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Dalit Resistances to ‘Indian Political Modernity’

Featuring Shantanu Kulshreshtha’s creative piece that developed as an original project over his term at the Young India Fellowship


Shantanu presents a Dalit critique of Indian Political Modernity and highlights Dalit resistance to religious homogenisation. He argues that the creation of alternate non-religious unifying identities in the form of Dalit/Bahujan/Mulnivasi defy existing frameworks of modernity. They instead claim their participation through the conceptualisation of counter-modernities within the framework of democratic identity formation.



Over the last few years, there has been a renewed interest in understanding the ‘Idea of India’: imagined as a liberal secular entity built out of the values of the independence movement, with a special emphasis on locating it in binary opposition to Hindu nationalism and communalism. This interest, however, has largely marginalised the Dalit-Bahujan challenges to both the liberal as well as Hindu nationalist conception of India. Drawing from the conceptual framework of Indian Political Modernity, I will trace the Bahujan critique of the larger political modernity in India, and place it within the context of an alternate nation-building exercise. 

For the purpose of this paper, I will divide the critique, as well as its on-ground manifestations, into two parts. I will first analyse Bahujan resistances to the nation-making projects undertaken by both the Left and the Right through their creation of a Mulnivasi identity in the sociopolitical domain. Following this analysis, I will attempt to show how the binaries of Secularism versus Communalism perpetuated the same grand narratives and provided a limited scope for a discussion on Bahujan identity.

The creation of the modern Indian state has been replete with numerous challenges to its ‘modernity’. These challenges do not only originate from a reactionary, conservative Right opposed to change but also find their roots in a Bahujan rejection of the values and premises inherent within the conceptualisation of an ‘Indian modernity’. This rejection—far from overturning the modern process of state formation, citizenship, and nation-building—seeks to redefine the westernised, individual-centric, and Brahmanical contours of the modern Indian state. With the rise of Dalit mobilisations, manifested not only through political or social processes but also through growing Dalit literature as well as radical identity conceptualisations, there has been a large shift in the modern understanding of caste. This shift, away from an organic, rural, and structural phenomenon (Jodhka) that will automatically ‘wither away’, has led to a more immediate action-oriented approach linked to its annihilation (see next sections). These reinventions have radically altered the discourse around rights and the nature of the state, both theoretically and practically by moving away from the Gandhian paternalist paradigm of Harijan protection, towards a new understanding of state responsibility and Dalit rights.

Before we move forward with its critique, it is important to understand what I mean by ‘Indian Political Modernity’. Modernity in this context does not refer to the project of Rationality and Science, the overwhelming adoption of which is strongly intertwined with Dalit visions of emancipation where the fundamental underpinnings of equality and justice have been a product of western emphasis on these ideas. From Jyotiba Phule, who was heavily inspired by the ideas of Thomas Paine and other British theorists, to Dr B R Ambedkar who sought his own identity away from the oppression of traditions and encouraged people to attain a western education, the Dalit movement has in various ways co-opted forms of modernity through the years. Instead, it concerns the ways in which the modern Indian state thinks of, conceptualises, and operates within the ‘political’ frameworks of modernity: the nation, the state, and the other, which, seen through historical processes of post-enlightenment development of nation states, constitute the modern. Thus, as I will show in the paper, the Dalit critique of Indian Political Modernity is not in fact rooted in a Gandhian romanticism of village life and ‘Indian traditions’, or a Hindu social conservatism manifested through religious fanaticism and the creation of the western ‘other’, but rather in its appreciation of the structural and institutional limitations of the modern political system in India. This critique can be summarised through two ‘grand narratives’ in the Indian political discourse—Secularism and Nationalism, and their manifested antithesis of Communalism and Colonialism (Nigam). Instituted by the rise of the Indian nationalist movement—formed of the upper castes and classes—these grand narratives and their antitheses were the by-products of British colonialism and the penetration of western thought and epistemology into the sphere of ‘public rationality’ (Kaviraj). With Indian independence, and the accession of Congress’s vision of a modern Indian nation, conceptualised through political equality and citizenship as well as traditional exceptionalism (Matthew) these ideas became central in the discourse around the idea of India (Khilnani).

