Caste, Communication and Power 9789391370824

1,094 127 6MB

English Pages 369 [389] Year 2021

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

Caste, Communication and Power

Table of contents :
List of Images and Figures
Section I: (Re)imagining Caste: Theories, Concepts and
Chapter 1:
Caste and the Dalit Question
Chapter 2: Caste, Community and Communication in India Revisiting D. N. Majumdar’s Contribution and Beyond
Chapter 3:Facets of the Caste System in Early India
Chapter 4: The Etymological Origin of Caste, Communication and Khatik in the 19th and the Early 20th Centuries Colonial UP
Section II: Caste and Lifeworlds: Rituals, Folklore and Orality
Chapter 5: Negotiating Hierarchies Through Symbolic
Chapter 6: Popular Culture and Social Movements
Chapter 7: Communicating the Contestation of Caste
Chapter 8: Pedagogies, Social Transformations and New Oralities of
Arjak Sangh
Section III: Culture, Subversions and
Chapter 9:
Popular Subversions
Chapter 10: Caste, Class and
the Market
Chapter 11:Dalit Empowerment,
Narratives and Violence
Chapter 12:
Lives of Voice
Section IV: Mediation, Negotiation and Re-appropriation
of Caste
Chapter 13: Imagined Caste in Digital Banners of
Tamil Nadu
Chapter 14: Caste Identity, Communication and
New Social Movement
Chapter 15: The Power Dynamics Behind Labelling in the Food Culture of India
Chapter 16: New Media, Caste and
Ageing Population
Section V: Literary Culture and Communicating
Chapter 17:Pariyan: Print Media, Mobilization and Resistance in Colonial
Chapter 18:Caste Identity and Self-fashioning in Mulkraj Anand’s
Chapter 19: Communicating Caste? Investigating
Chapter 20:Marathas, Brahmin and Non-Brahmin Contes
About the Editors and Contributors

Citation preview


SAGE was founded in 1965 by Sara Miller McCune to support the dissemination of usable knowledge by publishing innovative and high-quality research and teaching content. Today, we publish over 900 journals, including those of more than 400 learned societies, more than 800 new books per year, and a growing range of library products including archives, data, case studies, reports, and video. SAGE remains majority-owned by our founder, and after Sara’s lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures our continued independence. Los Angeles | London | New Delhi | Singapore | Washington DC | Melbourne

Caste, Communication and Power

Caste, Communication and Power Edited by

Biswajit Das Debendra Prasad Majhi

Copyright © Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, 2021 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. First published in 2021 by

SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd B1/I-1 Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area Mathura Road, New Delhi 110 044, India Typeset in 10.5/13 pt Adobe Caslon Pro. Library of Congress Control Number: 2021941246

ISBN: 978-93-91370-82-4 (PB)


List of Images and Figures ix Acknowledgements xi Preface xiii Introduction: Caste and Power in Everyday Life: Tropes, Interplay and Negotiation  Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi


Section I: (Re)imagining Caste: Theories, Concepts and Trajectories   1 Caste and the Dalit Question: Mainstream Sociology, Marxism and Dalit Studies Hira Singh


  2 Caste, Community and Communication in India Revisiting D. N. Majumdar’s Contribution and Beyond49 Archana Singh and Biswajit Das   3 Facets of the Caste System in Early India: Changing Forms of Expression, Communication and Its Spread Bhairabi Prasad Sahu   4 The Etymological Origin of Caste, Communication and Khatik in the 19th and the Early 20th Centuries Colonial UP Vijay Kumar



Section II: Caste and Lifeworlds: Rituals, Folklore and Orality   5 Negotiating Hierarchies Through Symbolic Praxis Subhadra Mitra Channa


vi  Caste, Communication and Power

  6 Popular Culture and Social Movements: A Caste Based Narrative Neerja Singh and Namit Vikram Singh


  7 Communicating the Contestation of Caste: In Between Folklore and Modern Literature in Mithila Dev Nath Pathak


  8 Pedagogies, Social Transformations and New Oralities of Arjak Sangh Asha Singh


Section III: Culture, Subversions and Representation   9 Popular Subversions: Aesthetics of Resistance in Kaala169 Prashant Parvataneni 10 Caste, Class and the Market: Representation of Caste in Hindi Television Serials Sushmita Pandit


