Citizenship in religious clothing?

Navayana Buddhism and Dalit emancipation in late 1990s Uttar Pradesh

in Focaal
Author: Nicolas Jaoul1
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Abstract

B. R. Ambedkar (1891–1956) advocated the religious conversion of Dalits to Navayana Buddhism as the pillar of the future struggle against caste. This article examines the implications of this turn to religion for the Dalit movement. As shown by its convergence with Marx’s critique of bourgeois citizenship, Navayana exceeds the framework of political liberalism. It is argued, though, that Navayana is neither an orientalized version of liberal politics, nor is it fully contained by Marxism. The ethnography highlights the revival of Navayana in the 1990s in a context of disillusion with institutional politics. With the rise to political power of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in this period, Uttar Pradesh emerged as the new center of Dalit politics. However, the BSP government also disappointed many former activists, who then turned to the Navayana movement. What spaces and possibilities did Navayana open up to further the task of Dalit emancipation that political power failed to achieve? The ethnography highlights the Navayana movement’s practical difficulties and dilemmas, caused by its being advocated and practiced by secular minded activists hostile to popular religiosity.

Without religion our struggle will not survive.

—Ambedkar’s conversion speech in Agra, 18 March 1956 (quoted in Rattu 1997: 73)

In October 1956, seven years after handing over the Constitution of India and five years after resigning from the Nehru cabinet to protest against its lack of commitment to social reforms, Ambedkar, leader of the “untouchables,” or Dalits, started what I refer to as the Navayana movement by converting himself and several hundred thousand of his followers to Buddhism.1 The “New Vehicle,” Navayana Buddhism, was designed by him to free Dalits and Indian society at large from the bondage of caste.2 Although strongly impressed with the promise of political equality and influenced by the political philosophy of the American liberal Left (especially by his teacher at Columbia University, John Dewey), Ambedkar started expressing his concerns regarding the willingness of the Indian state to work for a truly democratic society as soon as independence was declared.

When he handed over the Constitution of the new born Indian Republic in November 1949, Ambedkar’s often quoted speech insisted on the contradictions between political equality and economic and social disparities, which threatened the future of India’s democratic institutions. His speech was therefore on a similar line to Thomas Marshall’s contemporary emphasis on social and economic citizenship as opposed to political rights alone (Marshall 1950). But Ambedkar’s decision to consecrate the rest of his life to Buddhism as soon as he left the Nehru cabinet goes beyond this social democratic aspiration and secular framework. The aim of this article is to look into the implications of Ambedkar’s final turn to religious means of emancipation.

While Ambedkar has been understood by most scholars as a liberal, his embrace of Navayana directs us to reconsider his relationship to political liberalism. Indeed, Navayana represents an experimental political journey at the fringes of liberal politics. Anupama Rao has characterized it as the result of “a forty year struggle to understand the co-constitution of politics and religion that produced caste” (2009: 121). The choice of Buddhism enabled the appropriation of an ancient, prestigious Indian philosophy: a daring and powerful political claim for those who has been denied entry into Hindu temples and had been considered as unworthy of religion.

From a conceptual point of view, the political relevance of the conversion thus seems well established. But from an ethnographic point of view, what does the turn to religion imply for the Dalit movement? Seven weeks after diksha (“conversion” or more exactly, as I will discuss further, “initiation”), Ambedkar passed away, leaving his followers the arduous task of putting Navayana into practice. Although carefully designed, it nevertheless remained an experimental religious prototype that sought to link together citizenship, revolutionary aims, and religious ritual functions.

The practical problems faced by Navayana activists therefore cast into question the continuity between religion and politics that can be conceived theoretically. In his perceptive account of Navayana, Martin Fuchs argues that “even if simplistic, the naïve reactions of modernists who cannot accept religion as part of a modern agenda do point to some basic difficulty, even aporia, or rather, a bundle of dilemmas, which indicate an unresolved conundrum within the triangle of religion, politics, and social emancipation” (2004: 287). I see Fuchs’s remark as an invitation to take seriously Navayana’s self-definition as a religion. According to a similar line of thought, Michael Löwy (1998) has, for instance, insisted on the often neglected spiritual dimensions of the theology of liberation in Latin America, thus taking issue with a purely secular interpretation that does not take into account their religious content. Although Ambedkar proposed with Navayana a highly secularized version of Buddhism, he nevertheless defined it as a “Religion” with a capital R and insisted that it be recognized as such. The Marxian political philosopher Miguel Abensour’s characterization of utopian discourse, not as the “depreciation of the political” but rather as the “complication of the political” (2000: 43, my translation from French) introduces a welcome complexity to think dialectically Navayana’s “religious” experimentation with “the political” and vice versa. What, then, are the practical issues that Navayana activists face while seeking to conciliate their political aims with the more recognized and conventional aspects of “Religion”?

In the first part of the article, I discuss Ambedkar’s conception of Navayana and show that Marx’s positive understanding of Judaism in nineteenth-century Germany as an alternative to bourgeois citizenship brings relevant perspectives. I then turn to the ethnography of the Navayana revival in Uttar Pradesh (UP). UP in the 1990s represents a particularly interesting, even if incomplete, “political moment” (Rancière 1998) that has become a milestone for the ongoing politicization of the Dalits in India. After the rise to power of the BSP, an Ambedkarite party, many Dalit activists became disappointed by the BSP leadership’s practice of political power and its lack of internal democracy, which contradicted their initial movement’s radical democratic aspirations. The local Ambedkarite movement’s turn to Navayana that took place in this context has been the most current response to this disillusion but not the only one.3 It also interestingly echoes Ambedkar’s own disappointment with institutional politics half a century before.

Citizenship in religious clothing?

In his pioneering work on the Ambedkarite movement of Agra (UP), the late Owen Lynch (1931–2013) wrote that Ambedkar wished to anchor citizenship and nationalism in moral values, thus pouring “the new wine of political modernity into the old bottles of religious tradition” (1969: 143). In a personal e-mail correspondence some ten years ago, Lynch confessed to me that this older formulation did not satisfy him anymore. He said what was required now was for us to understand how the bottles transformed the content.4 Following his intuition, my aim is to question what Navayana religion has done to the Dalit movement.

As Anupama Rao’s innovative work on Ambedkar testifies, a Marxian perspective provides a deeper understanding of his revolutionary aims in comparison to a tendency of liberal scholarship to take his liberal politics at face value. In his biography of Ambedkar, Jaffrelot argues that Ambedkar’s decision to devote the rest of his life to Buddhism was a manner of wrapping his liberal values in a religious discourse. On the one hand, Jaffrelot convincingly points out that in The Buddha and his Dhamma, written as a “Buddhist bible” for the use of converts, Ambedkar gave central importance to the notion of Dhamma as civic morality. This was at the expense of the notions of karma (the theory of rebirth that emphasized one’s caste duties or dharma) and of the four noble truths, whose introspective and pessimistic content did not fit the purposes of struggle. This attempt to secularize Buddhism highlighted by Jaffrelot are indeed important aspects of Navayana, although the argument does not fully represent Ambedkar’s quest. Jaffrelot argues that by redefining Buddha’s doctrine as “liberty, equality, fraternity,” “Ambedkar selected the values within Buddhism that he had spotted in the Republican doctrine” (2000: 202, my translation). To make this point, he quotes a speech originally reported by Ambedkar’s biographer Dhananjay Keer that Ambedkar gave on the national radio in October 1954: “Positively, my social philosophy,” he continued, “may be said to be enshrined in three words: liberty, equality and fraternity. Let no one however say that I have borrowed my philosophy from the French revolution. I have not. My philosophy has roots in religion and not in political science. I have derived them from the teachings of my master, the Buddha” (Keer 1971: 459).

Jaffrelot, however, misses out a key point: Keer concludes that Ambedkar’s insistence on religion was a manner of insisting on “fraternity—which was another name for brotherhood or humanity, which was again another name for religion” (1971: 459). What these lines reveal is that although the continuities with liberal values are undeniable, Ambedkar was unsatisfied with the latter and thus searched in religion for the more encompassing human perspective that was missing in the bourgeois concept of citizenship. There is here a striking parallel with Marx’s (1843) stigmatization of the selfish bourgeois definition of citizenship, which he contrasts, with a more encompassing notion of “human emancipation.” Unless we acknowledge that Ambedkar was dissatisfied with citizenship, we cannot explain his turn to religion. Jaffrelot’s emphasis on the need to “vernacularize” (Jaffrelot 2000: 202) Western ideas deserves more discussion, but my point is that it is not completely convincing in view of Ambedkar’s assumed modernity. Simply wrapping Western ideas in a religious garb for the sake of cultural translation would mean that Ambedkar surrendered to the stereotyped imperialist divide between the religious East and Western secular modernity (Veer 2001). The risk presented by this cultural line of argumentation, if pushed to its logical ends, is to depict Navayana as a sort of orientalized version of citizenship. My main objection to this argument is that it fails to convey Ambedkar’s reinscription of religion and thus does not capture its political significance.5

From the opposite direction, Navayana has also been interpreted as a form of “Marxist Buddhism” (Kinsey 2009). There are, of course, explicit references to Marx in Ambedkar’s Buddhist argumentation.6 However, the assimilation of Navayana to “Marxist Buddhism” also fails to convey “the multidimensionality of Ambedkar’s religious discourse” (Sumant 2004: 63). As argued by Sumant, “his understanding of religion was no doubt enriched by Marxist insights and yet his approach to religion was not essentially a Marxist one” (69). Indeed, Gail Omvedt opposes Ambedkar’s emphasis on religion to Marxism which “was fundamentally uninterested in religion, in the critique of religion or in changes of religion” (2003: 254). In another chapter, she also points that in contrast to Marx and Weber, who believed that religion would die away, but similar to Durkheim’s secular understanding of religion as “society’s self-consciousness” (Omvedt 2004: 51), Ambedkar considered that religion had a place in modernity, as “the main creator of the moral community” (Omvedt 2004: 50, her emphasis).7

Durkheim’s influence on Ambedkar, however, does not account for the emancipatory aspects of Navayana that exceeds this republican conception of religion’s secular function. Instead, the attempts to relocate the discourse of Dalit emancipation outside institutional politics lead us to consider Navayana’s convergence with Marx’s early reflections on the political relevance of religion for the Jewish community in the context of nineteenth-century Germany. While Ambedkar often referred critically to the older Marx’s economicism as irrelevant to grasp the religious and cultural dimensions of untouchability, there is to my knowledge no explicit reference in his writings to Marx’s earlier works. Nevertheless, these convergences provide major insights to reconsider Ambedkar’s relationship to liberal political thought.8

In On the Jewish question, Marx positively points to the religion of the Jewish minority as a politically significant point of friction with the German Christian state. Instead of urging Jews to give up their religion and opt for secular integration in German civil society, Marx (1843) looks at this religious difference as a political terrain from which to effectively push “real, practical” political emancipation beyond the contradictions of bourgeois political equality. Similarly, although the Indian state officially adopted secularism, which was an official statement of religious neutrality, Ambedkar rapidly found out while he served as minister of law that the Nehruvian state’s reformist agenda remained ineffective in creating a truly secular society.

