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The Time of the Dalit Conversion

More than a reference to the mass conversion of dalits to Buddhism in 1956 and to other religions in subsequent years, "dalit conversion", in this article, also denotes their conversion to full citizenship that followed with the abolition of untouchability, institution of universal adult franchise, extension of legal and political rights to all sections of the population, with special safeguards for disadvantaged groups. It could also denote a conversion to the "modern" - signified by a certain sensibility, particular kinds of dress and comportment and particular rules of social and political engagement. The time of the dalit conversion is also then the time of Indian democracy â?? a time of definition, anticipation and struggle, as seen in the call to educate, organise and agitate.


The Time of the Dalit Conversion

More than a reference to the mass conversion of dalits to Buddhism in 1956 and to other religions in subsequent years, “dalit conversion”, in this article, also denotes their conversion to full citizenship that followed with the abolition of untouchability, institution of universal adult franchise, extension of legal and political rights to all sections of the population, with special safeguards for disadvantaged groups. It could also denote a conversion to the “modern” – signified by a certain sensibility, particular kinds of dress and comportment and particular rules of social and political engagement. The time of the dalit conversion is also then the time of Indian democracy – a time of definition, anticipation and struggle, as seen in the call to educate, organise and agitate.


et me start by clarifying two terms in my title. By “dalits” I refer to India’s untouchables or ex-untouchables, ‘acchuts’, harijans, scheduled castes, to cite a few of the names used to describe them. As we all know, the many dimensions of dalit deprivation included an extremely low ritual status, generally wretched economic conditions, and a denial of access to many common cultural and political resources. However, the term “dalit” (literally, “crushed”, “downtrodden” or “oppressed”), widely used as a term of description for those at the very bottom of the social, cultural, economic heap, is also now used as a term of militant self-assertion on the part of many of those so oppressed. Several of the submissions and stances that I discuss in this paper will reflect this sense.

‘Dalit conversion’ refers, at first glance, and in its most likely usage, to the mass conversion of dalits to Buddhism in 1956 and afterwards, as well as to Islam, Christianity and other religions at various other times, both before and after 1956. However, I want to use it also to refer to the conversion to formal citizenship

  • the abolition of untouchability in the Indian Constitution, the institution of universal adult franchise, the extension of key legal and political rights to all sections of the Indian population, with special safeguards and support for specially disadvantaged groups
  • with all the consequences this has had for Indian society and politics. I use it, moreover, to distinguish another tendency, which may be described loosely as a conversion to the “modern”: a condition signified for many by a certain sensibility, particular kinds of dress and comportment, and particular rules of social/ political engagement. This is signalled in the dalit struggle by the emphasis placed by B R Ambedkar and other dalit leaders and spokespersons on rationality, education, “cleanliness” and the call for a move to the cities.1
  • Sovereignty and ‘Internal Colonialism’

    The time of the dalit conversion that I am speaking of is (in its most obvious calendrical sense) the 1940s and 1950s, the moment of establishment of the political in the Indian postcolony, although it is a fight that continues until today. Some of the most urgent political debates of the 1940s and 1950s related to the question of the rights of minorities, and to the question: “Who are the minorities?” The dalits laid claim to being a minority, even a “nation”, like the Muslims and the Sikhs. Several dalit spokespersons advanced an argument for a separate ‘Acchutistan’, to match the Muslims’ ‘Pakistan’. A special Scheduled Castes Political Conference held at Allahabad in December 1942 declared that “India [was] not a nation but…a constellation of nations,” one of which was the nation of untouchables or scheduled castes.2 Ambedkar apparently made the same sort of claim in 1944. He is reported to have said that Gandhi and Jinnah were making a serious mistake in holding exclusive talks on the constitutional future of India, for “[b]esides the Hindus and Muslims, the scheduled castes are a third necessary party.” And again, a few days later, that the scheduled castes were “no part of the Hindu community, but constituted a different nation.”3

    It requires no great insight to observe that the question of the dalit conversion is tied up with the question of decolonisation in the subcontinent. One might, however, turn that statement around. The question of decolonisation has almost everywhere been linked with the real or perceived threat of persistent internal colonialism(s). It is this issue of internal colonialism that was invoked directly or indirectly by numerous dalits, as well as by Muslims and others, in the India of the 1940s and since. The charge is not advanced commonly now,4 but the argument underlying it remains important and provides, in my opinion, one of the more important frames for a discussion of the dalit struggle from independence to today.

    In the dalit (as in the Muslim) case, we are dealing with a population that is widely distributed over a ‘national’ territory, and with disadvantaged communities which have come over time to some kind of mutual accommodation with more privileged, numerous and powerful groups, although they have done so in a markedly hierarchical manner. The political question in such an instance is this: what happens to the “minority”, to Muslims or dalits in India (or to African-Americans in the US), if the “majority” gains an apparently unfettered right to rule and to lord it over the “minorities”, and a sense of colonialism persists even

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    after the establishment of formal democracy? It is in this context that we might understand Ambedkar’s comment on a new, and in his view unjust, tax levied by the Congress government on the lowly mahar population of Bombay Presidency in 1939: “It is good that the Congress has revealed itself so soon and that it did not wait till it had secured full swaraj when it would have been so terribly difficult to remedy matters.”5

    The difficulty faced by such a “colonised” population is clear, although it has not to my knowledge been widely discussed, far less theorised. The problem with this kind of internal colonialism is that the colonised cannot escape in a physical sense. They have no independent territory of their own: they cannot emigrate, and they cannot send the colonisers home. What is more, they cannot easily lay claim to an independent history and culture: indeed they gain their identity at least in part by their incorporation into the dominant culture or society: ‘African-Americans’, “the Muslims of India”, untouchable Hindus. I shall return to this problem at several points below.

