Accepted Paper:

Agency of Dalits in a conflict situation: the case of Jammu and Kashmir  


Mohita Bhatia (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

Examining reasons for the absence of Dalit political assertion in Jammu and Kashmir, this paper maintains that agency of Dalits become visible in social rather than political realm. It demonstrates that this agency operates in close interaction with the dominant structures.

Paper long abstract:

While many states in India have witnessed a strong Dalit assertion, Jammu and Kashmir remains an exception. Caught in the conflict between India and Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir presents a political scenario that exclusively centres on the issue of 'Kashmir conflict' and evokes passionate nationalistic responses among its 'Hindu' population. In reaction to the powerful position of the Kashmiri leadership in the power structure of the state as well as the separatist politics of Kashmir, the mainstream politics of Jammu uses the 'marginality of Jammu' to generate strong regionalist and nationalist sentiments and create a homogeneous 'Hindu' platform. This paper uses ethnographic fieldwork to show that such politics, though upper-caste-centric has enormous appeal among Dalits. Transcending caste-class issues, an extremely nationalistic response dominates Jammu's politics. This paper highlights reasons for partial assimilation of Dalits into the mainstream politics of Jammu. However, going beyond this apparent political reality and invisibility of Dalit resistance, it explores the agency of Dalits in the everyday social realm, whereby the immediacy of oppression allows them to question dominant structures. This paper argues that in situations marked by an absence of any progressive political platform and economic vulnerability of Dalits, resistance operates not in a direct manner but rather, in subtle ways. Resistance occurs in dialectic relationship with - rather than in complete disjunction to - the dominant structures and politics. It illustrates the complex ways in which Dalits may identify with regionalist and nationalist sentiments of mainstream politics and yet contest the various aspects of this dominant discourse.

Panel P08
Dalit communities in India and diaspora: agency and activism, research and representation