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Dandekar, Deepra

Deceptive Majority: Dalits, Hinduism, and Underground Religion

In: (Ed.)
Nidan: International Journal for Indian Studies
vol 7, no. 2

University of KwaZulu-Natal, 01.12.2022


In some ways, Deceptive Majority is a book within a book, with each chapter bearing internal linkages to different sections, in addition to the immediate chronology of the discussion plan. This permeability across sections and chapters is perhaps the book’s most unique feature, producing it as metaphorical, in addition to a brilliant and seminal masterpiece on subaltern history and anthropology in India. The internal open-endedness of the book indicates metaphorically to the multifaced nature of the subject itself, i.e., the layered history of Untouchability in India, and the ambivalent but tacit production of ‘Untouchables’ as a caste category, erroneously linked to Hinduism—first in colonial census records, and then within the evolving scape of postcolonial politics that witnessed the intensification of Hinduization in the first half of the 20th century. Lee describes how Hinduization entails a historic and systemic process of erasure that transformed ‘Untouchables’ into Balmikis and their deity, Bal Mik (or Bal Nek or Bal Rikh) into the Rishi Valmiki. All the while, despite erasure, there is a red thread that Lee shows, runs through the community, and through his chapters that describes a recognizable and distinct ‘Untouchable’ identity (pahchan), ideologically unifying in nature. The erasure continues as simultaneously as the worship does—Lal Beg is regularly revered and recognized, and this is combined at the same time with the physical demolition of shrines and the inhabitations where ‘Untouchable’ communities live. Despite various late colonial and postcolonial endeavours to categorize ‘Untouchables’ as Hindus—aimed at increasing the Hindu demographic-political strength, Lee minutely describes how ‘Untouchable’ difference recognizes itself as distinct from Hindus (Hinduana) and Muslims (Musalmana). Though their affinity with the Musalmana identity is closer compared to Hindu rejection and revulsion centred around cultural and ritual impurity, the difference of ‘Untouchable’ identity remains strong and as yet, dissimulated and ambivalent—a subversion characterized by blurred boundaries that produces memetic and separative layers simultaneously.