    I have referred to the claim made by Ambedkar once or twice in the course of the urgent constitutional negotiations of the mid1940s that the dalits, like the Muslims, constituted a nation on their own. At other times, he was more circumspect, arguing at length that the dalits were “a separate element in the national life of India”, that the refusal to allow this minority its proper representation was precisely the political problem of the untouchables, that the attention Congress paid to the place of the Muslims should not be at the expense of “the other communities who need more protection”, and that the executive power in the government of independent India should have its “mandate not only from the majority (Hindus) but also from the minorities (Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, dalits and so on) in the legislature”.6 With this last argument, put forward in a 1945 speech on the “Communal Deadlock and a Way to Solve It”, Ambedkar also suggested “a rule of unanimity” as the principle of decision-making in the legislature and the executive. This would put an end to the communal problem, he declared.7

    In making this proposal, the dalit leader overlooked the internally differentiated and contested character of community no less than of national politics in the subcontinent. In the event, the “minorities” failed to gain anything like a veto power in the political processes of the new India. In the idealism of the moment, and the aftermath of Partition, no communal grouping was to be permitted to challenge the unity of the nation again, and anyone who urged political differentiation among India’s citizens on grounds of religious or caste community was on the defensive. Religious groups (majority and minority) were guaranteed the protection of their religious institutions and the freedom to profess and practise their faiths. However, the independent state would have no differential “political” rights for religious or social minorities, except for a 10-year period of grace during which limited support – in the form of reservations in legislatures and government services – was to be provided to the most depressed castes and sub-castes.8

    For the dalits, there was an additional difficulty. While Ambedkar and others sought to obtain recognition of untouchables as a minority, no different from Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Anglo-Indians and other such minorities, the fact is that the untouchables, outcastes, depressed classes, harijans, scheduled castes, whatever the name we might use for them, gained their distinctiveness – at least until they were constituted into a legally recognised minority – precisely from the fact of their untouchability, that is, the discrimination they suffered at the hands of Hindu society. Gandhi was, as always, quick to point out the contradiction in this position. “We do not want on our register and on our census Untouchables classified as a separate class,” he declared at the Round Table Conference in London in 1931. “Sikhs may remain as such in perpetuity, so may Muhammadans, so may Europeans. Will Untouchables remain Untouchables in perpetuity?”9

    In this respect, the dalits were caught in an extraordinary bind

    – that of being Hindus and non-Hindus at one and the same time. Consider the ambivalence that appears in Ambedkar’s presentation, as law minister, of the case for the reform of the personal law of the Hindus. At one stage in the debate on the Hindu Code Bill, he referred to the Hindu shastras as “your shastras”. To a member’s interjection (“Your shastras?”), he responded by saying, “Yes, because I belong to the other caste;” and, a little later, “I am an unusual member of the Hindu community.” At another point in the same debate, he spoke of “our ancient ideals which are to my judgment, most archaic and impossible for anybody to practise.”10 There was clearly no easy escape from the aggrandising character of “Hinduism” even for a leader who had declared, 15 years earlier: “I had the misfortune of being born with the stigma of [being] an Untouchable…It is not my fault; but I will not die a Hindu, for this is in my power.”11

    Paradoxically, then, it was precisely their untouchability within Hindu society that dalit leaders had to assert in order to try and gain recognition as a “minority”, with the safeguards and rights appropriate to a minority in a democratic republic. More, once the principle of affirmative action and reservations had been accepted to give the disadvantaged and “backward” classes a fairer chance in the life of the republic, this “minority” status as an untouchable community was what Ambedkar and others had to fight to preserve even after the formal conversion of particular dalit groups to Buddhism, Christianity or other religions. Witness Ambedkar’s comment in the course of his speech on the occasion of the conversion of October 15, 1956 – “Even after conversion to Buddhism, I am confident, I (or ‘we’, the dalit community) will get the political rights”12 – and the demands made in recent years by groups of Christian and Muslim dalits for an extension of the benefits of reservations to them.

    The aporia of internal colonialism is here compounded by the need to underline a historically inherited subalternity. Unable to leave the shared territory, or claim a completely independent history, the colonised use every means to hand in the struggle to gain equal rights alongside their (erstwhile) colonisers. Occasionally, in the course of such struggles, subordinated groups have turned to the option of converting out of the colonisers’ religion and cultural dominance. Sometimes, they have taken a step further, and moved to an attempt to convert the colonisers. This, I shall argue, is part of the claim in the dalit case: and it makes for a fourth sense of what I am calling the dalit conversion.

    The issue, one might suggest, is one of sovereignty – of the grouping of humanity into (ultimate) friends and enemies, including internal enemies, as Schmitt would have it.13 If the uppercaste Hindu distribution of this was into something called “India” and its “development”, on the one side, and anyone who would divide or detract from it, on the other, the “minority” version of it was that of a federation of communities threatened by an arrogant and unduly privileged “majority”.14 If the secular Congress leadership rendered this as a war between India and Pakistan (or India and Balkanisation), between religion and society, science and superstition, Ambedkar rendered it as a war between brahmanism and Buddhism in which superstition was very much on the other side.

    The New Society

    Consistently through the 1940s and 1950s, Ambedkar and other dalit leaders and activists called for a reform of Hindu society. “Those who want to conserve must be ready to repair,” as Ambedkar put it during the debate on the Hindu Code Bill. “If you want to maintain the Hindu system, the Hindu culture, the Hindu society, do not hesitate to repair where repair is necessary.” Hindus were the “sick men” of India, he wrote on another occasion, in 1944. It was necessary to generate a new life in Hinduism. For this the Hindus could draw upon principles found in their own ancient sources.15 But the surest means of assuring progress and the greatness of the country as well as of the wider world, was to embrace the faith of the Buddha and its fundamental principles – liberty, equality and fraternity.

    “Indians today are governed by two different ideologies. Their political ideal set out in the preamble to the Constitution affirms a life of liberty, equality and fraternity. Their social ideal in their religion denies them.” Thus Ambedkar in 1954. Hindus would have to convert to the religion of the Buddha “for their own good.” “I have to do the work of conversion.”16

    The need for social morality and rationality, a religion that was grounded in human experience and reason, that could adapt to changing times, that called for constant questioning through the application of knowledge and reason, this is what, in the dalit view, set Buddhism apart from the superstition of Hinduism.17 Ambedkar’s recasting of Indian history as an extended and unfinished struggle between brahmanism and Buddhism, and the more general meaning of the 1956 conversion, have been extensively analysed.18 Ambedkar was looking for “a broadly humanist and social religion”, one scholar notes. He found this in Buddhism. Deeply committed to a scientific outlook, Ambedkar used “the yardstick of modern science, and its universalist claim to reason” to “test” the different world religions. “He did this,” suggests Martin Fuchs, “not in order to disown religion, but rather to find out and reclaim ancient moral insights – which had proved their trans-historical validity – and return them to his contemporaries.”19

