International Women's Day: Dalit-Bahujan Feminist Knowledges and Praxis

Mar. 8, 2023 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Share Event

A collaboration event between the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary. 

Efforts to officially make caste—a millennia-old system of stratification, division of labour, and discrimination—a protected category are well under way in postsecondary institutions throughout the United States. The conversation is beginning at educational institutions across Canada. The UAlberta and the UCalgary are collaborating with international activists and scholars on a series of conversations to raise awareness about caste-based discrimination. There is no better place to start than the profound theoretical and political knowledges called Dalit-Bahujan feminist knowledges.

This International Women’s Day, with a theme of “Every Woman Counts,” we have the opportunity to hear from four extraordinary Dalit-Bahujan feminist theorists, artists, historians, and organizers. Come and learn about caste, how Dalit-Bahujan women and non-binary peoples are particularly affected by it, and how they have been organizing across educational, cultural, labour, land and other institutions, one step and space at a time.

We acknowledge the intellectual labour and vision of Dr. Shaista Patel (Assistant Prof Critical Muslim Studies, UC, San Diego) in helping come up with the event topics and speakers that we have in this series. 


Esha Pillay (she/her) is an Indo-Fijian writer based in the US whose research looks into intergenerational traumas among Indo-Fijian communities who are descendants of indentured labour and Girmit. She has a focus on caste violence throughout Girmit and in the present and challenges the "post-caste" narrative among descendants of indenture. Her own family stories and lived experiences guide her activism and story-telling across various digital platforms. Esha used to host a dedicated Instagram account, coolie_returns, to share further marginalized histories within larger indentured labour histories across different countries, islands, and diasporas. Her educational posts are now accessible on her website, and you can find her other writing and projects here

Nrithya Pillai (she/her) is a hereditary dancer, cultural activist, and theorist. Epitomizing the hereditary practices and the lineage of performers, teachers and carving out her own space as a performer of Bharathanatyam with impeccable training and vast creativity, Nrithya represents a new kind of artistic and intellectual engagement with the troubled history of bharatanatyam in the long 20th century.  She vigorously challenges the power relationships and ideologies that made the form unavailable to women of her community, and advocates fiercely for the restoration of credit for bharatanatyam technique, repertoire, and philosophy to the hereditary community of practitioners. Her performances and her writings about the upper caste appropriation of this form, which have evoked both enthusiastic accolades and awards on the one hand and vicious resistance on the other, are at once embodied research and a socio-political intervention. Nrithya’s voice, raised against casteism in the contemporary dance world, is unique in the field today, and her message against historical misrepresentation is relevant and powerful. Her performances and writings about the privileged-caste appropriation of this form have evoked both enthusiastic accolades and awards on the one hand and vicious resistance on the other. She currently runs a series entitled “Re-casteing Culture” for The News Minute, and is a regular contributor to The Economic and Political Weekly, The Hindu, The Times of India, The Telegraph, Firstpost, and a host of other digital news platforms. She is regularly invited by universities and colleges around the world to deliver talks and participate in conversations around caste and culture in South Asia. 

Dr. Swati Kamble (she/her) is an anti-caste intersectional feminist researcher-activist. Her research broadly focuses on human rights and social justice movements, decolonisation and intersectionality. She has a  PhD in socio-economics from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Geneva. Her doctoral research focused on the political mobilisation of India's caste-affected, caste-oppressed communities, their movement history and how this movement has shaped oppressed caste women activists into agents of change. She studied how Dalit women activists influence policy processes by negotiating and navigating andro-centric, upper-caste bureaucratic spaces of power. Additionally, she has studied Roma women’s movement in Hungary and how the European decade for Roma inclusion plan’s policy did not reflect the issues of Roma women that the Roma civil society has been advocating for. Currently, she is researching the digital activism of Dalit women and middle-class Dalit women’s mobility in the Indian neo-liberal market. She is also collaborating with Dalit, indigenous and marginalised groups and organisations in India on a project around mapping and archival of indigenous forms of knowledge and decolonisation. 

Prachi Patankar (she/her) is an anti-caste feminist activist and writer. Born and raised in rural India, Prachi was raised by a freedom-fighter grandmother and parents deeply involved in anti-caste, feminist, and peasant movements. Over two decades in New York City, she has been an activist, educator, grantmaker, and writer involved in social movements which link the local and the global, police brutality and war, migration and militarization, race and caste, women of color feminism and global gender justice. Prachi works as the Senior Program Officer at Foundation for a Just Society, where she leads the program to provide funding to gender justice movements in South and Southeast Asia. Through her work with organizations such as Afghan Women’s Mission, CAAAV and Palestine Education Project, Prachi has been involved in innovative projects to link social justice movements between the United States and the Global South. She serves on the Advisory Board of the Human Rights Funders Network and the Grantmakers for Girls for Color. Prachi believes in the vital power of intersectional and international visions and strategies, which resonate across Dalit rights and Black lives, migrant justice and gender justice, to build bottom-up change from the local to the global.

About Mitigating Caste-Based Discrimination Initiative 

Recognizing the continuing harms of caste-based discrimination, including maintaining a form of social and intergenerational structural inequality, and the need to promote equity by mitigating case-based discrimination in the postsecondary sector and broader society, the Vice-Provost (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) at the University of Alberta and the Vice Provost and Associate Vice President (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) at the University of Calgary are collaborating to raise awareness, educate, and develop a nondiscrimination policy on caste-based discrimination.

There are three interrelated objectives of this inter-institutional equity collaboration.

1. The aim is to raise awareness and develop educational opportunities for the campus communities and the broader public to learn about caste-based discrimination.

2. Second and related, this collaboration aims to host a series of educational webinars on caste, gender, and intersectionality in the Winter, Spring, and Fall 2023 academic terms.

3. Third, and in consultation with each institution's respective campus communities and governance bodies, our goal is to develop a nondiscrimination policy to make caste a protected ground at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta.

FAQ Caste-Based Discrimination Initiative

Upcoming events:

Panel II: The Problem of Caste in the North American University

via UCalgary Zoom (link to come)
Date: March 21st, International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 
Time: 12-1:30pm (MST)

On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2023, we will be joined by four Dalit-Bahujan leaders who have been instrumental in the struggle to make caste legible and a protected category in North American universities and other institutional contexts. Come and learn from their research and experiences, how caste-based discrimination and violence manifest in the North American academy. The panelists will consider the challenges faced by Dalit-Bahujan students, staff, and faculty in universities and other spaces. They will offer insights into how caste operates in everyday environments, how they organize for social and institutional change, and what you can do to effect change.

Panel III: Organizing to Make Caste a Protected Category 

via Zoom (link to come)
Date: April TBD, 2023, Dalit History Month
Time: 12-1:30pm (MST)



Community, Public
Faculty, Staff
Undergraduate Students
Graduate Students
Lectures, Seminars