Recent Dalit (earlier known as untouchables) student activists‘ suicide in the University of Hyderabad and the wave of student protests in the aftermath of the tragic event show that Indian universities and the Indian state continue to be the locus of institutionalized caste discrimination and politization of the Dalit identity. The unfortunate incident also sheds light on an interesting link between the Dalit students’ social experience and student activism, the key question that this paper seeks to address.
Based on an ethnographic research in New Delhi and Hyderabad universities, I explore the Dalit students‘ life stories and their suffering and struggle narratives. The terms are taken as emic categories that represent the Dalit students‘ experiences of caste discrimination and student activism. The Dalit students’ social experiences and their politics are mutually intertwined. Dalit politics are fed not only by social experiences but also the other way around: The Dalit students’ politics affect the way students perceive and experience the social world. In other words, there is an intimate link between the ways social reality is experienced and the Dalit political movement discourse that describes that reality. I argue that the ideological trope of the Dalit’s journey from suffering to struggle has become the prevalent narrative strategy shaping discourse and practice of the broader pan-Indian Dalit students’ movement. The paper will demonstrate how the suffering and struggle narratives are reproduced and contested by differently situated Dalit students, not only constructing unified Dalit experience but also revealing inherent fragmentations and tensions within the “imagined” Dalit students’ community.