Purchasing Power, Stolen Power, and the Limits of Capitalist Form: Dalit Capitalists and the Caste Question in the Indian Anglophone Novel
- ariel: A Review of International English Literature
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 52, Number 1, January 2021
- pp. 61-90
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Over the last ten years, a growing number of Indian Anglophone novels have featured a low-caste or Dalit protagonist who is depicted as a fraud or a con artist. Simultaneously, there has been a rise in studies that have criticized these novels for extolling neoliberal values and lacking political vision. This article analyzes one recent novel about caste—Manu Joseph's Serious Men (2011)—by situating it in the same entrepreneurial culture as the real-world self-fashioned "Dalit capitalists." "Dalit capitalism," a term coined by Dalit writer and activist Chandrabhan Prasad, refers to aspirational encounters between Dalits and the forces of global capital. With a desire to narrativize a life unmarked by caste, both the Dalit protagonist of Serious Men and the Dalit capitalists imagine power as unlinked from caste. This article positions conflicted performances of this fantasy as inherent critiques of capitalist forms. Despite their seeming political ineffectiveness, these fantasies resonate with the growing cleavage between Left and Dalit Ambedkarite politics in contemporary India.