For all of their emancipatory appeal, however, these principles of political equality were founded on the recognition of a universalist individuality devoid of any communitarian character. This centrality of an unmarked, neutral individual in the national secular-modern discourse inherently privileged forms of identity that were not bound up in modes of communal domination, and those who controlled the narratives of ‘normality’, through which the social person could be seen as a political citizen (Banik). In this paper, I will be using the words Bahujan and Dalit interchangeably as the contemporary resurgence of the Dalit movement has been intertwined with the creation of a Bahujan or Mulnivasi identity. This intersectional nature of the Dalit resurgence has taken into account the failure of modernity to recognise and annihilate caste and argued for an expansive definition of political and social entitlements like reservations, affirmative action, and self-respect, amongst others. Even with this interchangeable usage, the focus of this paper will be on a specific group of people who ascribe to the ‘Dalit’ political identity. Here, I will show how Dalit resistances to religious homogenisation, as well as the creation of alternate non-religious primary unifying identities in the form of Dalit/Bahujan/Mulnivasi, forms the basis of a Bahujan critique.

Resistance to Nationalism and Challenges to Nationalist Historiography

The development of Indian modernity is closely linked to the rise of Indian nationalism in the movement led by the Indian National Congress (Kaviraj). This is not to say that it was the Congress that conceptualised or designed the ideas of nationhood that were to become prevalent through later years, but that it massified (G Pandey) these ideas beyond their initial roots in early Bengali bhadralok subcultures (Mukherjee), and in Maharashtra. The project of nationalism in this context was created in opposition to British colonialism (Nigam) through the initial home-rule and swarajya movements, largely led by the upper castes and classes, and limited to urban centres. With the arrival of Gandhi and Gandhian mass movements, these experiments in nationalism were further propagated to a larger number of people. Thus, the project to conceptualise a modern Indian state was premised on the basis of Indian nationhood—especially after the Partition which fuelled fears of a ‘Balkanisation of India’—and led its leaders to pursue the creation of a multicultural ‘Indian’ identity (Ranjan). 

This project was accompanied by the rise of an alternate Indian nationalism— premised on a ‘Hindu’ identity, where society was to be organised on the basis of ‘Hindu culture’. Such a form of nationalism was inspired by the ethnically, and culturally driven nationalist insurrections in Europe which led to the formation of modern nation-states (Desai). Communal nationalism was also rooted in the early ideas of an ‘Indian’ nation, replete with Hindu religious symbolisms and premised on upper-caste insecurities arising out of demographic realities where upper-caste Hindu domination was challenged by colonial representative institutions (Mukherjee; Rao; Rawat). In Bengal, for example, the census revelation that Hindus were a minority, alongside increasing Peasant-Muslim solidarities that led to the formation of the 1937 government led by the Krishak Praja Party and the Muslim League, prompted the foundation of the Hindu Mahasabha by Mookerjee and Savarkar in the state (Mukherjee). Similarly, in Maharashtra, the rising anti-Brahmin movement, along with demographic insecurities arising out of Christian missionary activity, prompted the creation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an overwhelmingly Nagpur Brahmin association based on the idea of militant Hindu Nationalism (A K Pandey).

