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Trajectory of Dalit Public Narratives

Narender Kumar

By Badri Narayan
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2011, pp.168, Rs. 595.00


If Maharashtra's dalits could be proud of being the first ones to have initiated dalit consciousness due to Dr. Ambedkar's efforts then Uttar Pradesh dalits could boast of being able to have formed the first dalit led government with their own party and ideology in the most populated and politically signi-ficant state of the Indian Union, Uttar Pradesh. This has been possible due to the process that had been going on in the making of the dalit public. Using Nancy Frazer's idea of the multiple public and focusing on the subaltern counter-public, the author tries to construe the forma-tion of dalit public in U.P. under the leader-ship of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Loca-tional study as an intervening tool has been evoked to construct the other side of public domain. Through a village in Allahabad named Shahabpur, the author has been able to capture the larger canvass of U.P. dalit politics that has been occurring since the colonial period and acquired more mature shape since the 1990s. The name of the said village also recalls the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party Kanshi Ram, respectfully and affectionately called 'Saheb' by his followers and admirers. Interestingly, Shahabpur village was part of the Phulpur constituency from where the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru con-tested three elections and won all. However, the dalits of the village remained critical of the dominant politics and remained in search of a viable alternative. The author complements this with critical analyses of empirical studies by Bailey (1957), Beteille (1969), Dreze (1997) etc., who studied village life and its relation-ships as social reality without documenting social upheavals and the struggles for liberty and equality launched by marginalized sections of Indian society in the postcolonial period (p. xxiv). Often personal narrative accounts do not form a body of information or the archival material to construct the political and social domain, nevertheless, the author has used and rightly claims to have used methodology that is usually absent in books on politics namely baat se baat methodology that makes the study more interesting and original with the semi-structured conversation to elicit information 'with interes-ting narratives and an encyclopedic memory...'. The subjects of the study are not merely confined to dalits but also encompasses other castes like the Kumhars, Thankurs, Patels, Muslims etc., who interpret their histories in different tones and tenor with a distinct under-standing of the past and ...

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