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Gandhi, Dalits and Feminists: Recovering the Convergence

The dalit/feminist critique of Gandhi and his philosophy derives from the same epistemological framework of "lived experience" that characterises Gandhian thinking and praxis as well. The "exclusive" and top-down nature in turn suggests problems in the Gandhian outlook. The emerging new identity politics (just as Gandhi's politics) is too strongly bound within experiential confines, and could only entrench the social practices which it wishes to transcend.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 31, 200883Gandhi, Dalits and Feminists: Recovering the ConvergenceAjay GudavarthyAjay Gudavarthy ( is with the Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The dalit/feminist critique of Gandhi and his philosophy derives from the same epistemological framework of “lived experience” that characterises Gandhian thinking and praxis as well. The “exclusive” and top-down nature in turn suggests problems in the Gandhian outlook. The emerging new identity politics (just as Gandhi’s politics) is too strongly bound within experiential confines, and could only entrench the social practices which it wishes to transcend.There is little doubt about the sudden resurgence of interest in Gandhi, and in reading about and rethinking his ideas and legacy for contemporary relevance. The contemporary interpretations seem to have come as a defence on discovering a quintessential Gandhi lost to the myriad of contingent political critiques by the various social groups that have felt shortchanged by the developments integral to the nation-building process. These interpretations seem to be premised on the exclusivity of the Gandhian way of pursuing politics based on an “integrated lived experience”, and in some senses beyond the scope of the dalit and feminist critiques, which have become more vocal in the recent past. Similarly, dalits and feminists seem to be cele-brating the centrality and exclusivity of “lived experience” and “organic bonds” in articulating their respective alternative poli-tics. Ironically, mutual criticism of dalits and feminists on Gandhi and his interpreters and vice versa is precisely based on the con-comitant violations and social consequences of insular and essen-tialised politics, born out of the exclusive privileging of “lived experience”. This mode of analysis would enable us not only in recovering, as against re-covering, the convergence between these different political formations but also in highlighting the untenable inconsistency in essentialising one’s own politics while demanding self-reflection on the part of the others.In other words, there is a process of hollow conviction in inter-subjective communication, almost and always based on one’s own preconceived set of terms, and not on political principles that originate in course of dialogue. These are the hollowing processes that become susceptible to the post-structural cri-tique that misconstrues all forms of solidarity for hegemony. This evaluation could perhaps help us to understand the possibleways of overcoming narrow particularisms and forging non-hegemonic solidarities.Gandhi versus the Subalterns The nationalist reading of Gandhi, mostly by the historians, essentially focused on Gandhi as a champion against modernisa-tion/industrialisation and western civilisation in general to recover the core of Indian ethos. His critique against modernity of the west as such, and not just capitalism, had a global impact, as G D H Cole once remarked, “Gandhi’s case against the west looks infinitely stronger than it looked, to us westerners 30 years ago”.1 Gandhi was seen as a “mahatma” who led an unprecedent-ed massmovement representing a unity of all castes, classes, religions, nationalities and gender in recent history. For instance, it has been argued
SPECIAL ARTICLEmay 31, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly84the tremendous participation of Muslims in the (national) move-ment and the maintenance of communal unity, despite the Malabar developments, was in itself no mean achievement. There is hardly any doubt that it was Muslim participation that gave the movement its truly mass character in many areas; at some places two-thirds of those arrested were Muslims…(t)he fraternisation that was witnessed between Hindus and Muslims, with Gandhiji and other Congress leaders speaking from mosques, Gandhiji being allowed to address meetings of Muslim women in which he was the only male who was not blind-folded, all these began to look like romantic dreams in later years.2 Gandhi has also been viewed as a crusader who sacrificed his life for a secular India as against a religious or a theocratic state. And finally, he had been characterised as a peace lover who gave the world the weapons of non-violence and satyagraha that could shake the mighty British empire.3 It was argued that the Congress under Gandhi’s leadership not only came to represent the various classes and caste groups but also was open to accommodate the various ideologies repre-senting these groups. It was in fact interpreted as the source of democracy for the independent India because “the Indian national movement is perhaps one of the best examples of the creation of an extremely wide movement with a common aim in which diverse political and ideological currents could coexist and work…this diversity and atmosphere of freedom and debate became a major source of its strength.”4 The charismatic leadership of Gandhi, it was argued, could genuinely accommo-date the various social groups even in times when they lost direction in fighting for their sectarian interests.5 Most of such writings made a rather unproblematic reading of Gandhi’s contribution to the freedom movement and to later politics in post-colonial India.Marxist CritiqueThis euphoric nationalist variant of writings on Gandhi was to encounter scathing critiques concerned with the implication of Gandhian politics for the various marginalised social groups. Perhaps the foremost criticism came from the Marxist historians and political theorists concerned primarily with the negation of the class politics and mobilisation around a radical agenda aimed at the large-scale structural transformation. It was with this purpose that certain basic questions were raised as to whetherthese long-cherished assumptions (were) correct? Whom did the Congress leadership represent? Were the Congress leaders great anti- imperialist crusaders, as conventional historiography represents them? Did they really seek to establish a sovereign nation