From the 1920s onwards, these two stands have been in constant conflict over the definition of the ‘idea of India’ (Khilnani). While the liberal Left5 (Chhibber and Verma) has attempted to create a liberal secular constitutionalism premised on the opposition to the colonial ‘other’, the Right has tried to formulate a conservative Hindu nationalist identity premised on the identification of the Muslim as the other through constant invocations of ‘Muslim invasion’ and the ‘Muslim threat’. These two strands, however, are in no way oppositional when it comes to their larger caste Hindu conceptualisations of the social and political, intersecting at the base of upper-caste hegemony and domination through the over-representation of upper-caste Hindus, creation of a dominant larger identity, the invisibilisation of caste, as well as the perpetuation of social conservatism through ‘Brahmanisisation’ of mainstream culture (Christophe Jaffrelot, India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India; Nigam; Banik). There is a significant body of work analysing the upper-caste premises of Hindutva and Hindu Nationalism (Ashraf; Jaffrelot, “Rise of Hindutva Has Enabled a Counter-Revolution against Mandal’s Gains”; Badri Narayan; Sen; Shah; C. Jaffrelot). When it comes to analysing the upper-caste Brahmanical premises of the modern Indian state, however, academic works generally tend to focus on the skewed electoral and structural representation of upper castes (Christophe Jaffrelot, India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India, Kumar and Jaffrelot, Iyer et al., Rao, amongst others). Amongst the few academics writing on the Indian state’s functional and institutional savarna (upper-caste) premises, Kancha Ilaiah in his book, Why I Am Not a Hindu (1996), shows how upper castes reproduced the social systems of caste within the democratic and state institutions, thus formalising caste power through the state. He argues that the Brahman focus on politico-bureaucratic power, the Baniya focus on the capitalist market, and the neo-Kshatriya control over the agrarian economy in this context facilitated the hold of Brahmanism in this secular-democratic Indian state. The Congress system in this framework of upper-caste control and tokenistic representation of minorities was also reliant on these same levels of control, with urban upper-caste office-bearers connected to clientelistic6 networks of agrarian elites to remain in power (Kothari, “The Congress ‘System’ in India”), and capitalist networks of Baniya industrialists to fund their political project (Ilaiah; Banik). This control, moreover, is not only evident in the political and economic systems but also in the mainstream media, where most editors and journalists were and continue to be upper castes (Newslaundry-Oxfam; Neyazi).

Dalit resistance in this context concerns both the resistances to a larger Brahmanical Indian nationhood— wherein albeit the legitimacy is not drawn through scriptural or religious identities, civil engagement or political citizenship, and ‘rational discourses’ are still dictated through adherence to norms of upper-caste conduct7, and mediated through upper-caste elite networks—as well as a more immediate Hindu nationhood. At a principled level, the Dalit-Bahujan movement has continuously challenged the Brahmanical legitimacy over Indian nationalism using the Aryan Invasion theory. This theory, used by Phule to advocate for emancipation (O’Hanlon), looks at Brahmins as invaders and the backward classes as subdued natives. In contemporary Dalit-Bahujan discourse, particularly through the All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF), and localised literary movements, a Mulnivasi identity premised on this historical discourse of indigenousness has also been created. Fundamental to this identity is its critique of Hinduism, wherein it is directly associated with the religion of oppression, imposed by colonising Aryans to subdue Dalits, OBCs, and Adivasis. Here, large-scale conversions to religions like Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity have been recognised as sources of escape from the institutional oppression of Hinduism (BAMCEF). Brahminical legitimacy over the idea of the nation, both ‘multicultural’ and Hindu nationalist, in this regard is challenged by reversing the Brahmin gaze of self-belonging (Sweet et al.), and characterising them as outsiders. 

Beyond a reversal of this gaze through the creation of alternate ideas of belonging, Dalits have challenged the binary of nationalism as oppositional to colonialism by refusing to integrate with the freedom movement and boycotting the British, because their emancipation, however limited, was in large parts aided by the British policy of creating integrative educational institutions (Jadhav). This anti-colonial nationalism is also undermined by the Dalit celebration of the victory at Bhima-Koregaon, where a regiment of Dalits, fighting for the British, defeated the upper-caste Peshwa army (Dutta). Thus, by challenging the Brahmanical control over both these nationalist narratives: related to the construction of the universally oppressive colonial rule, and the hegemonic pedestalisation of nonBritish armed forces, the movement has created a third category of nationalist identification—that of oppression and indigenisation. In this way, the movement has called into question upper-caste anti-imperial, and anti-Muslim victimhood as well as refuted an assumption of belonging embedded in their narratives.

