Rajayshri Goody, What Is the Caste of Water?, 2017. Glass tumblers with Panchagavya. Courtesy of the artist

November 3, 2021 – January 22, 2022


Rajyashri Goody, Sohrab Hura, Sajan Mani, Prajakta Potnis, Birender Yadav

Curator : Swapnaa Tamhane


Produced with the support of the Frederick and Mary Kay Lowy Art Education Fund

The exhibition Constitutions considers escape routes and ensnarements of the body within the state—a condition amplified by the pandemic. Over the last year and a half, we collectively witnessed the flow of bodies leaving cities for villages in various parts of India; we saw people helplessly watch their loved ones gasping for air amid oxygen tank shortages; and just prior to being instructed by the state to socially distance, we saw protests for the right to citizenship, the right to be recognized. Constitutions attempts to address this trapping but also offers proposals for ways out of these absurd labyrinths.

Artists Rajyashri Goody, Sohrab Hura, Sajan Mani, Prajakta Potnis and Birender Yadav are of a similar generation from India, and each address and complicate the oppressive social hierarchy of caste discrimination, politics of labour, and the post-truth state. In their works, there are threads of poetry and literature, a sensation of disembodiment, the transition of body to tool, and the representation of what the body retains, absorbs, and discards.

In 2022, India will celebrate 75 years of decolonization. In the process of writing the Constitution of India between 1949 and 1950, committee chairman Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, included the abolition of Untouchables. Article 17 outlawed discrimination against Dalits, Bahujans and Adivasis who are kept at the bottom rung of society and the economy, and are often landless, displaced by governmental projects like dams or deforestation. Today, the tenets that were part of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, and Ambedkar’s vision for a secular India, devoted to equality, justice, and democracy are delicately tethered to utopian ideals, and are being gnawed at by the rise of Hindutva maintaining caste apartheid and spreading religious discrimination.

Swapnaa Tamhane


Swapnaa Tamhane

An artist and curator, Swapnaa Tamhane has an MA in Contemporary Art, University of Manchester (2001), and an MFA in Fibres & Material Practices, Concordia University (2021). Her visual practice is dedicated to drawing, and decolonizing art, craft, and design. She has exhibited her work at articule, Montreal; A Space Gallery, Toronto; Museum der Moderne, Salzburg; Serendipity Arts Festival, Panjim; and has upcoming solo exhibitions at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, Dundee.

She curated the group exhibition In Order to Join – the Political in a Historical Moment with Susanne Titzan exhibition of global feminisms at Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, Germany and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, India (2014-2015), taking as its focal point artist Rummana Hussain whose work defined a feminist Muslim history in pre- and post-Partition India. At the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, she curated HERE: Locating Contemporary Canadian Artists (2017), which included twenty-three artists. She has been a Research Fellow with the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (2009), and an International Fellow with the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (2013-2014). Her interests also extend to material culture, and with designer Rashmi Varma, she curated and wrote SĀR: The Essence of Indian Design, published by Phaidon Press (2016).



Swapnaa Tamhane

Some years back at my friend’s wedding in North Carolina, I was amongst a Marathi community of deeply religious Deshastha Brahmin who had immigrated to the United States in the late sixties. While my family is from a sub-caste of the Kshatriyas, my parents only really extended what that entailed through a socio-cultural lens in relation to recipes or customs. We eat meat, fish, and drink alcohol. One afternoon, we women were in the kitchen cleaning and tasking, making food and tea for the men sitting in the living room chatting. It was a familiar scene. As I was drying some mugs, a lady, with the edges of her hair highlighted in a glossy-orangey-brown to hide the greys, sidled up to me and asked: “Are you Deshastha?” She didn’t even add on the “Brahmin” part. I looked at her quite surprised and said, “Nope, we’re not that high up.” I was furious and insulted that these caste hierarchies were asserting themselves in an irrelevant suburb of North America from a woman with an American-twanged-Indian-accent gained from forty years of living in Ohio. I found it ridiculous and oppressive.

