The long debates about Dalits and Dalit movements have centred on the ideas and ideologies of equality, dignity, justice, and rights, all mutually linked and each constituting a set of irreplaceable values underlying universal fundamental rights. In the context of Dalit movements, the intense argument around rights and justice was sparked after the Mandal era, when reservation policy was gradually extended to lower-caste communities. This led to widespread anti-reservation protests by upper-caste people and nationwide caste-driven violence in the 1990s.
In contemporary Indian society, the notions of equality, dignity, justice, and rights are not merely symbolic. They are understood as substantial and realisable entitlements achieved through collective action. For instance, public litigation activities have been increasingly observed among Dalits since the 1990s in the judicial sphere. This paper represents an attempt to highlight the awareness of justice, rights, and ‘Dalit-ness’ from interviews with the Balmiki community (known as the sweeper caste and consisting of economically and politically vulnerable and socially long-marginalised groups, among the lowest castes in the caste hierarchy). The interview research conducted by the author will shed light on a particular way in which upwardly mobile Dalits, including activists/non-activists, experience their Dalit-ness and how they regard tension between their caste identity and their new status.