The political context of the conversion thus shows that Ambedkar’s final decision to put it into practice 15 years after having declared his intent to opt out of Hinduism (1936) was ultimately remotivated by his disillusion with institutional politics. His resignation from the Nehru cabinet in 1951 was in protest against Nehru’s renunciation of the Hindu Code Bill that he had prepared as minister of law. The setback met by his attempt to strike legally against Hindu patriarchy (which he considered the foundation of caste) revealed that the Indian ruling class’s Hindu conservatism had already outweighed the official doctrine of religious neutrality, secularism (Anderson 2012). Therefore, Ambedkar became convinced that the newborn Indian state could not be trusted to protect society from the conservative Hindu social order. This disillusion with institutional politics explains his decision to refocus his offensive on the religious reform of society.

Although there is no evidence that Ambedkar was influenced by Marx’s reflection on the Jewish question or ever read this book (he usually refers to Marx as the author of Das Kapital), his turn to religion indicates a similar aspiration toward political autonomy from the state. However, the attempt to win Dalit political autonomy from the state was not without a cost. Leaving the Hindu fold meant giving up the official Scheduled Caste status, which entitled Dalit subgroups (jatis) to certain benefits but which were reserved exclusively for Hindu and Sikh Dalits. This restriction was introduced in the Constitution by Hindu conservatives to prevent conversion of Dalits. As a consequence, conversion meant giving up benefits in terms of education, public jobs, reserved seats in elected assemblies, and protection against caste discrimination.9 Ambedkar was ready to give up these measures of state welfare and economic improvement because he understood the effects of upper-caste patronage that these policies enabled, which threatened to keep Dalits in a subordinate position. Ambedkar argued during a speech in Agra in March 1956 that it was advisable for Dalits to dissociate from any category reminiscent of untouchability, like Scheduled Castes. In this speech, he thus opposed the rights to state welfare (what Marshall calls “social citizenship”) in favor of a more autonomous and unbound definition of Dalits. He argued in his speech that Dalits should renounce their state welfare benefits rather than become caught up in the Hindus’ hidden agenda of caste patronage. In the press conference that he gave in Nagpur on the eve of his own conversion, he again clarified his stand. Answering the journalist who asked, “What about the special concessions ensured by the Constitution to the Untouchable class? They will be no more. What about that?” (Mankar 2009: 491), Ambedkar reiterated that Dalits should become equal citizens rather than claim benefits that would perpetuate their traditional status as “untouchables”: “We will get all the concessions ensured for all citizens even after conversion. As of the question of special concessions, why do you worry about that? Whether you wish that we should remain Untouchables all the life to avail the special concessions given by the Constitution? We are striving to achieve Humanism” (Mankar 2009: 491). His insistence on conversion as a means to reclaim autonomy from state categories thus conforms to what Rancière (1998) calls “disidentification,” which he designates as one of the important aspects of his theory of political subjectivation.

What now remains to be understood to do justice to Navayana’s self-definition as a religion is the concessions that it makes to religiosity itself, which is where Ambedkar departs from Marx. Marx’s purely political concessions to Jewish religion as a political attribute diverges from Ambedkar’s positive apprehension of religion as an ethical resource for national life. In contrast to Ambedkar, who emphasized people’s spiritual needs, Marx’s view of people’s religiosity remains doubly negative: it is both a result of suffering that results from economic exploitation and a symptom of the incompleteness of political emancipation under the bourgeois state.

Zelliot underlines Ambedkar’s spiritual concerns, reminding us of his earlier socialization with bhakti (devotional) Dalit religious sects and pointing to his erudite interest in Buddhist spirituality (Zelliot 2004). During his talk to the Buddhist Sasana Council of Burma in 1954, Ambedkar argued that “like with the entry of Christianity in Rome, it was the poor and despised sections who needed religion” (quoted in Zelliot 2004: 26). But he was also aware that popular religion in its existing form could harm prospects for emancipation. In his memoirs, his personal secretary reminds us that he equated Dalit religious practice with a culture of poverty and untouchability, and that he viewed bhakti cults as “superstitions and blind faiths” and, borrowing Marx’s famous formula, as the “opium of helplessness … He wanted to root out this disease from their minds, which he said, was merely sentimental non-sense and made them impotent and which had stood in the way of their progress” (Rattu 2001: 163). Hence his intention was to replace subaltern religious life with a rational substitute that matched the Dalit movement’s quest for self-respect and modernity.

Attempts have been made to draw parallels between Antonio Gramsci’s and Ambedkar’s emphasis on religion (Zene 2013). However, there are significant differences between them. In his prison notebooks Gramsci argues that popular religion provides the popular ideological ground from which to instill revolutionary consciousness into the peasant masses. Ambedkar’s strategy was, on the contrary, to substitute a modernized version of Buddhism for popular religion. According to him, even the bhakti cults practiced by Dalits had all become contaminated by caste, ideologically and practically (Sumant 2004). In contrast with the Gramscian solution, which seeks to differentiate and select from existing religious notions and practices those that could be coherent with his project of a Marxist philosophy of praxis, Ambedkar’s strategy of religious substitution is somehow closer to the tabula rasa approach of orthodox Marxists that Gramsci criticizes. By reconstructing a Dalit Buddhist past in his essay on the origins of untouchability, Ambedkar (1990) made a connection with a distant and forgotten past, but he also argued that Dalits had lost touch with this Buddhist past, which is therefore disconnected from the Dalit present.

Besides the issue of rationality, which determined Ambedkar’s preference for Buddhism among other established religions, the issue of respectability—offering Dalit converts a religion with a big “R” that would enhance their social status—was an important factor in his willingness to depart from existing Dalit cults. His emphasis on respectability explains a fundamental tension in Ambedkar’s conception of Buddhism. While at times he defined Dhamma in opposition to religion as it existed, “at some places he took Buddhism as a religion among others” (Fuchs 2004: 289). This, according to Fuchs, was because he wanted Navayana to be recognized and respected as “Religion.” As noted by Joel Lee, this shows that Ambedkar “had acquiesced to the regnant taxonomy of religion—in which Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikkhism and Christianity enjoyed status while the religious traditions of Lal Begis, Satnamis and so on did not—and committed himself to an emancipatory project legible in the terms of that taxonomy: conversion from one politically recognized religion to another” (2015: 7). Therefore, Ambedkar’s strategy was to gain respectability through the appropriation of a religion that was already recognized by Western discourses, to the detriment of existing Dalit cults that bore the stigma of subalternity.

A few significant examples can help us see concretely the importance that Ambedkar gave to religious signifiers in order to build Navayana’s respectability. Although wishing to downplay as much as possible the importance of the clergy, he nevertheless acknowledged that Navayana could not do without the bikshus (Buddhist monks) if it were to obtain religious recognition. He also took pains to elaborate a “conversion” or Dhamma diksha ritual, which was regarded as an initiation rather than a conversion, and an iconography, thus making formal concessions to established conceptions of “Religion.” At a conference that he gave in Sri Lanka in 1950, he reminded his audience that “the first definite object of my visit is to see Buddhist ceremonial. Ceremonial is an important part of religion. Whatever rationalists might say, ceremonial is a very essential thing in religion” (Ambedkar, quoted in Ahir 1996: 145). In February 1956, while preparing for the conversion, he wrote a booklet in Pali (the ancient language of Theravada Buddhist scriptures) and Marathi, titled “Buddha Pooja Path,” which synthetized his findings on Theravada rituals in Sri Lanka. On the morning of his conversion, one of his followers who published a detailed chronology of his life, reported that “Babasaheb dresses up in white Kurta, Coat and special white Dhoti (loincloth) which he had specially arranged from Coimbatur, Tamil Nadu. He expresses his wish to Mr Godbole that homage (Shradhanjali) be paid to his father Ramji Ambedkar on this day as he was the man who cultured him in religion” (Mankar 2009: 492). These details show that Ambedkar did not simply make formal concessions to religion but expressed a form of sentimentality toward Dalit spirituality through homage to his father’s religious teachings.

He was nevertheless careful to select ritual symbols that were consistent with his political aims. Based on his research on the more ancient Theravada tradition of Sri Lanka and Burma, Gary Tartakov noticed that Ambedkar, for instance, selected images of the Buddha with open eyes, rejecting the more introspective closed eyes ones in order to propose a politically relevant image of the Buddha engaged with the world (Tartakov 2004). Politically, Navayana thus defines an ambivalent or gray zone between a “respectable,” liberal, and bourgeois conception of religion tailored for Dalit citizens and a revolutionary subjectivity.

After replacing the Navayana turn of the Dalit movement in Uttar Pradesh in its political context, the ethnography that follows highlights the consequences of this ambivalence for the contemporary Navayana movement and for the Dalit communities that engage with it.

