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2AHIFA?

JELAI
How Egalitarian Are the exclusionary (‘agrahara’) nature of social
science practice in the country. Secondly,
it also provides normative direction to

Social Sciences in India? suggest alternative modes of reorganising


the boundaries of social science so as to
make them more inclusive. The egalita-
rian principle is both interrogatory and
Social science practice in India has harboured a cultural hierarchy suggestive for the following reasons.
dividing it into a vast, inferior mass of academics who pursue First, the egalitarian principle has a
capacity to bring out within the practi-
empirical social science and a privileged few who are considered tioner of social sciences a sense of moral
the theoretical pundits with reflective capacity which makes them responsibility which would force the latter
intellectually superior to the former. To use a familiar analogy, to offer a justification as to why she/he
Indian social science represents a pernicious divide between is talking in a particular social science
theoretical brahmins and empirical shudras. language, say, of only theory. Thus egali-
tarianism would interrogate all kinds of
intellectual mores for their arbitrariness.
GOPAL GURU dichotomy indicates the lack of egalitar- For example, the egalitarian principle in
ian conditions in social science practice social science would not accept the fol-

T
he recent debate involving some in the country. lowing explanations: ‘one has an innate
sensitive scholars in the pages of This essay is divided into four sections. ability to do only theory’, ‘doing theory
EPW has drawn attention to the The first section deals with the justifica- is a part of the natural order’, ‘one is
problems that surround the social science tion of the import of the egalitarian prin- privileged to do only theory because one
discipline in the country. These interven- ciple for critiquing the practice of social has been born from the thinking head
tions cover various dimensions of the social science.2 This would of course include a (import from Manu) of pure bodies’. Third,
science malady. For example, Ramchandra critique of the cultural hierarchies that the egalitarian import therefore basically
Guha underscores absent liberals in the operate through certain academic and interrogates the hierarchical division
social sciences, while Partha Chatterjee institutional structures. In the second which suggests that some are born with
underlines the colonisation of social sci- section an attempt is made to discuss the a theoretical spoon in their mouth and
ence by certain metropolitan centres in the conditions that seem to adversely affect the vast majority with the empirical pot
country. These claims, particularly Guha’s, the growth of reflective capacity within around their neck. The egalitarian prin-
have been contested on nuanced grounds the intellectually deprived groups such as ciple would also interrogate the epistemo-
by scholars [e g, Peter de Souza]. The dalits, tribals and even OBCs. This section logical imperialism that empowers non-
present paper argues that the introduction addresses the question why certain groups dalits/tribals to launch intellectual expe-
of the egalitarian principle into the debate lack this reflective capacity as the primary ditions to conquer newer epistemological
seeks to extend and not undermine Guha’s, condition for doing social science at a territories that belong to the dalit/adivasi
De Souza’s and Chatterjee’s criticisms of more abstract theoretical level. This would intellectual universe. The egalitarian
social science practice in India.1 The include analysis of factors that have a principle would puncture this modernist
principle of egalitarianism, as we shall bearing on reflective capacity. In the third (over)confidence by questioning on moral
spell out in greater detail in the following, section the argument is built around moral ground the competitive element which
becomes relevant in the context where stamina as the necessary condition for renders every field of knowledge as a
the social sciences are divided into doing theory. In the final section, an at- free zone of investigation that can be
inferiorised empirical social sciences and tempt is made to critique the theoretical taken over by anyone who follows the
the privileged abstract social sciences. claims that have been made on behalf of ground rules, procedures and protocols
As 50 years’ experience shows, social dalits by non-dalits. In other words, a that are devised by the gatekeepers of
science practice has harboured a cultural moral critique of the intellectual represen- social sciences. Thus the egalitarian prin-
hierarchy dividing it into the vast, in- tation of dalit issues in social science is ciple undermines the competitive model
ferior mass of academics who pursue attempted. of doing social sciences. It would put
empirical social science and the privileged moral pressure on the modernist to keep
few who are considered the theoretical I off some fields of knowledge that might
pundits with reflective capacity which Egalitarian Principle and get better intellectual treatment from
makes them intellectually superior to the Social Science Practice others. The interrogatory dimension also
former. To use a more familiar analogy, has a bearing on the suggestive dimension
Indian social science represents a perni- It is argued here that the egalitarian of the egalitarian principle. The interro-
cious divide between theoretical brahmins principle provides the moral opportunity gatory character of the principle funda-
and empirical shudras. This pernicious and also the capacity to interrogate the mentally opposes all forms and contexts

