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Myth, identity and belonging: the Rishi of Bengal/Bangladesh

Zene, Cosimo (2007) 'Myth, identity and belonging: the Rishi of Bengal/Bangladesh.' Religion, 37 (4). pp. 257-281.

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Abstract

This essay discusses the politics and relevance of myth and myth making in relation to the subordination of Untouchables in South Asia. Through the case study of one particular group – the Muchi-Rishi of Bengal/Bangladesh, traditionally skinners, leather-workers and musicians – it is argued that ex-Untouchables do not share the ideology of caste which places them on the lowest echelon of society. This is in contrast with the case of ‘Untouchable myths of origin’ offered by anthropological research (Michael Moffatt, Robert Deliège) in South India, Tamil Nadu. However, another set of counter-myths recounted by the Rishi, centred around the figure of Ruidas, offers an alternative which allows them to gain a self-ascribed identity. Far from engaging in a ‘theological’ struggle, the idiom of religion and myth becomes for these ‘ex-Untouchables’ and subaltern groups a ‘place of resistance’ from which they can hope to better themselves also in the economic, social and political spheres, as part of their overall endeavour to achieve full human dignity. For some Rishi, this process has taken the form of a long journey from being defined an ‘Untouchable’ to becoming a Dalit.

Item Type: Articles
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Department of the Study of Religions
ISSN: 0048721X
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): 10.1016/j.religion.2007.10.002
Depositing User: Cosimo Zene
Date Deposited: 15 Jul 2008 14:00
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/5161

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