state or to achieve self-government within the imperialist system, “a privilege… to have a decent place in the household of King George the fifth” (as G D Birla put it in 1932)? Were the anti-colonial struggles waged inde-pendently of the Congress by the peasantry, the working class and the urban petty bourgeosie, complementary to the movements led by the Congress, as it is generally assumed, or of an antagonistic character? Against whom was the weapon of satyagraha aimed?6 It was sought to be argued by writings of this nature7 that the Congress became a mass party and Gandhi an acceptable leader only because they never questioned the socio-economic roots of British imperialism in any serious or sustained manner.8 The Congress also exemplified and facilitated the continued dominance of the traditional dominant classes over the millions of the dispossessed. Even the socialist rhetoric was used to main-tain the political hegemony of the Congress without necessarily taking their ideological principles seriously. Contrary to radical mobilisation, it was argued it was their deliberate strategy to keep the masses removed as far as possible from the sphere of active politics and to cast them at best in passive or harmless roles when occasions demanded. The people were asked to ply the ‘charkha’, observe ‘hartal’, fast and pray, boycott foreign cloth, manufacture salt for a few months and cast votes in elections in favour of even lamp posts, which the leadership would erect. When the people overlooked or ignored the limitations imposed on them and came forward to play a more active, militant role and started endowing the movements with the character of national liberation struggle, the move-ments were abruptly suspended, and this sudden bottling up of great struggles gave rise to confusion, demoralisation and mutual strife.9 In other words, Gandhian politics served to facilitate the emerging alliance between the Indian big bourgeoisie, big land-lords and princes, and elite political leadership, as against the “revolutionary struggles of the people”. In fact the national move-ment constituted two domains of politics – that of the elites and the subalterns. And it was around this fundamental premise that there was a great shift in the understanding of the nationalist movement from an all-encompassing centrist interpretation of the nationalist school towards the subaltern perspective. The “subaltern studies” further developed the critique of looking at the nationalist movement solely through the dominant role of the Congress neglecting the various struggles independently waged by the subaltern not only against the British imperialism but also the hegemony of the Congress that sidelined the various pressing demands of the different vulnerable social groups. This reading against the grain by the subaltern school yet again cast new doubts on the meta-historical role of Gandhi and his philosophy. Anachronistically speaking, it was in this context Ranajit Guha very emphatically argued that parallel to the domain of elite politics there existed throughout the colonial period another domain of Indian politics in which the princi-pal actors were not the dominant groups of the indigenous society or the colonial authorities but the subaltern classes and groups constitut-ing the mass of the labouring population and the intermediate strata in town and country – that is, the people. This was an autonomous domain, for it neither originated from elite politics nor did its existence depend on the latter.10 Reinforcing TraditionThe politico-historical analysis projected Gandhian philosophy and praxis more as a docile product of his times, which further entrenched the traditional and hierarchical characteristics of the Indian society rather than challenging them in any serious and sustained manner. It was argued that Gandhi struck a responsive chord in Hindu culture and connected it rather ingeniously with the politics of the freedom movement. Gandhi, by bringing in the religious discourse into the political frame, which actually worked very well for the purposes of mobilisation, reinforced many of the traditional constructs and practices. Many of his own formulations in fact were in some way or the other extensions of the Hindu religious philosophy and in this sense some of the sociologists have argued that Gandhian philosophy played no
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 31, 200885different role from that of the Hindu religion in terms of prevent-ing the national movement and the subalterns to gravitate towards a more radical agenda of social transformation.11 For instance, Barrington Moore observes that one of the reasons as to why Indian peasantry was more docile than their counterparts elsewhere in Asia was due to the social regulation through the theory of karmaor reincarnation that was predominant in the rural countryside. Peasants actually believed that “a person who obeyed the requirements of caste etiquettes in this life would be born into a higher caste in the next. Submissiveness in this life was to be rewarded by a rise in the social scale in the next”.12 This idea of submissiveness was central to most of the political ideas that Gandhi developed. It is this underlying connection that allows for looking at the conservative implication of Gandhian philosophy. Moore therefore arguesGandhi provided a link between powerful sections of the bourgeoisie and the peasantry through the doctrine of non-violence, trusteeship, and the glorification of the Indian village community. For this and other reasons, the nationalist movement did not take a revolution-ary form, though civil disobedience forced the withdrawal of a weak-ened British empire. The outcome of these forces was indeed political democracy, but a democracy that has not done a great deal toward modernising India’s social structure.13The writings within this framework on Gandhi revolved around, on the one side, the nationalist framework emphasising the Gandhian contribution in giving rise to a secular, democratic, non-violent and an ethical India as against the Marxist and the subal-tern scholars keen on understanding the implications of Gandhian philosophy and praxis in arresting radical social transformation and acting as a messiah for the poor without questioning the vested interests of the dominant social classes/communities. This mode of analysis underwent a drastic change with a generic decline of the critical theory in the academia, marked by political economy analysis in general and Marxism in particular falling out of favour, and within history writing itself there was