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NL Interview: Suraj Yengde on his book ‘Caste Matters’, Dalit representation, and caste deniers

‘I really hope we create a space for Dalits to be Dalits without having a reason to account for their Dalitness.’

WrittenBy:NL Team

Dr Suraj Yengde is a scholar, writer, and the author of Caste Matters. He’s a Shorenstein Centre inaugural postdoctoral fellow at the Initiative for Institutional Anti-racism and Accountability, Harvard Kennedy School, and the editor of Caste: A Global Journal on Social Exclusion.

In this conversation with Newslaundry’s Abhinandan Sekhri, Suraj says the response to his book has been “interesting”. He didn’t expect people to be this interested in caste issues, especially in India, he says, where people tend to consume mostly cheap thrillers and don’t invest too much in such thoughtful subjects.

Suraj says he tried to overcome some of his own insecurities in his book by including personal vignettes on growing up in a Dalit community. He also reveals that his hesitance in sharing his personal angst is strongly tied to feeling that he was “exploiting” his own story, because of the way narratives are built around Dalit identities in India.

The Dalit community has no space in the media, Suraj says, even though they make up 26 percent of India’s population. He points out how many Dalit journalists who make it to the top actually hide their Dalit identities. On the topic of caste deniers, he pointedly asks how the origin of the caste system has anything to do with the fact that it’s practised to this day in such violent ways. People who deny this, he says, are “the same tea-sipping sahibs who gossip while the country burns”.


Text by Prakriti Singh.

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