Caste and Colourism: Analysing Social Meanings of Skin Colour in Dalit and Savarna Discourses

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Jidugu Kavya Harshitha


We know little about how skin colour is used to discriminate and dehumanise Dalits in everyday language. Thus, the construction of fairness and darkness of skin colour in savarna perception and the qualities attributed need to be under-stood through the lens of caste identities. Drawing on an ethnographic study in Nallapadu Palle Scheduled Caste Colony in Andhra Pradesh, this article aims to understand how various qualities are attributed to the skin and colour of Dalits and savarnas using Qualia, linguistic registers and indexicalities. The Telugu linguistic forms “Nalupu” (Dark) and “Telupu” (Fair), when used in registers, are analysed to understand the qualities indexed with these forms. It is essential to examine the process of caste manifestation in language through colour, which indexes several qualities through a specific linguistic form, varying its social meaning when attributed to a savarna and a Dalit. The study found that the social meanings of Nalupu and Telupu used in everyday conversations differed for savarnas and Dalits. When spoken in the context of Dalits in Palle, it indexed qualities to discriminate and re-establish caste. It is argued that these attributes lead to the creation of caste hierarchies. The article calls for examining the connection between colourism and caste discrimination further.

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Jidugu, K. H. (2024). Caste and Colourism: Analysing Social Meanings of Skin Colour in Dalit and Savarna Discourses. CASTE A Global Journal on Social Exclusion, 5(2), 220–236.
Research Articles