SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER; CLAIMING POWER FROM BELOW
SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER; CLAIMING POWER FROM BELOW: Manu Bhagavan and Anne Feldhaus — Editors; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 625 each.
The two volumes of essays under review published in honour of Eleanor Zelliot, a Professor of Carleton College and an eminent researcher in Asian Studies, deal with areas in which the latter has made substantial contribution to the expansion of empirical as well as theoretical knowledge.
The essays in the first one Speaking Truth to Power, focus on the broad question of religion and its role in the constitution of the caste-based power relations in India. The other collection, Claiming Power from Below explores from different angles, issues relating to Dalit politics and literature. The opening set of essays in the first volume by Gail Omvedt, Christian Lee Novetzke, Janet M. Davis, Ann Grodzins Gold, Jeffrey M. Brackett, and Michael Youngblood investigate ways in which devotionalism, popular narratives, and socio-religious movements of liberation form oppressive structures of control and unequal relationships of domination. Omvedt ably explores with an avowed commitment to drawing insights from Tukaram's initiatives in the Varkari movement by his predecessor, Namdev, into the politics of current struggles for social change. Gold methodically examines stories of oppression, resistance and moral superiority, besides narratives ridiculing other groups. Brackett's persuasive essay analyses the mobility of Hanuman from local, rural origins to higher status of wider recognition. Another set of excellent essays by Donna Wulff, Gail Minault, and Paula Richman deal with aspects of the institution, structure and relationship of domination based on gender and hierarchy among the Hindus, Muslims and Catholic Christians. The following four insightful essays by Guy Welbon, Laura Jenkins, Gary Tartakov, and Gopal Guru get into the way in which Dalits live Buddhism through the cultural process of incorporating new practices and re-inscribing older traditions with them. The volume concludes with Syed Akbar Hyder's essay showing how literature and alternative religious discourse combine to provide a hierarchy less rigid than that of the orthodox religious authority.
The 14 essays in the second volume focus on the political spaces Dalits have articulated and those in which Dalits have been operating. Interpreting the term Dalit literally and loosely, the volume consists of even essays discussing caste, ex-untouchables, and Ambedkar Buddhists, Muslims, labourers, and the urban poor. Anupama Rao opens the volume with her lucid discussion of the consequences of the political activism of Ambedkar's predecessors, Ambedkar and several literary figures, which led to the constitution of the category called the Dalit. She argues that the Dalit experience shows an alternative way of coming to terms with modernity and democracy. Sukhadeo Thorat's essay is a brilliant appraisal of Ambedkar's contributions to the newly independent nation's economic planning taking care of agricultural, hydro-electrical, industrial and labour development with a strong sense of equity and genuine desire for substituting capitalism. Mani Kamerkar provides us with a thorough case study of the economic policies of British colonialism in western India, in the context of which Ambedkar rose to prominence, and conditions he sought to change. Abigail McGrowan studies a type of institution that would seem, in contrast to colonial land and taxation policies, to have had lower-caste, lower-class Indians' welfare at heart: industrial schools for artisan caste boys. Far from being tools of revolutionary social change, these institutions actually helped secure and maintain class and caste structure. Shailaja Paik's essay highlights the viewpoint and aspirations of a little studied category, the Dalit middleclass. She studies how difficult it was for them to get education, and also the ways in which their lives have been, and are being, altered by schooling.
Yasmin Saikia's profound essay narrates the misery of the victims of the violent convergence of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1971, unveiling ghastly faces of nation breaking/making. Vijay Prashad's scholarly essay comparing the race and caste as a way of creating solidarity among the dispossessed, argues that despite the similarity in economic effects of the two sources of identity, the struggle against these two forms of discrimination must be waged differently. Laura Bruck's essay focusing on Dalit Lekhak, a Delhi based organisation of Hindi Dalit writers, lucidly analyses dilemmas of pushing the Dalit literature to the Hindi mainstream without losing its aesthetic distinctiveness as a literary genre of the subaltern. Veena Deo exploring the images of Dalit women in the short stories of Urmila Pawar, powerfully deals with the politics of representation, effects of conversion to Buddhism, and the caste, class and gender interactions in the stories. The essays of Dilip Chitre and Bali Sahota through their sustained critical textual engagements turn our attention to Dalit poetry.
The authors have succeeded in both traversing the sociological contours drawn by Zelliot's studies on the one side and highlighting the hitherto unexplored facets of the life, culture and politics of the teased and oppressed amongst us, on the other. They deserve congratulations for the constitution of a festschrift publication distinct for the embedded passion and intellectual depth.