Thursday, January 28, 2016

The silence of postcolonial scholars on caste violence


Postcolonial scholarship offers an excellent theoretical anchor in interrogating the binaries that constitute colonial rationality, rupturing these dichotomies and bringing forth the fragments, disjunctures, and hybridities that are constituted in spaces touched by colonialism. Moreover, as an overarching framework for understanding questions of agency, postcolonial theory offers insights into the communicative processes through which the multiple disjunctures and flows are negotiated within and across global sites of colonial hegemony.

As a conceptual node for entering into the theorizing of colonialism and the "inter-plays" of multiple cultural threads in postcolonial contexts, postcolonial scholarship offers an important framework for disrupting the monolithic narrative of Whiteness that is rooted in "othering."

At its best, postcolonial scholarship interrogates the orientalist gaze, depicting the ways in which the gaze is intertwined with the materiality of colonialism, offering vital insights into understanding old and new forms of imperialism and thus, entry points for intervention into the neo-colonial-liberal project.

Something however that has often struck me as an irony in postcolonial scholarship is the upper class-upper caste dominance in postcolonial work.

The Chakravartys and Chatterjees of India (and more specifically a narrow region of India, West Bengal) dominate the conversation on postcolonial scholarship. This means that the cultural explanations offered in postcolonial analyses come from these upper caste, upper class positions, mostly/often oblivious to caste and class privilege. Questions of agency thus are examined in relationship to certain structures (such as imperial formations and to a much smaller extent, social class) whereas other equally powerful structures such as caste formations remain (un)der-theorized.

Without the interrogations of the privileges inherent in these positions, postcolonial theory remains incomplete in its theorizing of context, especially when theorizing highly unequal postcolonial societies such as India.

The historically situated aspects of Indian culture that have allowed for systematic oppression of the under-caste (dalit) remain outside of the lens of cultural explanations.

The interrogation of imperial formations in symbolic representations is incomplete and one-sided without the examination of deeply entrenched inequalities within postcolonial contexts that are both culturally and structurally rooted.

This upper caste dominance in postcolonial scholarship perhaps explains the absence of the caste question in postcolonial works.

As Whiteness and its assumptions emerge as sites of analyses,  depicting the cultural flows and the complexities of  cultural representations, postcolonial scholarship remains silent on the question of caste violence. In doing so and in its inability to interrogate the caste violence that remains implicit in its own enunciative position, postcolonial scholarship remains complicit with knowledge production as a form of oppression.

To align with its emancipatory and decolonizing agenda, postcolonial scholarship emerging out of and theorizing the Indian context needs to seriously engage with the question of caste.

Also, the Brahminical position of established postcolonial scholars needs to be turned into a site of interrogation so spaces can be be made for the voices of the under-caste. 

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