The Idea of India: ‘Derivative, Desi and Beyond’
Gopal Guru

The dalit discourse in India presents a sharp contrast to the “derivative” and the “desi” discourses governing nationalist thought and the “idea of India”. The dalit discourse goes “beyond” the two in offering an imagination that is based on a “negative” language which however transcends into a normative form of thinking. The dalit goes beyond both the derivative and desi inasmuch as it foregrounds itself in the local configuration of power, which is constitutive of the hegemonic orders of capitalism and brahminism.


This article is based on the text of the Founders’ Day lecture delivered at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, 28 April 2011. Gopal Guru ( teaches political theory at the Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

n this essay I would like to make two interrelated arguments. First, sociopolitical thought in colonial India represents a multiplicity of ideas from India. Thus in the “affirmative” imagination, the idea of incredible India can be arguably attributed to Jawaharlal Nehru, while we need not have any hesitation in associating the idea of “village India” or “Ram Rajya” with M K Gandhi. Similarly, we need not hesitate to relate the idea of mother India with nationalist thinking in the 19th and 20th century nationalist imagination in West Bengal. In another shade of Hindu nationalist thought the idea of “father India” and “holy India” can be undoubtedly attributed to Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. There is an alternative imagination as well. In this kind of imagination, we have Jyotirao Phule’s India of Baliraja (the benevolent peasant king who existed in myths) and Babasaheb Ambedkar’s prabuddha Bharat (“enlightened India”). The alternative imagination of India as proposed by Phule and Ambedkar follows a particular methodological route. The conception of an alternative or affirmative imagination of India seems to be preceded by what could be termed as oppositional imagination. For example, Ambedkar also imagines India as “bahishkrut Bharat” – “ostracised India”. Second, the thinkers who have imagined India use a particular language, which this essay argues is articulated via three routes – the methodological, the conceptual and the hermeneutic. Taking a cue from some leading scholars,1 I would like to argue that the methodological language plays an important role in terms of deciding the epistemic calibre and evaluating the universal standards of nationalist thought. At another level, methodological language seeks to characterise the autonomy of nationalist thought.
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To put it differently, the methodological device is deployed to decide the “authenticity” of nationalist thought. Authenticity in this context involves the question whether a particular thought is original or imitative? In the present context, originality is contingent upon the conditions (cultural and intellectual) that fix the territorial boundaries around the nationalist thought. What is being suggested here is that spatiality as well as epistemology foreground the question whether a particular thought has an alternative point of origin or is it a “lazy” extension of the “modular” form of nationalist thinking, which is already available in the west and waiting to be replicated in India. Thus, the methodological categories adopted by some of the noted scholars seek to designate certain distinct character to Indian thought. Let me put this point in a more dramatic fashion. Does the nationalist thought in India don those categories that are cast off by western modernity? Do we “shop” in second hand? What is wrong in borrowing the used and abused categories from the west? Thus, the methodological language is suggestive of a characterising function that certain categories tend to acquire. It could be argued that the category “derivative” as adopted by one of the leading scholars on nationalism, Partha Chatterjee seems to be performing the function of characterising nationalist thought in India. According to Chatterjee (1986: 41), the nationalist thought in India is essentially a derivative in the sense that it fashions itself on the modular form of nationalism as developed in the west. However, Chatterjee qualifies this argument particularly in two respects. First, he does not suggest that nationalist thought in India indulges in “wholesale” borrowing from the west. It is quite selective in such borrowings. Chatterjee rightly points out that the nationalist thought, at least for political reasons (my expression), needs to assert its autonomous character. Thus, for him, a nationalist thought would not constitute as nationalist if it is absolutely imitative (my expression) of the west (Chatterjee 1986: 8). He makes an indirect reference to the moral dimension of nationalist
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desi thought is epistemologically inegalitarian inasmuch as it seeks positive dissociation from other contending intellectual traditions. However. The desi mode of thinking does not have a desire to follow the west and at the same time remain autonomous. at the methodological level. Jyotiba Phule and “Periyar” E V Ramasamy Naicker respectively is a case in point. at the same time it is unable to escape the epistemological grip and gaze of the western discourse. or a source of reference for the other. “desi” for its self-definition requires the west as an epistemological shadow as characterised by Uday Mehta (1998). The dalit and shudra thought developed by Ambedkar. However. Thus one needs to cast the net of methodological language a little wider so as to capture within its range some other categories that can throw some light on the hidden character of nationalist imagination. there is a striking difference between brahminical Hinduism and the Gandhian project. here