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Recording Dalit History


Raj Sekhar Basu

WRITING DALIT HISTORY AND OTHER ESSAYS
By Yagati Chinna Rao
Kanishka Publishers, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 223, Rs. 500.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 1 January 2008

The world ‘dalit’ or “crushed underfoot” in the contemporary period has replaced the world “untouchable”. The term “dalit” owes its origin to the writings of Jotirao Phule in the last decades of the nineteenth century. However, it was more vociferously expoused, almost a century later when a political group by the name of dalit Panthers emerged in the state of Maharastra. Prior to the unsage of the term “dalit” there had been a plethora of nomenclatures like “Polluted”, “Untouchable” and “Harijan” – all of which had a pejorative flavour. Nonetheless, the majority of the ex-untouchable castes have preferred to adopt the term “dalit”, since it provides them with the real opportunities for the articulation of their grievances.   Any attempt at historically locating the dalits, as the author has correctly pointed out has too often been impeded by an acute shortage of evidence for most part of the nineteenth century. In fact, neither the official nor the unofficial sources are detailed or sophisticated enough to put together a comprehensive picture of the dalits. It would not be out of place to argue that dalits are yet to be a part of the Indian historiography. The author has asserted that despite the paucity of historical and written documentation, any historian seeking to reconstruct dalit history can garner evidence from official sources as preserved in the government archives and from the biographical and autobiographical writings of the Dalit intellectuals. At the same time, some other sources like poems, novels, dramas, contemporary press clippings and the proceedings of the caste associations in the vernacular can also utilized for research purposes. Yagati Chinna Rao, like some of his contemporaries and earlier day historians has also stressed on the importance of Christian missionary tracts and archival documents, all of which could be used in reconstructing the historical experience of cultures at the peripheries. This monograph is a compilation of research articles dealing with the different aspects of dalit history. It has brought into focus the relevance of missionary sources, the links between Dalit education and identity formation, the world view of dalit ascetics, the realms of dalit Culture and the dalit’s perspectives of alternative strategies for social development. The author specializes on the Telugu speaking regions of the erstwhile Madras Presidency and has brought before his readers the rich world of Telugu literature, which had unfortunately “catered to the artistic demands of the pleasure seeking upper ...


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