Author Archives: Routes

Fifth annual Dr B.R.Ambedkar Lecture at the University of Edinburgh

This year’s (2018)  Dr.Ambedkar lecture was delivered by Prof. Rupa Viswanath, Professor of Indian Religions at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies at the University of Göttingen, and a Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College at the University of Cambridge. In this brilliant lecture, Prof Viswanath discussed  ‘What defines a permanent minority? : Comparative reflections on Ambedkar’s evidence before the Southborough Committee.’

Dr Hugo Gorringe, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, UoE introduced the speaker and Dr Wilfried Swenden, co-director, Centre for South Asian Studies chaired the event.  Key scholars among the audience were Prof Roger Jeffery, Prof Crispin Bates and Prof Jonathan Spencer.

Print is happy to podcast the Dr.Ambedkar Lecture.

Please click the file below to listen to Prof. Rupa Viswanath’s Ambedkar lecture.

The Ideology of Male Indispensability: Upper Caste Experiments with Patriarchy

by Chittibabu Padavala

We men are the least qualified to speak about an issue like this. It’s time for us to listen. It must be so, even if women are just screaming and not ‘making sense’ TO US.The barbarity, inhumanity, cruelty and maleness at its usual worst has been rightly and powerfully denounced by more than one woman and including some of the distinguished Indian English writers and shown it all for what it is in the context of the violations of women participating in a New Year Party. If a situation is such in which some people from the perpetrator category (men) tell the protagonists of the victim category (activists/advocates/supporters of women’s rights) how best they can protect themselves from our atrocities, we Marxists say, we have reached the point of thinking and acting in terms of “Patriarchy”, “structures”, “systems”, “reproduction” etc. or at least be attending to them. But that is not all.

The attempted orchestration of Nirbhaya II in Bangalore seems to have turned into another “Kiss of Love” disaster or worse. It is only a matter of time that this Bangalore botch-up almost certainly will bring the worst backlash.Well, Nirbhaya movement came in the wake of a genuinely widespread outrage and the simmering new political shift, soon to take power in elections, was part of it. An atrocity of that kind is one of the very few issues that unite all sections of always fragmented Indian society in condemning them. Additionally, the victim was murdered after being tortured. She must have fought to her death rather than succumb to the demands of her torturers/abusers/murderers, an inference that is most appealing to the prevailing sentiments of Hindusphere.

Even governments, while worrying about damage to their reputation with electoral consequences, tend to do as much as they could, even while lacking the means and mentalities required for the task at their disposal, at least until the political and community connections, corruption, bribes etc. come in at the trial phase.Even Kiss of Love, for all its downright fakery and a breathtaking dishonesty, was planned by people with a sense of organisation/mobilisation and successfully managed to mobilise people in impressive numbers in more than one part of the country, even if in relatively free spaces. It had something positive and affirmative to practice and to display, however wrongly their slogans or targets are chosen.

The attempted Nirbhaya II in Bangalore in the wake of mass molestation during the usual New Year parties has none of those strengths. To begin with, it is not even definitive that such a mass atrocity actually took place.This false and farcical Nirbhaya II only has the strength of justice, power of an undeniable point, only in abstract unmoored in the events it invokes, even if it is unappealing to most people in society. It then failed to move masses and probably succeed only in bringing the most disgusting forms of backlash, far faster than if this Media-NGO cultural coup did not botch it all up.It is not difficult to discern the characteristic manipulations of all upper caste Hindu rebellions and because they are oozing out of everything they are doing and saying. Ersatz yet fluent passions is a constant in their campaigns. Things have not changed with the upper caste elite campaigns in their basic contours from the time they invented anti-Reservation mass mobilisation in the late 80s Gujarat. The meritorious each time ‘originally’ re-invent the basic model in each new case.


Police trying to disperse the crowd during New year celebrations in Bengaluru city in India. Photo Courtesy : AFP

When Hindu Nazist cadre set out to do the same, or better, to do the real one, on a larger scale, more blatantly, on cameras, in the name of protecting great Hindu culture and morals and punishing the immoral and degenerate Western culture, none of these gender warriors would be so aggressive and radical in their denunciations of patriarchy and hounding of the government.Though not many seem to give sufficient weightage to it, these days whenever Congress (or similar non-ideological party) is in government, the Hindu Left, Liberals and indignant educated/enlightened citizens suddenly become uncompromising revolutionaries and come up with the most pickiest of oppositional stances.If BJP or CPM is in power, they would not even think of doing so. Because Congress can’t unleash its ideologically-hardened and incited crowds, doesn’t go to extreme and obsessive lengths to impose its interpretation of things, like CPM and BJP governments do, typically with the help of their respective cadre. Additionally, governments headed by these two ideological parties counter attack their opponents. Moreover, these two parties employ their own mass media or use their people in the media to undo one-way attacks these coup-hatchers can afford only during Congress (or the similar party’s) rule. So these Left/Liberal/Citizen types don’t plan media coups of Bangalore kind when the government is known to counter-attack or aggressively defend itself.

Then what is wrong with such selective seizing upon of the opportunities? Isn’t it that social movements and campaigns, particularly the un-armed or non-violent ones, can only operate when the government at least has some pretense of respect for the opposition and public opinion, civil society etc? Isn’t it that our criterion cannot be objectively what is the worst injustice to fight rather than what is showing the most promise and potential to move people and mobilise them, involving thus mobilised people to understand and take up the related and larger issues? All of that is true. Only trouble is that the people who pull the coups should show some awareness of it. It seems, in Bangalore botch-up, they don’t.One woman witness, very articulate, North-Indian sounding, was repeating in a TV call in that “they were outsiders”, even without the prompt from the anchor or anything to warrant it. By outsiders, she might have meant not the kind of people who live in posh localities, or maybe they are from Karnataka but outside Bangalore city. The Right to City effortlessly transforms itself into an Exclusive Right to City in moments like this.


A CCTV video grab of the molestation event at Kammanahalli near Bengaluru in India.

Interestingly, the assertions assume the form of unimpeachable principles of individual autonomy, individual rights, choice, inviolability of person, ‘right to Night’ and right to public space for women without the alienating gazes and intrusions, freedom of movement and fun-making and all such un-qualifiable matters of rights. Of course, all of them are true and some of those who dub the whole Bangalore events in these terms are honest or honestly mean them. Such matters of right do not depend on any qualities of those who are entitled to them nor could they be made subject to any qualifications and conditions.But there is an unacknowledged undercurrent Hindu principle, drawn straight from the Code of Manu and other sacred Hindu texts. To put it simply, the idea that freedoms and rights, even the basic and fundamental ones, can be privileges, exceptions, special provisions for some people in some places.Since Nehruvian modernizing and “secular” arrangements, these upper caste elites until yesterday availed these freedoms AS privileges, they constructed narratives of modernity and attributed it to modernity alone and told themselves and even others that they were good enough to be modernizing, thus having them all. Thus invisibilised Manu, at least for themselves, allows them to define their privileges as a defense of freedom, of modernity and individual autonomy.

In this convenient Hindu UC imagination, the people with enough power to off set exaggerated and partial stories through the presence and influence in mass media, NGOs and other opinion-making mechanisms, the assertion of elite power to limit the right to city and send clear message to certain skin-colours, body types, looks, sartorial, class and caste markers to erect a vague class wall, marking a boundary, issue a threat by arm-twisting a eager-to-please government in power appears an appropriate and even workable strategy.To complicate the matter, if the upper caste gender warriors have English Media in their hands, the police and citizens have cc cameras. At least certain claims can be verified. So far, the surfaced definitive evidence points to only one instance of an atrocity of a lone woman in a bylane and not to a mass molestation in the places where it was claimed to have taken place.Understandably, there are more advocates than the witnesses.Anyone living in the real world and not in the hyper-privileged protected places all their lives, even in their vacations, knows that mass molestations are a regular and constant in all places where crowds form and on the move from festivals to recreational events to patriotic gatherings to partying events.Such systematic and long-standing problem can be addressed with a little bit of patient ground work with a small team and a camera for a couple of days, if these warriors are patient and responsible enough to do some leg work, rather than in excessively believing in their own verbal power to bring fundamental changes, though limited only for themselves.

This is also a city with the highest concentration of NGOs in the country, probably in the world, if one is not completely caught up in their own Brahmanical confidence in effecting changes without getting out of their desks, they could have partnered with some of these to do the necessary homework. It is clear that these Hindu elite gender warriors thought of giving it a try in what they perceive as the methods of Hindu Nazists: rumour-mongering, spreading panics to move crowds to frenzied action, after all, our goals are incomparably honourable than theirs, they might have told themselves.Hindu Nazists, alas, before spreading lies and rumours to move people to extraordinary actions, do patient organization building, grooming contacts and all such stuff. They are less of idealists than the Hindu Left/Liberal/Moderns. They are into the business of really changing the world, not just trying to construct a cultural SEZ(Special Economic Zone) for a section of society. If imitating the Hindu Nazist methods is bad enough, failing even to do so is worse. The worst is when Hindu Nazist crowds indulge in much bigger atrocities, openly announced and openly perpetrated, with full impunity.

Bangalore has some of those very few pockets in the country where modernizing, educated, professional women can take refuse from their suffocating patriarchal families and hassling neighbourhoods, with relatively low or infrequent levels of interference.Like elsewhere in such spaces, they provide some absolutely common-sounding but rare freedoms for Indian women, where they can just walk into a bar and have some fun or be on her own without accompanying males to protect them or preying or annoying men hovering over them. Such spaces everywhere allow for mostly upper caste/rich/middle/upwardly mobile women students or professionals the uncertain breathing spaces without having to go through the almost impossible fight to win their minimal freedoms within the family – thus either losing more freedoms or losing the securities of family structures.This model of having only benefits of patriarchy while escaping its daily cruelties and absurdities is coming to an end. Sadly for Hindu UC elite educated professional women, this end is coming when patriarchy is no more a matter within and of the family, kin and neighbourhood but aggressively promoted and worsened by the Hindu Nazist state and its trained paramilitary cadres and their incited mobs.These women will en mass be forced back into the most rigid of the family-kinship traps or no less oppressive friendships, live-ins, co-residential arrangements to stay away from the families. Now the forced choice or no choice is threateningly simple: you either reject patriarchy fully or succumb to it fully.

Though it escapes the campaigners of “notallmen” or not-all-Bangalore types who understood that the campaign got screwed by the campaigners themselves but can’t bear to face or tell the truth honestly, by 70s itself it was feminist and women rights common sense that male power is a ‘system’ and those bad men who oppress women force them into the embrace or the protection of ‘good’ men. In this mutually reinforcing relationship or division of labor among men, very often the same men play protectors to ‘their’ women while persecuting other women to push them back to ‘their’ good men. The bottom line is male indispensability.The time-tested method of upper-castes, of foregrounding “their” women (subjectively experienced among the upper caste elites themselves, of course, as women taking charge of thing even in matters public) whenever they want to assert themselves but their men lack the appeal or acceptance is also gone. Hindu Nazist specialty is precisely to attack the privileged upper caste women first to subdue and limit them back to their families and one of the successful things they invented is to tap and provide a channel for the anti-elite, anti-modern feelings and prejudices of their foot soldiers.

Chittibabu is a Dalit Marxist scholar based in Goettingen, Germany.  For more on Dalit Marxism and updates please see this Facebook Page.

Amid hypocrisy and misogyny, Indian Muslim Women as a ‘double minority’

By Sanober Umar *

The ugly patriarchal politics of ‘Triple Talaq’ or unilateral ‘instant divorce’ through which Indian Muslim men (specifically Sunnis who follow the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence), can divorce their wives by pronouncing the word ‘talaq’ thrice in a single sentence, has appeared once again in mainstream politics. In this board game played over Muslim women, you have two main players. On the one hand you have the ever-so-vocal and self-proclaimed representatives of Muslims – The All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) – and on the other hand, you have right-wing public figures of Hindutva, including our very own Prime Minister Mr. Modi, shedding tears of concern for Muslim women’s rights.

However Muslim women should not be deemed as agentless victims in this plot, and many are raising their voice against this practice by asserting their Koranic rights. Nonetheless, it is important to emphasize that while AIMPLB and Hindutva politics may seem to be polar opposites, the two have much more in common when it comes to curbing or denying Muslim women their rights. The male dominated AIMPLB is clearly vested in its project of misogyny even at the cost of denying Muslim women their Islamic right of longer procedures of divorce, that allow time and space for reasonable consideration before annulling a marriage. On the other hand, Hindutva men are no saviours of Muslim women either, as many instances both past and present have shown – including the recent spates of rape and murders ( the Haryana rapes and murders by Gau Rakshaks )and not to forget, the horrifying Muzaffarnagar violence not too long ago).