for the sake of convenience I do not propose to assign full treatment to that perspective. the claim for self-referentiality emerges in the context of a desi response to colonial epistemological challenge that in fact shakes the desi out of its intellectual complacency if not slumber. It does not find it necessary to exist as a contending and competing intellectual tradition. He would call all the silenced but subaltern or little traditions like saint traditions as desi. The central argument of this essay. On the contrary. In fact. in my opinion. is this: “derivative” as a methodological language is necessary but not sufficiently capacious so as to unfold to us the differential nature of nationalist thought in India. The ‘Derivative’ and the ‘Desi’ It is true that the “derivative” as characterising category plays an important role in foregrounding the dilemma that the nationalist thought confronts particularly within the colonial configuration of power. Assimilation of one strand of Buddhism in brahminical Hinduism is one such example in the premodern period and the Gandhian attempt to assimilate the dalit discourse within its hegemonic framework is another attempt in modern time. Thus. this idea of desi is certainly different from the idea of desi as developed by one of the leading Marathi literary novelists and critics. Bhalchandra Nemade. the “desi” acquires a character which is different from the derivative. While the former was successful in its mission the latter was not. to what extent and in what context. It acquires the status of a classic having timeless essence and relevance. This semantic extension. which therefore chooses to operate on its own without necessarily making any association with other contending thoughts. as a corollary to the first. thus seeks to avoid the charge of being apologetic. it seeks to assimilate those intellectual traditions that are heterodox vol xlvi no 37 in character. in this regard it is necessary to qualify this argument by making two other additional points. it becomes necessary to add to “derivative” two other categories – “desi” and “beyond”. as mentioned above. it is important to mention here that such a thought falling outside the framework of both “desi” and to some extent “derivative” has a strong moral significance. However. Although the “subaltern” as desi warrants critical attention. a particular strand of Indian thought could be characterised as desi precisely because it is self-referential. 2011 37 . which according to his own reading is internal to the derivative character of this thought. The desi thought articulates supreme confidence to the point that it. For it can claim to be complete only in the absence of that thought which developed with the marginal support of Sanskrit or even without it. taking a cue from the very instructive insights provided by Sudipta Kaviraj (1995) it could be argued that the desi seeks to reverse the logic of orientalism thus making the west Economic & Political Weekly EPW an object of not only its own inquiry but also for establishing both autonomy from and superiority over the west. the nationalist problematic in India is replete with a dilemma – willing to keep distance from the west but unable to retain the autonomy. “Nationalist discourse is historical in form but ‘apologetic’ in substance” (Chatterjee 1986: 9). the desi for its own “authentic” articulation requires the west as a negative reference point. the desi thinking in India acquires its autonomy from the west primarily because it has privileged access to the Sanskrit language which provides the necessary vocabulary for developing an alternative theoretical thinking. First. To put it differently. Second. becomes self-referential. It is self-referential to the extent that it develops itself within the intellectual conditions that are historically available in the specific territorial context of India. it acquires its intellectual confidence whereby it does not allow the western vocabulary to float into the minds of the desi thinkers who drawing on Bhikhu Parekh’s (1989) classification could be characterised as either traditionalists or critical traditionalists. Let us therefore examine. The desi. At another level of its intellectual existence and in the need to remain hegemonic both across time and space. thus. It has emerged and developed in adversarial intellectual conditions where thinkers like Ambedkar and Phule did not have resources to fall back on and hence were forced to draw on those produced by the collective cultural and intellectual practices of the “shudra-atishudra communities”. It is the experience and not the already available text that led to the reflective intellectual consciousness september 10. The exclusive access to Sanskrit by definition questions the claim of desi thought as being complete and universal. Thus. He says. First. I would like to argue that both desi and derivative are different from each other in the following respects. However. This is clear from the following observation that Chaterjee makes in his widely referred work. is necessary to bring out what could be called a “distinct” character of nationalist thought in India. desi. One could interpret the element of confidence in the desi thinking as a moral source. the logic of such rather innovative methodological moves does not necessarily exhaust all the reference points that may bring into focus the hidden dimension of nationalist thought. like the derivative does not suffer from a dilemma as mentioned above. However. Second. Finally. unlike the derivative. Finally. It suffers from a dilemma in the sense that while it has a will to carve out for itself an autonomous epistemological space well outside the influence of western discourse. It is in this sense that the dalit shudra thought could be considered as beyond the framework of desi which is exclusively based on Sanskrit.PERSPECTIVES thought.

