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The Right to Life

K.L. Sharma

By Dilip M. Menon
Navayana Publishing, Chennai, 2006, pp. xx 168, Rs. 200.00


Let me concede at the outset that Dilip M. Menon has forcefully presented the cause of dalits and their right to live in the caste-ridden in India. Caste violence has not received much attention of the social science scholars compared to the attention given to the study of communal violence. Menon focuses on caste violence as a far more pervasive and everyday life phenomenon than communal violence, which is rather episodic and incessant. After projecting salient features of this sleak but a serious work, some indications at the missing points would be made.   According to Gandhi violence was constitutive of Indian Society, particularly in the maintenance of a hierarchical Hindu order. Caste violence was not an exception. However, communal violence has been highlighted, and only a negligible scholarship has written on caste violence. According to Menon caste violence is a matter of reportage and communal violence the object of theorizing. Violence committed on Dalits has remained less noticed and predominance of caste in public life has received undue attention. The question of equal citizenship gets a jolt because of the persistent power and privilege of the dominant castes. Contrary to the ground reality, the rhetoric of the abolition of untouchability, and ‘caste blind’ of ‘public’ spaces, institutions and practices have been eulogized. It is no more a reality that caste is in benign in private arrangements such as marriage.   Menon writes : “The resolution of caste and inequality is pointed in the gradualist mode of increasing incorporation of subordinated castes into the mainstream through democratic institutions and safeguards, and the question of the continuing radical exclusion of dalits from equal protection under law is rarely raised in the public sphere” (p.IX). Right to equal security of life is under threat. It is not just a matter of the right to equal opportunity. Menon asks: “Does the dalit have the right to life in modern India?” (p.IX).   Besides the “Introduction” on “Thinking Caste in Modern India”, there are four essays in the book, drawing from the cultural past of Kerala. Menon sums up the four essays in the introduction, and provides graphic details of communalism and caste, Marxism in Kerala, subaltern people, and caste and modernity in Saraswativijayam’s vision and understanding.   In the first essay a long history of internal violence within the Hindu society is traced and communalism and caste violence are seen in tandem. The internal violence ...

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