Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822361138
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 04/29/2016
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Ramnarayan S. Rawat is Associate Professor of History at the University of Delaware and the author of Reconsidering Untouchability: Chamars and Dalit History in North India
K. Satyanarayana is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies at EFL University, Hyderabad, and the coeditor of two collections of Dalit writing from South India: From those Stubs, Steel Nibs Are Sprouting and No Alphabet in Sight.

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Dalit Studies

By Ramnarayan S. Rawat, K. Satyanarayana

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7431-2


The Indian Nation in Its Egalitarian Conception


The public imagination in India seems to be increasingly gripped with Dalit issues and concerns. This is evident in the writings of both Dalits and non-Dalits, who have focused on a variety of Dalit issues ranging from theory to poetry. Books on Dalit themes now find nominal accommodation in some of the leading publishing houses in India. Dalit issues previously did not receive much recognition from those who had complete control over the sphere of critical public inquiry, but that group has now found the issues worthy of scholarly attention. Prior to the 1990s, continuous marginalization and ghettoization implicitly suggested that the so-called Dalit question failed to attract any serious attention from the intellectual mainstream. Thus it is rather gratifying to note that Dalit studies, though previously present at various levels, are now ending this silence and have begun receiving far more serious intellectual attention from the national and international scholarly communities. However, one of the distinguishing characteristics of such writings is that they claim to have found for Dalits a clear intellectual vision and efficacious political framework within which Dalits can realize their emancipatory aspirations. According to the writings of these scholars, Indian nationalism, electoral politics, and globalization are the three sequential spaces that provide the necessary framework for the realization of a Dalit vision. Moreover, in these spaces Dalits are represented as budding nationalists with sterling qualities and triumphant modernists. The scholars who claim to have found this vision for Dalits unquestioningly accept the validity of these claims. The faith and force in their assertions leave no room for any ambiguity or confusion that Dalits may have in understanding nationalism, electoral politics, or globalization. That is, these writers suggest that nationalism, electoral politics, and globalization are the spaces that tend to clarify the Dalit vision of any kind of confusion. These are the spheres, so the writers would argue, that provide an opportunity for Dalits to acquire a generic identity as Indian nationalists. This would mean that Dalits could appear in different spheres with secular but national identities. For example, someone might argue that in the sphere of nationalism a Dalit could change from an untouchable to a citizen; or in the realm of electoral politics a Dalit could shed the culturally attributed identity of dhed and, through the dynamics of electoral power, acquire a secular identity, possibly even as head of a political institution. However, at the other end of the spectrum, there are scholars among the Dalit community who seem to have developed a new set of aspirations for their social constituency. According to these scholars, Dalits need to aspire to become consumers of commodities. In the context of globalization, such scholars would further argue, Dalits have a unique opportunity to become part of a more homogeneous social space of global consumers. Constructing Dalits in terms of enlightened consumers in the global cultural sphere pushes them beyond the boundaries of nationalism. Imagining Dalits as global consumers also contests the intellectual claim that there is a particular construction of Dalits as nationalists.

In fact, scholars tend to claim that they have discovered a space for Dalits in Indian nationalism (Badri Narayan and Charu Gupta), electoral democracy (Kanchan Chandra), and globalization (Gail Omvedt). It is interesting to note that writers who are looking for nationalists among the Dalits are taking a nonlinear route that exists outside B. R. Ambedkar's conception of nationalism and its implication for Dalits. Claiming radical intellectual agency by writing on Dalits and attesting to the presence of a nationalist space for them, the nationalist scholars' claim is at odds with the Dalit articulation of these agendas, which contests whether Dalits have any space in nationalism, electoral democracy, and globalization.

