Dalit Feminist Theory : A Reader book cover
1st Edition

Dalit Feminist Theory
A Reader

ISBN 9780367278250
Published September 25, 2019 by Routledge India
262 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Dalit Feminist Theory: A Reader radically redefines feminism by introducing the category of Dalit into the core of feminist thought. It supplements feminism by adding caste to its study and praxis; it also re-examines and rethinks Indian feminism by replacing it with a new paradigm, namely, that caste-based feminist inquiry offers the only theoretical vantage point for comprehensively addressing gender-based injustices.

Drawing on a variety of disciplines, the chapters in the volume discuss key themes such as Indian feminism versus Dalit feminism; the emerging concept of Dalit patriarchy; the predecessors of Dalit feminism, such as Phule and Ambedkar; the meaning and value of lived experience; the concept of Difference; the analogical relationship between Black feminism and Dalit feminism; the intersectionality debate; and the theory-versus-experience debate. They also provide a conceptual, historical, empirical and philosophical understanding of feminism in India today.

Accessible, essential and ingenious in its approach, this book is for students, teachers and specialist scholars, as well as activists and the interested general reader. It will be indispensable for those engaged in gender studies, women’s studies, sociology of caste, political science and political theory, philosophy and feminism, Ambedkar studies, and for anyone working in the areas of caste, class or gender-based discrimination, exclusion and inequality. 

Table of Contents

Introduction: theorising Dalit feminism

Sunaina Arya and Aakash Singh Rathore

PART I Indian feminism vs Dalit feminism

1 A critical view on intersectionality

Nivedita Menon

2 Problems for a contemporary theory of gender

Susie Tharu and Tejaswini Niranjana

3 Indian feminism and ‘Dalit patriarchy’

Gopal Guru; V. Geetha; Uma Chakravarti

PART II Predecessors of Dalit feminism

4 Dalit women’s agency and Phule-Ambedkarite feminism

Shailaja Paik

5 Ambedkarite women

Wandana Sonalkar

6 Ramabai and Ambedkar

Sharmila Rege

PART III Lived experience as ‘difference’

7 Brahmanical nature of violence against women

Sharmila Rege

8 Vilifying Dalit women: epics and aesthetics

Vizia Bharati; Y. S. Alone

9 Dalit women’s autobiographies

Sharmila Rege

PART IV What difference does ‘difference’ make?

10 ‘Difference’ through intersectionality

Kimberlé Crenshaw

11 Dalit women talk differently

Gopal Guru

12 Debating Dalit difference

Sharmila Rege

PART V Intersectionality in India

13 Why intersectionality is necessary

S. J. Aloysius, J. P. Mangubhai and J. G. Lee

14 The Dalit woman question

Susie Tharu

15 Responses to Indian feminists’ objections

Mary E. John; Meena Gopal

PART VI Toward a Dalit feminist theory

16 Feminist fictions: a critique of Indian feminism

Julie Stephens

17 Revitalising Dalit feminism

Smita M. Patil

18 Dalit women’s experience: toward a Dalit feminist theory

Kanchana Mahadevan


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Sunaina Arya is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Philosophy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, where she is completing a dissertation on feminist philosophy from a Dalit perspective. She earned her MPhil and MA from the same centre. She received an Honourable Mention in the Blue Stone Rising Scholar Prize (2019) by The Heller School of Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Massachusetts, USA, and is founding member of Global Dalit Change Makers, an initiative of the India China Institute, The New School, New York City, USA. She has been a resource person for lectures, public talks, workshops, podcasts and webinars in India and abroad. Her area of research includes social and political philosophy of B. R. Ambedkar, philosophy and psychology, and the philosophy of social sciences. Her recent publications include ‘Dalit or Brahmanical Patriarchy? Rethinking Indian Feminism’ (2020), ‘Theorising Gender in South Asia: Dalit Feminist Perspective’ (2020) and ‘Ambedkar as a Feminist Philosopher’ (forthcoming). She has edited (with Ashok Gurung) the Gender special issue of CASTE: A Global Journal on Social Exclusion.

Aakash Singh Rathore is a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, and an International Fellow of the Centre for Ethics and Global Politics-LUISS, Rome, Italy. He has taught at Jawaharlal Nehru University and other universities, including Delhi, Toronto, Berlin, Rutgers and Pennsylvania. He is the author of eight books, including Indian Political Theory (2017), Plato’s Labyrinth (2018), A Philosophy of Autobiography (2019), and Ambedkar's Preamble: A Secret History of the Constitution of India (2020), and is chief editor of B. R. Ambedkar: The Quest for Justice (5 volumes). He is the series editor of  Rethinking India (14 volumes, forthcoming) and editor of its first volume, Vision for a Nation (with Ashis Nandy). Among his other forthcoming works are B. R. Ambedkar: A Biography and Mind and Muscle. He is also an Ironman triathlete, and has finished five Ironman triathlons.


'This book is a study of Indian feminist thought with caste at its centre. It looks at the places where Dalit feminism has diverged from dominant-caste feminism and considers analogies drawn between Dalit- and black-feminist activism and movements. It also examines at length what the legacies of Jotirao Phule, Pandita Ramabai and BR Ambedkar did for Dalit feminist thinking.'

- The Caravan

'Bringing Indian and Hispanic feminists together.'

- Tejano Tribune