Book Review: Suryakant Waghmore, Civility against Caste: Dalit Politics and Citizenship in Western India

Published date01 December 2014
Date01 December 2014
Book Reviews 255
Studies in Indian Politics, 2, 2 (2014): 243–257
depth of analysis and description in a period when CPI(M) is losing its hold over the state. But it
would be a shame if the readership were limited to scholars of West Bengal, for whom it should
be required reading. This book reminds us that in an era where decentralization of power is often associ-
ated with democratization, there is still often work to be done in terms of preventing party and elite
capture of local institutions.
Neelanjan Sircar
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Center for the Advanced Study of India
University of Pennsylvania
Suryakant Waghmore, Civility against Caste: Dalit Politics and Citizenship in Western India. New Delhi:
SAGE Publications. 2013. 235 pages. ` 750.
DOI: 10.1177/2321023014551884
This book is a vital contribution to the literature on civil society and caste. Importantly, it is a timely and
a much-needed nuanced analysis of the dynamics of civil society, and the challenge to caste hierarchies
by particular Dalit movements and parties.
A recent report submitted by the Intelligence Bureau criticizes non-governmental organizations
(NGOs), specifically those funded by foreign agencies, for working against national interests. This book
criticizes arguments that believe in considering everything foreign, or rather ‘western’, as evil. It moves
beyond the dichotomies of local against global, state against civil society, and more importantly, caste
against civil society.
Waghmore employs a multi-sited ethnography of the Manavi Hakk Abhiyan (MHA—Human
Rights Campaign) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) at three levels: the activists/leaders of these
movements; participants/supporters/volunteers; and the network of movements. This multi-sited ethno-
graphic approach gives the reader a much closer understanding of the processes and dynamism at the
very local level.
The MHA is a local movement organization that has played a critical role in raising awareness
amongst the Dalits, particularly landless Mangs, whereas the BSP is a national political party known for
its emphasis on Dalit politics. The ethnography focuses on the Beed district of Marathwada, and on
Marathwada, because the political and economic deprivation of this region merged locally with tradi-
tional hierarchies of caste. This makes it largely representative of the Dalit situation in Maharashtra,
allowing the argument to travel beyond the immediate context.
Waghmore begins by critically problematizing common understandings of civil society that are
largely restricted to elites, and which revolve around non-ethnic identities. He also critically explores a
narrow definition of civil society as a space against the state, free of active party or electoral politics.
Waghmore clearly shows the limits of Partha Chatterjee’s concept of ‘political society’ for capturing the
complex challenge of civility (it involves treating others as, at least, equal in dignity, never as inferior in
dignity [p. 4]) and civil society in India. In contrast, in order to illustrate the emancipatory potential of
civil society, the author includes, within its definition, associations that are ethnic in nature (for instance,

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