Faculty Lecture Series Kicks Off

David Hunter, Contributing Writer

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences began its faculty lecture series this semester with a presentation by Professor Navyug Gill from the history department on September 27, 2017.

The talk, entitled “Excluded or Exploited? The Politics of Caste and Conversion in Rural Punjab” explored possibilities and limitations of conversion for Dalits or ex-untouchable groups in early 20th century Panjab. Professor Gill used an undelivered speech, “The Annihilation of Caste”, by B.R. Ambedkar from 1936 to explore what it meant for these people to convert out of Hinduism but still be subordinated and exploited.

The lecture was well attended, and it was a lively environment to jumpstart the itinerary for this academic year. The main topic revolved around how lower castes managed to convert out of the constraints of Brahminical Hinduism but not out of lowliness or casteism.

Professor Gill discussed the changing constellation of names, religious affiliations and occupational designations for lower castes amid the emergence of the Ad Dharm, a movement that sought to impart equality and dignity to Panjabi Dalits. He then outlined how these groups worked alongside landholding cultivators, violating nearly all taboos on purity and touch, but remained separate and unequal due to their lack of land ownership.

The discussion ended with the ideas of Karl Marx on the limitations of liberalism in addressing any discrimination based on the difference.  “People live a double existence through the fiction of the public/private divide. They only relate as equals in the public sphere, while continuing to experience all manner of discrimination in the private sphere. This is why the horizon for ending caste must go beyond religious conversion,” said Gill.

A Q&A section followed the lecture. One professor asks about what differentiated the Ad Dharm from other sects and religions in South Asia.

“The Ad Dharm movement was made by a group of social reformers led by a man named Mangoo Ram in the 1920s. He invoked the ideas and symbolism of medieval radical poets such as Bhagats Kabir and Ravidas to challenge existing religions by creating a distinct faith for Panjabi Dalits. It became about finding heroes from and for their own community,” explained Professor Gill.

Further questions delved into the caste system and it worked. There was also a question about shadeism, discrimination based on skin color, and if it was connected to the caste system. Professor Gill explained that it is an imperfect analogy because color does not correspond to caste. The paler or darker someone is does not figure much at all into caste status, though it has other social weight due to the expansion of European imperialism in the 15th century and the rise of scientific racism in the 19th century.

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences hosts a series of forums where professors present their research. These forums are in a variety of disciplines in the college, ranging from psychology to English, philosophy to history. It is a great way to gain exposure to complex ideas that are genre specific. These events also provide an opportunity to connect with faculty and other students about topics that might interest them. The next research forum will be on October 26th.