“We Cannot Write About Complicity Together”: Limits of Cross-Caste Collaborations in Western Academy
Grounded in a friendship that began in the academy, we write together to problematize collaborative writing across our distinct caste positionalities. Writing as caste-oppressed Pakistani Muslim settler (Patel) and dominant caste Indian settler (Da Costa), we write primarily across caste power lines to focus on the failure in our own efforts at collaborative writing. This article, initially meant to focus on our complicities in white settler colonialism in its present form, reflects on the detours we undertook to arrive at this place of certainty that “we cannot write about our complicity together.” Specifically, we reconsider some assumptions underlining prominent methodological commitments of transnational collaborative writing across uneven locations in, for, and beyond the academy. Collaborative writing has been championed for its capacity to generate dialogue across disagreements, praxis grounded in social change, a challenge to the academy’s notions of individual knowledge-production and merit, and as a means of holding people across hierarchies accountable to structures of violence that remain at work within social movements and collective struggles. Considering the contours of what Sara Ahmed (2019) calls structural “usefulness” of collaborative writing to the colonial and neoliberal academy, we use historical and life-writing approaches to make caste violence legible in order to refuse the cover that collaborative writing provides to dominant caste South Asians engaged in research with Indigenous, Black, Muslim, caste-oppressed and multiply and differentially colonized communities. Our purpose is to foreground the historical and ordinary violence of caste as it shapes North American academic relationships, intimacies, and scholarship, in order to challenge the assumption that caste-privileged South Asian scholars of postcolonial and transnational studies in western academia are best poised to collaborate with Indigenous, Black, other racialized, and Dalit scholars and actors toward a decolonial, abolitionist, and anti-casteist feminist praxis. While focusing on writing across caste lines, our analysis can also be read as offering a space to engage ethically with complexities informing collaborative projects across differential horizontal and vertical power relations informed by race, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship, north/south and other differences. In the process of writing this article, we have also paid particular attention to our citational practices.
Alexander, M. J. (2005). Pedagogies of crossing: Meditations on feminism, sexual politics, memory, and the sacred. Duke University Press.
Alexander, M. J., & Mohanty, C. T. (Eds.). (19972013). Feminist genealogies, colonial legacies, democratic futures. Routledge.
Ambedkar, B. R. (1946/2020). Who were the Shudras? How they came to be the fourth varna in the Indo-Aryan society. General Press.
Ambedkar, B. R. (1936). Annihilation of Caste. http://www.ambedkar.org/ambcd/02.Annihilation%20of%20Caste.htm (accessed June 9, 2021).
Ahmed, S. (2019). What’s the Use?: On the Uses of Use. Duke University Press.
Ahmed, S. (2012). On being included: Racism and diversity in institutional life. Duke University Press.
Arya, Sunaina. (2020). Dalit or Brahminical Patriarchy?: Rethinking Indian Feminism. CASTE: A Global Journal on Social Exclusion. vol. 1, no. 1: 217–228.
Bahadur, G. (2014). Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture. University of Chicago Press.
Bama, F. (2000). Karukku. Trans. Laksmi Holmstrom. Chennai: Macmillan.
Bannerji, H. (2000). The dark side of the nation: Essays on multiculturalism, nationalism and gender. Canadian Scholars’ Press.
Bayly, S. (2001). Caste, society and politics in India from the eighteenth century to the modern age (Vol. 3). Cambridge University Press.
Bolaria, B. S., & Li, P. S. (1988). Racial oppression in Canada. Garamond Press.
Boopalan, S. J. (2017). Memory, grief, and agency: A political theological account of wrongs and rites. Springer.
Brand, D. (2018). Theory. Penguin Random House Canada Limited.
Byrd, J. A. (2011). The transit of empire: Indigenous critiques of colonialism. U of Minnesota Press.
Chakravarti, U. (1993). Conceptualising Brahmanical patriarchy in early India: Gender, caste, class and state. Economic and Political Weekly, 579-585.
Chandra, S. (2011). Whiteness on the margins of native patriarchy: Race, caste, sexuality, and the
agenda of transnational studies. Feminist Studies, 37(1), 127-153.