It is imperative to mention here that the kind of divorce proceedings that the AIMPLB vociferously supports is not only not followed by many sects among Muslims in India including the second largest sect of Indian Muslims, the Shias; but also not in twenty-one other Muslim dominant countries or Islamic states, including Algeria, Turkey and Bangladesh and Pakistan, which have abolished regressive practices such as triple talaaq. It is important to listen to what Indian Muslim women have to say about their own needs and rights, and how they are articulating these. Many directly seek guidance and justice through their recourse to the Koran, in effect not turning necessarily to a secular cosmology for their rights, but one that they maintain that their religion already guarantees them. However more than 50,000 women have been compelled to petition to the courts for justice that they derive from their religion, due to the unethical high-handedness of Muslim patriarchs. Misogynists from AIMPLB continue to slander these individual Muslim activists and organizations such as Bazmee Khwateen, Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan and the All Indian Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board, in a bid to override their legitimate demands. Even if these men from the Ulema concede that the demands of these women are within the Islamic tradition, they still insist on keeping an anti-women tradition alive, as self-assigned representatives of the Indian Muslim community in India. However, here is where an even more important question arises – who gave AIMPLB the right to declare themselves as spokesperson for the Muslim community?


Image Courtesy : AFP

It comes as a surprise to many that the AIMPLB is just an NGO. It does not hold any power by itself in relation to the State. It has however managed to garner popular support since the 1985 Shah Bano case, which many have noted transpired in a context where the Congress Party which was at the Centre at the time, overlooked the voices of progressive and reformist Muslims. Not a single member of the AIMPLB has been democratically elected. It is a body of mostly handpicked Muslim men who join the ranks simply based on their self-projection as scholars of Islam or social connections, with a large following of poor Muslims, many of whom as mentioned earlier, are too illiterate to even know the depths of debates and dialogues in their own faith, and therefore follow whatever these imams have to say especially at a time when they feel vulnerable as minorities in an increasingly radicalized Hindutva State. Ultimately, the Indian State historically has been conspicuously active in erasing Muslim women’s rights by according a degree of legitimacy to AIMPLB which can be over-ridden easily if the State chooses to do so, especially given how Muslim women’s rights are being evaded in such a blatant fashion and against their constitutional rights as Indian individuals.Meanwhile, the right-wing Hindu BJP claims that it cares for Indian Muslim women, which is news for Indian Muslim women themselves.

Modi in a recent speech, shedding tears for Indian Muslim women, made remarks about how the Muslim community must come together and discuss this issue to guarantee rights for women facing misogynistic oppression through laws like the triple talaq. One may certainly agree with our Prime Minister on this point. It only seems to be a fair demand. But the politics of Muslim marginalization in India is interwoven with Hindutva demonization of the community, including positing themselves as being the bastions of women’s rights when the truth is far from it. One cannot help but wonder why our Prime Minister remains silent, let alone shed tears, for Muslim women who suffer from the violence of Hindu right-wingers? Muslim women have been brutally tortured and killed in several riots by Hindus since our Prime Minister came to power. Justice still remains to be sought for the women victims of Gujarat, Muzaffarnagar and Haryana very recently. It should not come as a surprise than that many within the Muslim community have noted this hypocrisy and taken it to social media, reminding our Prime Minister of his silence in cases such as Mewat rapes, the trauma that Bilkis Bano and several other women underwent during the Gujarat riots, Insha Malik who lost her vision in Kashmir during peaceful protests or Najeeb’s mother still searching for her son who disappeared after Hindutva goons beat him up in JNU recently. In fact, Mr. Modi’s tears is one of the premises that AIMPLB uses to its leverage when it claims that the State wants to infringe the community’s collective identity, but does not care about its interests or intervene in other situations that demand institutional inclusion and protection of minorities.

However now that Prime Minister Modi is on board for the rights of women by expressing concern especially for minority Muslim women, one would hope that our PM would extend the same empathy to his own wife, Jashodaben, whom he abandoned after his marriage. After all, the personal is political as many feminists have observed, and he would set a good example for men and women in the whole country with such a gesture of kindness towards women in his personal life. Right? Reiterating the thread of this article in sum: the Ulema of AIMPLB wants to protect Muslim patriarchy and maintain its power among the largely illiterate population of Indian Muslims, and Hindutva figures want to malign Islam in order to demonize a discriminated minority while omitting their own oppression of Muslim women. They both need each other to mutually constitute and reaffirm each other’s power and popularity in their voter demographics. One is a non-State actor, and other is the government itself.But Indian Muslim women are not in the fringes of this debate anymore, and they are finding ways to empower themselves as women and as Muslims, who carry the burden of being a ‘double minority’ in spaces occupied by misogynists on the one hand and hypocrites on the other.

* This blogpost was written by Sanober Umar. It first appeared in Kafila.

Sanober is a PhD student in History at Queen’s University in Canada. 

Edinburgh to celebrate Festival of Indian Films and Documentaries

The first Edinburgh Festival of Indian Films & Documentaries (EFIFD) sweeps across Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh from Wednesday 7th to Sunday 11th September 2016.Hosted by the Consulate General of India (Edinburgh), in association with the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University, the five-day film festival features over 30 films and documentaries from the Indian sub-continent and is being showcased across four landmark city venues. According to Festival Director, Piyush Roy, “The film festival brings to Scotland for the first time, an eclectic cinematic selection from over five decades of Indian moviemaking, featuring a vibrant mix of themes ranging from histories and human drama, faiths and philosophies, music, magic, fine arts, popular culture, politics and personal stories.”

Complementing the screenings will be Q&A sessions with participating filmmakers, seminars and panel discussions with academic experts on cinema and South Asia, exhibitions and exciting live music performances of popular and classical Indian music. Among the guests are classical musician Marianne Svašek performing a Dhrupad recital, filmmaker Nila Madhab Panda (one of the youngest recipients of India’s civilian honour, the Padma Shri award) discussing his documentary God’s Own People (also making its UK premiere at EFIFD 2016) and Swaryatra, Edinburgh’s leading Indian film music group presenting a loving live tribute to its popular musical history. God’s Own People is an intimate document of human faith narrated as an epic cinematic story, exploring the bonds between the devotees and the divine through millennium old rituals at the largest pilgrim gathering of 21st century that happened in the Eastern Coastal Indian town of Puri in July 2015. Excited about the first ever Scottish debut of an Odia language film, Mr. Panda said, “I am very pleased to have our film God’s Own People being showcased at the Edinburgh Festival of Indian films and documentaries. It is a moment of pride to have it as the festival’s opening film.”

venue-1-indian-new-wave-cinema-film-guildThe festival’s highlight is the participation, and a retrospective of some classic Indian arthouse films featuring legendary Indian actor, Om Puri, in the lead.Om Puri’s contributions and influence extend far beyond India, where Ardh Satya (Half Truths) remains to date, the biggest art house cinema blockbuster in Indian film history. He is equally known for his work in English films (East is East, West is West, My Son The Fanatic, Gandhi, Wolf, Charlie Wilson’s War, 100 Foot Long Journey), and has received an OBE for his contribution to British cinema. One meaningful aim of the festival is to celebrate and enhance the cultural connection between India and Scotland, and the UK. Om Puri’s presence will be a fantastic way to honour this connection – his retrospective will include the Bollywood Curry Western, China Gate, the critically acclaimed contemporary Basu Bhattacharya classic, Aastha: In the Prison of Spring, Ardh Satya and the rarely available early Indian New Wave cinema classic, Susman (Essence), personally sourced by Om Puri from its director, Shyam Benegal.

venue-2-scottish-premieresFinally, making their UK premieres at EFIFD 2016 are three exciting new features from three regional Indian language cinema industries in tandem with the festival’s focus on highlighting the other movie making industries in India, beyond Bollywood. These are:

– Nachom-ia Kumpasar: A Konkani love story set in the 1960s, directed by Bardroy Barretto, this UK premiere at EFIFD celebrates Goa’s unique musical legacy shaped by Portuguese influences.

– Shaheb Bibi Golaam: A riveting new age Bengali drama set in Kolkata featuring a contract killer, a housewife and a taxi driver in an unusual game of chance and revenge by critic turned filmmaker Pratim D. Gupta.

– Ekk Albela: Set in the Hindi film industry’s golden era of the 1940s and 50s, this acclaimed Marathi biopic by Shekhar Sartandel (featuring Vidya Balan) profiles its first male action hero and dancing star, Bhagwan Dada.


The 2016 Edinburgh Festival of Indian Films & Documentaries will be a week of memorable movie memories with some of the most sterling films from Planet Earth’s most prolific cinema industry.

The festival’s event listings, film trailers and links for ticket purchases can be found at the official EFIFD Facebook page:

Follow EFIFD on Twitter:

EFIFD 2016 Trailer:

This post was written by Piyush Roy.

Piyush is a PhD candidate in South Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He is a film studies scholar and has won the Best Film Critic (Special Mention) Award at the 60th Indian National Film Awards in 2013. 

Göttingen stands up for annihilation of caste

A huge mobilization of Dalits (former Untouchables) rages in the state of Gujarat, India whereby recently Dalits had to face caste violence. A few weeks ago members of the Dalit community in the city of Una, who were removing carcasses, were brutally attacked by the “cow vigilantes”. Dalits have been historically forced into removing carcasses and human excreta. These occupations, which were sanctioned by Brahmanical caste system, are practiced even today in large parts of the country. In one of the biggest and most inspiring anti-caste mass mobilizations of Dalits in Gujarat have challenged the present Hindu-nationalist government head on. Gujarat is the same state, which had witnessed mass-murder of more than 2000 Muslims a decade ago.

Untouchable communities (aka Dalits and Schedule Castes) in Gujarat have come together and have decided to end this degrading form of religiously sanctioned labour of removing dead animals manually. This is in addition to clearing excreta, which is another form of forced labour. Dalit communities and their organisations not merely stand against such demeaning labour but also demand reparation in the form of land, education, and jobs as alternative opportunities. They not just stand against the present day Hindu fascist government but also resist its vigilantism of beef-eating communities.

This militant vegetarianism and ‘cow vigilantism’, which are products of caste-extremism, needs to be condemned by people all across the world. This needs attention particularly, because the government instead of protecting its own people is fuelling the casteist persecution of the beef-eating communities. Killing people for their choice of food, such as beef, is against humanity. Needless to say, neither the state nor the vigilantes would ever succeed against the cultural rights, such as, the beef eating food habits of the people. However, considering the increasing brutalities on those who struggle against casteism, the global solidarity with the oppressed people of India is the need of the hour.It is the moral responsibility of the entire world to stand in solidarity with those who are engaged in struggles against the Brahmanical caste system and religiously sanctioned menial labour practices as well as food fascism.

Demonstration Against Caste Violence In India

In an effort to support and showcase solidarity with the Dalits in Gujarat India, on 9th August 2016 a demonstration was organised in the city Göttingen, Germany. To the best of our knowledge, it is for the first time that such a demonstration on the issue of caste-based atrocities has been organised in Germany. This is despite the fact that several universities and institutes in Germany have been conducting research on India for over a century. The event in Göttingen was meant to sensitise the people in Germany about the violent persecution of Dalits by those upholding the Brahmanical caste system. Most importantly, we wanted to stand in solidarity with the Dalits who are struggling against the caste system in Gujarat in particular and India in general.


Research scholars, faculty, students  and non-teaching staff of University of Gottingen standing up for caste annihilation.

The Dalits of Gujarat have renewed the anti-caste movement in the most inspiring way. They have pledged to give up the humiliating labour of skinning the dead animals and disposing of the dead carcasses and have instead demanded agricultural land from state. They have not only challenged the Brahmanical caste order but they are the one of the most powerful force resisting Hindutva fascist forces in contemporary India. They have also brought together other marginalised groups such as Muslims who have been the victims of communal violence. The struggling Dalits certainly deserve and require all the solidarity and support from international community.


Students, research fellows and non teaching staff of University of Göttingen at a protest demonstration held in Göttingen, Germany, condemning the caste violence against Dalits in India.

The demonstration was organised by research fellows and students based at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS), University of Göttingen: Sumeet Mhaskar, Gajendran Ayyathurai, Dickens Leonard M and Chittibabu Padavala. Students, research fellows and non-teaching staff from CeMIS, Max Planck Insitute and Goethe Institute partiiapted in the demonstration. The demonstration was concluded with a speech by Gajendran Ayyathurai, and Naima Tiné and Karl Müller-Bahlke read out the statement condemning caste based atrocities in India. The copies of the statement in German and English language were distributed during demonstration.