Somehow in the days following, I was not taken too seriously.


In 2020, signs reading “Dalit Lives Matter” appeared amid the Black Lives Matter protests during the global response to the murder of George Floyd. Announcing solidarity between those who share oppression, activists drew attention to the rape and murder of a nineteen-year old Dalit woman in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh on September 14, 2020. Solidarity between Dalits and African American people is not new. In 1873, the anti-caste revolutionary Jyotirao Phule dedicated his treatise Gulamgiri (Slavery) to Black emancipation.[1] In 2014, Judge Rohulamin Quander and the African American Legacy Families at the United States Congress presented the “Declaration of Empathy” petition recognizing the modern-day slavery of Dalits. Visiting India in 1959, Martin Luther King Jr. was convinced the country had made better progress against caste untouchability than Americans had against racial segregation. However, Hindu-Brahmin supremacy has kept its upper caste foot stomped firmly onto Dalits, Bahujans, and Adivasis[2] who continue to be brutally exploited within pre-determined divisions of labour, all because of their birth. As the Dalit doctoral student Rohith Vemula (1989-2016) wrote in his suicide note: “My birth is my fatal accident.”

The Constitution of India was written 1949 and put into effect on January 26, 1950. It included a document on States and Minorities by Dr. Bhimrao R. Ambedkar, Chairman of the committee for the drafting of the Constitution. As someone himself from the Mahar caste, he relayed a plan for the protection and empowerment of the Scheduled Castes or what he called “Untouchables,” including the abolishment of untouchability and punishment by law of any discriminatory acts. “Untouchable” would eventually change to “Dalit,” which translates as crushed or broken, and allowing for an ideological and self-determined shift from an “Untouchable” to an “ex-Untouchable.” [3]

The complete essay can be viewed on the exhibition’s page and downloaded in the Texts and Documents section. A printed version is also available at the Gallery.

[1] Vijay Prashad, “Afro-Dalits of the Earth, Unite!,” African Studies Review 43, no. 1 (2000): 196. Jyotibhai and Savitribai Phule were instrumental in initiating discussions around eradicating untouchability and the education of women.

[2] Bahujan means “many,” hence all the majority of people in India who are Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Castes, therefore, not only Dalits.

[3] Padma D. Maitland, “Black Buddha: The Visual and Material Cultures of the Dalit Movement and the Black Panther Party,” in Global Raciality: Empire, Postcoloniality, Decoloniality, ed. P. Bacchetta, et al. (London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2019), 173


Rajyashri Goody

Is Hunger Gnawing At Your Belly?, 2017—ongoing
Recipe booklets adapted from Dalit literature and autobiographies
21.6 × 13.5 cm each

Courtesy of the artist

What Is The Caste of Water?, 2017
108 glasses, diluted panchagavya (multiple ingredients including water extract prepared from cow dung, cow urine, milk, curd, and ghee), wood fibre plinths
Various dimensions

Courtesy of the artist

The Milk Of The Tigress, 2021
Selection of books on caste and Dalit writing from the Webster Library, plywood shelves covered with paper pulp made from the Manusmriti
Various dimensions

Courtesy of the artist

The artist thanks Andrea Harland, John Latour and the team at the Webster Library as well as Scott Osborne for their assistance.

Through the use of various mediums, including writing, ceramics, photography, video, and sculptural works made with found objects and food items, Goody attempts to decode and make visible instances of everyday power and resistance within Dalit communities in India. She comes from the Dalit community herself. In December 2018, she was awarded the Emerging Artist Award by India Today. Her recent residencies took place at Art Omi, Ghent, 2019; Shifting Studios at TIFA Working Studios, 2019; ISCP, New York, 2018; Khoj International, New Delhi, 2017; Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, 2017; Asia Culture Centre, Gwangju, 2016; Bamboo Curtain Studio, Taipei, 2015; and Khoj Refracting Rooms at Tifa, Pune, 2015. In early 2018 she completed a visiting artist fellowship at Harvard University, Cambridge, where she was exploring complexities, parallels, and the significance of food ways in race and caste narratives. She is currently a Resident at Rijksakademie, Amsterdam.

