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Dalits (ex-untouchables) in Tamil Nadu, as in many other places of India, have historically resided in cheris or settlements set apart from the village or oor. Cheris often lack amenities like schools, ration shops, health centers or panchayat buildings and are set off the main road down poorly lit and surfaced roads, revealing the significance of space and the spatiality of social relations to the caste system. As Dalits in Tamil Nadu have mobilized politically, they have challenged the hierarchical nature of social space in the face of much backlash, seeking to create meaningful public spaces that are open to, and representative of, all castes. This article concerns the Dalit contestations over space and the wider ramifications of such struggles in the sociopolitical sphere, and argues that the process of democratization requires alterations to social and well as political spaces and institutions.
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