This blogpost was jointly written by Sumeet Mhaskar, Gajendran Ayyathurai, Chittibabu Padavala and Dickens Leonard.

Sumeet Mhaskar is Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS), University of Göttingen. Gajendran Ayyathurai is Research Fellow at the CeMIS, Chittibabu Padavala and Dickens Leonard are visiting PhD fellows at CeMIS. 


Dr.B.R.Ambedkar Lecture at University of Edinburgh

In this brilliant Dr.Ambedkar lecture delivered by Prof. David Mosse, Professor of Social Anthropology and Head of the Department of Anthropology and  Sociology, through two distinct cases one in India and the other in offshore explicates how debate and policy on caste is warped by issues of religion and nationalism. Prof. Mosse has more than thirty years of experience in south Asian studies and it was indeed a great privilege for the Centre for South Asian Studies to host him to deliver the Dr.B.R.Ambedkar lecture. is happy to podcast the Dr.Ambedkar Lecture.

Please click the file below to listen to Prof. Mosse’s Ambedkar lecture.

The abstract of the lecture is given below.

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar provided a remarkably clear-thinking basis for social policy and law in India in relation to caste inequality and discrimination. However, the course he charted towards justice and common humanity in the age of equality and rationalism was frequently challenged by crosswinds of religion and nationalism. Opening with two distinct instances, this lecture shows how debate and policy on caste continues to be warped by issues of religion and nationalism.

The first case is that of the status of non-Hindu (Christian and Muslim Dalits) and the denial to them of state provisions and protections as Scheduled Castes (historical victims of oppression and untouchability). The second case is the resistance to the implementation of legislation outlawing caste-based discrimination in the UK by Hindu organisations. Here an interlinked perspective (in part Gandhian) regards caste within India as bound up with Hinduism and the nation, and public debate on caste outside India as a (missionary-colonialist) attack on Hindus and Indian national culture.

An elite internalising of caste to Hinduism or silencing caste in the name of religion and nation may illustrate a postcolonial predicament, but it also sets the freedoms of caste against the Dalit freedom from discrimination, and profoundly misconstrues the experience and perspective of Dalits themselves. The final part of the lecture will explore the latter with the case of Dalit Christians in south India whose overt struggle against the public humiliations of caste have limited success against caste when reworked as structural exclusion and blocked aspirations in the liberalised Indian economy; and among whom there is now a quite pervasive aspiration for casteless humanity — captured so eloquently in Dr Ambedkar’s vision of the recovery of common humanity and a society free from social barriers.

Towards ex-brahminization: The Everyday Life of The Brahmin Male



Gajendran Ayyathurai*

What happens to a human when she is called a broken person, an oppressed person, an ex-untouchable, a lower-caste person and so on has remained an under-examined, even un-examined, theme in psychological, sociological, anthropological, linguistic, literary, and historical studies. Given the entrenchment of privileged caste groups in Indian and Western academy (as well as in Indian public life), centering or re-centering the humanity of those oppressed by caste in universal categories and identities is safely far away in theory and practice. Be that as it may. The purpose of this article, however, is to reverse the gaze on brahmins. By doing so we, the anticaste people of the world, could help those who claim birth as brahmins to begin the process of becoming “ex-brahmins”.

But first, why should there be ex-brahminization of those people who think that they are naturally born with a brahmin identity in Indian society? Because, as a self-ordained minority (making up less than five percent of the population?), brahmins have lived and thrived through hegemony and violence against their fellow humans. Indeed, their spurious religio-cultural, economic, and historical claims in particular have only glorified their self-ghettoization.

Consider what a tuft on a brahmin male head, sacred thread on a brahmin male body, ash and vermillion lines and dots on a half-naked brahmin male body and typical brahmin dress do to a brahmin body. They give brahmins the power to assume a sense of religious power, and thereby to inferiorize others in order to secure a variety of benefits. For brahmin males, to speak of “human beings” refers only to brahmin males; brahmin women and girls are not their equals, neither in ritual nor in everyday life.[1] But the brahmins have paid so dearly for insulating themselves against nature. That is, they have lost humanism and love, since such values are incompatible with anyone who would self-identify himself as a brahmin male with all the aforesaid embellishments.

The sociological, cultural, political, and historical explanations clearly demonstrate that brahmins have remained possibly one of the most exclusionary groups in human history. Barrington Moore was right in comparing brahmins and Jews in his illuminating historical sociology of them, Moral purity and persecution in human history. But he was wrong in considering Jews as more orthodox and exclusionary than brahmins. For, while it is disputable that the roots of racism could be traced to Jews, it is evident that brahmins are the fountain head of casteism and inventors of gruesome violence, such as untouchability.[2] The irony is that after the arrival of Buddhism, Islamic and European empires, a republican constitution, and anticaste movements and policies in India, the brahmins have made the bodily exclusion of their own women, and of non-brahmins, as their virtue, instead of seeing it as a self-dehumanizing shame and tragedy. Unveiling the assumptions of brahminical virtuosity as antihuman will hopefully set off brahmin males to ex-brahminizing their community.

How does one identify him or herself as a brahmin? Brahminical religio-cultural inventions have been historically self-proclaimed, as the exclusive domain of brahmin, as naturally given, and so prohibiting the other. Today, for instance, this brahmin/othering process begins even from the mundane context of a brahmin introducing him or herself by their surname, be it Sharma, Trivedi, Chatterjee, Iyer or so on. Such surnames audaciously assume a putative historical and cultural superiority over non-brahmin, and guarantee the instant camaraderie with another brahmin which is brutally denied to a non-brahmin.[3] Needless to say, historicizing a brahmin name such as Iyer could suggest that we are in a murky field of brahmin male inventions, which are basically attempts to shut the doors on others, as Ambedkar’s metaphor vividly demonstrates in his work, Caste in India. Aside from the surname, many more bodily doors are shut against those who are excluded, the other.

When one begins to identify one’s body in caste terms, as a brahmin male does, what flows thereafter are the divisions, such as body and mind, not just within oneself but also between people. Self-ghettoization is therefore set in motion from one’s body to imaginations and practices of space and time leading to what Alain Badiou has called “collection of ghettoes” in another context.[4] Language, for instance, is an amazing human invention to communicate with and between one another, rather than to hold as the exclusive creation of one’s own god and to deny it to one’s own women and others. This is what brahmin males have done. From the sage Manu’s path-breaking insistence that brahmin males have to pour hot oil or molten lead in to brahmin women’s and lower castes’ ears if they listen to Sanskrit, to brahmin males’ exclusive power to be the priests in temples today, now across the world, the brahmin males have made a killing out of the sacred linguistic connections they make for themselves. That is, they have policed Sanskrit as sacred, but meant only for them, as the only source of other languages and human wisdom in India, as the only ancient language with modern ideas of genetics, and as the only language to be researched at IITs and IIMs. It does not matter whether the 2011 Indian


A sacred thread  wearing ceremony of brahmins taking place. Image Courtesy :

census found only around fourteen thousand Sanskrit speakers among India’s one and a quarter billion people. The brahmin male language needs local and global endorsement. Sadly, the global academy has sanctified such spurious claims of brahminical obscurantism through its own power to canonize what P J Marshal has called “caste segregation” in the last two hundred and fifty years.[5]

Self-denial of speaking to fellow humans, let alone inviting them for a dialogue, is ominous enough to spur other dangerous brahminical exclusions. No wonder then, the brahmins are also known for their politics of food. Consider the irony of brahmin male food categories such as vegetarian, pure-vegetarian, prasadam (sacred food) and so on in order to ridicule and reject the food humanity eats across the world as non-vegetarian. When a male identifies himself as a brahmin and sells food, it is automatically celebrated as the best, the most wholesome. Even if it is unpalatable, even if the brahmin who prepares and serves the food is nauseatingly dirty and lacks the basic culinary skills that thrive among those they have oppressed, such as untouchables. Arguably the vegetarian vigilantism of brahmins in modern times is intertwined with their ascendance through and collusion with colonialism since the late nineteenth century, particularly in two ways. Firstly, brahmins begin to displace caste-dormant or caste-free relations among urban people into caste-manifest relations with their migration to urban places, as they did in the villages they owned prior to colonialism; and secondly, in using their caste-based ritual power and colonialism-based material power, brahmins have begun to monopolize the hotel industry for instance, sidelining mixed and cosmopolitan cuisines and customers in urban centers such as Madras.[6] Ironically, the non-brahmin privileged caste males in the Tamil speaking regions who attempted to usurp the ritual and material power from the Sanskritic-brahmins in late colonialism also mimicked the brahmin males with their own pretentions of ritual and culinary purity, as is evident from the Tamil purist movement and its doyens such as Vedachalam Pillai (who was also known for his vanity as Maraimalai Adikal).[7]

Once basic human elements, such as language and food, are religiously rarified and ritually excluded in order to favor brahmin males, then sexual and “spatial segregation” are inevitable consequences.[8] Imagine a brahmin woman ever becoming a temple priestess. One cannot. This is not because brahminical gods, such as Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva denied brahmin women their right to religious, secular, and material parity with brahmin males. Rather, brahmin males have policed their own women, mutilated their bodies, and sanctified their power over them through their religious scriptures and interpretations, as did Manu, for instance. Pratiloma, that is, the prevention of a privileged caste woman from having sexual relations with or marrying anyone “below” her caste status is not her own decision. Rather, women’s deciding about their own desires is the privileged males’ paranoia. Nevertheless, brahmin women have always had sexual and marital partners from other caste groups, and vice versa, even when they were “widowed” and prevented from re-marriage by brahmin males’ violence. This is confirmed by Pudiyamaadu editor Swapneswari Ambal’s critical analysis of brahmin males widowing (their forced rules/restrictions) brahmin girls and women, who in any case became pregnant and indulged in infanticide in the early twentieth century.[9]

Have these caste-based sexual and spatial segregations changed today? Considering the spectacle of information technology, IITians soaring in Silicon Valley and to Mars, special economic zones, and the emergence of gated communities, a handy answer is that things have turned upside down. India: the casteless democracy has finally arrived. And so India is now free of brahmin power and violence against their other: i.e. their own women and other caste groups. However, a quick survey of temples mushrooming in India and among the Indian diaspora in the West (one count says there are now seven hundred temples in the US) confirm that brahminism is alive and well, and that mutations of brahmin-male conceptions are countering the traditional and modern challenges thrown against them. No wonder Obama carries a hanuman in his pocket as an amulet and celebrated Diwali in the White House with a brahmin male solemnizing the occasion.[10]

While this age-old temple-based casteism is reproduced through brahmin male ritual and material power, our understanding of sexual and marital relations between brahmin women and Dalit men, and vice versa, for instance, remains understudied. A pedestrian observation could, however, point out that such unions, which break down caste boundaries, are few and far between. Whereas the sexual and marital relations between brahmins and whites are on the rise, true to what Iyothee Thass observed a century ago, brahmin males more than welcome their daughters cohabitating with white-men (married or not), while they brutally prevent their daughters marrying from people they oppress as untouchables.[11] In other words, brahmin male power survives only because of the psychological damage they cause their daughters and sons through casteism and sexism early in life, thus preventing them from becoming humans.

When children are raised at home with symbols and practices of caste-based religiosity and exclusion, brahmin male owned or brahmin male employed educational institutions do nothing to reverse the antihuman self-destruction of their children. Instead, brahmin children are trained to be hate-mongering segregationists. Harvard anthropologist Ajantha Subramanian’s incisive exposure of Madras IIT, where the student festival is still called Shaastra—shamelessly echoing Manudharmashastra— confirms this.[12] Unequivocally stating that Madras IIT is a den of casteism, she clearly traces how brahmin children arriving at Madras IIT understand themselves as the engineers of the future India, having already been trained in social-Darwinism in the brahmin-owned and controlled middle and high schools in Chennai. Ironically, such brahminical enclaves have always thrived in Chennai city, despite the Dravidian parties’ decades’ long gimmicks against caste.

It is clear brahminization of merit and brahmins’ prosperity through casteism is complete, both locally and globally. In fact, one could say that globalization has become a euphemism for the predominance of brahmins. A sugar coated global brahminism shining and exclaimed as incredible is in-built in anti-democratic principles. It is even a threat to humanity, since the seeds of casteism have been sown across the world in a variety of ways. For instance, people like B K S Iyengar, flaunting his brahmin male surname, could spread his yoga in the US and Europe, conveniently connecting brahminical, mythical, and material aspects in which brahmin male power and its exclusionary interpretations of the human body and mind remain unchallenged, locally and globally. Never mind the multi-billion dollar industry that Iyengar has left behind by patronizing brahmins and recruiting white Americans and Europeans.