These writers, claiming originality for their discovery of Dalits as nationalists, seem to be arguing that scholarship on Indian nationalism has neglected the role played by the Dalits in India's struggle for independence. It is fine if they criticize mainstream writing about the history of nationalism for its failure to recognize the contribution that the Dalits have made to India's freedom. One might even see some merit in writings that can claim to have led to recognition for Dalits as nationalist. However, in claiming to have recovered the Dalits as nationalist subjects, they seem to be suggesting that nationalism is the only sphere that can help Dalits gain some importance in the life of the nation. The writers also suggest that it is this historical recovery of the Dalits as nationalist subjects that give them a good reason to feel associated with Indian nationalism. Indeed, the claim to have delivered justice to Dalits by writing about their contribution to nationalist history also speaks of an ideological distance between the scholars and the passive objects of their historical narrative. Furthermore, such efforts end up insulating the idea of nationalism from the point of view of its Dalit critique. It seems that these scholars fail to detect the obvious contradiction associated with this recovery: that it makes nationalism a discursive space containing intersecting purposes and tendencies. For example, nationalism becomes available to different social forces for mutually exclusive purposes. The industrial classes had an interest in nationalism because it was expected to help them acquire benefits without any colonial constraints. On the one hand, workers put faith in nationalism for the reason that it would help them to gain a better deal from the industrialists. On the other hand, the Hindutva forces (right-wing Hindu organizations) had a stake in nationalism because it was expected to help Hinduize India. Naturally, the minorities and the "lower castes" were skeptical about nationalism because they rightly assumed that it would bring back the dominance of the upper-caste Hindus. Finally, I would like to argue that these scholars fail to subject the normative strength of concepts like nationalism to rigorous epistemological and methodological scrutiny. As a result, they end up producing the kind of writing that they sought to critique in the first place. To use the category of exclusion or silence as a rhetorical device or tool for critiquing mainstream historical writing is one thing, but interpreting people's perceptions and using them to uphold the value of a concept (in the present case, nationalism) is quite another thing.

But I believe that there exists a fundamental contradiction between Dalits' existential place, their segregated dwellings and obnoxious occupations like rag picking and scavenging, and nationalist spaces both symbolic (the national flag) and material (parliament buildings and big dams). The Indian state that gives concrete meaning to nationalism by transforming the existential conditions of the people on the margins has not been able to effectively resolve this contradiction. Similarly, electoral democracy and globalization have not been able to address it. For example, electoral democracy has not been able to create a positive sense of citizenship among the Dalits. In fact, they feel as if they are the passive recipients of fringe benefits that trickle down from this kind of democracy. Globalization also has not led to any structural transformation in the lives of the Dalits, many of whom continue to lead degraded lives in the villages and urban slums. According to Ambedkar, India as a modern nation no doubt attempts to organize society based on egalitarian principles, but it is helpless to enforce these principles as a part of social practice. The modern nation vehemently asserts its geographical boundaries without dissolving the pernicious boundaries that exist between, for example, the main village and the Dalit vadas (quarters or neighborhoods). National boundaries invoke respect and pride, while the boundaries that divide society perpetuate a deep sense of contempt for the Dalit vadas. Ambedkar argued that in India there are two nations: Puruskrut Bharat (ideal, pure India) and Bahiskrut Bharat (actual, polluting India). Ambedkar articulated many of his ideas relating to the two Indias in the fortnightly newspaper, Bahiskrut Bharat which he started in 1924. According to Ambedkar, the Puruskrut Bharat represents the twice-born castes who are spatially, socially, and culturally different from the Bahiskrut Bharat, the untouchables who occupy separate spatial and cultural spaces. He proposed an alternative idea of the nation, which he called Prabuddha Bharat (enlightened and inclusive India). Jotirao Phule, the nineteenth-century non-Brahman thinker, imagines the Indian nation in terms of the mythical King Bali who was the most egalitarian peasant ruler but was portrayed as a demon in Brahmanical narratives. These portrayals suggest that any subjective imagination of the nation that does not talk of the existence of two nations — the Puruskrut and the Bahiskrut Bharats — necessarily involves an acceptance of nationalist rhetoric of equality and unity. In the context of this reading of nationalism by both Phule and Ambedkar, it is important to examine whether the scholarship on nationalism shows any sensitivity to, or sense of urgency about recognizing and interrogating, this spatial and ideological contradiction between Puruskrut and Bahiskrut Bharats.

