I am the first incumbent of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) long-term Chair for the Study of Contemporary India, established in 2010 through a Memorandum of Understanding signed between ICCR and Leiden University. The Chair is jointly hosted by Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS) and International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS). While the Chair will function under the aegis of the university’s Faculty of Humanities, incumbents will simultaneously hold affiliations as ‘ICCR Professor of Contemporary India Studies’ at LIAS and ‘Professorial Fellow’ at IIAS. The Chair will focus on politics, political economy and international relations of contemporary India.

Dalit cultural heritage in contemporary India
After joining the Chair in September 2011 at IIAS, I started researching the emerging patterns of Dalit Cultural Heritage in contemporary India in addition to teaching a course on Indian Nationalism at LIAS. Dalit Cultural Heritage falls within the broader thematic cluster of Asian Heritages, one of the three major research areas currently pursued at IIAS; it primarily focuses on the epistemology and political economy of heritage and the way it impacts the cultural capital of diverse communities and social groups in Asia.

Of late, Dalit cultural heritage has been emerging as a critical site in contemporary India blending tradition and modernity seamlessly into each other. It aims at resurrecting a lost cultural heritage world of an extremely marginalized community in India, popularly addressed as Dalits. Dalits in contemporary India are fiercely engaged in developing their own “tangible” and “intangible” cultural heritage clusters at the grass-roots and national levels. Consequently, this has led to a sort of perennial conflict between the hitherto dominant communities and the surging Dalits. It appears as if Dalit cultural heritage is slowly giving way to what may be called a zone of cultural conflict.

7-8 december, 2012
Harnessing Counter-Culture to Construct Identity: Mapping Dalit Cultural Heritage in Contemporary India

In order to critically engage with the emerging trajectories of Dalit cultural heritage, IIAS in collaboration with LIAS is organizing a two-day international workshop on 7-8 Dec 2012.