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The Dalit Intervention

Between 1972 and 1978, that is, from five to ten years after the Brahmin and Kayastha women began painting on paper, a German anthropologist, Erika Moser, made several visits to Sita Devi’s village of Jitwarpur to study and film the crafts and rituals of the Dusadh community. During the colonial period, the British had classified the Dusadh as “highwaymen and robbers” and thus, members of the “criminal castes.” Today, Dusadh is often translated as “watchmen,” although in fact most are landless agricultural laborers. Viewed as outside the caste hierarchy, they were earlier disparaged as “untouchables.” Gandhi, demanding their recognition as equal human beings, replaced that demeaning term with harijan, now in turn replaced by Dalit, locally translated as “the broken” or “the oppressed.”  Though generally extremely poor, the Dusadh’s large numbers, their active mobilization, and the passionate leadership of the now national Dalit Movement actively contesting the caste hierarchy, has made them a considerable political and cultural force in Mithila and Bihar.

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