Ambedkar's conception of the Indian nation consisting of Puruskrut and Bahiskrut Bharats helps us comprehend the riddle of nationalism and its ideological framework — which makes a rhetorical claim for social equality but sustains the spatial practices of exclusion. It also helps us question the recent efforts by radical Indian scholars to include Dalits into the nationalist narrative of the 1857 rebellion. In addition, this ideological formulation provides us with a valuable resource to explain why some Dalit writers find the idea of nation deeply problematic, while others do not. This is one of the main issues that I would like to address in the first half of this essay. In the second half I would like to draw on a set of writers — both Dalit and non-Dalit — who, I would like to argue, knowingly or unknowingly gloss over the Ambedkarite critique of the dominant conception of India that is internal to Dalit politics, including politics in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is democratic politics that provides a necessary foundation for the concrete realization of nationalism. A sense of belonging to the nation emerges from the thick socially interactive and democratically associational life of the different classes that inhabit the nation. Democratic politics is supposed to forge these bonds and overcome internal divisions. It is also expected to generate equal self-worth among the citizens, who can then participate in all the issues that are nationally important. It is supposed to help Dalits gain value because they are not passive recipients of the dominant classes' commands, but possess the moral as well as the political capacity to force others to take them seriously on matters that have a bearing on the national interests. Indian scholars sense that the Dalits matter in the national life due to their participation in the deliberative processes of the democracy. If they are not considered — or do not consider themselves — to be part of these processes, then they do not feel that they are part of the nation. The nation can forget them, and they can forget the nation.

How much do the Dalits matter in terms of the nationalist questions that are debated in the deliberative processes? Dalits should participate because of their capacity to contribute, and in the process they could develop further democratic practices. Through associational life they could also demonstrate their moral ability to produce normative values like friendship, love, and equality that would help the nation acquire a decent reputation. Sarvajan — the ideal model of inclusion referring to the equality of all individuals without caste barriers, used by the Dalit political party, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) — must be evaluated against the normative need to engage in honest conversations about the intention to use this concept. Founded in 1984, the BSP fashioned itself as exclusively a party of Dalit-Bahujan — literally, "the oppressed majority," or the Dalits, tribal people, members of "lower castes," and Muslims — which had enabled the party to acquire political power, but only through coalitions with other parties. Ideological commitment to Dalit-Bahujan necessarily limited the BSP's electoral base and political possibilities. The party became more ambitious in the electoral and political arena, seeking to represent all Indians, which led it to become more national in its character. In 2007 the BSP consciously shifted its ideological agenda from Dalit-Bahujan to sarvajan, to build political and electoral alliances. Diluting its ethical commitment to fighting on behalf of Dalit-Bahujan, the BSP's appropriation of the sarvajan model enabled ideologically opposed groups to form political alliances. The ideal of sarvajan should be separated from its instrumental value. The Brahmans in Uttar Pradesh have supported the BSP not because of their commitment to equality or opposition to untouchability but purely out of self-interest — to oust a "lower-caste" political party, the Samajwadi Party, from political power because it was viewed as anti-Brahman. Furthermore, as longtime supporters of the right-wing Hindu political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, they were acutely aware that it is no longer capable of winning elections in Uttar Pradesh. Hence, the Brahmans who provided electoral backing to the Dalits found the ideal of sarvajan useful.

One needs to develop the critique of the BSP's sarvajan model of politics which disregards caste domination and oppression. As a Dalit political party, the BSP relies on the moral legitimacy of Dalit struggles but also ignores it for the sake of caste Hindus votes. The sarvajan model will only produce unethical norms and support hierarchical societal norms. The Dalit politicians focus their attention only on the existential question, seeking to win elections to remain relevant in the narrow sphere of state politics. Therefore I intend to look at Dalit politics in general and the BSP's politics in Uttar Pradesh in particular to detect the contradictions within two formations. In this sense, identifying the paradoxes between the two can be a useful and enabling resource for Dalit politics, offering possibilities of emancipation.

