Deviant Sexuality and the Struggle for Survival: Investigating Caste-Based Sexual Labor and Everyday Living of Tamasgirs (Folk Performers) in Maharashtra

Friday, January 4, 2013: 2:50 PM
Preservation Hall, Studio 7 (New Orleans Marriott)
Shailaja D. Paik, University of Cincinnati
Vithabai recorded:

Laaj dhara pavana janachi manachi

Potasathi nachatey mee parva kunachi

(O guest maintain your dignity for others as well as for your self. I am dancing to fill my stomach; I do not care for anybody else)

Over the past three decades there has been an increasing academic interest in the field of popular culture and cultural studies. However, in the Indian context there is little study about the popular practices of caste-based cultural forms and sexual labor. Most significantly, scholars have yet to investigate Dalit and low-caste art, aesthetics, and culture as they contrast with other “classical” art forms. Some bourgeois forms of art, literature, and entertainment have historically marginalized Dalit cultural forms. Further, since the early twentieth century although Dalit radicals celebrated the jalsa (folk drama) they also sought to restrict the immoral lives of muralis (devadasi) and tamasgirs in Maharashtra because the women represented their “backwardness.” Yet, tamasha has been “sanitized” for middle-class consumption in post-colonial Maharashtra. By drawing upon archival sources, biographies, and oral interviews with leading Dalit tamasgir women my paper examines their everyday living to uncover the intimate relations between Dalit women artistes’ deviant sexuality, labor, their struggles for survival and the community’s social, cultural, and political battles. I argue that popular cultural practices are sites on which lower castes have waged their social, cultural, and political struggles against dominant castes and the state; yet, they are also intimately linked to Dalit tamasgirs’ struggles for survival.  As such, I explore the migratory lifestyles of tamasgirs, their thirst for education, caste and gender oppression, as well as agency and activism.