Economic and Political Weekly December 14, 2002 5003


of formal exclusion form the field of in- egalitarian principle within mainstream provided an unprecedented advantage to
tellectual inquiry. social science practice, as we shall argue the twice-born in this country.
The second aspect of egalitarian import later, would crush the confidence of the
into understanding social science practice marginalised (dalits/adivasis), lower II
in India is suggestive for the following their self-esteem and humiliate them Social Context of Intellectual
reasons. First, it would not approve of through epistemological patronage or Hierarchies
arguments like ‘one cannot demand charity. In this context it is necessary to
equal treatment in all fields of intellec- ask the question whether we have fol- Any discourse, including the social
tual pursuit’. Similarly, it would not lowed the egalitarian principle in the sciences, emerges within a specific mate-
approve of the intellectual position that practice of the social sciences. The answer rial and social context. In other words, it
some fields of inquiry must be left free for to this question cannot be given in the is the material context with appropriate
the specialists. Secondly, the egalitarian affirmative. One would give a very mixed conditions that shapes reflective abilities
principle would not approve of those rigid answer. among individuals or groups. What was
kinds of ground rules, procedures and Scholars have failed to address this the material context that would have
protocols which are restrictive in nature. question squarely. Instead they have la- prompted dalits to go for experiment,
Further, the egalitarian principle, at least mented the falling standards of social innovation and imagination? Skilled oc-
at the theoretical level, offers a promise science practice, particularly its theo- cupations do facilitate a certain degree of
to those cultural groups whose entry into retical components.4 Thus it is suggested the innovative element among their mem-
the intellectual field has been historically that there is poverty of political theory bers. Generation of knowledge takes place
prohibited by social forces in India. For in India. While these are valid observa- basically in the labour process.6 It is the
example, one of its epistemological vari- tions, they do not comment on the authori- labour process that creates the concrete
ants can render the field of knowledge tative and intimidating character of social possibilities for such epistemological
(both theoretical and practical, as episte- science practice in the country. What is abilities. But reflective abilities develop
mology of social action) communicable ironical is that the lamentation has been only in certain kinds of labour processes.
across cultural borders with persons of about the shrinking social base of political For example, if the labour processes are
any cultural background in principle theory in India, not so much about the imaginative, innovative and interesting
capable of utilising it.3 Thirdly, this kind content and form of theory. The authori- then they provide sufficient scope for the
of egalitarianism presupposes a possi- tarian character did not attract scholarly agent to reflect continuously on the tools
bility of a common stock of concepts attention even in the recent report on of production. The progressively trans-
and categories which are equally available social science research in India. This forming labour process unfolds umpteen
for use and even misuse by a person from paper argues that social science practice opportunities for reflective capacities. The
any caste or social origin. It only suggests in India is still terribly exclusive, if not intellectual history of the west is proof
that the epistemological field in itself brahminical, and undemocratic in charac- enough in this regard. In India social
does not establish a copyright of certain ter. It is self-serving and self-satisfying groups, particularly the artisan castes, who
cultural groups to control categories. as well. It lacks a genuine egalitarian were forced if not privileged to handle
On the contrary, it would question the character. labour processes with innovation could
politics of naming categories or assign- Social science discourse in India is produce innovative knowledge systems.
ing boundaries to intellectual practice in being closely disciplined by self-ap- But certain groups like the dalits who did
an arbitrary manner. It is in this sense that pointed juries who sit in the apex court not form part of the organic labour process
the egalitarian principle promises to un- and decide what is the correct practice ultimately failed to develop an intellectual
dermine the dominant epistemological according to the canons. These juries capacity to reflect. By and large they were
practices which are not only exclusionary decide what is theory and what is trash. always kept out of such a social context.
but also authoritarian in their intention It is a different matter that these canons Generation after generation, they were
and tend to become a force that seeks lack authenticity as they are borrowed from pushed into occupations that were com-
to discipline, denigrate and even deny the west unreservedly. The apex court in pletely devoid of any possibility of inno-
epistemic status to certain concepts and social science with its full bench in Delhi vation and imagination and hence were not
categories that do not fall in line with the keeps ruling out subaltern objections as impregnated with any possibility of know-
intellectual discourse which feeds on absurd and idiosyncratic at worst and ledge. For example, they were pushed
cultural hierarchy as a hegemonic neces- emotional, descriptive-empirical and po- regularly into occupations like scaveng-
sity. In other words, without the egalitarian lemical at best. Among other things, ing, sanitation and other types of manual
principle, hegemonic social science prac- ‘bridgehead’ methodology is deployed by labour which had inherent limitations in
tice might make a lot of negative differ- the juries to silence dissenting voices which prompting them to do anything extraordi-
ence to cultural groups like dalits and are questioning this cultural hierarchy and nary in terms of creating knowledge. Until
advisis. As an intellectual force this kind are threatening to offer alternative ideas the arrival of modernity in India, particu-
of hegemonic practice would lead to cari- of social science.5 Most dalit/bahujans larly with independence, dalits were not
caturing of the dalit/bahujans as episte- have developed only stunted ambitions included in the differentiated spheres of
mologically dumb, push them into that are historically and socially struc- production that offer the context for imagi-
empirical ghettoes or confine their in- tured. In other words, dalits have not nation. In other words, ghettoisation into
tellectual/theoretical ambitions to the been able to develop the ambition for ideas inferiorised manual spheres, reflecting the
dominant methodological modes to a sig- and theory because of certain structural closed character of society, resulted in loss
nificant degree. Thus the lack of a genuine and socio-historical reasons that have of the confidence that is so important in