AS I said above, I will begin by discussing to what extent the element of paradox is inherent in the idea of India. The privileging of Puruskrut and Bahiskrut Bharat is built around the notion of hierarchy that is spatially and socially regulated. The exclusionary nature of nationalism is rooted in the simultaneous hypothetical elevation of people and their real reduction to insignificance. That is, the discourse of nationalism constructs the people as an abstract category. It demands the people's complete allegiance to nationalist interests, which in turn seek to subordinate people's existential questions to nationalist questions. Even the question of social emancipation for Dalits through the annihilation of caste has to wait for the resolution of the nationalist concerns like the fight against colonialism. This totalizing reason makes nation a god, and people are expected to worship this nation. This devotional mode suggests that the nation is something that is not the embodiment of the people; rather, it stands outside them as a godlike entity. Thus, it is through the nation that people are expected to feel elevated; however symbolic this elevation may be. "Mera bharat mahan" (my India is great) — this slogan, which has become popular in India and is frequently used in the mass media, indicates the elevation of people in the devotional mode to the nation, but only at the abstract level. Through their devotion and nationalist rhetoric, people virtually write the hagiography of the nation. In this regard, it is interesting to note that several nationalist leaders and thinkers have actually written hagiographies of India. The foremost among them is that of Jawaharlal Nehru. This idealization of India is clearly evident in his seminal work, The Discovery of India. The idealization of nationalism was justified because of the normative promises of democracy, freedom, fraternity, and dignity that it held out to people during the struggle for freedom. But these promises came to fruition only for the members of Puruskrut Bharat. For the members of Bahiskrut Bharat, the vast majority of the Indian population, the promises remained unfulfilled. This glorified concept of the nation was deployed to attract the devotion — and thus the political support — of those who remained marginalized with respect to access to the promised rights and freedoms.


Excerpted from Dalit Studies by Ramnarayan S. Rawat, K. Satyanarayana. Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction. Dalit Studies: New Perspectives on Indian History and Society / Ramnarayan S. Rawat and K. Satyanarayana  1

1. The Indian Nation in Its Egalitarian Conception / Gopul Guru  31

Part I. Probing the Historical

2. Colonial Archive versus Colonial Sociology: Writing Dalit History / Ramnarayan S. Rawat  53

3. Social Space, Civil Society, and Dalit Agency in Twentieth-Century Kerala / P. Sanal Mohan  74

4.  Dilemmas of Dalit Agendas: Political Subjugation and Self-Emancipation in Telugu Country, 1910-50 / Chinnaiah Jangam  104

5. Making Sense of Dalit Sikh History / Raj Kumar Hans  131

Part II. Probiing the Present

6. The Dalit Reconfiguration of Modernity: Citizens and Castes in the Telugu Public Sphere / K. Satyanarayana  155

7. Questions of Representation in Dalit Critical Discourse: Premchand and Dalit Feminism / Laura Brueck  180

8. Social Justice and the Question of Categorization of Scheduled Caste Reservations: The Dandora Debate in Andhra Pradesh / Sambaiah Gundimeda  202

9. Caste and Class among the Dalits / D. Shyam Babu  233

10. From Zaat to Qaum: Fluid Contours of the Ravi Dasi Indentity in Punjab / Surinder S. Jodhka  248

Bibliography  271

Contributors  293

Index  295

What People are Saying About This

Small Town Capitalism in Western India - Douglas E. Haynes

"This book provides a series of empirically rich and provocative essays on Dalit history, politics, and religion, mostly on subject matters about which little is known. The introduction is a tour de force, calling into question dominant interpretations of South Asian society and history, and offering compelling new counterperspectives. This volume will be invaluable to scholars and students interested in Dalit studies and is a must-read for anyone involved in teaching or doing research in modern South Asia."

Barbara D. Savage

"Dalit Studies presents exciting new scholarship that makes for a powerful introduction to the Dalit struggle against injustices in modern India. Arguing for a contemporary global history that places practices of exclusion based on caste or color at its center, this volume invokes insightful comparisons between Dalit battles and African American campaigns for civil rights."

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