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This article discusses three different university campuses in India (Jawaharlal Nehru University, Osmania University, and the English and Foreign Languages University) and their political and social environments with a particular focus on Dalit student activism from March to June, 2013, and from January to March, 2014 when this ethnographic research was conducted. It questions what place Dalit student activism, constituting the ‘counterpublic’ (Fraser, 1990; Warner, 2002), occupied in these campuses; how Dalit student activists interacted with other student political groups; what characteristic features the Dalit student activism had on each campus. This article discusses the changing power relations in Indian universities and the role of ‘social space’ (Bourdieu, 2018) in negotiating social statuses. Dalit student activists actively engaged in appropriating social space by installing Dalit symbolic icons on the university campuses, bringing up caste issues to public attention and thus temporarily turning certain campuses into ‘political strongholds’ (Jaoul, 2012) of the Dalit movement. Contributing to the recent scholarship on student politics in South Asia this article argues for the understanding of interactive relation between campus space and student politics, showing how Dalit students changed the campus space through symbolic appropriation and, conversely, how historically constituted campus spaces affected the nature of Dalit student activism in each of the discussed localities.
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