We will talk more about the role of negative language in shaping the thought in the discourse of the “beyond” later. Fourth. Such rather coercive seclusion and separation of a particular thinking is analogous to the dalit literary imagination which in its self-description claims that its poems belong to what is called in Marathi. It faced heavy odds in the sense that it was pushed both beneath and beyond the desi as well as the derivative. sociopolitical thought seems to exist beyond both the desi and the derivative to the extent that the concepts that inhibit this thought play an important role of recasting the real (largely un-thought) into reflection. Third. The assertion of “no” and an element of antiscepticism that is so prominent in such thought creates interruptions in the conceptual stability and universal validity of the hegemonic thought. Its systematic articulation had to wait till the arrival of Phule and most particularly Ambedkar into the intellectual imagination in the 19th and 20th century India. it does have its own idea of ideal (Guru 2009). Thus. It is different in style as it expresses dissonance. the concept of bahishkrut in Ambedkar is the reflection of the real. In the following section. Negative language as the grotesque form of expression makes both the derivative and the desi as an object of its criticism. For example. ‘Negative Language’ The thought hailing from the “beyond” seeks to challenge this canonised language by deploying the negative language. I will explain what is a “parallel problematic”. It chooses to operate through the negative language as an initial communicative condition. the thought from the margins also acquires the character of going beyond the derivative and the desi to the extent that for its articulation it adopts a vocabulary. i e. Thus. difference and defiance. vol xlvi no 37 EPW Economic & Political Weekly 38 . The Category of the ‘Beyond’ I argue here that the category of “beyond” is distinctive from both the “desi” and the “derivative” inasmuch as it seeks to characterise the nationalist imagination radically differently. the thought which is made to exist in the “beyond” is different both in terms of style and substance. The thought from the margins looks much beyond identical and affirmative language for its expression as mentioned in the preceding sentence. untouchability as lokvigraha. An alternative mode of thinking from the “margin” has been actively pushed beyond both the derivative and the desi which have been treated as the hegemonic terrain of public inquiry characterising “argumentative India”. home rule and swarajya. In fact. 2011 negative or grotesque to the latter. however. The experience of untouchability forms the part of “un-thought” as it fails to get fully accommodated in or fails to become the part of conceptual vocabulary of the desi as well as the derivative. the concepts and categories constitutive of the discourse “beyond” access this ideal only through the reflection on the real. in Ambedkar the concept of hinatva is different from the concept of durbalata (weakness). The category “beyond” does not suggest that the thought from the margins does not have its own ideal. This might appear to be negative to both the derivative and the desi thought which claims to be articulating itself through the canonised language of self-rule. which might appear to be september 10. But the intellectual project of subaltern thought aimed at preparing the masses for the realisation of a normative ideal becomes discernible through a particular dialectic. Second. is the result of the intellectual practice of those who were privileged to have been involved in such practice. For him the former is the state of being of a particular self while the latter is the condition that has a limited impact on this self. but before I do this let me explain the underlying characteristics of the category “beyond”. and vital (ritual pollution) that receive intellectually sophisticated treatment from him.2 The negative vocabulary seeks to challenge the mechanical language of unity as proposed by the nationalist thinkers. within the Indian tradition of thought. The category “beyond”. For example.PERSPECTIVES among the thinkers from the shudraatishudra community. the category “beyond” seeks to render the thinking that otherwise is pushed beneath and beyond the public imagination. I would like to argue that the category “beyond”. there is an intellectual trend. gao kusa baheril kavita (poems from beyond the margin). It thus seeks to undercut the significance of canonised language as the only legitimate form of expression. that can function through the conceptual language is more sensitive in terms of capturing the historical form and normative substance of sociopolitical thinking which emerged in India despite heavy odds. “depressed classes”. Scholars and commentators of political thought in modern India seem to have either completely omitted (Mehta 1996 for example) or rhetorically accommodated (Pantham and Deutsch 1986) certain social and political thinking particularly that has originated from the subaltern intellectual traditions. according to this particular reading. swadeshi. Phule moves from gulamigiri (slavery) to sarvajaniksatya dharma (religion based on universal truth) and Ambedkar moves from “bahishkrut Bharat” (India of the ostracised) to “prabuddha Bharat” (enlightened India) or from “lokvigarha” (untouchability) to “loksangraha” (annihilation of untouchability). “broken men”. which goes beyond both the derivative as well as the desi. For example. Thus. First. thinkers like Phule and Ambedkar fail to fit into the definitional framework of political thought. hinatva (servility). this invokes the language of untouchability in order to undercut the political significance of the affirmative language of loksangraha mooted by Sri Aurobindo. Fifth and finally this particular thought not only goes beyond the derivative and the desi in terms of its style and substance but it also goes beyond itself particularly in terms of its search for an alternative normative ideal. “pad-dalit”. mal-apportioned untouchables. This particular thought also adopts an affirmative language for the articulation of this ideal. It is also different from the other two in the sense that it suggests the possibility of a parallel problematic of nationalist thought. Phule. Periyar and Ambedkar as reflective thinkers seek to recast a particular reality into reflection thus elevating it from mere description to its universal abstraction. Thus. in Ambedkar’s thought one finds several concepts and categories like bahishkrut Bharat. As is evident from the conceptual vocabulary mentioned in the preceding sentences.