    The time of the dalit conversion was, from one point of view, the time of the conversion of all of India – and the world. It was not a conversion that looked primarily to the past – to provide “memory to a memoryless people”, as D R Nagaraj evocatively put it – although that was certainly part of the argument, and part of the reason for the recovery of Buddhism and of the history of struggle between brahminism and Buddhism. Rather, as Ambedkar’s restatement of Buddhism showed all too clearly, this was a conversion for the future. To a religion of humanity; of liberty, equality and fraternity – but especially of equality (between men and women, upper caste and lower caste, class and class); of reason; and of progress – with compassion and understanding and a minimum of violence.20

    For a fuller appreciation of the challenge implicit in this, we need to examine a number of contemporary political issues not directly linked with the question of the dalit conversion to Buddhism. One of the most hotly contested of these was the reform of the Hindu law. As independent India’s first law minister, Ambedkar was responsible for shepherding the Hindu Code Bill through Parliament. This was a very wide-ranging piece of legislation, aimed at codifying and reforming a multitude of Hindu practices in relation to marriage, divorce, adoption and inheritance. The dalit leader considered the measure so fundamental to the new India of his dream that he cited the failure of the government to enact it in full as the major reason for his resignation from the union cabinet in October 1951.

    Among the reasons that led him to this difficult decision, Ambedkar noted, was a sense of personal frustration and disappointment at not being given a more central place in the cabinet and its functioning, dissatisfaction with the foreign policy of the government, and indignation over the continued neglect of the problems of the scheduled castes as well as the backward classes. But the event that finally led him to resign, he said, was his bitter disappointment with the way in which the issue of the Hindu Code Bill had been pursued in Parliament – lackadaisically, as he saw it, with undue and excessive timidity, followed by a final surrender that he judged to be a capitulation to the forces of reaction and orthodoxy.21

    “The Hindu Code was the greatest social reform measure ever undertaken by the legislature in this country,” Ambedkar declared in the statement explaining his resignation from the central government. “No law passed by the Indian legislature in the past or likely to be passed in the future can be compared to it in point of its significance…To leave inequality between class and class, between sex and sex which is the soul of Hindu society untouched and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palace on a dung heap. This is the significance I attach… to the Hindu Code.”22

    What explains this extraordinary emphasis on the reform of the Hindu law? It may help at this juncture to return to the metaphor of internal colonialism and my proposition that one way to liberation for the colonised was by converting the coloniser. The importance of the Hindu Code Bill for Ambedkar lay precisely in the opportunity it presented for such a conversion. In speaking of the bill, the dalit leader stressed the benefits that would flow from an end to discrimination on grounds of caste, and from the economic independence of Hindu women which was a necessary condition of their social advance. “Any one who has studied Hindu Law carefully will have to admit that…there are principles in the Hindu Law which discriminate between the savarna castes and the shudras. They also discriminate between a male Hindu and a female Hindu.”23 He argued also that “the same set of laws should govern Hindu social and religious life;” such a development would be “beneficial from the point of view of the country’s oneness.”24

    There is something ironic in the determination shown by a law minister, who had vowed not to die a Hindu, to do everything he could to bring about fundamental reform in “Hindu society” for the progress of “the country as a whole”. However, it was not only at the level of their most visible and articulate spokesperson that dalits were seeking this kind of change in social practices and mores. Consider the parallel example of a dalit civil servant who served in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) for five years from 1959 to 1964.

    “In an independent country, the responsibilities of the administration are not confined merely to law and order, for [the maintenance of] the status quo,” Balwant Singh writes in his autobiography, written a few years after his resignation from the IAS in May 1964 and published in the 1990s. “In a welfare state the man in the street also has something at stake and his progress and development are of paramount importance.” He speaks of the need to purge the Hindu religion of its social evils, “for a house built on discrimination and hatred cannot stand and this ancient religion should ensure a life of dignity and respectability to its poor and low brethren…. That is not possible until it is free from the stigma of high and low and [continues to be] without equality, liberty and fraternity…”25

    The autobiography, tellingly entitled An Untouchable in the IAS, provides a detailed account of the circumstances that led Balwant Singh to quit what was in the 1950s and 1960s, and for some time afterwards, the service of the educated middle class’s, and even more emphatically the dalit graduate’s dream. He spells out in the text his understanding of the needs of a new, democratic society and the reasons for his own clash with the establishment, which was to lead to his resignation from the covenanted service. The young officer’s brief career in the IAS ended soon after he recorded a combative statement against persistent caste prejudice, derision and discrimination in public life, and against the unacceptably slow pace of change in the new India, which had committed itself to the establishment of a modern, democratic, even “socialistic” society in the subcontinent – “the judgment on untouchability that created so much uproar”, as he titles it in bold type in an appendix to his autobiography.

    It will help to quote from Balwant Singh’s judgment at some length. This was a case in which a poor wayside barber showed his disinclination to cut the hair of a dalit customer, and then gave him a hair-cut only after demanding an unusually high price and insisting on doing the job outside, rather than inside the shop. The facts of the case were quickly established

    – “It has…been proved beyond any doubt that Sri Shyam Lal went for a hair-cut to the shop of Sri Bhaiyan and he was refused the service on account of his being a Barar...Firstly Sri Bhaiyan demanded a very exorbitant price for a simple hair-cut and to add further insult he also asked Sri Shyam Lal to sit out[side] the shop to get his hair-cut by which Sri Bhaiyan thought he was giv[ing] a befitting status to Sri Shyam Lal, the unfortunate untouchable in the society” – and the magistrate could immediately have proceeded to pronounce his judgment and sentence the accused. However, Balwant Singh felt the need to pronounce judgment on the wider social forces and prejudices at work.

    This is…[the] highly derogatory inhuman and mean treatment thatthe so-called untouchable could receive from the so-called highcaste Hindus in this second half of 20th century independent India.In the eyes of a Hindu even a dog can be allowed to enter theshop but not a human being who by force of circumstances andill-luck happened to be born in so-called scheduled castes. TheHindu society is a society of defeat and degeneration and it caninspire no confidence in the mind of a sensible human being.Hindu society is a society of distinction[s] which have beensought to be imposed upon the so-called untouchables. It is a society of meanness and a storehouse of degradations. The inhuman treatment given to the so-called untouchables by the Hindu fanatics is much worse than that given to any coloured African by the government of South Africa. Every conservative Hindu house is a South Africa for a poor untouchable who is still being crushed under the heels of Hindu Imperialism.26

    The tone of the judgment was almost certain to lead to trouble for the young magistrate, as he will surely have known. Nonetheless, Balwant Singh felt constrained to put forward a brutal social analysis in unapologetically polemical terms. This deliberate departure from legalese deserves a moment’s reflection.

