Seminar: "The Uncanny Death of Jogendranath Mandal" by Dr. Dwaipayan Sen.
This presentation will recount the curious circumstances surrounding the demise of the Bengali Dalit leader Jogendranath Mandal as a statement on how the caste question was managed in post-independence West Bengal. While the exact manner of his death remains disputed, it is nonetheless significant that written and oral testimony of surviving relatives and acquaintances suggest unnatural causes, and hold his political adversaries responsible. Over the last years of his life, Mandal had attempted to forge Ambedkarite and socialist concerns and as state representative of the Republication Party of India, sought electoral understanding with upper-caste communist politicians who repeatedly betrayed him while capitalizing on his mass-appeal amongst Dalit refugees from East Pakistan. Stung by such deception, Mandal decided to contest politics on the strength of the RPI alone, remobilized the reconstituted remains of his political base in the east, seemed on the verge of election after nearly two decades of frustration, and counted amongst several major obstacles preventing United Front electoral victory in October 1968 when he met an untimely death. Situating this event against the wider political-historical canvas of the late 1960s, as well as his own trajectory, suggests the coincidence of the rise of the Left and this particular defeat of Dalit politics. Far from suggesting the so-called “ambivalence” of West Bengal’s political classes towards caste, Mandal’s uncanny death must be seen in light of their long-standing negative stance towards radical Dalit critique.
Dwaipayan Sen is Assistant Professor of South Asian history at Amherst College. His presentation will draw on research in his forthcoming book, "The Decline of the Caste Question: Jogendranath Mandal and the defeat ofDalit politics in Bengal" (Cambridge University Press, 2018). He has published with Modern Asian Studies, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, History Compass, amongst other venues, and teaches courses onmedieval and modern South Asian history, caste, M.K. Gandhi, Indian nationalism, subaltern studies, and historiography.