In the contemporary political climate of sudden and irrational acts of discriminatory violence, a rethinking of marginalised and excluded communities and their place in national and global society is becoming increasingly necessary. The European refugee crisis, the beginning of the Trump era, the recent uprisings against the banning of Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu, the Dadri lynching in 2015 are examples and indications of deep cultural fault lines. The politicised discourse of institutional pedagogy is incapable of adequately championing the cause of marginalised people. It is in this framework that the Department of Social Exclusion Studies becomes important.
One of the few permanent departments of this sort in the country, the Department of Social Exclusion Studies of The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, offers possibilities for interdisciplinary research as well as introductory reading courses for post-graduate students. Professor Prashant Kumar Jain, part of this department since its inception in 2010, shares his views on the objective of this department. The purpose of this department is “to study the inequalities faced by marginalised communities across India, to understand the problems and issues in their lives,” he says. This department is unique in that, it critically examines the knowledge building processes and areas not covered by disciplinary constraints. This is why an interdisciplinary approach is crucial. Issues such as gender, caste, labour issues, identity politics, discrimination, religious minorities come under its broad area of study.
While other departments in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies (which includes the Departments of Literary and Cultural Studies, Film Studies and Media Studies along with the Social Exclusion Studies department) tend to focus on a reading and interpretation of text, this department has a strong focus on field work. It takes the social science approach to study the subject on the field. Contemporary research tends to accept the primacy of text over everything else. Prof. Jain, whose own work has been with communities of leather workers in Agra, disagrees: “What about the felt experience of the people?” he says.
The focus of the department is on “a non-normative vision of knowledge”. “Knowledge should lead to a transformation of society,” Prof. Jain insists. While such a transformation is impossible without the participation of the State, the discourse generated does not confine itself to the State, because its focus is on non-institutional knowledge. He cites the reports written for the government as an example of this institutionalised knowledge, dominated entirely by the economic account. “In these cases, the knowledge generation process has been confined and narrowed”. Drawing on the work of theorists such as Habermas and others from the Frankfurt School, as well as statesmen such as Dr. Ambedkar, a critical but not overtly Marxian interpretation of reality is attempted.
While this field is still growing, it would help considerably if basic social science were introduced to students at lower levels, Prof. Jain continues. “That way, they would be able to relate more to the subject”.