Probing the Historical
Colonial Archive versus Colonial Sociology: Writing Dalit History
This essay argues that the colonial archive provides a very heterogeneous and at times contradictory representation of Indian society that stands in contrast to its homogeneous portrayal in colonial sociology. The field of postcolonial studies has relied heavily on colonial sociology (caste and tribe surveys and the census) to produce dominant representations of Indian society and history, especially related to caste. This essay aims to modify the postcolonial understanding of the archive by arguing that it might be more productive to underline the unique strengths of district and provincial repositories in contrast to imperial archives based in the metropolitan centers of Delhi and London. Undue focus on colonial sociology has reduced the diversity of colonial archives to a single imperial monolith. Documents of local conditions, such as the land revenue surveys, often contain details that were not concerned with sustaining the objectives of all-India colonial sociology and provide strikingly contrary perspectives on caste and Dalits.
Social Space, Civil Society, and Dalit Agency in Twentieth-Century Kerala
The essay discusses Dalit engagement with the emerging social space in modern Kerala. The movements against caste slavery used the notion of salvation through a creative borrowing from their society and from the Anglican Protestant missionaries in the second half of the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century Dalit social movements addressed the questions of social space and civil society that had a defining impact on modern Kerala society. Several Dalit social and political movements put forward claims to social space and through it a claim to become modern. Access to space became the most contested domain, which motivated Dalits to creatively develop new politics to overcome the barriers they faced. Instead of accepting caste reforms advocated by the upper-caste groups in Kerala, the Dalits through their activism defined an anticaste position. It is in this context that they began to develop new social imaginaries. However, Dalits had to work through structures of dominance and subordination as represented by the dominant castes and state.
Dilemmas of Dalit Agendas: Political Subjugation and Self-Emancipation in Telugu Country, 1910–50
This chapter charts the history of organizational politics of Dalits in Telugu-speaking areas of the nizam’s territory and the Madras presidency, which predates Ambedkar’s movement. It exemplifies the history of Dalit organizations, such as the Adi-Andhra Mahajana Sabha in the coastal Andhra region, and their activities in Hyderabad under the leadership of Bhagya Reddy Varma. Dalit articulations structurally and ideologically transformed the country’s political and intellectual landscape, especially anticolonial nationalism. Unlike in other parts of India, in Hyderabad the Dalits relied on caste Hindu reformers, especially Brahmans, for political support and articulated Hindu reformist ideas for the emancipation of their brethren. Thus the chapter argues that the ideological influence of reformist Hindus in the Telugu public sphere helped the Dalits secure a space in the mainstream nationalist movement. Yet it may also have limited their political and ideological visions and led to multiple ambiguities and their eventual invisibility.