Who is Your Neighbor? Caste, Dignity, and Dalit Lives in Central Kerala

Colloquium | October 11 | 12-1:30 p.m. | 2538 Channing (Inst. for the Study of Societal Issues), Wildavsky Conference Room

 Sharika Thiranagama, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Stanford University

 Center for Ethnographic Research, Institute for South Asia Studies

The talk asks how does one live, or rather imagine, a life with others that meaningfully recognises one’s worth? Based on fieldwork with Dalit (formerly known as Untouchable castes) and non-Dalit agricultural laborers, and their landlords in communist party strongholds in Kerala, I explore the transformations of rural localities from workplaces to neighborhoods. I will discuss the rural neighbourhood as a historically emergent site and project: a “public/private” residential life emerging from work relations where caste continues to permeate interactions. I ask how does one manage neighbourly relations within continuing histories of deep caste inequities? What does this mean in an Indian state which has a long history of communist messages of emancipation, liberation and freedom from inequity? I suggest that the transformation of localities of workers and landlords into neighbourhoods under conditions of formal equality but deep structural caste inequality provides for new forms of sociality as well as a continuing reflexive conversation about those forms. How is one a neighbor in these circumstances? Based on this fieldwork in India, I hope to discuss how people live with and negotiate long histories of subordination, inequity and humiliation.

 cer@berkeley.edu, 510-642-0813