The Ambedkarite movement’s Buddhist turn in Mayawati’s Uttar Pradesh

UP is the most populated state in India and one of the poorest and most underdeveloped. Its political importance at the national level is due to the high number of members of parliament that it sends to the National Assembly and to its reputation of having influenced national politics historically. The ascendance to power of the Dalits, in alliance with other plebeian communities (the Other Backward Castes [OBCs] and the Muslims), in December 1993, has been considered a major political event at the national level.

With a population of 200 million, UP is the most populous state in India and one of the poorest. It has a relatively large Dalit population of 20.5 percent, as compared with a national average of 16.6 percent (2011 Census). UP therefore is home to the most important Dalit population in India: 41 million, or one-fifth of the total Dalit population of the country, reside in UP. Dalits in UP are divided into 66 endogamous jatis (birth groups, or subcastes), whose sizes vary considerably. Among them, the Chamars constitute the single largest group (11.5 percent of the total population, 56.1 percent of the Dalit population), but they include a cluster of regional subgroups like the Jatavs of eastern UP, who have been historically associated with the Ambedkarite movement. Chamars in general are prominent in the movement, which has received support from a section of their intelligentsia, government employees, and officers.

My fieldwork took place in the city of Kanpur and its rural surroundings. With a population of 3.2 million, Kanpur is the largest city of UP. It has a declining textile industry, which left tens of thousands of workers without resources in the early 1990s. It has been a center of Dalit activism since the 1920s and represents the oldest and biggest stronghold of the Dalit movement in UP. Cities like Kanpur have been loyal to the older Ambedkarite organizations and therefore often created obstacles for the BSP when it started mobilizing in the 1980s. Such places with an old Ambedkarite tradition have thus been important centers for the Navayana revival that took place in northern India after the mid-1990s. Even former local BSP activists started to turn to Navayana as an alternative to the BSP once it attained political power.

I conducted fieldwork over a period of three and half years between August 1997 and March 2001 for my PhD dissertation on the local Dalit movement. My focus is on the passage from electoral politics to Navayana during this time period.

In the 1980s, the movement of Dalit government employees led by Kanshi Ram brought the message of emancipation to even the most remote villages. Ram, a government civil engineer, set up the Backward and Minority Caste Employees Federation (BAMCEF) in the early 1970s to organize the Dalit government employees. This was done secretly, since government employees are not authorized by law to join political organizations. In 1984, Ram launched the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), a full-fledged political party. To avoid internal controversies on religious issues that are sensitive and potentially divisive, the BAMCEF and the BSP decided to avoid the question of religious conversion. The goal of politically uniting the Dalits, OBCs, and religious minorities required religious neutrality. Ram therefore made selective use of Ambedkar, insisting only on the democratic capture of political power while strategically ignoring his call for conversion.10 Even directed toward only the Dalits, a religious approach would have been strategically misplaced when the need of the hour for the BSP was to consolidate the Dalit vote.

The BSP attained power in December 1993 as the junior partner in a coalition government with the socialist Samajwadi Party, and later in June 1995 by forming its own government with the external support of the Hindu Nationalist BJP. The eventual shift to Navayana by former BAMCEF activists who earlier played an indirect but decisive role in building the BSP’s electoral base can help us understand how the articulation between these two forms of engagement is experienced concretely by the activists.

The BSP’s rise to power in the first half of the 1990s paradoxically marginalized BAMCEF activists who had built the party from scratch. Their demands for internal democracy often conflicted with the leadership’s desire for a free hand for political maneuvering, disappointing these activists’ expectations of transparency. After the BAMCEF was officially dissolved by Ram in 1996, these earlier supporters felt sidelined. Eva Maria Hardtmann also traces the beginning of the Navayana movement in UP to 1996 (2009), thus confirming my hypothesis that the marginalization of the BAMCEF and the early BSP movement contributed to the turn to Navayana by many activists.

The downfall of the BAMCEF also corresponds with the rise of Mayawati, herself a Jatav Buddhist by birth, a former primary school teacher, and activist of the BAMCEF. Mayawati was nominated state president of the party in December 1993 by Kanshi Ram, when the party participated in the coalition government. In 1995 she became the chief minister of UP, having been convinced by external political brokers in New Delhi to accept the support of the BJP. Many activists were taken aback by the crude opportunism of this alliance with the Hindu nationalist party and by the authoritarian and crude behavior that Mayawati and Kanshi Ram started to display during party meetings to control the cadre and maintain a free hand over party decisions (Jaoul 2011). The alliances with the BJP (1995) and the Congress (1996), both formerly perceived by BSP as Brahminical enemies, were hard to digest for many former party supporters. Those whom I met blamed electoral politics, but nevertheless continued to extend their support to the BSP, whose actions had resulted in gaining access to political power and using local administration in support of the Dalits.

During my PhD fieldwork, I developed personal ties with former BAMCEF activists. Some of them invited me to their homes and introduced me to their families, which enabled me to contextualize their engagement from the point of view of domestic life. Most of them had turned to Navayana as a way to pursue their political engagement in conformity with their ethical standards, which they felt had been betrayed by Mayawati. The discovery of Buddhism was a more intimate and private form of adherence to Ambedkar. It entailed a form of self-realization as upasak (Buddhist laypeople entitled to perform rituals). Those who adopted Buddhism saw themselves as embodying the Ambedkarite legacy in a truer way. The expression pakka Ambedkarwadi, which refers to a pakka house, a house of cement, in comparison to a kachcha hutment, made of natural materials, conveys this consolidated adherence to Ambedkar. The evolution from kachcha to pakka Ambedkarwadi thus interestingly designates a process of political subjectivation, from superficial adherence to a deeper and more intimate level of personal transformation.

Navayana is a relatively new phenomenon in most parts of UP, for a first wave of conversions started in Agra and western UP in march 1956, where the Jatavs (the local subgroup of the Chamars) were the first in India to collectively take diksha to Navayana (Lynch 1969).11 Starting timidly as an attempt by Gulab Sehra, a Congress Jatav politician, to counter the BSP’s growing influence in 1990, the movement really took off in the mid-1990s as an Ambedkarite alternative to the BSP.

People’s attachment to existing religious traditions explains the resistance to the Navayana movement. In spite of a trend of assimilation in “mainstream” Hinduism, there remains a sectarian specificity to the Dalit practice of Hinduism. The devotional cults of characters like Valmiki (who is popular among the bhangi jati), and fifteenth-century saints like Kabir and Ravidas represent historical forms of anti-caste consciousness among Dalits. Politically, these cults have continued to be patronized by Dalit candidates of mainstream political parties, while the BSP promoted them as symbols of caste pride of the different Dalit jatis. These cults thus have had the support of political interests and Dalit politicians, making Navayana proselytism difficult and sidelined from electoral politics.

What kind of political alternative to the BSP’s electoral politics does the Navayana movement propose? While the BSP has mobilized subcaste or jati identities among Dalits, Navayana represented a political solution for Ambedkarites from different jatis who felt the need to consolidate their cohesion by abolishing these jati divisions. Many felt that these subcaste identities only reproduced internal caste rivalries and were not consistent with the ideal of the anti-caste struggle. Dara Puri, a staunch Buddhist who was a senior police officer (now retired) at the time of this interview in his Lucknow office, insisted that Dalit unity was required to effectively launch a political offensive against caste:

Political power has got its own importance but before that, there has to be a religious and social movement. As Dr Ambedkar has said in one of his books, all political revolutions have to be preceded by social and religious revolutions … Unless there is a social revolution, which means the dissolution of subcaste identities among Dalits, and then a religious revolution, which means the passage of Dalits to Buddhism, I’m afraid that the political games cannot really constitute long-term gains. Therefore, social and religious unity can give the basis to unity and political success.

(interview in English, Lucknow, 1 May 1998)
In the yearly publication or “souvenir” of one of the local Ambedkarite organizations of Kanpur, an article by a government employee similarly valorizes the role of religion as the cement of Dalit unity and as a provider of moral strength and physical courage to actively face the onslaughts of the dominant castes. Relying on old stereotypes of communal discourse, Muslims are depicted as an example of this physical courage when their religion has been at stake, while Brahmins should be emulated for their ability to unite on religious grounds in spite of their jati divisions. He explains that in spite of supporting different political parties during elections, Brahmins are united by Brahminism (Hindu orthodoxy, which supports the idea of caste hierarchy and Brahmin superiority). Therefore Hindus easily stand as one when their vital interests are at stake. Religion is imbued with the power to sanctify unity, which becomes inalterable, in contrast to the fluctuating and temporary nature of social alliances and electoral allegiances. This author’s strategy of emulation thus implies an ethno-religious model of society where each religious community finds in religion the psychological strength to compete with the other communities. Such competitive notions of ethnicity are in contradiction with Ambedkar’s Buddhist utopia of a fraternal society. Instead they make a more conventional use of religion, which is in conformance with the communal discourse that has developed in northern India since the beginning of the twentieth century (Pandey 1990).

On a larger plane, the Navayana movement’s inability to achieve its universal goal of transforming society as a whole has been characterized by Fuchs as a failure for having been “pushed into its communalist corner, becoming a religion for Dalits only” (2004: 292) by the dominant discourse. In a similar vein, Partha Chatterjee (2004) emphasizes that Navayana has not helped Dalits to escape their subaltern condition. While it is a fact that Navayana has been ghettoized in subaltern communities and has become integrated into the ideological landscape of the Dalits, these negative assessments fail to convey its meaning and political relevance for those concerned.

The communal rhetoric of Buddhism that has developed does not prevent universalism from prevailing in the Navayana movement. In a leaflet that the bikshu (Buddhist monk) of Kanpur has published in order to call for participation in the prayer meetings held on Sundays at his Boddh Vihar (Buddhist shrine), religious ethnicity and India’s future democracy are articulated as representing two different moments: “Come, we must think with rested minds and reflect on our culture and our religion, based on equality, fraternity, sympathy, and friendship. All these qualities are found in Buddhist religion. We must strengthen it, build a new community and help each other … so that the future generation can become the strong citizens of twenty-first century and participate to the setting up of a new society and nation” (Dipankar 1999, translated from Hindi).