Therefore emancipation of those oppressed by casteism could only be possible at the death of the brahminism (re)created by brahmin males, and those who emulate them. This is what the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle students in IIT Madras, through their successful agitation against brahmin-male dominated IIT administration banning of their organization, emphasized when they quoted Ambedkar in their pamphlet, saying “Hinduism is a veritable chamber of horrors and it must die for caste to vanish”.[13] Otherwise, the brahmin-Dalit bhai bhai bonhomie offered by brahmin males and their associations are meant to re-ghettoize the Dalits, just as brahmin males have ghettoized themselves.[14]

Considering the predominance of brahmins in India today, in the global economy and the academy, and the inevitability of casteism spreading across the world through the agency of brahmins, the question before us, anticaste people, remains: Is there a scope for brahmins becoming ex-brahmins? One cannot escape the depressing situation we now find ourselves in.


IIT Madras, a premier institute of higher education which is overwhelmingly dominated by brahmins.

However, there are some ways to end the exclusionary and oxymoronic brand of brahminical cosmopolitanism. Anticaste solidarities and movements among the oppressed—not just political parties—are naturally the time tested ways to resist casteism/brahminism. The deep anticaste politics and history of the subalternized in India are a testament to this observation—even though Western and local historians and comparatists have chosen not only not to heed, but have indeed silenced such a past, as G. Aloysius’ Nationalism without a Nation in India confirms.

Needless to say, for a collective transformation, the onus is also on the brahmins themselves to embrace self-emancipatory casteless sociality, and reject entrenched caste-based self-ghettoization. Brahmin women, considering the grave gender oppression inflicted by their own males, have the potential to breach caste by establishing anticaste solidarities with other oppressed people, such as those who have been discriminated as untouchables, for instance. Indeed, the religious, ritualistic, sexual, and material oppression achieved through brahminical governmentality of women’s and untouchable bodies could only be decimated through sexual and material transgressions between the oppressed. This is also actually not new. Iyothee Thass and Swapneswari Ambal appealed for such unions a century ago. Sadly, this has not happened to the extent one may have expected, with privileged caste women daring to break free from the casteism of their men has been met with even more violence, such as honor killing.[15] Nonetheless today the developments of new communication technologies and social media, as well as transportation, have enabled more anticaste unions and movements.

However, a predetermining requirement in such unions is the pledge against caste and the commitment to breach the segregation of bodies, space, and time among the privileged groups, because it is the predicament of the privileged to shed caste and self-emancipate, to become the ex-privileged. Once a brahmin woman breaches caste through living-in or marital relations with a male from a community which has been persecuted as untouchable, the emancipation is mutual. For neither the man nor the woman retains any purchase in their persecuted past. A privileged woman needs to be inspired by people like Padita Ramabai, even as she has to overcome the caste-based dilemmas which the pioneering feminist could not.[16]

The people who break free from brahminical untouchability also need to reinforce their movements and politics by rejecting invocations of sectarian categories, and rather embrace universalizing new identities in which they remain locally grounded and globally interconnected. Iyothee Thass’ total rejection of condescending and discriminating epithets such as Paraiyars/Pariah, Panchamas, Depressed Classes, and so on, and embracing the category The Tamilian (as he named the weekly journal he published from 1907 to 1914) confirms this. In fact, Thass and the anticate movement he built in the Tamil speaking regions are a testament to a history of universalization against marginalization by caste that the people who are prone to oppressions of various kinds in the present cannot afford to overlook.

A critical understanding of the social-Darwinist tendencies of brahmins’ everyday life is the first step in opening up the possibilities for brahmins to become ex-brahmins. For only by becoming ex-brahmins could they too embrace universal humanism and love, something they have denied themselves so long.


[1] By quoting Caroline Osella and Filippo Osella’s observation that “Brahmanhood is synonymous with maleness”, Ute Hüsken rightly takes a step further to conclude that “(f)or the Brahmanic Sanskrit texts it goes without saying that being human is identical with being male.” See Ute Hüsken, “Denial as silencing: On women’s ritual agency in a South Indian Brahmin tradition”, Journal of Ritual Studies, Volume 27, Number 1, 2013, pp. 21-34.

[2] Patrick Ollivelle’s detailed translation of the ancient Manudharmashastra confirms it is a violent text intending to establish brahmin male power over their own women, and those the male brahmins have deemed as untouchables. See Patrick Ollivelle, Manu’s Code of Law: A Critical Edition and Translation of the Manava-Dharmashastra, Oxford University Press, New York, 2005.

[3] This applies to all caste groups which self-capitalize on caste-based names.

[4] (last retrieved on 29 April 2016)

[5] P. J. Marshal, The British Discovery of Hinduism in the Eighteenth Century, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1970, p. 24.

[6] Caste in the hotel industry, particularly the sociological history of brahmins’ “pure-vegetarian” brand remains an underexamined theme.

[7] See Vaithees, N. Ravi, Religion, Caste, Nation in South India: Maraimalai Adikal, the Neo-Saivite Movement, and Tamil Nationalism, 1876-1950, Oxford University Press, New York, 2014.

[8] Fuller and Narasimhan, “The agraharam: The transformation of social space and Brahman status in Tamilnadu during the colonial and postcolonial periods”, in Ritual, Caste, and Religion in Colonial South India, (Eds) Michael Bergunder, Heiko Frese, and Ulrike Shr̹öder, Franckese Stiftungen zu Halle, Halle, 2010, pp. 219-237.

[9] Pandit Iyothee Thass, (Ed) The Tamilian, 14 August 1907.

[10] For details, see the racist website: . For Obama’s Diwali celebration at the White House with a brahmin male solemnizing see here: (last retrieved on 25 April 2016)

[11] Pandit Iyothee Thass, (Ed) The Tamilian, 16 December 1908.

[12] Ajantha Subramanian “Making merit: The Indian Institutes of Technology and the social life of caste”, Comparative Studies in Society and History 2015; 57 (2):291–322.

[13] See here: (last retrieved on 26 April 2016)

[14] Likewise, Dalit political parties surrendering their anticaste and de-brahminizing agenda in order to recruit brahmins as brahmins will only guarantee the continuity of untouchablilty.

[15] For similar views on non-brahmin privileged males’ honor killing women who have decided to break free from their privaliged caste see T. Dharmaraj: (last retrieved on 25 April 2016)

[16] See Pundita Ramabai Sarasvati, The High-Caste Hindu Woman, Hyperion Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1976 [1888]), pp. 60 and 63.

This article was written by Gajendran Ayyathurai.

*Dr.Gajendran Ayyathurai is Research Fellow at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies
Indian Religions at  Göttingen University, Germany. 




Like all Hindus, somewhere deep down inside me I had assumed that Harijans (Dalits), Gandhi’s supposed “children of God,” relegated to the fringes of society, were part of the Hindu community, part of “us.”

Urvashi Butalia, The Other Side of Silence [12]

The partition of British India in 1947 was accompanied by the mass murder of Hindus by Muslims, and Muslims by Hindus. It is estimated that up to a million people were killed (B. Metcalf and Metcalf 2006, 221), often by hand and at close quarters. While collecting oral histories of this vast human tragedy, historian Urvashi Butalia was astonished by evidence of Dalits who remained calm amid the violence around them. They knew no one would touch them, one Dalit woman recalls, because the conflict was between Hindus and Muslims and they belonged to neither group. Her father nevertheless urged her to stay indoors for fear that the Hindus might mistake his daughter for a Muslim (Butalia 2000, 235). Dalits displaced by the violence had no place to go, Butalia later reveals. For “in a war that was basically centered around Hindu and Muslim identities,” she explains, no one set up “camps to help [Dalits] tide over the difficult time. No recourse to government—all too preoccupied at the moment with looking after the interests of Muslims and Hindus, no help from political leaders whose priorities were different at the time” (2000, 238). Could untouchables not have gained admission to Hindu relief camps? At a time when Dalits were excluded from schools for Hindu children—because they were regarded as polluting—and were confined to separate quarters in government prisons for the same reason, this most likely would not have been possible. Even in 2004, in the wake of a devastating tsunami, Dalits were excluded from relief camps that sheltered caste Hindus (Human Rights Watch 2005, 25–29; Anand and Thangarasu 2006; Gill 2007).

Butalia is not the only late twentieth-century scholar surprised to discover that “Hindu” and “untouchable” are understood as contrasting categories by ordinary people, even in the present day. Mary Searle-Chatterjee recalls, “I could hardly believe the evidence of my ears” when she first noticed sweepers in Benares, among whom she was conducting ethnographic research in 1971, refer to “the Hindus” as other to themselves (2008, 189). These were not politicized Dalits who actively rejected the Hindu label in favor of Ambedkarite Buddhism, she explains. “This was the usage of ordinary, nonpoliticized sweepers” (2008, 189). They were not using the term in a segmentary sense, in which “the Hindus” means caste people in contrast to “Harijans,” and that encompasses both caste people and Dalits in contrast to Muslims. While “segmentary [terms] may be more or less inclusive,” Searle-Chatterjee explains, “in the case of the ‘low’ caste reference to Hindus as people other than themselves, something more is involved. Even when Muslims were present, sweepers did not shift to referring to themselves as ‘Hindus’ ” (2008, 189).

Butalia’s and Searle-Chatterjee’s sense of surprise is itself unsurprising. As historical anthropologist Joel Lee explains, it reflects the hegemony of the contemporary assumption

that “sweepers” and other Dalits, insofar as they are not formal converts to Buddhism, Islam or Christianity, belong in a taxonomical sense to the Hindu community and should therefore see themselves as Hindus. This assumption follows logically from the most basic lessons that students across the globe learn about Indian society; to be educated in the world today, whether in Tokyo or Chicago or Johannesburg or Delhi, is to know that Hindu society has or had a caste system that classed some people “untouchable,” that therefore “untouchables” belong to Hindu society, that therefore “untouchables” are Hindus . . . This constitutes commonsense among the educated in urban India and in the academy as well. (2015, 82)

Today this common sense is backed by the force of law. Dalits who do not specifically proclaim themselves Christian or Muslim are legally categorized as Hindu by default. Exceptions like those discovered by Searle-Chatterjee and Butalia were still common in the late twentieth century (e.g., Lynch 1969, 162–63).[13] But in many urban settings at least—including my own field site—Dalits now accept the government’s new, more inclusive definition of Hindu as including people like themselves (Roberts 2015a).

nate Roberts

Cover image of Nathaniel Roberts authored book, To Be Cared For : The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging brought out by University of California Press. Image Courtesy : UC Press.

It was not always so. Before the twentieth century Dalits were not regarded as Hindu by others, nor did they regard themselves as such. It is conceivable that exceptions may yet be found, but in the absence of clear documentary evidence it is an anachronism to label pre-twentieth-century Dalits Hindu (Searle-Chatterjee 2008, 187; Frykenberg 1997). The only significant context in which “untouchable” castes were treated as Hindu before the twentieth century was the decennial census of the colonial state, which categorized all Indians by caste and religion and which assigned those who did not proclaim themselves Muslim, Christian, or members of another recognized religion to the category “Hindu” by default. In so doing, the colonizer rejected native precedent. Census taking and other enumerative technologies were well established in India’s precolonial states and like later colonial censuses categorized subjects by caste and religion (Guha 2013; Roberts 2015b). But these precolonial censuses did not recognize untouchable castes as Hindu. As Norbert Peabody has shown in an important paper on precolonial census taking, even as late as 1835 the Hindu kingdom of Marwar conceived the primary division among its subjects as lying, not between Hindus and Muslims, but between the so-called “clean” castes, which included both Muslims and Hindus jātis, and the impure servile castes, namely Dalits, who were understood as distinct from both (2001, 834–36). Unpublished research by Divya Cherian on the same kingdom in the late eighteenth century paints a similar picture. Official guidelines on religious duties and prohibitions in that state “categorically divided its subjects into two types: Hindus (hinduvan) and untouchables (achhep). The latter category consisted of leatherworking castes, nomadic pastoral groups, Muslims (turak), and the sanitation labor castes (halalkhor). Not only were the sweepers not Hindu, they were the antipode of the Hindu: the order made clear that what actions the state required of its Hindu subjects were precisely those that it forbade its untouchable subjects” (quoted in Lee 2015, 120).