on the other hand. The local configuration of power is constitutive of brahminism and capitalism in Phule’s language “shetji-bhatji’’ and in Ambedkar’s language “brahmanshahi” and bhandwalshahi. they were denied access to learning Sanskrit that arguably happened to be the potent field of conceptual vocabulary. Chatterjee’s recent work on Babasaheb Ambedkar certainly contributes to our understanding of thought that exists on the edge of thought corresponding to the “beyond”. aai is understood as a stepmother. At another level.3 designates the theoretical/ ideological framework. the redemption of the subversive entity through the subaltern thought or the thought of the “beyond” takes place within the context of this local configuration of power constitutive of capitalism and brahminism. In fact. On the contrary it progressively transcends the negative and develops an affirmative language for fashioning out an alternative conception of India. Second. this thought does not remain pathologically stuck in the framework of negative language. One cannot object to such borrowing particularly on moral grounds. Sanskrit as a stepmother does not offer conceptual food (and creates conditions of intellectual starvation) and the postcolonial theorist also does not allow borrowing ideas from the west. what is wrong? They certainly have incorporated the western in their thought. the derivative discourse as a potent methodological resource to critique Ambedkar’s modernist moves for political mobilisation of the dalits (Ganguly 2005: 115). Some of them obliquely critique Ambedkar for having indulged in unconditional borrowing from the western modernist paradigm. In his recent work on Ambedkar vol xlvi no 37 (Chatterjee 2006: 83) he argues that Ambedkar does not have a problem existing in the homogeneity of India but is also reduced to suppressed heterogeneity. Althusser further argues that the concept of the problematic acquires its own significance by determining what it includes within its field. performs an ethical function in as much it causes an embarrassment to nationalist thought and seeks to puncture the moral confidence of the canonised thought. The derivative and the desi. and I quote “aai jeyaila wadat nahi. hesitate to engage with the local but show an extraordinary urgency to confront the imperial State in the colonial configuration of power. the associative problem of this “critique within the critique” is that it does not exhaust its logic in the sense that it pays rhetorical attention rather than offering substantive treatment to the question of caste. i e. The reconstructive process facilitated through subaltern thought thus involves. The derivative and desi.PERSPECTIVES The political thought residing in the beyond as an hermeneutic space. This language in its affirmative mode seeks to not only interrogate the local configuration of power. thus. The concepts which are excluded and the problems which are not posed adequately or not posed at all are therefore as much a part of the nationalist problematic as are the concepts and problems that are present in the nationalist thought. make huge concessions to native capitalism and most particularly brahminism that regulate local configurations of power. The invocation of an affirmative language in the subaltern thought leads to reconstruction of consciousness whereby every being existing at the margins becomes his/her own opposite. These claims make it necessary to explain the nature of the “parallel problematic” within which the new questions implicating the idea of India are framed and a non-identical. First. The Parallel Problematic The term problematic in the Althusserian framework. Thus. They were forced to borrow because they were denied access to the desi category that was locally available. i e. and thus confers on each concept its particular significance. that the sociopolitical thought which exists in the realms of the “beyond” essentially suggests a possibility of a parallel problematic of the idea of India. the parallel problematic seeks to bring into the forefront questions relating to normative concerns like justice. thus. But if Phule and Ambedkar borrow it. equality and dignity september 10. To put it differently. discrimination is in her nature. For example. determines the nature of each concept by its place and function in this system of relationship. Ambedkar’s thought entails modern vocabulary such as equality. grotesque language is developed for the articulation of these questions. In this context. While there is no problem in accepting the validity of this reading of nationalist thought. self-respect and more importantly dignity. justice. and according to the proverbial understanding. 