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Satnami self-assertion and Dalit activism: everyday life and caste in rural Chhattisgarh (central India)

Singh, Yasna (2013) Satnami self-assertion and Dalit activism: everyday life and caste in rural Chhattisgarh (central India). PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis is an ethnographic exploration of the way in which local actors who engage in Ambedkarite discourses in rural Chhattisgarh are disconnected from the larger pan-Indian social movement. It goes beyond the literature that looks at Dalits in the urban context by focusing on Dalits in rural India. The aspects under investigation are caste, social and sectarian movements, youth, rights, intergenerational difference and education. The Satnami community examined here is located in a village where they are in more or less the same economic position to other castes. These other castes, however, practice ‘distancing’ from them to avoid ‘pollution’, which is a cause for smouldering resentment. Satnamis have been historically militant. They acquired additional land and assert themselves through a sectarian movement. They have their own functionaries and pilgrimage site. Their sectarian ideology advances the claim that they are independent (swatantra) from other castes and have mitigated exchange (len-den) with them. Nevertheless, they remain at the bottom of the village caste hierarchy and face everyday forms of caste oppression. Educated Satnamis in the younger generation claim that they know more (jaankar) about their rights (adhikaar) and aspire to change by becoming “key social animators”. These young men are organised in an association (samiti/samuh) that draws on Ambedkar’s ideas about overcoming caste oppression. They also appropriate mainstream spaces in the village by organising Hindu festivals, and defy ‘clean’ caste ostracism at a ritual level. But they do not have any functional power in the village or in the panchayat. When urban Dalit activists, with their headquarters in Raipur, visit rural areas, they ignore this group of young men in the village. Their main activity is fact-finding and the dissemination of reports of caste-motivated atrocities on the Internet with the intention of forging links to NGOs nationally and internationally. They do not focus their attention on mundane forms of caste oppression in everyday village life, and the young men in the village remain hidden from view. The present study examines how the Dalit movement is functioning at the grass roots level, focusing on those actors in rural India who remain hidden from mainstream channels of activism in the Dalit movement.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Yasna Singh
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Parry, Jonathan and Bear, Laura

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