Caste and Ecology


Art by Vaishnavi Khadatare (@vesh00)


Environmentalism is NOT just about class. It is very much about caste, which unlike common Savarna (Upper-Caste) belief, is not gone. In order to work towards environmental justice, it is imperative to address caste and social justice by listening to those from Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi (DBA) communities, supporting their efforts, rethinking one's own biases and privileges, and most importantly, reading and educating oneself. There are many DBA activists and social workers who are doing some amazing and important work. Please do take out a moment to support and read about their work:

  • Dalit Camera: An independent media organisations documenting caste atrocities on ground / raising awareness which was started by Dalit youth 10 years ago. https://www.dalitcamera.com/

  • Bakery Prasad / Siddesh Gautam: India's leading Ambedkarite artist that uses art to educate us about dalit, bahujan and adivasi history. https://www.instagram.com/bakeryprasad/

  • Dalit Desk: An independent journalist media platform documenting the unheard voice of Dalits across the country. https://www.instagram.com/dalitdesk/

  • Chamar Studio: A tale of crafts and stitchers from historically ostracized Dalit communities, that believes in circular economy and works with durable, recycled waste material. https://chamar.in

  • Blue Dawn: Sponsor therapy sessions for Bahujan Youth. https://thebluedawn.org/sponsor-sessions

  • Digital Nalanda: Nalanda Academy is an Educational Resource Centre for the marginalised, rural, non-English medium students. https://www.digitalnalanda.com/support-us

  • Samata Kala Manch: Support this Ambedkarite musical troupe that uses the Art of resistance to educate, agitate and organize! https://www.samatakalamanch.com/support

  • Deccan Development Society: Grassroots Organisation working in 75 villages with women's Sanghams in Sangareddy District of Telangana. The Society has a vision of consolidating these village groups into vibrant organs of primary local governance and federate them into a strong pressure lobby for women, the poor and dalits. http://www.ddsindia.com/www/default.asp

  • Dalit History: Your Everyday Dalit, Bahujan & Aadivasi History, Contexts, and Stories. https://www.instagram.com/dalit_history/

  • National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights: Coalition of Dalit human rights activists and academics with the aim of putting an end to caste-based discrimination. https://www.ncdhr.org.in/

  • Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network (DHRDNet): Collective of Dalit Human Rights Defenders that works on further synergising the Dalit movement. https://www.instagram.com/dhrdnet/

  • Round Table India: Working towards reshaping society in the light of the Ambedkarite ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. A news and information portal which aims to generate information and interaction necessary to aid the progress of the Dalits, and the Bahujan community at large. https://roundtableindia.co.in/


Before reading further, we strongly encourage you to read Annihilation of Caste if you haven't already (attached just below this). Educating oneself is the most basic step that someone, especially if they are privileged, upper-caste person, can take. Oppressive and violent structures like caste are a direct result of savarna actions and thoughts, and it's one's responsibility to understand, read, listen, not co-opt more space, learn to be uncomfortable, and move out of one's bubble. Being ignorant makes one equally as much of a perpetrator.

Annihilation of Caste - Ambedkar
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Download PDF • 2.80MB

You can also go through some of the essential readings in these two folders compiled by Dalit-Bahujan activists:

FOLDER 1

FOLDER 2


If you prefer audio-visual mediums, please go through this curated playlist by Sriranjini Raman, which includes documentaries, audio books, interviews, talks, songs, and more related to caste. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_p5vLYh0EC6Xx5eStnxV-jH-Z3H16rqn



Introduction to Caste and Ecology


Dalit Environmentalism and relationship with ecology are very different from the popular climate change and environmental preservation narrative which is often heard today. Dalit Environmental Politics (DEP) is removed from Indian Environmental Politics (IEP) to a large extent, DEP being closer to the subaltern view.


As expressed by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, unlike the Gandhian romantic view of villages as potential ideal republics, Dalits often view the Hindu village as an embodiment of the social order. Ambedkar says, the village is the negation of the republic with no room for fraternity or equality - it is a republic of the touchables, an empire of touchable Hindus which leave untouchables outside the village republic. Although Ambedkar and other anti-caste thinkers and activists such as Periyar and Jotirao Phule are never mentioned in environmentalism, they address fundamental issues of human rights, access to resources and ecology.


Commons (common land, fishing areas, cremation cites, grazing land etc.) are sites of contestation in DEP. Equal common space should include the right to enter, use, access for everyone. While commons are attractive for IEP (since they are seen as collective, inclusive, and supportive), they tend to be null and void for Dalits as Dalits do not have access to them and often see commons as an embodiment of caste segregation, a reminder or pain and suffering. The Mahad Satyagraha to drink water from the Cavdar tank at Mahad, led by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, is seen as the foundational struggle of the Dalit movement, a movement for water – and for caste annihilation.


Water is an area of regular conflict. Water is deeply contentious on the basis of caste, gender, class. It acts as a source of power (who owns it, the pattern of water distribution, location of water sources etc.). Issues such as accepting water only from certain castes and not from others, long journeys to reach water, denial of clean water, and thirst are very dominant in Dalit narratives and autobiographies. Water has a social character. Additionally, the romantic notion of traditional water management further complicates the situation.


It is also imperative to mention the connection between caste and waste management and scavenging, for this is one of the main justifications and origins of the degrading, violent, and oppressive practice of untouchability which upper-castes practice. Even today, most of the waste management jobs are carried out by people from lower-castes or by migrants, creating huge health risks, social discrimination, inadequate living and sanitation facilities, hazardous work environments, mental health issues, and violent oppression.