5004 Economic and Political Weekly December 14, 2002


developing the theoretical potential in the community with historically accumulated thinking tradition based on the dialogical
social sciences.7 In the Indian context these intellectual resources assure a congenial mode which was much more democratic
occupations were more alienating and cultural context, making one’s choice of than the brahminical mode. Members of
humiliating and stalled any possibility of theoretical research look natural. Mem- the TTB have consolidated cumulative
imagination or innovation within the dalit bers of the twice-born communities are advantage over dalit/bahujans for the
communities. Thus before independence, fortunate to enjoy these conditions both in following reasons. First, the TTB were
the dalits lacked both the context and the India and abroad. The dalits lack these fortunate to receive modern education
conditions. But after independence labour community resources. The Ford Founda- from the imperialists. Many of them did
processes did offer differentiated spheres tion deserves credit for coming forward to not mind migrating to western countries
for the dalits but they did not create suf- create some enabling conditions for dalit even though that went against the spirit of
ficient conditions that make reflectivity reflectivity. their religion. They were also the recipi-
possible. We shall discuss this point in ents of different kinds of fellowships that
greater detail later. Suffice it to say that III were showered on them by both several
lack of conditions stalled the growth of any Hierarchical Past Survives in princely states and the colonial state. Even
reflective faculty among dalits. Dalits who the Cultural Present after independence they received the
may have had reflective capacities could attention and appreciation of the rulers.
not develop them. They were denied the There are historical reasons that gave a For example, a member of the TTB served
conditions that are necessary for the de- structural advantage to the top of the twice as adviser to the Maratha chief minister
velopment of reflective faculties. One born (TTB) in consolidating its privileged in Maharashtra. Many prominent brahmins
of the crucial conditions of reflectivity is position in doing theory. Historically ac- led intellectual-cultural bodies in the state.
the availability of freedom. Freedom from cumulated cultural inequalities seem to They have been the major beneficiaries of
the immediate context that can become have reinforced dalit epistemological clo- intellectual opportunities that are avail-
quite constraining is absolutely necessary sure. This in effect left the realm of able in India and aboard. They do not mind
for making sense of the immediate at an reflectivity entirely free for the TTB. Such migrating abroad, leaving the dalit/bahujan
abstract general level. It is necessary in closure has its sanction in Manu’s think- to take over the empire of empirical re-
order to make connections through the vast ing. The shudras are born from the leg and search. Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and
number of details that are embedded into hence are deficient in terms of the capacity several other universities abroad and
the immediate. to think. Manu’s code denied dalits and privileged institutions and premier uni-
Freedom is also necessary to seek de- women access to formal education, which versities at home are monopolised by the
tachment from the immediate for illumi- is necessary to achieve the capacity to TTB. The doors of certain premier insti-
nation at the general level. If one does not speak in an abstract universal language. tutions in the country like NMML in Delhi,
enjoy that freedom and is completely This division with religious sanction be- and Institute of Advance Studies in Shimla
trapped in the ceaseless struggle for sur- hind it was conveniently naturalised within were completely closed to the dalits. It is
vival, one is completely handicapped in folk consciousness, as is evident in the only in recent years that dalits are accom-
developing any reflectivity. Ultimately it Marathi ditty: modated in these institutions, of course at
is those with economic security who can Brahmanchy ghari lihina (at the brahmin’s the lower levels of the fellowship
pursue philosophy and theory in the formal you write and learn) programmes. As far as Cambridge, Harvard
sense of the terms. The rest are forced to Kunbay ghari dana (at the tiller’s you and Oxford are concerned, it will take ages
do only the empirical side of social sci- thrash) for the dalits to enter these educational
ence. Ambedkar himself had realised the Mahara ghari gana (at the dalit’s you institutions which are known for their
need for such freedom and took time off sing)8 theoretical orientation. There is no doubt
to detach himself from the immediate The privileged location of the TTB was that these institutes, including the Indian
‘chawl’ life in Bombay and went to dif- further legitimised through the writing of ones mentioned above, have promoted
ferent places of high learning abroad. But both Indian and foreign scholars, Promi- quality research. But these institutions’
he was not as fortunate as others to enjoy nent among them are P V Kane who argued obsession with modernity undermined
steady support from the intellectual circles that brahmins were the founders of Indian the egalitarian principle which, as seen
that existed during his time. His reflectivity philosophy.9 In the same vein, Louis earlier, requires equal access to intellec-
flourished almost like Ekalavya’s. What Dumont also mentions (with reservations) tual resources. Many urban-based scholars
are necessary are feedback from liberal that brahmins as the renouncers were the hold fellowships simultaneously at differ-
interlocutors, support from institutions with creators of value and of different branches ent places in India and abroad, seriously
strong traditions of solid theoretical re- of knowledge.10 It has been also argued violating the Rawlsian justice principle
search and financial support that would by some scholars that brahmins have that would not allow such monopoly that
help the scholar to pursue the academic always pursued theoretical/pure reason leads to the exclusion of a number of
agenda at a more abstract level and on with the help of intricate arguments, while persons qualified for these positions. In
more meaningful and dignified terms. Buddha was always following practical any case dalits are the latecomers to
Scholarship programmes are not enough reason in order to tackle practical prob- such opportunities. They were excluded
to provide material security for dalits for lems like maintaining peace in society. from the benefits as they could not pass
two reasons. First, they are so meagre and, However, people like Bhandarkar and the modernist test. When they are ready
second, they do not guarantee the jobs that Phule, Ambedkar and Sharad Patil may not to compete for entry, the rules of entry
are so crucial for any reflectivity. Along accept this claim and would argue that the have been changed from the modern to
with these conditions, the resources of the Buddhist philosophical tradition is the the traditional and the parochial at the

