Accepted Paper:

Dalit rights, NGOs and 'networks' in south India  


David Mosse (SOAS)

Paper short abstract:

The widespread adoption of a Dalit rights framework among development NGOs in south India introduced new uncertainties and new ‘network’ forms. These are analysed both in terms of discursive effect and the politics of organisational relations.

Paper long abstract:

In the 1990s, a rights-based approach to development and the revival of Dalit movements and politics converged to produce a 'dalitization' of the field of NGOs. This paper examines how NGOs in S. India came to adopt a Dalit rights approach and the significance of the NGO form itself as a vehicle for Dalit social goals. It describes the emergence of a Dalit rights discourse in the context of the relationship between NGOs and INGO donors to show how regional caste politics intersect with NGO institutional processes. The paper explores issues and debates around a Dalit rights approach. It explains the uncertainties that this involved - social retaliation, political risk and financial insecurity - and specific organisational responses, in particular the emergence of 'network' forms. To make sense of the expansion and later fragmentation of certain Dalit NGO networks, two approaches are needed. The first draws on anthropological approaches to 'the network' as a discursive effect, a cultural construct or mobilising metaphor. The second adopts an organisational view of the inter-agency relationships that determine the actual practices of Dalit NGOs. Seeing Dalit NGO networking as a two-level process helps focus on the disjuncture between the 'narrativised network' and organisational relations. This not only explains the success and vulnerabilities of NGO Dalit rights work, but also how NGO donors - supporting network narratives through fund flows into agencies - amplify the tension between 'network idea' and organisational processes to a point of crisis which brings about policy and institutional change.

Panel W067
The developmental turn in Dalit activism: disquieting caste and capitalism in contemporary India