    Reinscription of Subalternity

    Like the debate on the Hindu Code Bill, Balwant Singh’s autobiography indicates the major transformations contemplated, and to some extent set in motion, in the India of the 1940s and 1950s. These and other texts tell us something about the extraordinary hopes and expectations of the time, as also about the sense of betrayal and consequent bitterness felt by many among the depressed castes and classes. The dalit bureaucrat’s position was not in this respect wholly different from that of the dalit law minister, by whom it was almost certainly inspired and from whose writings it borrowed directly in parts.

    “The practice of violence binds them together as a whole,” Fanon has written about the colonised.27 Ridding oneself of fear

    – the fear of the white man – that was the essential condition of swaraj, Gandhi declared. At issue in the dalit conversion at the dawn of Indian independence, I suggest, was the matter of the violence of untouchability and the fear of the untouchables. It was a matter of the transformation of dispositions all round. Let me elaborate this point a little.

    Census enumerators, as well as other observers and commentators, have made the point that there was never an easy way of separating dalits or untouchables from others among the subordinated castes and classes. In the established Hindu social system, as Robert Deliege has put it, “everyone is to some extent impure, and … impurity is a relative concept.” Conceptually, he argues, the impurity of untouchables – or of untouchability, as a category – is distinctive, in that it is “indelible and irreversible.”28 Nevertheless, it is necessary to note that the distinction between the lowest “touchable” castes and the “untouchables” is not always very sharp. Nomenclature and standards vary: the same castes are not everywhere considered polluting to the extent of being “untouchable”, or at any rate not in the same way or to the same extent – for there are different degrees of permitted “touching” even in untouchability. This is where the question of dispositions becomes critical.

    Ultimately, one might argue, the question of untouchability hinges on the matter of dispositions – of non-untouchables towards so-called untouchables, and of the latter towards themselves and towards the rest of society. This is of course what Gandhi famously contended, for all his painful vacillations and ambiguities on the subject. And this is what many dalit activists and leaders discovered, although they saw much more clearly than Gandhi that the political and economic props of upper-caste Hindu dominance had to be kicked away if dispositions were to change significantly. Balwant Singh’s discovery of the IAS’s continued ‘taluqdari’ mentality illustrates the proposition very well indeed.

    Young men like him joined the Indian Administrative Service, he observes in the autobiography, in the hope that this “prestigious service would be responsive to the common man and provide relief and succour by alleviating his sorrows and sufferings.” But five years in the service “totally disillusioned” him. “The IAS was still the protector of the rich and the socially privileged and the man in the street did not count much in their scheme.” The old order had enormous power. Caste and communal bias persisted among the high caste officers, and “one was reminded of the taluqdari system [a particularly oppressive form of high landlordism upheld by the British in Awadh and certain other parts of northern India] where law was the rod or the whims of an individual and social equality was out of [the] question.”29

    The distinction between “their” administration and “the man in the street” is a recurrent motif in Balwant Singh’s autobiography: and the author himself ends up, not on the side of the administration but that of the oppressed majority. “For officers from the low castes things were…complicated. They were acceptable if they accepted the prevailing…social norms” (p 196). Even this is not the whole story. For it would be more accurate to say that while such officers were “tolerated” if they accepted upper caste ways and attitudes, they were never fully accepted socially.30

    Low caste officers suffered from much social indignity and humiliation. Any expression of discontent from them was met with the response that these were “trivial”, “inconsequential” matters (p 197). The question we have to ask is “trivial” or “inconsequential” for whom, and how frequently do trifling insults have to be repeated before they become historically or politically significant. The history of the trifling is precisely what we need to rediscover, whether we seek to write feminist and minority histories, subaltern studies, or the history of Partition and independence.

    “There were numerous…cases where the officers and other employees of the scheduled castes became victims of day to day social malpractices. They could not say anything because they were [in the eyes of their upper caste colleagues] petty men…[who] were born to carry out the orders of the superiors” (p 197). It was in this context that the dalit magistrate wrote the judgment cited above in the case of ‘state vs Bhaiyan’.

    The fall-out was predictable. The judgment was followed quickly by a series of charges and complaints against the dalit officer for his acts of commission and omission as an official and a magistrate. While there was not a single complaint against him until March 1964, Singh writes, the complaints came fast and furiously in April (p 214). He was accused of lying by the local Congress MLA, in connection with his efforts to maintain peace on the occasion of a hunger strike by a Hindu Mahasabha worker (p 210). He was described as unduly sensitive by the chief secretary, the senior most civil servant of the province: “My friend, your work is not the consideration. You are supersensitive and not settling down” (p 215); and told by the same official to “shut up” and not “talk like a clerk or a tehsildar” (lowerlevel officials, unworthy of the status and standing of the IAS!) when he sought an explanation for the effective “demotion” he was being given through a posting as assistant commissioner (p 217; see also p 213 and passim).

    It is instructive to juxtapose Balwant Singh’s narrative with reports of Ambedkar’s experience, as law minister, at the hands of his fellow parliamentarians in the course of the debates on the Hindu Code Bill. The exchanges between other parliamentarians and a dalit leader at the height of his intellectual and political power, a member of the central cabinet in the first government of independent India, hailed as the architect of the Indian Constitution, and acknowledged as an outstanding scholar and writer on a wide range of subjects, are remarkable. One is struck repeatedly – even on the basis of the written record alone

    – by the deep-seated caste prejudice and spite displayed in this most public and supposedly most advanced of Indian political forums. A few extracts from the proceedings of September 20, 1951 will suffice to make the point.

    Responding to the idea that the longevity of the society proved the essential goodness of Hindu laws and social structure, Ambedkar had argued that its much vaunted adaptability and absorptive capacity had not helped to democratise the Hindu social order. It had failed to assimilate the Buddha’s preaching of equality, for example, while adopting a considerably watered down, and practically meaningless, version of the doctrine of ‘ahimsa’. “Whatever else Hindu society may adopt, it will never give up its social structure (which is designed) for the enslavement of the sudra and the enslavement of women. It is for this reason that law must now come to their rescue in order that society may move on.”31

    At this, Govind Malaviya, son of the renowned orthodox Hindu scholar and politician, Madan Mohan Malaviya, and a scholar and journalist in his own right, interjected: “Move on to what even Buddha could not do”. Ambedkar ignored him and went on to make a point about degeneration rather than improvement as the mark of Hindu history.

