Accepted Paper:

Being a Dalit in Ludhiana, Punjab  


Meena Dhanda (University of Wolverhampton)

Paper short abstract:

Findings from survey-interviews of 300 dalits of Ludhiana profiling their living conditions, opinions and aspirations are presented. Using the idea of symbolic exchange to capture relations between dalits and upper-castes the paper seeks to explain the emergence of anti-consumerist dalit reformers.

Paper long abstract:

The paper will present the findings of a medium-sized survey of 300 dalits randomly selected from localities in Ludhiana, which has the smallest percentage of dalit population amongst cities in Punjab. It will describe their living conditions, including their economic status and household assets as well as their educational attainments, religious beliefs and political affiliations. It will also reflect upon the picture that emerges of their aspirations for the future, their expectations and their fears. The ways in which the lives of dalits have deteriorated in the last twenty years since economic liberalisation has taken place, resulting in a visible surge in consumerism in the general population, will be outlined and contrasted to the ways in which in some respects their lives have remained unchanged or even improved. Following the descriptive account the paper applies Jean Baudrillard's view on the centrality of 'symbolic exchange' in understanding social relations and the impact of consumerism on these relations. The paper argues that relations between dalits and the upper-caste are better understood in terms of the unpredictability, volatility and non-anticipatory character of all symbolic exchanges. But given that a rampantly rising consumerism tends to dismantle symbolic exchanges, the more consumerism rises the prospects of symbolic exchanges between dalits and the upper-castes also worsen. It appears that an incipient understanding of this logic is emerging in the rise of anti-consumerists groupings led by dalit reformers.

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