a substantial shift away from social history in general and in the subaltern studies in particular. There was a gradual and a consistent decline of the subaltern in subaltern studies. From focusing on the autonomous contribution of the underprivileged groups such as the tribals, peasants and workers and marking the processes of their margin-alisation, there was a decisive shift towards critiquing the western colonial power-knowledge, with non-western community con-sciousness as its valorised alternative. Also what had emerged was a shift in terms of recognising such communities principally as religious identities.14 Not only did the subaltern studies lose the critical edge in terms of providing a critique of the implications of Gandhian politics but also moved close to a near-nationalist posi-tion in eulogising the role of Gandhi and other national leaders in providing a critique of western traditions and civilisation. Sumit Sarkar rather incisively argues, there are elements of a rich paradox in this shift of binaries from elite/subaltern to colonial/indigenous community or western/third world cultural nationalist. A project that had started with a trenchant attack on elite nationalist historiography had now chosen as its herothe principal iconic figure of official Indian nationalism, and its most influential text afterElementary Aspects was built entirely around the (partial) study of just three indisputably elite figures, Bankimchandra, Gandhi and Nehru.15 It is such paradoxical shifts that made the assessment of Gandhi’s ideas for the vulnerable social groups and import for contemporary politics rather tangential and nebulous.‘Lived Experience’The old issues of marginalisation and implicationsofelite poli-tics on the one hand and the limitations of the Marxist and the subaltern approach on the other were (re-)raised within new epistemic frameworks articulated by dalits and feminists and their mass movements. It was a shift marked by the rise of new organic intellectuals from the dalit community, who interrogated historical and contemporary political practices in terms of the authenticity of a lived experience, which was what according to them was missing from the earlier critical projects, and partly the reason for the way they declined and became increasingly inadequate in capturing alternative subaltern politics. They, therefore, began to argue that the makers of history themselves should become the writers of history so that the interaction between history and the makers of history is a living interaction. In this sense, both western and Indian upper caste scholars/historians were the other and wrote the dalit-bahujan his-tory in their voice. Hence, the very difference between others and us distorted the living spirit of that history…The organicness, therefore, is more fundamental for perceiving the reality in its true spirit.16 The organic nature helps articulate ideological projects from radically alternative dalit-bahujan epistemology where “the dalit-bahujans have their own theory of knowledge which produces and reproduces itself in the day-to-day interaction with ‘prakruti’ (nature)…”17 This mode of arguing was further entrenched with not just epistemological claims for authentic representations but also in terms of ethical and normative claims that have no place for the outsider. It is just that non-dalits have no moral right to theorise about dalits since there is a deep-seated “inability to either recover or throw up an alternative concept (happens) because these scholars choose to theorise dalit experience stand-ing outside dalit experience”.18 The uniqueness of these claims rests on the exclusivity of this experience – an experience that cannot be replicated. In other words,the lived experience of dalits is not about sharing their lifestyles, liv-ing with them and being like them, but being them in the sense you cannot be anything else…. lived experience is not about freedom of experience but about the lack of freedom in experience.19 The claims to authenticity therefore emerge from a closure, where neither can the experience be shared nor can it be replicated. It also closes the avenues to understand the internal mechanisms of generating knowledge, since this is a knowledge born out of an internally closed lived experience. There is, it seems, an unproblematic collapse between an experience of be-ing a subject and experience about the subject, with a sense of completeness unto itself. The social completeness of the experi-ence could well generate insularity in the sense of opening a “di-alogue (only) between their own history and their ongoing struggles”.20 As there is a dimension of external incommunicabi-lity that restricts the possibility of inter-subjective communica-tion there could as well be a strong dimension of internal insular-ity that incapacitates dialogue between the various fragments of
SPECIAL ARTICLEmay 31, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly86the lived experience, for instance, between dalit women and their more dominant male counterparts.Feminists’ ‘Bodily Experience’On a similar note, the feminists have also argued for the epistemic indubitability of the knowledge based on “bodily experience” and therefore the study of women should be done by women them-selves. Feminists privileging lived experience believe that such a foundation provides uncontestable evidence “not only (for) theo-retical paradigms and propositions but also of day to day and mass politics”.21 It is an origin point of explanation and not an epiphenomena of larger processes. These propositions raise very many questions about the veracity of the politics that flow out of them. Firstly, as Joan Scotts argues, “grounding exclusively on experience renders invisible the historicity of experience and reproduces the very terms and conditions upon which that experi-ence is in fact founded – and therefore cannot contribute to transformation”.22 In other words, given experience needs to be interrogated, there is a simultaneous need to own up, self-reflect and distance one’s self from her lived experience. Otherwise the experience is prone to be susceptible to available dominant forms of practices and articulation, and would actively replicate them. As Paulo Freire argues, radical subjectivity is not unproblemati-cally available to the oppressed, on the contrary many a time the oppressed tends to become oppressors or sub-oppressors. They might unconsciously strive to identify with the opposite pole. For instance, it is not to become free human beings that the oppressed might want agrarian reforms but to themselves become