    Dr Ambedkar: There was, as everybody knows, no caste system among the Aryans…the varna system never came in the way of inter-marriages. You can find many…cases of Brahmans marrying untouchable women, Kshatriyas marrying sudras and sudras marrying upper class women. Pandit Malaviya: Which were the instances? Dr Ambedkar: I can give many instances if you will come to my room. I have got them. Pandit Malaviya: Why not now? Dr Ambedkar: But, the Aryans never had a hide-bound social system of class division that was later introduced. Nobody can deny that has been a subsequent change…

    A few moments later, the law minister referred to the charge that reforms like the Hindu Code Bill were simply an attempt to put India in the good books of the west, given that western nations had strict insistence on monogamy and liberal provisions for divorce. Those who made this charge, Ambedkar noted, “have said that our ideal should be, what? Somebody said Ram; somebody said Dasaratha; somebody said Krishna…I do not wish to comment upon any of the ideals which have been presented to the House, and I do not…”

    Shri Syamnandan Sahaya: You will be well advised not to do so. Mr Chairman: Order, order. Dr Ambedkar: My ideals are derived from the Constitution that we have laid down. The preamble of the Constitution speaks of liberty, equality and fraternity. We are therefore bound to examine every social institution that exists in the country and see whether it satisfies the principles laid down in the Constitution (pp 1160-61).

    Ambedkar went on to argue for the married woman’s right to divorce, saying that “circumscribe [it] as you may, …and…I shall be quite prepared to consider any proposal … from any side of the House to narrow down the conditions of divorce that have been prescribed in the Bill as it stands”, the constitutionally guaranteed liberty and equality of citizens necessitated the extension of this right for Hindu women. “That is the reason why,” he said, “we are proceeding with this Bill and not because we want to imitate any other people or we want to go in for our ancient ideals which are to my judgment, most archaic and impossible for anybody to practice.” That tough statement was of course not going to remain unanswered.

    Dr C D Pandey…: We are ready to support the Bill, but we do not want these invectives. How far the Hon. Minister is justified in dealing with this subject [in this way?] and resorting to such invectives… An Hon. Member: Why vilify the Hindu religion? Dr Ambedkar: Now, I come to the specific amendments that have been tabled by various Members to clause 2. Shri Krishnanand Rai…: The House is for divorce and monogamy, but not for this kind of abuse. Dr C D Pandey: We are for these provisions, but we do not want these abuses and invectives.

    At this point, the prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, intervened with a comment on the “tender skins” of some members. Many harsh things had been said earlier in speeches against the Bill without objection from anyone, he observed: he could not see why people were objecting to Ambedkar’s statements in this way. However, an agitated Pandit Lakshmi Kanta Maitra proceeded with another interjection that is recorded in the proceedings: “We have been listening with rapt attention to Dr Ambedkar, but what we do not want is these invectives and reflections on some of the best ideals which we cherish. The provisions can be defended without injuring the religious susceptibilities of Members.” “Side conversations”, as they are described in the official record, and disturbance continued for a while before the house settled down to hear the rest of the law minister’s statement on this particular clause (pp 1162-63).

    Earlier in the debate, when Govind Malaviya referred to how Hindu society prescribed “rights and privileges” for the chandala as much as for the brahman, there had been objections from various members, including the deputy speaker, on the grounds that the use of any name that suggested untouchability was now unconstitutional. Following some further arguments suggesting that the reference was “only to history”, the deputy speaker went on to say that “all history is not very good to mention”. The exchange that followed is extraordinary.

    Pandit Malaviya: I was referring to it [the word Chandala] not as to an individual, but as to a system in the past. However, I will abide by what you [the Deputy Speaker] have said. Dr Ambedkar: Why should you? Pandit Malaviya: The Hon Law Minister asks, why I should. Only because I am a law-abiding Member and not the other name that I had been mentioning (p 1112).

    That scarcely veiled reference to Ambedkar’s origins in an untouchable community, amongst people who could easily act like chandalas (that is to say, scum) rather than like law-abiding citizens, was perhaps the lowest point in the debate. But the controversial question of the ability of ex-untouchables to speak for Hindu society, and more broadly democratic India, runs through the exchanges like an undercurrent.

    There was some ambivalence in the dalits’ relation to Hindu society, almost inevitably as I have noted: they were defined by it, and at the same time part and not part of it. However, the ambiguity of this position affected not only B R Ambedkar but also the caste Hindus who opposed the Hindu Code Bill he was piloting through Parliament. Was he, or was he not, a Hindu? What right did this scion of an untouchable family have to reform the laws of the Hindus? There was more than one legislator who balked at this proceeding, and challenged the right of Ambedkar to seek to don the mantle of Manu, Yajnavalkya and other renowned Hindu lawmakers.

    Dr Ambedkar has…tried to take a place in the galaxy of Manu, Parashar and Yajnavalkya by following in their footsteps, but I believe it is an unjustified effort on his part because our traditions have gradually evolved according to the dictates of time andcircumstances. They are formed on the basis of collective wisdom and experience. Therefore, the wisdom of any particular individual cannot affect them...we cannot violate our traditions so simply and so easily. We perhaps do not even know all of these traditions. I would challenge Ambedkar, our minister of law, to state how many traditions of ours, which he wants to destroy completelythrough this Hindu Code, are there in this vast country of ours, in the Bharatvarsh. How far is it proper for him to say that these traditions which he perhaps does not know of should be destroyed? (p 1280)

    The reference to vast “traditions which (the Law Minister) perhaps does not know” – set off against the “collective wisdom”, the antiquity and greatness of this ‘Bharatvarsh’ – suggests more than the limits of any individual’s capacity. It also suggests, it seems to me, the illegitimacy of an “untraditional” interpreter, an ex-untouchable to boot, seeking to define and overhaul “Hindu tradition” (or for that matter Indian democracy). This is not an attitude that has been easy for the upper castes and the traditionally privileged to shed, in relation to the profession of teaching, the practice of medicine, the matter of policing, or the administration of justice, as the evidence of the recent battles over “reservations” continues to show. I shall return to this point in the last section of this essay. Before that I wish to draw attention to one other aspect of the dalit struggle in the 20th (and the 21st) centuries that has gone relatively unnoticed in the scholarly account of dalit history and politics.