Economic and Political Weekly December 14, 2002 5005


NMML and more prominently at the Shimla the discourse to higher levels of complex- However, the high priests of theory do
institute. ity and formulation and approximation not mind dalits doing empirical studies.
Dalits are thus denied the intellectual of experience results in displeasure dis- Some of them base their theoretical pre-
conditions that are necessary for develop- played by these gatekeepers of social mises on data collected by dalits. Social
ing more reflective capacities. It is frus- science against the dalits, tribals and OBCs. science practice therefore lacks moral
trating, if not tragic, for dalits to languish The creation of language becomes standing. Theory does not attract the dalit
in raw empiricism. In the absence of such another effective weapon to restrict the also because the latter lack internal moral
opportunities, the only alternative that is entry of dalits into academic circles which reasoning based on the notion of sacrifice
available to dalits, adivasis and OBCs is are based on a particular syntax, mostly and endurance. Doing theory is a moral
to approach central bodies like the UGC Anglo-American. Some of the more nasty responsibility based on sacrifice that the
and the ICSSR for help. It would be inte- guards of these circles would point out the dalit have to make in terms of pursuing
resting to know how many tribals and grammatical mistakes of the dalits pub- spiritual rather than temporal power. It
dalits have been the beneficiares of various licly, not just for crushing the intellectual requires that one be not moved by imme-
national and international fellowship confidence of the dalits through humili- diate success or solution or glamour or
programmes that are offered by these ation but also for hiding behind the lan- charm. Let us see how this affects the
bodies. In the absence of reliable evidence, guage game. This restricted exchange doing capacity of reflectivity.
one can hazard a guess and say that dalits ultimately leads to the creation of mutual
and tribals are by and large out of the admiration societies (Delhi is full of such IV
fellowship programmes. One of the pri- societies). Such societies certainly achieve Moral Conditions of Reflective
mary reasons that can explain this exclu- a certain kind of height but hardly any Capacities
sion from the opportunity structure is that depth in the social sciences. Due to their
there is active discouragement at both ends shared habitus12 they lack imagination to Doing theory demands enduring moral
of the opportunity structure. Dalits find the invent new conceptual instruments. Thus stamina for successfully resisting the temp-
UGC and ICSSR functioning more bu- they keep producing more of the same. We tation for temporal gains that have the
reaucratic and hence intimidating and will deal with this a little later. Such capacity to de-motivate a person from
actively discouraging. We have several societies cause the epistemological isola- pursuing the spiritual. Doing serious theory
examples that show that dalit students were tion to the dalits. The strict observance of also demands that one should overcome
forced to give up more attractive UGC a language code, protocols, body language the sense of anxiety that involves an ele-
fellowships in favour of less attractive and ground rules effectively converts ment of compulsion to perform. Perfor-
ICSSR ones.11 On the other hand, there seminar halls into a hostile structure that mance, whether on the stage or in seminar
is a constant flow of opportunities to the very often inflict humiliation on the dalits rooms, is aimed at getting immediate
TTB. The Shudras have been, as remarked who then feel nervous or intimidated to recognition from the audience. In such
earlier, left with the earthen pot full of enter such structures. Ultimately, dalits are performances what become important is
empirical details that are thoroughly de- denied access to knowledge and its articu- body language, speech and sound and
spised by the TTB as inferior. The pot lation. They are also denied the critical speed of words and not so much the care-
overflows in seminars and in magazines faculty to interrogate the dominant mode ful arrangement of the content. Doing
and government offices as and when it is of thinking. For example, the dalit may theory requires discipline, patience and
required to overflow. (The earthen pot have a genuinely insightful point that might endurance that go into making a theoretical
imagery has a grim history. During Peshwa challenge the big boss in social science, statement that is made carefully and not
rule in Pune the TTB forced dalits to hang but the moment the dalit questions the superficially or polemically. Doing theory
earthen pots around their necks so that they premise of the big boss, immediately loud does not therefore bring you immediate
could spit in it so as to avoid pollution.) laughter full of crushing derision is col- recognition. Ambedkar’s sociological,
Apart from the monopolisation of in- lectively produced in such gatherings. Does economic and jurisprudence work took a
stitutions to maintain the historical lead in not this kind of institutionalised exclusion long time and Rawls spent 20 years on his
epistemological status, the TTB deployed show the dent in social science confi- theory of justice. Against this, the tempo-
different strategies like canonising the dence? Let us look at another example, one ral fetches immediate here and now
discourse with the help of well-defined that involves the humiliating exclusion of recognition.
ground rules and procedures and protocols dalits from the established discourse in Most dalits are vulnerable to the attrac-
and compartmentalisation of institutions social science. If some dalits were speaking tion of temporal power that does not flow
around chosen themes. For example, the about Gramsci, suddenly the champions of from theoretical practice but from what are
high priest in theory seeks to canonise the Gramsci would raise objection. ‘Aj kal koi considered to be the more glamorous and
social science discourse around ground bhi aira gaira nathu khaira Gramschi ke easy spheres of mobility. This might in-
rules that are often inhibiting, protocols bare me bol raha hai. Poor Gramsci must clude formal politics and networking with
that are discouraging, language that is be turning in his grave’.13 In fact Gramsci institutions that demand that intellectuals
definitely frightening and procedures that would rest in peace in his grave seeing his always be ready with data. When ambi-
cause anxiety among those who want to thought being resurrected by the right kind tions for the temporal grow out of propor-
move away from the empirical to the of subaltern who is ridiculed as aira gaira tion to the theoretical consciousness, then
theoretical. This kind of TTB profession- by the defenders of Gramsci. The so-called theoretical concerns get completely driven
alism strikes fear among the dalits/bahujans defenders of Gramsci are actually offend- out from the cognitive map of the dalits.
who then do not dare to enter the theo- ing Garmsci and holding social science Practical reason takes precedence over
retical ‘agrahara’. The failure to elevate hostage to their intellectual fanaticism. theoretical reason. Along with the state,

