Q: Debate the issue of whether and how contemporary movements for assertion of Dalit identity work towards annihilation of caste.
Traditionally there was no term as dalit, as it was a term popularized by Dr. Ambedkar, and it means oppressed. It was used as a term to describe the people known as Shudra in traditional varna system. Today it expands to all those considered to be either similarly placed or as victims of exploitation and discrimination, be it political, social or religious and often include adivasis too in its widest form.
The term Dalit has become a political identity, similar to the way African Americans in the United States moved away from the use of the term Negro, to the use of Black or African-American. Dalits today use the term Dalit as they believe the term is more than being broken and is in fact an identity born of struggle and assertion.
In recent decades, various Dalit identity movements had lead to Dalit consciousness leading to political awareness and the notion of collective identity among the diverse Dalit communities. This identity is also the result of positive discrimination or affirmative action as the reservation is the only reason why caste identity is recorded and maintained by government.
Thus, it may be counter-productive, but such maintenance of caste identities has also prevented the annihilation of caste too up to some extent.
Today the identity has pervaded so deep, that even in case of non-discrimination the identity is highlighted leading to further strengthening of system, for example, media reports an accident also with religious or caste identities, when it is completely unnecessary, say, a dalit youth killed in car accident.
In order to attain annihilation of caste it is necessary that the caste identities are weakened over time and not strengthened and thus, the political movements to gain mileage from identity shall be discouraged and any unnecessary use of the term shall be restricted so that it doesn’t lead to social division.