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Dr K Kalyani, Assistant Professor of Social Science at School of Arts and Sciences, Azim Premji University, will speak on 'Spectacle, performativity, and resistance in anti-caste music: Ethnographic accounts of performers'.

This event is part of the Confronting Caste seminar and podcast series

Note: This is a hybrid event. Participants can register to attend online or in-person. A link to join will be emailed upon registration.


The paper aims to unravel musical performances as a unique aspect of the Dalit-Bahujan lifeworld. It seeks to explore the everyday meanings that musical performances convey to the subaltern communities. Such performances reflect a postmodern turn that involves a critical reassessment of existing hegemonic cultural practices. The anti-caste cultural performance senses the ‘crisis’ or the conflictual norm prevalent in the society of mainstream dominant culture. This conflict is about rendering subaltern communities vulnerable, and their cultures at the margins. The critical self-reflexivity through subaltern art, music, and performance has uniquely re-centered the peripheral voices by bringing a re-imagination of history, myth, and cultural practices.

While there are subaltern theories that have discussed subaltern voices and their struggles, this paper will gather on those lines and further engages with the music and narratives of the Dalit-Bahujan community. This bridges the epistemological gap of bringing together subaltern subjectivity within the subaltern discourse. The paper will explore music as a cultural artifact that has become part of the popular memory of the Dalit-Bahujan community, which is opening up newer ways to engage with Resistance and New social movements. It will examine the themes of anti-caste resistance, culture, popular memory and how are they are rendering themselves meaningful for Dalit-Bahujan communities.

Through the songs-of resistance or Bhimgeet, as it is colloquially referred to, the paper aims to explore the different contested folk traditions that are emerging among Dalit-Bahujan communities. The paper will specifically explore anti-caste music particularly from North India with specific focus on the regions of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. Music is not just a significant cultural artifact but it also expands the rubric of New social movements in which art and culture are important ways of resistance. The unravelling of such musical forms and practices from select regions of North India will also give insights into social history of anti-caste movements and anti-caste cultural assertions that the region has witnessed.

About the speaker

K Kalyani is Assistant Professor of Social Science at School of Arts and Sciences, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. She researches on different dimensions of social inequalities, gender, intersectionality, cultures of caste, sociology of music, subaltern studies. Her current book Dissenting Melodies is upcoming from Cambridge University Press. She was awarded her doctorate degree in Sociology from the Centre for the Study of Social Systems (CSSS), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.

She has previously been the resource person at Julian J Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs, The New School, New York City and has also served as lecturer at Delhi University. She has contributed her research in several reputed journals and edited volumes. A believer in social justice, she also occasionally writes in media and other public forums. She has been currently awarded as CRASSH (Centre for Research in Arts, Social Science and Humanities) Summer fellowship, at University of Cambridge.

Event details

Lecture Theatre 5, Room Number BH (SE)2.09
Bush House South East Wing
Strand, London WC2R 1AE