One of the stark reminders of the failure of the discipline of history was evident in the recent sessions of the Indian History Congress as it was clearly recognized that dalit history was virtually nonexistent, with very few exceptions. Mainstream historians’ apathy towards the dalit question indicates a failure of the historian’s craft and the severe biases within the larger evolution of the archive, the interpretative framework and perhaps the ethical incredulity. It has failed spectacularly to recover anything with a semblance of historicity with regard to dalit pasts. Generally this task has been left to anthropologists and sociologists who have certainly done some valuable work in the area. Nevertheless the historical point of view is often incomplete and incoherent. The treatment dalit history has received as a subject, and the way the discipline is framed makes it not only important but also a historical necessity to overcome the constraints and contest biases that have almost gained the status of historical truisms.
Anupama Rao’s illuminating work is methodologically divided between the historical and the ethnographic, the social and the intellectual, and continuously engaged with political modernity. Geographically concentrated on the western part of India i.e., Maharashtra, the study covers nearly one and a half centuries starting from mid-nineteenth century to the early years of the twenty-first century.
In the first part ‘Emancipation’ with three chapters, the author covers the period from the late nineteenth century to the enactment of the Indian Constitution dealing with social activism, caste radicalism, and nationalization of the dalit question. Starting with the politics of colonial governance to anti-colonial nationalism and the development of discourse on ‘minority’ has been demonstrated convincingly. The second part discusses the ‘paradox of emancipation’ with four chapters from the organizational shape of dalit politics and changing structure of dalit life, emergence of newer forms of political violence centered around dalit identity, and interrelations between caste structure and ‘protected minorities’.By focusing on the history and politics of dalit political formations and tracking the history of stigma through constitutional and legislative measures the work illustrates the dynamics of social political transformations in Maharashtra in general and dalits in particular. The book explores how B.R. Ambedkar’s theorization of the dalit as a minority subject positioned him as a ‘political thinker, with a stature equivalent to Gandhi and Nehru’ not conceded by many historians. Ambedkar’s understanding of the ...
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