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

A+| A| A-

A Perspective on Experience

From Postcolonial Irony to Dalit Truth

The paper, in three parts, examines the question of lived experience and Dalit subjectivity in a caste society. The first part argues that the signature postcolonial concepts like “plurality” of lifeworlds as postcolonial historical “difference” fail to provide a method to read Dalit politics outside the framework of irony. The second part critically evaluates existing debates on experience/theory as a necessary precondition for Dalit subjectivity. The paper ends with a speculative reading of “Ambedkar thought” as a decision that creates an ontological separation from the Hindu social. It argues that such subjective decision is prior to experience/theory—it is only through separation that one recognises an experience.


C V Raman, it is said, would rush home from his laboratory in Calcutta in the 1930s to “take a ritual bath ahead of a solar eclipse.” When questioned about this, the physicist is reported to have simply quipped, “The Nobel Prize? That was science, a solar eclipse is personal.”

— Chakrabarty (2001: 254)


Drona was the Pandavas’ archery tutor, and Arjuna was his star pupil. One day a boy name Ekalavya, the son of a tribal Nishada chieftain, came to them. When Drona, who knew dharma, refused to accept the son of a Nishada as a pupil, Ekalavya touched his head to Drona’s feet, went out into the jungle, and made a clay image of Drona, to which he paid the respect due as a teacher. He practiced intensely and became a great archer. One day the Pandavas went out hunting with their dog. The dog wandered off, came upon Ekalavya, and stood there barking at him until the Nishada shot seven arrows almost simultaneously into the dog’s mouth. The dog went whimpering back to the Pandavas, who were amazed and went to find the man who had accomplished this feat. They found him and asked him who he was, and he told them he was the Nishada Ekalavya, a pupil of Drona.

(When Drona found out about this, he along with Arjuna met Ekalavya to resolve the problem.) He (Drona) said to Ekalavya, “If you are my pupil, pay me my fee right now.” Ekalavya, delighted, said, “command me, my guru. There is nothing I will not give my guru.” Drona replied, “Give me your right thumb.” When Ekalavya heard this terrible speech from Drona, he kept his promise. His face showed his joy in it, and his mind was entirely resolved to do it. He cut off his thumb and gave it to Drona. And after that, when the Nishada shot an arrow, his fingers were not so quick as before. Arjuna was greatly relieved.

— Doniger (2009: 297–98)


Unfortunately I was born a Hindu untouchable but I will not die a Hindu.

— Ambedkar (2014b: 94)

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Updated On : 7th Dec, 2020
Back to Top