The word ‘Dalit’

Following are my thoughts on the appropriateness of the word ‘dalit.’

Pursuing my interest in Dalit Studies I wish to share a few thoughts on this issue of what is there in the word Dalit.
Lalit mentioned:
>I certainly feel that ‘dalit’ word has negative connotation. But I am not sure, >how close it is to stigma of word ‘Black’, as this word emerged from the Black >panther vis-a-vis Dalit panther movement.
I would first like to know how and where does the word ‘dalit’ suggest a negative connotation?
Secondly it is a terrible mistake to assume that the word ‘Black’ is a ‘stigma’. There is a plethora is black literature and black scholars who have struggled to establish their identity and canon. They now annually celebrate Black History month, are you suggesting that even today they are ‘celebrating’ a stigmatized word?
The world ‘Black’ has absolutely no inherent negative connotation to it whatsoever. The society, especially the Euro- American world propagated a ‘White Supremistic’ attitude and with it privileged ‘whiteness’ and alongwith it followed a hegemonic practice we all know as ‘racism.’
If a person is black then he or she is ‘black’ in complexion and there is nothing negative about that. Just as if somebody is ‘white’ does not make him or her negative or positive. These are ascribed qualities.
It is surprising that we are doubting the term ‘dalit’ that has been coined in various discursive ways by nobody other than Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and He has defined it in a very comprehensive way.

I strongly encourage reading chapter 4 by Prof. Gopal Guru, titled ‘The Language of Dalit-Bahujan Political Discourses’, in the book ‘Dalit Identity And Politics,’ Vol. 2, edited by Ghyanshyam Shah. This chapter clearly addresses the very meaning, nature and implications of what Dalit identity and collectivity means.
I am sure after reading that, this question of whether the world ‘Dalit’ is appropriate or not should not arise. In Dr. Gopal Guru’s words, the Dalit category has to be viewed in terms of its hermeneutic function, its epistemic roots and its ontological basis.
Lalit, I suggest some books on discourses of race and racism shall clarify notions of blackness and whiteness for a better understanding of its implications. It would be very insulting if you say to someone that, to be black is a ‘stigma.’
The word Dalit has been used and should be used consciously, and it is up to us to ascribe it a positive meaning and pride to it. From what I have read, it has a discursive quality which makes it more significant to exercise that word as per the context.
We will look at it (the word dalit) as we want to see it!
We should be proud to be dalits, shouldn’t we?

“Dr. K. Jamanadas” <> wrote:


Dear Lalit,

Sorry, I am late in responding.

I am not that great that my suggestion counts. The very fact we are discussing the name for us suggests that we have been awakened and we do not wish to be called what the others called us in the past. That is certainly commendable. But I do not think that the issue is so important that we waste our time in on this issue. I would only point out certain facts and leave the great people who like to debate on the issue.

Ancient name ‘antajya’ was discarded because the old Law books had prescribed harsh and derogatory connotations. So all old names like antyaja etc. are out of question.

Our ancestors, during British days organized under various names by adding prefix of Adi before the regional or religious name. [like Adi Andhra etc.]

Some of us fought for changing their names to “Namo Sudras” from “Chandalas”. I have a feeling that including ‘Shudras’ in their name, they agreed that they are a part of ‘Hindus’. In my humble opinion, “Chandalas” was better name to denote our aloofness from everything at is ‘Vedic’, Brahminic, or Hindu.

In my childhood, Mahars of Maharashtra were referring themselves as Chokhamela and not as Mahars. Chamars of UP, I believe, refer themselves as ‘Raidas’ even today.

Babasaheb used various names and that he opposed the name Harijan given by Hindus. Why? Because, as I understand, the name Harijan was used by medieval saint poet of Gujarat  Narsi Mehta  for the fatherless children of temple prostitutes  the Devadasis  thus carrying the notion of ‘BASTARD’. This name was suggested purposefully by Gandhi, knowing fully well the Gujarati meaning. If Gandhi was not a Gujarati and did not know the fact of this name being to given to the children of Devadasis and was in vogue for about four centuries, perhaps there could not have been much objection to this name.  This is because, HARI is the name for GOD, more specifically for VISHNU. But it was also used for the BUDDHA. And if it was innocently used with good intention by some non-Gujarathi unlike Gandhi, perhaps Babasaheb would not have rejected it.

