Duke University Conference Compares Discrimination in U.S., India

A conference April 3-5 at Duke University will compare the experiences of African Americans with those of Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, and other tribal groups in India. The conference, “Subaltern Peoples: Comparative Experience of African Americans, Dalits & Tribals,” takes place all three days in Room 115 of the Friedl Building on the university’s East Campus.

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. To register or for more information, call (919) 681-6018, or email giri@duke.edu.

William A. Darity Jr, chair of Duke’s African and African American Studies department and conference co-organizer, describes subaltern people as “those who are subjected to stigmatization, discrimination and exclusion from their respective society's preferred positions.” Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, are historically discriminated against as outcasts. They can be found in South Asian countries including India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The capstone conference for the Global Inequality Research Initiative (GIRI) begins Thursday with a 6:30 p.m. town hall forum on affirmative action. India instituted an affirmative policy of reservation, similar to the U.S. version of affirmative action, after its independence in 1947.

“There is an extended history of comparison of the position of the most marginalized communities in India, the dalit and tribal populations, with the most marginalized community in the United States, black Americans,” said Darity.

“This will be the first major convening that will bring the skills of scholars in the social sciences and humanities together to systematically examine the parallels and differences anchored in cleavages of race and caste respectively. The policies pursued to address these group-based inequalities have been strikingly similar in the U.S. and India,” he said.

On Friday and Saturday, panels will present research on themes such as health, the arts, education policy, economic development and women.

The conference will feature scholars from the Indian Institute of Management, the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, the National Council of Applied Economic Research, Jawaharlal Nehru University, IGNOU The Peoples University, the Delhi School of Economics and the National Law School of India. Scholars from several of U.S. institutes including the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations & Social Justice, the University of Minnesota and Bennett College, will also provide remarks.

“The objective of GIRI is to become a clearinghouse for the best available data and research on group-based inequality and for innovative policies to remedy the disparities,” said Rhonda Sharpe, GIRI director and an economics professor. “Our research projects offer opportunities to collaborate with international and U.S. scholars as well as other colleges and universities to explore the complexities of global inequality.”