2011 39 . which puts the basic concepts into relation with one another. it adopts a negative language for the articulation of the “parallel problematic”. The above description thus involves three claims. The postcolonial critique of Ambedkar as mounted by scholars like Ganguly needs to take into account the constraining impact of local configuration of power that has produced the following predicament for the dalit thinkers. and thereby necessarily determines what is excluded therefrom. exclusion. Thus. Finally. for example. the local configuration of power. Sanskrit language is a stepmother. ‘Postcolonial’ Critique It is interesting to note that some of the postcolonial scholars seem to have used the much celebrated framework. The nationalistic problematic provides a negative reference point that triggers off a parallel problematic. an attempt to overcome the state of servile being and radically transform the servile into a subversive entity. but it also aims at Economic & Political Weekly EPW mobilising Indian society initially against itself and essentially for its transformation into the distant future. through the adoption of an alternative affirmative language of selfrespect and dignity it seeks to posit opposition within a person (in the present case untouchables) who is otherwise immune to the normative desire for self-definition. The internal structure of nationalist thought as argued by Chatterjee and endorsed by Kaviraj is extremely complex because according to these scholars it contains critiques within critiques. It says in Marathi. The redemption of subversive entity becomes a possibility primarily through the complex interplay between the modernist dimension of social thought and its corresponding framework. It could be argued that the “parallel problematic” providing intellectual space for the emergence of the subaltern thought in turn results from the deficiency that is internal and endemic to the nationalist problematic. ani bap usanwari karu det nahi”.

795 (Hb) for our complete catalogue please write to us at: 4753/23. Second. Foucault (1989: Preface). The nationalist leaders showed deep resentment with this language used by the dalit subalterns (Guru 2007). The expression of dalit thinking as a body of thought particularly in negative language looks grotesque to the mainstream nationalist thought which has been canonised through the language that is considered as the affirmative language. New Delhi-2 Phones: 2328 4848. Let me further argue that in the case of Ambedkar and even Gandhi the space determines the emergence and the efficacy of thought. the language of political freedom overshadows the concept of social freedom or the concept of self-rule as sovereign concepts subsume in them the non-identical concepts such as self-respect. did not show any hospitality towards the negative/grotesque language deployed by Ambedkar and later on by other dalit literary figures.500 (Hb) THE gREaT plaTfORm aT vijayaNagaRa architecture & Sculpture Anna L. the use of negative language like untouchability or bahishkrut or hinatva brings into focus the relationship between the formation of concept and the construction of physical space. the conceptual vocabulary in Ambedkar’s thought seeks to organise social relations around contradictions and to motivate dalits to offer much sharper responses to these contradictions. 364p. The nationalist thinkers and leaders during the colonial time and the modernising elite in the post-independent period. The language also brings out the distinctive character of dalit thought by placing it in a different configuration of power. the concept of untouchability or bahishkrut comes up in Ambedkar’s social thought because it reflects the experience of repulsion and exclusion that emanates from the space that is stigmatised. 282p. Jane Harvey and Emmie to Nijenhuis (eds. In this regard.) 978-81-7304-758-9. Rs. elite democracy and political freedom. Rs.PERSPECTIVES that get buried in the backyard of nationalist thought and hence the nationalistic problematic which raises different order of questions relating to self-rule and political freedom. Hence at the cognitive level. inequality and injustice. Significance The negative language in dalit discourse is significant for the following reasons. 782p. Rs. Coomaraswamy Prem Lata Sharma (ed. that a body of thought exists september 10. 2010. The nationalistic problematic produces sovereign concepts such as self-rule. which is fine but these sovereign concepts tend to crush under their weight certain other conceptual vocabulary such as selfrespect or dignity.manoharbooks.475 (Hb) HiSTORiES Of iNTimaCy aNd SiTuaTEd ETHNOgRapHy Karen Isaksen Leonard. The assertive moves and the negative language are based on the distinctions between the nationalist thought and the social thought that foregrounds dalit vision. The social location of Ambedkar – a social ghetto that is historically produced and reproduced – would awaken Ambedkar only to the language of discrimination. 2011 Manohar RECENT BOOKS NagapaTTiNam TO SuvaRNadwipa Reflections on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast asia Hermann Kulke. Daryaganj. One cannot imagine the emergence of the category of “hinatva” in Savarkar’s (2003: 113) idea of India as “holy land”. The distinctiveness in thought – particularly that in modern India – becomes discernible in two configurations of power – the colonial and the local. The words “is not” thus constitute assertion. Kesavapany and Vijay Sakhuja (eds. “the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography”. K.595 (Pb) EpiC aNd aRgumENT iN SaNSKRiT liTERaRy HiSTORy Sheldon Pollock (ed. 2010. 