assli (authentic) and manus (human beings). Building on and departing from the Ambedkar-centered historiography and movement-focused approach of Dalit studies, it examines the ordinary and everdayness in Dalit lives. Ultimately, it demonstrates how the choices that communities make about culture speak to much larger questions about inclusion, inequality, and structures of violence of caste within Indian society, and opens up new approaches for the transformative potential of Dalit politics and the global history of gender, sexuality, and the human.


Author's biography

Dr. Shailaja Paik is Charles Phelps Taft Distinguished Professor of History and Associate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Asian Studies at the University of Cincinnati. Her first book Dalit Women's Education in Modern India: Double Discrimination (Routledge, 2014) examines the nexus between caste, class, gender, and state pedagogical practices among Dalit ("Untouchable") women in urban India. Her second book The Vulgarity of Caste: Dalits, Sexuality, and Humanity(Stanford University Press, 2022) focuses on the politics of caste, class, gender, sexuality, and popular culture in modern Maharashtra. Her book won two prestigious awards: the John F. Richards prize and the Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy prize for the most distinguished work on South Asia. She is currently working on her monograph “Becoming ‘Vulgar’: Caste Domination and Normative Sexuality in Modern India” and co-editing three books: Dalits: A Reader; Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (Cambridge University Press, Forthcoming) and “Caste and Race in South Asia and Beyond” (Routledge). Her research is funded by the American Council of Learned Societies, the Stanford Humanities Center, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Institute of Indian Studies, Yale University, Emory University, the Ford Foundation, and the Charles Phelps Taft Research Center, among others.  Paik has published several articles on a variety of themes, including the politics of naming, Dalit and African American women, Dalit women’s education, and new Dalit womanhood in colonial India in prestigious international journals. Her scholarship and research interests are concerned with contributing to and furthering the dialogue in human rights, anti-colonial struggles, transnational women’s history, women-of-color feminisms, and particularly on gendering caste, and subaltern history. Paik also co-organized the "Fifth International Conference on the Unfinished Legacy of Dr. Ambedkar" at the New School of Social Research in October 2019 and directs the “Ambedkar-King Justice Initiative” at the University of Cincinnati.