Challenges to Secular Modernity

Secularism at its very base refers to the separation of the Church and the State (Secularism | Definition of Secularism by Merriam-Webster). This separation is the product of the recognition that individuals are equal and neutral— devoid of any ‘private identity’ in the public sphere, which is itself seen as the zone of discourse related to the matters of narrowly defined ‘public concerns’ (Habermas). In the traditions of western political thought, this separation is an essential part of modernity, associated with the formation of a nation-state (Butsch; Habermas). The binary of public-private, along with the composition of the public sphere, however, makes this very public a site of social reproduction, wherein socially dominant groups can form, influence, and decide public identities and discourses, without engaging with their own social domination in the ‘private’ sphere (Fraser). Nancy Fraser, in her work on counter-publics, has shown how this public-private binary has meant that normative ideas of ‘privileged classes’ have seeped into discourses defining the neutral-rational citizen, at the cost of the marginalisation of other diverse and non-dominant identities (Fraser; Graham and Smith). It has also meant that frameworks of oppression and power that operate in the ‘private sphere’, including that of the household, the family, social relations, and personal beliefs, are kept outside the avenue of ‘legitimate discussion’, and in this way invisibilised.

In the context of India thus, from the very start, a fundamental idea of equality— associated with public neutrality— has not only been epistemologically restrictive to Dalit-Bahujan politics but also antithetical to any concentrated means of emancipation. By putting all individuals in the same category of citizens, and expecting similar equitable resources from each one, the notion of equality defined in this way, limited any active reparations to combat disabling socio-religious institutions like caste. 

The second feature of an equality-driven view has been its conceptualisation of society as an organic entity, capable of gradual change. This idea, propagated by Gandhianism to argue for a socially libertarian state (Riggenbach; Misra), saw social change as motivated by hriday parivartan or a ‘change of heart’ in the oppressor rather than as a product of state policy and intervention (S Kumar; Jodhka). In Annihilation of Caste (1935), as well as Gandhi, Jinnah, and Ranade (1943), Dr Ambedkar argues that this view of the role of the state is inherently problematic as it ignores that village society, with its rigid systems of domination and dependence in the economic sphere, and graded inequalities in the social sphere, and has no incentive to reform in the absence of external pressures of the state through the legal, administrative, and economic spheres (B R Ambedkar). A libertarian view of the state in this regard, guided by Gandhian and modern normative (Jodhka; Pandhian and Krishnan; Banik) frameworks of the state’s social functions, came to dominate the Indian state’s view of social life till the early ‘90s (Christophe Jaffrelot, India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India; Kothari, “Rise of the Dalits and the Renewed Debate on Caste”). An invisiblising statist ideology alongside an upper-caste normative civil society, thus, made even conversations around caste inconvenient within the early contours of the modernist insurrection in India (Nigam).

Such a view of the state not only perpetuated the public-private binary that restricted any statist action to undo the conditions of the oppressed but had its origins in the espoused role of the state in a Brahmanical society. The state, represented by the king, was to act as a mediator, and the protector of dharma—punishing infractions, and ensuring communitarian responsibility was fulfilled (Brown). Thus, while the state was responsible for communitarian control, individuals were deeply tied to their castes, which were autonomous, and guided by existing social norms, specifically created for specific subcastes. Any individual who dared to violate caste norms was punished by the autonomous caste group, and any caste group that violated social norms regarding inter-caste interactions was punished by other castes as well as the dharma-bound state. This was all maintained by a system of graded inequalities (B R Ambedkar), where lower castes maintained their power and status by oppressing castes lower than them using the norms of the castes above them. In such a paradigm, Indian modernity was designed to recognise individualism, while social norms were designed to uphold caste status.