Cherian’s findings differ from Peabody’s only insofar as the records she unearthed categorize Muslims together with untouchables. Rupa Viswanath’s research in the Madras Presidency similarly finds that the term Hindu referred, until the early twentieth century, exclusively to those jātis eligible to live in the ūr and expressly excluded those confined to the cēri, the Dalit ghetto (2014c; see also Ebeling 2010). [14] Indeed, the association of Hindu with respectable caste status was so well established in nineteenth-century Madras that Christians and Muslims belonging to the so-called clean castes were sometimes referred to in native discourse as “Hindu Christians” and “Hindu Muhommedans,” to distinguish them from coreligionists of untouchable origin, known as “Pariah Christians” and “Pariah Mohammedans” (Rupa Viswanath, personal communication). And even as late as 1916, Gyan Pandey records that in Chhattisgarh, “to call a man a Hindu convey[ed] primarily that he [was] not a Chamar,” that is, not a Dalit (1993, 246).

British census officials departed from existing usage. Colonial observers had long stereotyped Indian subjects as divided into two distinct and antagonistic religious “communities,” Hindu and Muslim. The latter were portrayed as following the religion of “foreign” invaders who had ruled much of the Indian subcontinent since 1206, the former as followers of India’s original religion. By playing up alleged conflict between the two, colonizers justified their own rule as bringing peace to the land and as protecting India’s disenfranchised Hindu masses (T. Metcalf 2007, 132–48). Reversing precolonial precedent, the colonial census simply lumped untouchables together with Hindus. This policy met with frequent objections by native census takers, typically high-caste Hindus, who persistently refused to record Dalits as Hindu (Lee 2015, 110; Mendelsohn and Vicziany 2000, 27–28; Juergensmeyer 1988, 72, cited in Searle-Chatterjee 2008, 191).

Hindu census takers were not alone in rejecting untouchables. Dalits were also banned from Hindu temples; access to sacred Hindu texts was forbidden to them; Hindu priests refused them. A distinctly anthropological argument could nevertheless be made for classifying untouchables as objectively Hindu, irrespective of how they classified themselves or were classified by others, on the basis of three criteria: morphological similarities between their cults and those of popular (non-Brahminical) Hinduism, Dalits’ limited participation in village religious festivals, and the fact that Dalits serve Hindus by removing ritually impure substances for them. But it is unclear why forced ritual service to a cult implies membership in it, and by the criterion of participation many Indian Muslims and Christians are also “Hindu,” and vice versa (Roberts 2015a, 242–44). As for morphological similarities at the level of practice, these are common also between popular Hinduism and Islam in India, which is why Peter van der Veer, an anthropologist who has studied these extensively, argues that the only valid criteria for group membership are self-definition and acceptance by others. Morphological comparisons at the level of doctrine are reviewed by Viswanath (2012a), who argues they do not establish common religious identity. But the classification of Dalits as Hindu for census-taking purposes was never purported to rest on objective criteria. Dalits were recorded as Hindu by state fiat. It is thus not surprising that Hindu census takers would refuse to comply with this order, only to have their surveys later “corrected” by higher-ups.

Joel Lee’s ethnographic study of the 2011 Census describes a fascinating historical reversal: the Brahmin census taker he accompanied on rounds recorded untouchables as Hindu even when they themselves told him they were not (Lee 2015, 3–10). What had changed? Since the late nineteenth century Muslims and a Hindu missionary organization known as the Arya Samaj had been competing for converts in the United Provinces and the Punjab. The Aryas focused on converting Christians, Muslims, and wayward Hindus but at this time still regarded untouchables as beyond the pale, and the one or two attempts by renegade Samajists to convert untouchables were met with a strong backlash within the organization (Jones 1976; Adcock 2007). This began to change when the Morley-Minto reforms were announced in 1909. The franchise was extended, and representation of different communities became tied to demographics. What had been a struggle for cultural preeminence became a competition for sheer numbers (Tejani 2008, 141–43). The inclusion of untouchables within Hinduism merely for purposes of census taking suddenly had very real political implications, and Muslims began to argue that Hindus’ numbers were artificially inflated by the inclusion of untouchables (Mendelsohn and Vicziany 2000, 28; Rao 2009, 131; Sartori 2003). And all over India untouchables themselves demanded to be recognized as a separate element distinct from both groups (Sartori 2003, 272–73; D. Sen 2012; Irschick 1969, 71–72; Viswanath 2014b).

Fairness and accuracy required that the controversial policy of listing untouchables as Hindu be revisited. Census Commissioner E. A. Gait argued in 1910 that Hinduism should be conceived broadly and not be limited to those holding specific beliefs or practices. “A man may believe in the whole Hindu Pantheon, or for that matter, in no god at all—he may sacrifice or abstain from sacrifices—may eat fish and flesh, or abstain from doing so,” and still be legitimately called a Hindu, Gait argued (quoted in Mukerji 1911, v). But he observed that it was “absurd to enter without comment as Hindus persons . . . who are not regarded [as such] by others, and do not profess themselves to be Hindus,” as previous censuses had done (quoted in Mukerji 1911, v).

The possibility of losing a large portion of their official numbers sharpened the minds of high-caste Hindu leaders, who began at this point to vociferously claim Dalits as fellow Hindus and to accuse the colonial state of conspiring to undermine Hinduism by divide-and-rule tactics. It is true that the British would later seek to capitalize on the refusal by Dalits to recognize the leadership of the high-caste Hindu-led Congress Party (Prashad 1996). But “divide and rule” implies a prior unity, and in the case of Dalits and Hindus the evidence for any such unity is lacking. Interestingly, evidence for precisely the opposite—a lack of both common identity and regular social relations between caste Hindus and Dalits—can be found in the urtext of the argument that the British were subjecting Hindus to divide-and-rule by separating out untouchables. This was a pamphlet entitled A Dying Race, originally published in serial form by the Hindu strategist U. N. Mukerji in 1909. Even as the author accuses Gait’s memo of attempting to create a divi¬sion between Hindus and untouchables, he elsewhere notes,

It will puzzle most Hindus if they are asked as to the inner life of these “low castes.” Respectable people scarcely trouble themselves about such things. There is a sort of a “Ghetto” . . . attached to nearly every village, far away, of course, from where the respectable classes live. Nobody belonging to the “high castes” ever thinks of visiting these quarters. Everything about the . . . people of that class is pollution—their touch is pollution, their presence is pollution, water touched by them is polluted, their very shadow carries infection. These people do a certain sort of work and, when their services are needed, are tolerated to that extent, but they are the “itars”—“the oth-ers”—quite apart from respectable people. At other times there is hardly any contact. (Mukerji [1909] 1929, 43)

Mukerji’s admission that for Hindus untouchables were outsiders, and that Hindus wanted nothing to do with them, is not presented as an original observation. That Hindus regarded untouchables as beyond the pale was common knowledge; Mukerji’s express purpose was to persuade them to reverse course and enlist untouchables as fellow Hindus. Nationalist scholars have nevertheless treated as an established fact the accusation that Gait set out deliberately to create a division where none had existed. Historian Pradip Kumar Datta calls Gait’s memo a “blatant act of social engineering. . . . designed to encourage the detachment of low castes from the ‘Hindu’ category” and to provoke “low-caste resentment” (1999, 24, my emphasis). Datta offers no evidence for this startling claim, apart from a quote from Mukerji insisting that it is so, an instance of circular reasoning on Datta’s part that usefully illustrates the common ground between the secular liberal and Hindu nationalist on the untouchable question.

Mukerji’s pamphlet was reprinted countless times, and its arguments are repeated by Hindu nationalists to the present day (Bhatt 2001, 62–68). Its core message was that Hinduism was in a demographic struggle with Islam, a struggle in which Hindus were literally in danger of becoming biologically extinct. It also provided the strategic blueprint that would become a central feature of Hindu nationalism from that day onward—namely, that the very survival of Hinduism in the face of a putative Muslim threat (and later a Christian one) depended on its ability to incorporate Dalits and tribals within its fold. The necessity of integrating untouchables within Hinduism would become a key plank in the program of Hindu sangaṭhan (consolidation/organization).

By far the most important proponent of untouchable integration was Swami Shraddhanand, an Arya Samaj leader whose mission to the untouchables was inspired by a personal meeting with U. N. Mukerji in 1912 (Datta 1999, 22). Mukerji’s enduring influence is evident in the title of Shraddhanand’s 1924 tract, Hindu Sangathan: Saviour of the Dying Race, a text that reproduces and expands upon Mukerji’s core argument. A “constant refrain” of the swami’s writings and speeches on the untouchable question, as Joel Lee’s study of Shraddhanand’s corpus reveals, was the worrying prospect of Dalits emerging as an autonomous political force in the Indian landscape (Lee 2015, 141). Perhaps equally alarming to Shraddhanand was the threat of Dalits converting to Christianity or Islam. Thus the swami openly warns that Dalits who convert to Islam “will become equal to Hindus. . . . They will not depend on Hindus, but will be able to stand on their own legs”; those who convert to Christianity will “dream of entering its halls of governance” (quoted in Lee 2015, 140, 142). The key to preventing this, according to Shraddhanand, was eliminating the divisive practice of untouchability from the collective Hindu body. As Lee observes, “Shraddhanand insisted that the danger . . . of [Dalit] autonomy from the Hindus could only be defused if Hindus radically curtailed the regime of disabilities they imposed on untouchables. Further, he maintained that [checking] this autonomy, [by] bringing the untouchables to accept Hindu leadership, equated with the neutralization of the Muslim and Christian threat, and was an essential, sine qua non . . . for the manufacture of a Hindu nation” (Lee 2015, 143). For Shraddhanand the Hinduization of untouchables was not merely a Hindu communal cause but a national one. In his writings the good of the Hindu community was indistinguishable from India’s struggle for national independence: “The uplift of the untouchables and their assimilation in the Hindu polity is the very plinth on which alone the edifice of free India can be constructed” (quoted in Lee 2015, 143). As we will see, the mission of ending untouchability would play an identical role for Gandhi. For Gandhi, too, it was essential to the strength of both Hinduism and the nation—even to the extent that the good of the one was often presented as indistinguishable from the good of the other.

The imperative of Hinduizing the untouchable was eventually endorsed, in theory if not always in practice, by Hindu organizations across northern India and from Bengal to Bombay (Prashad 1996). The major bases of support for this movement were in towns and cities, among modernizing Hindu organizations like the Arya Samaj (Jones 1976; Adcock 2014), and among politically minded Hindu reformers keen on establishing India as a Hindu nation (Bayly 1998). But it was by no means universally accepted. Orthodox Hindus remained deeply opposed, wanting nothing to do with those they regarded as untouchable. Opposition was also widespread among rural Hindu elites (Jones 1976). And in South India, where Muslims were not perceived as a threat, programs for Hinduizing the Dalit found few takers.

Nate Roberts Navayana

The Indian edition of Nathaniel Roberts authored book, To Be Cared For : The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging, published by Navayana Publishing House.

The Congress Party passed its first resolution condemning the practice of ritual untouchability, seen by advocates of Hindu sangathan as the principal barrier to Dalits’ inclusion within the Hindu fold, only in 1917. But it took no concrete steps on this matter until the 1930s (Prashad 1996, 553). As early as 1920, M. K. Gandhi, the party’s paramount leader, proclaimed the eradication of untouchability as essential to swaraj, and in 1921 announced he had in fact opposed untouchability since childhood (Zelliot 2010, 153). Gandhi did not act on this conviction until the 1930s, however, despite urgings by Shraddhanand to join him (Lee 2015, 145), and despite multiple opportunities to lend support to autonomous Dalit struggles, including invitations from Dalit activists, which he repeatedly declined (Ambedkar 1946, 251–59). According to J. T. F. Jordens, Shraddhanand’s sole supporter of any note within Congress until the 1920s was G. D. Birla, one of India’s leading industrialists, whose vast wealth bankrolled Shraddhanand’s operation (1981, 165, cited in Lee 2015, 143–44; Renold 1994).

As for Dalits themselves, some reacted with enthusiasm to the prospect of Hinduization (shuddhi), which by the second decade of the century many embraced as an opportunity for social advancement. And just as it was Dalits who first approached Christian missionaries, and not the reverse, with demands to be converted (Viswanath 2014b; Webster 2009), so too did they begin to approach the Arya Samaj (Rawat 2011; Adcock 2014, 48–50; Lee 2015). But finding the promise of full inclusion as equals illusory, Dalits began to turn away from shuddhi by the 1920s (Lee 2015, esp. 150–53) and, simultaneously, to assert their independence from the Congress Party (Prashad 1996, 552).


