ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Speaking For and Speaking About


This is not the first time that leaders who claim to “speak for” demographically smaller social entities such as the Dalits and minorities have been explicitly or implicitly opposing those political leaders who, according to the former, are seeking an opportunity to “speak for” such entities. Speaking about these groups, of course, was evident when a Congress leader made a reference to the Dalits and minorities in his speech. The objection had a double barrel, in the sense that it questioned not only speaking for these groups but also speaking about them. These rather identitarian leaders sought to introduce a qualitative distinction between speaking for and speaking about. This suggested that it is only those who share the same social background, if not the visions, of the smaller entities that have the “right” to speak for the latter.

The claim to “speak for” becomes explicable in terms of the “speaking about.” Claims to speak about are based on the social separation between those who speak about and those who are spoken about. It suggests that those who are speaking about entities tend to reduce the minorities to an object, which makes the speaking about possible. They thereby suggest that the identitarian subjects are autonomous or composite subjects, which is why they can speak for such social groups. “Speaking for” is morally higher than “speaking about,” since speaking has been validated by the sharing of a common social/religious background with the groups who in turn endorse such a speaking for using the same social background. Thus, Dalit and minority politics seems to be trapped in the “cave of identity,” which has been formed around them at least in some states in India. This predicament compels us to raise the more fundamental question: Does speaking for make one’s claim automatically valid and authentic or, conversely, does speaking about make one’s claim invalid and inauthentic?

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Updated On : 17th Jun, 2023
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