Sohrab Hura

The Lost Head & The Bird, 2016–2019
Single-channel video, colour, stereo sound
10 min. 13 sec., variable loop
Music: recording of a live performance by Hannes d’Hoine (electronic) & Sjoerd Bruil (guitar). Performance curated and produced by Wendy Marijnissen / Bending the Frame

Courtesy of the artist and Experimenter, Kolkata

Scramble, 2020
Archival pigment prints
25.4 × 19.05 cm each
25.4 × 38.1 cm

Courtesy of the artist and Experimenter, Kolkata

Born in Chinsurah, West Bengal, India in 1981, Hura currently lives and works in New Delhi. After receiving a master’s in economics from the Delhi School of Economics, Hura began working in photography, text, moving image and sound mixing social documentary with personal testimony. His first film, Pati (2010) documents daily life in a small village cluster in Central India and was made following a fifty-day bus journey across northern India’s rural belt as part of the Right to Food movement. Recent group and solo exhibitions include Spill, Huis Marseille, Amsterdam, 2021, and Experimenter, Kolkata, 2020; Companion Pieces: New Photography, MoMA, NY organized by Lucy Gallun, 2020; Searching for Stars Amongst the Crescents, Experimenter, Kolkata, The Levee, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Homelands: Art from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, curated by Devika Singh, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, all 2019; Sweet Life, Experimenter, Kolkata, 2017; and The 10th Shanghai Biennale, curated by Raqs Media Collective, 2016. Film festivals include: Festival du nouveau cinema, Montreal; Image Forum, Tokyo; Arkipel Film Festival, Jakarta; Moscow International Experimental Film Festival; and FotoFest International, Houston. Hura’s film Bittersweet (2020) received the Principal Prize of the International Jury at the 66th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen Online. He has self-published four books: Life is Elsewhere (2015), A Proposition For Departure (2017)Look It’s Getting Sunny Outside!!! (2018) and The Coast (2019), for which he received the Paris Photo-Aperture Photobook of the Year Award in 2019.

Sajan Mani

Wake Up Call for Ancestors, 2021
Acrylic and serigraph on natural rubber sheets
53 × 32 cm each

Courtesy of the artist

When the Hands Start Singing, 2021
Charcoal on paper with text in Malayalam based on the Constitution of India
1000 × 190 cm

Courtesy of the artist

Art Will Never Die But Cow?, 2019
Two-channel video installation, black and white, 5 min. 30 sec.

Courtesy of the artist

Sajan Mani is an intersectional artist hailing from a family of rubber tappers in a remote village in the northern part of Kerala, South India. His work voices the issues of marginalized and oppressed peoples of India, via the “Black Dalit body” of the artist. Mani’s performance practice insists upon embodied presence, confronting pain, shame, fear, and power. His personal tryst with his body as a meeting point of history and present opens onto the “body” as a socio-political metaphor. Several of Mani’s performances employ the element of water to address ecological issues particularly related to the backwaters of Kerala, as well as to the common theme of migration. His recent works consider the correspondence between animals and humans, and the politics of space from the perspective of an indigenous cosmology. Unlearning Lessons from my Father (2018), made with the support of the Asia Art Archive, excavates the artist’s biography in relation to colonial history, botany, and material relations. Sajan has participated in international biennales, festivals, exhibitions and residencies, including CODA Oslo International Dance Festival, Norway, 2019; Ord & Bild, Sweden, 2019; India Art Fair, 2019; Specters of Communism, at Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2017; Dhaka Art Summit, Bangladesh, 2016; Kampala Art Biennale, Uganda, 2016; Kolkata International Performance Arts Festival, 2014–16; and Vancouver Biennale, Canada, 2014. In 2021 he was awarded the Berlin Kunstpreis for Visual Art. From 2019 to 2021, he received an artistic research grant from the Berlin Senate, Fine Arts Scholarship from Braunschweig Projects, and the Akademie Schloss Solitude Fellowship, Germany.

