Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The dialectics of identity and resistance among Dalits in Nepal
by Kharel, Sambriddhi, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2010, 266; 3417446
Abstract (Summary)

Based on two broad constituent samples, this dissertation investigates the dialectics—content, modalities and processes—of identity across and between two sites of Dalit life in Kathmandu, Nepal: everyday community and organized political advocacy. These samples comprised, respectively, (1) householders from three occupationally segregated Dalit neighborhoods, encompassing discrete communities of sweepers, metalworkers and tailors/musicians; (2) individual Dalit activists in the political sphere. Through 43 interviews with community members and 41 interviews with activists, the research investigated the modalities of identity across everyday and civil-society space and across class, caste, gender and generation. Research questions specifically sought to uncover constraints and possibilities of everyday identities and organized/activist political identities and further differences of gender, class and generation.

The study revealed strong evidence of the continuing embeddedness of caste in Kathmandu. Their everyday experiences of discrimination force both community and political actors to strategically reveal or conceal their Dalit status depending on the situation. Evidence of resistance ranged from everyday individual acts to collective organized forms. The community ethnography revealed important differences across the sweeper, metal-worker and tailor-musician communities. The gender neutrality of the sweeper occupation allows sweeper women relatively more autonomy than that found in the two other occupational caste groups. The tailor/musician group showed all indicators of social mobility into the middle class and had adopted a caste-denying discourse that allowed them to embrace their musical traditions as an ethnic asset that was parlayed into commercial success.

The political site revealed two important contradictions. First, Dalit activists based in political parties tend to privilege the nation-state and its bounded sovereignty as the strategic and ultimate terrain upon which the struggle for full Dalit inclusion is fought, while Dalit advocates based in non-governmental organizations appeal primarily to international human rights and the claims to universal human dignity. Second, there is a tension between the private lives of Dalit activists in which they negotiate everyday oppression and their public lives as proactive and empowered political actors. Finally, the important political moment of the People’s Movement of April 2006 united Dali activists to fight locally for full citizenship rights.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Green, Cecilia A., Blee, Kathleen M.
School: University of Pittsburgh
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 71/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Womens studies, Social structure
Keywords: Dalit, Gender and space, Identity, Nepal, Resistance, South Asia
Publication Number: 3417446
ISBN: 978-1-124-14950-9
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