landowners. This could be true of all forms of struggles. The oppressed often have the image of oppressor strongly entrenched in their mind and they have no readily available radical alternative subjectivity. Thus in order for the oppositional struggles “to have meaning, the oppressed must not in seeking to regain their humanity become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both… this then is the great historical and humanist task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well”.23Secondly, experiential mode of pursuing politics gravitates towards essentialist postures by levelling out differences and particularities and “instituting one paradigmatic account as the dominant account to which all potential variants must confirm”.24 The category of “woman”, for dalit women or lesbians across the globe was an essentialist one: “Certainly, women inhabit a world of biologically determined but socially constructed gender, but they equally inhabit class, caste, racial, religious, and sexual identities, many of which rent solidarities among women disastrously”.25 The purport of these propositions is not to argue that experience is merely a construct of the structures, linguistic or otherwise,26 but to foreground the point that it is never epistemically self-sufficient since “experience is not a clear datum but a complex of elements in need of clarification and reflection”.27 This reflection, as against essentialism and the inability to relate to socio-historical dynamics, is located in the interstices of inter-subjective communication. Gandhi and His ‘Lived Experience’The Gandhian approach and its implication for political processes, against which, rather ironically, both dalits and feminists have in the recent past been unequivocally critical, is also constrained by the same existential/experiential mode. Gandhian ideas “about very specific political strategies in specific contexts flowed from ideas that were very remote from politics”.28 For instance, the idea of brahmacharya had a crucial link to Gandhian idea of politics. Gandhi argued, “brahmacharya does not mean merely physical self-control. It means much more. It means complete control over all the senses…I have not acquired that control over my thoughts… there is perhaps a flaw somewhere which accounts for the apparent failure of leadership…”29Therefore, Gandhian political praxis reveals very little com-pared to what it hides; a complex internal process, which invari-ably includes “things which are known only to oneself and one’s maker. These are clearly incommunicable.”30 Gandhi’s “voice of conscience” was the only tyrant he was willing to surrender himself to – he could recognise no higher court of appeal than the court of conscience – and it provided him with a moral experi-ence – the experience of truth, which is an experiential and not a cognitive notion – inextricably tied to a lived experience. The dictates of this still small voice were final, and provided him with unquestionable guidance to his political praxis. As early as 1916, Gandhi wrote, “there come to us moments in life when about some things we need no proof from without. A little voice within us tells us you are on the right track…”31 It is this individual con-science that Gandhi was concerned with socialising rather than internalising the social conscience.32 The experience of the con-science (or truth or God) cannot assume moral proportions unless it is part of one’s lived experience. If lived experience is all about an absolute lack of choice or freedom, it is precisely this aspect that Gandhi emphasised in his idea of a true satyagrahi who has the compelling obligation “to suffer for one’s beliefs to the point of spiritual isolation and even public ridicule, involving if necessary political martyrdom and even physical death”.33 Actualising the dictates of the conscience is tied up, not with unbounded freedom to act, but in realising the absolute lack of it, and therefore “the civil resister of Gandhi’s conception cannot protest at being put into prison for the violation of laws that he regards as immoral and unjust. He meekly and willinglysubmits to the penalty of disobedience and cheerfully accepts jail disci-pline and its attendant hardships….(emphasis – my addition).”34 These strictures or obligations of the conscience, in a sense, are stronger than the ascriptive constraints. The point is that by emphasising the centrality of obligation (directed inwards – towards one’s conscience) Gandhi wished to equalise the moral burden on one and all, and thereby neutralise the various social hierarchies and inequalities. He felt that, by generalising the language of obligations internally he wished to make external differences irrelevant. These obligations would generate similar (though arrived at individually) lived experience for everyone. What he sought to change was not the material condition so muchas the moral condition. However, the possibility that suchgeneralisation in a hierarchised society, such as India, might lead to moral purification of everyone, yet leave the social hierarchies untouched was completely overlooked. In other words, oppression was an abstract moral condition without being linked to the concrete social and historical experience.35
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 31, 200887This in fact has been the consequence of, and critique against, Gandhian philosophy. Same Resonance in FeminismIronically, such prioritisation and generalisation of obligation have a resonance in feminist theories that have unproblematically privi-leged women’s experience and attempted to build a theory taking that experience as given, rather than critically and historically interrogating it. For instance, feminists such as Nancy Hirschmann have argued that since women are bound to series of obligations, such as childcare, to which consent is not only often unavailable but often of questionable relevance it follows that “a feminist ontology and epistemology would operate from the philo-sophical priority of obligation”.36 In other words, from a feminist standpoint, perhaps obligation needs to be taken as given and “obligation is the standard against which other things, such as the freedom to act as one wishes, are measured...In this feminist con-ception, it is the assumption of obligation that demands an expla-nation of non-fulfillment”.37 The parallels with the Gandhian prio-ritisation of obligation are more than clear, so are the consequences where women have traditionally been considered naturally bound to the care of their husbands, children, and others. As Carole Pateman pointed out, rather than seeing this historical bondage and the experience of it as problematic, we begin to accept it as a new feminist starting point for thinking about politics.38She therefore argues, “feminists would be ill-advised to give up the priority of freedom…(and) whether a political order in which all are cared for can be created if freedom for all is relinquished as a priority”.39 In effect we at best leave untouched and at worst further entrench the exploited position of women in the society. Gandhi followed a very similar path in terms of taking the given experience and position of women as readily available for opposi-tional politics. He very unequivocally argued that “women are the incarnation of ahimsa. Ahimsa means infinite love, which again means infinite capacity for suffering.” 