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Proactive Perspectives


Surinder S. Jodhka

POLITICAL SOCIOLOGY OF DALIT ASSERTION
By Prakash Louis
Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi, India, 2003, pp. 326, Rs. 495.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 10 October 2004

Written in the backdrop of the World  Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) held in Durban in September in 2001, the book offers a comprehensive account of the emerging nature of dalit identity and politics in contemporary India. It has been written with an activist’s perspective and is addressed primarily to those who are either directly involved with political mobilizations of dalits in India or are sympathetic to their politics. Notwithstanding the proactive stance of the author, it offers a useful perspective on dalit politics today.       As has been earlier pointed out by many scholars working on the subject, Louis begins with the assertion that though many changes have indeed come about in the older structures of caste hierarchy, large masses of dalits continue to live in misery and experience the oppression of caste. In some ways the violence perpetrated on dalits by powerful castes has grown. There are also some new forms of discrimination. For example, teashops and restaurants that were earlier found only in urban centre have now come up in rural areas also. Unlike the urban context, there is no anonymity in the village. In some parts of India dalits and “upper castes” are served tea in different sets of cups in these shops.       The author agrees with scholars like Dumont who define caste as a system of values and ideas and locate its source of sustenance in ‘a distinctly religious ideology’ but critiques them for their failure to examine everyday caste relations. Caste, according to Louis, is certainly about hierarchy, but it is also about discrimination and exclusion, which is not ‘limited to dalits or untouchables, but extended to all the lower communities’. Discrimination means ‘denial of opportunities and rights to certain groups on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity, age or disability’. According to Louis, caste is “the most de-humanizing” form of discrimination and exclusion. He supports his assertion with the help of available data on the social economic status of dalits from different states of India. The data available with various agencies clearly shows that despite all the positive steps taken by the Indian state for their uplift, a large proportion of dalits continue to be among the most deprived sections of the Indian population. The proportion of dalits owning agricultural land is much less than other groups, they are less educated and the number of those in positions of ...


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