DALIT is the name popularized by Dalit Panthers around seventies, but it was not coined by them. Around 1950s, Jagjivan Ram had formed some organization by that name and the name DALIT was associated with his name.

Kancha Ilaiah has suggested ‘Dalitbahujan’. Kanshiram used Bahujan to include SC, ST, OBC and Minorities and newly registered BAMCEFs have been trying to popularize ‘Mulnivasi’ for denoting the same people.

Yashwant Manohar and his followers had opened a movement to call it ‘Ambedkarite Literature’ to denote what was called “Dalit literature”. Even now they call it Ambedkarite to same literature what others call ‘Dalit Literature’. There was a big debate on the issue for some time.

And there are many who prefer to call ‘Buddhist’. But they oppose the word ‘Nav-Buddha’. I do not know why? How do you differentiate followers of Ambedkar from old Buddhists then?

It must be kept in mind that the meanings of the words change. The original meaning of the word “Hindu”, they tell me, was not all that glorious and was ‘dark’, ‘thief’, etc. But today they say, “garv se kaho hum hindu hai

The word “DHED” is supposed to have originated from “THER”, a respected Buddhist monk. So Brahmins coined many derogatory names from Ther in Marathi, like ‘Therda’ ltc.

The important point is to see who is using the name and for which people and is any derogatory sense implied. If you are using the name for legal purposes like claiming facilities etc, there is no other choice than using “Scheduled Castes” for (?ex-) untouchables and “Scheduled Tribes” for Adivasis and “OBCs” for respective castes etc. as per schedules.

The difference between ‘Bahujan’ and ‘Mulnivasi’ seems to be due to ego of leaders of registered BAMCEF(s). The Mayawati BAMCEF people continue to call themselves Bahujans. They practically refer to same people by that name. Mulnivasi, in my humble opinion it could be applied to ALL people of India including Brahmins, as all had been integrated during the period of Asoka. But I could not convince Ashish Jivane about this.

But the Adivasi leaders, like L. K. Madvai prefer to call themselves ‘Mulnivasi’ [and RSS wants to call them Vanvasi]. I had discussed the point with L. K. Madavi. He insists that only Adivasis are Mulnivasi and not others. He also insists that the difference is RACIAL. I could not convince him also that the present day ‘Adivasis’ (at least in Schedule V) are not that ancient and they are post-Buddhistic, as the sociologists claim. I think except perhaps the residents of Andaman Nikobar, all the Adivasis  especially under Schedule V areas  are all post Buddhistic and are created during Rajput Age after death of Harshavardhan in seventh century by the newly formed ‘jamindars’ and the Brahmins pushing away the borderline peasants to interior away from Brahmadeya villages.  I have written a book on the subject and also as introduction to PATANA.

I do not know whether the (Regd) BAMCEF(s) people have ever thrashed out the point with Adivasi leaders, whether only Adivasis are Mulnivasis or all except Brahmins are Mulnivasi.

Let us confine ourselves to ex-untouchables. The choice falls on two names. Harijan should be for followers of Gandhi and Dalits for the followers of Ambedkar, whether they are converted to Buddhism or not.

It is true that Gandhi used the following words about Babasaheb while criticizing his “Annihilation of castes”.

‘…a man who has carved out for himself a unique position in society. Whatever label he wears in future Dr. Ambedkar is not the man to allow himself to be forgotten.’
It was certainly not in his praise. If you read it correctly, what Gandhi said was that Dr. Ambedkar is hankering after cheap publicity by publishing his speech when conference was cancelled and sarcastically observed that cost of the book should have been kept 4 annas instead of eight annas. Babasaheb read that correctly and replied in a fitting language that it was Gandhi who always craved for publicity.

The word Dalit does not mean “broken”, as is suggested. It means ‘depressed’ or ‘oppressed’ or ‘pushed down’. It does not show bad quality of the ‘depressed’, it shows the bad quality of the ‘depressor’. After being depressed or pushed down, the depressed could tolerate meekly or oppose the depression. Those who tolerate meekly by the Gandhi’s advice are ‘Harijans’.  Those who jump back to oppose are Ambedkaerite ‘Dalits’. That is how I see it.

So it is preferable to say ‘lowered’ castes to saying ‘lower’ castes. Or say ‘privileged castes’ to saying ‘upper’ castes. But this does not happen always, and we use the words loosely. Dr. Annamalai had suggested use of word ‘evil caste’ instead of ‘upper caste’ but it did not work.

