Tag Archives: Dalits

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.


http://www.routesblog.com is happy to podcast the Dr.Ambedkar Lecture.

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


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. 





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.


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

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

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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. http://aotcpress.com/articles/setting-caste-feet/.

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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. 

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.