Cover of The Vulgarity of Caste by Shailaja Paik
The Vulgarity of Caste
Dalits, Sexuality, and Humanity in Modern India
Shailaja Paik


October 2022
384 pages.
from $32.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503632387
Paperback ISBN: 9781503634084



This book offers the first social and intellectual history of Dalit performance of Tamasha—a form of popular, secular, traveling theater—and places Dalit Tamasha women at the heart of modernization in India. Deploying the vernacular as method and drawing on untapped Marathi archival materials, ethnographies, popular writings, and films, Shailaja Paik argues that Dalit performers, activists, and leaders negotiated the violence, brutality, exploitation, and stigma in Tamasha as they struggled to claim manuski (human dignity) and transform themselves from ashlil (vulgar) to assli (authentic) and manus (human beings). In doing so, Paik illuminates how Dalit Tamasha women bent patriarchal pressures both inside and outside the Dalit community and became foundational actors in conflicts over caste, class, culture, gender, and sexuality.

Building on and departing from the Ambedkar-centered historiography and movement-focused approach of Dalit studies, Paik examines the ordinary and everyday in Dalit lives, both illustrating how sexuality and the ashlil framed the political recognition and political constituency of the new assli Dalit community. Ultimately, Paik illustrates how the choices that communities make about culture speak to much larger questions about inclusion, inequality, and structures of violence of caste within Indian society, and open up new approaches for the transformative potential of Dalit politics and the global history of gender, sexuality, and the human.

About the author

Shailaja Paik is Associate Professor of History at the University of Cincinnati. She is the author of Dalit Women's Education in Modern India: Double Discrimination (2014).