Project 2

Cultural Resources and Forging a Democratic Order: Marginalized Groups in Northern India:  A Research, Documentation and Dissemination Project

About the Project

The project focuses mainly on the contemporary socio-cultural political situation of Uttar Pradesh, which constitutes the Hindi heartland of India. Uttar Pradesh is one of the largest land areas of the country, is also the most populated state. Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Orissa would be covered under the project.

This Dalit assertion in politics was understood by the scholars, analysts and journalists merely as a merely political rise. But the other side of the story is to understand the relationship between politics and Dalit dissenting culture and its relation with their everyday cultural life and cultural memories. This project plans to explore the socio-cultural roots of Dalit empowerment and their struggle against inequality generated through the hierarchical caste system which deprived them in all spheres of their socio-cultural and political life. Some of these socio-cultural forms popular in everyday Dalit life played a key role in mobilizing the Dalits and provided them a critique of the inequality prevalent in Indian society. The projects aims to do an extensive and intensive study of the socio-cultural roots of Dalit life which appear as the basis of the formation of contemporary Dalit political language  and mobilization  for equality against the deprivation and exclusion of marginal communities in Indian society.

This project will also study the various innovative processes of cultural production, reproduction and circulation among marginalized communities and their role in the making of the subversive socio-political consciousness of the Dalits in their everyday life-culture. The project plans to study the contribution of the cultural productions of marginalized communities in the evolution of their contemporary political language and subversive culture. It will also investigate how the dalit’s democratic consciousness, visible in the contemporary period is being used by them for strengthening their struggle against social inequality and their socio-political and cultural exclusion. This democratic consciousness also forms the basis of the political empowerment of Dalits in north India, which is being shaped by the cultural resources generated by them through the influence of popular religious sects founded by poets and saints of medieval India. Alongside, the project will also analyse the cultural resources of the sects in question that are the underpinning of the present day Dalit cultural resources, in order to explore how they are facilitating the dalits to develop a critical thinking to fight against the century old social injustice faced by them and to participate in the democratic discourse of the society. These sects emerged and flourished in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa during the 14-15th century and brought many marginalized and dalit communities under their fold by raising their consciousness regarding the social injustice faced by them under the Brahminical norms prevailing in society at that time. This phenomenon took the form of a widespread social-cultural movement known as the Bhakti movement; the period when it occurred came to be known as the Bhakti period; and the poets/saints who spearheaded the movement were given the name of Bhakti poets. All these Bhakti poets/saints preached notions of egalitarianism and social justice and the mediums used by them to disseminate their ideas were cultural genres like folksongs, poems, moral stories, bhajans, panth kirtan, guru vanis (discourses of spiritual leaders) and so on. Thus a huge reservoir of cultural resources which implanted the seeds of democratic consciousness within the oppressed lower castes was generated by these poets and saints. These cultural resources that were produced in the medieval period exist even today with various creative additions and deletions as can be gleaned from a study of the oral culture of many dalit communities.

It must be clarified that we are not proposing to study the sects Kabirpanth ,Ravidas panth, Satnami panth, Shiv Narayani panth, Mahima Dharma, per se but will only study how the interaction with these sects have led to the formation of cultural notions of social justice within marginalized communities that is sustaining them in their struggle against the social, cultural and political exclusion which they face in their everyday life.