Seminar:"Ethical Dimensions of Caste-less Community: Iyothee Thass (1845-1914) and Tamil Buddhism " by Dr. Dickens Leonard M
This presentation would prioritize my research work which explores Dalits’ (dis)engagement with caste and their experiments with caste-less textuality during the colonial period in India. By foregrounding the works of Dalit intellectuals, who are hitherto understudied such as Pandit Iyothee Thass (1845-1914), it highlights textualities of caste-lessness that Dalits had continuously produced in history against various hermeneutics of caste. While exploring one of the earliest anticaste articulations in South India during the colonial period, the study also extends Dalit studies (Rawat and Satyanarayana 2016) by foregrounding the Tamil cosmopolis. The most oppressed by caste create a caste-less textuality through religion in the early twentieth century. This extends but departs critically from prominent works on caste and religion in South Asia that have come to study them variously as essentialist and constructionist. Thus, Thass’ texts on Tamil Buddhism is studied as a movement that is geared through journalistic-print activity – in the context of Dalit migration to presidential cities, industrial towns, railway quarters and military cantonments, as well as, the indentured labour migration to countries such as Burma, South Africa, Ceylon, and south-east Asia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The work suggests that an anti-caste “communitas” (Blanchot 1988; Nancy 1991; Esposito 2009) was possible as Dalits produced a creative “hermeneutic” (Ricoeur 2005) that is based on (lived) “experience” (Guru and Sarukkai 2012), which competed against powerful hermeneutics of caste “immunitas” (Esposito 2009) in the colonial period. Even under displacement and disembodiment, the Dalits imagined a home “in-place” and “in-time,” which constitutes anti-caste values. Thus, Thass’ texts are conceptualized as foregrounding a caste-less community in writing. Research on these texts could be treated as an engagement with comparative ethics. Recent works on Dalits and religion are largely useful to conceptualize such an anti-caste ethics (Wakankar 2010; Ayyathurai 2011; Guru 2012; Mohan 2015; and Kumar 2015). This could fashion a genealogy of thought which integrates experience, understands social inheritances, and anchors the living present with a conscious community of sense and memory, while tracking an alternative dissenting lineage. It has relevance, as ethical critique, for the rampant violence and humiliation that oppressively dehumanize and desensitize the body and mind, today; and the way forward for Human Sciences in India to re-humanize and re-sensitize life.