40 Suffering violence with-out retaliation led Gandhi to conclude that women should be most apt for mobilising them as satyagrahis. Related to this were his attempts to make strategic use of women’s position in the family and argued, “the swadeshi vow, too, cannot be kept fully if women do not help. Men alone will be able to do nothing in the matter. They have no control over the children; that is woman’s sphere. To look after children, to dress them, is the mother’s duty and, there-fore, it is necessary that women should be fired with the spirit of swadeshi (emphasis – author’s addition).” 41 These observations point to Gandhi’s “realisation of the need to mobilise the house-hold or the family as a unit – the citadel of conservation – without however throwing a challenge to the social conservative function that it was supposed to fulfil.” 42 Building politics on given experi-ence can lay oppressive entrapments in which alternative politics can inextricably get caught.Exclusive ‘Lived Experience’Further, the ideas, knowledge and praxis generated on the basis of such inwardly-oriented lived experience in Gandhi is also (very much like the claims of the dalits and feminists) exclusive, rather than social. It can be neither replicated nor available as political principles. “For him (Gandhi) conscience and its deliverances, though relevant to others, are not the wellspring of principles. Morals is (sic) only about conscience, not at all about principles.”43 There is therefore insularity about the way Gandhi pursues his morals and the political praxis that flows out of a closed internally lived experience between him and his maker. These metaphysical presuppositions and unprovable assumptions44 are themselves unquestionable as they are not open to cognition but constitute an inexplicable moral experience.However, Bilgrami affirmatively argues, “the romance in this mo-rality is radiant. Somehow goodness, good acts, enter the world and affect everyone else. To ask how exactly they do that is to be vulgar, to spoil the romance. Goodness is a sort of mysterious contagion.”45 Further, for Bilgrami the inexplicability of the experience, “far from encouraging self-enclosed moral subjects”, in fact is an extremely humanising exercise since Gandhi severed the link between moral belief and moral criticism. In other words, satygrahis are moral ex-emplars, who are fully confident about the moral values they wish to exemplify. However they do not arrogate to themselves the moral superiority to criticise others, but only to persuade them by setting an example. Therefore, “at most we may be disappointed in others that they will not follow our example, and at least part of the disap-pointment in ourselves that our example has not taken hold”.46 While this aspect of disappointment might seem to keep in place a continuous process of self-reflection and self-criticism, it however is only formal. The method of persuading others might be open and self-critical, but the moral values at stake are non-negotiable. This can often reduce the others to mute spectators with little choice in the offering. The parties that disagree might be forced into an un-thought-out consensus on compassionate grounds. Gandhi was of the firm belief that “the eyes of their understanding are opened not by argument but by the suffering of the satyagrahi”. Intention vs ConsequencesA more critical reading of Gandhi would inform us of what was un-derlying, and that this kind of a formal severing of moral belief and criticism (mediated by self-suffering) to be mistaken for an essen-tially democratic outcome, was the confusion between intention and consequences. Compassion, sacrifice and suffering only reveal your intention and not necessarily the (political) consequence of the mor-al values one is upholding.47 The point that actions analysed with their basis in intentions will help us recover an “integrated experi-ence”, beyond the political overlooks the necessary ambiguities it constitutes. For instance, Bhagat Singh argued against the session’s court judgment on the basis of the importance of motive and said, my lords…the point is as to what were our intentions and to what e xtent we are guilty…and no one can do justice to anybody without taking his motive into consideration. If you ignore the motive, the biggest generals of the world will appear like ordinary men respon-sible for creating disturbances…revenue officers will look like thieves and cheats. If we set aside the motive, then Jesus Christ will also appear to be a man responsible for creating disturbances…rulers of that age could not recognise that high idealism. They only saw his outward actions. Nineteen centuries have passed since then. Have we not progressed during this period?48 Ironically, intentions can as easily be subverted for anti- democratic implications. Commenting on the unjustly heavier
