I had to say I didn’t know my caste as if I was upper caste: Yashica Dutt on coming out as Dalit

04 August 2019

A few days after Rohith Vemula’s death, Yashica Dutt, a journalist, penned a post on Facebook stating her decision to come out as a Dalit. Subsequently, in a story about a few adverse responses that her post received, Dutt wrote, “I am privileged to have had the opportunities I enjoyed – in education and in my professional life. But, shockingly, for some, even that failed to rescue me from discrimination.”

Dutt, a 33-year-old, worked as a fashion and culture journalist in Delhi, and then pursued a Master’s in arts and culture at Columbia University. Her autobiography Coming Out as Dalit was published in February this year. In a conversation with the journalist Bhumika Popli, Dutt recounted being ashamed of her caste as a child, the trauma that was an offshoot of hiding her identity and how she began taking pride in being Dalit.

Bhumika Popli: In your book, you wrote about how you decided not to involve yourself in discussions about caste-based reservations, because, among other things, you were wary and worried about people finding out your identity. How did you arrive at the decision to write a book that weaves together your personal struggles? What was your experience of exploring the autobiography form as a writer?
Yashica Dutt: The transition seems a bit drastic—from being super scared to now being so open with my life—but it was a full arc. It was a journey of acknowledging that there is nothing wrong with my caste.

When I started learning about identity, race and politics and how they are interconnected, especially in Columbia [in 2014–2015], I started thinking about caste a lot. I was hiding my caste for a long time. The fear of being found out was doubly painful. In Columbia, I was able to get a distance from all of that and I spoke about what I went through as a Dalit person in one classroom. There I told everybody because there were mixed-race people, [those with] mixed nationalities and mixed genders. I wasn’t worried that if somebody found out I was Dalit, I would be persecuted or discriminated against. The reactions were of shock and complete horror, and that made me realise that the life I have been living is not normal—hiding my identity was a burden that I had to carry for no fault of my own.

Bhumika Popli is a Delhi-based journalist who is currently working with The New Indian Express.

Keywords: Dalit caste discrimination Rohith Vemula books