Replication Reconsidered: Anti-Casteist Norms and Prejudiced Behaviour
Caste-based discrimination occurs primarily in interactions between Dalits and non-Dalits. As is often noted, however, it is also common for Dalits to exhibit prejudiced behaviour towards members of other Dalit castes. This phenomenon, which classic anthropological literature calls ‘replication’, is puzzling. Why would people who are regularly subjected to a specific kind of discrimination submit others to the very same? Existing accounts have typically answered this question in one of two ways. Either they have seen replication as a sign that Dalits ‘consent’ with a broad castebased social order, or they have concluded that Dalits are inconsistent. Not only are both these views mistaken, they also appear to discredit Dalits’ calls for anti-casteist social norms. This paper, based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork, starts by offering a descriptive account of replication as it occurs in a village of East Nepal today. It proceeds to offer a new explanation for the phenomenon, relying on two key insights. First, Dalits are often aware that their behaviour is incongruent with the anti-casteist norms to which they subscribe, and they experience significant unease about this fact. Second, individual Dalits who cease to display prejudiced behaviour towards ‘lower’ Dalits pay a reputational cost for doing so. As suggested in theoretical literature on collective action, replication therefore has the structure of a ‘coordination problem’. This insight reveals why previous explanations were incorrect and allows us to take seriously Dalits’ anti-casteist norms, even when these occur at the same time as prejudiced behaviour.