Professor Rajsekhar Basu to deliver a public lectures at UT
Associate professor at the Department of History, University of Calcutta will hold two public lectures: on 13th of December at 16:15-17:45 „Understanding Karl Marx and Buddha through Ambedkar's lens“ and on 14th of December at 12:15-14:45 „Caste and Untouchability in India: The links between history, present and the living experience“.
Information about the lectures
„Understanding Karl Marx and Buddha through Ambedkar's lens“
I intend to enter into a discussion of the interpretative models provided by scholars involved with the study of Ambedkar's brand of Buddhism. In fact, there would be attempts to deal with Ambedkar's own interpretation of Buddhism and to explore whether it was linked to his efforts to establish ethical foundations of the Dalit movement in postcolonial India. I am interested in explicating the reasons why Ambedkar decided to seek a conversion to Buddhism, since it was not only opposed to caste hierarchy but possibly provided a framework for a society based on the principles of non-discrimination, equity and respect. The main intention would be to establish the point that Ambedkar favoured Buddhism to Marxism, possibly for the matter that it was more liberal and flexible in mobilizing the socially deprived masses in favour of a more egalitarian socio-political system.
„Caste and Untouchability in India: The links between history, present and the living experience“
The word caste is of European origin and is too often used to describe the social groupings that many South Asians recognize as a social mechanism in distinguishing one human being from another. The term caste is also linked to the Sanskrit termin jati which is used to describe not only the different kinds of groupings of the human beings, but also applied to animals, minerals, vegetables, gender, seasons etc. Human jatis or castes are often seen as endogamous units and this explains why people tend to marry within the caste to which they are born. However, the term caste is sometimes confused with varna, which to many Indians is of ancient textual origin and actually provides the framework of the fourfold division of the Hindu society into Brahmins (priests and scholars), Kshatriyas (warriors and kings), Vaishyas (commoners including businessmen and farmers) and Sudras (servants of the other three castes). But, while there may be four varnas, there are thousands of castes throughout the corners of South Asia.
Recent research has abundantly proved that caste in British India was not totally a rigid institution. Indeed, it was possible for strategically located groups to move up in the local hierarchy through the capture of political power, acquisition of land, through trade and through migration to other regions. But, such analyses often ignores the experiences of a large number of communities who were regarded as “antyajas”, “asprisyas” and panchamas, who were considered to be polluting and were assigned a place outside the boundaries of the caste hindu society. The caste based oppression and discrimination to which these groups, now commonly known as Dalits, are subjected to believed to be of historical in origin, dating back to the later Vedic period. The experiences of the dalits in contemporary India strongly establishes the links between caste and the centuries old tradition of untouchability. Interestingly, the ideas of stigma and pollution have been internalized by the dalits from their childhood and such ideas reinforced through constant practice have profoundly shaped the Dalit identity and consciousness for more than a century. It is this daily reminder of their stigmatized status that provides the context for the dalit protest and struggle in contemporary India.
I would argue that caste and untouchability constitutes a complex of discriminatory practices that are responsible for the imposition of social disabilities on a sizeable populace, because of their birth in certain castles. Such practices included various forms of exclusion and exploitation, like denying access to state services or remunerating occupations or forcing the dalits to perform demeaning occupations. In fact, it is all pervasive in the sense that it governs all aspects of life, classifying people in terms of a hierarchy and prescribing how they should interact. In other words, there would be an attempt to bring out how this Dalit subordination is reproduced in the public as well as the private sphere. I would be trying to explain whether the Indian state charged with a constitutional mandate to remove inequality and promote social justice, has failed to be a state system for removing the practice of untouchability.
A Profile of Rajsekhar Basu
Dr. Rajsekhar Basu is associate professor of the Department of History, University of Calcutta, currently on lien as Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) visiting professor in Contemporary Indian Studies to the Mykolas Romeris University, Vilnius, Lithuania, and also a Visiting Professor at the Centre of Oriental Studies, Vilnius University. His main area of research is social history of marginal communities in nineteenth and twentieth century India, revolving around issues of agrestic servitude, lower caste religious experiences, migrations and identity politics. He has been visiting scholar to the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Osmania University, Hyderabad, Uppsala University, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada, and a visiting Professor to the Charles University, Prague.
The lecture will be held in English in Ülikooli 16-214.
Everybody is welcome to attend!
Additional information: Märt Läänemets, tel: (+372) 737 5589, (+372) 55 18 847, e-mail: mart_laanemets [ät] yahoo.com.