SPECIAL ARTICLEmay 31, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly88punishment for crimes with political intentions, leading civil rights activist K Balagopal argued: What distinguishes a terrorist gang from a dacoit gang is not any qualitative difference in the nature of the offences committed (in both cases, the offence is a crime of armed violence against person and property), but the difference in the intention. The intention of the terrorist gang is political…And it is this political nature of the in-tention that… (entails) a much heavier punishment and much more illiberal procedure of investigation and trial. Can this be called a reasonable classification in a country whose Constitution guarantees the freedom of political choice implicitly as a fundamental right?49Thus he strongly argues against the classification of identical offences into separate categories according to the political inten-tions underlying the act. It is therefore important that even in critiquing Gandhi, it is simplistic to develop a conspiracy theory around his intention, as Barrington Moore sums up, “it is unlikely that the absence of any elements of economic radicalism was the result of a deliberate Machiavellian choice by Gandhi. For our purposes his personal motives are unimportant”.50 Revisiting Gandhi versus the SubalternIt is in fact around these inter-related factors – insularity, confu-sion between intention and consequence, and the metaphysical presuppositions and unprovable assumptions – that some of the contemporary dalit scholars make a reading of Gandhi and again the implicationsof his politics for the subaltern in general and dalits in particular. They argue that Gandhian mode of mobilisa-tion, with strong parallels with religious symbolism and entrenched moral language made his politics insular and metaphysical. For instance, Discarding western garb in favour of the loincloth, and using cultural symbols associated with the life of a holy man – austere living, fasts, the observance of days of silence, the demonstrative use of celibacy, holy books and prayer meetings – gave him the image of a saint. His deft use of religious forms to communicate with the massesabsolved him of the need to lay out his plans and programmes in concrete terms (emphasis – author’s addition).51In other words, the Machiavelli in the Mahatma was more than evident in his praxis that was based on a dialogue with one’s own conscience and directed inwards to be answerable to none other than your own inner voice and was a mode of creating insularity in mobilising the masses. Instead of being open to dialogue with the masses that he claims to represent, Gandhian politics had a top-down approach. Sathyagraha was the main weapon of the movement and Gandhi was the self-appointed expert and others were mere foot soldiers to be used to demonstrate solidarity through sheer passive and inactive presence.Similar was the impact, dalit scholars feel, in deploying fasts that not only helped him to maintain his dictatorship in demanding unquestioned obedience from the Congress but also to coerce oth-ers to fall in line as he did with Ambedkar during the Poona pact. After the demand for separate electorates for the depressed classes, Gandhi threatened to commit self-immolation and later began his fast unto death in the Yeravada prison.52 It had further consequenc-es when Ambedkar was isolated and reviled in the filthiest of words
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 31, 200889for putting the mahatma’s life in danger.53 Fasts were external ex-emplifications of his underlying notion of a truth that was moral, unified, unchanging and transcendental and therefore ‘varnashra-ma dharma’ was an ageless, timeless unchanging truth over chang-ing history.54 Similar wasthe Gandhian idea of the masses that they were the dumb millions who do not know their own interests – and it was necessary to “save them from themselves”. This patronising attitude justified his insularity to any dialogue and reflected in his half-hearted beginnings to mass movements, hedged on several preconditions and withdrawal at the slightest sign of initiative slip-ping into the hands of the masses. This was more than clear in his so-called constructive programmes for the harijans, where they were only marginal to it and on the contrary they were merely ob-jects to be exploited for their spiritual salvation in heaven.55Thus, non-deliberated sacrifice and self-suffering convert into a moral hegemony and therefore intentions make little differ-ence. Reiterating this point dalit scholars have argued “religion (thus) whether or not intendedby Gandhi, coincided with the giving up of the political for the masses”.56In Lieu of a ConclusionTo conclude, the emerging new identity politics are too strongly bound within the experiential confines of demands for recogni-tion, and might willy-nilly entrench the social practices they in fact wish to transcend. There is, perhaps, a pressing need to recog-nise that social groups and the processes they are caught in are not regionally enclosed but part of, as E P Thompson put it, an inte-grated material life. It is therefore “important to see that while members of groups that have experienced historical exclusion, contempt, or obloquy may indeed need new social practices in order to flourish. What they are seeking is not always recognition.”57 Given identity or experience, many a times, could merely be a vantage point to make sense of life rather than offer an unprob-lematic resource for oppositional politics. Whether it is Gandhi or contemporary identity politics, both have ended up setting a mini-malist agenda of transformation that could be excruciatingly self- defeating. Thus, “it’s equally important not to pursue a politics of recognition too far. If recognition entails taking notice of one’s identity in social life, then the development of strong norms of identification can become not liberating but oppressive…there is no clear line between recognition and a new kind of oppression.”58 This oppression can be felt strongly more than anywhere else internally in terms of closing off a critical dialogue between various constituents of a social group.Maintaining internal silence could well become a precondition for laying a claim to authenticity. Such entrapments would even-tually be incapable of raising a series of questions that are central to the kind of transformative politics that were initially envis-aged. As for the dalits, these could include processes where, “with the spread of education…by virtue of their detachment from their setting and production relations [supervisory jobs on behalf of the owner or administrative/quasi-administrative jobs on behalf of the state] (they) do represent a transition in class. There has even emerged a section of dalit bourgeois, relatively small though, in the form of contractors, small-scale industrial-ists, petrol pump owners, transporters and of late certain service vendors…They mark the emergence of a new age prototype of dalit petty bourgeois that reflects a weird combination of belief in neoliberal ideology, faith in identity politics and communi-tarian convictions.”59 Along with this insularity there could then be an ironical convergence with the very politics that is being attempted to overcome and to eventually displace. Notes 1 Quoted from Thomas Pantham, ‘Thinking with Mahatma Gandhi: Beyond Liberal Democracy’, Political Theory, Vol 11, May 1983, p 165. 