736p. Gayatri Reddy and Ann Grodzins Gold (eds. 2328 9100. which seeks to preserve the universal normative aspirations of the untouchables.795 (Hb) HiNduSTaNi muSiC Thirteenth to Twentieth Centuries Joep Bor. The nationalist thought in India tried hard to bury the dalit question. First.) 978-81-7304-865-4. 2010. For example. This silencing of the alternative vocabulary has thus given rise to the parallel problematic of the dalit subaltern. 156p. 168p. says. 2010. This resentment about the negative language did not go down well with the nationalist imagination as it caused embarrassment to the moral order of the nation. the principle of dalit thought seeks to govern the communicative use of language. It is in this sense. it is interesting to note that Michel Foucault seeks to endorse the role of space in producing and shaping the conceptual language.) 978-81-7304-874-6. Rs. vol xlvi no 37 EPW Economic & Political Weekly Manohar Publishers & Distributors 40 . In fact. Ansari Road. Website: www. but failed in its effort because the subaltern thinkers did not allow it to happen. 190p. For example. 2010. Rs. humiliation and segregation.2750 (Hb) ESSayS ON muSiC ananda K. 312p. 2010. 2010. Dallapiccola 978-81-7304-858-6.995 (Hb) EuROpE iN TRaNSiTiON from feudalism to industrialization Arvind Sinha 978-81-7304-853-1.) 978-81-7304-841-8. 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offered rather substantive treatment to the category of “seva”. as mentioned above. Gandhi among all the other Hindus. That is to say Gandhi can move in and out of any space. care. It is for this reason. In India. The dalit thinking seeks to polarise the discursive field of nationalist thought and chooses to exist in the heterogeneous time with the negative intention to question the homogeneous time within which the nationalist thought seem to be operating. For example. They rally round this single concept for intersecting purposes. It then acquires potency in terms of the cognitive and hence it becomes deeply political rather than moral. for example. It connects the production of thought to the production of spaces. it was the socially powerful who till the arrival of colonial modernity assigned meaning to the spaces they inhibited (agrahara) and also to the spaces that they did not reside in but held in deep repulsion (cherry. involves a firm negation rather than affirmation and confirmation of the established claims. on the contrary. of nationalism and secularism. The nationalist thought acquires a discursive character to the extent that different strands of thought (liberal. Seva thus connotes a kind of passive revolution. Buddhawada. As a result Ambedkar’s thought finds its audience basically in the dalit bastis (ghettos). Third. In the Gandhian case it is seamless because for Gandhi. Since Gandhi’s political existence operates through a seamless spatiality. The cognitive categories also define themselves and acquire salience against the use of non-cognitive categories that are constitutive of Gandhian thought. which in turn affect the hermeneutic capacity of thought. Assertion. They showed some degree of concern. connects with the new Hindu ethics. In Gandhian thought the moralising language like “seva”. Self-help connotes the idea of self-respect as a moral good to be pursued by social groups that are marginalised. which suggests an asymmetrical relationship and denies a sense of autonomy to the dalit. care and an attitude towards “seva”. The cognitive categories that are internal to dalit thought seek to deflate this discursive character of nationalist thought. in Gandhian thought. The native capitalist also supported “seva” as a hegemonic device to pacify the dalit masses (Srivatsan 2006: 107). It acquires a thick presence in Gandhian thought and it is also available to the native capitalist as well. The deployment of negative language denies the hegemonic language. In fact. the language of bahishkrut Bharat used by dalits and Ambedkar would render the description of “modern” multicultural september 10. it is available to different social forces for intersecting purposes. It changes the character of his thought thus making it more placid. the concept of “seva” genealogically belongs to Christian religious discourse and has been subsequently borrowed by the new vol xlvi no 37 Hindu discourse. it makes a “guest appearance” in Hindu political thought. As has been argued by some scholars. That is to say. tends to shape social relations around the idea of seva (service). due to their moral orientation acquire a non-cognitive character. Economic & Political Weekly EPW Marxist.PERSPECTIVES “beyond” and entails concepts and categories related to struggle and that acquires meaning and significance in the realm of social struggle. But the enabling aspect of colonial modernity empowered the untouchables to seek new meaning for their physical space (Bhimnagar. it suggests a dependence that presupposes the element of patronage. is constitutive of assertion. the dalit thought contains the language of struggle and self-help. Moral