Dalits: State and Development

Engages critically with the Dalit Development Question’-i.e, how have Dalit communities engaged with the Indian State, and in turn, how has the State responded to that question both in colonial and post- colonial India.

Is there any need to examine Dalit question separately in Development? If the answer is yes, how does one understand Dalit question in Development? What has been Ambedkar’s analysis of caste and how that analysis forced the State both in colonial and post-colonial India to take up the cause of the Dalits in its larger Development question? Why and how the State is indispensable in the development of the Dalit constituency? While the need for an interrogation of some of these questions provide the basis as well as rationale for an elective course on the Dalit constituency, the following note provide a brief background:

Dalit, a term that has become synonymous with the ex-Untouchables’, is the name that many Scheduled Castes, especially politically aware individuals have chosen for themselves. The term means oppressed’ and highlights the persecution and discrimination faced by them in their everyday lives. They neither have a designated space nor recognized position within the official body of the Chaturvarna Vyavastha, the four-fold Varna system, of the
Brahmanical social order. This lack of position in the Varna order not only excluded them
from the Hindu social universe but essentially excluded them from all other arenas of human activity in the Indian sub-continent. In a way, there is a clear-cut relationality between the marginalization of the Dalits in the country’s socio-economic, political, and cultural arenas and their positionality in the hierarchically organized Hindu social structure.

It was Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, who for the first time not only systematically analysed the caste
question but also rather forcefully argued for the intervention of the State in the cause of the Dalit constituency. Again, it was largely on account of his arguments and efforts that the State – both in colonial and post-colonial India, taken several measures such as the abolition of the practice of Untouchability and institutionalization of reservations for the development of the Dalits. Although these measures facilitated the inclusion of a few of the Dalits, they did not result in the disappearance of caste either from the public or private lives of individuals or communities and post-colonial India. Indeed, the public presence of caste, both in popular and public discourses, in contemporary India is much more articulated than it was some four or five decades ago, when the institutional hold of caste was much stronger. In this context Dalits have taken to the path of democratic politics. The idea behind their vigorous participation in democratic politics is primarily to gain a respectable position in the upper castes-dominated political space and usher in changes in the caste-centric socio-economic and cultural spheres.

If this has been the brief background to the more complicated and nuanced Dalit question
and their politics in contemporary India, this Course aims to examine the Dalit question from different axes – historically and contemporaneously and analyse the impact of the State-led development upon the Dalits.