Dalit Assertion- Not always for the better

Caste studies have gained a lot of academic respectability over the last two decades. It is very rare to find, on the other hand, studies around class. This is quite a dramatic shift since the 1970s- 80s. I think it is not a particularly good omen if studies based on political economy and class are ignored. However, the thrust towards caste studies is definitely welcome.

In a fascinating paper on the change in the condition of Dalits in the Punjab (1947- 2008), Dr Harish Puri touches on a number of points .


It has been noted that the conditions of the Dalits in the Punjab have not been as severe as in many other parts of the country. However, this is not to state that caste discrimination and the notion of caste based hierarchies does not exist. This is ironic because the egalitarian influence of Islam and reform by the Sikh gurus and the Arya Samaj have had a long presence in the state.

There are quite a few areas in which the changes have taken place in the state- many of them for the better. Puri enumerates some of them. The results seem to be contradictory.

The most negative is the imitation of the dominant culture by the dalits. This reminds one of what MN Srinivas had termed as Sanskritization in the context of caste mobility where lower castes start imitating the behavior of the locally dominant ones.

Some of these assertions are in apparently harmless area like language. Most Indian languages that have internalized biases based on caste, religion and gender. Many times we use such terms and even idioms without thinking. Dalit writers like Chandrabhan Prasad have even gone to the extent of advocating that Dalits should renounce Indian languages in favor of English. One need not agree with this line of thought but the fact remains that language is also an area of contestation.

For example, “Putt Jattan De” (Sons of the Jatts)- a blurb that can often be found painted at the back of vehicles in Punjab has been replaced by “Putt Chamaran De” (“Sons of Chamars”) . The stress on the caste as well as gender is very palpable. What is seemingly is a protest also retains the essential violence in the language.

Ostentation during marriage ceremonies is another area where such imitation has been noticed.

Lahori Ram Bali, perhaps the most senior Ambedkarite in Punjab, decried the “negative role” of that class of Dalits for imitating the upper castes and vulgar display of their newly acquired wealth.

There are more, and worse:

A study of the SCs in district Hoshiarpur reported that “With few exceptions, the educated were seen to be more inclined towards PNDT (Pre-natal Determination Tests)” and resorting to female foeticide, in more or less the same way as many among the better-off sections of the upper castes did [Sharma and Aggarwal 2004:271,268]. Another study pointed to their tendency to emulate the upper castes, not only in terms of asserting masculinity and tightening their control over their women but also in terms of violence against women.

Read the full paper.

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bhupinder singh

reader, mainly and an occasional blogger

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