ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Repressed Caste Guilt and Caste Violence in India


Lal L David - Indian Institute of Information Technology Guwahati, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Guwahati, India


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


 This paper revisits the caste atrocity crimes that occurred in northern India during the 1990s and 2000s and discusses the significance of ‘individual and collective feelings of guilt’ by the perpetrators of caste violence against Dalits. It examines select cases of caste atrocities and their trials in the lower courts. The paper also incorporates detailed interviews of the accused belonging to the upper caste. How do perpetrators become morally disengaged while committing caste atrocities? When do the perpetrators of caste atrocities lose the ability to feel guilty about their actions? Why do upper-caste communities evade collective feelings of guilt over caste atrocities? And why it is necessary to negotiate the feelings of guilt rather than escape it? To address such questions, the paper employs Adorno’s thoughts on ‘collective guilt’ and Arendt’s work on Nazi crimes. Both scholars provide critical thoughts on the necessity of guilt in society along with Leeb. Based on these theoretical frameworks and the field study, the paper makes the following arguments; firstly, the ritualist, religious and social mechanisms used by the upper caste communities rob the capacity to feel guilty while committing crimes; secondly, the perpetrators use caste constructions to avoid guilty; lastly, collective feelings of caste guilt is essential to prevent reoccurrence of caste-based atrocities in society.