Environmental Racism and Environmental Casteism: A Reading of African American and Indian Dalit Literature

deadline for submissions: 
December 20, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Shubhanku Kochar (Ph.D.) and Parveen Kumari (Ph.D.)

Environmental Racism and Environmental Casteism: A Reading of African American and Indian Dalit Literature

--Note:  Springer has shown interest in publishing this book 

Environmental injustice or Environmental discrimination or Environmental inequality occurs when a certain powerful and dominant group of people has a hold of environmental resources and the marginalized community is deliberately left to live on the leftovers or scarcity. This scarcity is a marker of the status of the marginalized groups/communities in the world. Nature never discriminates among its individuals because of race, caste, creed, class, gender, skin color, etc. However, power politics in the ‘world-society’ set-up leads to injustice and inequality of resources. The articulation of environmental injustice finds its articulation in literary spaces which forms an imperative focus of the various organizations and institutions and thus cannot be ignored. The present work explores and investigates the expression and articulation of environmental inequality in literature in the context of environmental racism and environmental casteism. Environmental racism and environmental casteism is a form of ‘institutional discrimination’ which leads to the domination of white/upper castes on the environmental resources and disposal of harmful waste in communities of colour and low castes.

Everyone has the right to enjoy the bounties of nature. One should not be distanced from fresh water and air because of skin colour, race, caste, class, gender or creed. Every government must take care of the basic needs of the citizens without being biased. Unfortunately, since they arrived in the New World, blacks have not only been exposed to political and social exclusion but also to environmental threats. Racist policies of the dominant white society ensured that blacks stayed in vulnerable neighbourhoods and localities from slavery till the present. On the other hand, whites have been enjoying more healthy and clean surroundings thereby giving birth to the idea of white being clean and black being dirty, as Carl Zimring puts it. Subsequently, blacks succumb to diseases, death, and disintegration, both physically and psychologically. After the enactment of civil rights, one comes across a new agitation rampant in American streets. This movement was largely organized by blacks along with other marginalized groups such as native Indians, Hispanics, and Asian Americans. These groups were demanding Environmental Justice. They argued that white America had not treated them well. Their neighbourhoods were converted into junkyards of industrial waste; consequently, their existence was at stake. They were fighting for political representation so that they could decide their fate. The protest aimed to stop the dumping of industrial waste due to which they and their children had become vulnerable to diseases and death.

African American writers demonstrate through their writings blacks struggle for the basic amenities of life which were not possible because of dirty and unhygienic environment. They, at times covertly and at other times overtly, demand and plead for Environmental Justice for their characters, thereby for the entire black community. They highlight how blacks thrive physically, materially, and spiritually once their vicinity is changed to a neat and clean surrounding.

The environmental movements that are popular at present are mostly Eurocentric and/or dominated by the concerns of whites. All the major environmental movements have somewhat marginalized the communities and people on the fringes of society, like blacks, Hispanics, and other ethnic groups, by focusing only on the mainstream Western culture. In recent times, there has been an attempt to provide a counter-narrative to Eurocentric environmental movements by writers and researchers like Carl Zimring, Robert Bullard, Luke Cole and Sheila Foster, Carolyn Finney, Dorceta Taylor, Harriet Washington, etc. Similarly, African American writers like Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Ishmael Reed, Fredric Doughlas, Alex Haley, etc., have also challenged the mainstream environmental movements through their writing—by unveiling the acts of environmental racism perpetrated against black communities. 

Dalits in India form the most neglected and marginalized section in India because of ‘casteism’ and ‘caste system’. ‘Dalit’ is a Sanskrit word which means crushed, broken, oppressed, etc.  It is a self-adopted term by the scheduled castes of India as this marginalized section of Indian society feels that terms like ‘Ati[1]Shudra’, ‘Scheduled Castes’ or ‘depressed classes,’ etc., connote ‘derogation’. According to Sukhadeo Thorat, the problem of Dalits is socio-cultural-political as: “they occupy a low position in the Hindu social structure; their representation in government services is inadequate; they are inadequately represented in the fields of trade, commerce and industry; they suffer from social and physical isolation from the rest of the community, and there is general lack of education development amongst the major section of this community” (Dalits in India 2). However, this social, cultural, and political marginalization forms an undeniable link with environmental casteism. Manual scavenging, cleaning the dirt and menial jobs are forced on Dalits due to caste divisions. Access to natural resources such as clean air, clean water, healthy living, etc., is denied to them which results in environmental casteism. Hence, the issue of Dalits is socio-cultural-political-ecological in nature. Many Dalits writers like Baby Kamble, Urmila Pawar, Bama, Viramma, Om Prakash Valmiki, Balbir Madhopuri, Sharankumar Limbale, Kancha Illaiah, Daya Pawar, Jyoti Lanjewar, Hira Bansode, etc., in their writings, have represented the Dalits’ socio-ecological derogation and lived experiences of discrimination because of environmental casteism. Many prominent Dalit leaders and reformers like Jyotirao Phule, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Periyar, etc., have found that caste ideology and caste structures give rise to environmental casteism and domination by the few. They worked towards better living conditions for Dalits persistently and relentlessly. Many critics like Joel Lee, Mukul Sharma, etc., have affirmed that Indian environmental movements and academic environmental histories are dominated by mainstream and are fixed in casteism which has overlooked the unfair distribution of natural resources. This results in environmental casteism faced by Dalits unaddressed both in literary as well as public discourse.


 The edited book will be divided into two parts:

Part one will have the following sub-categories (The possible topics might include but are not limited to)

  • African American environmentalism
  • African American aesthetics and the environment
  • Environment as African American solace
  • African Americans and environmental injustice
  • African Americans and the environmental crisis
  • African American identity and the environment
  • African Americans and eco-racism
  • African American poverty and the environment
  • African Americans, religion, and the environment
  • African Americans, culture, and the environment
  • African Americans and democratization of environmental resources
  • African American leaders’ legacy and the environment
  • African American women and the environment

Part two will have the following sub-categories (The possible topics might include but are not limited to):

  • Dalit environmentalism
  • Dalit aesthetics and the environment
  • Environment as Dalit solace
  • Dalits and environmental injustice
  • Dalits and the environmental crisis
  • Dalit identity and the environment
  • Dalits and eco-casteism
  • Dalit poverty and the environment
  • Dalits, religion, and the environment
  • Dalits, culture, and the environment
  • Dalits and democratization of environmental resources
  • Dalits leaders’ legacy and the environment
  • Dalit women and the environment

 The book aims to chart out the literary discourse around the sub-themes. Therefore, all these sub-themes are to be addressed through literature.

The work will be an edited book. Writers and activists, scholars, and academicians are invited to contribute their papers/articles for the project.

Abstracts (250-300 words) in English with a short bio note (50 words) as a Word document or pdf must be emailed to: shubhankukochar@outlook.com, by December 20, 2023.


The date has been extended to December 20, 2023



  1. 1.      Name : Shubhanku Kochar (Ph. D)

Affiliation: Department of English, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Dwarka, India.


  1. 2.       Name : Parveen Kumari (Ph.D)
    Affiliation: Department of English, Central University of Jammu, Jammu, India.