The Navayana Dalit History Fellowship 2021

One of the perplexities of celebrating Dalit History Month is the niggling doubt about the rest of the year. Do all months other than April belong to brahmanical history? Now, of course, in thinking this there is a bit of hyperbole. Yet, the yearning to capture all of history and not just have a protected enclosure of enjoyment is precisely the aim of annihilation of caste. Dalit history is rife with events, each more explosive than the last, that can embolden even the most dejected souls. These stories can circulate in families, in neighbourhoods, among people who are closely linked with movements, among people who accidentally stumble onto the scene of history…

What is conveyed by the thought and act of gathering in a public assembly around the image of Babasaheb Ambedkar—an act enacted across the subcontinent from veli-wadas in villages to spaces in a university (the mess hall, the reading room, the shopping complex)? Each act of putting up the image of Ambedkar or of other dalit icons in each institutional and public space has a history. When did Sabarmati Hostel in JNU get its first Babasaheb Ambedkar image in the common area? How was the SC/ST Employees Association formed at the Adyar Bus Depot in Chennai and when did they observe Ambedkar’s birth anniversary the first time?

On 10 October 1994, two dalit men—John Thomas and Ezhumalai—were killed in a police firing in Karanai, Tamil Nadu, for reclaiming land legally assigned to dalits. The community had erected a statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar on 5 October 1994 on the land illegally occupied by powerful savarnas after it had been allotted to dalits during the colonial period. In official parlance, what the dalits did was ‘take adverse possession’ of the land. The Panchami Land Movement, as it was known, had the support of the local church where the priests were dalits. In the study report “Understanding the Struggle for Panchama Land”, C. Jerome Samraj writes of how Fr. L. Yesumarian was involved in retrieving lands for dalits since 1989, and how he started the ‘International Ambedkar Centenary Movement’ in 1990. Another priest, Fr Martin, was directly associated with the Karanai struggle as part of the Social Action Movement. Among the savarnas who had cheated the dalits of land was a former Inspector General of Police, Perumalsamy, who enjoyed possession of 42 acres that belonged to the Depressed Classes and could not be sold or transferred to non-dalits. So the police attacked the dalits with even more vehemence. The Ambedkar statue was the brainchild of one of the dalit landholders in Karanai, Deepan Chakravarthy. It turned the whole issue on its head. The statue was a means of reclaiming what was legally theirs. Says Samraj:

When the police and revenue officials intervene to stop this, the people gather around the statue to prevent them from any action. When the dominant castes tried to recapture the land, Yesumarian strategically opened a beef stall at the edge of the captured land and took the beef into the streets and sprinkled the blood all over the land to ‘pollute’, as the dominant castes will not any more enter the land.

A tremendous act of courage, given the kind of impasse in history we are now in.

At the memorial for John Thomas and Ezhumalai in Karanai (picture from 2017, courtesy: Frontline)

All round the year, the right to observe and celebrate the dates in the Ambedkar calendar have each got their histories of struggle. Each such act is an act of performing equality. It is not mere coincidence that the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 was passed on the eve of Ambedkar’s birth centenary in 1990–91. The rise of dalit resistance and awareness led to a spike in atrocities. This period also witnessed the simultaneous fallouts of the Mandal Commission and the Ramjanmabhoomi-driven Hindutva movement that is now flailing in its danse macabre.

During the end of times we must write history anew. Tell stories that only pass around in whispers. How about the history and fate of the first ever case filed under the SC/ST Act in India? What could be the history of gaana music in North Madras up to the rapper Arivu and The Casteless Collective? In which Indian university was Annihilation of Caste first taught as part of the syllabus? (Where was it first taught even if it was not in syllabus?) What is the history of the Ambedkar Students Association in the University of Hyderabad, and what is the history of beef stalls on the campus? We need histories of printed documents, letters, petitions, pamphlets, posters; we need oral histories. What about the testimonies of all the men and women who are now in their 80s and had converted with Babasaheb in 1956?

There is no end to thinking of how the gaps in history and the space between stars are always bigger than what they appear to be. In his preface to The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why They Became Untouchables?, Ambedkar says:

The present attempt to explain the origin of Untouchability is not the same as writing history from texts which speak with certainty. It is a case of reconstructing history where there are no texts, and if there are, they have no direct bearing on the question.

History is a movement and we are in the middle of it. So this Dalit History Month—that raises a fist to Black History Month—we are inviting our readerly writers to send us well-argued book proposals that aim to tell us the histories we need to know.

Navayana is proud to announce the Navayana Dalit History Fellowship 2021.

Navayana will be funding a minimum of two authors to help them write manuscripts that deal with dalit history. The term ‘dalit history’ can be interpreted with some amount of fluidity—the work has to be nonfictional, have scholarly rigour, but also be suitable for non-specialist adult readers. The work could also be the fruit of research and groundwork that has already been done. Those who are working on translation efforts pertaining to dalit history are also welcome to apply.