5006 Economic and Political Weekly December 14, 2002


dalit politicians from both the NGO sector tends to keep some things hidden from the Otherwise I would have been done to death
and formal politics promote such practical public imagination. But poetry has no through Brahminical cant and hypocrisy.
reasons because in the case of the former conceptual capacity to universalise the As a Brahmin. I would have floated full
the empirical details come in handy to particular and particularise the universal. of arrogance and ego
impress donor agencies, while in the case It does not have that dialectical power. By And would have been led to the lowest of
the lowest Naraka (hell). 15
of latter the data help in constructing the contrast, theory demands clarity of con-
self-serving rhetoric that serves very well cept and principles and the open exami- This particular reaction of Tukaram is
the everyday forms of dalit petty politics. nation of one’s own action to see whether too self-explanatory to require any further
Like the figures of atrocities are converted it is justified. Poetry helps the dalit in elaboration.
into such rhetoric and later are parroted by making connections through metaphors, These are some of the reasons that are
dalits in national and international forums. but not through concepts. It is theory that advanced by the dalits to defend their
One can mix some emotion to make the is supposes to do that. It makes connec- empiricism. The question that still remains
details more interesting. tions through concepts and also helps in to be answered is should the dalits, tribals
In such an intellectual atmosphere, pro- illuminating the meaning that is embedded and the OBCs be forever lost in their unique
moting theory requires transcending emo- in complex reality. However, Gadamer experience? Should they not look at theory
tions to rationality and is considered a big would ask the question “is it right to reserve as a moral responsibility to accord respect-
danger and anybody offering theory looks the concept of truth for conceptual know- ability to their experience that otherwise
like a stranger to this brand of dalits who ledge? Must we not also admit that the is caricatured by both the snobbish theorist
have a stake in maintaining the collective work of art possesses truth?” This is a and politicians from TTB? Should they not
theoretical inability. The logic of the tem- serious question. move from the immediate to the abstract
poral dominates the academic agenda of However it is not entirely true that dalits and restore subjectivity? Should they not
the dalits. Thus many of them go in for turn towards either poetry or empirical stop making guest appearances in some-
soft options rather than tough courses like research out of compulsion. On closer body else’s formulations and restore to
philosophy and theory that do not promise observation it is found that they also make themselves the agency to reflect organi-
temporal power. It is this professionali- a very conscious choice for doing empiri- cally on their own experience? Thus doing
sation of dalit interest that makes them cal research for the following reasons. theory becomes a social necessity fore the
more individualistic in their attitude and They would argue that their lived experi- dalits.
is responsible for their casualness if not ence is rich enough and can stand on its
callousness towards doing theory. Dalits own authentic terms so that it does not V
try to compensate for theoretical deficiency require any theoretical representation. Dalits Need Theory as a Social
by doing brilliant poetry. It is this sense Experience for them is a sufficient con- Necessity
of compensation that has led to the cre- dition for organising their thought and
ation of brilliant poetry in Maharashtra action and for ignition of everyday expe- It is argued here that moving away from
from this class. In this regards it is really rience into resistance. Second, dalits argue the empirical mode to the theoretical one
interesting to note what a dalit poet has that since they have privileged access to has become a social necessity for dalits,
to say about intellectual relations reversing reality they can capture it with a full view tribals and OBCs. It has become a social
the traditional positions of the dalits and without any theoretical representation. This necessity for the following reasons. First,
the TTB. The poet says, claim is obviously based on ontological they need theory as a social necessity to
blindness. The assumption in such a claim confront the reverse orientalism that treats
When we were tearing you were tearing us
is that non-dalits have an innate inability dalits, tribals and OBCs as the inferior
Now we tear you while you tear.14
to comprehend dalit reality because of empirical self and the TTB as the superior
This particular ditty suggests that while their different social location. Thus though theoretical self. The descriptive mode is
the dalits were skinning dead cattle the dalits do not generate any theory, their often deployed by the TTB in order to wrap
TTB were tearing off the personality of the research can always contain some valuable insult and derision that is inflicted on the
former through humiliation and intellec- theoretical insights, their experience alone dalits. Thus description of the body lan-
tual exclusion. Now the TTB skin hides, can illuminate aspects of human relations. guage of the dalits and the OBCs becomes
maybe in sophisticated tanneries, and the Third, in defence of empiricism some of an erotic need for the cultural and political
dalits are deploying knowledge to tear the the dalits still argue that doing theory is satisfaction of the TTB. It is due to this
TTB through social auditing and intellec- undesirable because it makes a person reason that the TTB did not find it nec-
tual intervention at various levels. intellectually arrogant, egoistic and so- essary to offer theoretical treatment to the
But poetry cannot be a substitute for cially alienated if not irrelevant. In this theatrical language of the OBC chief
theory. Most poetry, including dalit regard it is interesting to note that the minister from Bihar or the dalit CM from
poetry, is based on aesthetics and meta- critique of abstract thinking goes back to UP. The theory of theatrical language offers
phors and this no doubt makes things the 14th century in Maharashtra. The fore- a unique opportunity for dalit/bahujan
interesting. It is true that dalits have de- runner of the non-brahmin tradition, Sant scholars to fight this derisive description
veloped a good sense of aesthetics but it Tukaram, criticises this intellectual tradi- of cultural symbols. It is in this sense that
by definition belongs to the particular, tion for its egoistic implication in the doing theory becomes a social necessity
though it is based on rich experience and following ‘abhanga’ (form of folk or in order to fight reverse orientalism. This
therefore has the potential to become the devotional poetry): should become a social necessity in order
guiding standard for the universal. Be- It is all to the good! O God! That you made to become the subject of their own think-
sides, it also generates inwardness and me kunbi ing rather than becoming the object of

