Accepted paper:

Political utopia socialized: the mundane life of Ambedkarite Buddhism in Uttar Pradesh


Nicolas Jaoul (CNRS)

Paper short abstract:

This paper on the mundane life of Navayana Buddhism in Uttar Pradesh, analyses the way utopia functions once socialized.

Paper long abstract:

Navayana Buddhism was conceived by Ambedkar as the proper cultural soil for India's future democratic society, an attempt to blend together a liberal discourse of political equality with a more utopian vision of the Dalit political project. The striking parallels with Marx's reflections "On the Jewish Question" indicates a similar dissatisfaction with bourgeois citizenship, hence the need to redefine through Buddhism a more encompassing project of human emancipation.

After the coming to power of the Bahujan Samaj Party in the mid-1990s, the turn to Buddhism represents a historical prolongation of the mobilization of Dalit government employees by this party. How does the political sociology of Dalit activism affect the shapes and meanings of Navayana Buddhism ? Inversely, how does this new religious form affect the politics of Dalit emancipation?

In spite of reproducing hierarchies of the state (due to the patronage of Dalit officers in the Buddhist organizations), Buddhism also provides the more revolutionary sections of Dalit activists new opportunities to pursue the movement of emancipation from below, and to experiment new political forms away from electoral politics. Their political habitus and secular conception of religion in turn defines the limits of the counter-hegemonic attempts to consolidate their authority on their own milieus, generating resistances particularly among women, who resent these educated-male incursions into the religious domain.

panel P04
Architects of utopia