Dr Nicole Thiara, Nottingham Trent University

 

In 2014, Nottingham Trent University launched an AHRC-funded research network which is devoted to the literature of one of India’s most oppressed and silenced communities. Dalits, formerly referred to as Untouchables, are at the bottom of India’s caste system and form roughly 20% of the country’s population. Dalit literature, and its representation and re-evaluation of marginalised cultures, has emerged as one of the most significant developments in Indian writing in the last three decades. However, although often highly innovative in its form, narrative perspectives, and use of language, to date Dalit literature has hardly been studied outside of India even though an increasing number of work by Dalit authors has been translated into English and other European languages.

The interdisciplinary network ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literatures’ is the first of its kind outside of India. Its aim is to provide a context in which detailed critical work on Dalit literary texts will take place, and help to make these texts accessible to a wider readership. Funded as part of the AHRC’s ‘Translating Cultures’ theme, a series of conferences, workshops, and other events have been dedicated exclusively to the analysis of a tradition of writing that has been almost invisible outside of India. They drew in prominent scholars from India, the US, Canada, Germany, France and the UK.

In June 2014, Nottingham Trent University’s Centre for Postcolonial Studies hosted a conference, ‘Contemporary Approaches to the Analysis of Dalit Literature’, to inaugurate the network and to open an international dialogue between key researchers. This conference was the first in a series of events organized as part of the network. Invited speakers were the scholar and critic K. Satyanarayana and the writer Ajay Navaria.

In October 2015, the international conference ‘Crossing the Boundaries of Genre and Challenging Form in Dalit Literature’ was held at Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 and the focus of this event was the analysis of the innovative and experimental features of Dalit literature. Invited speakers were the literary scholar and writer Aniket Jaaware, the historian Anupama Rao, the anthropologist Nicolas Jaoul and the founder of Dalit Camera B. Ravichandran.

In June 2015 the international conference on ‘Dalit literature in / and translation’ was held at the University of East Anglia in partnership with the British Centre for Literary Translation. Invited speakers were the film director Jayan K. Cherian, the scholar and critic Sharankumar Limbale, the scholar and translator Maya Pandit, and the writer Urmila Pawar.

In December 2015 two symposia were held in India. The one hosted by the English Department at Savitribai Phule Pune University focused on ‘Cast(e)ing Gender in Dalit Literatures’. The invited speakers were the film director Jayan K. Cherian, the scholar and translator Maya Pandit, the scholar and writer Ashalata Kamble, and the writers Urmila Pawar and Chhaya Koregaonkar.

The conference hosted by the English Department and the Centre for Dalit Studies at Delhi University focused on ‘Publishing / Disseminating Dalit Literature’. Collective panels made up of scholars, translators, publishers and writers encouraged wonderfully lively discussions and enabled new encounters. Invited speakers were the writers Des Raj Kali, Balbir Madhopuri, Kalyani Thakur Chaanral, Manoranjan Byapari, Cho Dharman, Satish Chandar, the artists Durgabai and Subhash Vyam, and the publishers Navayana, Zubaan Publishing, Routledge India, Sage-Stree Samya, Democratic Action Forum of Dalits, Women and Minorities, Khabar Lahariya, and Yoda Press, as well as the writer and publisher Bhagwant Rasulpuri.

Planned publications include a special issue in the Journal of Commonwealth Literature and an edited collection of essay to be published with Orient Blackswan.

The network is led by Dr Nicole Thiara, Lecturer in English at NTU’s School of Arts and Humanities, and by Dr Judith Misrahi-Barak, Associate Professor in English at Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, France. For further information about the ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature’ network and previous and future events, please see our website: https://dalitliterature.wordpress.com/