Bootstrap Astronauts

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ANATOLE BROYARD, the New York Times’ legendary literary critic denied his black heritage almost to his deathbed. His is one of the most discussed and perhaps most successful efforts at ‘passing’. It inspired books, essays, even perhaps the germ of Philip Roth’s plot for The Human Stain. Broyard hinted at the pain of his double life in a 1979 essay. “I thought that people stared at us, and my face grew hot. At any moment, I expected my father and mother to expose their tribal rites, their eccentric anthropology, to the gape of strangers. Anyone who saw me with my family knew too much about me.”

Across the world, three decades later, 34-year-old Delhi lawyer and queer activist Sumit Baudh writes about refusing to ‘pass’ in National Law School: “My parents never told me. From their experience of being identified as dalit and being constantly picked on and humiliated, perhaps they thought it better not to tell me. My parents gave me a fictitious surname, Nimbekar, to be able to pass off as a caste Hindu. My parents never even applied for a Scheduled Caste certificate for me, keeping me from a range of reservation benefits in education and in employment. Thus, I remained a closet dalit all through school and college. I came out as a dalit when I was 18.”

Baudh is among countless young people who display a teflon resistance to daily barbs and ritual humiliations. They have claimed their right to intellectual and creative obsessions. Interested in more than electoral politics and the reservation debate, they have happily and energetically plunged into the lifelong task of mapping success for other young dalits. Baudh is among those who in their expectations of themselves and others, encourage pride in being dalit. These are the stories of some of them.

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