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

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The Making of Ambedkarite Public Culture

Spatiality and Expressions of Dalits’ Conscientising Space in Mumbai, circa 1920s–1940s

Public culture is a mental and physical space where basic ideas of the self and world view get crystallised. It is the main space to form varied communicative lines. These communicative lines discipline person’s behaviour. Since the Dalit’s ideas about self and consciousness were largely shaped by their everyday experience, Ambedkar thoughtfully evolved the Dalit’s public culture towards conscientising mental and physical space. A number of nodal points in varied communicative lines were generated to cultivate the autonomous Dalit assertive self and emancipatory world view. It produced an atmosphere where social discursive engagements were developed along with Ambedkarite praxis. As Mumbai happens to be the place where Ambedkar conceived, started and developed the key emancipatory movements, the city turned out to be a precursor for the “Ambedkarite public culture.”

Part of this paper was presented in an international seminar entitled, “Power, Public Culture and Identity: Towards New Histories of Mumbai,” organised by University of Leicester, SOAS with the University of Mumbai on 6–7 January 2017.

Public culture is associated with modern civil societies. It is a space where communication practices shape public behaviour, opinions, and world views in a particular context. It consolidates knowledge about self and others and gets crystallised and identified by collective activities. Aspects of public culture are sometimes being elucidated as “public sphere,” “public life,” or “public activities.”1 To comprehend the phenomenon of the “public sphere,” Jurgen Habermas gives utmost importance to the role of state, paid employment, and space to circulate public discourse (McGuigan 1996: 23–27). This understanding of public space denotes a unitary and bourgeois-centric view of society. His conception of public sphere is contested by some scholars as it does not provide the model for discrimination as well as resistance in civil society. Recently, a variety of conceptions of public culture, especially while studying multicultural city space, have challenged a unidimensional expression of public culture.2 Major historical studies on Mumbai’s public culture are either specific to the upper-class society of South Bombay,3 especially administrators and traders, or these studies are more focused on the left unionism in Mumbai and accords a secondary role to community associations by way of an appendage. Deriving from Lefebvrian notions like everyday life in the city, appropriation, and recognition of difference (Lefebvre 1996: 38–40), Mumbai’s changing social alignments and nature of power constellations are expected to be probed into. The present study undertakes to investigate the Ambedkarite public culture in Mumbai along with the nature of the spatial distribution of Dalits, their community associations with their social outreach activities as well as the process by which these activities formed an autonomous discursive arena.

Here, Ambedkarite public culture is considered as a mental and physical space (Guru and Sarukkai 2012: 82–84) that cultivated the autonomous Dalit assertive self and emancipatory world view. It produced an atmosphere where social discursive engagements were developed with functional mechanisms for the percolation of Ambedkarite consciousness. Some scholars read it in terms of “Ambedkarite counter-public.”4 It spawned communicative networks amongst the ostracised communities. It occupied Dalit households, where the entire world view was revolutionised through phenomenal transformations in everyday life, periodical family functions, and belief systems. B R Ambedkar thoughtfully sharpened the basic arguments to sustain the said culture as well as vigilantly imagined the cultural consciousness for the Dalits. This evolving Ambedkarite public culture endeavoured to create space to stage the caste-struggle towards producing an alternative culture, and not the counterculture.5

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Updated On : 7th Mar, 2021
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