The larger political project of regenerating Indian society socially and politically is attributed by this bikshu to the next generation, while he alleges that the need of the hour is to develop a proper cultural atmosphere due to the spread of Buddhism in the Dalit community. Buddhist education is the link between the immediate need to build cohesion and a future in which self-confident and empowered Buddhist citizens will be able to eradicate caste from society.

Studying a political movement of emancipation from below requires us to take into account the psychological impact of these claims to universality. The enunciation of the universal constitutes a subversive claim on the part of those who are constantly “anthropologized,” stigmatized as “different,” and “communitarized” by the dominant discourse (Balibar 2011). Marxist political philosophers like Balibar and Rancière (1998) advise us that the reclamation of universality constitutes a powerful statement of equality that challenges the elite’s intellectual hegemony while politically requalifying the margins of society. Political ethnography can therefore help us understand how these claims to universality have influenced Dalit political praxis. The ethnography of emancipation requires us to pay attention in detail to the manners and the effects of the enunciations of universal discourse by subaltern/minoritarian sections of society.

Before turning to the ethnography of the Navayana movement, we need to keep in mind that Navayana represents a minoritarian religious option. Having myself been fully immersed in the Navayana movement, I developed a Navayanacentric view of the Dalit movement. The movement, however, seemed to me strong, at least in the Kanpur region where I was based. Contrasting with the visibility given to Navayana diksha ceremonies in the public sphere, the census data show that the percentage of the Buddhist population has not only remained weak but in fact decreased to a large extent from 2001 to 2011 (from 0.18 percent of the total UP population or 302,031 persons in 2001 to 0.1 percent or 206,285 according to the 2011 census). I have been surprised by this decline, considering the well-publicized mass diksha ceremonies of the decade in this region, where I have returned several times since the end of my PhD fieldwork. Shura Dara Puri, a Navayana activist whom I contacted while writing this article explained these weak figures to be the result of biased census staff, who, according to her, did not wish to acknowledge that Buddhists could be treated as a separate religious group and therefore recorded them as Hindus. Johannes Beltz made a similar observation in his study of Navayana in Maharashtra in the previous decade, writing that “it is very difficult to evaluate the exact number of Buddhists, since converts often fail to change their civic reports and officially remain Hindu” (2004: 15 n. 13). It is also true that in UP the Hindu nationalist discourse, which is prominent in the Hindi media, tends to present Buddhism as nothing but a Hindu sect, even though the 22 vows that are repeated during diksha explicitly state the contrary.

On the one hand, these weak figures should not be taken for granted. They cast doubt on the Navayana movement’s ability to effectively influence the census results and highlight the inappropriateness of fixed state categories that ignore the transitional phenomenon of “initiation” (diksha) that could otherwise be better grasped qualitatively. But on the other hand, in contrast with the visibility of Navayana as a movement both in the local media and the urban space, where its ceremonies are staged in a manner aimed at maximum visibility, these poor figures question Navayana’s ability to match people’s religious aspirations in the domestic religious sphere.

The ritualization of Navayana in the Dalit middle class

The first Navayana temple in India was inaugurated in Agra (UP) in March 1956 during the first diksha ceremony of Navayana that took place in India (Lynch 1969). Ambedkar was the chief guest of the ceremony. His speech in front of 100,000 to 200,000 Jatavs is often quoted by Ambedkarite activists in order to criticize the selfishness of upwardly mobile Dalits who do not participate in their movement. In his speech Ambedkar accused Dalit government employees of lacking solidarity with their oppressed community, in whose name they obtained these reserved jobs that he considered a collective asset for the group. Not only did the benefits fail to percolate down to the Dalit community, but the upwardly mobile Dalits increasingly adopted Hindu rituals and practices, as a means of “passing” culturally in their new social and professional environment, therefore becoming cut off from their own. Ambedkar maintained in his speech that this egoism was due to the deficit of morality in Hinduism and that the role of Buddhism was to enhance the Dalit middle class’s ethics of responsibility and solidarity toward the poor.12 In the context of a caste society where the ruling class hailed from the upper castes, Navayana thus offered a solution for a reliable republican elite to emerge among Dalits and to work for the progress of the underprivileged whom the Indian state had failed. According to Ambedkar, Hinduism was neither reformable nor solvable in Indian democracy. He instead depicted Navayana as the breeding ground for India’s future democratic society.

One late afternoon in 1998, at the Ambedkar park of Lucknow—the pharaonic project of BSP Chief Minister Mayawati, construction on which had been halted when she fell from power—I recorded a conversation with an Ambedkarite government officer who was sitting at the feet of Ambedkar’s statue. Being posted in Agra, he was on official duty in Lucknow and came to the park for leisure after his day’s work to see the site for himself. He emphasized the Ambedkarite model of the politicized subaltern elite as central to his Buddhist ethics:

The Dalit remains a Dalit until the last Dalit is a Dalit. We work for the upliftment of Dalits. We work. We are the followers of Dr Ambedkar, we are the followers of Buddha. We are working for their cause. Wearing good clothes has no signification as long as we do not do something for our people. If the last man does not get respect, ours has no utility.

(Lucknow, 22 April 1998)
For the next three years of my fieldwork in Ambedkarite circles of the industrial city of Kan pur, I witnessed this Ambedkarite ethics of solidarity at work in its socialized form. The Ambedkarite middle class sought to reconcile upward mobility with group solidarity. I could, for instance, witness elitist interpretations of solidarity as charitable initiatives that testified to the Dalit elite’s attempts to reconcile Ambedkar’s ideology with their aspirations to renown and status. Local celebrations of the Ambedkar Jayanti (Ambedkar’s birthday) were patronized by a few wealthy individuals from the Chamar community. Among them, a couple of high-ranking officers financed the distribution of free meals to the public. This couple took pride in marrying their son outside their jati with another Dalit Buddhist family’s daughter. According to them, the example of Dalit inter-caste marriages had to be set above the hope that the rest of the community would follow and imitate the elite. Dara Puri, the police officer from Lucknow quoted above, also married his son to the daughter of another illustrious Ambedkarite intellectual from Delhi, Bhagwan Das. Intercaste marriage among Dalit elites was a way for these Ambedkarite intellectuals to put their ideology into practice. Becoming role models for the Dalit community led to recognition, prestige, and authority in activist circles. Elite involvement in Ambedkarite meetings and functions was staged by the activists in such a way that the whole community would witness their engagement. These public spectacles, in which Dalit elites were garlanded and treated as VIPs by the organizers, were a way to valorize engagement and to fight the dominant tendency of the Dalit middle class to distance themselves from the community. The leaflet of the Kanpur Boddh Vihar quoted above thus criticized the tendencies of the Dalit middle class to “withdraw” to their private lives as a “betrayal” of Ambedkar (Dipankar 1999, translated from Hindi).

However, for some former BAMCEF activists, Navayana also enabled them to disengage from proper activism in the public sphere in favor of a more private form of adherence to a middle-class version of the Ambedkarite ethos. When I asked a former BAMCEF activist if he had considered joining the national Lord Buddha Club, a national organization of Dalit government officers that organized mass diksha ceremonies, he objected that although he had converted to Buddhism, he was fed up with political activism: “I trusted Kanshi Ram. We people gave him our time and money. Will we do the same thing with Ram Ram Raj?13 I have also some responsibilities to my family. I want some time to give to them” (conversation, 23 March 1999, Kanpur; the two last sentences were said in English, the first ones in Hindi). For many former activists, the BAMCEF represented a financially demanding and time-consuming political passion, which their family members often saw as negligence and resented. For the Prasad family of Kanpur—whose two brothers, a bank clerk and a defense engineer, lived together in the same house with their wives and children—the decision of Kanshi Ram to end the BAMCEF was bitterly felt, but it also became an opportunity to refocus on family affairs. This was a timely change, since their elder children’s studies and weddings required more attention from them. Although they never joined a Buddhist organization, Buddhism became a way of continuing their political battles at the more private level of domestic life. This meant converting their own family members to Navayana, an awkward task considering the resistance that challenged their authority in religious matters. I was invited to the wedding of M. L. Prasad’s daughter, Bhabi, into a non-Buddhist family, who are Chamars like them. The Prasad brothers interpreted this as a political occasion to spread Ambedkarite values in their community.

Their imposition of Navayana rituals for the wedding, however, required a few concessions to Hindu rituals to be acceptable. The relative Hinduization of the Navayana ritual that I could witness during the wedding ceremony was the result of intense negotiation. The stepfamily favored Hindu rituals and was supported in this regard by the spouses of the Prasad brothers, who themselves resented the abandonment of traditional rituals.

A Buddhist bikshu came to perform the wedding. He was relegated to only performing the ritual gestures and prayers, while the ritual was ostensibly staged and directed by the Prasad brothers. They explained to me that Ambedkar was weary of the bikshus, who took on the roles of upasak (laymen) without having undergone the formal upasak training that is provided by the Bharatya Bauddh Mahasabha, the Navayana organization founded by Ambedkar.

They placed the whole ceremony under the auspices of two portraits: one large black-and- white picture of Ambedkar (which had belonged to their father) wearing a suit and tie. The picture frame leaned against the feet of a plastic chair. The other portrait, which rested on the seat of the chair, was a smaller colored picture of the Buddha. Similar to the place given to the bikshu, these religious symbols were also placed in a subordinate position.

The groom, Anil Kumar, was renamed Anil Kumar Bauddh Gautam to mark his change of faith, although he had not been initiated formally by a diksha ceremony. If we take seriously the consequences of this “rechristening,” he was thus tentatively “converted” during his marriage. I noticed his slight irritation. To my question on how he felt about the ritual, he replied that Buddhism was all right but that he disapproved of the importance given to Ambedkar, who, he argued, was “a politician, not a god.”

