Skip navigation

Nationalism as the Framework for Dalit Self-realization

India’s Evolving National Identity
Gopal Guru

[Editor's Note: Please enjoy complimentary, downloadable access to this essay. To read more recent interviews and essays from our Spring/Summer 2017 and Fall/Winter 2017-2018 issues, we encourage you to subscribe to the Journal.]

The consolidation of nationalist aspirations drives the formation of national identity in most colonial and postcolonial cases.  This process involves a multifaceted struggle for self-definition in the presence of socially dominant actors and an effort at self-realization among socially dominated sections of society. Socially dominant actors shape the formation of a new nation. Following independence, for instance, Indians had an opportunity to redefine their sociocultural identity, which had become destabilized and saturated due to the impact of colonialism. Nationalism, for the traditional social elite, denoted the recovery of lost social prominence. Hence, the historical purpose of such an elite found its expression in the nationalist struggle, articulated primarily against the colonial configuration of power. On the other side of the spectrum, those who are socially suppressed throughout history are driven by the normative need to achieve self-realization: they are no longer a suppressed, silenced lot, but rather an active and assertive subject of history. To put it differently, social groups such as Dalits, who have been historically cast out of the framework of the public sphere and forced to remain passive objects of history, view nationalism as an opportunity to achieve self-realization as active subjects.