The Indian practice of secularism has evolved over the past few decades, with its movement from separation to non-establishment of religion from the state (Das Acevedo). Yet, even this progression is problematic to the Dalit Bahujan project of social emancipation. With the recognition and the subsequent grant of entitlements to the ‘Scheduled Castes’ by the Constitution in 1951, the Indian state recognised the rigidity of Hindu society and took upon itself the job of reformation—a job entrusted to it not by its secular nature, but by the authorisation of its Hindu majority (Mehta). It is important to know here that this ‘authorisation’ was not an organic process as it is sometimes made to appear in the Hindutva discourse around the Universal Common Code, but rather faced huge amounts of resistance from caste-Hindu interest groups both inside and outside the Indian National Congress (Kataria). That the Hindu Code Bill, installing legal protections for women and other unprivileged groups, was also most prominently pushed for by Ambedkar instead of Nehru or any other ‘architect of Modern India’ (Khan) also says a lot about the conveniently privileged nature of Indian Political Modernity led by upper-caste Hindus. 

Even after the recognition of the need for social reform by the state, the ascent towards caste emancipation was limited by the de-prioritisation of caste in the modern governmental structure, where caste was seen as an unsavoury and ‘feudal’ form of understanding society, and the class was preferred to conceptualise government schemes and social programmes (Jodhka). Brahmanical control over the political and administrative institutions of such a change like judiciary, administration, educational institutions, and media, and until the late ‘80s, even political parties, further perpetuated such a view and largely limited caste-based affirmative action. Thus, while reservations were granted to Scheduled Castes by the Constitution, their access to mobility was severely restricted by the ‘pedestalisation of “merit”’(Subramanian) which was used to demonise affirmative action by portraying upper castes as some sort of victims, and an upper-caste-dominated bureaucracy which resisted implementing affirmative action and social justice policies (Pai).

The Dalit resistance to this grand narrative of secularism was put forth in two ways—the first was an early rejection of Hinduism and an aversion to ‘Hindu homogenisation’ in the context of the colonial census-making exercise (Rao; Pai; Rawat), where Jatav Dalits demanded official recognition as Adi-Hindus in Uttar Pradesh, Addharmis in Punjab, and ‘Pariahs’ in Tamil Nadu amongst others (Viswanath; Rawat). The second kind came through the creation of a Bahujan-Mulnivasi identity by BAMCEF and other Dalit organisations in the late ‘80s (Pai; V Kumar). The latter political formation is a contemporary phenomenon that has created multiple political movements prompted by Kanshi Ram’s idea of the Bahujan—the many. By creating a collective Bahujan identity as opposed to a religious or patriotic identity, consisting of adivasis, OBCs, Dalits, and minorities, the movement has resisted the increasingly polarising binary between secularism and communalism perpetuated by both the Right and the Left.

This politicisation of the Bahujan identity, as exemplified by the rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Vanchit Bahujan Agadi (VBA), is also an important strategy to resist Brahmanical control within the paradigm of secularism. This identity creation has allowed members of the community to enter corridors of power, not just as token representatives, but as ideological torchbearers of the fight against casteism by creating an electorally successful alliance of the oppressed. Political power, arising out of the formula of the Bahujans, has allowed Dalit organisations to take more militant stances in their fight for emancipation, and assert themselves more effectively, as well as partake in institutions responsible for reformation. In the context of Indian democracy, it has created a third form of nationally relevant and electorally appealing identity, based not simply on an upper-caste vision of ‘secularism’ or Hindutva, but on the moral victimhood of the many (Jaoul, “Politicizing Victimhood”; Jaoul, “The ‘Righteous Anger’ of the Powerless: Investigating Dalit Outrage over Caste Violence”).

Investigating State Control in a Modern Democracy: Contemporary Political Movements as Bahujan Critiques

While the modern Indian state operates within the two grand narratives of Secularism and Nationalism, these grand narratives are operationalised through electoral politics. Electoral democracy in the context of India is the major pillar that sustains and empowers narratives and adjudicates demands for resource allocation (Tawa Lama-Rewal). For a large number of its population, it is the only way to determine their vision of the state (Banerjee), and interact with it in the capacity of citizens and not subjects. Political and social campaigns surrounding elections are also one of the most fundamental motivations for the perpetuation of these binaries and narratives. In this context, it is important to look at how Dalit-Bahujan resistances to both these binaries have been actualised.