    Multiple Requirements of Citizenship

    In the struggle for emancipation and political rights, dalit leaders have laid exceptional emphasis on the importance of education, of refined speech (‘sadhu bhasha’) and manners, and of modern dress and cleanliness. Why is it that these apparently “trivial” matters have commanded such attention in dalit discourse? Ambedkar himself underlined the need to look and act like the highest castes and classes. Zelliot cites, as one striking illustration, the 1942 speech in which Ambedkar congratulated his mainly dalit audience on their growing political awareness, progress in education and entry into state institutions like the army and the police (not to add legislatures, which he mentioned in other speeches). However, the dalit leader noted, “the greatest progress that we have made is to be found among our women folk. Here you see in this conference these 20,000 to 25,000 women present. See their dress, observe their manners, mark their speech. Can any one say that they are untouchable women?”32

    Again, to take just one other example, a dalit intellectual recalls the army of local leaders and activists who emerged in Bombay in the 1940s and 1950s, inspired by B R Ambedkar, all of them with two things in common – “immaculately clean attire and impressive oratory”. He writes of a huge procession on Ambedkar’s birthday, in which women activists, “dressed all in white”, played a major part; and recalls how his own working-class parents, affected by the Ambedkarite movement, while thrifty about clothes, “insisted that we always wear shoes.” They “brooked no compromise in this regard. Maybe their idea of being “up to date” was firmly linked to wearing shoes.”33

    The dalit stress on books and formal education, on “cultured” speech and urban manners, clean clothes and shoes, in the construction and presentation of the dalit self makes a good deal of sense in the context of the struggle to transform dispositions

    – that of the dalits and that of their opponents. If rationality, science and a belief in progress was to provide the spirit of a modern, democratic society, and adult franchise, elected legislatures and governments, a free press, transparent laws and an independent judiciary its political institutions, then education, articulate speech and self-confidence reflected in dress and manners, were the conditions of their use.

    “Decolonisation is the veritable creation of new men…,” writes Fanon; “the “thing” which has been colonised becomes man during the same process by which it frees itself.”34 Rationality, social morality and the possibility of individual choice were, from the dalit point of view, the need of the age. The city was their location. Nagaraj writes of the motif of escape from persecution and the journey to the promised land: “this time the promised land is the modern city.”35 As against the Gandhian advocacy of a return to the roots, the “harmonious” village community, and the simplicity of village life, dalit leaders have stressed the need for dalits to look to the future, and to move to the towns where they could escape from some of the worst disabilities of the caste system as experienced in the countryside.

    “I am…surprised that those who condemn provincialism and communalism should come forward as champions of the village,” Ambedkar observed. “I hold that these village republics [and he uses the Gandhian phrase, borrowed from colonialist writings, with some irony] have been the ruination of India…. What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrowmindedness and communalism?”36 “In this republic there is no place for democracy. There is no place for equality. There is no room for liberty and there is no room for fraternity. The Indian village life is the very negation of a Republic.”37

    Ambedkar was hardly alone in his condemnation of the Indian “village community”. It is evident that dalits were expected to perform functions – to follow paths, literally and metaphorically – that were symbolic of their very low status in ritual and social life, especially in the villages. Such has been the weight of this history that many politically conscious dalit youth have sought to shun the very instruments and expertise – say, in music or in particular handicrafts – that they have inherited as a mark of their lowly status. D R Nagaraj wrote of his activist friend, Krishna, for whom “the art of playing drums is linked with the humiliating task of carrying dead animals. The joy of singing oral epics is traditionally associated with the insult of the artist standing outside the houses of upper caste landlords with a begging bowl.” He will have none of these, even when it is friends and activist colleagues who are celebrating. “I want to forget all this,” he screamed one night: “I want to forget their gods, their folk epics, their violence.”38

    The discarding of the demeaning dress and speech and deference of that earlier humiliating condition is a necessary part of the dalit struggle for full citizenship. To Gandhi’s choice of the loin-cloth, and his advocacy of vegetarianism, manual labour and the simple village life, dalit spokespersons respond with the statement that they already have these, indeed they have had too much of them. What they need, instead, is the hat and the three-piece suit, the pipe and the spectacles. It is not an accident, as Timothy Fitzgerald notes, that the dominant method of representing Ambedkar in sculpture and painting, in calendar art and in little images found in dalit homes and offices and fairs all over the country is “not as a mendicant with

    [a] begging bowl, or as a meditator [‘bodhisattva’] beneath a ‘bodhi’ tree, but as a middle class intellectual, wearing glasses, a blue suit, and carrying a book which symbolises the Republican Constitution and the power of education and literacy.”39 The struggle to overthrow the marks of subalternity must proceed on many fronts.

    Inheritance of Privilege

    I want, at the end here, to illustrate the different aspects of this struggle – to overthrow the marks of an inherited subalternity on the one hand, and to re-inscribe it on the other – by reference to one final example, taken not from the 1940s and 1950s, but from an encounter that has occurred half a century later. This is a public exchange in the form of letters written in 2001-02 to a dalit columnist writing a weekly column entitled “The Problems of the Dalits” in a national newspaper published in Hindi from Delhi.40

    To put this in context, let me emphasise that the columnist’s own writings are marked by some aggression, and a polemical quality not unlike that found in many political interactions between dalits and non-dalits from the days of B R Ambedkar until today. This is perhaps not unexpected given the gross inequality and evident lack of respectful communication between the two sides over a very long period; but it is important to note that the aggression and polemic is hardly restricted to one side when we come to the moment of open political contest. This is what the letters to the dalit columnist demonstrate all too clearly.

    Among the hundreds of letters received by the columnist from readers of his column, a large number come from dalit youth asking advice or seeking help – to get a job or a loan, to find ways of continuing their education, to learn more about Ambedkar or Buddhism, and to make clear their own desire to contribute to the struggle and change society. There are numerous letters from Muslim readers, which seems a little more surprising until one recalls that this is the period of the ascendancy of an aggressive right wing Hindu movement dominated by the upper castes: in the face of the latter, targeted and vulnerable communities like the Muslims seek to build new political coalitions and see in the dalits an important potential ally.

    For these non-dalit well-wishers as well as for dalit readers, the columnist is more than just a writer. He needs also to be a leader, of the dalits and of other oppressed communities. Dalit correspondents condemn as traitors those dalit intellectuals, officials and other professionals who fail to represent the interests of the dalits at large, and call on the columnist to continue to lead the struggle to raise dalit consciousness and establish dalit power. The high stakes involved are indicated in the very forms of address, which are extremely reverential in the case of letters from many supporters and often downright abusive in letters from opponents.

