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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jul-18 > Songs of themselves

Songs of themselves

A wonderful memoir exposes the reality of the Indian caste system, finds Gaiutra Bahadur
Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India by Sujatha Gidla (Daunt Books, £14.99)

As a graduate student newly arrived in the United States in 1990, Sujatha Gidla told a man at a bar that she was untouchable. His flirtatious response—”Oh, but you’re so touchable”—captures the steep contrast between life as a Dalit in India and life as a South Asian woman in the US. (Dalit, which means “ground down” or “oppressed,” has replaced untouchable as the term for a lower-caste person.)

Early in her remarkable family memoir, Ants Among Elephants, Gidla executes a shift in perspective just as sharp as her move from oppression in India to desirability in America. She begins by using the first person, with immediacy and warmth, but soon switches to the distancing third person to describe the sufferings of her family, caste and community in India. She swaps “I” for “Sujatha” or “Suja”—a change which speaks eloquently to the divided sense of self that persistent discrimination produces.

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In Prospect's July issue: Editor of Prospect Tom Clark tackles the major fault lines developing in the Conservative Party over Brexit, arguing that the issue could be one of those few occasions where the Tories can’t overcome a significant challenge. Alongside his lead essay, Andrew Gamble, professor of politics at the University of Sheffield, examines why many European parties on the right are struggling and why the continent should be worried. Conservative MP Lee Rowley charts what some of the policy areas that the Tories will have to deal with beyond Brexit if they are to get it right. Elsewhere in the issue: Nabeelah Jaffer tries to answer one of the most difficult questions of our time: how do you de-radicalise an extremist. Using examples from both the UK and Denmark, she argues that the UK model needs more work to be effective; Philip Collins asks why Britain’s towns have fallen by the wayside while its cities have thrived; and Sam Tanenhaus profiles “the real deal-maker” in Donald Trump’s White House, Mike Pompeo, after the Secretary of State oversaw the US-North Korea summit.
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