The Indian State, Marxism and the Politics of Identity

Paromita Chakrabarti


Indian communist parties have largely failed adequately to negotiate the relationship between various forms of oppression and the struggle against the capitalist system. The complex relationship between the identity politics emerging from resistance against various forms of oppression and the Marxist contention that class is the central organising principle around which oppression and exploitation can be addressed has not been grasped. Movements against oppression have sometimes been dismissed because social movements addressing oppression of women, dark-skinned people, as well as sexual, caste and religious minorities have been seen as an alternative to class-based struggles. While some movements have maintained the belief that only those who experienced particular forms of oppression had the ability to define and resist it, there have been moments where Marxists have embraced identity politics critically, and the limitations of identity politics have been transcended.
This paper examines the ways in which the Indian state has used identity politics to divide people in order to maintain and perpetuate capitalism. The three pillars of identity that constitute divisive politics are religion, caste and gender. The three case studies that the paper will analyse are the politics of the beef ban in BJP-ruled states, the suicide of the dalit scholar Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad University and feminist activist Trupti Desai’s campaign to enter temples which are forbidden to women and to people of lower castes. This analysis will be undertaken against the backdrop of the students protest movement at JNU against rising authoritarianism, gagging of academic opinion and caste-based discrimination, and the subsequent arrests that have taken place. All the three cases point to the ways in which the intersectionality of religion, caste and gender complicate the Indian state’s attempts to divide civil society along narrow identity lines. There are cases in which new alliances and coalitions that at once embrace and transcend identity politics have been formed, and these suggest ways in which distinct identities can retain their specificity while being incorporated into a movement for universal liberation.

marxism - India - identity politics - religion - caste - gender