The word INDIGENOUS came into vogue, (and translated into Marathi etc.) after UNO declared 1993 (I think) as the year for them. But their meaning was slightly different. Perhaps they meant a people of “threatened race”. May be I am wrong. Or am I?

Ultimately, the use gets confined to certain words, which are practiced regularly. The words DALIT and JEWS need not be taken literally. They are used by VTR symbolically. Everybody knows there are at least three meanings to every word. The words could be used literally, symbolically and even sarcastically.

Words could also change the meaning by the way you pronounce it. Just try the word “OK” to pronounce it in different ways!  (Thanks Pralhad, you had suggested that)

I think this should suffice. I, myself, do prefer the word DALIT to denote SCs, ADIVASI to denote STs, and BAHUJAN to denote SC, ST, OBC and Minorities together.

I prefer “Nav-Boudha” to denote Buddhists converts after advice of Ambedkar and I prefer “Buddhist” while referring to the world’s Buddhist population in general. There are many types of Buddhists in the world. I hope some day, they would become one, and then we could all call ourselves BUDDHISTS. But that is a different subject.

This is my opinion for whatever worth it is.


Dr. K. Jamanadas, “Shalimar”, Main Road, Chandrapur – 442 402

Friday, November 23, 2007

At 07:58 PM 10/13/2007 -0400, you wrote:
Dear Dr. Jamanadas Ji Jai Bheem,

There is huge debate from long time about nomenclature of word ‘dalit’. I am still reading a lot different views of people about this word.

I certainly feel that ‘dalit’ word has negative connotation. But I am not sure, how close it is to stigma of word ‘Black’, as this word emerged from the Black panther vis-a-vis Dalit panther movement.

We all know Dalit literally means ‘broken people’, which is again Hindu caste definition. If ‘Black’ word is also derogatory, why we should use this word ‘Dalit’ even if there are parallel stigma attached with these two nomenclatures.

Moreover Dalit world certainly has Hinduistic origin.

But can we really have alternative word for Dalit, considering its wide usage.

Apart from ‘Scheduled Caste’ I don’t see any other word feasible to represent our population.

I know , when I visit home people will identify me as Chambhar, and others as Mahars and so on….but still this ‘Dalit’ term itself has remained largely academic.

Whatever it may be but you are right that what we want to be called that nomenclature must be out of Hindu fold.

I have few more queries related to this issue.

Then there are other nomenclatures like, ‘Ambedkariates’, ‘Buddhist’, ‘Mulnivasi’ or ‘Indigenous’, ‘Bahujan’, but non of them seems to be inclusive for  Schedule Castes.

Though ‘Mulnivasi’ ‘Indigenious’ word is inclusive but Dr. Ambedkar in his renowned paper ‘annihilation of caste’ refered to Mr. D.R. Bhandarkar’s research on foreign element in the Hindu Population” has stated that

“There is hardly a class or Caste in India which has not a foreign strain in it. There is an admixture of alien blood not only among the warrior classesthe Rajputs and the Marathasbut also among the Brahmin who are under the happy delusion that they are free from all foreign elements.”

Hence no caste or race is pure in this world, so eugenic through maintaining ‘purity’ and ‘caste superiority’ is redundant argument because it is impossible in in normal affairs of day to day lives.

There is another argument of people who try to associate Zionist or Jews with that of ‘Brahmins’ e.g. V.T Rajeshekhar. How fair is this argument, saying they (Brahmin and Jews) play hand in hand. Through such argument, while fighting for our rights, are we ourselves propagating that Jews and Brahmins you get together against us?

So  I have few questions if BAMSEF use this word ‘Mulnivasi’ which is politically significant, but will it unite people across castes.

We agree that continued using of nomenclature ‘Dalit’ is not fair? then what is possibility of alternative nomenclature.

Suggest !

Best regards.

Lalit Khandare
Ph.D. Student(Social Work & Public Policy)
Indiana University

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Saint <>
Date: Oct 13, 2007 6:27 PM
Subject: Fwd: Re: NOMENCLATURE.
To:, nitin_salve@yahoo.cok, Nitin Salve <>, Arun Gaikwad <>

Saint <> wrote:
Date: Sat, 13 Oct 2007 15:20:46 -0700 (PDT)
From: Saint <>
To: Rathnam A < >, Ramaiah A <>,,,
Nagasena Chelladurai <>,
“Chellaurai.E” <>,
Satinath Choudhary <>,
Mangesh Dahiwale <>,,,,
kancha ilaiah <>,,,,

Jaibheem to all,

I appreciate Bro Rathnam’s frustration with the word “Dalit”, few people changing this term or stop using it …is not going to help us in anyways.

