Recognition and its Shadows: Dalits and the Politics of Religion in India

Joel Lee

Deposited 2015

Abstract
In its Constitution, postcolonial India acknowledges the caste-based practice of "untouchability" as a social and historical wrong, and seeks to redress the effects of this wrong through compensatory discrimination. Dalits are recognized by the state as having suffered the effects of untouchability, and thus as eligible for statutory protections and remedial measures, on the condition that they profess no religion "different from the Hindu religion" (a condition later expanded to include Sikhism and Buddhism as well). The present work charts the career of the idea underlying this condition of recognition - the idea that the "untouchable," insofar as she has not converted to Islam, Christianity, or another "world religion," must be Hindu - and its consequences, from the late nineteenth century to the present. Historically and ethnographically grounded in the community life of the sanitation labor castes - those Dalits castes that perform the vast majority of South Asia's sanitation work - in the north Indian city of Lucknow, the study tracks the idea from its ruptive colonial beginnings to its propagation by Hindu nationalists, induction into mainstream nationalism and installation in the edifice of postcolonial law. This is also an account of the everyday effects of postcolonial India's regime of recognition in the present: what it confers, what it transforms, what hides in its shadows.