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Dalits and Religion

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Caste and religion are not just practices. They are two main pillars of Indian society which determine the social structure, status, hierarchy and functional roles of people. Historically, religion performed

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Caste and religion are not just practices. They are two main pillars of Indian society which determine the social structure, status, hierarchy and functional roles of people. Historically, religion performed two functions. On the one hand it was used as an agency of social control and mechanism for social exclusion, and on the other, it brought social mobility. A careful study of Indias social structure helps us understand the religious organisation of Dalits. It can be described as a wheel within a wheel where each caste is linked with social, religious and other responsibilities. It is quite clear from the existing surveys, research studies and writings that the Dalit religious tradition as a belief system is very different from that of mainstream Hinduism. Religious exclusion and marginal space within Hinduism pushed most of the Dalits to explore alternative religious identities. The untouchables were always in search of new religions at various historical junctures. Thus, Buddhism and Jainism in ancient India, Islam in the medieval period and Christianity in modern era attracted Dalits. The book Dalits and Religion contains personal narratives by learned Dalit scholars. These are neither translations, nor creations of non-Dalits, who, at times, are unable to realize the angst of Dalit community. Apart from narratives, there are insightful articles on various aspects of Dalit existence, viz. their religious tradition, forms of indigenous knowledge, conversion of Dalits into Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity and Islam, etc. Critiques on Dalit literature like Narendra Jadhavs Outcaste: A Memoir, Kalyana Raos Untouchable Spring and Joshuas Naa Katha also form part of the book. Besides, there is an examination of Hindi Dalit autobiographies of North India, while Dr. Ambedkars conversion to Buddhism has been studied with a historical perspective.

The book highlights the relationship between caste and religion and the socio-religious struggles that marginalized castes had to wage against the cultural hegemony of so-called upper castes. It is written in simple style and easy-to-understand language. It will prove highly useful to research scholars on Dalit religion and tradition, Dalit intellectuals and those concerned with the welfare of Dalits.

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