It should be a concerted effort of all the activists, socialists and Ambedkarites, someone must take a lead to organize this weedout of the nomenclature effort, otherwise, what we say on messages and boards will go as heresay?

I once intervened about the same issue with Bro Rathnam, but after a year, I here the same message.  I WISH PEOPLE WHO ARGUE ON ISSUES TRY TO COME OUT WITH AN IDEA THAN JUST PONDERING ON IT.

THE TRUTH IS “DALIT” is not a Hindu word or nor it was brought to this world by Hindu’s, which is absolutely not true. The leaders of the Panthers group during their conception of a brigade organization similar to the Black panthers of America, came out with an idea to abandon all the terms in use so far, but put forward the word “Dalits”. It is no demeaning than the 600 different caste terms the hindu’s use and cause severe mental agonies to dalits.

Therefore, one must beware of the usage and who coined this term and popularized it, it is coined by our Dalit Panthers during early 1970s. I WANT SOMEONE PROVE ME OTHERWISE, I WILL ABANDONE RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT TO USE THIS TERM, HELP ME FIND OUT THE TRUTH.

In a pathological society and a culture like India, certain things takes a very prolonged procrastination period to correct the mistakes the previous generation made, if this is going to take place in various steps, why not use Dalit than some other demeaning terms.

Until we find out a solution for it, this word is very commonly and popularly used. I MADE SOME EFFORTS THROUGH MY BLOG, CONSTANTLY WRITING BY USING THE TERM “Ambedkarites”. But, no one was ever forthcoming to find a way, even the dalits who are in forefront did not care much about any reformation.

Why don’t somone organize an effort, I will help them in any ways I may?.

In Dhamma,

Rathnam A <> wrote:

“In dealing with this part of the question we
would like to point out that the existing nomenclature
of Depressed Classes is objected to by members of the
Depressed Classes who have given thought to it and
also by outsiders who take interest in them. It is
degrading and contemptuous, and advantage may be taken
of this occasion for drafting the new constitution to
alter for official purposes the existing nomenclature.
We think that they should be called “Non-caste
Hindus,” “protestant Hindus,” or “Non-conformist
Hindus,” or some such designation, instead of
“Depressed classes. …” (Poona Pact Nov 4th, 1931)

Bombay Legislative Assembly

” Dr. B.R . Ambedkar: I am very sorry, but I
think I can not help saying that this is a matter on
which the wishes of this group ought to have prevailed
with Government. Nobody would have been hurt; the
interest of the country would not have been injured if
the amendment moved by my honourable friend Mr.
Gaikwad had been accepted. In view of the fact that
the Government wishes to use its majority in a
tyrannical manner, I am afraid we must show our
dissatisfaction by walking out in a body and not
participating further in the day’s proceedings.
The honourable Mr. B.G. Kher: I hope the
honourable member (Dr. Ambedkar) will give an
opportunity of saying a few words.
It is very sad commentary that feeling in this
country, where even the slightest question of caste or
creed is concerned, is so very touchy. As the
honourable the leader of the Independent Labour Party
knows, since a long time an attempt has been made to
take away from currency in our language the words
“Asprishya”, because the very idea is a remainder of
the most painful associations, of what has been
universally now admitted to be a stain on Hinduism. I
quite agree with the honourable member Mr. Gaiwad by
merely changing the name we will not achieve this
object. The present section is an attempt in that
direction. To remove the question of untouchability,
we tried an alternative expression; we wanted to say
“Parishista Varg.” Is the translation of the English
expression “scheduled class”, and we thought that
“Parishta Varga” would be a very inappropriate
expression to introduce into the Marathi language. If
instead of using the English expression “Scheduled
classes”, we wanted to have a synonym for that
expression, we had to accept this expression
“Parishista Varga” as the only alternative to denote
what class we meant. I can quite understand, feeling
as they do, that they do not like any attempt to
differentiate them from the rest of the Hindus, but
even for the purpose of legislation, to achieve this
result even for bettering the condition of this class,
we have to designate them as apart from other
Hinduswe may call them Ashprishya or by any other
name, and the fewer the expression we use to
differentiate and classify as different such a large
body of Hindus the better; but I know that since last
four or five years the word “Harijan” has now gained a
currency in the whole if not in the whole of the
country, at least in many parts of the country. This
is an attempt to substitute a word for the expression
“Scheduled Class” which ought to have met with the
approval of the honourable member, the leader of the
Independent Labour Party. It is extremely unfortunate
that he does not look at this question in that light,
but if he suggests an alternative which is suitable
for the expression “scheduled class”, I do expect it
will be possible to spare his feelings. In the
alternative, I do appeal to him, at any rate, to read
into the section no desire to hurt the feelings of a
large class of people, who are unfortunately known as
“untouchables”, but merely a desire to recognize an
expression which has, for a long time, gained currency
would appeal to him no to see in the word “:Harijan”
and in the definition, an attempt to cast any
reflection on his community.

