Home >> Basic Concepts >> Dalit Consciousness

Dalit Consciousness

The whole concept of consciousness has a philosophical implication advocating that consciousness is largely collective and Durkheim's sociology advocates that collective consciousness can effectively bind people together, When Durkheim speaks about collective consciousness to its contrast Marx looks into class consciousness advocating how consciousness have capacity to divide people as well.

The emergence of Dalit consciousness in contemporary India is discussed by different scholars who go beyond Durkheim's ideology and the ideology of Marx.Ghurye in 'Caste and Race in India' makes an exhaustive list of discriminations associated with untouchables in traditional Indian society which includes banning of women of untouchable caste from covering the upper part of their body, wearing gold ornaments having sexual proximity beyond the caste and the men from wearing dhoti below their knees using public facilities and going for occupations beyond their caste prescriptions. Untouchables at large were supposed to carry a thorny branch of the tree to remove their footsteps from the road, they were supposed to hang an earthen pot into their neck to spit which may otherwise fall on the ground making higher castes impure. The list of discriminations associated with untouchables is exhaustive which ends with the note that untouchables were supposed to start their day drinking the water into which the Brahmins dip their toes.

Taking these discriminations into account M N Srinivas in ' The New Avatar of Caste' advocates that socio-cultural discriminations associated with untouchables compel them to go for a sub human level of existence. Cultural discrimination was used as a platform to highlight the plight of the Dalits who went for successful mobilization.

S.C Dube who advocates the Ambedkar's argument that "I was born in the Hindu Caste but I am not going to die in Hindu body" also endorses the cultural approach to Dalit mobilization. It is the manifestation of the cultural agony expressed by a bleeding heart. This argument is not acceptable to Michale Mahar who in ' Harijans in Contemporary India' advocates that for the emergence of consciousness ideology becomes essential. He advocates that Dalit consciousness in contemporary India is the manifestation of Dalit's search for modernization whereas Dalit consciousness in traditional India was a challenge to orthodox Brahmanism and Hindu values. Dalit mobilization in case of India should be studied from the time –perspective indicating and explaining how various kinds of ideology have supported to Dalit mobilization in India. During 1920s -1950s Dalit mobilization was greatly concerned about forcible entry to Hindu temples, burning copies of Manusmriti, abandoning the services of indigenous priests governed by brahmanic values, production and the circulation of caste literatures ,but in contemporary India Dalit identity is more a matter of search for right, justice and equality than just being concerned with rebellion against Hinduism.

Therefore different stages of Dalit consciousness are driven by different ideologies and interest and must be addressed by sociology. These two approaches are not acceptable to Andre Betielle who advocates that Dalit mobilization in contemporary India is greatly driven by political interest than by discriminatory cultural past. In his article 'Pollution and Poverty' appearing in Michale Mahar's 'Untouchables in contemporary India ' he advocates that poverty is more contagious than pollution. Most significant areas of discrimination have lost their merit in contemporary India because of growth of caste free occupations resulting in the mutual co-presence of Brahmins and Dalits in same occupation sphere. Constitution guarantees to protect untouchables from all possible forms of discrimination in schools, colleges, hospitals and other institutions of public importance. Quick means of transport and communication have facilitated the inflow and the outflow of ideologies from one part of the society to another therefore discrimination against untouchables is least visible in contemporary India and credit for that must have to go to the structured pattern of social change.

When people's faith in caste was about to die political interest of the people demanded search for vote banks. Noticing religious votes, tribal votes, higher caste votes and dominant caste votes are already tapped by organized political parties, the emergent Dalit leadership went for revivalism, hero-worship took place, literatures were published, cultural discrimination was highlighted, political parties were formulated to make Dalit mobilization complete in India. Therefore Dalit mobilization in India should be studied on the basis of the greed for power than need for improvement.

Rajendra Singh in 'I Alien and other souls 'advocates that emergence of Dalit consciousness in India should best be understood from symbolic perspective. Dalits in India being subjected to material, social and cultural deprivations carry with them low self-esteem a certain kinds of composite disprivileged identity which may give rise to the manifestation of arrogance and frustration or seclusion. But both the kinds of identities help the untouchables to identify others as binary opposites to them. Dalits have sufficient reasons to hate higher castes or to fight war against them. The interrelationship between Dalits and the higher castes over driven by the growth of binary consciousness putting alien" I" in one platform and the other souls, privileged, dominant or may be aggressive and arrogant in another platform.

Gail Omvedt advocates that Dalit mobilization in India should be studied from a multi-dimensional perspective. She advocates that every movement is having initiation stage- consolidation stage-crystallization stage-maturity stage and disintegration stage. Multiple factors involving economic discrimination lack of social dignity, cultural isolation and alienation from decision-making process were responsible for initiation of Dalit mobilization prior to India's independence. The emergence of Republican Justice Party and emergence of Dr B R Ambedkar who said Dalits need an Amdedkar than a Gandhi for their liberation gave rise to the consolidation of Dalit movement in India. It got crystallized when Constitution of India was designed to safe guard the interest of the Dalits in different facets of social life. But the domination of non-Dalit parties in Central and state politics weakened Dalit mobilization from 1960s to 1980s. The growth of Dalit party is consolidation in different parts of the country sufficiently speaks about the maturity of Dalit mobilization in India. She equates Dalit mobilization with class mobilization advocating that Dalits were identified with depressed class identity because they did not have an effective participation in the productive processes of the nation-state. Even after the introduction of reservation policy the representation of Dalits in Class I positions of administration and government remained low as against their population. That clearly indicates that emergent Dalit consciousness is trying to have an effective say in different important platforms of social life into which their participation was historically denied.

Dalit mobilization in contemporary India is stimulated by the publication of Dalit literature S A Rao in 'Social Movements in India' equates Dalit movement with the movements of Blacks in America. He concludes by saying that ideology for Dalit movement was imported from west that bore the fruit in Indian social soil.

Yogendra Singh concludes by saying that Dalit mobilization in India sufficiently implies how modernization has broken the backbone of caste and he equates Dalit consciousness with class consciousness to bring forward the view that Dalit mobilization in India is driving Indian society in the direction of modernization giving importance to the principles of equality against the principle of hierarchy. The sociologists stand different in their viewpoints pertaining to Dalit mobilization. Despite variations in their stand point one must have to accept that Dalit mobilization in India is an empirical fact. It has spoken on the one hand the Dalit 's search for self-identity with dignity, their search for rights and equality. On the other hand Dalit mobilization has given way to the glorification of caste or class identity within which caste is hidden. Such consequences of Dalit mobilization have stood opposite to the basic objective of Indian Constitution that believed to make India a caste-less and class-less society.

Current Affairs Magazine