    For some of these supporters or “followers”, the columnist is no less than “today’s Ambedkar” or (in one case) “more courageous than Ambedkar”. For opponents, usually from higher castes (including some from the so-called “backward castes” who do not see themselves as dalit), he is anything from “Mr Dalit”, “Mr Dalitji”, “Dalit Maharaj (or ‘Almighty Dalit’)”, “The allknowing one” and “The pimp of the dalits”, to “Mr Pig”, “Mr. Shit”, “Dog”, ‘goonda, suvar, chamar, dom’, and so on. More than a few of these letter-writers (from “respectable” backgrounds) heap every term of sexual abuse on the female relatives of the dalit columnist, freely using words and phrases that they would have been careful to keep from the ears of their children (at least until the agitations that followed the decision to implement the Mandal Commission’s recommendations on reservations for backward castes, when the tone of the conversations in upper caste and middle class homes seemed to change overnight).

    In the letters to the columnist they even threaten him with anthrax if he does not stop abusing them, that is to say, attacking the Hindus and their religion, dividing the nation, forgetting the duties of Indian citizens, forgetting what “we” have done for “you”, and forgetting his – inherited – place. Some of the same letter-writers, having heaped abuse on the columnist and his relatives, and perhaps threatened him with anthrax and other forms of imminent death, go on to demand the publication of their letters in full and warn him of other untoward consequences if he fails to comply. This unrepentant exhibition of aggression and shamelessness on the part of the “respectable” must surely give us pause. It is a statement of extraordinary arrogance, of the right of masters to speak as they will, of groups who believe they are above the law (and other requirements of “civil” society) at least in their dealings with certain kinds of people, and of an unshaken belief in the upper castes’ inalienable right to rule.

    Two letters make the point succinctly. One says: ‘Upar vale ne tumhein banaya hai hamari seva karne ke liye’ (The Almighty has made you [precisely] to serve us). The second: ‘Hamare joothe tukde khane vale, hamare bailon-bhaison ke gobar mein se dane nikal kar khane valon, hamare mare hue jaan var khane vaalon, hamare saamne tumhari himmat kaise hoti hai hamare khilaf baat karne ki…’ (You who eat the crumbs we leave for you, who eat the grains you pick out of the shit of our cattle, who eat our dead animals, how dare you speak out against us [or, for that matter, even “speak”] in our presence…)?

    I could multiply these examples of abuse and the arrogant statement of inherited privilege. Instead, I will round off my discussion of this particular dalit/non-dalit interaction by reference to a much more polite intervention which nevertheless re-states the dominant upper caste and upper class belief in the appropriate place of the dalit, or any other insurrectionary voice, in the order of things – and of progress. This particular letter comes from a brahman male who lives in Delhi, on the eastern side of the river Jumna. Addressing the dalit columnist in the most respectful traditional terms (“honourable” – “respectful salutations”), the correspondent writes that he has been reading the column on ‘The Problems of the Dalits’ for some time, and recognises that “somewhere”, in some important way, “what you say is true”. However, he asks,

    Will you tell me whether you think of yourself first as a dalit, [a member of] a so-called low caste, or as an Indian? If the answer is “Indian”, then I plead with you not to divide this nation up further, physically or psychologically. In my view you are capable of lifting up the dalit community of the entire country through [their] education, thereby contributing to the progress of the nation. You must endeavour to lift them up out of the feeling of being dalits or so-called low castes, and make them [conscious of being] Indians. Let them know that we are not brahmans, kshatriyas, vaishyas, shudras, we are nothing but Indians and will remain [nothing but] Indians…. Our nation needs your assistance.

    The correspondent goes on to express his opinion against affirmative action, or constitutional provisions for the reservation of a quota of educational and political positions for people from lower caste backgrounds. “There are other ways of lifting up [the dalits].” “Reservations … harm the nation.”

    Note that this “sympathetic” reader too believes in the necessity of the columnist playing the role of the leader of his community, though of course not of the nation or country at large: “you are capable of lifting up the (entire) dalit community” and thus “contributing to the progress of the nation”. Note the unselfconsciousness of the enquiry, “Are you an Indian first or a dalit first?”, a question periodically asked of Muslims in India but of course never of upper caste and class Hindus: for they are the nation, invisibly and axiomatically. Note in this context that India (and Indians) are abstract and unmarked categories, while the dalits are a concrete and identifiable group, with identifiable but sectional problems. They must never forget that these are, in the end, sectional problems, minor in comparison with the maintenance of the nation at large – the wider community in which the sections must merge.

    There is the rub. The dalits are real people, the concrete product of a concrete history that produced not only a real, concrete but also an abstract “India”. In that abstract India, the dalits must be Indians first and Indians last, even as they are enjoined to remember where they have come from, how much things have changed in such a short time, in a word, how much India has done for them. One might return here to the question of sovereignty, of (ultimate) friends and enemies, and of the need to rethink the design of Indian history as Ambedkar and others have tried to do.

    The time of the dalit conversion, then, is the time of Indian democracy. It is a time of anticipation and struggle: whence the call to educate, organise and agitate. It is 1951 and 1956, 2001 and 2006. “Decolonisation is quite simply the replacing of a certain “species” of men by another “species” of men…. The proof of success lies in a whole social structure being changed from the bottom up.”41 Colonisation is always a violent phenomenon, with deadly effects on both the coloniser and the colonised. Recall that Gandhi shared this position with Fanon. So, obviously, did Ambedkar, although he spoke from a different vantage point and used a different kind of language. The escape from such a condition could only come through the conversion (as I have called it) of both oppressor and oppressed, a conversion that would produce a new social compact.




    [Earlier versions of parts of this paper were presented at seminars in CSDS and JNU, Delhi; and at the universities of Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Emory, Yale and Tokyo. I am grateful to participants in those seminars for their comments and questions.]

    1 Christopher Queen delineates some of the relevant issues well in his analysis of Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism. In the act of leaving Hinduism and embracing Buddhism, he suggests, Ambedkar fulfilled one of the primary conditions of modernity: “the exercise of individual choice based on reason, careful deliberation, and historical consciousness;” Christopher S Queen, ‘Ambedkar, Modernity, and the Hermeneutics of Buddhist Liberation’ in A K Narain and D C Ahir (eds), Dr Ambedkar, Buddhism and Social Change (BR Publishing Corp, Delhi, 1994), pp 99 and passim. I have taken the quotation from Gauri Vishwanathan’s gloss on Queen in her Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief (Princeton Univ press, Princeton, NJ, 1998), p 228.