Figure 1
Figure 1

Navayana wedding of Bhabi and Anil Kumar Bauddh. Kanpur, November 2000 (photograph by Nicolas Jaoul)

Citation: Focaal—Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 2016, 76; 10.3167/fcl.2016.760104

With all the negativity that the word “politician” conveys in India, where politicians are seen as corrupt if not criminal, he thus denounced the profane intrusion in the intimate sphere of his wedding. He explained that he disapproved not of the renunciation of Hinduism per se but of the fact that the Ambedkarite imagery was too secular. The concessions made to the Hindu ritual therefore played a positive role in facilitating the change. To start with, the two families greeted each other by putting vermilion paste on each other’s foreheads and sticking grains of rice on it. Later, the bikshu tied white cotton threads around the couples’ wrists. The Bikshu, when I asked what was specifically Buddhist about the ritual, said that the white was a Buddhist signifier. Hindu customs resurfaced when the women carried an oil lamp around the couple to sanctify their union with the divinity of fire (Agni). R. D. Prasad, who hosted the ceremony, whispered to me that these were the kinds of compromises one had to accept in order to drag people gradually toward new traditions. The wedding thus acquired a political meaning for him and was conceived strategically. He was, of course, trying to attribute a positive political meaning to this discrepancy, but the fact remained that it was difficult to find a groom who matched all the family’s requirements. By impressing non-Ambedkarites with Navayana rituals, he thus hoped to coopt a whole family into the movement and to set an example for all the relatives and friends who attended the function.

This example shows that the growth of Navayana’s popularity depends on its ritualization. Having proper rituals is necessary to challenge Hindu customs in life-cycle ceremonies. Ambedkar’s insistence on the ritual role of the upasaks (the laymen who are entitled to conduct rituals) was, therefore, his way of anticipating this problem while limiting people’s dependency on the bikshus. Ambedkar was suspicious of the formation of a priesthood among Dalits but nevertheless deemed priests’ presence necessary during rituals (Ahir 1996). To facilitate the popularity of Navayana, some Navayana intellectuals therefore advocated the development of the Bikshu Sangha to “practice Dhamma in an appropriate manner” (Ahir 2003: 34).

At the same time, in the politicized Ambedkarite milieus that establish and fund the Boddh Vihars, recruit the bikshus, and provide for their livelihood, there is a persistent anticlericalism that Johannes Beltz’s (2005) ethnography of Navayana Buddhism in Maharashtra has finely captured. The control exercised by secular-minded activists over the Boddh Vihars and Navayana organizations therefore explains the limits of ritualization but perhaps also the obstacles to Navayana’s popularity.

Navayana in the streets

Among lower-class Dalits of Kanpur and its rural surroundings, the practices and meanings of Navayana rituals differed from what I found in the Dalit middle class. I attended several mass Dhamma diksha samaroh (initiation ceremonies to the Dhamma) hosted by slum dwellers and villagers’ organizations like the Dalit Panthers, where the initiation ceremonies were performed by several bikshus sitting on stage. The ceremony follows the pattern set up by Ambedkar in 1956, in which the crowd repeats the 22 vows, emphasizing their total renunciation of Hindu values, gods, and rituals. Although the official terminology is Dhamma diksha (initiation to Dhamma), the ceremonies are sometimes referred to as samuhik dharm parivartan (religious mass conversions) by the press, whose sensationalism is more inclined toward the spectacular notion of instant “conversion,” as well as by activists seeking publicity. However, a common assumption among those who attend these initiations is that the initiates define themselves neither as Buddhists nor as Hindus but as being in a phase of transition. Their actual experience of “conversion” thus seems closer to the official term chosen by Ambedkar (diksha), which designates a gradual process of becoming through initiations rather than the instant change suggested by “conversion.”14 While some of those in the crowds seem to participate in the religious ceremony in a passive manner to show support for their organizations, others do this more actively, as can be seen from their attendance at the function with family and neat attire for the occasion. Paradoxically, however, commitment to Navayana seems to be determined by one’s commitment to Ambedkar and the movement more than by religious motives.

The attempts to spread Navayana rituals in the villages faced specific problems. While Hindu temples, priests, and rituals have become more easily accessible to Dalits in the villages than in the past, when untouchability was strictly practiced, Buddhist ritual requirements to go to Kanpur’s Boddh Vihar or to convince the bikshu to come to the village have made these practices more complicated and costly. Proper Buddhist rituals were therefore available mostly to the emerging lower middle class among rural Dalits: primary school teachers, government employees, and thekedars (private contractors of public works), and so on. As among the middle class, adherence to Navayana in underprivileged sectors typically attracted politicized individuals, mostly young men who paid little attention to the spiritual and ritual aspects of Buddhism. Buddhism was a way for such committed Ambedkarites to display their abiding adherence to Ambedkar and to distinguish themselves from the andhvishwas (blind faith) of fellow villagers, whose Hindu beliefs were perceived as alienating, backward, and likely to prevent movement out of the caste system.

As in Dalit middle-class families, poor women often regarded the adoption of Buddhist rituals as an attempt by male activists to exercise control over domestic rituals, a feminine domain in which women have traditionally enjoyed a large degree of autonomy. As far as their psychological involvement in the Dalit movement is concerned, Dalit women seemed more enthused by BSP politics, because of their staunch support for Mayawati, whom they regard with pride and call behenji (respected sister). This is not to say that there are no women activists in the Navayana organizations. But they are rare, and Owen Lynch (2000) has documented their difficulties in imposing their voice and leadership among the educated male activists who in general dominate the Navayana movement and the Dalit movement. At the Dalit Panther headquarters, where I stayed for long periods of time with the activists’ working-class families, I witnessed the young males’ attempts to forbid their mothers and wives from practicing Hindu rituals, thus creating tensions and sometimes open conflict. In the absence of the activists, women held “clandestine” rituals at home for their children during Hindu festivals. There were even instances when women and children all dressed up and went secretly to a nearby Hindu temple, where free food and Prasad (sanctified sweet) were distributed. They often resented Navayana proselytism, which they saw as authoritarian injunctions to conform to a modern and rational ideal that, because of their lack of schooling, portrayed them as unfit citizens and deviant subjects. In many ways, therefore, the Ambedkarite movement tends to reproduce the state’s stigmatizing discourses against the uneducated masses (Hansen 1999). Leaving aside these domestic difficulties, I now turn to the successful integration of Navayana in the local Dalit movement’s street politics.

During my fieldwork and still today, the Dalit Panthers of Kanpur have represented the proletarian face of the Dalit movement in this industrial city, which dates back to the 1920s. The Bharatya Dalit Panthers (BDP) were introduced in Kanpur and in other places in UP and northern India in the late 1970s and the early 1980s (Jaoul 2013). This national organization that exported the Dalit Panthers’ ideology to northern India was formed after a split in the original Dalit Panther movement of Maharashtra. The partisans of Navayana had opposed the Ambedkarite Marxists, an opposition that attests to the absurd failure to acknowledge Ambedkar’s incorporation of Marxism in Navayana. The BDP, however, sought to reconcile the movement by giving less importance to ideological debates. They refocused on local issues of the poor as well as a nationwide “long march” to rename Aurangabad University after Ambedkar (Contursi 1993). In the UP context—where the BSP, after a battle for prominence with the BDP, asserted its leadership over the Dalit movement—the Dalit Panthers sided with the older, more orthodox Ambedkarite tradition of Maharashtra, which focuses exclusively on Dalits and criticizes the BSP’s strategy of social and political alliance making.

The UP leader of the BDP, Dhaniram Panther, is from a Kanpur textile worker’s family, which was hit economically by the closure of the mills in the 1980s. As a consequence of his re-focus on Navayana in the late 1990s, Dhaniram adopted the new name Dhanirao Boddh after officially taking diksha in 2002 during a spectacular mass diksha ceremony organized by the Lord Buddha Club (see above) in New Delhi.

The BDP’s headquarters, situated in a wasteland in the middle of North Kanpur’s former industrial area, represents the nerve center of the Dalit movement in the two districts of Kanpur and rural Kanpur. The organization was able to attract many former BSP activists from the villages once the party distanced itself from the grassroots Ambedkarite movement in the second half of the 1990s. The BDP of UP criticizes the BSP’s lack of attention to Buddhism as the symptom of its superficial adherence to the Ambedkarite ideology. Besides performing yearly collective Buddhist weddings on stage for the poor, during which many young couples are married in public, the Panthers organize street processions followed by public meetings on the main dates of the Navayana calendar, like the Boddh purnima (Buddhist full moon ceremony) and the anniversary of Ambedkar’s diksha. These events reveal the Panthers’ incorporation of Navayana into their contentious street politics. They are accompanied by revolutionary speeches and are generally peaceful, although at times when there are tensions with the local administration, there can be mild confrontations with the police.

One such incident took place in Kanpur in June 1997, during the second Mayawati government, thus epitomizing the conflict between the BSP and the Navayana movement. Significantly, the conflict started over the refusal of the local justice to recognize Ambedkar’s religious stature. A judge of the local court of Kanpur refused to apply section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which punishes “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs,” to a case of desecration of an Ambedkar statue in a village close to Kanpur.15 The judge argued that since he was a political leader, Ambedkar’s icon could not be legally treated as a religious symbol and therefore the legal category of outrage did not apply. During a public protest, Dhaniram Panther announced his organization’s intent to test the judge’s words by destroying statues of nationalist leaders: like Ambedkar’s, these were statues of politicians that could therefore be legally damaged according to this interpretation of the law. The Panthers thereafter marched with iron rods toward Phulbag—a municipal park where statues of Gandhi, Nehru, and other national heroes are displayed—and clashed with police forces deployed in front of the park. Two hundred activists were arrested, and two leaders, M. M. Chodhry and Dhaniram, were imprisoned for a month under a law of exception. BSP Chief Minister Mayawati used this incident to send a warning that she would not tolerate Dalit agitations under her rule. Regular protests in Kanpur and Lucknow demanded the release of the two Panther leaders.

