Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationCornell U.
Grant numberGr. 10122
Approve DateApril 8, 2021
Project TitleKang, Akhil (Cornell U.) "The Wounds of Caste: A dalit-queer account of Savarna injury"
The abjection of dalits (ex-untouchables) and adivasi/indigenous tribes has been studied extensively by anthropologists, as a way to understand caste inequality in India. Instead of focusing on dalit woundedness as the site of caste’s production, this project reverses the gaze to consider the deployment of ‘woundedness’ by non-dalit or savarna castes. Methodologically, this project combines a dalit-queer epistemology with the ethnographic practice of ‘studying up’. I look at how savarnas take hold of the language and performance of subalternity as a means of situating themselves favorably in contemporary Indian democratic politics. My research centers two questions: (i) in what ways do savarnas and elite castes construct their personhood and identity through victimhood and woundedness, and (ii) what are the legal, material and political effects of the savarna claim to injury? I will conduct 18 months of ethnographic research with two savarna communities – jats and brahmins – in North India. This project examines the production of an affective and political identity that unites the subcastes of jats and brahmins into a broader ‘savarna’ identity. By analyzing savarna woundedess from a dalit-queer standpoint, my project aims to write against savarna modes of knowledge production around caste that evade questions of accountability and positionality.