2 Bipan Chandra,India’s Struggle for Independ-ence, Penguin, New Delhi, 1989, p 196. Mostly the nationalist historians led by Bipin Chandra and others popularised such interpretations of Gandhi. 3 Refer V R Mehta,Beyond Marxism, Manohar, New Delhi, 1978. 4 Bipan Chandra, op cit, p 14. 5 Gandhian strategy of “politics of accommodation” continued to be of significance to the Constitution making process, and also the post-independence politics. Granville Austin elaborates on this mak-ing a crucial distinction between compromise and accommodation, in his book, Indian Consti-tution: A Corner Stone (Oxford University press, Oxford, 1978);for post-independence politicsrefer, Rudolph and Rudolph,In Pursuit of Lakshmi (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1969 ) and Francine Frankel,India’s Political Economy-1947-77 (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1978). For a critique of “politics of accomodation” refer, Sudipta Kaviraj, ‘A Critique of Passive Revolution’ in Partha Chatterjee (ed), State and Politics in India (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1997).6 Suniti Kumar Ghosh, India and the Raj 1919-47, Prachi, Calcutta, 1989, quoted from the preface. 7 Such writings alternatively claimed the legacy of Dadabhai Naoroji,Poverty and the Un-British Rule in India (Delhi, 1901) and later R P Dutt, India Today (Bombay, 1947). 8 At his meeting with the European Association at the Grand Hotel in Calcutta in July 1925, Gandhi declared, “I am dying to cooperate…The desti-nies of England and India have been thrown together and have been thrown together for a good purpose, namely, the service of humanity”. 9 Suniti Kumar Ghosh, op cit, p 23.10 Ranajit Guha, ‘On Some Aspects of the Historio-graphy of Colonial India’ in R Guha (ed), Subaltern Studies I, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, p 4. Refer generally for an insight into the novel contribution to history writing in India in general and for an alternative critical interpretation of the role of Congress and Gandhi in particular the initial volumes of the Subaltern Studies edited by Ranajit Guha. For a general overview of the suba-ltern project, refer, ‘Alternative Histories: A View from India’, SEPHIS-CSSSC publication, 2002.11 There is of course the radically different interpre-tation of the likes of Ashis Nandy, T N Madan and Partha Chatterjee, who believe that Gandhi could foresee the serious limitation of separating reli-gion and politics in a society based predominantly on ascriptive identities and therefore Gandhi had argued “those who wish to separate religion from politics, neither understood religion nor politics”. Gandhi instead offered an ethical reading of poli-tics as religion was not a removed public institu-tion but in fact “a way of life” for the masses. For a detailed account of this argument refer, Asish Nandy, ‘Politics of Secularism and Recovery of Religious Tolerance’, Alternatives, XIII, 1988. This approach in turn has been critiqued as ‘Vulgar Gandhism’ that overlooks the closed insu-larity of religion as such and not a matter of this or that way of linking religion with politics. This debate partly opens the possible link between Gandhian modes of pursuing insular politics that resemble religious methods. For a more detailed account of the various shades of this debate, refer Thomas Pantham, ‘Debating Indian Secularism’ in Rajendra Vohra and Suhas Palsikar (eds), Indian Democracy, Sage, Delhi, 2000.12 Barrington Moore, Social Origins of Democracy and Dictatorship, Peregrine, London, 1977, p 335.13 Ibid, p 316. 14 Sumit Sarkar, Writing Social History, Oxford Uni-versity Press, New Delhi, 1997, p 82.15 Ibid, p 92.16 Kancha Illiah, ‘Caste or Class or Caste-Class: A Study of Dalitbahujan Consciousness and Strug-gles in Andhra Pradesh in 1980s’ in Manoranjan Mohanty (ed), Caste, Class and Gender, Sage, New Delhi, 2004, p 227. Kancha Illiah’s, Why I am Not a Hindu (Samya, Calcutta, 1998) was one of the first attempts to explain the various everyday cul-tural practices of the dalits that are distinct and at times completely at odds with the caste-Hindu practices. This semi-autobiographical existen-tialist mode of writing was attempted to confirm the point that the caste background and the past experience of the scholar him/herself matters.17 Kancha Illiah, ‘Dalitism vs Brahmanism: The Epistemological Conflict in History’ in Ghanshyam Shah (ed),Dalit Identity and Politics, Sage, Delhi, 2001, p 110.18 Gopal Guru, ‘How Egalitarian Are the Social Sciences in India?Economic & Political Weekly, December 14, 2002, p 5004.19 Sunder Sarukkai, ‘Dalit Experience and Theory’, Economic & Political Weekly, October 6, 2007, p 4045.20 Kancha Illiah, op cit, 2004, p 227.
SPECIAL ARTICLEmay 31, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly9021 As Grosz, ‘Merleau-Ponty and Irigaray in the Flesh’ quoted from Linda Martin Alcoff, ‘Phenomenology, Post-Structuralism and Feminist Theory of the Concept of Experience’ in Linda Fisher (ed), Femi-nist Phenomenology, Klugn Academic Publishers, London, 1995, p 34. This was also the basis for in-stituting various Women’s Studies programmes and centres in the universities.22 Joan Scotts and Judith Butler (eds), Feminists Theo-rise the Political, Routledge, New York, 1992, p 24. 23 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Penguin Books, Middlesex, 1972, p 31. Ernesto Laclau expresses a similar anxiety, he writes, “If the relation of oppression is simply inverted, the other (the former oppressor) is maintained as what is now oppressed and repressed, and this inversion of the content leaves the form of oppression un-changed…The operation of inversion takes place entirely within the old formal system of power” in E Laclau, ‘Universalism, Particularism, and the Question of Identity’ in E N Wilmsen (ed), The Politics of Difference (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996, p 54).24Linda Fisher, ‘Phenomenology and Feminism: Perspective on Their Relation’ in Linda Fisher (ed), op cit, p 24.25 Neera Chandoke, Conceits of Civil Society, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2003, p 209.26 As Joan Scotts argues, “experience is a linguistic event – the question then becomes how to analyse it” which presumes that experience is “an epiphe-nomena originating entirely outside of the indi-vidual in the linguistic structures” in Joan Scott, op cit. It is another matter that Ernesto Laclau and Chantall Mouffe refuse to make any distinction between linguistic and extra-linguistic structures and are critical of Foucault for making such, what they believe to be untenable distinctions. Refer Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, Verso, London, 1985. Also Ernsto Laclau and Chantall Mouffe, ‘Post-Marxism without Apologies’,New Left Review, Nov/Dec 1987, 166.27 Linda Martin, op cit, p 48. 