By placing Dalit pride in Ambedkar on the same footing as the nation’s pride in its nationalist leaders (by attempting to destroy their statues), the Panthers signified that Dalit pride was political in nature and, whether religious or not, the memory of their political leader deserved recognition and protection by and from the state. They thus challenged the above-mentioned colonial law, still in use, that restricts the notion of communal outrage when it comes to religious symbols and feelings. Their message was that Dalits took pride in Ambedkar’s political legacy and held him in the highest esteem, which they put on the same plane as the nation’s pride in its leaders. Without making this point explicit, this bold statement nevertheless contested the colonial legacy that assimilates India with religiosity as opposed to Western secularism (Veer 2001).

But simultaneously, Ambedkar’s religious role as a founder of Navayana Buddhism was recalled in their statements, which evoked the law on religious outrage and therefore reaffirmed more pragmatically the Dalits’ entitlement to be morally outraged when their religious symbols were attacked. In seeking a pragmatic rationale to fit the prevalent stereotypes that the Indian state inherited from colonialism, the Panthers’ leaflet simultaneously argued that Navayana Buddhism was entitled to state protection like any other religion. Dipankar, the bikshu of Kanpur’s Boddh Vihar, was part of the movement and gave a speech during the first meeting where he used his religious authority to testify that Ambedkar was recognized as a Boddhisatva16 in the Buddhist world. To argue that Navayana needed to be recognized as a religion by the court, he also recalled that it possessed a holy book, The Buddha and his Dhamma, as well as representing the country’s largest Buddhist sect, with millions of followers. By producing publicly the recognized attributes of “religion,” the Panthers thus contradicted their own iconoclastic argument which placed the Dalit’s political pride on an equal footing with other communities’ religious pride. This dual argumentation reveals the difficulties of addressing simultaneously the secular and the religious aspects of Ambedkar’s political legacy.

The issue here is not the political use of religion but how religion affects a political movement. The effects of religious signifiers in public meetings thus require our full attention. In the Dalit Panthers’ public performances, I was often struck when, on certain occasions, the bikshus sang the Pali Buddhist mantras of the Theravada tradition. The rhythm was repetitive and slow and the tone sorrowful and penetrating.

Buddham saranam gacchami, Dhammam saranam gacchami, Sangham saranam gacchami.

(I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dhamma, I take refuge in the Sangha)

Figure 2
Figure 2

Local television journalists interview a Bikshu during a Diksha ceremony organized by the Dalit Panthers. Pukhrayan, Kanpur Dehat, October 2004 (photograph by Nicolas Jaoul)

Citation: Focaal—Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 2016, 76; 10.3167/fcl.2016.760104

This was sometimes followed by the recitation of the Pancha shila (the five Buddhist precepts):

Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.

(I agree to refrain from destroying living creatures)

Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.

(I agree to refrain from taking that which is not given)

Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.

(I agree to refrain from sexual misconduct)

Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.

(I agree to refrain from incorrect speech)

Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.

(I agree to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs, which lead to carelessness)

By inviting the crowd to seek refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, these moments of spiritual incantation generated sudden eruptions of contemplation, desolation, spirituality, and commitment to ancient precepts. These spiritual incantations were generally followed by a short and conspicuous silence that seemed long and awkward. But immediately, the political slogans praising Ambedkar used to rapidly take over so that the activists could reenergize the crowd. The impression of serenity produced by these mantras’ meditative tones contrasted strongly with the noisy, hectic, and nervous atmosphere of the meetings. They dramatically staged a utopian moment of contemplation in which contention suddenly gave way to the image of an appeased community imbibed with religious wisdom. This incorporation of religious spirituality envisioned the end of political conflict and the image of “conventional religion [as] the only kind of heart that a heartless world can imagine” (Eagleton 2009: 40). Like the incident of Ambedkar’s statue that I narrated, the example of the religious incantations confirms the persistent heterogeneity of the religious and the political in the Navayana movement’s praxis, in spite of its attempt to synthesize the two elements.

Conclusion

In an article published in a national daily newspaper, “Neo Buddhists are far ahead of Hindu Dalits,” Shura Darapuri,17 who teaches sociology at Lucknow’s Ambedkar University, highlights the benefits of conversion in terms of sex ratio, literacy rates, female literacy, and employment. Based on the all-Indian figures of the 2001 census, she shows that in all these domains, Na vayana practitioners have surpassed Hindu Dalits and Hindus in general. She thus concludes that “it is definitely the result of change of religion which has liberated them from the bondage of caste and inferiority complex” (Darapuri 2008) and enabled them to progress. Whether Buddhism produces adequate citizens or the better-educated and better-off among Dalits are attracted to Buddhism is like the question of the chicken and the egg. This undetermined relationship of causality in any case indicates a virtuous circle at work in the Ambedkarite movement’s intimate link with education and upward mobility. Darapuri’s claim that Navayana favors the norms of citizenship, thus succeeding where the state itself is failing to educate and provide for its citizens’ welfare, epitomizes the Ambedkarite movement’s dual relationship to the state. By appropriating these statist goals, Navayana activists are not simply being good subjects of the state. They are challenging the official disqualification of Dalits as weaker groups entitled to state protection (Rao 2009). By redefining themselves as a minority, they are taking responsibility for their own progress and for establishing a truly democratic society. Navayana therefore implies the repoliticization of Dalit citizenship by “inciting the real people to reappropriate this universality that the state claims to carry” (Abensour 1997: 16, my translation from French). It represents a political antidote to the state’s attempts to equate citizenship with passive “citizen subjects” of the state (Balibar 2011).

If Navayana should not therefore be mistaken for citizenship in religious clothing, neither can it be reduced to a form of crypto-Marxism hidden beneath a cloak of religion. One major difference between Ambedkar’s conception of Navayana and Marx’s conception of religion for the Jewish minority is that while the latter explicitly opposed the religious domain of the oppressed minority to the statist domain of citizenship, Ambedkar considered religion part of Dalit citizenship in independent India. Navayana thus defines a space at the fringes of the state’s citizen subject and a more utopian project that encapsulates both the Marxian idea of a classless society and liberal ideas of a society composed of free and rational subjects. My ethnography has described Navayana ideology and practices among both the subaltern elite of Ambedkarite government employees and officers and among the urban and rural poor. In the initial discussion of Navayana, I highlighted the various influences on it and argued for Marxism as a key component. However, based on Ambedkar’s own insistence on the importance of religion for Dalits and their emancipation, and on Marx’s insights regarding the political significance of the Jewish oppressed minority’s religion, I take seriously Navayana’s self-definition as “Religion.” By insisting in my ethnography on the use of rituals and religious signifiers in different contexts (private/public, urban/rural, middle/lower class), I have emphasized the plurality of Navayana practices as Religion. I have shown that it lends itself to a plurality of social and political uses, in which revolutionary politics coexists with a more bourgeois conception of religion as an attribute of respectability, while also providing its practitioners with life-cycle rituals. The effect has thus been the entrenchment of a political tradition of emancipation into the domestic sphere, which makes Navayana a source of political ferment, as well as a controversial and contested element of Dalit life that activists insist on imposing on their families.

In a context like Uttar Pradesh, unlike Maharashtra where it now has the status of an established and consensual tradition among Mahars, the Navayana movement remains a recent and contested phenomenon. It is therefore undeniable that in such contexts, Navayana continues to be determined by its sociological anchorage in the politicized and educated milieu of Dalit activists, whose authority encounters resistance—especially from women, who resent these secular incursions into the ritual domain as irrelevant and threatening. The sectarian plurality, philosophical syncretism, magical practices and rituals, creativity, and freedom that characterize popular Hinduism are simply dismissed and wished away by the Ambedkarites, who focus on the links with Brahminism and caste and denounce these sects as a culture of poverty. While swimming against the tide of popular religiosity in order to conform to Ambedkar’s project of an emancipatory religion, Navayana’s attempt to replace popular religion with a rational substitute is nevertheless fraught by its own reticence in the face of religiosity. The problems facing Navayana Buddhism in fact epitomize the Dalit movement’s permanent crisis of authority, which reveals internal tensions of class, caste, and gender in the process of manufacturing Dalit political subjectivity. Although Ambedkar conceived his religious project as an ideological basis for the unification of Dalits as a religious minority (as well as for society at large in the longer run), in reality the issue of conversion has generated controversies and divisions among Dalits, mostly along lines of caste and gender. Navayana’s claim to universality and homogeneity inevitably produces its own residual fragments. The political ethnography of Navayana thus brings to our attention the “complication of the political” (Abensour 2000) that Ambedkarite Dalits encounter by seeking to implement in real life the religious prototype of their historical leader. It teaches us that in its empirical and socialized version, emancipation requires struggles within the struggle and cannot be a homogenous process, even less a sudden illumination, unlike the Paulinian myth of instant “conversion” (Badiou 1997), which continues to run through the simplistic image of “emancipation.”

Acknowledgments

I dedicate this article to Owen Lynch (1931–2013). I thank Mariam Mufti and Alpa Shah for their precious help in transforming my written Frenglish into proper English and therefore for helping me to formulate the arguments more clearly.

Notes

1

Ambedkar himself converted a huge crowd of several thousand Mahar caste fellows (300,000 is the minimum estimation). Conversions continued thereafter, mostly among Mahars of Maharashtra as well as in other pockets of northern India. According to the 2001 census, Mahars formed 75 percent of the actual Buddhist population of India, who numbered 0.8 percent of the total Indian population, according to the census. In 2011, the figure of 0.8 percent remained stable, numbering a total of 9.7 million.

2

The name “Navayana” (New vehicle) was not chosen by Ambedkar himself; his intention was to create not a new Buddhist sect but a modern adaption of Buddhism that he considered closest to the Buddha’s original doctrine. He himself chose to name it simply “Buddhism” or “Buddha’s Dhamma” to highlight its ethical aspects. Nevertheless he invented the word “Navayana,” which he pronounced during a press interview on the eve of his conversion in Nagpur. He said: “The New Buddhists will follow the teachings of religion which have been given himself by Bhagwan Buddha. They will not entangle themselves in the schism of Buddhism. It is because it has created sects like Mahayan and Vajrayan. This is in a way ‘Navayana’ (New Path)” (Mankar 2009: 491–492). Considering the innovative aspects of what is also often referred to “Ambedkar Buddhism,” many authors including myself have adopted the word “Navayana,” but it remains contested in the Navayana movement itself, where many practioners still prefer to talk of “Buddhism” in conformity with Ambedkar’s wishes.

