Post-Panther Dalit movements and the making of civility in India
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Civil society has come to dominate the discourses of development and social change for the last few decades. This thesis is a critical engagement with the liberal ideas of civil society; it specifically explores the politics that surfaces in the civic sphere in the context of caste inequalities through the study of Dalit socio-political organisations that occupy the margins of civil society in India. This ethnography of Dalit politics interrogates the intersections of caste and civil society in current globalised times and spaces through exploration into post-Panther phase of Dalit politics in rural Maharashtra. The focus is on two socio-political movements; one is Manavi Hakk Abhiyan (MHA), a grassroots Dalit organisation with international networks and the other is Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) a national Dalit political party. This study offers insights into the dynamic nature of caste and its vitality in constructing localised form/s of civil society in India. A common running theme in the thesis is Dalit politics of resistance and their struggle to access justice through the state despite the continued denial of justice to Dalits through fragmented institutions of the state. The study, thus, observes how the participation of Dalit movements in claiming democratic citizenship through party politics occurs alongside the marginalisation of Dalit assertion in electoral politics. Looking beyond the state, the thesis charts the relationships between Dalits and the external relational fields within which they operate: it details the vernacular modes of communication in the civic sphere where protests and violence are important modes; the innovative uses of caste and cultural repertoires by Dalit movements in challenging caste hierarchy and forming collective identities of protest; and finally, the context of global associational revolution and engagement of NGOs and INGOs as new associations in Dalit politics of resistance. This thesis contributes to the larger debates on the makings of caste and civil society in India and argues that caste and Dalit movements have a key role in constructing localised forms of civility and civil society that challenge the dynamic hierarchies and exclusions of caste.