Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Killing Fields:Caste Conflicts in North India

Dr Suruchi Thapar-Bjorkert.

This paper examines the intersections between gender, caste and violence in a post-colonial context. The dominant theoretical approaches have shaped perceptions and definitions of violence and provided valuable insights on conceptualising violence. However, gender dynamics within the institution of caste and particularly in relation to caste violence has not been analyzed comprehensively, probably because of the complex and tenuous relationship between the two.

The empirical research draws on recent and ongoing caste conflicts in rural Bihar (but also in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat), North India . Caste Violence, is a reflection of an ineffective state, growing economic inequality and politicisation of caste. The two caste groups that are important in the ongoing violence are the backward Castes (shudras) and the 'Untouchables' or (depressed classes or scheduled/ or Dalits) and the more historic violence between upper castes and dalits. This paper will examine the latter.

Dalit women are the chief arm bearers and responsible for most of the inter-caste killings (between Dalits and affluent castes such as Bhumiyar and Rajputs) . Their violence is to defend their interests over economic resources (land) but also more importantly to protect their own integrity against sexual violence from the upper caste men. Female sexuality is tied closely with principles of 'purity and pollution' and women are symbolically constructed as repositories of honour.

I examine how in specific cultural and historical contexts men, women and children can act as both victims and perpetrators of 'inhuman atrocities'. The complexities involved when women do take up violence moves our analyses beyond a circumscribed understanding of women as 'vulnerable victims' and 'recipients of violent acts'.


Dr Suruchi Thapar-Bjorkert  (United Kingdom)
Lecturer in Sociology school of social Sciences

previously held teaching and research positions at the Development Studies and Gender Institutes respectively at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research focuses on gendered discourses of nationalism and colonialism in South Asia. The research tries to disentangle the contested issues of nationalist consciousness, political empowerment and the private/public dichotomies. Her empirical work has engaged with methodological constructions of memory, truth and trauma. Her doctoral research titled, Private Lives and Public Thoughts: Gender, Nationalism and Colonialism is currently in press (Sage, Forthcoming). Her research has been published in journals such as Feminist Review, Journal of Gender Studies, Women's History Review and Women's Studies International Forum.

  • Gender
  • Caste Violence

(Virtual Presentation, English)