Dalitisation of Cultural Behaviour: Representation of Dalithood as a Symbol within Educational Curricula and Media

Authors: Titas Biswas (Jadavpur University, India), Sibansu Mukhopadhyay (Society for Natural Language Technology Research, India)
Speakers: Titas Biswas
Strand: Language in Real and Virtual Spaces
Session Type: General Session


According to Britannica, the word ‘Dalit’ (derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Dalita’) is defined as ‘untouchable’. However, the Indian connotation of ‘Dalit’ addresses ‘them’, who are oppressed in the realm of Hindu caste system, whereas ‘untouchable’ is an equivalent to the Sanskrit word ‘aspriśya’. In the modern discourse of Dalit identity, a socio-political cluster for a population that includes Dalit, Panchama, Scheduled Caste, exterior caste, etc., is defined as ‘Dalit’. This article attempts to deal with the manifestation of Dalit identity or ‘Dalitisation’ in the context of contemporary socio-political discourse.

While English remains an alternative to the Sanskritised languages to Dalit-Bahujan societies in India, the role that it plays when incorporated within higher education curricula is rather controversial given that colonialism has been known to aid Brahminisation more often than not. A plurilingual coalition that relies on translating within Indian languages can then be used to propel re-imagination of higher education in India towards a non-Sanskrit pluralism. This might result in constructing a sustainable critique of ‘merit’ juxtaposed against the narrative of a superficially constructed and upper-caste definition of meritocracy. Given that the space that allows dialogue within the domain of educational media has been dominated by Brahminised languages and theories, Dalits have refrained from the role of actively participating in such dialogue. This alienation has been reaffirmed within the mainstream media where majority of the Dalit population in India lack the resources that allow such participation. This has furthered a reductionist understanding of the crisis of Dalithood. Although cultural and/or linguistic behaviour cannot be categorically marked as Dalit culture or language, specific trends and social behaviour inclusive of culinary habits, daily life activities can be broadly referred to as Dalit activities.

An upper caste understanding of the role of identity politics in a deeply stratified society has led to identification of ‘Dalithood’ signifying undue advantage. On the contrary, a Gramscian-Ambedkarite observation of the ‘Dalitisation’ of preconceived notion(s) of cultural appropriation could enable a deeper understanding of the temporal, yet material war on time and on space that the Dalit communities have been experiencing through their marginalised, otherised existence within the confines of representation within educational curricula and media. This paper is an attempt to understand and examine the role of such trends and how they influence the evolution of Dalitisation in the aforementioned realms.

Keywords: Dalitisation, Brahminisation, Pedagogy, Educational media, Caste Politics, Language Politics