Moving Untouched: The racialization of untouchability in B.R. Ambedkar's political thought

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Abstract

This paper analyses the complex nature of untouchability by examining its connections to space and racialization in Ambedkar’s political writings, including his experiences of using movement through space as a counter-hegemonic strategy. For Ambedkar, untouchability rested on a perpetual threat of violence which pushed Dalits to ‘self-racialize’ or adopt bodily markers which gave away their caste status in specific places. This permitted the organization of castes hierarchies in space and its constant reproduction through time. Ambedkar became aware that places like the village facilitated the racialization of certain bodies as touchable or untouchable. Yet, the connections between space and racialization were not fixed. Ambedkar’s memories of untouchability were linked to ‘in-between spaces’, such as train stations or hotels, where the racialization of Dalits could not be assumed a priori. Such spatial indeterminacy allowed Ambedkar to challenge the behaviour Dalits were supposed to conform to in dominant caste spaces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)216-234
JournalEthnic and racial studies
Volume44
Issue number2
Early online date17 May 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022

Keywords

  • Ambedkar
  • Untouchability
  • Race
  • Racialization
  • Space

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