Economic and Political Weekly December 14, 2002 5007


somebody else’s thinking. To put it more tervene in the dalit situation at the theo- ber of cases of such designated empower-
crudely, the asymmetrical relationship that retical level only to restore voice and ment when dalits publicly bask in the
characterises reverse orientalism seeks to visibility to dalits and ultimately advance intellectual glory of their ‘muknayaks’.
caricature dalits, tribals and OBCs as the dalit epistemological cause. But this This structured relationship creates legiti-
amusing objects. Dalits have been por- also ends up producing reverse orientalism macy for the patrons’ existence in both the
trayed as amusing objects in several stud- in a very subtle way. The claim to offer dalit soul and dalit society. As a result the
ies that were initiated by UGC and ICSSR epistemological empowerment to dalits patron does not find it necessary to exit
on dalits and tribals and now women involves a charity element which by defi- from the epistemological fields that are
through separate study centres. These stud- nition is condescending. This epistemo- specific to the dalit and bahujan situation.
ies of dalit and tribal communities seek to logical charity has several implications for This jajmani relationship also has a third
museumise the latter as amusing objects. dalits. First, speaking for the dalits or implication for the dalits. This represen-
Anthropology and to some extent socio- anybody constitutes a jajmani relationship, tation tends to undervalue or underplay the
logy have taken the lead in caricaturing structurally involving the patron and the discursive capacity of such groups who in
dalits and adivasis. Huge funds are pro- client. In the present case, the ‘muknayak’ favourable hermeneutic conditions can
vided by ICSSR and UGC for promoting becomes the patron and the ‘dumb’ be- develop an epistemic stamina. But the
this. This kind of social science practice comes the client to define the patron. The ‘muknayaks’ make a very smart move,
raises the issue whether social science in patron, in a very ironical sense, tends to prompting the dumb to throw up more
India is not reproducing the same torment- reproduce the brahminical mechanism of interesting details so that the former can
ing forms of orientalism against which it first controlling knowledge resources and use these details for either grand formu-
had fought in the first instance? In what then pouring them into the empty cupped lation in a liberal mode or its post-mod-
way are the practioners of social sciences palms of dalits. It happens in the same ernist deconstruction. This by implication
morally superior to the orientalists? humiliating way – the TTB still pour water contains the dalits to the empirical and
In view of the complete lack of theoreti- into the hands of the thirsty dalits. This pushes them into the frozen essentialist
cal intervention from dalit/bahujan schol- relationship makes the ‘muknayak’ intel- trap. This postmodernist construction of
ars, some non-dalits messiahs have offered lectually indispensable and the dumb al- dalits remains blind to the hegemonic
to represent dalit/bahujans theoretically. most crawl before such messiahs for rhe- politics that would feel happy to celebrate
Their claim to fight this reverse orientalism torical appreciation and designated em- such a construction as it replaces the
on behalf of dalits looks attractive. It is powerment rather than real theoretical need to make connections between several
argued by the TTB that they need to in- elevation. We come across umpteen num- local experiences that belong to the same

