AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 654

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Session 654: Caste Articulations: The Contingent Practices of Subject Formation in Modern India

Organizer: Shailaja D. Paik, University of Cincinnati, USA

Chair: Douglas E. Haynes, Dartmouth College, USA

Discussant: Anupama P Rao, Barnard College, Columbia University, USA

The panel explores the linkages of caste, an important feature of social stratification in India, with other aspects of social life like religion, class, identity, and gender. It shifts away from movement-centric accounts and lives of key Dalit leaders to offer a fresh perspective on the matrices of domination and subordination in the existential lifeworlds of ordinary caste subalterns. It particularly highlights the complexities of caste in everyday practices of ordinary Dalit actors. The papers pay close attention to the historical context as well as the social, cultural, political, and linguistic practices within which the linkages were forged. They suggest that a nuanced analysis of social formations entails the rethinking of “pure” categories of analysis that engender social, economic, and cultural determinism. The papers in the panel focus on the oppressed castes in various regions of India. The first paper focuses on riots in the nineteenth and twentieth century Bhojpuri-speaking region of northern India, to examine the linkage between the politics of caste and of religious community. It questions conventional academic wisdom about the hierarchy of acceptable politics and also reveals the impact of the British colonial state on social formations in India. By drawing upon experiences of ordinary Dalits, and concentrating on relationships between categories of identification and the process of naming that has all kinds of ramifications, the second paper illustrates the complexity within caste as practiced in twentieth century Maharashtra. It studies the multiple identities and analyzes the history and politics of naming Dalits to illustrate the intersections within caste as well. The third paper highlights the intersection of caste, gender and religion and explores the reaction of Tamil Buddhist women to issues like child marriage and widowhood in early twentieth century South India. The fourth paper focuses on workers and studies the articulation of caste and class in late-colonial and postcolonial Mumbai to argue that identities are not exclusive, but situational. The panel also uses the analytic of articulation in a methodological sense. The papers in the panel combine research in state archives, with the study of pamphlets and newspapers in regional languages and in two papers with oral histories. Similarly, we use articulation to signify our engagement with interdisciplinary bodies of scholarship and with various strands of history writing viz. social, cultural and intellectual histories.

Geographies of Justice: Caste, Religious Community, and Violence in Colonial North India
Mridu Rai, Yale University, USA

This paper seeks to examine the nexus between the politics of caste and of religious community in late nineteenth and early twentieth century colonial North India, especially in the Bhojpuri-speaking heartlands of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It argues against the grain of an important body of contemporary writing that works from certain implicit assumptions made about a hierarchy of acceptable politics, in which ‘communalism’ is ranked a greater evil than ‘casteism’ in India. It argues that in finding the politics of caste less unacceptable than the politics of religious community in present-day India, what is left unconsidered is that both might be, rather than separate notches on a value-calibrated scale, different facets of a linked play of power. Focusing on a number of riots organized around both ostensibly religious divisions as well as those pitting subordinated against dominant castes, it seeks to locate these instances of violent conflict in the context of older senses of community that began to fray under the aegis of the British colonial state and that came to characterize the Bhojpuri political landscape beginning in the late nineteenth century.

Apan Kon Aahot (Who Are We?): Dalit Identity in Maharashtra
Shailaja D. Paik, University of Cincinnati, USA

This paper focuses on the intersections of multiple identities within a specific caste itself. For example in the past, Dalits in Maharashtra have also been referred to as Ati-Shudra, Asprushta, Untouchable, Depressed Classes, Scheduled Castes, and so on. Castes are not “fixed” forever in time and space and hence there are plural meanings of being an “Untouchable” in colonial and post-colonial India. Identities of oppressed castes were constantly under construction, and have been involved in some kind of interplay with other social formations such as religion, gender, culture, and class. The paper seeks to illustrate the complex processes of names in everyday practice of caste subalterns. By studying the historical, political, and cultural development of the indefinite meanings of “being” a Dalit in twentieth century Maharashtra, this paper argues that the politics of naming is deeply significant for the politics of recognition of Dalits. The author argues that the process of naming the social category that we are dealing with in this paper is fraught with problems, for many terms are both applied and contested. Naming always involves new inclusions and exclusions, as renaming addresses some problems it also creates new ones.

Problematizing Caste, Religion, and Gender: Tamil Buddhist Women on Child Marriage, Widowhood, and Sexuality in the Early Twentieth Century South India
Gajendran Ayyathurai, Columbia University, USA

Women bear the brunt of privileged castes and classes doubly. Many scholarly studies and reports on marginalized communities convincingly demonstrate this observation. However, what is understudied is the interconnection between religious traditions and caste privileges, which combine to subordinate women to endure certain social institutions and practices. Much less is our understanding of how women have reacted against such conditions historically. This paper, using the archives of the weekly Tamilan (“Tamilian”) (1907-1914) of Pandit C. Iyothee Thass, will attempt to examine Tamil Buddhists’ positions on child marriage, and widowhood. Particularly, the Tamil Buddhist women’s writings on the implications of such social institutions on women’s sexuality will be the focus.

Worker Solidarities and Caste Disjunctures: The Left and ‘Untouchability’ in Mumbai, 1928-1974
Juned M. Shaikh, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA

The paper focuses on the interactions and tensions between communist trade unions and Dalit politics in Mumbai. It draws on the writings and experiences of ‘untouchables’ who participated in the leftist movement, studies trade union reports, writings on caste and untouchability by prominent communist leaders in the city like S.A Dange, B.T Randive and S.S. Mirajkar, Ambedkar’s trade unions, and critiques of the Ambedkar movement published in the Soviet Union and distributed in Mumbai to highlight the complex ways in which political subjects were produced. By focusing on the linguistic, cultural, and social processes of the formation of identities, the paper argues that caste and class are not mutually exclusive or reified categories of identification. Instead the paper argues that identities in the city were situational. The methodological implications of the paper is that the tools of intellectual history and social history could be harnessed to provide a historical account of the interactions and tensions between two movements that thrived in the city in the twentieth century.