IDENTIFICATION, BELONGING AND THE CATEGORY OF DALIT
The question of Dalit as a political identity seems to be facing a crisis in the recent times. Is Dalit simply a caste identity which is based on biological differences and therefore, it is natural? Is Dalit a position articulated in the diverse historical and cultural experiences of caste subordination? Dalit Panthers proposed Dalit identity as a pedagogic identity open to social groups subjected to caste and other forms of discrimination and subordination. They pointed out that “ the Dalit is no longer merely an untouchable, and he is a Dalit, but he is also a worker, a landless labourer, a proletarian.” They further claimed that “the caste nature of the term Dalit is breaking down.”It is important to note that Dalit is not “merely an untouchable.” Dalit is a political position which is shaped based on a set of identifications in the context of struggles for equality. Sociological caste identity is one of the several identifications in the making of Dalit. Dalit critic Baburao Bagul extended and revised the meaning of Dalit. He discovered the legacy of Western enlightenment, humanism of Buddha and Christ to the category of Dalit and reimagined Dalit as a human figure. He criticized and rejected the Hindu identity that denied humanity and dignity to the untouchables. In the course of history, Dalit identity remained the identity of untouchable castes and more recently, it was attributed to the identity of specific sub-castes in the Scheduled caste list. I argue in this paper that “Dalit” is a category of political identification and belonging than merely a natural and birth based identity and that it is built on the multiples legacies of democratic struggles. I turn to two contemporary debates to understand the political significance of Dalit identity: first, the literary discussions on “Dalit” in contemporary Telugu Dalit literature and second, the public debate on Rohith Vemula’s Dalit/caste identity in the recent struggle of the students of University of Hyderabad.