B.R. Ambedkar: Sir, as you have ruled that this
is not an occasion for making speeches, I will not
make any speech. All that I will say is this that I am
not in a position to suggest any better name, but I
must say that the name “Harijan” has now become
practically equivalent to the term “Ashprisya”;
beyond that there is nothing remaining in that name,
and I would think that the honourable the Prime
Minister had felt in the same way in which we feel
that the word “Harijan” has now become identical with
the expression “Scheduled Cass” then it is his duty,
for the movement, to have withdrawn that word, and
latter on he could have discussed the matter with us
with a view to find out some alternative term. His
arguments, however, have not carried any conviction to
us. I will, therefore, leave the Hall.”
(Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and other members of the
Independent Labour Party then walked out of the
House.)_ Vol, 2. writings and speeches.

” One last word. The reader will find that I have
used quite promiscuously in the course of this book a
variety of nomenclature such as Depressed Classes,
Scheduled Castes, Harijan and servile Classes to
designate the Untouchables. I am aware that this is
likely to cause confusion especially for those who are
not familiar with the condition in India. Nothing
could have pleased me better than to have used one
uniform nomenclature. The fault is not altogether
mine. All these names have been used officially and
unofficially at one time or other for the
Untouchables. The term under the government of India
Act is “Scheduled Castes.” But that came into use
after 1935. Before that they were called “Harijans” by
Mr. Gandhi and ” Depressed Classes” by Government.”
(What Congress and Gandhi have done to the
untouchables. 1945)

Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar started a party in the year
1936, and named it as ‘Independent Labour Party”, then
in the year 1942 he started “scheduled Castes

During time of British regime in India,
In the “India Act 1935” the name scheduled Castes
were introduced. It is very clear that the name of our
community were denoted by many names. Since we are not
coming under the Brahminical system of Varnashrama it
is crystal clear that we are out of the caste system,
and therefore, we are also called “Out castes”

” Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was a brilliant academician,
a popular attorney , an erudite scholar, a great Legal
Luminary, a powerful writer, journalist, a great
constitutional pundit, emancipator, and champion of
the rights and liberties of the dumb, down trodden
and oppressed people, from whose very rank he sprang.
But all this attainment seemed to be inadequate to
wipe out the stigma of ‘untouchability’ that was
attached to the caste into which he was born.

Nevertheless, it was his privilege to be ranked as one
of the top dozen great Indians of the century. No less
a person than Mahatma Gandhi, with whom Ambedkar had
acute political differences and crossed swords aften,
wrote of Ambedkar as follows:

‘…a man who has carved out for himself a unique
position in society. Whatever label he wears in future
Dr. Ambedkar is not the man to allow himself to be

Such an unforgettable man Dr. Ambedkar said in
the year 1935: ‘ I was born as a Hindu , but I will
not die as a Hindu. He fulfilled his promise and
embraced Buddhism in the year 1956,October, 14th, with
five (500000) of his people, and made them as

To wipe out the stigma of untouchability he
converted the people from Hindu fold to Buddhism. From
the historical event given above (Round table
Conference to 1956) he never used the word ‘Dalit’.
But today even the converted Buddhists call them as
dalit, which means a Hindu name and also contradicts
the principles of Buddhism as well as the ideology of
the great savior Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.

If you do not
want call yourselves as Scheduled castethe
constitutional name you may call in any name as whims
and fancies. But my sincere and humble request to the
converted Buddhists that they should not call the
Hindu name ‘Dalits’.