Ambedkar Icons: Whys and Wherefores

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Abstract

‘The entire dalit emotional charge’, Teltumbde argues (2012: 10), ‘is concentrated in the Ambedkar icon’. As the way in which parties rush to the defence of portrayals of Ambedkar illustrate, Dalit politics is overly focused on visual representations of the great man. The preoccupation with form often undermines the substance of struggles against caste, and has invited a powerful critique of symbolic politics. Even the most trenchant critics, however, accept that a degree of iconisation is inevitable. To their minds the key is to ensure that ‘real’ issues are not neglected in pursuit of symbolic goals. This paper navigates the varied debates and practices surrounding the iconisation of Ambedkar. It begins with the compelling critique of Dalit symbolic politics, before seeking to place such practices in a wider socio-cultural context. The iconisation of Ambedkar, it is argued, has to be understood within the prevalent political culture. It is also important to stress that mobilisation around statues need not entail empty symbolism and can serve to effect meaningful social change.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Radical in Ambedkar
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Reflections
EditorsAnand Teltumbde, Suraj Yengde
PublisherPenguin Random House India
ISBN (Print)9780670091157
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2018

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