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Daniel Bilton

Languages and Literature, Nottingham Trent University

Thesis title:

Dalit Writing in the 21st Century: Activism and Literary Experimentation in Modern India

My PhD is an exploration of the relationship between Dalit activism and literature through an analysis of literature published in the 21st century. I argue that contemporary literature has a fundamentally different relationship with the activist project than that of forty years ago. Since the inception of the Dalit Panthers in the early 1970s, Dalit literature has been inextricably tied to the activist project, with many Dalit activists using literature as an extension of their activism. In this thesis, I argue that this close relationship has changed as we have entered the 21st century. I argue that although contemporary Dalit literature often reflects the concerns of political and social activists, contemporary writers are becoming ever more concerned with literary aesthetic and innovation. This focus on literary style and form comes at a moment when writers are beginning to represent Dalit communities in a more positive light, rather than focusing on the pain and degradation of Dalit lives. This combination has created a different kind of Dalit literature that exists today that is radically different from its predecessors. I explore what kind of relationship this literature has with the contemporary activist and political world, whilst also exploring how Dalit art itself has the potential to inspire a new generation of Dalits  and give them a feeling of self-respect. This thesis also explores how Dalits turn to other religions in a bid to reject the dogma of Hinduism which sees them as untouchable, as well as analysing the use of Dalit gods within contemporary Dalit literature.  

This research offers a radically different perspective of Dalit literature that does not position it as a sociological account of Dalit life. Instead, my research views Dalit literature as art in its own right that is infused with the creative energy of Dalit communities. This creativity, in the form of Dalit literature, points towards a positive route towards self-respect for Dalits that does not need to rely on the suffering narrative that Dalit literature was founded upon. By focusing on contemporary texts that offer positive visions of Dalit life, my research will break new ground in the field of Dalit literary studies and offer a framework for analysing Dalit literature that is not rooted in the sociological analysis of pain and suffering.

Research Area

  • Languages and Literature
  • Post-colonial literature



NTU Research Fair 16/03/16, ‘Dalit Literature and Trauma’.

European Conference of South Asian Studies 2016 (ECSAS), Warsaw, 28/07/16, ‘Dalit Literature: Space and Trauma'.



British Association for South Asian Studies 2017 (BASAS), 20/04/2017, ‘Tamil Dalit Literature and the Representation of Political History’.

NTU Postgraduate Research Seminar 03/05/17, ‘Tamil Dalit Literature and the Representation of Political History’.

Troubling Globalisation 3 Symposium, 20/09/17, ‘From Victim to Empowered: The Changing Message of Dalit Literature’.

Research Assistant for Professor Philip Leonard on the project 'Troubling Globalisation'.


NTU English Research Fair 28/02/2018, 'In search of a Dalit Culture: Reinterpreting Dalit History in Contemporary Contexts'.

Gave a presentation about my thesis at the University of Leeds as part of the NTU-Leeds Postcolonial Knowledge Exchange, 02/05/2018

Movements: Protest, Politics and Activism in the 21st Century, Nottingham Contemporary, 06/07/2018, 'Educate, Agitate, Organise: Dalit Activism and Writing in the 21st Century'.

European Conference of South Asian Studies 2018 (ECSAS), École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris 25/07/2018, 'Negotiating Activist and Cultural Spaces in Contemporary Dalit Literature'


 Caste, Gender and Race : A Politics of Hegemony, Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University, Nagpur India, 22/02/2019, 'The Use of Dalit Culture in Dalit Literature'. 

New Voices in Postcolonial Studies: Interdisciplinary Imaginations, Critical Confrontations Symposium, University of Leeds, 13/06/2019, 'In search of a Dalit Culture: Reinterpreting Dalit History in Contemporary Contexts'

Other Research Interests

Contemporary Indian literature and film

Caste Studies

Postcolonial Literature 

Experimental Literature 

Graphic Novel Studies