Prajakta Potnis

Toxic Drawing, 2020
Watercolour and graphite pencil on wall, foam sheets
40.64 x 27.94 cm each

Courtesy of the artist, Project 88, Mumbai, and Anil Rane

The artist thanks Kara Skylling for her assistance.

The Floating Island, 2019–2020
Slide projection
Variable dimensions

Courtesy of the artist, Project 88, Mumbai, and Anil Rane

Attrition, 2020
RIN detergent bar, infusion fluid, tubing, and needle

Courtesy of the artist, Project 88, Mumbai, and Anil Rane

Night Vision, 2018
Single-channel HD video, colour
4 min. 48 sec.

Courtesy of the artist, Project 88, Mumbai, and Anil Rane

He woke up with seeds in his lungs-6, 2020
He woke up with seeds in his lungs-1, 2020
X-Ray films in backlit light boxes
38.1 × 30.48 cm each

Courtesy of the artist, Project 88, Mumbai, and Anil Rane

Prajakta Potnis’s work digs deeper into the nexus between the frailty of a human body and the greed of a capitalist state. Through the processes of painting, radiology, video and a time-based installation she examines the overburdened body that has been incessantly exposed to varied forms of toxicity. Her works draw upon the chasm witnessed within the everyday domestic in the context of gender and social divides, as well as investigating the porousness of boundaries and binaries such as inside/outside, public/private, or natural/engineered. She received her BFA and MFA from Sir J.J School of Art, Mumbai, India (1995/2002). Her solo shows include A Body Without Organs and When the Wind Blows at Project 88, Mumbai (2020; 2016), Kitchen Debate, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin (2014), and Local Time, Experimenter, Kolkata (2012).She has participated in When I Count, There Are Only You…, curated by Hoor Al Qasimi, Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah (2021) and Facing India at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg (2018). Her works have been exhibited in the 11th Gwangju Biennale (2016) curated by Maria Lind, Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2014) curated by Jitish Kallat, Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, and Clark House Initiative, Mumbai. Between 2010 and 2011, her works were part of the travelling exhibition Indian Highway presented at the Mac Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art Lyon, France, the Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Denmark and the Astrup Fearnley Museum, Norway. Potnis was the recipient of the Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Grant for Photography (2016-17).

Birender Yadav

Life Tools, 2021
Charcoal and soft pastel on paper
109.22 × 73.66 cm each

Courtesy of the artist

Birender Yadav comes from Dhanbad; a city built on its proximity of iron ore and coal and once forested and inhabited by indigenous people who compose the Gondwana. The forests were felled and immigrants from northern Bihar and South India were brought to exploit the mineral resources. The indigenous people—called tribes by the British colonialists—were then dispersed as they were seen incapable of labouring. Birender Yadav, while studying for a course in fine arts in the city of Benares, encountered these people that are from his hometown Dhanbad, albeit trafficked to work in brick-kilns. He recognized them from the creole language they spoke to communicate with immigrant families such as that of Yadav. Yadav, who was studying art to become a blacksmith like his father in the Dhanbad coalfields, then changed his focus towards documenting the activities of the brick kilns and trafficking. Yadav had been sent to Benares as a young boy to study art so that he could easily design equipment his father casted at the foundry in the mine. Yadav found that indigenous tribes from Dhanbad were being exploited by gangs that would gather them in groups and make them work in kilns, where bricks were produced by burning charcoal. He began collecting their thumb signatures on their portraits, as they had been dispersed and did not own identity papers, so as to be paid minimum wages. Yadava’s work taps into the complexity of language, labour and migration as conceptual constructs of personal stories that he has inhabited.