On the ground, the Dalit-Bahujan partnership has also been deployed against the resurgent Hindu Right, which has been at constant odds with the radicalism of the movement. The electoral power of the Bahujan movement has forced the Hindu right wing’s vision of a united Hindu nation to abandon its upholding of the caste system, and facilitate gestures (no matter how tokenistic) like building Ambedkar statues, appointing OBC chief ministers, investing in the legends of local Dalit figures (Badri Narayan) towards ‘backward’ communities, and including Dalits (Badri Narayan). The Bahujan identity here has also acted as an antithesis to the system of graded inequality through which caste has been upheld (B R Ambedkar). Beyond just its sociopolitical relevance, the transformation of caste as a visible marker of electoral mobility as opposed to its earlier unspoken manifestation, through the directed Bahujanoriented discourses, has challenged the idea of Indian political modernity as encompassing neutral, unmarked subjects. Furthermore, it has revealed the inherent upper-caste biases of the modern political system by demanding representation according to population and unmasked the systems of caste clientelism that benefited upper castes who refused to acknowledge the sources of their power (Jaffrelot, India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India; V Kumar; Pai; Ahuja).

In Uttar Pradesh itself, the electoral politics of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), founded by Kanshi Ram to represent the Bahujan ideology, focused on Dalit self-respect and ownership of public spaces, has ensured that the government has focused on building monuments honouring Dalit leaders and symbols (Khound). Such contentious politics of public space manifested through the installation of statues have been a key pillar of radical identity assertion and ‘visibilisation’ of Dalit identity in a Brahmin normative (Pandhian and Krishnan) modern state. This strategy is not only evident in Bahujan government-backed constructions, but has also been replicated at the level of the village, where Ambedkar statues have been installed on common village lands by local people. The appropriation of public lands in this context offers two different kinds of critiques on Indian Political Modernity. 

The first critique concerns the nature of the occupation of public or common land itself, where Dalits have argued that village common lands are rightfully theirs, given the unfulfilled and unimplemented promises of land distribution made by successive central governments in return for Dalit votes. The second critique is the statue of Ambedkar itself, where Ambedkar is shown wearing a suit and tie, holding the Constitution, and pointing forward. As opposed to statues of other prominent national leaders, Ambedkar’s depiction as ‘culturally modern’ by the emphasis on the western suit and tie over the Indian kurta pyjama or Nehru jacket, associated with his authorship of the Constitution, challenges the postcolonial emphasis on ‘Indian culture’ and ‘Indian clothing’ by the political class across the spectrum, from the Hindu nationalists to the communists (Jaoul, Learning the Use of Symbolic Means: Dalits, Ambedkar Statues and the State in Uttar Pradesh).8 It also claims ownership of the ‘Idea of India’ by linking it to the Constitution, which is shown as the work of a Dalit. This reclamation of public spaces defies the Brahmanical control of the public and creates alternate narratives of leadership. To this extent, it has been criticised by the larger Brahmanical narrative as ‘inefficient’, ‘partisan’, and aggressive (PTI; Noorani; Jaoul, “Learning the Use of Symbolic Means”), where using the vocabulary of modernity to critique modalities of Dalit assertion has been a constant. 

With the decline of the BSP after 2012, and the subsequent return of upper-caste Hindutva politics in Uttar Pradesh (Jaffrelot, “Rise of Hindutva Has Enabled a Counter-Revolution against Mandal’s Gains”), the on-ground resistance has been led by the Bhim Army, a militant volunteer-based Dalit organisation led by educated Dalit youths that focuses on identity assertion and has brought attention back to Bahujan politics. In various districts, the Bhim Army has reclaimed caste pride, by asserting their jaati as a symbol of power (Tiwary). Using social media, another ‘modern tool’ generally associated with upper-caste subculture politics (Udupa), the Bhim Army has also created alternate channels of information dissemination in the face of upper-caste control over mainstream media. Beyond just an electoral-power model of the Bahujan government, the Bhim Army has proactively used Constitutional discourses of social justice along with avenues of bossism9 (Michelutti et al.), changing the state’s interactions with its most marginalised citizens from that of paternalism and tokenism to one of responsiveness and accountability10 by putting social and ‘muscular’ (Michelutti et al.) pressure on the administration. 