Chandra, U. (2019). Primitive accumulation and primitive subjects in postcolonial India: Tracing the myriad real and virtual lives of mediatised indigeneity activism. In Media, Indigeneity and Nation in South Asia (pp. 107-121). Routledge.
Chandra, U. (2017). Marxism, postcolonial theory, and the specter of universalism. Critical Sociology, 43(4-5), 599-610.
Chandra, U. (2015a). Rethinking subaltern resistance. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 45(4), 563-573.
Chandra, U. (2015b). Adivasis and Contemporary India: Engagements with the state, non-state actors and the capitalist economy. In Routledge Handbook of Contemporary India (pp. 297-309). Routledge.
Chandra, U. (2013a). Beyond subalternity: Land, community, and the state in contemporary Jharkhand. Contemporary South Asia, 21(1), 52-61.
Chandra, U. (2013b). Beyond subalternity: Land, community, and the state in contemporary Jharkhand. Contemporary South Asia, 21(1), 52-61.
Cohen, R. (1994). A brief history of racism in immigration policies for recruiting domestics. Canadian Woman Studies, 14(2).
Da Costa, D. (2021). Brahmanical Ignorance and dominant Indian feminism’s origin stories. L. Fernandes (Ed.) Routledge Handbook of Gender in South Asia, (pp. 70-84). Routledge.
Da Costa, D. (2020). Kashmir: Memories of colonial unknowing. Digital Humanities in India. https://digitalpraxis.wordpress.com/2020/02/28/kashmir-memories-of-colonial-unknowing/
Deshpande, S. (2013). Caste and castelessness: Towards a biography of the ‘general category’. Economic and Political Weekly, 32-39.
Dhamoon, R. K. (2020). Racism as a workload and bargaining issue. Socialist Studies/Études Socialistes, 14(1).
Dirks, N. (2001). Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Delhi: Permanent Black.
Dua, E. (2000). The Hindu woman’s question: Canadian nation building and the social construction of gender for South Asian-Canadian women’. Anti-Racist feminism: Critical race and gender studies, 55-72.
Dua, E. (2003). Towards theorizing the connections between governmentality, imperialism, race, and citizenship: Indian migrants and racialisation of Canadian citizenship. Making Normal: Social Regulation in Canada. Nelson Thomson.
Fanon, F. (1963/2004). The wretched of the earth (trans. Richard Philcox). New York: Grove Press.
Gidla, S. (2017). Ants among elephants: An untouchable family and the making of modern India. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Grewal, I., & Kaplan, C. (Eds.). (1994). Scattered hegemonies: Postmodernity and transnational feminist practices. U of Minnesota Press.
Guérin, I., D’espallier, B., & Venkatasubramanian, G. (2015). The social regulation of markets: Why microcredit fails to promote jobs in rural South India. Development and Change, 46(6), 1277-1301.
Gupta, C. (2016). The Gender of Caste: Representing Dalits in Print. University of Washington Press.
Guru, G. (2002). How egalitarian are the social sciences in India?. Economic and Political Weekly, 5003-5009.
Henry, F., Dua, E., James, C. E., Kobayashi, A., Li, P., Ramos, H., & Smith, M. S. (2017). The equity myth: Racialization and indigeneity at Canadian universities. UBC Press.
Henry, F., & Tator, C. (2009). Racism in the Canadian university. University of Toronto Press.
Hernandez-Ramdwar, C. (2009). Caribbean students in the Canadian academy: We’ve come a long way?. In Racism in the Canadian university (pp. 106-127). University of Toronto Press.
Iversen, V., & Raghavendra, P. S. (2006). What the signboard hides: Food, caste and employability in small South Indian eating places. Contributions to Indian sociology, 40(3), 311-341.
Jackson, S. N. (2012). Creole indigeneity: Between myth and nation in the Caribbean. University of Minnesota Press.
Jangam, C. (2017). Dalits and the making of modern India. Oxford University Press.
Kamble, B. (2008). The prisons we broke. Orient BlackSwan.
King, T. L. (2019). The Black shoals. Duke University Press.
Lal, B. V. (1985). Kunti’s cry: Indentured women on Fiji plantations. The Indian Economic & Social History Review, 22(1), 55-71.
