Dalit Social Memories: Countering In Their Own Way 

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Since social memory and myth are used as tools of social dominance, they have a very significant role in politics of assertion. Different sections of society have diverse kinds of memories and myths related to their caste and prescribed indentures, sentimental remembrance of their past as well as their ancestors’ tales of heroic deeds. These social reminiscences have been manipulated and misused by the counterparty politics in order to establish dominance and mobilise people for political gains.

The recent incident of Bhima– Koregaon violence near Pune exemplifies a confrontation between the memories of Dalit and Marathi Brahmins. Social Scientist Badri Narayan states that the, “power of elite forces makes effective uses of social memories with hegemonic purpose but are equally frightened by them. So, they erase those threatening social memories that forces of resistance want to save and preserve or instead transplant false memories to suit political ends.” The battle of Koregaon-where 500 dalit soldiers of mostly Mahars community in British Army defeated a large number of forces of Peshwa Baji Rao-II- is a blot in the history and memory of caste pride of Marathas. The proud dalits have been organizing the victory celebrations since long. In the recent years, with the rise of regressive forces in Indian politics, the celebration has got acceptance amongst a large number of dalits who gather there every year to remember the bravery and spirit of their ancestors.

However, with the recent rise of regressive forces in power, there has been contestation between the Maratha Brahmin and the Dalits in the state.  The symbol of dalit pride has been offending the Marathas for long so made violent attempt to disturb the 200th celebration years of the dalit victory.

Firstly Jyotiba Phule and later B R Ambedkar challenged the dominance of Brahmins in the state politics which resulted in their marginalization in the state’s politics after 1960s. During the 15-years rule of the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party between 1999 and 2014, there was not a single Brahmin minister in the state government. But things have changed since the BJP formed the government in the state.

Under the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, upper castes of the state have found the courage to attack the social memories of Bhima Karegon, which for suppressed class is a metaphor for triumph against the caste-based tyranny of the Peshwa-Brahmin rule.

The incident can also be seen in the light of notion of warrior-hood and bravery in Hindu caste order. As per the Hindu caste system the Kshatryas are the only warriors. In Maharashtra, where presence of the Kshatriyas is abysmal, the Maratha Brahmins occupy the warrior position.

In this scenario the celebration of warriorhood by the dalits shakes the beliefs of dominant caste Hindus. For upper, it becomes important to destroy all form of counter social and political memories.

Attacks on Dalit boys in Gujarat during September – October last year for sporting a moustache also reflects the deeply entrenched caste biased as the moustache is considered a symbol of man’s pride and virility there by symbolizing patriarchy and power. Likewise, upper caste Hindus also protest celebration of Mahishsur Jayanti by some sections of dalits against Durga Puja.  Similarly, the attack on Dalit Bahujan students in Satavahana University in Karimnagar, Telangana last month on Manusmriti burning is a design to counter the memories which predominantly challenge the hegemony and dominance of different sections of the society.

The way the issues of social disparities and problems of downtrodden have been ignored by the loud cry of economic development, such counter memories will rise in the coming days. Bhima Koregaon is another symbol which has now perhaps grabbed the attention of the large section of dalits across the country unlike earlier days when it was only confined to Maharashtra.  In view of the rise in dailt aspiration and continued caste based discrimination in the society, one has to admit that that incident like Bhima-Karegaon is signifying social memories and identity politics will continue to come forth to challenge the hegemony of the few in society to creating a counter narrative. In this process not only old symbols will be revived but new symbols will also emerge. The way death of Rohit Vemula has become a symbol of dalit assertion in recent past only confirms this trend. Sustenance and emergence of these new symbols will definitely transform the political landscape of country in interesting ways in near future.

Diwaker is a research scholar

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