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

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Towards a Caste-less Community

Dalit Experience and Thought as ‘Movement’

The concept of communitas as against caste is discussed. Information from recent historical research on indentured labour in the colonial period is analysed. Contemporary critical theory that foregrounds experience as a prerequisite to emancipatory sociopolitical thought is discussed. By studying conversion as a movement, this paper concludes that displaced subjects, say Dalits, who are perennially positioned out-of-space (outcaste), search and move towards an imagined home continuously. However violent the displacement and/or disembodiment may be, they conceive a movement towards a caste-less community.

This paper is dedicated to the memory of Rohith Vemula.

Comments on an earlier draft by M T Ansari, Rupa Viswanath, Gajendran Ayyathurai, P Thirumal, Sumeet Mhaskar, Nathaniel Roberts, Manju E P, and the anonymous reviewer are gratefully acknowledged. Earlier drafts were presented at Hyderabad and Göttingen, Germany; the ideas expressed here owe a great deal to the responses at these forums.

Rohith Vemula1—an aspiring writer and academic—became an iconic catalyst for a movement against caste  in contemporary India, but not before signing off his death desiring radical movement: “from shadows to stars” (Vemula 2016). Dalits indeed could be understood as an embodiment of shadows that travel.2 A compartment of bodies, when outcaste—particularly dehumanised and violated—may be usually associated with static immobility or un-change. But engendered caste gaze is secondary only to essential mobility, that is, movement is primal in anti-caste thought. Displacement of those very bodies is also precedent to violation and violence. In that sense, caste is intricately linked with space as caste is also about embodied space—it is a spatial location of people into a locked hierarchy—and Dalits have to move against caste spatially.

The caste question about the outcaste—taking a cue from increasing caste violence, Dalit and minority lynching, as continuity in India—is mired within the social category of spatial power relations, bodily (dis)locations and displacements. An outcaste, in that sense, is a dislocated and displaced being. Body and shadow, even as metaphor, capture the travails of the most oppressed by caste, whether they are static or mobile.3 Besides, however violent the displacement and/or disembodiment may be, they imagine a home “in-place,” critically and creatively through writing and practice, which constitutes anti-caste values envisaging a caste-less community, even when reduced as shadows.4 This paper conceptualises this as communitas of/from/towards the outside.

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Updated On : 24th May, 2019
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