On Namdeo Dhasal’s “Man, You Should Explode”

Namdeo Dhasal

“Man, You Should Explode”
From Golpitha, 1972
Poem in Marathi printed on adhesive vinyl
368.3 x 72.90 cm

Download English translation

Namdeo Dhasal was born in 1949, as the Constitution of India was being written. A poet and activist, Dhasal belonged to the Mahar caste, who is primarily from the state of Maharashtra and speaks Marathi in which the word “dalit” translates as broken; this caste is considered untouchable, the lowest within a social hierarchy established by brahminical rules within Hinduism. Dhasal was originally from a small village near the city of Pune, but moved to Mumbai as a young boy and grew up in the red-light neighbourhood of Kamatipura. His poetry is drawn from traditions of oral folk theatre, while his use of language is a layering of dialects, personal experience, mythology, and colloquial names for objects as well as for animal life or human anatomy. Further, Dhasal draws from the vocabulary that surrounded him in Kamatipura—what is regarded as belonging to Mumbai’s seething underworld,—which combines Urdu, Marathi, Telugu, Nepalese, and Kannada, from peoples of a variety of religions and ethnicities. His vocabulary is inspired by the day-to-day conversations between prostitutes and pimps, labourers, craftspersons, or gangsters who use phrases, bad language, or words that replace meaning with other forms of identification that are specific to the experience of someone from the most oppressed population of the country.

Dhasal’s poem “Man, You Should Explode” is part of his first collection Golpitha (1972). The poem is brash, profane, and expounds the bodily stigma one carries as an untouchable—the loathing they encounter from birth to death in their “assigned” tasks of clearing sewers and garbage or carrying carcasses of animals. The poem is a mirror of caste violence and oppression; it describes the experience of centuries of crime committed in the name of this hierarchical system that permeates all aspects of society. The poem oozes life through his eyes so that we may, for a mere blink, share his daily hell. In it, he calls for the total destruction of the brahminical code, and then to start over only with mutual love for humanity.

In 1972, Dhasal founded Dalit Panther with Raja Dhale, J. V. Pawar, and Arun Dangle, inspired by the Black Panther Party. Dalit Panthers worked to bring Dalit men and women together in protest to visibilize the oppression of Dalits who continue to be at the receiving end of violent acts. “Golpitha” is presented by Dhasal as a figure who symbolizes the untouchable: she is a prostitute who serves others, who in turn degrade themselves as explained by Dhasal’s fellow poet Dilip Chitre, who was his primary translator from Marathi to English.


Possible constitutions

Written constitutions are a key marker and legal tool of modern statecraft. Constitutions outline the fundamental operations of governance, along with civil and human rights. Associated with democracy, constitutions bring legitimacy to nations, uphold claims of sovereignty, and guard against abuse of power. In the hands of authoritarian states they can be manipulated to serve the opposite. Constitutions also name and inaugurate their public, otherwise their constituents, by outlining the conditions for their participation in governance, for example, by granting the power to vote. Accordingly, constitutions are founding and lasting legal documents for new nations and the source of new political identifications and agency for their citizenry.

At an individual level, your constitution refers to your psychological, emotional, and physical health and makeup. Your constitution is your state of composure, summing up your temperament and disposition. Broadly speaking, constitution is another way of indicating the overall composition, arrangement or combination that makes something up.


Survey the exhibition for constitutions in all their definitions: Who are its protagonists and what social positions do they occupy, speak from, or represent? What documents are present? From where do they originate? What materials are used? How are they combined? And how do these forms exhibit, carry, or reveal constitutions?

States of being and consciousness: How are psychological, emotional and physical constitutions formed, crossed, or manipulated by capitalist, colonial, and caste systems? What constitutions need to be assembled, affirmed, or created in order to confront and resist inequality?

