South Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer and Chair: Eleanor Zelliot, Carleton College
Discussant: Lelah Dushkin, Kansas State University
The riots last summer in Maharashtra and Gujarat over the insult to the statue of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in the slums of Bombay have brought his name and the new "Dalit" (oppressed) to the front pages of American newspapers. At the same time, a number of new scholars have emerged to try new approaches to the phenomenon of the Dalit movement, and older scholars as well find new facts of the movement to study. The first of the back-to-back panels includes an analysis of the way in which Ambedkars image as well as his writing and his life history have taken on new meaning in India; a study of the fine art which has emerged from the movement among artists who are themselves Dalit and who most often try to express themes relevant to Dalit life; the first scholarly study of the Bahujan Samaj Party, the political group which has made history by placing a Dalit woman in the chief ministers chair of the largest state in India; and a study of the Dalit woman writer whose work is included in college curricula and whose presence is often sought in conferences on writing or on social matters.
Eleanor Zelliot, Carleton College
In the past few years, Dr. B. R. (Babasaheb) Ambedkar has become a figure better known in wider areas of India than during his own lifetime (18911956). In Tamilnadu, where he had little direct contact, his statue is placed on land reclaimed for Dalit owners. In Gujarat and Karnataka, damage to his image is cause for rioting. Clearly he is a symbol for many all over India. On the other hand, Ambedkar chairs have been established at a number of universities, and Ambedkar Institutes flourish in, among other places, Orissa. Scholars still argue about the comparative effectiveness of the views of Gandhi and Ambedkar on the eradication of untouchability; politicians come down hard on one side or the other. His works are reprinted in India and are being translated into French. Is symbol or substance more important? What does he now represent?
Gary Tartakov, Iowa State University
One of the more distinctive aspects of the Indian art scene today is the presence of what is known as Dalit art, the art of the Oppressed. Sometimes taken to mean specifically those formerly called untouchables, Dalit is also used more generally to refer to all those at the bottom of the Indian social and economic order. In the world of Indias vernacular languages Dalit writing is recognized as the most fertile and distinctive movement since Independence. So it is not too surprising, from an esthetic point of view, to find that there are Dalit painters and printmakers.
The range of Dalit painting and the issues of such a class-based art, of the lowest classes produced in the media of the highest classes, can be seen in the work of five unique artists working around the country today: John Devaraj in Bangalore, Dilip Bade of Aurangabad, P. B. Ramteke of Nagpur, Tuka Jadav of Mumbai, and Savi Savarkar, a Delhi painter with an international reach.
Mathew N. Schmalz, University of Chicago
Drawing upon original ethnographic research, this paper examines the candidacy of "Veronica," a Christian woman from a scheduled caste, for the position of Block Chief (Pramukh) in a rural district of Eastern Uttar Pradesh in 199596. The paper diagrams Veronicas negotiations with the political forces that attempt to co-opt or undermine her candidacy: the contending efforts of the Communist and Socialist Parties to win her allegiance through financial incentives and legal threats, and attempts by the dominant landowning caste, aligned with the Congress (I) party, to intimidate her into withdrawing from the campaign. The election itself takes place within the broader framework of the rise of schedule caste political power in Uttar Pradesh with the growing influence of the Bahujan Samaj Party. In reflecting upon Veronicas candidacy and eventual defeat, the paper considers the contemporary context of Dalit political action and the social forces that define both caste and gender in North India.
Veena Deo, Hamline University
The best known Dalit woman prose writer, Urmilla Pawar, has two volumes of short stories, a historical study on women in Ambedkars movement, and a travel narrative to her credit. As a feminist and a modern woman living and working in Bombay, her voice has been significant in exploring the inner yearnings of Maharashtrian women and the vagaries of social practices and the circumstances that shape their lives.
This paper focuses on this emergent Dalit voice which negotiates odd spaces where gender, caste/class intersect in the context of the modern urban setting for the persona of the modern working woman. In the process of this emergence, what becomes clear is that this voice occupies a space that is often contradictory, conflicting, anxiety provoking, complex but also courageous in defining the parameters of this space.