Symbols of Empowerment: Possession, Ritual and Healers in Himachal Himalaya (North India)
Journal of Asian and African Studies, 45(2) 196-208, 2010
13 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2014
Date Written: January 27, 2014
This paper is an attempt to understand ‘locality’, where the issues of subversion, subordination and marginalisation as well as the problematic notions of liminality and empowerment are more vibrant and real. We shall demonstrate that while the low-castes and untouchables were engaged in economic conflict, at various levels, with the high-caste landowners, which resulted in occasional uprisings too, the popular belief system was used by the marginalised as an instrument of assertion of their power against social coercion. It is argued that the social and ritual protest aimed at diluting or subverting the local caste hierarchy in a stratified society is an efficacious threat to the power of the high-castes; that the hope of social revision becomes an alternative to economic subordination. More important, the symbols of empowerment are not the ones controlled by the high-castes, but those which are located in the specialised rituals of the marginalised dalits. This paper is about these symbols, which are liminal in nature, and how they empower, if only for a brief while, the economically exploited and socially marginalised dalit practitioners.
Keywords: locality, caste, shaman, oracle, sorcery, trance, liminal, dalit
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