appeal finds its basis in the language of duty. Finally. Other Hindus had only rhetorical association with the category of seva. Ambedkar. Unlike the category of seva. even the “Bhangi colony”. Seva as a noncognitive moral category also possesses a discursive character. In fact. it is taken seriously by the Christian missionaries who have been active in India for a long time now. This in effect. harijan. Struggle and Self-help As against the language of seva. For example. it tends to create only corresponding concepts like “seva” or trusteeship. the category of “seva”. whereas assertion is driven by the language of rights. This choice to walk in and out has a bearing on Gandhi’s thought. does not have a choice and hence has to open up spaces that are not only hostile but are also fragmented around social stigma. However. and trusteeship seek to dissolve the contradiction and eliminate the possibility of polarisation and oppositional imagination. In the case of India it is the twice born or the touchable who is constructed as the other of dalit. tend to rally round the single concept of political freedom. Those Hindus who sought to defend Hinduism in an event of a challenge from colonial modernity and Christianity offered to treat dalits decently. Ramabainagar and Siddhartanagar). The language of right. the concepts. through deploying the negative language. the negative vocabulary plays an important role in shaping the idea of dalit self and the other. hulgeri and maharwada or chamar tola). Political Freedom Alone? These cognitive categories suggesting the oppositional imagination in turn seeks to expose the discursive character of nationalist thought. Thus physical spaces which are otherwise empty get constructed through negative or positive meaning depending upon who is assigning this meaning. not struggle or contradiction. 2011 41 . Hindu) however. which promotes normative aspirations among the dalits. The early efforts made by dalits to start educational institutions for the dalits show that dalit thought contained the radical morality that brought out a sense of agency that would keep the notion of “free riders” away. The politics of acquiring new names to social spaces assumed the possibility of producing cognitive categories that sought to interrogate and then undermine what could be described as the patronising and hence non-cognitive category such as “harijanwada” – the name given by Gandhi. The construction of dalit into harijan was to invoke a sense of “seva” among the orthodox Hindus. every space becomes quite hospitable and receptive. the capitalists donated generously to Gandhi’s Harijan Sevak Sangh. sahanubhuti (compassion) and care. which becomes feasible because “seva” facilitates the reconstruction of Hindu ethics while preserving caste Hindu dominance. It is driven by an element of appeal rather than assertion. The language of seva essentially foregrounds duty driven action that necessarily emanates from the humble side of human nature. on the other hand.

the idea of bahishkrut Bharat forms the logical part of the akhand (socially) Bharat or insulated India of untouchables as the part of incredible India of the urban upwardly mobile upper castes. Notes 1 2 See two influential works by Chatterjee (1986 and 2006). All experienced situations as represented in language are struc tured situations based on concept. Social Research.). (1986): Political Thought in Modern India (Delhi: Sage). V R (1996): Foundations of Indian Political Thought (Delhi: Manohar Publication). Uday (1998): Liberalism and Empire (Delhi: Oxford University Press). Political Thought in Modern India (Delhi: Sage). an unpublished PhD thesis. It also goes beyond its own negative language from bahishkrut to the puruskrut. Hyderabad. Parekh. Political Ideas in Modern India. Pantham. Negative language thus seeks to reveal the limitations of the identical hegemonic vocabulary that seeks to constitute India as an epitome of glory and incredibility. It saves the self from getting alienated from its authentic experience that is given to it by the structures that physically exist outside but seek to confine dalits within what could be called a barbed wire. – (2006): “B R Ambedkar and the Troubled Time of Citizenship”.PERSPECTIVES India as incomplete. The concept of freedom becomes adequate only in terms of its capacity to accommodate within itself untouchability or caste question as social reality. ed. dalit thought articulates itself through the initially negative and essentially affirmative language. It raises the cultural walls around dalits by deploying negative language in their discourse which is quite unintelligible to the upper castes. For example. It shows the existence of “things” taken as isolated particulars that are basically negative or incomplete. the concept of freedom becomes more capacious when propelled from the launching pad of the discourse of the “beyond”. They are also protected from within in the sense that they are stuck in the historical question that is produced and reproduced by the logic of structure. Development of Modern Indian Thought and the Social Sciences (Delhi: