ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Ambedkar on personhood and the Hindu social order


Berg Dag-Erik - Molde University College, Business Administration and Social Science, Molde, Norway


39 – Citizens at Risk: Caste, Violence and State Institutions in India


 This paper is concerned with Bhimrao Ambedkar’s thinking about caste and how he uses the concept of the person to sketch an ethical approach to questions concerning individual dignity and the Hindu social order. The tensions between caste and modern law, inequality and equality represent a consistent theme in Ambedkar’s thinking and approach. These challenges do nonetheless primarily call for historical and empirical analysis. The term graded inequality, for instance, represents a possibility to explain the specific characteristics of the caste system. But Ambedkar does also use a normative approach. He refers to democratic principles such as freedom, equality and solidarity, and he uses the Enlightenment principles when he engages with the philosophy of Hinduism. Moreover, Ambedkar draws on concepts such as person and dignity in his critique of the philosophy of Hinduism. The concept of the person has been subject to debate among anthropologists and philosophers, especially in France; and Ambedkar draws on the French thinker Jacques Maritain’s discussion of person to specify what a free social order should designate. This paper examines the significance of Ambedkar’s discussion of personhood in his approach. While underlining the relevance of this topic in the history of social anthropology, philosophy and global political thought, the paper aims to delineate how this normative approach relates to the study of citizenship, violence and caste.