Marginalized communities, by definition, refer to those who have been exempt from public discourse for countless generations. India has maintained a long history of keeping the voices of women, queer and trans folks, Dalits and Adivasis among others at bay. A lion’s share of this negligence rests upon the mainstream media houses in our country.
News reporters are known to cover atrocities against Dalits or Adivasis in remote villages but will not call it a national story.
A report published by Oxfam India in 2022 uncovered how out of 218 surveyed leadership positions in major print, TV and digital media outlets, 191 were conferred upon people from general caste groups or 'savarnas'.
The findings of this report paint a dismal picture of how casteism is still seen as an affliction of the underdeveloped and rural corners of our country while Brahminical domination existing within mainstream urban spaces is willingly overlooked in favour of regional or communal issues.
Popular TV shows, movies, visual art and literary fiction have followed a very similar motif until a recent wave broke upon our shores in the form of South Asian futurism. We are teetering upon the brink of an inclusive movement that has enveloped new potentialities celebrating feminism, subaltern communities, Dalits, queer people, Muslims and other marginalized groups.
‘Subaltern’, for the uninitiated, is a term that describes people belonging to underprivileged social classes often displaced as a result of imperialist colonialism. Be they Osheen Siva’s murals or Vishal Kumaraswamy’s audio-visual art, the creations of futurism dismantle the utopian illusion of homogeneity and caste blindness perpetuated by Hindu nationalists and savarna intellectuals.
Dalit and subaltern futurism strives to redefine the grand scheme of the universe wherein oppressed social groups are often relegated to the bottom of the power pyramid.
An interesting offshoot of this movement manifests itself in science and speculative fiction.
Born in Kolkata but today based out of New York, Mimi Mondal is a Hugo- and Nebula Award-nominated writer of science and fantasy fiction, known for weaving stories around characters she grew up around — “rural, lower-caste people from India who don’t often get written in stories as anything but the miserable other.”
In pieces like The Trees of My Youth Grew Tall and So It Was Foretold, Mimi expresses her resistance to depicting Dalit individuals as powerless entities and refuses to let the stories of her ancestors die untold.
Mimi’s blog captures the emotional drive of her stories better than any critic:
Vauhini Vara, Malini Seshadri, and Samit Basu are among the few other authors who have staked their claims upon this subaltern, futurist realm.
Very much like the intergalactic beings, cyborgs and other mythical creatures you will find in their stories, women of color and those belonging to Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi communities have been compelled to evolve a new grammar and resilience of spirit to navigate the alienation perpetrated by their oppressors.
The genres of science and speculative fiction have served to liberate these writers by helping them conjure up a parallel universe where they can reinvent themselves and heal from the trauma inflicted by the Brahmanical patriarchy of several generations.
Mimi’s brand of futurism inhabits a twilight zone where Dalits and women from the South Asian diaspora are disported from the colonialist narrative of their inherited oppression.
Subaltern futurism embodies an emotional cleansing for marginalized communities to reach a plane where freedom and harmony are achievable. Where they can leave behind the pain they have nursed for so long.