Remaking traditional sociality, ephemeral friendships and enduring political alliances

"State-made" Dalit youth in rural North India

in Focaal
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This article explores histories of social separation, impermanent encounters, and lasting political alliances between Dalit (“untouchable”) Chamar male youth and members of the upper-caste Brahman community in a village in eastern Uttar Pradesh, North India. The entry of young Chamar people into educational institutions followed by political mobilization and, for some, the transition into employment, has led them to appropriate spaces often beyond the purview of previous generations. Against the backdrop of Chamar histories as agricultural laborers, powerless political subjects, and actors of religious marginality, new forms of masculinity, sociality, and class formation have come into being. The article focuses on young Chamar men’s involvement in village politics, particularly during the 2005 local elections. It is argued that village politics—rather than inter-caste friendships, which remain short-lived as a result of caste discrimination—has engendered an arena of sociality where caste-driven interest produce more durable social links between young low-caste men and members of the upper-caste community. As India’s political history illustrates, the episode of electoral politics analyzed in this article brings together differently situated communities within the nation, highlighting how the unresolved question of caste discrimination conflates with the compulsion to political power. If young Chamar men are the new protagonists in this history, their role is the outcome of broader changes in the consciousness around political participation and the opening up of democratic possibilities for minority populations in a postcolonial setting.