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Title: Mapping Dalit politics in contemporary India : a study of UP and AP from an Ambedkarite perspective
Author: Gundimeda, Sambaiah
Awarding Body: SOAS, University of London
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2013
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Dalits who are placed at the bottom of the Brahmanical social order, have been the victims of social discrimination, economic exploitation and political oppression for several centuries. Recognising their problem as partly a political problem, the Dalits have taken to active politics during the end of colonial India and made a strong claim for political power. They demanded political representation ever since representative politics was introduced in India back in 1909. Despite the torturous setbacks under the Congress system in post-Independence India, the Dalits, by the early 1990s, had succeeded in carving out a space for themselves in India"s caste-based political landscape. Despite the similarity in the unjust socio-economic and political conditions of the Dalits, and Dalit mobilisations all over India against the injustices meted out to them by the caste-Hindu society, Dalit trajectories of political power have varied across time and region. Recognising the regional variations in the trajectories of Dalit politics, both in colonial and post-colonial India, my thesis analyses the evolution of Dalit politics in two states, i.e., Uttar Pradesh (UP) in Northern India and Andhra Pradesh (AP) in Southern India. It challenges the conventional North-South contrast, which suggests that while politics in northern India for much of the twentieth century was organised around the Hindu-Muslim axis, in southern India it was organised around caste lines. It also suggests that while the lower castes in northern India have come to be influenced by the conservative ideology of Gandhi and his Congress, the Dravidian ideology set the tone and content of lower caste politics in South India, and it is this ideology that resulted in their political empowerment. Such claims, however, do not explain the present political power in the hands of the lower castes of the northern region and why Dalits in Southern India continue to be subservient to the domination of leadership of the upper castes. The divergent outcomes of Dalit politics, this thesis argues, are due to the ideological underpinnings through which their politics have come to be shaped and practised in these states. The socioeconomic conditions of the Dalits in these states also contribute, to an extent, towards those divergences. Beyond the analysis of regional divergences, this thesis also attempts to analyse the impact of Dalit assertions upon the upper caste-based political system as well as upon the hierarchical social system. It argues that by deploying caste in their mobilisations, as well as caste-based distribution of, including demands for intra-Dalit, representative seats in the political arena, the Dalits are not only challenging the political domination of the upper castes, but also attempting to challenge the hierarchical nature of the Brahmanical social order in ways that go beyond upper caste ameliorative action for Dalits as well as other lower caste assertions (eg. OBC). This thesis makes two principal arguments. First, it challenges the dominant understanding of the North- South contrast, of the South being more advanced than the North in terms of lower caste assertion. Through a detailed analysis of Dalit politics in UP and AP from the late 19th century to the present, I show that Dalit politics in the North has been ahead of the South, particularly in terms of challenging the dominance of the upper castes in the political arena. Second, the thesis argues that Dalit politics has been ideologically distinct both from upper caste activism on behalf of downtrodden castes, as well as from the politics of other lower castes such as OBCs, in seeking to transform the Brahmanical social order. These arguments develop Dr Ambedkar's pioneering theses on the importance of political power and the annihilation of caste for Dalits. The evolution of Dalit politics in UP and AP is analysed in its historical, sociological and ideological aspects. This thesis is broadly divided into two main sections, while the first section examines Dalit politics in UP, the second section focuses on AP. On the basis of their trajectories, this thesis recognises three stages in Dalit politics. In the first stage which was set in colonial India, Dalit politics in UP were radicalised by the ideologies of Swami Acchutaananda and Ambedkar. But in AP the conservative nature of Gandhi and his Congress Party led to co-optation and ultimately domestication of the Dalit leadership. In the second stage, which is set in post-Independence India, while the Dalit politics in UP grows out of the colonial period to revolve around the idea of seizing political power, in AP they continued to revolve around the notion of self-respect without any attention to the idea of political power for the Dalits. And in the final stage, while the notion of "democratisation" determines the nature of Dalit politics in UP; the idea of "classification" of Dalit reservations had become the main content of Dalit politics in AP.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral