From Bondage to Citizenship: African American and Indian Lower Caste Mobilization in Two Deeply Unequal Regions

Narendra Subramanian, McGill University

The paper explores mobilization to reduce the deepest inequalities in the two largest democracies, those along caste lines in India and along racial lines in the United States. These inequalities have proven durable although the groups at the bottom of these ethnic hierarchies, African-Americans and India’s former untouchable castes (Dalits), have had political rights for over half a century. The mobilization of these groups is compared for full citizenship: the franchise, civil rights such as freedom from agrarian bondage, and social rights such as entitlements to equal education and higher income, mainly from the 1940s to the 1970s. Experiences in two regions of historically high ethnic and class inequality (the Kaveri and Mississippi deltas) are compared and placed in their national contexts. Taking certain similarities in demographic patterns, group boundaries, socio-economic relations, regimes, and enfranchisement timing as points of departure, we see that important differences in nationalist and civic discourse, and official and popular social classification influenced the two groups’ mobilization, as well as their terms of enfranchisement, political representation, alliances, and relationship to parties. These factors helped Dalits build more favorable interethnic alliances, and made polity insiders and dominant elites resist inclusion more in the US and especially the Deep South, including Mississippi. Therefore, subordinate group representation and access to policy benefits increased sooner in India and specifically in its high inequality zones such as the Kaveri delta.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 196. Coping with Racial and Ethnic Inequalities