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Anti-Caste Politics and Environmental Justice 6 Part Series

Chapter 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0ThOza1IRQ

Prof. Ravivarma Kumar, Retired Advocate General, High Court of Karnataka, India

Prof Mukul Sharma, Ashoka University, Haryana, India: Dalit Ecologies Series: Seeing through History

Dr. Malini Ranganathan, American University, Washington DC, USA: Caste, Segregation, and Environmental Injustices in Urban India


Chapter 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9jvEs-Wy3M

Dr. Malini Ranganathan, American University

Thomas Crowley, Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA: Contesting Caste: Struggles over Land, Water and Cultural Memory

Prof Mukul Sharma, Ashoka University, Haryana, India: Dalit Ecologies Series: Towards an Anthology of Folklore


Chapter 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWVaOAW5Wp4

Prof Mukul Sharma, Ashoka University

Dr. Goldy M. George; Activist, Author, Academician: Walking through the lanes of Geocentric Spirituality of Dalits

Dr. Prashant Tambe, Founder Secretary of Sankalp, Social Entrepreneur: Formalizing the Historical Exclusion of Dalits: Reforms in Indian Forestry Sector


Chapter 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_xd6OeDftQ

Dr. Malini Ranganathan, American University

Prof. Assa Doron, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia: Kaliyuga and the Age of Microbes: On Waste, Animals and Microbes in India

Dr. Ambika Aiyadurai, IIT Gandhinagar, India: ‘Restaurants and Cafes' for Vultures: Understanding Human-Animal Perspectives through Dalit Writing


Chapter 5: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5ctBp2gAKo

Prof Mukul Sharma, Ashoka University

Dr. Kenneth Bo Nielsen, University of Oslo, Norway: The Politics of Caste in India's New Land Wars

Dr. Basudev Sunani, Award-winning writer of Odisha, Deputy Commissioner, Ministry of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Government of India: When Feelings are Interpreted as Thought, It Connects to Natural World: Concerns of Odia Dalit Literature


Chapter 6: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogntjN5UQ24

Dr. Malini Ranganathan, American University

Dr. Srilata Sircar, King's India Institute, King's College, London, UK: Caste and Coloniality in Urban Political Ecology: Notes from a Dying Metropolis

Dr. Prakash Kashwan, University Of Connecticut, USA: Environmental Stewardship in an Unequal World: Insights for Environmental and Climate Justice in India

Prof. Mukul Sharma, Ashoka University, India: Anti-Caste Politics and Environmental Justice: Concluding Remarks


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The following list is a growing list, initially compiled by Dr. Umakant:

Envisioning_dalit_futures - Anand Teltum
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Envisioning Dalit Futures

Anand Teltumbde

in Kothari, Ashish and K. J. Joy. Alternative Futures: India Unshackled, 2017, AuthorsUpFront, New Delhi.

Abstract: Dalits have lived in the most inhuman conditions all through history. The colonial rule, that brought various opportunities to dalits, catalyzed the dalit movement. The latter, however, could cater only to a very small population and a large section of dalits in rural areas and urban slums still languishes for want of basic needs. The dalit movement has failed to recognize class consciousness, such that, the policy like reservations, has only benefitted better off sections of the subject caste. The essay argues for the need of multi-parametric empowerment viz. individual, socioeconomic, socio-political, and socio-cultural empowerment of the dalits. Central to this is the abolishment of caste and communal consciousness from the public spaces so that we can march towards a society based on the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity.


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ImpactofClimateChangeonDalits
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Download PDF • 795KB

Impact of Climate Change on Life and Livelihoods of Dalits: An exploratory study from disaster risk reduction lens

A collaborative study by National Dalit Watch of National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development

December 2013


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God of Humans Dina Bhadri Dalit Folktal
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‘God of Humans’: Dina-Bhadri, Dalit Folktales and Environmental Movements

Mukul Sharma, South Asian History and Culture, Published Online: 28 December 2020

https://doi.org/10.1080/19472498.2020.1866365

Abstract: Drawing on the folktale of two Musahar brothers, Dina and Bhadri, widely circulated in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India and Nepal, the article sheds light on how folk traditions work within Dalit and other marginalized groups in South Asia. It particularly focuses on how folklore has become a way for Dalits to assert their environmental rights through their own motifs, everyday memories, and ecological ancestors. Based on extensive fieldwork in the North Indian River Plains, the article highlights this new phenomenon of ecological symbolism of Dalit folklore.


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Dalit on Earth
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Dalit on Earth: River Titash, Malo Commons and Cultural Affirmation

Mukul Sharma, Man in India, Vol. 100, No. 3-4, 2020

Abstract: India’s ‘nature writing’ has traditionally encompassed ecology, geography and sacrality, but it has often bypassed Dalit eco-literary traditions. This article discusses the eco-literary, by focusing on Dalits and their relationship to the earth. It perceives the earth as an important locus of Dalit individuation, carving them as a free, working community, prior to the bearing of burdens of caste, and thus revealing irreducible instances of rights and claims.

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Esha Shah, 'Telling Otherwise'
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Telling Otherwise: A Historical Anthropology of Tank Irrigation Technology in South India

Esha Shah

Source: Technology and Culture, Vol. 49, No. 3, Water (Jul., 2008), pp. 652-674 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press and the Society for the History of Technology

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The Politics of Caste in India s New Lan
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The Politics of Caste in India’s New Land Wars

Kenneth Bo Nielsen, Siddharth Sareen & Patrik Oskarsson (2020): The Politics of Caste in India’s New Land Wars, Journal of Contemporary Asia, DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2020.1728780 https://doi.org/10.1080/00472336.2020.1728780