The idea that religions divide naturally into converting and nonconverting, and that the latter are inherently tolerant and the former conflict prone, derives from a taxonomic distinction developed in nineteenth-century Europe (Adcock 2014, 61–70). . . .


[12] Butalia (2000, quoted in Lee 2015, 81). I thank Joel Lee for directing my attention to the writings of Butalia and Searle-Chatterjee and for providing the analysis of them (Lee 2015, 81–82) that the next three paragraphs repeat and expand upon.

[13] This contrastive usage remained commonplace in confidential Government of Tamil Nadu reports on anti-Dalit atrocities as late as the 1970s. Caste folk responsible for these attacks are referred to in these reports simply as “the Hindus” in contradistinction to their victims, who are distinguished as “the Harijans” (Rupa Viswanath, personal communication, September 2015).

[14] The idea that untouchables were always regarded as beyond the pale of Hinduism has been challenged by Arvind Sharma (2015). Sharma argues that the common understanding of untouchables as being outside the fourfold varna system is wrong. According to him untouchables should instead be thought of as a special subcategory within the shudra varna, a category he terms the excluded shudra. If untouchables were formerly included within the varna system, the argument seems to go, then by definition they must have been Hindu. But Sharma has previously argued that varna was a classificatory system that extended to the entire world, and therefore that all the world’s people were originally regarded as being within it (1992, 179). If consistently followed, the logic of Sharma’s argument would compel us to accept not only that untouchables were originally Hindus but that Chinese, Greeks, and Persians were too. Apart from this implausible implication, Sharma’s claim that untouchables were regarded as Hindus in ancient times rests on a faulty methodology. Rarified theoretical texts accessible to only a tiny cohort of Brahmin intellectuals provide no direct window into ancient social reality and tell us nothing about how ordinary people classified themselves and others.


Adcock, Catherine S. 2007. “Religious Freedom and Political Culture: The Arya Samaj in Colonial North India.” PhD diss., University of Chicago.

————— . 2014. The Limits of Tolerance: Indian Secularism and the Politics of Religious Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ambedkar, B. R. 1946. What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables. 2nd ed. Bombay: Thacker.

Anand, S., and R. Thangarasu. 2006. “The Smell of Dead Bodies.” Outlook, January 9.

Bayly, Susan. 1998. “Hindu Modernisers and the ‘Public’ Arena: Indigenous Critiques of Caste in Colonial India.” In Swami Vivekananda and the Modernization of Hinduism, edited by William Radice, 93–137. Chennai: Oxford University Press.

Bhatt, Chetan. 2001. Hindu Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies and Modern Myths. Oxford: Berg.

Butalia, Urvasi. 2000. The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India. Durham: Duke University Press.

Datta, Pradip Kumar. 1999. Carving Blocs : Communal Ideology in Early Twentieth-Century Bengal. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Ebeling, Sascha. 2010. “Another Tomorrow for Nantaṉār: The Continuation and Re–invention of a Medieval South-Indian Untouchable Saint.” In Geschichten und Geschichte: Historiographie und Hagiographie in der Asiatischen Religionsge-schichte, edited by Peter Schalk, Max Deeg, Oliver Frieberger, and Christoph Kleine, 433–516. Uppsala: Uppsala University Press.

Frykenberg, Robert. 1997. “The Emergence of Modern ‘Hinduism’ as a Concept and as an Institution: A Reappraisal with Special Reference to South India.” In Hinduism Reconsidered, rev. ed., edited by Günther D. Sontheimer and Hermann Kulke, 82–107. New Delhi: Manohar.

Gill, Timothy. 2007. “Making Things Worse: How ‘Caste-Blindness’ in Indian Post-tsunami Recovery Has Exacerbated Vulnerability and Exclusion.” United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Guha, Sumit. 2013. Beyond Caste: Identity and Power in South Asia, Past and Present. Leiden: Brill.

Human Rights Watch. 2005. “After the Deluge: India’s Reconstruction Following the 2004 Tsunami” Human Rights Watch 17(3C): 1–49.

Irschick, Eugene F. 1969. Politics and Social Conflict in South India: The Non-Brahman Movement and Tamil Separatism, 1916–1929. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Jones, Kenneth. 1976. Arya Dharm: Hindu Consciousness in 19th–Century Punjab. Delhi: Manohar.

Jordens, J. T. F. 1981. Swāmī Shraddhānanda, His Life and Causes. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Lee, Joel. 2015. Recognition and Its Shadows: Dalits and the Politics of Religion in India. PhD diss., Columbia University.

Lynch, Owen M. 1969. The Politics of Untouchability. New York: Columbia University Press.

Mendelsohn, Oliver, and Marika Vicziany. 2000. The Untouchables. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press.

Metcalf, Barbara D., and Thomas R. Metcalf. 2006. A Concise History of Modern India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Metcalf, Thomas R. 2007. Ideologies of the Raj. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mukerji, Upendra Nath. [1909] 1929. A Dying Race. Calcutta: Bhaskar Mukerjee.

—————. 1911. Hinduism and the Coming Census : Christianity and Hinduism. Calcutta: Srikali Ghosh Cotton Press.

Pandey, Gyanendra. 1993. “Which of Us Are Hindus?” In Hindus and Others: The Question of Hindu Identity in India Today, edited by Gyanendra Pandey, 238–72. New Delhi: Viking.

Peabody, Norbert. 2001. “Cents, Sense, Census: Human Inventories in Late Precolonial and Early Colonial India.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 43 (3): 819–50.

Prashad, Vijay. 1996. “The Untouchable Question.” Economic and Political Weekly 39 (9): 551–69.

Rao, Anupama. 2009. The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rawat, Ramnarayan S. 2011. Reconsidering Untouchability: Chamars and Dalit His¬tory in North India. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Renold, Leah. 1994. “Gandhi: Patron Saint of the Industrialist.” Sagar: South Asia Graduate Research Journal 1 (1): 16–38.

Roberts, Nathaniel. 2015a. “From Village to City: Hinduism and the ‘Hindu Caste System.’ ” In Handbook of Religion in the Asian City, edited by Peter van der Veer, 237–53. Berkeley: University of California Press.

—————. 2015b. “Setting Caste Back on Its Feet.” Anthropology of This Century, no. 13, May.

Sartori, Andrew. 2003. “ ‘Culture’ in Bengal, 1870s to 1920s: The Historical Genesis of an Ambivalent Concept.” PhD diss., University of Chicago.

Searle-Chatterjee, Mary. 2008. “Attributing and Rejecting the Label ‘Hindu’ in North India.” In Religion, Language and Power, edited by Mary Searle-Chatterjee and Nile Green, 186–201. New York: Routledge.

Sen, Dwaipayan. 2012. “ ‘No Matter How, Jogendranath Had to Be Defeated’: The Scheduled Castes Federation and the Making of Partition in Bengal, 1945–1947.” Indian Economic and Social History Review 49 (3): 321–64.

Sharma, Arvind. 1992. “Ancient Hinduism as a Missionary Religion.” Numen 39 (2): 175.

——-. 2015.  Review of The Pariah Problem, by Rupa Viswanath. International Journal of Dharma Studies 3 (1): 8.

Tejani, Shabnum. 2008. Indian Secularism: A Social and Intellectual History, 1890–1950. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Viswanath, Rupa. 2012a. “Dalits/Ex-Untouchables.” In Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism, vol. 4, edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Angelika Malinar, Helene Basu, and Vasudha Narayanan, 779–87. Leiden: Brill.

—————. 2014b. The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion and the Social in Modern India. New York: Columbia University Press.

—————. 2014c. “Rethinking Caste and Class: ‘Labour,’ the ‘Depressed Classes,’ and the Politics of Distinctions, Madras, 1918–1924.” International Review of Social History 59 (1): 1–37.

Webster, John C. B. 2009. The Dalit Christians: A History. 4th, rev. and enl. ed. New Delhi: ISPCK.

Zelliot, Eleanor. 2010. “Gandhi and Ambedkar: A Study in Leadership.” In From Untouchable to Dalit: Essays in the Ambedkar Movement, 3rd ed., 150–83. Delhi: Manohar.

This book excerpt was provided by Nathaniel Roberts, from his  book To Be Cared For : The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging published by University of California Press, Berkeley, 2016. pp. 124-31.

Nathaniel Roberts is Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Germany. 

Subaltern Symbolism: The Cartoon Furore in Context



Reams of newsprint, hours of air-time and extensive analysis were devoted to the ‘cartoon controversy’ in 2012. It has been covered from so many angles already that it may seem presumptuous to revisit the subject once again, but much of the earlier material was written in the heat of the moment, before the full facts were known or without placing the furore in a wider context. The row erupted over the use of an old caricature in a National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) textbook. The image depicted Ambedkar – whip in hand – sat astride a snail representing the Constitution of India, whilst Nehru stands behind them with a raised whip. Dalit activists interpreted this as Nehru whipping or belittling Ambedkar, and launched protests across the country demanding its removal. Thirumavalavan was an MP at the time and brought Parliament to standstill with an impassioned condemnation, whilst disgruntled Dalit activists in Mumbai ransacked the office of Suhas Palshikar – one of the leading academics on the NCERT board.

Ambedkar NCERT

A 1949 cartoon drawn by Shankar Pillai on Dr. Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru which was reproduced in a school text book. The cartoon was removed after widespread protests stating that it was insulting Ambedkar.

The earliest indications I had of the brewing storm came from the facebook pages of Dalit activists. In these intimations there was no sense that the NCERT textbooks had already been in circulation for a considerable time or that the cartoon was a historical one that had been published while Ambedkar was still alive. These pages, rather, expressed outraged disbelief that a national icon could be so denigrated and ridiculed in a government text-book. There was a sense that Ambedkar’s caste was not incidental to his continued marginalisation. ‘What do they hope to achieve’ and ‘who are they trying to provoke’ were questions raised in these posts.

Whilst no-one would wish to condone or justify some of the intemperate language used in this issue or (especially) the actions of the hoodlums who attacked Palsihkar’s office, wishing these away or describing them as ‘emotional outbursts’ does little to help understand why they occurred. Many commentators (see Teltumbde 2012) have rightly noted that Ambedkar himself urged his followers not to deify him or regard him as a prophet, but other than indicating the writers’ complacent sense of being better Ambedkarites than the protestors, this does not get us very far. It is only by placing this episode within a wider socio-political context that we can comprehend the rage demonstrated in its wake.

The first point to note is that symbols are vitally important and to dismiss concerns around them as tokenism or ‘symbolic politics’ does a disservice to their significance (Rao 2009). Symbols are central to how we understand and frame the world around us. The nations we live in and communities we belong too are all founded on and sustained through symbols of various forms. Especially in contexts of high poverty and illiteracy symbolic means have extensive political purchase and reach. In this context, as anthropologist Nicolas Jaoul (2009) argues, Ambedkar as a symbol of the Dalit struggle has profound political implications and has helped to promote ideals of and aspirations towards citizenship amongst the most marginalised. Dalit struggles to insert ‘their’ iconic symbol into public spaces, he notes, are ‘the focal point for renewed aspirations towards democracy’ and important assertions of Dalit’s acceptance within wider society.

hugo dr-ambedkar-dalit

Dalit Sangarsh Samiti’s mural paintings and signboards carrying images of Dr.Ambedkar in Karnataka. Image Courtesy : David Titheridge.

As early as the 1950s, research in Uttar Pradesh found that Scheduled Castes perceived the Constitution ‘gifted to them by Ambedkar’ as a counter to the Hindu caste laws and codes (Mahar-Moller 1958). Despite his own cautions against deification, it is easy to find those who see Ambedkar as a Godlike figure. Insults to or desecration of Ambedkar statues, thus, routinely result in protest as they are interpreted as a symbolic exclusion of Dalits from the body politic (Rao 2009). It is against this background that the emotive force of the cartoon row begins to make sense.

The issue is not, however, simply confined to statues and symbols. The insertion of Ambedkar statues into the mainstream stands as a proxy for the inclusion of Dalit concerns and issues and highlights the continued marginalisation of such voices in national spaces and narratives. Aditya Nigam (2006) demonstrates how historians have adopted a modernist nationalist portrayal of caste as a discredited relic of tradition, and the silencing of caste also permeates social scientific analysis. A high-profile book by leading academics, for instance, can speak of ‘India’s national culture’ with barely a mention of caste. Various visionaries, from Gandhi to Azad, are excerpted, but there is no room for the insights of lower caste and untouchable leaders like Phule, Periyar or Ambedkar (Sen 2003). From this perspective, Dalit leaders feel the perceived demeaning of Ambedkar as a double insult: ‘not only do our heroes not feature prominently, but when they do they are ridiculed’. This was the sentiment best expressed by Thirumavalavan’s tub-thumping performance in parliament.