Transgressing limits

Within the Hindu Varna caste system untouchability is assigned to those born into its lowest caste. The status places so-called untouchables outside the four-fold varna hierarchy and at the bottom of society. Thought of as impure and polluting, untouchability is used as grounds for demeaning social prohibitions, labour exploitation, and sexual and physical abuse. Despite civil rights laws in place since the mid-twentieth century, this harsh inequality remains present in Indian society today.

As Tamhane notes in her accompanying essay, the adoption of a Dalit identity in place of untouchable marks a personal, social, and political transformation. In face of accusations of transgression, the Dalit position refuses the caste system’s hard lines of exclusion. This resistance reveals that what is toxic, corrosive, and polluting belongs in fact to this unjust system, and that Dalits bear its effects rather than determine them. Caste compounds the exploitation of the labouring body, combining with class and gender oppression in order to submit it to all forms of wear and contamination. These bodies are useful so long as they are valuable to capital and its social systems, tools used to the point of death or left exhausted, maimed, and sick.


Limitless subjects: What types of limits can you identify in the exhibition? In what ways are they challenged? When are these transgressions connected with self-assertion and awareness? When are they met with resistance? When do they result in a breakdown?

Substitute bodies: Observe how Yadav and Potnis use non-human objects to represent the body. What role do these objects play? Do they integrate with the body or take it over? Are they productive or destructive?

Crossed narratives and bodies

This exhibition frames contemporary India at a crossroads between two competing narratives. On the one hand India is imagined as a secular democratic state, as outlined in its constitution and guiding governance from 1949 into the early part of this century. On the other hand, India is seen as a hardline Hindu state where cultural, social and political life is determined by far-right religious orthodoxies. Intersecting both narratives is the persistence of caste oppression and violence, compounded with capitalist exploitation of the poor and labouring classes, and the discrimination against religious minorities.

Key to the artists’ work is how to relay and materialize the felt and lived effects of the contradictions arising between these narratives. How are these histories and positions not only recounted but made sensible? How can they be found in objects and documents? How can they be read on the body? Who is addressed by these narratives? And who is formed by them?


Body politic: Examine Hura’s and Potnis’s approaches to image-making and narration. What kinds of images of contemporary India does Hura use? What comparisons does he stage between them and to what effect? How does Potnis make a case for a counternarrative to her uncle’s experience and illness? What evidence does she produce?

Writing acts: Consider Mani’s and Goody’s interventions into the legal act of the Constitution and the authority of the Manusmriti. What is enacted in their respective gestures—Mani’s writing/drawing, Goody’s pulping and coating? How do these acts measure up against their source documents? And how are the Constitution and the Manusmriti made to host other voices, interpretations and pronouncements?


B.R. Ambedkar

Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was born in 1891 to the Maher Dalit caste in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. He faced harsh discrimination through his youth, particularly while attending elementary school. In university he studied economics and political science, graduating first from University of Bombay, followed by a masters at Columbia University and a doctorate at London School of Economics. His thinking synthesized the social critique of Karl Marx, American views on democracy proposed by John Dewey, and the civil rights activism of W.E.B Du Bois, to which he brought his own astute analysis of caste, class and colonialism. Returning to India he worked as a lawyer in the defence of Dalit and lower caste rights. He launched key social disobedience campaigns in the late-1920s and early 1930s as well as publishing and speaking extensively on these issues, notably with his 1936 book Annihilation of Caste. He worked as Minister of Labour under British India, following India’s independence in 1947 he joined the Indian National Congress Government as the first Law Minister and led the drafting of the 1950 Constitution wherein he assured the place of Dalit’s civil liberties. In 1951, Ambedkar resigned from the cabinet in response to the delaying of the Hindu Code Bill which aimed to make into law gender equity and women’s rights in India. Wary of the entrenchment of caste oppression and violence within orthodox Hinduism, Ambedkar advocated for Dalits’ conversion to Buddhism, doing so himself just before his death in 1956.