    2 Sekhar Bandhopadhyay, ‘Transfer of Power and the Crisis of Dalit Politics

    in India, 1945-47’, Modern Asian Studies, 34, 4 (2000), p 903. 3 Ibid, p 906. 4 By contrast, of course, the charge of internal colonialism – or outright

    colonialism – continues to be made by various political leaders and movements in relation to a number of regional nationalities on the northern and north-eastern borders of the territory of the Indian state, in Kashmir and the states and territories of the north-east.

    5 Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Writing and Speeches (hereafter BAWS), Vol

    17, Part III, p 214. 6 BAWS, IX, pp 181, 190; XVII, pt 3, p 418; and Volume I, p 368. 7 Ibid, p 376. 8 Ambedkar argued that these provisions for affirmative action should stay

    in place as long the condition of untouchability lasted, but had to settle for 10 years; BAWS, 17, III, pp 420, 433. It is another matter that reservations have since been extended over and over again by 10-year periods.

    9 BAWS, IX, p 68.

    10 BAWS, XIV, 270-271 and 1162.

    11 Eleanor Zelliot, From Untouchable to Dalit: Essays on the Ambedkar Movement (Manohar, Delhi, 1996), p 206.

    12 BAWS, 17, III, p 536.

    13 Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (1932; trans, George Schwab, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996), passim.

    14 See Ambedkar’s repeated calls in 1950-51 for the dalits to seek cooperation with other communities, in spite of the bitter experiences of the past; BAWS, 17, III, pp 398-99, 412, etc.

    15 BAWS, vol 14, I, 283; vol I, 26 and 77-78.

    16 BAWS, vol 17, III, 503 and 505.

    17 In this context, see also Swami Dharma Theertha, The Menace of Hindu Imperialism (2nd ed, Happy Home Publications, Lahore, 1946), passim.

    18 For a recent statement, see Gail Omvedt, Ambedkar: Towards an Enlightened India (Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2004), passim. See also the essays in Narain and D C Ahir, eds, Dr Ambedkar, Buddhism and Social Change; Jondhale and Beltz, eds, Reconstructing the World; and several sections in Rodrigues, ed, The Essential Writings of B R Ambedkar.

    19 Martin Fuchs, ‘A Religion for Civil Society? Ambedkar’s Buddhism, the dalit Issue and the Imagination of Emergent Possibilities’ in Vasudha Dalmia, et al, eds, Charisma and Canon: Essays on the Religious History of the Indian Subcontinent (Delhi, 2001), pp 252-53.

    20 Ambedkar argued that communists too could learn from the Buddha how to bring about the “bloodless revolution” and “remove the ills of humanity”. “Communism of the Russian type aims to bring about [change] by a bloody revolution. The Buddhist Communism brings it about by a bloodless revolution;” 17, III, 515, 517, 493. There are Gandhian echoes here, which must form the subject of another essay.

    21 The reform of the Hindu law was carried out piecemeal in the years that followed, and many commentators have seen even the truncated legislation as a significant progressive achievement – cf. Derrett – but Ambedkar believed that much more could have been achieved, much more quickly, under his stewardship, if only the cabinet, the prime minister and the ruling party had been willing to back him properly.

    22 BAWS, XIV, 1325-1326.

    23 BAWS, XIV, 772.

    24 BAWS, 17, III, 396, 411, 455. By different provisions of the Hindu Code Bill, inter-caste marriages and inter-caste adoptions were to be legalised, ‘stridhan’ (the woman’s property or belongings) were to be remain in possession of married women, and daughters were to gain rights of inheritance equal to those of sons.

    25 Balwant Singh, An Untouchable in the IAS (Balwant Singh, Saharanpur, n.d), pp. 216 and 199. It is no accident that the book is dedicated to Nelson Mandela, president of South Africa, “the champion, crusader and liberator of the insulted, humiliated and discriminated mankind”.

    26 Singh, Untouchable in the IAS, pp 224-227.

    27 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Grove Press, New York, 1963), p 93.

    28 Robert Deliege, The Untouchables of India (Berg, Oxford, 2001), p 50.

    29 Singh, Untouchable in the IAS, pp 221-22 and 216.

    30 One could adduce all kinds of evidence to show this. Among striking examples that I came across in my own interviews are the recollections of a retired upper caste IAS officer’s wife that in the bureaucratic circles of her husband, an ex-untouchable officer (whom she recalled clearly) was superficially treated as a friend, but ‘hamesha heya drishti se dekha karte the’; and the recollections of Meera Kumar, Congress leader and long-term cabinet minister, Jagjivan Ram’s daughter, now a central government minister herself, about her experience of being visited at home by several school and college friends but never being invited to their homes in return.

    31 BAWS, XIV, 1160. Page numbers for the extracts that follow are given in the text.

    32 Report of Depressed Class Conference, Nagpur Session (Nagpur, G T Meshram, 1942), pp 28-29, cited in Zelliot, From Untouchable to Dalit, p 131. See also the autobiographical memoir, written at the end of the 1930s or in the 1940s, in which Ambedkar refers to the first train journey that he and three other children of his extended family took to Goregaon where his father was stationed as a cashier in the army. “We were welldressed children,” he wrote. “From our dress or talk no one could make out that we were children of … untouchables;” Rodrigues (ed), Essential Writings, pp 48-49.

    33 Narendra Jadhav, Outcaste: A Memoir (Viking, Delhi, 2003), pp 228-30. 34 Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, pp 36-37. 35 D R Nagaraj, The Flaming Feet: A Study of the Dalit Movement in India

    (South Forum Press, Bangalore, 1993), p 58.

    36 Valerian Rodrigues (ed), The Essential Writings of B R Ambedkar (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2002), p 486.

    37 BAWS, V (1989), p 26, cited in G Aloysius, Nationalism without a Nation in India (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1997), p 166.

    38 Nagaraj, The Flaming Feet, pp 74-75.

    39 Timothy Fitzgerald, ‘Analysing Sects, Minorities, and Social Movements in India: The Case of Ambedkar Buddhism and Dalit(s)’ in Surendra Jondhale and Johannes Beltz (eds), Reconstructing the World: B R Ambedkar and Buddhism in India (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2004), p 270.

    40 I am grateful to the columnist for his kindness in letting me read and copy all the letters he received, and for his permission to let me use them. Translations from the Hindi in the quotations that follow are mine. After some consideration and consultation with the columnist, I have withheld his name and other particulars in order to prevent the personalisation of the larger issues at stake here.

    41 Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p 35.

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