Respect your neighbour as yourself? Caste in Kerala

Public seminar with Sharika Thiranagama

In this talk I take a global and existential problem, how ordinary people live and contend with historically deep subordination, humiliation and exclusion, through the everyday life of formerly untouchable caste Dalit communities in Kerala, India. I look at this through the lens of neighbourliness - how people live together with other castes and classes in small town and rural Kerala. Continuing struggles and experiences of humiliation and subordination have to be placed within the context of Kerala, where deep inequality previously constituted every social relationship and where, more than most places in India, the communist movement and other important social and political transformations have radically transformed living conditions and have provided new languages and possibilities of equality within the official public sphere if not the household.  I propose neighbourliness as a key challenge for landless laborers, as social transformations have produced neighbourhoods out of former workplaces and where their former landlords are now their neighbours. This raises questions of how to negotiate relationships that are no longer structured by work but by inter-caste sociality. In doing so, I also reflect upon the ongoing conversations and interactions where, for Dalits, respect, dignity, and worth are at stake and understood as such.

Sharika ThiranagamaBio

Sharika Thiranagama is a social anthropologist with a doctoral degree from University of Edinburgh in 2006. Her work has focused on the Sri Lankan civil war where she has conducted research among both Sri Lankan Tamils and Sri Lankan Muslims. Her research explores changing forms of ethnicisation, the effects of protracted civil war on ideas of home in the midst of profound displacement and the transformations in and relationships between the political and the familial in the midst of political repression and militarization.

Her two books, Traitors from 2009 (coedited with Tobias Kelly) and In my mother’s house from 2011 explore connections between violence, politics and intimacy, a critical and deeply humanistic lens on conflict which also inspires her current work on Kerala.

The seminar is free and registration is not necessary. All are welcome.

For more information, contact Dan Hirslund

The Global Centre for South Asian Studies Seminar Series is organized jointly by the Emerging Worlds Project , Asian Dynamics Initiative, and the Nordic Himalayan Research Network.