Royal Holloway University of London Department of History
and The University of Leeds School of History
Event Date: 9 and 10 September 2010
Royal Asiatic Society 14 Stephenson Way, London NW1
Nicolas Jaoul – Harijan Citizens in Kanpur
Based on oral testimonies and local Dalit publications, this paper will illustrate how Dalits in Kanpur have perceived the independence, and how they adapted their expectations to the new power equation. Independence confirmed the marginalization of Ambedkarite leaders, something that Ambedkar had already denounced in 1945, to the benefit of weak Congress representatives who organized the local distribution of state resources available to Dalits (especially the benefits of positive discrimination). The social and political context was marked by resilience of the old status quo in spite of an official rhetoric of social change. The discourse of social modernity nevertheless continued to inspire the educated sections. The paper will focus on Dalit social workers, who took their roles of universal citizens seriously. However, as educated members from underprivileged castes their citizenship remained peculiar. The official (even if unconstitutional) word “Harijan” expressed the particularity of the Dalit status in the new nation, by depicting them as the meek and problematic beneficiaries of national charity. The “Harijan” social workers contested this definition practically by appropriating the task of social work and portraying themselves as the responsible upholders of national ideals of popular progress (by promoting education, rational behaviours, etc). They interestingly sought to redefine the “Harijan” word in a way that fitted their aspirations to citizenship.