Written in the backdrop of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, the book offers an account of the emerging Dalit identity and politics in contemporary India. The book has been written with an activistís perspective and is addressed primarily to those directly involved with political mobilisations of the Dalits or those who are sympathetic to their cause.
Prakash Louis begins with the assertion that though many changes have indeed come about in the older structures of caste hierarchy, large masses of the Dalits continue to live in misery and experience caste oppression even today. In some ways, the violence perpetrated on them has grown.
Discrimination against the Dalits assumes diverse forms. The proportion of the Dalits owning agricultural land, for example, is much less than other groups. They are less educated and the number of those in positions of power and influence among them is much less than their numbers in the total population.
Apart from their marginal position in socio-political and economic sphere, they also continue to encounter strong prejudice. The five decades of Independence and democratic experience seem to have made little difference to "the culture of inequality" that comes with the caste system.
Based on several workshops that the author conducted on the subject in six different states of north India, he found that the dominant castes continued to perceive the Dalits as being "dirty", "cunning", "lazy and good for nothing", "dishonest" and with "loose morals". On the contrary, the self-perceptions of the Dalits were just the opposite. They viewed themselves as "honest", "hardworking", "sensitive" and "talented". A full chapter of the book has been devoted to the examination of various provisions in the Constitution dealing with the Dalits rights and affirmative action for their development. While some of these provisions have been part of the Constitution right from its inception, many more were added later.
Though the direct impact of these provisions has been limited, they have played an important role in making the Dalits aware of their rights. It is in this context that one should view the rise of the Dalit identity and growing assertion among them. Assertion is not merely a case of protest. It is about making a positive statement for recognition, about claiming oneís rights.