on etymology of dalits

By thindi

The existence of untouchability as a form of human relationship is
unprecedented in human history.One can never be sure what its form and
contents were in Ancient India or even in contemporary India. I suppose
there is something called pre-suppositional thought which lives its life
outside and inside language. It is also domination of labour and bonded
labour has rarely been studied with this focus but it cannot be reduced to a
form of domination that stems solely from economic exploitation. If economic
and linguistic practice give rise to forms of power and domination and
maintenance of caste hierarchy is based on such complex connection between
economy of production and the play of signs, the reproduction of
untouchability cannot be attributed to these two complex forms of domination
and power.
The dichotomy between the sacred and the profane in the Indian tradition is
minimal or non-existent.Pre-suppositionless thought informs our smallest
gestures, actions and habits. Many years ago, I went to visit my ailing
colleague’s (brahmin) father. He was lying in an ICU at Pondicherry. On
seeing me at a distance, he waved his hands in a way that clearly indicated
his desire to be left alone. He died a couple of days later. I left the
place without going near his bed and I felt hurt for a moment. Today,
looking back, it seems to me that he was aware that he would die soon and he
didn’t want to die as a bad brahmin by allowing an untouchable close to him.
The moral/spiritual development of the brahmin requires him to rise above
the rest of the society. His ethical life cannot be trammeled by material
existence alone or paying attention merely to his biological life . His
responsibility is not dictated by the needs of society but by this
presuppositional thought that exists beyond experience. I can neither
experience the brahmins life world vicariously nor can the brahmin allow
himself to enter the encrypted life of destitution of the untouchable. In
some sense, the encryption is a product of a complex contextual structure
that the presuppositional thought of the brahmin gives rise to. The dalit
life is not decipherable through his experiences alone. Untouchability
cannot be reduced to lived experiences or vicarious experience. Lived
experience refers to experiences where a community do not have a choice
except go through such experiences. Social scientists can do participatory
research and get hold of experiences garnered through a vicarious mode.
Anu, I am partially addressing this question through my acquaintance with
social science theorising about dalits in postcolonial India. Ambedkar first
employed the concept in the 1930’s (not accurate) to emphasise a complex
system of institutional domination that untouchables were subjected to
within the hindu caste order. It literally means ‘broken men’. There is good
deal of social science literature which empirically describes the situation
of dalits in post colonial India. The problem with that description/theory
is that it lacks a theoretical mode where ethics does not intervene in the
process of enquiring into the lives of the untouchables. They become objects
for social science theory (like the way natural scientists treat nature as a
mute being and knowledge is normally of the problem solving kind). Where
cognitive life works without normative constraints, such knowledge seems to
be knowledge produced without ethical responsibility. The nature of social
science in India is yet to produce an interesting/refreshing thesis on the
Dalit problematic. I for one find such literature extremely unimaginative
and impoverished.

(partially in response to anu and Nabina’s ? about the word Dalit)