Since the invention of caste, throughout much of this subcontinent’s history, Dalit people’s shadows were illegal. Brahmanical laws mandated that even the shadow of an “untouchable” had the power to disturbed the ritualized purity of a person, even a street, and so, my ancestors were to tread carefully-living in the edges of gentrified towns, walking through circuitous paths that the Upper castes rarely travelled through, and functioning within a routine that would ensure they venture out into the public in darkness, when the sun wasn’t out. With the modernizing impulse of an independent India, this shadow ban was projected onto us metaphorically-by swiftly and conspicuously pushing most lower-caste/tribal histories into the shadows and relegating us away from the public sphere that was ideally to come to every single one of us along with the promise of democracy.
Growing up as a Dalit person in coastal Odisha, it did not take me long before I realized how dissonant local, existential realities-our lifeworlds and histories-were from the official idea of Indian history that was being proscribed in school textbooks, that occupies the popular imagination, that we find represented in mainstream visual culture. Collective struggle and liberation meant something entirely different to my people. The antagonists, the means of resistance as well as the ultimate goal of caste annihilation were fundamentally distinct for us: distinct from the already actualized notions of freedom and independence that supposedly encompassed the idea of a democracy called India.
The way out from this quandary for me was to literally look outward. I began searching for equivalences and reflections of things that were closest to me in disparate histories and cultures from faraway lands which, seemingly, had no common historical context to our national history. Eventually, I learned that I wasn’t the only person who had sought solace in such globalist, cosmopolitan discourses- the entire history of anti-caste struggle is populated with pioneering figures who did the same.
The artworks presented here are a direct culmination of learning/unlearning/relearning the history of my people in the manner described above. Picking up moments from our history i.e. both the broader anti-caste movement as well as deeply personal ones, these pieces seek to put forth a vastly different order of history-one that includes the infinitely rich, profoundly cosmopolitan, and deeply resilient lives of people like me.