ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Democracy and Identity Politics in India: Is It a Snake or a Rope?

The politics of recognition has dual effects while empowering marginal communities during democratic participation in India. On the one hand, identity politics provides democratic empowerment to a few communities or specific sections of communities, while, on the other, it disempowers people of the same communities who are not yet able to understand the language of democratic state and lag behind in creating group visibility. Thus, identity politics in democracy includes a few and excludes some others, while it is fuelled by tendencies of inclusive exclusion. Through a case study of Chamars in Uttar Pradesh, a low Dalit caste that has now been politically empowered, this paper shows how identity politics alone cannot handle horizontal inequalities among marginal groups.

A version of this paper was presented in the workshop on Ranajit Guha’s “Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India”, organised by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi on 15–16 February 2013. I am thankful to Dipesh Chakrabarty, Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak, Gyan Pandey, Gyan Prakash and others who were at the workshop for their insightful comments on the paper. I am also grateful to the anonymous referee who gave several positive suggestions, which have helped to improve the quality of the paper.

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