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The Caste Question

The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India

Anupama Rao
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    The Caste Question
    Book Description:

    This innovative work of historical anthropology explores how India's Dalits, or ex-untouchables, transformed themselves from stigmatized subjects into citizens. Anupama Rao's account challenges standard thinking on caste as either a vestige of precolonial society or an artifact of colonial governance. Focusing on western India in the colonial and postcolonial periods, she shines a light on South Asian historiography and on ongoing caste discrimination, to show how persons without rights came to possess them and how Dalit struggles led to the transformation of such terms of colonial liberalism as rights, equality, and personhood. Extending into the present, the ethnographic analyses ofThe Caste Questionreveal the dynamics of an Indian democracy distinguished not by overcoming caste, but by new forms of violence and new means of regulating caste.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94337-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xix)
  6. Author’s Note
    (pp. xx-xxi)
  7. [Map]
    (pp. xxii-xxii)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-36)

    Untouchables, usually known by degrading names such as Chamar, Mahar, Mang, and Paraiyar, were dehumanized by the caste Hindu order. Caste subalterns’ efforts to overturn prevailing relations of caste and community through the creative transformation of existing social categories and practices thus challenged caste Hinduism and the privileges that reproduced it. Dalit emancipation was predicated on the existential, political, and ethical reordering of Indian society, but it also presupposed the imagination of the Dalit as a specific kind of political subject. It is the contention of this book that by examining how people without rights came to possess them, and...

  9. PART ONE Emancipation

    • CHAPTER 1 Caste Radicalism and the Making of a New Political Subject
      (pp. 39-80)

      In colonial India, print capitalism facilitated the rise of multiple, distinctive vernacular publics. Typically associated with urbanization and middle-class formation, this new public sphere was given material form through the consumption and circulation of print media, and characterized by vigorous debate over social ideology and religio-cultural practices. Studies examining the roots of nationalist mobilization have argued that these colonial publics politicized daily life even as they hardened cleavages along fault lines of gender, caste, and religious identity.¹ In western India, the Marathi-language public sphere enabled an innovative, radical form of caste critique whose greatest initial success was in rural areas,...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Problem of Caste Property
      (pp. 81-117)

      In 1921, Kalicharan Nandagavli, a wealthy businessman andmalguzar(landlord) from the Gondiya district, introduced a measure to open all civic water supplies to the Depressed Classes in the Central Provinces in the interest of realizing “ordinary human and civil rights.”¹ The Arya Samaj reformer S. K. Bole introduced a similar resolution during the 1922–23 session of the Bombay Legislative Council, calling for opening all communal and municipal water supplies to the Depressed Classes.² In 1926, the Bombay Legislative Council added a proviso that municipalities depriving Depressed Classes of access to public amenities would suffer loss of government funds....

    • CHAPTER 3 Dalits as a Political Minority
      (pp. 118-160)

      B. R. Ambedkar’s definitive and moving final gesture, his public conversion out of Hinduism together with almost half a million people, became the symbolic core of a liberated Dalit identity. Ambedkar’s conversion emphatically affirmed a defining characteristic of Dalit emancipation: the significance of the religious and the political as simultaneous axes of Dalit subject-formation. Dalit conversion to Buddhism on October 14, 1956, in Nagpur signaled this rejection of existing Hindu culture and ideology.¹ It was anticipated by Ambedkar’s famous statement at Yeola in 1935, before a crowd of ten thousand people: “Because we have the misfortune to call ourselves Hindus,...

  10. PART TWO The Paradox of Emancipation

    • CHAPTER 4 Legislating Caste Atrocity
      (pp. 163-181)

      The story of Dalit emancipation presents its share of violent incidents, from the policing of caste sociality tosatyagrahaclashes. The latent violence of the crowd and the undisciplinedsatyagrahavolunteer were constant sources of anxiety for Gandhian civil disobedience. Gandhi castigated the violence of the Dalitsatyagrahiwho broke through police forces to enter temples and expressed fear of a more general Dalit violence. And he brought the problem of violence to the forefront when, in 1932, he responded to Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald’s Communal Award allowing the Depressed Classes a double vote. Although Gandhi had agreed to arbitration...

    • CHAPTER 5 New Directions in Dalit Politics: Symbologies of Violence, Maharashtra, 1960–1979
      (pp. 182-216)

      Well before the state of Maharashtra was formed in 1960, a linguistic state for Marathi speakers was enthusiastically endorsed by writers, academics, and activists who formed organizations for a united Maharashtra: the Samyukta Maharashtra Sabha in 1939, followed by the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti in 1946. “The vernacular press and Marathi-speaking intellectuals had rallied around a single narrative of the emergence of the Marathi-speaking people,” writes Thomas Hansen, “unique in their courage and independence, not to be subdued by Muslim invaders, indeed, the first real Indian nationalists.”¹

      The demand for a united Maharashtra consolidated political common sense around Maharashtrian uniqueness and...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Sexual Politics of Caste: Violence and the Ritual-Archaic
      (pp. 217-240)

      When I started fieldwork in 1996, almost everyone with whom I discussed caste violence mentioned Sirasgaon. “Sirasgaon” was code for events that had occurred in a village of that name, the site of a spectacular “atrocity” case of the early postcolonial period. As the unprompted recollections attest, the 1963 event was instilled in popular memory. In fact, I first came to know the details from a government servant I call S., who was extremely conscious of giving me information “off the record.” Thus I keep the description of place vague, emphasizingwhatI heard as I recorded the story in...

    • CHAPTER 7 Death of a Kotwal: The Violence of Recognition
      (pp. 241-264)

      On August 17, 1991, Ambadas Sawane, akotwalin the village of Pimpri Deshmukh in Parbhani district, Maharashtra, was bludgeoned to death on the steps of a Hanuman temple.¹ As police investigated, activists from political parties, from the Shiv Sena to Congress to the RPI, state government functionaries, and village locals produced their own contentious and often conflicting readings of the murder. All had one point in common: everyone agreed Sawane was killed because he was a Dalit. The brutality of the murder and its symbolic resonance with earlier instances ofmandir pravesh(temple entry) generated a great deal of...

    • EPILOGUE: Dalit Futures
      (pp. 265-284)

      My friend’s elderly father, Vasantrao Kamble, had spent his working life in a government office. While speaking with him in Aurangabad in March 1997, I casually asked him about caste discrimination. His response was illuminating. He said that when caste Hindus at work came to know his caste identity, they reacted as if they had received an electric shock. The term Kamble used,shock basane, replaced the more common expression,dhakka basane, which means to experience a physical jolt.¹ By describing contact between untouchables and caste Hindus through the metaphor of electric shock, Kamble emphasizedhisimpact on upper-caste persons...

  11. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 285-286)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 287-372)
  13. Index
    (pp. 373-392)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 393-393)