Thursday, 9 April 2015

Parallel publics: an Indian history of democracy

You are warmly invited to attend the 2015 Smuts Memorial Fund Lecture, this year is being given by Dr Ramnarayan Rawat, Smuts Research Fellow in Commonwealth Studies at the Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge. His lecture 'Parallel publics: an Indian history of democracy' will take place on Thursday, 21 May 2015, at 5 pm in The Old Combination Room, Trinity College, Cambridge, with a reception afterwards.

Dalit (former untouchable) groups in early twentieth century North India gave democracy an Indic genealogy by drawing from existing devotional and collective forms of practice to fashion a set of new ideological and spatial interventions. Through print and public activism, Dalit activists utilized the fifteenth century saints Raidas and Kabir, key figures of the heterodox Nirgun Bhakti tradition, as spokespersons for ‘human equality’, offering a spiritual critique of caste inequality. These initiatives enabled Dalit activists to engage creatively with liberal ideologies of representation to create novel forms of political practice at the turn of the twentieth century. Counter-demonstrations by Dalit groups from 1922 onwards sought to intervene in debates on democracy by parading with untouchable bodies and capturing public spaces in prominent towns of North India. The term ‘parallel publics’ registers the absence of evidence of these struggles and narratives within dominant Indian archives and academic discourse and recognizes the continued circulation of these histories, discursive forms and practices within Dalit neighbourhoods.

Ramnarayan Rawat is currently Smuts Visiting Fellow in Commonwealth Studies based at the Centre of South Asian Studies.  Dr Rawat is also Associate Professor in the Department of History, University of Delaware.