Whilst we might wish that Dalit politicians would follow Ambedkar’s example of carefully thought-through and considered action, therefore, it would be unfair to cast their actions in the same mould as other recent attempts at political censorship and curricula interference. Dalit politics is still seeking recognition and acceptance into the mainstream rather than writing official versions of events that others are expected to follow. The danger that this could leach into authoritarian tendencies is evident in Dalit leader Athavale’s refusal to condemn the vandalism of his party cadres, but Dalits remain, for the most part, lions rather than hunters when it comes to the narration of history.

With their commitment to more diverse histories and voices and their attempt to be more creative in their pedagogy, the NCERT text-books are assuredly a step in the right direction, but when the figure of Ambedkar is made to bear the weight of Dalit aspirations and expectations alone, his symbolic value is increased. We need to read his transformation into a sacrosanct prophet-like figure in this light. When school texts and histories routinely chart the histories of the suppressed, those figures may carry less symbolic and emotional weight. Until that time, we may bemoan the sensitivity of the marginalised from our positions of comfort, but we should also seek to place them in context.


Jaoul, N. 2006. ‘Learning the Use of Symbolic Means’, Contributions to Indian
Sociology 40(2): pp175-207.

Mahar-Moller, P. 1958. ‘Changing caste ideology in a north Indian village’, Journal of Social Issues 14(4): pp51-65.

Nigam, A 2006. The Insurrection of Little Selves. New Delhi: OUP.

Rao, A. 2009. The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India. Ranikhet: Permanent Black.

Sen, G 2003. ‘Preface: National culture and cultural nationalism’ in Sen, G (ed.): India: A National Culture? New Delhi: Sage. No Page Numbers.

Teltumbde, A. 2012a. ‘Bathani Tola and the Cartoon Controversy’, Economic and
Political Weekly 47(22): pp10-11.

This article was written by Hugo Gorringe.

Dr. Hugo Gorringe is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. He is also the author of Untouchable Citizens : Dalit Movements and Democratisation in Tamil Nadu. 

Oppression, “Progressive” Law and Labour in India: The 1918 Report on Agricultural Labourers by Madras Presidency’s Collector J. Gray




What follows is an excerpt from a book whose main argument is that the way Dalit oppression was first defined by the colonial state, as well as by caste people and missionaries, effectively made successful solutions to that problem impossible.[1] The way policies were formulated between about 1890 and 1925, it argues, still affects the lives and labour of Dalits in Tamil Nadu, and likely elsewhere where similar legislation was enacted. The colonial period records are also instructive because they illustrate the specific means used by state officials to deny of the gravity of the problem, which included attempts by both landlords and the state to obscure the fact that although slavery had long been legally abolished in Tamil Nadu, many Dalits were held in labour relationships which were permanent and unfree. The excerpt describes how a report on Panchamas (as Dalits were then known) that the government commissioned the missionary Adam Andrew to write in 1916 revealed disturbing facts of widespread, and at the time illegal, subjugation.

These results then prompted a more thorough official inquiry in 1918 conducted by the Collector J. Gray; it is the first government survey report based on comparatively extensive fieldwork in Dalit communities across four different districts. What the report reveals is that ubiquitous but unlawful means of dominating Dalits by caste elites were papered over by officials, both Indian and British, who were afraid of antagonizing them for fear of what this would do to their essential relationships with their highest taxpayers. Arguably the single most important means of accomplishing this was through the framing of “liberal” laws and regulations—for instance the abolition of slavery—followed by the systematic refusal to enforce them. Dalits were forced to live out their lives in what I call legal and regulatory “blackout zones;” the laws that existed simply were not applied when these laws would favour Dalit interests. Importantly, this was not a question of mistakes or accidents or oversight. It was carried out in full knowledge of the state. I call this collusion between the state and landed elites the caste-state nexus. It will no doubt be plain to students of contemporary India that the arguments that elites made against policies that could have lasting structural benefits are remarkably similar to those put forward today by dominant castes.

Rupa Pariah Problem

The cover image of the book The Pariah Problem : Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India, published by Columbia University Press. Image Courtesy : Columbia University Press.

Unfreedom after Legal Abolition

“…A detailed confidential document on Panchamas appeared in 1916 and was the first of its kind in several respects.[2] It was the first to provide ethnographic observations on those who where then called Panchamas, and on the conditions of their lives and labor, with specific studies conducted in sixteen villages. Also striking about this report is that it was written not by a state official, but by a missionary, the Rev. Adam Andrew of the Free Church of Scotland. This was in part because only missionaries possessed intimate knowledge about Dalits. Unlike state officials, who would receive information almost entirely from caste people who put themselves forward as representatives of a village, missionaries actually entered Madras’s ceris and spent considerable time—often decades—in them. Officials were well aware missionaries possessed an expertise no official could match.Andrew’s report described Panchamas in villages in the Chingleput District and included a descriptive overview and detailed statistical appendices based on his own empirical investigations, as well as data collected by a team of local people he had assembled for this purpose, and summations of lengthy interviews with Panchamas of all sixteen villages. Andrew began by noting that the condition of Panchamas had hardly progressed in the preceding quarter of a century (since the publication of the well-known Tremenheere report [3] ) and that on the basis of his personal experience, he was certain that the situation was likely to be the same across the Presidency.[4] He was political enough to describe the government as sympathetic to the issue, citing the concessions they had made in response to Tremenheere’s report regarding education and the provision of bought-in lands.[5] But he declared these measures to have had virtually no effect.

Caste Hindus continued to despise Panchamas, the report explained, adding that the wages paid to Panchamas were “in harmony with the spirit that relegates them to that position.”[6] Indeed, however bleak their condition in the 1880s and 1890s, the plight of the Panchamas was in some respects “even worse at the present time through the rise in prices.”[7] By comparing the prices of food grains in each village to the wages earned by laborers, Andrew revealed that the majority of Panchamas would not have been able to eat more than one meal per day. Andrew knew how the government would be likely to respond: they would say that slavery was illegal, and that therefore Panchamas could go wherever they wanted by emigrating. In fact of course many Dalits did do this, but it took extraordinary courage: Andrew pointed out the extreme difficulty of taking such a step into the unknown, which would require a destitute man to abandon everything he knew as well as his wife and children[8].

Andrew’s report vividly describes some of the tactics landlords used to keep Dalit labourers under their thumb. Among these perhaps the single most important was the threat of eviction, since landlords claimed to own Dalit housesites (although this was technically illegal, since all residential land in ceris was supposed to be owned by the state). Such threats had been a feature of the Panchama’s subordination throughout the period [of the book’s study] and also served as stark evidence of the nature of the state’s operation, in as much as laws claiming government ownership over house sites were most often and quite purposefully not followed, allowing landlords to assume ownership in practice. In other words, historians and social scientists need to pay attention to the systematic (and not just accidental) disregard for particular laws and regulations that characterise modern bureaucratic regime. Power is exercised not only by positively exerting authority over the population, but by carefully choosing when and how to leave society alone.

Andrew pointed out that the Land Act of 1908 had explicitly restated that ownership of village communal land, puramboke, by mirasidars and other categories of landlord was illegal. Yet despite this restatement, in a recent case with which Andrew was familiar, Panchamas who refused to work for a particular landlord were taken to court in order to effect an eviction. Although in this particular instance the case was thrown out, Andrew’s point was that the 1908 Act was hardly known in rural Madras, least of all by Panchamas, and the mere threat of eviction could be used to ensure the Panchama’s subjection. Andrew also reported that Panchama house sites were often sold, as they had been in this case, along with plots of agricultural land, a practice that was understood to mean the transfer of those Panchamas to the new landowner as well. This practice had been described by a collector named C. M. Mullaly some forty years earlier as a vestige of “slavery” and “a disgrace on the administration.”[9] Andrew, however, was more tactful, terming the arrangement “practical serfdom.”[10] The point, again, is that the existence of particular laws and regulations tells us little about how states and elites exert domination: rather we must be attentive to how and when regulations are selectively ignored.

The official notes on Andrew’s report were drawn up by a relatively low-ranking officer of the Revenue Department, the deputy registrar. The notes began with a historical overview of government responses to the conditions of Panchamas, itself heavily slanted to reports that provide an inaccurately rosy picture of Panchama servitude. The deputy registrar quoted at length, for example, from a deputy collector of Tanjore, a Brahmin by the name of Krishnaswami Ayyar, who in 1885 claimed that:

“in the good old times the panniyals (hired labourers) were actual slaves and the porakudies (tenants) more obedient to the mirasidars. But … the mirasidars are now-a-days more annoyed by porakudies and panniyals than the latter by the former…” [11]

Ayyar was invoking a favourite myth of elite landlords in colonial Madras, an alleged golden age when pannaiyals unquestioningly obeyed their masters. While Indian landowning elites at this time routinely described a better past when their workers are supposed to have been more obedient, and blamed “outside influences” for upsetting labour relations, there remains no historical evidence whatsoever of any time when this was indeed the case. What we find instead is that whenever Dalits had opportunities to escape their villages or their bondage, they took them with unwavering swiftness.

…When A. G. Cardew, a senior British official, reviewed these remarks, he vehemently disagreed with the deputy registrar, pointing to Andrew’s long experience, as well as to his own firsthand observations of caste employers’ treatment of Panchamas. Yet more commonly, official resistance to such messages remained strong. For the colonial state, however much it is renowned for its sympathy towards Dalits, especially in comparison to native elites, was in fact highly dependent on landlords for taxes, its main source of revenue, and therefore very reluctant to go against their wishes. So, H. A. Stuart, another board member, insisted, “I am not much impressed by the individual cases of hardship which Mr. Andrew has brought to light. . . . Evidence of this kind really proves too much, for if it were true, the labourer could not live.”[12] The very fact that Dalit labourers were alive proved, for this official, that they were given enough to eat!

“Panchamas Are Just the Poor”

Stuart did, however, suggest that an enquiry be made regarding the conditions of Panchama laborers, at which time wages could also be verified. Stuart confidently predicted that such a report would show that Andrew had grossly underestimated wages. Equally distrustful of Andrew’s conclusions, but not willing even to allow a follow-up inquiry, a member of the governor’s executive council, P. S. Sivaswami Ayyar expressed concern thus:

The relations between Pariah labourers and their employers are generally smooth and harmonious, and the appointment of a commission [of inquiry] is, I am afraid, only too likely to cause great friction between the classes by creating undue expectations in the minds of one class and undue apprehension in the minds of the other. . . . A low standard of living and . . . insanitary conditions of life are not confined to the Pariah labourer. . . . It would be a great mistake to treat the problem . . . as confined to the Pariah community alone [13].

Again, the elite landowning classes insisted relations between Dalit labourers and their employers were “harmonious” and would stay that way if left alone. It was Sivaswami Ayyar’s contention, furthermore, that the Pariah’s impoverishment was not connected to his status as Pariah; poverty, rather, was the lot of all the “labouring classes” of India. This was also a common and well-worn, but completely unsubstantiated argument. Dalits, this argument went, were indeed poor, but it was not because they were Dalits—it was just unfortunately the case that some were poor and others rich. So the government ought not studying only Dalits. (In short, this is an older variant of the common but spurious anti-reservations argument one hears from elites today, who will insist that because there can be poor Brahmins and Vellalas, reservation targets the wrong subpopulation). In this vein, Sivaswami Ayyar declared that he would support an enquiry into the condition of those he termed “laboring classes” but not into the Pariah’s condition alone. And in accordance with Sivaswami Ayyar’s arguments, an officer was assigned to collect information not only on Panchamas but on those labeled “poor persons” as well.

The officer appointed to conduct the new inquiry, J. Gray, had been described to the public only as an officer evaluating the method of collecting statistics of agricultural wages. Yet as revenue officials anxiously noted in their discussion, the idea that Gray was assigned to enquire into the economic conditions of Panchamas had already been leaked to the native presses and became the cause of some uproar among landed elites… Gray was required to report on laborers’ wages, but he was also asked to make enquiries regarding three issues that Andrew’s report had identified as critical in the assessment of Panchamas’ welfare: (1) the extent to which laborers’ freedom was curtailed by the system of debt bondage or “man-mortgages” (al-adaimanam); (2) whether landlords routinely used the threat of eviction from house sites to exact labor at low wages; and (3) the frequency with which laborers sought alternative employment in India or abroad. In addition, wage data on the poor as a whole was to be collected, in order to assuage the members of government who had insisted that there should not be a study solely addressing Panchamas.