Lawrence, B., & Dua, E. (2005). Decolonizing antiracism. Social justice, 32(4 (102), 120-143.
Lowe, L. (2015). The intimacies of four continents. Duke University Press.
Mandal, D. (2020). Oprah Winfrey sent a book on caste to 100 US CEOs but Indians still won’t talk about it. The Print. 23 August. https://theprint.in/opinion/oprah-winfrey-wilkerson-caste-100-us-ceos-indians-wont-talk-about-it/487143/ (accessed Sept 12, 2020).
Misrahi-Barak, J., & Bhardwaj, A. (2021). Kala Pani Crossings: Revisiting 19th century Migrations from India’s Perspective. Routledge
Mohanty, C. T. (2003). “Under western eyes” revisited: Feminist solidarity through anticapitalist struggles. Signs: Journal of Women in culture and Society, 28(2), 499-535.
Moon, V. (2001) Growing up untouchable in India: A Dalit autobiography. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.
Nagar, R., & Swarr, A. L. (Eds.) (2010). Theorizing transnational feminist praxis. In Critical transnational feminist praxis (pp. 1-20). SUNY.
Oh, S. (2021). Does identity affect labor supply?. Available at SSRN 3998025.
Omvedt, G. (1994). Dalits and the democratic revolution: Dr Ambedkar and the Dalit movement in colonial India. SAGE Publications India.
Patel, S. (2016). Complicating the tale of two Indians”: Mapping ‘South Asian’ complicity in White Settler colonialism along the axis of caste and anti-blackness. Theory & event, 19(4).
Patel, S. (2019). The ‘Indian Queen’ of the four continents: tracing the ‘undifferentiated Indian’ through Europe’s encounters with Muslims, anti-Blackness, and conquest of the ‘New World’. Cultural Studies, 33(3), 414-436.
Patel, S. (2019b). Complicity talk for teaching/writing about Palestine in North American academia. Critical Ethnic Studies. http://www.criticalethnicstudiesjournal.org/blog/2019/6/3/complicity-talk-for-teachingwriting-about-palestine-in-north-american-academia
Pawar, U. (2009). The weave of my life: A Dalit woman’s memoirs. Columbia University Press.
Pereira, C. P. (1971). East Indians in Winnipeg: a study in the consequences of immigration for an ethnic group in Canada. [Master’s thesis, The University of Manitoba] Proquest Dissertations and Theses Global.
Quashie, K. (2012). The sovereignty of quiet. Rutgers University Press.
Rawat, R. S. (2011). Reconsidering Untouchability: Chamars and Dalit History in North India. Indiana University Press. Retrieved May 2013, from https://mspace.lib.umanitoba.ca/xmlui/handle/1993/3398
Rawat, R. S., & Satyanarayana, K. (2016). Dalit studies: New perspectives on Indian history and society. In R.S. Rawat & K. Satyanarayana (Eds.), Dalit Studies (pp. 1-30).
Duke University Press.
Sangtin Writers Collective & Nagar, R. (2006). Playing with fire: Feminist thought and activism
through seven lives in India. University of Minnesota Press.
Sharma, N. R. (2006). Home economics: Nationalism and the making of ’ migrant workers’ in Canada.
University of Toronto Press.
Smith, L. T., Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (Eds.). (2018). Indigenous and decolonizing studies in education:
Mapping the long view. Routledge.
Thobani, S. (2007). Exalted subjects: Studies in the making of race and nation in Canada. University of
Trumper, R., & Wong, L. (2007). Canada’s guest workers: Racialized, gendered, and flexible. Race
and Racism, 151-70.
Umar, S. (2020). The identity of language and the language of erasure. CASTE/A Global Journal on
Social Exclusion, 1(1), 175-199.
Xaxa, A. F. (2011, September, 19). I am not your data. Retrieved July 11, 2018, from https://
Copyright (c) 2022 Dia Da Costa, Shaista Patel
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License CC BY 4.0 that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter separate, additional contractual agreements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted to post their work online (e.g., in an institutional repository or on their website) after the publication of their work in the Engaged Scholar Journal.
- Please note that while every opportunity will be taken to ensure author participation in the editing process, due to time constraints final copyediting changes may be made before publication to ensure APA adherence throughout all submissions.