28 Akeel Bilgrami, ‘Gandhi, the Philosopher’, Economic & Political Weekly, September 27, 2003, p 4159. 29Quoted from, Llyod Rudolph and Susane Rudoplh, Postmodern Gandhi and Other Essays, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006, p 211.30 M K Gandhi, Autobiography (ed by Dover), p viii.31 Gandhi in Young India, quoted from, Raghavan Iyer, The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1972, p 124. He also said, “The satyagraha leader is useless when he acts against the prompting of his own conscience, surrounded as he must be by people holding all kind of views”, p 299.32 Ibid, p 123. He therefore said, “The human voice can never reach the distance that is conveyed by the still small voice of conscience. The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still small voice within”, p 121.33 Ibid, p 124. He further argued, “wherever a man’s place is, whether the place which he has chosen or that in which he has been placed by a com-mander, then he ought to remain in the hour of danger, taking no account of death or anything else in comparison with disgrace”.34 Ibid, p 155.35Phrase used by Madhu Kishwar, ‘Gandhi on Women’, Economic & Political Weekly, October 5, 1985, p 1699. I am thankful to Ramachandra Guha for suggesting and giving the reference to this article.36 Nancy Hirschmann, ‘Freedom, Recognition and Obligation: A Feminist Approach to Political Theory’,American Political Science Review, Vol 83, December 1989, p 1241.37 Ibid.38 Carole Pateman, ‘Political Obligation, Freedom and Feminism’,American Political Science Review, Vol 86, March 1992.39 Ibid, p 182. Hirschmann, however in her reply to Pateman, reiterates that. “Women’s subjuga-tion has endured precisely because of theorists’ refusal to incorporate the aspects of life typified in women’s experience”. The point however is not to not take women’s experience into account but how much of it can be taken as given for the pur-poses of transformative politics.40 Quoted from Rudolph and Rudolph, op cit, p 222. They also observe that Gandhi reinforced very ex-plicit feminine identification. He found his mother more appealing than his father (p 223). Elsewhere he wrote, “Spinning is essentially a slow and comparatively silent process. Woman is the em-bodiment of sacrifice and therefore, non-violence”, quoted from Madhu Kishwar, op cit, p 1695.41 Quoted from Madhu Kishwar, p 1695. It, perhaps, would not be inappropriate to point out that early women’s movement too, in India, mobilised women against rising prices of domestic items, such as kerosene, by representing them as “women’s issues”; as if rising prices exclusively or even pri-marily concerned only women. This only further reinforced women’s status as “home makers”.42 Ibid.43 Akeel, op cit, p 4162.44 This is how Raghavan Iyer refers to as a possible way of understanding sathyagraha, op cit, p 287.45 Ibid, p 4163. 46 Ibid. 47 This is as true for the contemporary radical left struggles in India, which often seek to settle the authenticity of their political positions by resort-ing to the argument that the superior sacrifice the activists in the movement are willing to give is a clear indication of the political correctness of their position. For more on this, refer, Ajay Gudavarthy, ‘Human Rights Movement(s) in India: State, Civil Society and Beyond’ (forth-coming Contributions to Indian Sociology, (ns) 42, 1 (2008).48 Source, quoted from the Frontline, November 2, 2007, p 18.49 K Balagopal, ‘In Defence of India: Supreme Court and Terrorism’, Economic & Political Weekly, August 6, 1994, p 2059.50 Barrington Moore, op cit, p 373.51 Ranjan,Debrahamanising History, Manohar, New Delhi, 2005, p 382.52 Gandhi declared that “for me the question of those classes is predominantly moral and religious. The political aspect, important though it is, dwindles into insignificance compared to the moral and religious one”.53 Ranjan, op cit, p 365.54 It is extremely interesting here to note the almost opposite reading of fasts by Bilgrami. He believes “…it is easy to understand his habit of going on publicised fasts. It was a way of making visible some moral stance that could reach a larger pub-lic in the form of example rather than principles”. There are other post-colonial scholars, such as Uday Mehta and Rajeshwari Sunder Rajan, with a similar reading.55 Aloysius, Nationalism without a Nation, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1997, p 192. He also reminds of the famous statement by Gandhi that ‘we have to obtain not the salvation of the un-touchables but ours by treating them as equals’.56 Ibid, p 182.57 Kwame Anthony Appiah, ‘The Politics of Identity’, Daedalus, Fall, 2006, p 20.58 Ibid, pp 20-21.59 Anand Teltumbde, ‘Suicidal Divergence of the Left and Dalit Movements: Cause and Remedy’, (unpublished) paper presented at the national seminar on ‘Dalit Movements in South India’ organised by the Dalit Intellectual Collective and Madras University, Chennai. Some other dalit intellectuals have also observed that “those who masquerade as the champions of dalit cause have been propagating with impunity their hideous perspective that serves nobody else but them-selves. It is merely cunning that they deploy to use dalit cause for personal ends. In fact, there is a complete lack of social vigilance among the com-mon dalit masses whose practical reason is used by these self-appointed dalit as well as non-dalit ‘messiahs’” Gopal Guru (ed), Atrophy in Dalit Politics, Dalit Intellectual Collective book series, Mumbai, 2005, pp 7-8.SPECIAL ISSUEReproductive Health among Youth in Bihar and JharkhandDecember 1, 2007Sexual and Reproductive Health amomg Youth in Bihar and Jharkhand: An Overview – Shireen J JejeebhoyMigration,Youth and HIV Risk: A Study of Young Men in Rural Jharkhand – Mrinalika Dhapola, Mona Sharan, Bharat ShahExploring Safe Sex Awareness and Sexual Experiences of Adolescents in Patna – Medha Shekhar, Saswata Ghosh, Pradeep PandaMaternal Healthcare Seeking among Tribal Adolescent Girls in Jharkhand – Sandhya Rani, Saswata Ghosh, Mona SharanWomen’s Experience of Childbirth in Rural Jharkhand – Lindsay BarnesQuality of Abortion Care: Perspectives of Clients and Providers in Jharkhand – Alka Barua, Hemant Apte For copies write to: Circulation Manager Economic and Political Weekly,320-321, A to Z Industrial Estate, Ganpatrao Kadam Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400

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