Send us your proposals, in English, of not more than 3,000 words, before 31 May 2021. Nothing being really equal in this world, dalit applicants and beef-eaters will be given preference.

Selected candidates will be awarded Rs 1 lakh.

Submission Guidelines:

  1. Every applicant must send in a proposal for a full-length manuscript that is relevant to the remit of the fellowship.
  2. The proposal must be not more than 3,000 words long.
  3. It must include a working title, and must summarize the aims, methods and scope of the project. Additional information about style choices and other formalistic details are also welcome.
  4. For an indicative list of the kinds of narratives we are soliciting, refer to the above introductory note. As examples, we welcome histories of movements, campaigns, local struggles, ideological or cultural movements, histories of organisations or periodicals, biographies, or even stories of individual lives. The ambit of dalit history is wide. We leave it to the applicants to surprise us with their interpretations of the term.
  5. The proposal must include a tentative timeline for the completion of the manuscript. Draft manuscripts will need to have a minimum length of 50,000 words.
  6. Applicants will also need to send in a Curriculum Vitae of not more than two pages, which must include their name, email address, contact number and an address of residence. Applicants can also send in previously published long-form writing samples, if any.
  7. All documents must be sent in the .doc or .docx format. Do not send PDFs.
  8. Those who wish to write in a subcontinental language other than English will be required to submit their proposals both in their language of choice and in English translation.
  9. Applicants can be citizens of the world; while there is no age limit, early career scholars are encouraged to apply.
  10. Each individual may only send one proposal. Please do not send more than one entry for the fellowship.
  11. Joint proposals are acceptable.
  12. All applicants must write a paragraph about why they are applying for the Navayana Dalit History Fellowship; non-dalits must account for their engagement with dalit history.
  13. Applicants are not to make any direct contact with jury members regarding their proposals.
  14. Send your proposals to alex@navayana.org with the following Subject line <Navayana Dalit History Fellowship 2021>.
  15. Only the proposals submitted by 30 June 2021, 11.59 pm IST will be considered eligible for the award.

Award Information:

  1. Selected candidates will be given an award of Rs 1 lakh each in three instalments: fifty percent will be given at the beginning of the fellowship, twenty-five percent mid-term, and the final tranche at the time of submission of a manuscript.
  2. Multiple candidates applying as co-authors will be given a single award to be shared equally.
  3. For qualifying proposals of non-English make, while Navayana may help find a translator for the final manuscript, the fellowship does not cover the translation costs.
  4. All decisions reached by the selection committee are final.
  5. The manuscript resulting from the fellowship will be published by Navayana.
  6. Along with the financial award, the selected candidates will receive editorial feedback and assistance in the creation of the manuscript.
  7. The submission of the final manuscript must not exceed more than eighteen months after the commencement of the fellowship.
  8. A flexible, but regular, schedule for updates and progress reports will be fixed with selected candidates after the awarding of the fellowship.

Selection Process:

  1. The key criteria for selection will be: originality of the proposal; clarity of thought; elegance of writing; the ability to address a cross-section of readers.
  2. There will be two rounds of selection. In the first round a shortlist of a minimum of ten proposals will be prepared.
  3. The shortlisted candidates will then be interviewed (online), across two days, by a final selection committee which will include:
    • Suraj Yengde, scholar and writer, Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the author of Caste Matters
    • Thomas Blom Hansen, professor of anthropology at Stanford University, and author of many books on Hindu nationalism, including The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India and The Law of Force: The Violent Heart of Indian Politics
    • Yashica Dutt, writer and journalist, author of the award-winning Coming Out As Dalit: A Memoir
    • Divya Malhari, assistant professor of English at St Joseph’s College of Commerce, and a writer at her widely read blog, Dat Lit Writer
    • Aman Sethi, reporter, former editor of HuffPost India and author of A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi
    • Shailaja Paik, professor of history at University of Cincinnati who has worked on the intersection of caste and gender, and author of Dalit Women’s Education in Modern India: Double Discrimination
    • S. Anand, publisher of Navayana, coauthor of Bhimayana and Finding My Way, has annotated some of the writings and speeches of B.R. Ambedkar
  4. The online interview dates will be between 14 June to 19 June and this will be intimated to the shortlisted applicants at a later date.
  5. In the case that non-English language proposals are shortlisted, we will enlist new members to the jury: between them, the above jury can handle Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi.
  6. Some of the jury members will also act as mentors to the fellows. Since any such selection process includes as much as it regrettably excludes, all shortlisted applicants will receive feedback on how they may work on their pitches.
  7. After the interviews, a minimum of two proposals will be selected as recipients of the Navayana Dalit History Fellowship. This will be announced before the end of June 2021.

Do you have story to tell?

Will you rewrite history?

Write to us at: alex@navayana.org

with the following subject line <Navayana Dalit History Fellowship 2021>

Deadline: 30 June 2021, 11:59 pm IST

Download the complete rules and regulations by clicking on the following link:

nDHF 2021—Rules and Regulations