In The Forefront

 

by AditiHarikrishnan; Courtesy Times of India

Two European universities are building a network of scholars to o

rganise a series of workshops and conferences across the world to facilitate the study of dalit literature.

After emerging at the literary forefront in India post independence, dalit literature is now getting its share of international attention. A recently received grant allows Nottingham Trent University, in partnership with EMMA at the Universite PaulValery Montpellier, France, to build a network of researchers who have studied this subject and are organising various international workshops and seminars. The research network titled `Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature,' is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Comprising academics from a host of universities including the MS University, Baroda, University of Michigan, US, English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, and New Your University, US, the network will discuss various studies being conducted in the field of dalit literature.

The initiative aims to create awareness about the literature internationally, where it has scant readership. Says Nicole Thiara, lecturer, School of Arts and Humanities, Nottingham Trent University, "The corpus of dalit literature is innovative and experimental in form and content and deserves attention from a wider academic audience internationally. The analysis of this literature in postcolonial studies will necessitate a revision of the field's primary focus on the relationship between coloniser and colonised and enable a more nuanced study of complex hierarchies within Indian societies."

The conferences and workshops are aimed at being platforms for exchanging ideas, facilitating discussion on as well as formulating research agendas, and the stimulating further collaborations. "These exercises promote the study of dalit literature and will result in various publications (academic journal special issues, edited volumes and individual publications). They will also attempt to encourage individuals to consider such kind of literature and ensure that it goes beyond merely documenting dalit life and illustrating it, in support of the political agendas of the community and its leaders," says Thiara.

Leveraging researchers who speak Indian regional languages, the network also aims to resolve complex issues surrounding the translation of such literature. Its analysis in translation will form an important part of the networks' research agenda.

Thiara and her counterpart from EMMA at the Universite Paul-Valery Montpellier, and Judith Misrahi-Barak, as principle grant hold ers are in charge of organising events, world over, until 2016, when the grant expires. Events that will be organised during this period will include symposiums at the University Paul-Valery, France and University of East Anglia, UK. Also, in the pipeline are similar events in Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Delhi. An advising committee that comprises Indian, European and North American scholars, all specialists of dalit studies, has been set up to make these events relevant and attractive to a wide array of audience. "Dalit literature is unique in the imbrication of political denunciation and literary representation. What we are interested in is to foreground the ways dalit experience is mediated in artistic creation and how such mediation contributes to making the political message more urgent."

While the literary works of the country's oppressed contributed greatly in the formulation of the discourse of cultural inequality in India, with this initiative, the knowledge of their lives and the marginalisation they were subjected to, owing to the complex hierarchial system of the then Indian society, is set to transcend national boundaries. "The lack of awareness about dalit literature in the west seems wrong on many levels. The inclusion of non-academic audiences is also important in order to raise the profile of dalit literature outside India. Pursuing the study of this literature out of the Indian context will be controversial, but our intention is to contribute to a dialogue between Indian and non-Indian scholars, dalit and non-dalit academics and writers, and to encourage a critical approach that will benefit the academic world but also the general public," concludes Thiara.

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