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Identity, Solidarity & Community

VoW 2020 / Sessions / November 22 / Identity, Solidarity & Community

VoW 2020 | November 22 – 10:30 am to 11:30 am | Savoy Writers' Bar | English Literature

Identity, Solidarity & Community

Yashica Dutt in conversation with Dr Raja Sekhar Vundru

Identity, Solidarity & Community

Report

Identity, Solidarity & Community
Venue: Savoy Writers Bar
Yashica Dutt, Dr. Raja Sekhar Vundru
Date: 22 November 2020
The session ‘Identity, Solidarity & Community’ took place in the Savoy Writers Bar,
where Yashica Dutt and Dr. Raja Sekhar Vundru engaged in a conversation on the discourse on
caste. Yashica Dutt talked about her book Coming Out as Dalit and her lived experiences as a
Dalit woman. Dr. Vundru who wrote one of the early reviews for the book, referred to it as a
‘major sociological discourse.’
Dutt recounted her lived experience of concealing her caste identity and passing as a
Brahmin. ‘Passing’ cannot be explained away as a mere white lie. It is denying the self of an
identity due to the shame and violence attached to it. Living with the constant fear of discovery is
one of the anxieties of passing. In Columbia University, she understood that she should not be
ashamed of her identity, rather angry at the arbitrary imposition of status and worth on her
ascribed identity.
The author revealed that the decision to avail reservation to afford education in St.
Stephen’s College was a pathbreaking moment in her life. The college is known for being the
‘epitome of upper class and caste’ privilege and to survive there she had to pass her identity as
‘one level below OBC.’ She talked about the atrocious instances of caste discrimination she was
subjected to, wherein a professor had accused her of stealing a ‘deserving student’s seat.
Yashica Dutt began reading Ambedkar while doing the research for her book. She grew
up with the knowledge of Ambedkar’s legacy but was hesitant to associate with the figures of
Dalit resistance owing to the fear of exposing her identity. Unlike reformers like Swami
Vivekananda who extended their magnanimity to the oppressed castes by giving them crumbs
and seats at the foot of the table, Ambedkar ardently fought for ‘absolute equality or nothing.’
Dutt said that she felt no regrets in not finding Ambedkar early to participate in the political
discourses of North Campus. She asserted that Dalit people should not feel shame for hiding
their identity or doing what is required to survive.
Ambedkar believed that Indians will take their castes along with them wherever they
went. In the light of this, Dutt examined the different mutations casteism had acquired to
establish its networks among the Indian diaspora abroad. Patting on the back to find the janeu
and questions like ‘where are you really from?’ are instances of the stealthy means by which
privileged castes assert their power in the US. Dutt suggested that solidarity between African
Americans and Dalits is uplifting as it is a natural alliance of oppressed people.

Yashica Dutt’s current focus is on bringing international visibility to Dalit stories. The
session was greatly informative. For the annihilation of caste, conversations like these must
continue to reclaim spaces, inspire the oppressed and make the privileged uncomfortable.