5008 Economic and Political Weekly December 14, 2002


logical class of collective suffering and theoretical challenge to provide alterna- how much influence these theoretical
exploitation. tive sets of categories, this is a challenge formulations enjoy in the popular mentality.
Finally, this epistemological enthusiasm that is worth taking. Dalit theory in order It is a Gramscian project that demands
of the non-dalits also suffers from another to become a social necessity has to be impeccable commitment on the part of the
and rather serious malady. This intellec- vertically critical of the limitations of theorist to translate technical content into an
tual representation remains epistemologi- marxist and liberal methods and horizon- ordinary idiom and common speech so that
cally posterior. That is to say, the discovery tally be sensitive towards those dalit/ it becomes accessible to the common people
of the dalit epistemological standpoint fails bahujan critical impulses which may be and does not remain confined to seminar
to explain who has arrived – whether the still present in the methods as mentioned rooms only. In fact it should be practised
object (dalits) or the subject (‘muknayaks’). above. Thus it would be unfair to dispense from the Red fort in Delhi. That would, by
This question becomes absolutely impor- with everything from marxism or liberal- the way, resignify the fort by dispelling the
tant because such claims have been sus- ism for their epistemological deficiencies. deceitful rhetoric of interested parties ritu-
tained on the basis of throwing up com- In fact doing theory is also an inner ne- ally on every 15th of August. Dalits are
pletely new conceptual landscapes from cessity for the dalits. expected to take the initiative in giving
the dalit experience. This inability to either moral lead to doing theory in the country.
recover or throw up an alternative concept VI This orientation would thus remove the
happens because these scholars choose to Dalits Need Theory as cultural hierarchies that tend to divide social
theorise dalit experience standing outside Inner Necessity science practice into theoretical brahmins
the dalit experience. This representation and empirical shudras. Ultimately social
thus remains epistemologically posterior. There seem to be different factors that science in India would fulfill the fondest
In view of this posterior epistemology, its become the preconditions for the realisation hopes by expanding the social base of its
standpoint remains a mere assertion which of this inner necessity. These are the moral conceptual landscape. -29
feeds on the critique of the mainstream conditions. For dalits to realise doing theory
marxist or feminist framework. This ex- as an inner moral necessity, they must Address for correspondence:
ternality hardly enables the dalits to secure make a conscious moral choice to use their gobalguru2001@yahoo.com
theoretical advance for their revolutionary sense of freedom for understanding and
understanding and politics. To put it more reflecting on the dalit experience. They Notes
crudely, such epistemological enthusiasms should treat this freedom to walk out from [This paper is the revised version of an inaugural
may turn dalit epistemology into an exegeti- the dalit experience as the initial condition lecture that was delivered on the March 15, 2002
cal horizon of difference that may radically for achieving theoretical heights in their at the University of Delhi. I thank the committee
for permitting me to publish the lecture in EPW.]
undermine any possibility of the fusion of reflections. They may go to Oxford and
epistemologies that are egalitarian in na- Cambridge for achieving height to their 1 Ramchandra Guha, ‘Absent Liberals: Politics
ture. It is in this sense that the patronising and Intellectual Life in India’, EPW, December.
