SAPT seminar: TT21 wk 3: Scales of Contempt: Language Politics and Public Assertion in Early 20th Century Western India

Conveners: Pratinav Anil, Pratim Ghosal, Benjamin Graham

Speaker: Surajkumar Thube (DPhil Student, University of Oxford)


The Marathi public sphere in early 20th century Western India witnessed an intriguing intermeshing of print and performative spheres. Extreme forms of contempt, as expressed through a violently creative linguistic canon of addressing other caste-members, became a part of quotidian interactions. If newspapers espousing non-Brahmin principles had already started showing signs of aggressive posturing since late 19th century, performative realms complimented these linguistic assertions by molding the latter in a blazing public spectacle. This growing realization of creating new, alternative spaces of dissent paradoxically emerged from the process of democratization of the performative spheres, spearheaded by the emergence of ‘national’ festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi. I seek to argue how the localized non-Brahmin reactions to these Brahmanic spaces also paved the way for a ‘counter-contempt’ – a movement that sought to halt the public dominance of Brahmins with a pungent albeit violent linguistic corpus. Furthermore, by focusing on ‘language’ as the core of multiple public assertions, I argue for the need to study them to further gauge the differing conceptions of the idea of ‘public’ among people belonging to varying caste groups. The main focus of this paper will be on Lokmanya Tilak’s Ganesh festival and its visceral opposition by a young, firebrand non-Brahmin figure, Dinkarrao Jawalkar, in the 1920s. I will conclude by hinting at how this linguistic conflict was received by other Brahmin and non-Brahmin groups and what that tells us about the role language played in shaping public debates around the idea of ‘public sphere’.  

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