Accepted paper:

The limits of a Dalit literary subjectivity in the post-liberalization period: Ajay Navaria's Hindi novel Udhar ke Log [the people over there] (2008)


Richard Delacy (Harvard University)

Paper short abstract:

Dalit fiction from the 1990s offered a political and aesthetic challenge to high-caste Hindi literary texts. Udhar ke Log highlights the limits of this movement in an era of consumer culture. My paper focuses on the interpretive and aesthetic strategies deployed to achieve this purpose in the novel.

Paper long abstract:

The rise of Dalit fiction in Hindi in the 1990s has been described as a significant correction to high-caste, socially progressive literary prose that dominated this literary language from the age of Premchand onwards. Primarily expressed through autobiography and short stories, this form of fictional writing foregrounds Dalit literary subjects, not as sympathetic, passive objects of high-caste benevolence, but as morally wholesome agents of their own destiny, overcoming the stigma of untouchability, social ostracism and oppression. Such Dalit literary stories offered redemption as a valorized oppressed population. This literary movement was, however, restricted mostly to the genre of the short story. In 2008 Ajay Navaria published his first novel Udhar ke Log [The People Over There]. The most sustained and thoughtful response to the problem of a Dalit literary subjectivity in the age of liberalization, Navaria's novel marks the limits of such a subjectivity with the coming of a more intense form of consumer culture. Having entered the middle class, Navaria's unsympathetic protagonist cannot function as an unmediated, valorized representation of Dalit suffering and pain. As such, this novel challenges the very idea of a politically efficacious Dalit subject, and compels us to consider the deleterious and atomizing effects of late-capitalism. Offering a close reading of this Udhar ke Log in my paper, I reflect on its production in a genre (the literary novel in Hindi) that struggles in a marketplace now dominated by English-language novels aimed at an aspirational 'middle-class' determined to become fully-fledged consuming subjects of capital.

panel P03
Arts of the political in contemporary South Asian literature and film