Monday 16 June 2014

Unique study to bring India's Dalit literature to new audiences


Book open on desk
The project hopes to bring Dalit literature to non-expert audiences

Dalit literature is often highly innovative in its form, narrative perspective and use of language.
Dr Nicole Thiara, lecturer in English at Nottingham Trent University
We hope that the Dalit community and anti-caste discrimination projects will also benefit from this research.
Dr Nicole Thiara

The meanings, forms and messages of literature created by one of the most oppressed and silenced communities in India is to be researched and brought to new audiences for the very first time by a team working under Nottingham Trent University's School of Arts and Humanities and its Centre for Postcolonial Studies.

Dalits, formerly referred to as Untouchables, are at the bottom of India's caste system and form roughly 20% of the country's population. Writing by the Dalit community has up until now been almost exclusively explored from a sociological and historical perspective, and has rarely been analysed for its literary quality.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the research will be led by Dr Nicole Thiara, lecturer in English at Nottingham Trent University, and Dr Judith Misrahi-Barak, lecturer in English at Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, France, within the research centre Etudes Montpelliéraines du Monde Anglophone, which focuses on the anglophone world.

Dr Nicole Thiara, a member of the Centre for Postcolonial Studies, said: "Dalit literature and its representation and assertion of marginalised cultures is the most significant development in Indian literature in the last three decades. It is often highly innovative in its form, narrative perspective and use of language but so far only the work of a few Dalit authors has been translated into English and other European languages.

"It has not yet received the international recognition it deserves because there has been very little research which allows non-experts to engage with these unique texts; we want to close that gap."

The project aims to create a research network which puts Dalit literary texts into context and makes them accessible to a wider audience, while also analysing them as literary artefacts, drawing on the methods of literary criticism and postcolonial and feminist theory.

The AHRC grant will fund a series of conferences, workshops and other events that are exclusively dedicated to the analysis of this previously almost 'invisible' literature outside of India.

Establishing an international dialogue between key researchers in the areas of Dalit literature, the project will foster a close collaboration between UK and European academics working in the field of literary and cultural studies and Indian scholars researching in this field, as well as cultivating contacts with authors, translators and publishers of Dalit literature.

A blog, a volume of essays, a special edition of an academic journal and articles in peer-reviewed journals will also allow non-experts in South Asian Studies, researchers in literary studies, students and the public to engage with this work.

Dr Thiara added: "We hope that by including Dalit literature in contemporary debates and increasing its international visibility, the Dalit literary movement, the Dalit community and anti-caste discrimination projects will also benefit from this research."

Notes to editors:

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The international conference Contemporary Approaches to the Analysis of Dalit Literature on 23-24 June 2014 is the first event of the AHRC funded Research Network series, Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature. Some of the most prominent scholars on Dalit literature from India, the US, Canada and the UK will present papers. Keynote speaker are the writer Ajay Navaria and the scholar and activist K. Satyanarayana.

The second event of the series is a symposium on Dalit literature hosted by Leicester University’s Centre for New Writing in partnership with the Centre for Postcolonial Studies at Nottingham Trent University and EMMA, Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, France.

Nottingham Trent University’s MA in English Literary Research is currently recruiting for 2014. Prospective PhD students are welcome to apply online at any time. 

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. Visit the AHRC website.