Assertion against Caste hegemony in UP

In the stratified societies like North India, whose basic institutional framework generates unequal social groups in structural relations of dominance and subordination, members of marginal communities have no arenas for deliberations among themselves about their needs, objectives and strategies. Against the backdrop of this social reality, Dalit emerged as a "dissenting subaltern discourse” against caste hegemony in the state of UP.

In the recent past, there is an evident rise of assertion of Dalit identity that is challenging the centuries-old humiliation faced by Dalits. There has emerged a strong urge among these marginalized groups throughout the country to assert their identity and through their own cultural resources and challenge the cultural hegemony of the upper castes. This is powerfully visible in north India, especially in Uttar Pradesh (UP), lying in the Hindi heartland, which has one of the largest land areas of the country and is also the most populated state.

This assertion transformed into political gain of dalits in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Realizing that caste is much more an emotional issue than a religious one (Illiaiah 1994), the BSP, which was launched by Kanshi Ram in UP in 1984, converted caste into an ideology and tried to capture power by the recreation of the dissenting culture of the Dalits of this state. (Narayana:2006) This strategy has helped in strengthening their socio cultural and political mobilization and providing a popular base for their participation in the democratic and political processes of the state and of the country. (ibid)

Dalits are deconstructing the Brahminical caste hegemony by recreating the cultural symbols and icons of their community which were neglected by the upper castes. They adopted a strategy of installing stautes and adoring their leaders to instill a sense of pride in the community. Castes are now proud of their identity regardless of where textual traditions place them on the ‘purity-pollution’ hierarchy. Ahirs, Gujars, Jats, Patidars, Ad-Dharmis and so on have a strong sense of pride in their caste identity (Gupta 2004: xiii). These new caste histories are being recreated and circulated by the intellectuals of the communities to dismantle Brahmanical traditions. This helps them in acquiring a respectable position in society. In this process the Dalits are recreating the notion of caste, strengthening their own identities and acquiring dignity.

On the one hand, caste was used as a tool of power to hegemonies Dalit population, while on the other, the marginal community used caste to subvert the dominant discourse of upper caste. Alternative histories and literature are being created to deconstruct the hegemonic discourse of the upper castes, where they simultaneously struggle, resist and subvert the mainstream discourse of the world.

With such writings, these communities have started to express their experiences of pain and humiliation in the past as well as present. The recent trend of some ‘untouchable’ writers and thinkers to have their works published, has brought a unique opportunity to represent and symbolize the experience of oppression and to initiate a struggle to create new social identities and ideological bases for action. Such endeavors and opportunities contribute, to some extent, to create a corpus of counter- literature and cultural consciousness among the educated lower castes in North India. (Narayan:2006). Thus, these writings play a quintessential role in awakening the Dalits to social justice and sharpening their political consciousness for constructing effective political discourses and for mobilizing themselves for active participation in the democratic process of the country and also for enriching the existing Dalit public sphere (ibid).

In a nutshell, dalits are trying to surpass their peripheral existence or subaltern identity. They have emerged as counter publics in response to exclusion by the dominant publics i.e., upper caste. They have countered the dominant discourses of society, mostly controlled by the dominant publics/ upper castes. These dominant publics circulate their dominant discourses in society through literature, art and culture. The literary expressions and voices of the excluded communities are seldom, if ever, included. However, as the excluded communities become more and more aware of their marginalization and protest against it, they create their own public spheres, which may be given the name subaltern counter publics. (Fraser: 1993) They create a parallel discursive arena where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counter discourses to formulate oppositional interpretation of their identities, interests and needs. In general, the proliferation of subaltern counter-publics means a widening of discursive contestation (ibid) which has emerged as a distinctive feature of dissenting caste discourse in India. These counter publics are rays of hope to deconstruct caste but the need of the hour is the inclusion of women in the process. This counter public will be emancipatory only when it will include women voices in it.

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