Rethinking Difference in India

Racialization in Transnational Perspective

April 1 – 2, 2019 | American University

Source: Often used as notebook cover art and for school education, this vintage poster produced by Spectrum Posters displays "Bharat ke log" or "People of India". We use this art to signal some of the problematic and stereotypical representations of cultural, ethnic, religious, and racial difference in India.


In a moment of resurgent ethno-nationalism, this workshop reconsiders the links between myriad forms of social difference in India (e.g. caste, tribe, ethnicity, faith, etc), and broader understandings of race, racism, and racialization. In particular, the workshop explores how dominant groups use techniques and narratives of racialization to ascribe difference to particular ‘others’. This results in two things. First, subaltern communities are marked as not-belonging to the mainstream of the nation. Second, by reaffirming such differences, dominant groups establish themselves in power and advance their own ideological, political, and economic agendas. While peddling the ‘unity in diversity’ motto, the Indian state has systematically disavowed connections between social difference in India on the one hand, and globally resonant notions of racism on the other. This has manifested itself in numerous ways such as the state lobbying against Dalit (former ‘untouchables’) demands to include caste discrimination as a form of racism in the 2001 UN World Conference on Racism.


In contemporary India, racialization is often expressed through violent acts, including discrimination against northeast tribes, the criminalization of Adivasi (indigenous) groups, public lynchings of 'beef-eating' Dalits and Muslims, and mob violence against African students. Such a state of affairs requires a reassessment of how racialization plays out--how it is denied and reproduced--across forms of difference and in diverse political contexts, including movements, media, and academic centers. It also requires attention to how activism works through transnational conceptions of anti-racism, social justice, and human rights. Aware of both the possibilities and limitations of a racialization frame and its transnational reverberations, this workshop seeks to cultivate and share anti-discrimination and emancipatory intellectual solidarities.


To grapple with both the transnational valences as well as specificities of racialization in India, the following themes are proposed:


·  Historical Geographies of Coloniality, Caste Supremacy, and Racial Difference in South Asia

·  Strategic Solidarities: Transnational Movements of Anti-Racist Activism in Historical Context

·  Positioning Caste, Tribe, Religion, Ethnicity and Other forms of Difference in Contemporary Capitalism

·  Racism, Caste Purity, and Environmental Justice Building    

·  Questioning Knowledge Frameworks: The Role of Positionality and the Academic Disciplines


































This workshop is free and open to the public. Please RSVP using the register button below.

For Questions, please email