When Fists Write (of) the Past: Conceptualising Dalit Historiography through the Cultural Productions of DravidaVargaAikyaMunnani
Ms Sephora Jose, PhD Scholar, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India
Dalit historiography is the narrativization of the past from a Dalit perspective purposive of critiquing existing traditions of Indian historiographies and/or producing counter histories. It is the discourse through which historiographical erasures and misrepresentations are challenged through narratives that recover and reinterpret the past from anti-caste standpoints. This counter-discourse reorients historiography and transforms historical understandings by recognising caste as a structuring principle of history.This paper attempts to theorise Dalit historiography as a resistance epistemology by outlining its methodological and thematic aspects through a study of DCUF cultural productions. DCUF (Depressed Class United Front) is an Adi-Dravida community named Dravida Varga Aikya Munnani that emerged as an anti-caste politico-religious group in 1950s Kerala under the leadership of PJ SabharajThirumeni.
To understand the politics of the counter-history articulated by DCUF, the paper first maps the field of mainstream Kerala historiography to which DCUF cultural productions may be seen as an historiographical response. Mainstream Kerala historiography disproves the usual Dalit critique that caste is ignored in mainstream historical discourses. Kerala historiography, in both its dominant trends – political and economic history – includes caste as a historical reality. However, these political and economic histories are anchored on structures like state and class respectively, bringing in caste merely as an additive feature where it is seen to be relevant. DCUF cultural productions, as an articulation of Dalit historiography, intervene in the epistemology of this mode of history writing by placing caste as the fulcrum of history.
This paper theorises Dalit historiography by showing the transformative dynamics of the intersection of caste and historiography, exposing how historical understandings change when caste is used as the historiographic lens. The cultural productions of DCUF problematise mainstream history by giving an alternate picture of the past vis-à-vis the origins of caste, its manifestations and anti-caste resistance. The cultural symbols placed in their mandirams (worship place) historicise a Dravida past prior to the Aryan invasion. The prayer songs and sacred artifacts of the community counter the reductionist representation of caste slavery in mainstream Kerala histories by foregrounding the socio-economic and emotional experiences of slavery from the perspective of the enslaved. The pantheon of DCUF and the places named after anti-caste leaders project the history of anti-caste resistance, which is erased from mainstream histories.
Using caste as the historiographic lens also alters the conception of the historical archive itself as well as the processes of narrativising history. The evidential paradigm followed in DCUF historiography marks a departure by adopting memories and myths as historical sources, and serves as a methodological corrective to the positivist tendencies of mainstream historians. Furthermore, in this historiographic paradigm, history is constructed not as a progressive narrative driven by linear causality, but one of hegemony. This analytical framework foregrounds the political valence of history in Dalit struggle and highlights the ongoing dialogue between Dalit communities with the mainstream vis-à-vis history and history writing.