Caste describes a hereditary system dividing society into rigid groups where each caste is a closed group with their own prescriptions on labour and social status along lines of purity and impurity. An endogamous system, each group is sustained by strict inter-marriage and membership is assigned at birth. The Hindu Varna caste system in India is structured by four categories, in order from highest to lowest: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. Outside of the caste system are the avarna Dalits (otherwise Scheduled Castes or the derogatory untouchables) and indigenous Adivasi (otherwise Scheduled Tribes). Within this system, the privilege granted to the upper castes is sustained by the oppression and exploitation of the lower castes. Accordingly, the caste system neatly corresponds with capitalist and patriarchal divisions of labour.

Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and Hindutva

The current prime minister of India, Narendra Modi is the leader of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party. Born in 1947, Modi joined the Hindu nationalist paramilitary group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in his youth. Under the group’s influence he was appointed to the BJP in 1985, ascending to General Secretary, and, in 2001, to Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat. In 2002, he initiated an inter-communal pogrom leaving estimates of over 2000 dead, the majority Muslim. Named the BJP’s prime minister candidate in 2013, the Party under Modi gained a majority in the Indian lower house in the 2014 general election and again in 2019. The BJP governs India under neoliberal economic policy, military growth, and the principles of the Hindu nationalist ideology, Hindutva. Prioritizing a Hindu constituency in a multi-ethic, religious and, by its Constitution, secular country, the BJP favours historical revisionism, cultural protectionism, religious conversion, and communalism. Informed by Hindutva, the Party entrenches social stratification through caste, threatens academic and press freedom, and hardens sectarian divisions.

Dalit aesthetics

Dalit aesthetics is understood as Dalit-led cultural production that brings critique to the caste system and exposes the conditions affecting Dalit lives. From the Sanskrit for broken, crushed, split or scattered, Dalit is a form of political identification first proposed by anti-caste social reformer Jyotirao Phule, and popularized by B.R. Ambedkar. Beyond self-conscious representation of caste oppression, Dalit aesthetics is confirmed by its advancement of Dalit rights. Social realist at its root, Dalit aesthetics is fueled by social critique and a concern for the lived experiences of Dalits. Its foundation is in Dalit-authored literature and poetry of the 1960s and 70s, as demonstrated by Namdeo Dhasal’s poem as seen in this exhibition. These methods and convictions are not exclusive to writing and extend to other mediums and disciplines to take on complex forms of representation, protest and analysis, as Rajyashri Goody, Sajan Mani, and Birender Yadav all offer in their artworks in Constitutions.


Recommended viewing and listening

Ambedkar in 2021, episodes 1-7, Research Radio, Economic and Political Weekly.

Chinnaiah Jangam, Dalit Imagination and the Making of Modern India, York Centre for Asian Research, York University, May 12, 2016.

Arundhati Roy, The Doctor and the Saint: The Ambedkar—Gandhi debate: Race, Caste and Colonialism, October 16, 2014.


Ambedkar, B.R. Annihilation of Caste. London: Verso, 2016.

Limbale, Sharankumar. Towards an Aesthetics of Dalit Literature. Translated from the Marathi by Alok Mukherjee. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2004.

Nath, Ramendra. Why I am not a Hindu. Patna: Buddhiwadi Foundation, 2011.

Omvedt, Gail. Dalits and the Democratic Revolution. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1994.

Phule, Jotirao. Slavery. Translated from the Marathi by P.G. Patil. Mumbai: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1991.

Rao, Anupama. The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India. Berkley: University of California Press, 2009.

Roy, Arundhati. The Doctor and the Saint: The Debate between B.R. Ambedkar and M.K. Gandhi. Chicago : Haymarket Books, 2017.

Valmiki, Omprakash. Joothan: A Dalit’s Life. Translated from the Hindi by Arun Prabha Mukherjee. Kolkata: Samya, 2003.

Vanaik, Achin. The Rise of Hindu Authoritarianism: Secular Claims, Communal Realities. London: Verso, 2017.

Viramma, Josiane Racine and Jean-Luc Racine. Viramma: Life of an Untouchable. London: Verso, 1997.