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Structural Mechanism, Law, and the Dalit Question in India

  • Dag-Erik BERG (a1)


This paper argues that the Dalit situation of caste-based oppression in India could be characterized by the enduring co-existence of upward social mobility and atrocities. While being a common-sense understanding, the paper suggests that the relation between upward social mobility and enduring atrocity could be referred to as a “structural mechanism” in the Dalit situation. The concept is used to explain the Dalit problem. Moreover, this structural mechanism sheds more light on developments and discursive breaks in the legal context. A central lesson in the post-colonial period is that the problem of “untouchables” could not simply be conceptualized as a problem of civil law and untouchability. Rather, the problem of atrocities created demands and a need to make caste-based atrocities a concern for criminal law. Ambedkar’s significance as a symbol of Dalit assertion could be viewed in connection with the structural mechanism of Dalit achievements and caste-based exclusion.



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Associated Research Scholar, UiB Global, University of Bergen. I am grateful to the peer reviewers of the AJLS for providing comments that I found very helpful in developing this paper. Earlier versions of this paper have been presented at the “Terminus workshop” entitled “Dalits and Muslims in the History of India’s State Formation,” Bergen, 6–7 November 2012, and the workshop “Religion, Poverty, Politics,” 21–22 February 2013, organized by CROP, UiB Global, and CMI, Bergen. It was presented at the Centre for Ambedkar Studies, Central University of Hyderabad, 26 July 2013; Centre for Law and Governance, Jawaharlal University, 2 August 2013, and the “Caste Today” Conference, University of Oslo, 12 September 2013. Thanks to audiences on these occasions for their comments and reactions. The paper draws on my PhD thesis, “Dalits and the Constitutional State,” and Professor Bruce Kapferer’s input in the process of that work. Thanks to Mona Joksch Berg, Sylvia Duerr, Faisal Devji, Jason Glynos, Anders Reiersgaard, and Knut Ågotnes for their comments and help while writing this paper, and to Han Peng Ho for copy-editing. I remain responsible for the content and any shortcomings.



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