South Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer: Eleanor Zelliot, Carleton College
Chair: John C. B. Webster, Dalit International Newsletter
Discussant: Tara Nancy Doyle, Emory University
The riots this 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 facets of the movement to study. The second panel tells the story for the first time of Buddhist women activists who are concerned with all-India Buddhist matters but also the personal lives of Dalit women; includes two studies comparing Black and Dalit identity, ideology and strategy by scholars who are either Black or Dalit, and this also is a new event; and ends with a comment on political and Untouchable caste disunity by a French scholar who has lived in the Dharavi slum, the largest slum in Asia, for nine months and who approaches Dalit studies from outside the Ambedkar movement.
Owen M. Lynch, New York University
Before setting in motion the Wheel of the Law, the Buddha accepted food from the woman, Sujata. This paper describes and analyzes how a small band of Dalit, Buddhist women in Agra, India have organized their own army to set in motion a wheel of their own emancipation from patriarchy, hierarchy, and gendered ignorance. All are followers of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar whose Buddhist teachings legitimate and motivate their actions largely following the catalytic leadership of Madhumaya Jayant. Most of the women are literate, but not highly educated, have grown children, and variously supportive husbands. Three of the armys campaigns to enter civil societys public sphere are analyzed. First is the Bodh Gaya Movement, a Dalit, Buddhist effort to regain from Hindu control the Mahabodhi Temple and to make it Buddhisms cultural capital in India. Womens participation largely makes the movement possible, while teaching them to travel, enlarge their perspective, and organize themselves. Second, the Ban the Lottery Campaign was the spontaneous effort of four Dalit women seeking to make impossible their mens addictive betting which left them and their children destitute. And third, the Subvert Patriarchy Insurgency, is the constant and continued battle the women wage with their own communitys male chauvinists for an ungendered public sphere, while having to cooperate with them. The paper concludes that although these womens problems are shared with other women, their Dalit status gives those problems a unique, poignant valency.
Charles Wendell Barlow, University of Aarhus, Denmark
The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of Black self-image and Bhangi self-image. Indian leaders such as Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi and Black leaders such as Dr. W. E. B. DuBois and Dr. Martin Luther King demonstrated a consciousness in recognizing the lack of developmental values within their cultures. This resulted in the forming of social and political movements to stop acculturation and to modify and disseminate ideas within Indian and U.S. settings. With the purpose of defining the transformation of their traditions I argue that for centuries Bhangis of India and Blacks of the United States suffered under images of low self-esteem directly or indirectly established by dominating groups affecting traditions. The characteristics of these dominant groups were to perpetrate their social morals upon subdominant groups through the standard of association by assimilation. This process occurred through diverse forms of cultural mediums/symbols and later through various formats of mass media. The presentation of this paper will involve illustrations of how Indian and Black leaders were similar in thought and parallel in approach regarding the changing values of language, attitudes towards race/caste and religion to enhance their role of self identity.
K. P. Singh, University of Wisconsin
In most of the movements, ideology revolves around one of the following four typologies: "reinterpretation," "rejection," "civil rights," or "conflict." In this paper, I want to concentrate only on two: the "rejection" model rejects the dominant religious, social and economic mode in order to adopt a new point of social cohesivenessone that stresses equality and self respect. This category includes the anti-Brahman movements of Jyotiba Phule and E. V. Ramaswami Naicker Periyar, the mass conversion to Buddhism led by B. R. Ambedkar and the conversion to Islam of Elijah Mohammad and Malcolm X. Secondly, to illustrate and focus the type of movement which stresses "conflict" or "confrontation," the historical experiences of Dalit Panthers in India and Black Panthers in the USA are taken into consideration.
Marie-Caroline Saglio, University of Paris
Dharavi, which covers 300 acres and 330,000 inhabitants, located in the center of Bombay, is known as the largest slum in Asia. It concentrates a large population of migrant workers mostly involved in leatherwork cottage industries. These migrants, coming from all over India, have in common their poverty and their low caste rank, most of them being Untouchables. Thus Dharavi, with a population having the socio-economic characteristics of Dalits, could be seen as the archetype of a Dalit settlement.
This article sets out to examine why, paradoxically enough, most of the Untouchables living in Dharavi refuse to be called Dalits and to be identified as Dalits and do not follow any Dalit movement. Firstly, there is no unity between Dharavi Untouchables. On the contrary, there exist ethnolinguistic and caste networks and associations which reveal a strong distinction and sometimes rivalry between different groups. Secondly, since the seventies, Dharavi has been a political bastion of the Shiv Sena. This Hindu nationalist party has co-opted specific Untouchable groups of Dharavi which were never in favor of the Republican Party of India or the Ambedkarite Dalit movement, which has particular affinities for the Mahars.
I assess that the fall of a global Dalit unity and the success of the Shiv Sena could be explained by the competition for employment and for political space among the Untouchables of Dharavi. This paper is therefore a reflection on a large definition of Dalit and on the limitations of the Dalit political culture and action.