Struggling for Freedom from Caste in Colonial India: The Story of Rettaimalai Srinivasan

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Malarvizhi Jayanth


Rettaimalai Srinivasan (1860–1945), a Dalit leader in colonial India, argued that there were two kinds of freedom struggles being waged in the region–one against the British and the other against caste. His autobiography, published in Tamil in 1938, is likely the first Dalit autobiography, and along with his other papers, pamphlets, and speeches comprises a potent anti-caste archive that is yet to be studied. In these texts, Srinivasan defined untouchability as a complex of social and economic practices and emphasized the role of Dalit leadership in undoing these practices. As his work indicates, the freedom struggle against caste required a re-signification of caste names and untouchability itself and an increased representation of Dalit groups within governance. By seeking to turn the name of the Pariah caste into one that could be used with pride, he continuously grappled with the question of self-representation and an appropriate vocabulary to do so. His definition of untouchability as intimately linked with agrarian labour lies at the heart of his emphasis on the importance of Dalit representatives governing and leading people from these communities towards freedom.

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Jayanth, M. (2022). Struggling for Freedom from Caste in Colonial India: The Story of Rettaimalai Srinivasan. CASTE / A Global Journal on Social Exclusion, 3(1), 137-152.
Research Articles
Author Biography

Malarvizhi Jayanth, King's College, Cambridge

King’s College, University of Cambridge Research Fellow in Slavery and Its Impacts King’s College, King’s Parade, Cambridge – CB2 1ST