3

Some former BSP activists also started Dalit NGOs and sought to benefit from the funding agencies’ new focus on Dalits (Jaoul forthcoming), while others remained active in jati (subcaste) organizations that promote internal cohesion and negotiate their votes with political parties.

4

Email communication in 2005, exact date not available.

5

The paradoxes of a full-fledged culturalist interpretation of Navayana can be illustrated by two examples. In a challenging and puzzling postmodern reading of Ambedkar, the Ambedkarite literary critique D. R. Nagaraj has argued that the conversion casts into question Ambedkar’s convictions as a modernist. Nagaraj thus assumes that Ambedkar’s turn to Navayana epitomizes his renunciation at the end of his life to “the social science mode of reasoning.” The author seeks to reconcile posthumously Ambedkar with Gandhi, even qualifying the religious tone of his book “The Buddha and his Dhamma” as Ambedkar’s late “epistemic rebirth” (2010: 163). It has to be noted that the expression refers somehwhat ironically to a reconciliation of Ambedkar with Hindu notions like rebirth, although he explicitly rejected these beliefs in this book. More recently, a culturalist critique of Ambedkar has turned Nagaraj argument on its head to contend that Navayana’s intervention in the Brahminical domain of India’s “great tradition” allegedly failed due to his cultural inability to grasp its philosophical essence, both as a modernist and as an “untouchable” (Vajpeyi 2012). For a critique of Vajpeyi’s chapter on Ambedkar, see Jaoul and Anand (2013).

6

The more explicit Marxist influence of Navayana lies in Ambedkar’s comparison of Buddhism and communism, where he highlighted the utopian and emancipatory dimension of Buddhism. In an unpublished and annotated text, which was posthumously published, “Buddha or Karl Marx,” as well as in a public speech that he delivered at the world conference on Buddhism in Kathmandu in November 1956, Ambedkar acknowledged that Buddhism shared the fundamental goals of Marxism, that is, the abolition of private property and economic exploitation of men by men. He recognized Marx’s philosophy as the most sophisticated theory of human emancipation. However, he claimed that Buddhism proved “superior” in offering the possibility to establish communism without having to impose it by means of violence and state coercion, which to him represented a shortcut to communism and even an impasse (Ambedkar 1987).

7

Omvedt notes that Durkheim “believed that the religion of the future would be rationalistic, ethical, and universalistic religion that would provide a moral base for the importance of the individual—a kind of ‘civic religion,’ which he saw premonitions of in the worship of ‘reason’ at the time the French Revolution” (2004: 51).

8

Although a more systematic study of Ambedkar’s relationship to Marxism is required, the heuristic value of these parallels has already been demonstrated by Anupama Rao, who, for instance, compared Ambedkar’s attempt to obtain a minority status for Dalits with Marx’s idea of the general strike as a manner of giving visibility to labor (2009:137).

9

Officially, Buddhist converts were meant to lose the benefits of positive discrimination, since only Hindu and Sikh untouchables were eligible in the Scheduled Caste (SC) category. However, in practice Buddhist converts continued to benefit from these measures by registering themselves as Scheduled Castes. Eventually, in 1993, the Buddhists became eligible for SC status.

10

Manuela Ciotti’s study of Chamars in eastern Uttar Pradesh points to the absence of Ambedkar’s conversion in popular booklets on Ambedkar by local BSP ideologues (2010).

11

They thus preceded Ambedkar and the Mahars’ conversion in Nagpur by six months.

12

I am grateful to Owen Lynch, who generously shared with me his field notes (dated 5 June 1964, pp. 1943–1946), in which he translated a Hindi article of the Dainik Jagran dated 19 March 1956.

13

Ram Raj, who later renamed himself Udit Raj, is the founder of the Lord Buddha Club.

14

In his book on Christianity in southern India David Mosse reminds us, quoting the work of Chris Hann, that “conversion itself has to be viewed in the long term as a historical process rather than within a conventional narrative of rupture” (2012: 27).

15

Many statues of Ambedkar holding the Indian Constitution were installed by villagers in the 1990s (Jaoul 2006).

16

Max Weber (2006) defines the Boddhisattva as one who delays his own entry into Nirvana to work toward the liberation of his fellow human beings.

17

Shura is the daughter of Bhagwan Das and the daughter-in-law of Dara Puri. Her intercaste marriage was mentioned above.

References

  • Abensour, Miguel. 1997. La démocratie contre l’état: Marx et le moment machiavélien. Paris: Presses universitaire de France.

  • Abensour, Miguel. 2000. L’utopie de Thomas More à Walter Benjamin. Paris: Sens & Tonka.

  • Ahir, D. C. 1996. The status of the laity in Buddhism. New Delhi: Sri Sat Guru Publications.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ambedkar, Dr. Babasaheb. 1979. “Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah.” In Writings and speeches, vol. 1, pp. 20540. Mumbai: Government of Maharashtra, Education Department.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ambedkar, Dr. Babasaheb. 1987. “Buddha or Karl Marx.” In Writings and speeches, vol.3, pp. 441465. Mumbai: Government of Maharashtra, Education Department.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ambedkar, Dr. Babasaheb. 1990. The untouchables: Who were they and how they became untouchables. In Dr. Babasaheb writings and speaches, vol.7. Government of Maharashtra, Education Department.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ambedkar, Dr Babasaheb. 1992. The Buddha and his Dhamma. In Dr. Babasaheb writings and speaches, vol.11. Government of Maharashtra, Education Department.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ambedkar, Dr. Babasaheb B.R. Undated. What path salvation. In Bhagwan Das, Thus spoke Ambedkar: On renunciation of Hinduism and conversion of untouchables, vol.4, pp. 1165.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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  • Badiou, Alain. 1997. Saint Paul: La fondation de l’universalisme. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

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  • Ciotti, Manuela. 2010. Retro-Modern India: Forging the low caste self. New Delhi: Routledge.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dipankar, Bikshu. 1999. Bauddh Dhamma deshna karyekram. Leaflet published by the Juhi Bauddh Vihar, Kanpur, 1999, translated from Hindi.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Eagleton, Terry. 2009. Reason, faith, and revolution: Reflections on the God debate. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  • Fuchs, Martin. 2004. Buddhism and Dalitness: Dilemmas of religious emancipation. In Johannes Beltz and Surendra Jondhale, eds., Reconstructing the world: B. R. Ambedkar and Buddhism in India, pp. 283300. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hansen, Thomas Blom. 1999. The saffron wave: Democracy and Hindu nationalism in modern India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Hardtmann, Eva Maria. 2009. The Dalit movement in India: Local practices, global connections. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

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    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jaoul, Nicolas. 2011. The Mayawati factor. Books and ideas, 1 November. www.booksandideas.net/The-Mayawati-Factor.html.

  • Jaoul, Nicolas. 2013. Politicizing victimhood: The Dalit Panthers’ response to caste violence in Uttar Pradesh in the early 1980s. South Asian Popular Culture 11(2): 169179.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jaoul, Nicolas. Forthcoming. Politics against the grain: The Dalit movement of Uttar Pradesh in the throes of NGOization. Critical Sociology.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jaoul, Nicolas, and S. Anand. 2013. Outcasting Ambedkar. The Hindu, 4 June, www.thehindu.com/books/outcasting-ambedkar/article4778738.ece.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Keer, Dhananjay. [1954] 1971. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Life and mission. Bombay: Popular Prakashan.

  • Kinsey, John. 2009. The empty circle: B. R. Ambedkar, Karl Marx, and the return of Buddhism to India. Saarbrücken: VDM Publishing.

  • Lee, Joel. 2015. Jagdish, son of Ahmad: Dalit religion and nominative politics in Lucknow. South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal 11, special issue “Contemporary Lucknow: Life with ‘too much history.’” samaj.revues.org/3919?lang=fr.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Löwy, Michael. 1998. La guerre des dieux: Religion et politique en Amérique latine. Paris: Editions du Félin.

  • Lynch, Owen M. 1969. The politics of untouchability: Social movements and social change in a city of India. New York: University of Columbia Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lynch, Owen M. 2000. Sujata’s army: Dalit Buddhist women and self-emancipation. In Ellison Findly, ed., Women’s Buddhism, Buddhism’s women: Tradition, revision, renewal, pp. 247258. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mankar, Vijay. 2009. Life and the greatest humanitarian revolutionary movement of Dr B.R. Ambedkar: A chronology. Nagpur: Blue World Series.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Marshall, T. H. 1950. Citizenship and social class: And other essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Marx, Karl. 1843. On the Jewish question. www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/jewish-question.

  • Mosse, David. 2012. The saint in the banyan tree: Christianity and caste society in India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Nagaraj, D. R. [1993] 2010. The flaming feet: A study of the Dalit movement in India. New Delhi: Permanent Black.

  • Omvedt, Gail. 2003. Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and caste. New Delhi: Sage.

  • Omvedt, Gail. 2004. Confronting Brahmanic Hinduism: Dr Ambedkar’s sociology of religion and Indian society. In Johannes Beltz and Surendra Jondhale, eds., Reconstructing the world: B. R. Ambedkar and Buddhism in India, pp. 4962. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pandey, Gyan. 1990. The construction of communal discourse in colonial North India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

  • Rancière, Jacques. 1998. Aux bords du politique. Paris: La Fabrique Editions.

  • Rao, Anupama. 2009. The caste question: Dalits and the politics of modern India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Rattu, Nanak Chand. 1997. Last few years of Dr.Ambedkar. New Delhi: Amrit.

  • Rattu, Nanak Chand. 2001. Little known facets of Dr.Ambedkar. New Delhi: Focus Impressions.