Oxford University Press). The question that needs to be answered is that do dalits remain confined in the negative? Or do they move out from behind their barbed wired existence? Language is not accidental but is integrally involved in the form of life and thought and it explains the negativity of perception whereby one organises one’s experience. V R Mehta and Thomas Pantham (ed. However. Partha (1986): Nationalist Thought and Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse (Delhi: Oxford University Press). Thomas and Kenneth L Deutsch. Welfare: The Nationalist Passion to Develop the Tribal”. Dalit thought also goes beyond itself in the sense that it transcends the limits of its particularity in which it expresses as an initial condition. Thematic Explorations (Delhi: Sage). In fact negative language seeks to historicise the identical language. This confinement behind barbed wire is both from inside and from the outside. subaltern with herself or himself. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondicherry. The desi does not feel morally embarrassed by the existence of the dalit question as its main target is the western modernity that asserts itself within the colonial configuration of power. Thus. Thus the negative language grasps the true (and negative) real which universal thinking seeks to avoid. 2011 42 . ed. Ganguly. when subordinated groups articulate their experience. See Sri Aurobindo. The negative language first negates the fixed character of the identical language or the categories of common sense. Amelioration. Kaviraj (1995). first published in 1919 and in 1998. seeks to unite the dalit. Thus they protect the authenticity of their discourse from outside. delivered in an International Conference on Caste and Ambedkar. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya (ed. Mehta. Thus. This rhetorical accommodation is motivated by the need to protect the moral order of Indian nationalism. – (1995): “The Reversal of Orientalism: Bhudev Mukhopadhyay and the Project of Indigenist Social Theory” in Vasudha Dalmia and Heinrich von Stietencorn (Delhi: Sage). The negative language also questions a dominant form of identical language that constructs the moral order of India as the nation which is based on social harmony. Sudipta (1986): “The Heteronomous Radicalism of M N Roy” in Thomas Pantham and Kenneth Duetsch (ed. The Ideal of Human Unity. which is constitutive of the september 10. the concept of freedom within the nationalist problematic is adequate only in the absence of social freedom. R (2006): “Seva. – (2011): India’s Liberal Democracy and Dalits Critique. Bhikhu (1989): Colonialism. Organised by Institute of South Asian Studies (New York: Columbia University). Kaviraj. The identical language seeks to construct the nationalist self. Therefore. the thought coming from this framework does not treat concepts just symbolically but offers them a more substantive treatment. Kaviraj (1986: 209-35). Foucault. New Left Review. The reactions to Ambedkar and Katherine Mayo’s Mother India bring out this element of embarrassment clearly. In this regard also refer to Parekh (1989: 21). 3 References Chatterjee. 15 and 16 October. 1977. the concept of “mother India” has been negated first by Ambedkar and later on by several dalit writers (Guru 2011). Vol 74. Debjani (2005): Dalit Literature and Their Life World (Delhi: Orient Longman). pp 244-45. London. The derivative or the desi on the other hand seek to avoid or rhetorically accommodate the dalit question in the margins of the hegemonic terrain of its thought. special lecture. Tradition and Reform: An Analysis of Gandhi’s Political Discourses (Delhi: Sage). which seeks to avoid the question of historical injustice. Dalit thinking goes beyond both the derivative and desi inasmuch as it foregrounds itself in the local configuration of power. negative language at the ontological level. Savarkar. Srivatsan. Hindi Sahitya Sadan. – (2009): “The Idea of Ideal in Ambedkar”. shetji and bhatji (capitalism and brahminism). Thus. Gopal (2007): “Social Justice: A 20th Century Discourse from the Quarantined India”. Michel (1989): The Order of Things: An Archaeology of Human Sciences (London: Routledge). No 1 (New York: Spring). Guru. they use concepts derived not from the positive or identical language narratives but from commitments embedded within their own language that had hitherto gone unrecognised. Fourth. Delhi. Negative language causes moral embarrassment to both the derivative as well as the desi. The negative language constitutes the source of moral embarrassment precisely because the twice born castes treat themselves as the constitutive core of modern India. V D (2003): Hindutva.). Western Marxism – A Critical Reader. For example. submitted to Dr B R Ambedkar Open University.). Mehta. vol xlvi no 37 EPW Economic & Political Weekly Conclusions Social and political thought which exists in the sphere of the “beyond” has an epistemological capacity to make reality adequate enough to fit the concepts. This avoidance can be explained in terms of moral reason.

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