Book review: Civility against Caste: Dalit Politics and Citizenship in Western India

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Title: Civility against Caste: Dalit Politics and Citizenship in Western India

Author: Prof. Suryakant Waghmore

Publisher: Sage India

Year: January, 2014

Review by: Yogesh Maitreya for TwoCircles.net,

Civility is the least discussed discourse in India. In post-constitutional Indian society, the idea of civility has formed a binary: on one hand, ‘civil society’ that has been propagated by media and resources which are dominated and owned by Brahmin-Bania associations and on the other hand, the civility which has been practice by NGOs and political organisations led by Dalits. The latter had started with the core motive of annihilation of caste and, found its genesis in the struggles of Mahatma Fule and Dr. B.R.Ambedkar in Maharashtra. The idea of civility, practiced by Dalit NGOs and political groups, is contrary to the idea of civility which Brahmin-Bania possess and propagate in India, simply because idea of civility practiced by Dalits aims at annihilation of caste; precisely, Dalit civility is the ‘Civility against Caste’.

In his meticulously precise study of Dalit NGO and Political Party (Manavi Hakka Abhiyan (MHA) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) respectively) in Beed district of Maharashtra which is also an atrocity prone area, Prof Suryakant Waghmore has elicited the ethnography and anthropology of civility which has been practiced in Beed by these two organisations through their unconventional methods and strategies. The practice of caste in the district of Beed is an explicit and brutal affair. But Dalit politics (of BSP) in Beed is one of the modes with which caste notions have been challenged and thus it is forming into the latest version of civility with political groundings as its base. At another level, MHA, with its NGO-outlook, has been successful till a great extent to bring out the caste-issues, associated with land and violence, in its working manuals and shaping the concept of civility at much higher level. Prof. Suryakant Waghmore’s “Civility against Caste” is a comprehensive attempt to theorise this extending concept of civility in Indian society with reference two MHA and BSP in Beed.

The book starts with the personal narratives of the people who are involved into these organisations and attempts at capturing the ontological groundings of their involvement into their respective organisations and genesis of their developing critical consciousness against praxis of caste which dominates the socio-economical spaces of Beed district.

Prof. Suryakant Waghmore, keeping caste as the core of the book, also plunges into the socio-political-economic factors which are embedded into the politics of Beed districts and simultaneously documenting the theorisation of civility referring to Dalits and their everyday struggle to adjust themselves and aspire for freedom within caste-ridden spaces. But the book is also a significant account because it documents the struggles of Mangs (another ex-untouchable caste in Maharashtra) beyond Mahar existence. In much of the studies, that capture the lives of Dalits in Maharashtra, always referred and considered Mahar (ex-untouchables) as the point of reference to untouchability and its theorisation. In this sense, Prof. Suryakant Waghmore in his Civility of Caste makes the bold attempt to extend the discourse on Dalit polity and civility society beyond Mahars- much of them, along with Dr. Ambedkar in 1956 had converted to Buddhism.

Thus, keeping this view in mind, Civility against Caste, also gazes religious nuances between Mahars and Mangs and their involvement, participation and contribution into Dalit movement in Maharashtra and shaping the newest context of civility in post-colonial period in which caste has transformed from being oppressed group to assertive ones, as Prof. Suryakant Waghmore argues that caste functions not only as a source of inequality but as a resource for mobilisation against inequalities. Documenting in this regards the political existence of BSP in Beed, Prof. Suryakant Waghmore elaborates the electorate politics of BSP, which tends to utilise the creative use of caste-groups as its one of the ideological bases that had been blueprinted by its founder and leader Kanshiram, Jatav (another un-untouchable caste from north India) who shaped the Dalit politics at different level of mobilisation.

Civility against Caste, also offers an insightful reading on Dalit politics in Maharashtra in post-Panther discourses, keeping civility as its theorising guideline. In post-Panther period, the normative praxis of Dalit politics has been splintered into various ways, which also transformed and shaped by the standards of neo-liberal decades. NGOs appeared newly after Panther politics and shaped the discourse of civil society in Maharashtra. MHA, basically an extended outfit of RDC (Rural Development Centre) in Beed is one such NGO façade organisation whose strategies work on the caste issues which had been never-touched subject of NGOs in Maharashtra so far. Civility against Caste captures the normative functioning of this MHA to theorise the existence of civility in the district of Beed where economical, social and psychological aspects of caste dominate the political discourse at every steps. The idea of civility in the district of Beed is hard to imagine in the middle of everyday caste-conflicts where atrocities against Dalits by Marathas (feudal upper-castes in Maharashtra) almost established itself as cultural ethos of civic life there. But Prof. Suryakant Waghmore, argues and establishes optimistic grounding in his study of civility and caste in Beed as he reaffirms that the state, civil society, and caste are not static, homogeneous and absolute systems and that the state and its liberal tenets do not always work against Dalits. Besides their intersections and coevolution of the state, caste and civil society, they are also malleable to the influence of the most marginalised groups like Dalits.

Prof. Suryakant Waghmore’s study of civility and Dalit politics of Beed districts appears to have new documents for the readers and scholars of caste and caste-conflicts and, poses a challenge to those who have assumed an impasse into Dalit politics. Dalit politics, as always is in pursuit of seeking the democratisation of public affairs can be understood into Kant’s words: every action is right which by itself or by its maxim enables the freedom of each individual will to co-exist with the freedom of everyone else in accordance with universal law.

 

(Yogesh Maitreya is doing his M.A in Criminology and Justice (2013-15) from TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.)

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