At both conceptual as well as functional levels, the Dalit movement has offered a critique of important developments within Indian modernity. This critique has allowed an expansion of the contours of both the modernist binaries— nationalism v colonialism; secularism v communalism—within the Indian polity. The creation of Dalit-Bahujan and Mulnivasi identities has also allowed space for the exploration of an Indian identity away from its partisan roots. However, the accommodation and subsequent integration of the movement within the Indian state formation project cannot happen without an expansion of the epistemological definitions of ‘modern institutions’ and a recognition of their upper-caste origins and biases. While we recognise this critique, it is also important to look at the Dalit Bahujan appreciation of modernity, especially in the context of caste, where the advent of rationality and equality has provided Dalits with emancipation and respect. Dalit resistances to Indian political modernity, unlike Gandhian critiques, do not operationalise through an idealisation of the past, premised on Indological subsets of the ‘organic’ village society, or conservative change based on social harmony, but rather through the conceptualisation of counter-modernities within the framework of democratic identity formation, and structural reforms and compensations like affirmative action policies. Such a form of resistance, thus, rather than engaging with utopian grand narratives imbued in modernity’s political imaginations, challenges the actual operationalisation of ideas of communities, nations, political institutions, and ‘the people’ by consistently questioning the core assumptions of such hegemonic concepts.

About the Author: 

I am not a very agreeable person, and that is a part of myself I would not change. From an early age, my tendency to question and argue has often landed me in trouble. During my teenage years, my parents, who took pride in my exercise of criticality, soon realised the calamity they had brought upon themselves. This tendency, however, has also led me to explore avenues, and engage with ideas in a way that has truly shaped my life experiences, and made me the individual I am today. Writing has been an important part of this process and has allowed me to exercise my criticality outside the confines of my immediate surroundings to a larger (often imagined) public. My time at Ashoka, first during the YIF and later as a master’s student with the political science department, only furthered this attraction, allowing me to engage with and produce academic discourses, and put my un-agreeableness to good use. 

Shantanu is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Melbourne. After graduating from the Young India Fellowship, he undertook the MLS program at Ashoka. He has previously worked at the Centre for Policy Research and Meraki Labs. His research interests include social media, political geography, Indian politics, and youth agency. 

About YIF CW Programme:

The YIF Critical Writing programme is a unique, one-of-a-kind opportunity for Fellows to hone their critical thinking and writing skills under the able supervision of trained experts in the field. The CW programme employs a constantly evolving pedagogy, making learning and knowledge production more collaborative and dialogic. Preceptors at the YIF CW programme teach writing through a range of topics including but not limited to ‘History, Philosophy, and Anthropology of Science’, ‘Politics of Language and Multilingualism’, and ‘Education, Literacy, and Justice’. 

About Final Draft:

The Final Draft is the annual journal of the YIF Critical Writing programme. It showcases the range in topic and genre, as well as the strength of writing in the highly diverse YIF student body. These pieces of writing, submitted by Fellows from various classes of the YIF represent only a small fraction of the variety and range of writing done over the years.

About our campaign: 

Through our ‘Final Draft 3’ campaign, we hope to give you a glimpse into some of the styles and voices that have evolved, the concerns and ideas that fellows have explored and the seriousness of their engagement with writing as drafts in motion; searching for meaning and connection, which makes this more of a pedagogic exercise book. 

(The piece was first published in the Final Draft, A Journal of the YIF Critical Writing Programme.)

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