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

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Anthropological Archives

Dalit Religion Redux

This paper revisits earlier ethnographic writing and assumption as an “archive” in order to reconsider Dalit “religions.” It explores the nature of power in the caste order when viewed from Dalit positions and perspectives, the historical constitution of caste under the British empire by drawing on recent scholarship, the terms, at once, of the Dalit’s critical exclusion from and unequal inclusion in caste domains, Dalit responses to hierarchy and authority in everyday terrains, and, finally, the intimate intermeshing of religion and politics, both broadly understood.

This paper is sustained by the author’s many interchanges over two decades with Savi Sawarkar. Ajay Skaria, Indrani Chatterjee, and Anupama Rao who provided critical inputs. The author is grateful also for the comments of the anonymous reviewer. This paper is dedicated to the memory of D R Nagaraj for his open spirit, intellectual generosity, creative disagreement, and warm friendship.

This paper revisits earlier ethnographic writing and ­anthropological assumption in the manner of an ­“archive”—as well as draws upon recent historical scholarship—in order to reconsider thorny questions of Dalit “religions.” Rather than a bounded and a priori realm of the sacral, an innate and static repository of the metaphysical, I understand religions as entailing experiential and historical meanings and motivations, perceptions and practices, and symbols and rituals. These are intimately bound to formations of power and its negotiations. Defined by such processual–meaningful, substantive–symbolic, and dominant–dissonant attributes, religions lie at the core of social worlds and their transformations, simultaneously shaped by as well as shaping these historical terrains.1 Alongside, the paper approaches archives as ongoing, unfinished, open-ended procedures, articulates identities as often contradictory and contingent processes—of meaning and power—at the core of modernity, and explores politics as intimating relations of authority and alterity, dispersed yet intimate, which access and exceed governmental commands and conceits (Dube 2004, 2017). Combining such emphases, I unravel critical attributes of Dalit religions, ­exploring especially: the nature of power in the caste order when viewed both from Dalit perspectives and from the Dalit position, the historical (politico-economic and cultural–­discursive) construction of caste under colonial dominance and imperial rule, the terms not only of the Dalits’ absolute exclusion from but their unequal inclusion in the social order, Dalit responses to hierarchy and authority, which look further than their endeavours exclusively within institutionalised power relations turning on state and governance, and finally, the intimate intermeshing of religion and politics, each broadly understood.2


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Updated On : 27th Aug, 2020
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