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Living Buddhism: Migration, memory, and castelessness in South India

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Abstract

Studies on Indian communities which were denigrated as lower castes and untouchables are yet to fully unravel their cultural, religious, economic, and historical perceptions and practices in India. Scholarship that is sympathetic to the oppressed of caste-power have engaged with caste prejudice and bodily violence under the colonial and postcolonial states. But the questions of language, literature, philosophy, migration, knowledge traditions, and intrinsic cultural self-identity of these discriminated Indians have largely remained unanalysed. In contrast, based on ethnographic field study in Hubli, Karnataka and in northern Tamil Nadu, this article argues that the memory of the marginalized is key to unravelling their alternative cultural and religious history beyond caste. It shows that, on the one hand, the ancient Tamil Buddhist literary corpus forms the deep cultural memory of the marginalized Tamils, while on the other, the organic Buddhist intellectuals, writers, publishers, and practitioners, and their discursive and non-discursive practices have perpetuated the communicative memory of being the descendants of ancient Buddhism. This article further argues that this memory of marginalized Indians points to their sense of castelessness in modern South India.

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