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Understanding Dalit subalternity in the time of change: a case of Mahars in rural Maharashtra; India

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posted on 2023-06-09, 09:39 authored by Titiksha Shukla
In this thesis I describe Dalits as ‘subalterns’ from Gramscian perspective and explain how Dalit politics fits into the idea of subaltern politics. I discuss the concept of ‘subaltern social groups’ and show it as a relevant lens to understand Dalit subjectivity. In the thesis, by discussing Dalits' awareness of their own subordination at multiple levels, struggles to end their position as subalterns and constant challenges from the dominant caste in systematically breaking their political collectivization, I argue that Dalits are the “prototype” of Gramsci’s concept of a ‘subaltern social groups’. Through ethnographic methodology I show how Mahar's- ex-untouchable caste -who are considered to be most political aware and organised in India- continuous everyday 'tactics' are performed to improve their social status. Through the examples of changing agrarian practices and competitive electoral politics at the village level I show that Mahars contribute and strengthen the informal labour unions and local level democracy. I then argue that these "developments" are insufficient to cease Mahar's historic caste subalternity. Events that carry the image of change and empowerment for Mahars are neither stable nor sustainable. I argue that Mahars along with their political organisation and awareness remain fragmented and their resistance episodic. They although organise themselves politically that might lead to some sudden transformation in their marginalised position. They, however, are continuously broken up and divided through the initiatives of the dominant caste. As a result rendering them to the socio-economic margins of the society.


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