experience, they should also make a 15, 2001; Peter de Souza, ‘Intellectuals and
or posterior epistemology fails to belong moral choice to walk back into the dalit Their Domain’, EPW, March 2, 2002; Partha
to the realm of social necessity. It comes experience in order to accord depth to their Chatterjee, ‘Institutional Context of Social
up as a choice to transcend the personal reflections. The becomes an essential Science Research in South Asia’, EPW, August
31, 2002.
intellectual frustration of those middle class condition for doing theory. Thus the 2 Isaiah Berlin, Concept and Categories, edited
ex-radicals for whom the old frameworks modernist theorist who is driven by by Henry Hardy, Hogarth Press, London, 1978,
have ceased to be charming options. individualised intellectual triumphalism of pp 87 and 102.
3 Dhruv Raina, ‘The Present in the Past’ in
It is true that the old liberal or marxist conquering newer epistemological territo- Romila Thapar (ed), India: New Millennium,
discourses tried to tighten the conceptual ries becomes a morally undesirable option Penguin, Delhi, 2000, p 25.
boundaries of social sciences in India, for the dalits. This kind of epistemological 4 Many political theorists share this lamentation.
almost pushing the social science disci- More particularly, Bhiku Parekh has written
imperialism is one-sided as it shows com- about the poverty of political theory in India.
pline into a state of suffocation. But these mitment to scholarship and not to the cause. 5 This is the forum called Dalit Intellectuals’
discourses did compete with one another, For dalits theory comes as a double com- Collective based in Mumbai.
like the caste discourse vs class discourse mitment both to scholarship and also to 6 Sharad Patil, Satyashodhak Marxwadi
(Marathi), Vol 5, July 1982, p 17.
for deciding protocols, procedure and the social cause. As a part of this moral 7 Ernest Gellnar, ‘Relativism and Universalism’
ground rules for the social sciences. In the commitment the dalits should avoid walk- in Martin Hollis and Steven Lukes (eds),
process these discourse took over the ing into pure empiricism or experiencialism Rationality and Relativism, Basil Blackwell,
London, p 182.
theoretical task of discovering concepts which come as alternatives in the competi- 8 This saying is very common in Maharashtra’s
and categories for dalits, adivasis and OBCs tive forms of tokenism in the realms of cultural life.
and women. For example, the marxist both academics and politics. Thus for dalits 9 Sharad Patil, op cit.
discourse introduced concepts like class, 10 Louis Dumont, Homo Hierarchicus, Oxford,
theory should not begin and end with 1980, p 275.
exploitation, proletariat, labour and alien- Oxford or Cambridge or the Shimla institute 11 This is the story of a dalit who is doing PhD
ation for everybody including dalits. In the or the NMML. Their theory should not be in social work in Chennai.
liberal discourse caste, nationalism, citi- caught in the self-serving professionalism 12 This is a cue from Bourdieu.
13 This is from a collection of poems by P I
zenship and rights and multiculturalism and stupefaction adopted by the TTB in Sonkamble from Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
are the potent categories for everybody. the country. Dalits should test the tenacity 14 H G Gadamar, Truth and Method, Sage Books,
This by implication suggests the dalit failure of their theory not with the certification London, 1987, p 39.
15 Sadanand More, Collection of Writings of
of historical imagination to do theory. of juries of social sciences, howsoever Tukaram, Philosophy Department, Pune
Although such rendering does pose a huge attractive that may be, but on the basis of University.

Economic and Political Weekly December 14, 2002 5009