  • Sumant, Yashwant. 2004. Situating religion in Ambedkar’s political discourse. In Johannes Beltz and Surendra Jondhale, eds., Reconstructing the world: B. R. Ambedkar and Buddhism in India, pp. 6378. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tartakov, Gary. 2004. The Navayana creation of the Buddhist image. In Johannes Beltz and Surendra Jondhale, eds., Reconstructing the world: B. R. Ambedkar and Buddhism in India, pp. 151185. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vajpeyi, Ananya. 2012. Righteous republic: The political foundations of modern India. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Veer, Peter van der. 2001. Imperial encounters: Religion and modernity in India and Britain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Weber, Max. 2006. Sociologie de la religion. Paris: Flammarion.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zene, Cosimo. 2013. Subalterns and Dalits in Gramsci and Ambedkar: A prologue to “post-humous” dialogue. In Cosimo Zene, ed., The political philosophies of Antonio Gramsci and B. R. Ambedkar. Itineraries of Dalits and subalterns. New York: Routledge.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

Contributor Notes

Nicolas Jaoul is CNRS research fellow in anthropology at the Institut de recherche interdisciplinaire sur les enjeux sociaux (IRIS), EHESS, Paris. He is most interested in the political ethnography of the anti-caste movement, with a special emphasis on the material mediations of bodies, objects, images, and space. His fieldwork has been carried out in different regions (Bihar, Maharashtra, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and the UK diaspora) in order to study Dalit activism in different regional contexts. Although dealing mostly with Ambedkarism, he has also studied the way other ideological traditions (Naxalism, Gandhism, Hindutva) have dealt with caste and untouchability. Email: jaoul.nicolas@gmail.com

Focaal

Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology

  • View in gallery

    Navayana wedding of Bhabi and Anil Kumar Bauddh. Kanpur, November 2000 (photograph by Nicolas Jaoul)

  • View in gallery

    Local television journalists interview a Bikshu during a Diksha ceremony organized by the Dalit Panthers. Pukhrayan, Kanpur Dehat, October 2004 (photograph by Nicolas Jaoul)

  • Abensour, Miguel. 1997. La démocratie contre l’état: Marx et le moment machiavélien. Paris: Presses universitaire de France.

  • Abensour, Miguel. 2000. L’utopie de Thomas More à Walter Benjamin. Paris: Sens & Tonka.

  • Ahir, D. C. 1996. The status of the laity in Buddhism. New Delhi: Sri Sat Guru Publications.

  • Ahir, D. C. 2003. The Bhikkhu Sangha and the revival movement. In Buddhism in India after Dr. Ambedkar (1956–2002), pp. 1934. New Delhi: Blumoon Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ambedkar, Dr. Babasaheb. 1979. “Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah.” In Writings and speeches, vol. 1, pp. 20540. Mumbai: Government of Maharashtra, Education Department.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ambedkar, Dr. Babasaheb. 1987. “Buddha or Karl Marx.” In Writings and speeches, vol.3, pp. 441465. Mumbai: Government of Maharashtra, Education Department.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ambedkar, Dr. Babasaheb. 1990. The untouchables: Who were they and how they became untouchables. In Dr. Babasaheb writings and speaches, vol.7. Government of Maharashtra, Education Department.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ambedkar, Dr Babasaheb. 1992. The Buddha and his Dhamma. In Dr. Babasaheb writings and speaches, vol.11. Government of Maharashtra, Education Department.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ambedkar, Dr. Babasaheb B.R. Undated. What path salvation. In Bhagwan Das, Thus spoke Ambedkar: On renunciation of Hinduism and conversion of untouchables, vol.4, pp. 1165.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Anderson, Perry. 2012. The Indian ideology. New Delhi: Three Essays Collective.

  • Badiou, Alain. 1997. Saint Paul: La fondation de l’universalisme. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

  • Balibar, Etienne. 2011. Le citoyen sujet et autres essais d’anthropologie philosophique. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

  • Beltz, Johannes. 2004. Introduction. In Johannes Beltz and Surendra Jondhale, eds., Reconstructing the world: B. R. Ambedkar and Buddhism in India, pp. 117. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Beltz, Johannes. 2005. Mahar, Buddhist and Dalit. New Delhi: Manohar.

  • Chatterjee, Partha. 2004. The politics of the governed: Reflections on politics in most of the world. New Delhi: Permanent Black.

  • Ciotti, Manuela. 2010. Retro-Modern India: Forging the low caste self. New Delhi: Routledge.

  • Contursi, Janet A. 1993. Political theology: Text and practice in a Dalit Panther community. Journal of Asian Studies 52(2): 320339.

  • Darapuri, Shura. 2008. Neo Buddhists are far ahead of Hindu Dalits. Dalit Liberation, 7 May. dalitliberation.blogspot.fr/2008/05/neobuddhists-are-far-ahead-of-hindu.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dipankar, Bikshu. 1999. Bauddh Dhamma deshna karyekram. Leaflet published by the Juhi Bauddh Vihar, Kanpur, 1999, translated from Hindi.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Eagleton, Terry. 2009. Reason, faith, and revolution: Reflections on the God debate. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  • Fuchs, Martin. 2004. Buddhism and Dalitness: Dilemmas of religious emancipation. In Johannes Beltz and Surendra Jondhale, eds., Reconstructing the world: B. R. Ambedkar and Buddhism in India, pp. 283300. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hansen, Thomas Blom. 1999. The saffron wave: Democracy and Hindu nationalism in modern India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Hardtmann, Eva Maria. 2009. The Dalit movement in India: Local practices, global connections. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

  • Jaffrelot, Christophe. 2000. Dr Ambedkar, leader intouchable et père de la constitution indienne. Paris: Presses de Sciences Po.

  • Jaoul, Nicolas. 2006. Learning the use of symbolic means: Dalits, Ambedkar statues, and the state in Uttar Pradesh. Contributions to Indian Sociology 40(2): 175207.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jaoul, Nicolas. 2011. The Mayawati factor. Books and ideas, 1 November. www.booksandideas.net/The-Mayawati-Factor.html.

  • Jaoul, Nicolas. 2013. Politicizing victimhood: The Dalit Panthers’ response to caste violence in Uttar Pradesh in the early 1980s. South Asian Popular Culture 11(2): 169179.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jaoul, Nicolas. Forthcoming. Politics against the grain: The Dalit movement of Uttar Pradesh in the throes of NGOization. Critical Sociology.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jaoul, Nicolas, and S. Anand. 2013. Outcasting Ambedkar. The Hindu, 4 June, www.thehindu.com/books/outcasting-ambedkar/article4778738.ece.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Keer, Dhananjay. [1954] 1971. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Life and mission. Bombay: Popular Prakashan.

  • Kinsey, John. 2009. The empty circle: B. R. Ambedkar, Karl Marx, and the return of Buddhism to India. Saarbrücken: VDM Publishing.

  • Lee, Joel. 2015. Jagdish, son of Ahmad: Dalit religion and nominative politics in Lucknow. South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal 11, special issue “Contemporary Lucknow: Life with ‘too much history.’” samaj.revues.org/3919?lang=fr.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Löwy, Michael. 1998. La guerre des dieux: Religion et politique en Amérique latine. Paris: Editions du Félin.

  • Lynch, Owen M. 1969. The politics of untouchability: Social movements and social change in a city of India. New York: University of Columbia Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lynch, Owen M. 2000. Sujata’s army: Dalit Buddhist women and self-emancipation. In Ellison Findly, ed., Women’s Buddhism, Buddhism’s women: Tradition, revision, renewal, pp. 247258. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mankar, Vijay. 2009. Life and the greatest humanitarian revolutionary movement of Dr B.R. Ambedkar: A chronology. Nagpur: Blue World Series.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Marshall, T. H. 1950. Citizenship and social class: And other essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Marx, Karl. 1843. On the Jewish question. www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/jewish-question.

  • Mosse, David. 2012. The saint in the banyan tree: Christianity and caste society in India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Nagaraj, D. R. [1993] 2010. The flaming feet: A study of the Dalit movement in India. New Delhi: Permanent Black.

  • Omvedt, Gail. 2003. Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and caste. New Delhi: Sage.

  • Omvedt, Gail. 2004. Confronting Brahmanic Hinduism: Dr Ambedkar’s sociology of religion and Indian society. In Johannes Beltz and Surendra Jondhale, eds., Reconstructing the world: B. R. Ambedkar and Buddhism in India, pp. 4962. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pandey, Gyan. 1990. The construction of communal discourse in colonial North India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

  • Rancière, Jacques. 1998. Aux bords du politique. Paris: La Fabrique Editions.

  • Rao, Anupama. 2009. The caste question: Dalits and the politics of modern India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Rattu, Nanak Chand. 1997. Last few years of Dr.Ambedkar. New Delhi: Amrit.

  • Rattu, Nanak Chand. 2001. Little known facets of Dr.Ambedkar. New Delhi: Focus Impressions.

  • Sumant, Yashwant. 2004. Situating religion in Ambedkar’s political discourse. In Johannes Beltz and Surendra Jondhale, eds., Reconstructing the world: B. R. Ambedkar and Buddhism in India, pp. 6378. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tartakov, Gary. 2004. The Navayana creation of the Buddhist image. In Johannes Beltz and Surendra Jondhale, eds., Reconstructing the world: B. R. Ambedkar and Buddhism in India, pp. 151185. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vajpeyi, Ananya. 2012. Righteous republic: The political foundations of modern India. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Veer, Peter van der. 2001. Imperial encounters: Religion and modernity in India and Britain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Weber, Max. 2006. Sociologie de la religion. Paris: Flammarion.

  • Zelliot, Eleanor. 2004. B.R. Ambedkar and the search for a meaningful Buddhism. In Johannes Beltz and Surendra Jondhale, eds., Reconstructing the world: B. R. Ambedkar and Buddhism in India, pp. 1834. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zene, Cosimo. 2013. Subalterns and Dalits in Gramsci and Ambedkar: A prologue to “post-humous” dialogue. In Cosimo Zene, ed., The political philosophies of Antonio Gramsci and B. R. Ambedkar. Itineraries of Dalits and subalterns. New York: Routledge.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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