CfP POLLEN22: Anti-Caste Environmentalism: Marginal Perspectives around Political Ecology in India

Session Organizers:
Dr Prashant Ingole, PhD (Cultural Studies & Environmental Humanities): Postdoctoral Fellow, Humanities & Social sciences, IIT Gandhinagar
Camellia Biswas (Environmental Anthropology): Doctoral Candidate, Humanities & Social Sciences, IIT Gandhinagar

Ever since the onset of discussion around environmental politics in India, anti-caste environmentalism and its relationship with nature/ecology is very different from the popular climate change and environmental conservation narrative which is often heard today ( Dalit narratives have particularly been sidelined from mainstream environmentalism due to power politics and caste politics in the co-production of knowledge and scholarship. One may find nature and caste as inextricably interwoven in India. Nature is considered universal and ubiquitous. In contrast, caste as a social construct wherein the Dalits have been subjected to untouchability, owing to their lowest positionality in the Indian caste system (Sharma, 2018). The interrelationship between Dalits and Nature is complex and conflict-ridden. In Political Ecology, environmental conflict as widely explained by Paul Robbins (2004)talks about increasing scarcities produced through an appropriation by state authorities, private firms or powerful sections of the society that accelerates conflict between groups of gender, class or ethnicity. Similarly, the environmental problem becomes “politicized” when local groups secure control of collective resources at the expense of others by leveraging management-administration intervention by development authorities, state agents or private firms. Several such examples can be seen projecting out as some pioneer examples of Dalit environmentalism like the Mahad Satyagraha to drink water from the Chavdar tank at Mahad, led by B.R. Ambedkar, the struggle which is seen as the foundational of the anti-caste movement, the right to access to common resources. However, for Dalits, the idea of common in itself is very exclusionary. 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 of pain and suffering. This further brings us back to those elemental questions of who has the access, control and ownership of the nature/environment and its related knowledge? And makes us ponder on whether these inquiries can increasingly make the stakeholders such as state agencies, private or international firms (who are usually operated by upper caste) or even the mainstream Indian Environmentalist scholars ‘not’ ignore the daily struggles of the Dalit and acknowledge the Dalit environmentalism.

Whether it’s Global North, Global South or Just India, Scholarship around the globe has deliberately missed the Dalit perspectives. Mukul Sharma’s (2017) seminal work has investigated the responses of Dalits to the dominant narrative. It foregrounded an alternative vision from the viewpoint of Dalits. They have remained at the margins of both ecological discourses and practices in India. Nevertheless, even in their totality, most empirical research has invisibilized the caste factor in environmental politics and failed to provide a complete picture of the environmental struggles in India. This session plans to open up discussion around the dialectical relationship between the Dalits, caste politics and environmental conflicts. The aim is to determine the reasons and consequences of subjugation and alienation of the Dalits from the discourse of political ecology.

The oppressive politics against the Dalits and the other marginal sections of the society operates through the power of caste order. The exclusionary processes like caste not just create a hurdle in making progress for the marginalized communities, but it closes the doors to the oppressed masses to raise their voices at social, political and cultural levels. Similarly, when it comes to the debate around anti-caste knowledge production and environmental justice there is a lacuna in mainstream academia in bringing anti-caste pedagogical approaches when it comes to environmental studies.As a reason, anti-caste voices and their reading of “environmental casteism” remains invisible.

We invite paper abstracts addressing the challenges and experiences through the perspectives from the margins. Please send your abstract with a short bio (not more than 100 words) that should include name, affiliation, presentation title, abstract (not more than 350 words), and 3-5 keywords.

Please send your abstract to and no later than December 1, 2021. We will submit our final proposal for the paper session, including selected presentations, in the POLLEN portal on December 10, 2021.

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