Despite resistance to collecting information on the true conditions of Dalits, Gray managed to unearth some scathing facts. For instance, in evaluating the process by which the state had collected the wage data he was expected to analyze, Gray identified major flaws in official methodology—and all of these flaws happened to skew the data in the same direction, mistakenly suggesting wages were higher than they actually were. Gray’s corrections showed that the labour regime was far more exacting than what had widely been officially assumed. “Inexperienced Revenue Inspectors,” Gray explained, were ignorant “of the village customs which govern the relationship of landholders and their labourers and farm servants” and as a consequence, treated the laborer as an individual.[14] In fact, wages and payments were often shared by families. This meant, for example, that as many as eight persons might have to survive on one male laborer’s wages.[15] Gray therefore concluded that “the method or scheme of the census [of agricultural wages] is … so inadequate that the final statistics are of very little real value as an index of the economic condition of the labouring classes.”[16] More damning still was the fact that in some villages the measure used to pay laborers’ grain wages was “slightly less than the measure used for all other purposes.”[17] In other words, although the measure had the same name, the one used for disbursing wages in kind held less grain than that by which grain was traded, and thus Dalit labourers’ wages were significantly less than had been reported. Although “every ryot and labourer in those villages was well aware of this long-standing custom,” many “Revenue Inspectors . . . were quite ignorant of [it.]” [18][19].

Gray then moved from agricultural wages to the specific consideration of the lot of Panchama agricultural laborers in four districts known for very poor labor conditions, namely Chingleput, Tanjore, South Arcot, and Malabar. He first observed that “the majority of field labourers whether daily coolies or farm servants, are Panchamas,” straightaway casting doubt on elite Indian and British official opinion that Panchamas represented only one group of laborers among others.[20] (In fact, overwhelming archival evidence shows that the difference between Panchamas and others was not limited to the fact that the former represented the majority of laborers: non-Panchamas were treated differently by landlords, were not subject to the same forms of discipline, were not prevented from owning land, and so on.) In Chingleput District, Gray deemed the condition of paṭiyāḷs (permanently tied servants) particularly unfavorable. Indian landlords and officials had for a long time claimed they were better off than daily wage earners because they were supposed to be employed even in slack seasons. But in fact such employment was far from regular. What Gray found therefore showed that the assumption about the increased security and prosperity of tied labourers was a complete fabrication that was based entirely on hearsay and that had, until this point, remained entirely untested.

In Gray’s estimation, it was what he called “debt” that spelled the ruin of the paṭiyāḷ. But this was debt of a very peculiar kind. Although most employers stated that their paṭiyāḷs could leave them at the end of a year of service if they chose to, simply by repaying the “advance” in full, it was clear to Gray that paṭiyāḷs could almost never manage to amass the necessary amount. Furthermore, it is quite likely that those mirasidars interviewed by Gray only stated the possibility of ending the service contract because they were aware that bondage was illegal. At any rate, in a small but significant number of villages in which Gray conducted interviews (ten out of eighty-eight), mirasidars stated quite plainly that “the padiyals are bound for life and can never leave their [i.e., the mirasidars’] service without permission even if they repay all advances”![21] In other words, the term debt for this relation is highly misleading, because this was a form of “debt” for which the “lender” would never accept payment. Indeed, as Gray found, “In many villages the patiyal is still referred to as an ‘Adimaial’ [‘slave’], while the cloth given to him at Pongal [a harvest festival] is generally known as ‘Sirai Panam’ [‘slave money’].”[22] At the time of Gray’s writing, slavery was supposed to have been abolished in British India for close to three-quarters of a century!

Mirasidars Versus the South Indian Oppressed Classes Union

…The outcome of Gray’s report was a suggestion by the government that Dalits be granted ownership over their house sites, and that this would be implemented first in Tanjore. Mirasidars in that district protested vociferously, sending petition after petition to the government. But so too did a group of Dalit activists in Negapatam calling themselves the South Indian Oppressed Classes Union (SIOCU). The few issues of their magazine, Valikattuvone (The Leader) that have survived reveal that they were following the situation in Tanjore with close attention. We also know that following a mass meeting of the mirasidars of Tanjore to protest the government’s plans, the SIOCU organized its own meeting to counter the mirasidars’ claims. The speeches made at the meeting have not survived, and all that remains in the pages of Valikattuvone is brief but bracing commentary on both the specific issue of housesites, and an analysis of caste domination.

Routes Valikattuvone

Valikattuvone the magazine run by the South India Oppressed Classes Union. Image Courtesy : Rupa Viswanath.


For instance, in an explanation of how the Union acquired its name, the editor, S. A. S. Tangamuttu noted:

It may be remarked that this Union has been curiously named as “The Oppressed Classes Union.” The names suggested by the Originators, viz., “The South India Panchama Union” and “The South India Depressed Classes Mission” were not welcome to the members as they said that they were not depressed but oppressed by other people even in trifling matters such as the wearing of shoes and holding of umbrellas… The landlords . . . oppress them in exacting more work than is conscientiously fixed for coolies in factories and mills. . . . Hence the name . . . is given to suit the desire of the majority of the Depressed Classes.[23]

Tangamuttu impugned the description of Panchamas as depressed, which allowed others to depict Panchamas’ poverty as a natural fact, simply another instance of the universal existence of economic stratification. Tangamuttu well understood his audience, since mirasidar petitions at the time frequently sought the sympathy of the state for their practices of domination by asserting that there was a “certain class of people” everywhere with whom the “better sort” do not associate. In contrast, Tangamuttu described Panchamas’ condition as one of oppression, in which the active efforts of mirasidars produced and maintained a very particular form of degradation and even extended the realm of their tyranny to matters of shoes and umbrellas. In so doing he highlighted the irreducibly relational quality of caste oppression: oppressed classes can exist only by virtue of those who so oppress them. This analysis underlies Tangamuttu’s scathing and ironic depiction of the Tanjore mirasidars. Commenting on a heated debate about the house site issue in the Madras Legislative Council, Tangamuttu wrote,

The maxim, “Grow crops, and eat what you have ploughed” [uḻutuṇ payiṟcey] is only being followed properly in zillahs [districts] other than this one. . . . [Tanjore mirasidars] have taken up high posts [in government administration]. They appear to believe that the noble work of agriculture is something to be despised, and have entrusted their wet and dry lands, which could earn them thousands of rupees, to the ignorant, uncultured Panchaman. Then with the very meager income they receive from their lands they lie on their sofas, becoming even lazier than the Panchama![24]

While mirasidars claimed they were struggling against high revenue demands and bad agricultural seasons and were now afraid the house site scheme would increase laborers’ wages, Tangamuttu maintained that their lack of greater profit sprang from an insufficient industriousness. This was the very charge everyone, from missionaries to landholders, leveled against Panchamas—hence Tangamuttu’s arch reference to the “lazy Panchaman.” The accusation that mirasidars were thereby not showing the respect due to agriculture is a stinging one in Tamil country, where cultivation of the soil is widely exalted as the most virtuous profession and cultivators as the most ennobled class. While some “high” castes styled themselves cultivators and “breakers of the soil” par excellence (most famously, Tamil Vellalars), the lofty title was never granted to Panchamas. In depicting Panchamas as the true tillers of the soil, Tangamuttu exposed dominant caste ideology in Tamil country as a fraud and a sham. Tangamuttu argued that mirasidars were not producing their due for the state and that what they did glean from their lands was wholly the work of those he sarcastically dubbed, channeling the disparagement of landlords, “ignorant, uncultured Panchamas.” It was not Panchamas who were thriftless, that is, but mirasidars. And it was Panchamas who the state should value as revenue-producers…

Seventy-three years after slavery was officially abolished in British India, Dalit laborers continued to be held in de facto unfreedom by landed castes, with the explicit knowledge of the colonial state—which, it should be clarified, cannot be understood as composed only of British officials but in fact included Indian landed interests at every level. This becomes visible when we recognize the systematic discrepancy between laws and regulations on one hand, and the ways that they are implemented on the other. Dalits’| existence as the very backbone of the agrarian economy, in the Presidency which, for much of the colonial period, was the cash cow of India, was moreover, studiously ignored, despite the vocal opposition of Tangamuttu and others Dalit leaders like him.

While slavery was allowed to go on virtually unchanged, its legal abolition functioned as an alibi, and was widely touted as evidence of the progressivism of the state. We see many similar kinds of “protections” for Dalits today facing the same fate. Given the continued collusion between the state and high-caste elites from the earliest emergence of modern bureaucracy in the colonial period, it is hardly surprising that untouchability is rampant over half a century after its legal abolition in independent India in 1955. Dalit citizens are consigned to live in zones where the laws do not apply, in spaces of “blackout.” By the end of the 1910s such criticisms animated the fiery rhetoric of the earliest generation of Dalit politicians in Madras’ Legislative Council—before, that is, their autonomous struggles were dispersed, but never entirely swept away, by the overwhelming tides of Dravidianism.


[1] Excerpt taken from The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion and the Social in Modern India, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), chs. 7 and 8, pp. 168-216.

[2] The report and copious notes on it are filed in GOR 875 Confidential, April 19, 1916, TNSA.

[3] For discussion and Tamil translation of J. H. A. Tremenheere’s “Note on the Pariahs of Chingleput Report, see V. Alex, ed. and trans, Panchami Land Rights: Note on the Pariahs of Chingleput, (Madurai, India: Ezhuthu, 2009.)

[4] This was likely, because missionaries such as Andrew were frequent participants in conferences at which notes were exchanged on the management of Panchamas. Andrew was also an active member of the South Indian Missionary Association, giving him access to firsthand accounts of work among Panchamas conducted by missionaries stationed in Madras, Mysore, and Travancore.

[5] Bought-in lands were those on which revenue payment had been defaulted and which then did not fetch even a minimal price at auction: these were therefore the least desirable lands, mostly unfit for cultivation. Chapter one of the book discusses the minimal response of the government to J. H. A. Tremenheere’s “Report on the Pariahs of Chingleput,” and Adam Andrew’s “The Madras Government and the Pariahs” (Harvest Field, July 1893–December 1894, 207–16, 241–54) presents a sharply critical take on the same.

[6] GOR 875 Confidential, April 19, 1916, p. 2.

[7] Ibid.

[8] The accuracy of Andrew’s assessment is supported by the official report on emigration by A. K. G. Ahmad Tambi Marakkayar and J. Marjoribanks, which describes in harrowing detail the high rates of severe illness, suicide driven by loneliness, and homesickness that awaited those brave enough to attempt emigration. See GOH 281 Mis., November 3, 1916.

[9] BPR 2258 Mis., April 11, 1889, TNSA.

[10] GOR 875 Confidential, April 19, 1916, p. 4.

[11] Notes to GOR 875 Confidential, April 19, 1916, p. 6, citing GOR 1195, October 29, 1885, p. 7.

[12] Notes to GOR 875 Confidential, April 19, 1916, TNSA, p. 19, para. 4.

[13] Notes to GOR 875 Confidential, April 19, 1916, TNSA, p. 20.

[14] BPS 106, May 29, 1918, cited in GOR 2941, August 12, 1918, TNSA, p. 21.

[15] GOR 875 Confidential, April 19, 1916, TNSA, pp. 3-4.

[16] BPS 106, May 29, 1918, cited in GOR 2941, August 12, 1918, TNSA, p. 15.

[17] Unfortunately, Gray does not tell us exactly the proportional difference. BPS 106, May 29, 1918, cited in GOR 2941, August 12, 1918, TNSA, p. 21.

[18] BPS 106, May 29, 1918, cited in GOR 2941, August 12, 1918, TNSA, p. 21.

[19] BPS 106, May 29, 1918, cited in GOR 2941, August 12, 1918, TNSA, p. 30.

[20] BPS 106, May 29, 1918, cited in GOR 2941, August 12, 1918, TNSA, p. 24.

[21] BPS 106, May 29, 1918, cited in GOR 2941, August 12, 1918, TNSA, p. 28; emphasis mine. Chapter one book discusses how to understand the “man-mortgage” and other forms of “debt” which were transacted between master and agrarian servant in colonial Madras.

[22] BPS 106, May 29, 1918, cited in GOR 2941, August 12, 1918, TNSA, p. 30.

[23] Valikattuvön, January 1918, pp. 2-3; emphasis mine.

[24] Valikättuvön, March 1918, p. 64.


This article was written by Rupa Viswanath.

Rupa Viswanath is Professor of Indian Religions at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies at the University of Göttingen, Germany. 

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