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

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Practice of Caste and the Complexities of Constitutional Democracy

Dynamics of Caste and Law: Dalits, Oppression and Constitutional Democracy in India by Dag-Erik Berg, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2020; pp 243, 795.

On the one hand, majoritarian upper-caste discourse has dominated in democratic institutions, such as Parliament, executive and judiciary, and on the other, the idea of Hindu law resounds in everyday social lives. The dynamics of law in India are contrasting in two major ways. First, the ancient law that is known as Manu’s law (Manusmriti) comprises Hindu religious codes/rules, rituals and customs that predominate the modern constitutional law. And second, the modern law is adopted by the democratic state. The modern democratic state is a political contract and agreement among the citizens through the Constitution to secure rights, liberty, and equality as a matter of inalienable fundamental rights. Yet, in the last seven decades, despite having modern constitutional law, the lawlessness of the established Hindu social ­order sanctifies and validates the persistence of caste, atrocities against Dalits, and subjugation of women that is prescribed in Manu’s law in accordance with Hindu religion.

Dag-Erik Berg, a political theorist, scrupulously brings out the complexity of the social inequalities and exclusion in the constitutional demo­cracy. B R Ambedkar, in one of his Constituent Assembly speeches, said that the Indian democracy is going to have a life of contradictions in its social and economic life. Interestingly, Berg emp­loys Ernesto Laclau’s concept of antagonism to understand the contradictions in Indian democracy. He calls it “mechanism of oppression” in the context of Dalit situation in postcolonial democracy. Berg showcases the protest against the dilution of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) (PoA) Act, 1989, and in that context how two Dalit women went to smear black paint on Manu’s statue in the Rajasthan High Court in 2018. In particular, the book Dynamics of Caste and Law: Dalits, Oppression and Constitutional ­Democracy in India construes caste and law in the context of Dalits’ intricacy with constitutional democracy and the state machinery. Berg explores the concept of political ontology in Ambedkar’s philosophy to comprehend Indian society and polity. In this regard, the scholarship on Ambedkar is well articulated as a theorist of democracy and constitutionalism, who fathoms to unravel the social political problem of his time that is explicated in postcolonial democratic state. While building a narrative, Berg locates the historical trajectory of caste atrocity in the purview of law, revealing the ambiguous relationship between caste, untouchability, and equality in the enhancement of law against caste practice in relation to Dalits, such as Article 17, and PoA Act, 1989. He mainly deliberates over two massacres against Dalits, namely the Karamchedu and Tsunduru and the landmark judgment in the related court case, while discussing the Khairlanji episode on the same plane. Berg further demonstrates the caste discrimination in the university campuses and reservations in the context of the movement that emerged after the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula. He names it the modernity of caste in
a democracy.

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Updated On : 10th May, 2021
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