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Reliving the past, re-writing History: Narratives of Young Dalit teachers in Delhi government schools

Two recent historical processes, the democratisation of politics (Yadav, 1996) and its subsequent communalisation (Vanaik, 1997), have fundamentally re-defined the nature and scope of history-writing and its teaching in India. While the one historical force has sought to make history and its teaching more representative by including the Dalit-Bahujan and working-class narratives into its mainstream fold, the other has demanded for the continuation of a form of Hindutva-Brahminical-patriarchal history, which has historically denied any significant role to the ‘depressed classes’ in the intellectual, philosophical and socio-political spheres of India’s past. The continuing dominance of right-wing politics in India has made these fault-lines even more visible by turning educational spaces as sites for their cultural politics. In this context, this paper attempts to revisit Ambedkar's question of Who Were the Shudras? How They Came To Be The Fourth Varna in the Indo-Aryan Society through the eyes of four young Dalit woman teachers in India and examines how these teachers, often pitted against a system which is deeply embedded in the dominant historical narratives and practices, negotiate and re-negotiate the boundaries of caste and gender in their classrooms. From contemporary events to their own lived experiences, these teachers use different strategies to navigate through the complex identities in their multi-cultural classroom settings. Using a mix of open-ended interviews, classroom observations and autobiographical accounts, this paper explores the daily struggles of these teachers and shows how they often take recourse to their past experiences to show students how they might understand their position as partly constructed within a dominant historical process and how power and authority relate to the wider society as well as to the classroom. Using theoretical frameworks proposed by Freire, Bourdieu, and Giroux, this paper analyses the curricular and pedagogical innovations of these teachers and explores the processes through which these teachers resist the acts which tend to relegate them to mere instrumental tasks that limit the possibilities for oppositional discourse and social practices. Through the synthesis of personal and political, these teachers transform the classroom practices so that the analysis of different, and often antagonistic social relations, and experiences among the students from dominant and subordinate cultures is made possible.