The Vulgarity of Caste

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Dalits, Sexuality, and Humanity in Modern India

Shailaja Paik

  • Binding: Paperback
  • ISBN: 9788195539215
  • Number of Pages: 424
  • Size: 5.5 x 8.5”

Tamasha is a secular, traveling, public theatre practiced predominantly by Dalits for centuries. The artform spread like a wildfire in the entertainment market in colonial Maharashtra. Its mixture of humor, sexuality, and bombast offered a forbidding combination of the commercial and the lowbrow. Central to these performances were the Dalit Tamasha women who represented both the desire and disgust of a patriarchal society.

The Vulgarity of Caste offers the first social and intellectual history of Tamasha. Drawing on untapped archival materials, ethnographies, popular writings and films, Shailaja Paik uncovers how Dalit performers, activists, and leaders negotiated the violence, brutality, exploitation and stigma in Tamasha. She puts these women at the center, as they reclaim manuski (human dignity) and transform themselves from ashlil (vulgar) to assli (authentic) and manus (human).


Shailaja Paik is Associate Professor of History at the University of Cincinnati. She is the author of Dalit Women’s Education in Modern India: Double Discrimination (2014).

‘Paik not only breaks new ground but also builds a foundation. Combining ethnography, archival work, and critical readings of key thinkers, she offers a dazzling interdisciplinary exploration of how Tamasha serves as a metonym for the ways gender, caste and power construct identity in caste-patriarchal society. This work is one of the many reasons Paik is at the forefront of Dalit feminist studies and why she is one of the most innovative historians of South Asia writing today’Christian Lee Novetzke, University of Washington

‘A brilliant original account of women in Tamasha. Shailaja Paik argues that the extractive sexual economy of caste rests on their desired as well as derided labor. Drawing on rare archival sources and careful ethnography, she highlights how women negotiate with stigma, especially in relation to a Dalit emancipatory politics, embarrassed by their ‘sexual excess’.’
V. Geetha, author of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and the Question of Socialism in India