Challenging Law and Justice from below: The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) Movement in the Dalit Community

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 8:30 AM
Room: 418
Oral Presentation
Maya SUZUKI , Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, KANAGAWA-KEN, Japan
In this paper, I examine protest movements of the marginalized Dalit community (formerly known as Untouchables) in contemporary India from a case study of Balmiki (a sweeper caste). In particular, I explore the political aspects of caste by focusing on the caste-based quota system, known as “reservation,” which is a part of India’s affirmative actions.

This paper is organized around two significant issues. The first is the formation of a “new” identity among the Dalits through saint worship, which poses the following question. Why has the community embraced saint worship? The answer to the question lies in their religious choice to worship a saint, which gives them a sense of dignity and empowerment, and helps in the construction of a collective identity among members.

The second issue is the implications of caste-based identity politics. Since the late 1980s, an important factor Indian politics is the shift to a multiparty system and the rise of identity politics. With an increase in equality and social justice, marginalized castes have risen to challenge existing policies and demand an equal share in state resources.

I found that the success rate for the implementation of the reservation policy for the benefit of the lowest castes was significantly low. The distribution has been uneven among the targeted groups. Moreover, the results of my fieldwork revealed that most people tried to hide their caste. However, a number of them also affirmed their caste in order to obtain the benefits of welfare schemes and protect their rights by challenging the judicial system through Public Interest Litigations (PIL). This paradoxical response explains why caste identity has become more positive and assertive, which has led to the politics of difference in contemporary India.