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.
Navayana Buddhism and Dalit emancipation in late 1990s Uttar Pradesh
Adivasi and Dalit political pathways in India
Does the dominant, statist conception of citizenship offer a satisfying framework to study the politicization of subaltern classes? This dialectical exploration of the political movements that emerge from the suppressed margins of Indian society questions their relationship to the state and its outcomes from the point of view of emancipation. As this special section shows, political ethnographers of “insurgent citizenship” among Dalits and Adivasis offer a view from below. The articles illustrate the way political subjectivities are being produced on the ground by confronting, negotiating, but also exceeding the state and its policed frameworks.