11 Dalit Empowerment, Narratives and Violence: Locating Ambedkar Through Select Films Benson Rajan and Shreya Venkatraman


12 Lives of Voice: Radio Commentary and the Grammar of Sporting Merit in Postcolonial Calcutta Rohan Sengupta


Section IV: Mediation, Negotiation and Re-appropriation of Caste 13 Imagined Caste in Digital Banners of Tamil Nadu M. Suresh and V. Ratnamala


14 Caste Identity, Communication and New Social Movement Ritu Sharma


15 The Power Dynamics Behind Labelling in the Food Culture of India Jasmine


Contents  vii

16 New Media, Caste and Ageing Population: A Study of Appropriation in Select Areas of West Bengal Debarati Dhar


Section V: Literary Culture and Communicating Caste 17 Pariyan: Print Media, Mobilization and Resistance in Colonial Madras J. Balasubramaniam


18 Caste Identity and Self-fashioning in Mulkraj Anand’s Untouchable314 Shardool Thakur 19 Communicating Caste? Investigating Chandrakanta327 Mayank Kumar 20 Marathas, Brahmin and Non-Brahmin Contestations: Press and Public Sphere in Early 20th Century Akshay Sawant About the Editors and Contributors Index


357 365

List of Images and Figures

Images 8.1 8.2

(Left) Reading and Repeating the Arjak Oath; (Right) Signing the Marriage Certificate Women Singing in an Arjak Vivaah Samaroh

157 165

13.1 The Banner has Displayed for Pasumpon Muthuramaling Thevar 105th Gooru Poja in Kaalavasal, Madurai 13.2 The Banner has Displayed by South-Indian Forward Block Parties Youngsters with Images of Thevar and Maruthu Brothers in Chinnamanoor, Theni 13.3 The Banner has Displayed by Vellalar Community People for Pongal Celebration, they have Designed with Images of VOC and Maruthanayagam in VOC Nagar, Madurai 13.4 The Banner has Displayed by Konar Community. It Designed with Images of Lord Krishna and Azhagumuthukon, Meenachipuram, Rajapalayam 13.5 The Banner has Displayed by Devendrakula Vellalar Community. It Designed with Images of Immanuel Sekaran, Seelayampatti, Theni


20.1 Outlook of a Maratha-owned Newspaper, “Vijayi Maratha”


230 232

234 236

Figure 16.1 Accessibility of New Media Tools Across Zones



Acknowledgements are owed to various institutions and scholars who remained a source of inspiration and encouragement for our present endeavour throughout. First of all, we would like to express our gratitude to late Professor Yogendra Singh, who always inquired and advised us during the progress of this volume. Dr Ambedkar Foundation, New Delhi, showed keen interest in our initiative and generously supported us in identifying scholars for creative conversation and collaborative engagement. The Centre for Culture Media and Governance’s (CCMG) excellence tag of CPEPA (Centre with Potential for Excellence in Media and Communication Studies), supported by the University Grants Commission, immensely helped in providing financial resources as well as allowed us to identify young, energetic and inquisitive minds to nurture various projects at the Centre. We would like to sincerely acknowledge our fellow colleagues Dr Kusum Lata, Dr Manoj N. Y. and Dr Ritu Sinha, whose intellectual and administrative support helped in organizing a conference at Jamia Millia Islamia. We also thank the CPEPA staff involved in various capacities to see the completion of the project and the output. We would like to sincerely acknowledge the continuous support and encouragement of all the faculty members and staff members of CCMG—Professor Saima Saeed, Director; Vibodh Parthasarathy; and Dr Athikho Kaisii. We would like to thank Ms Rekha Chawla, Mr Sonvir Singh, Mr Khurshid Alam and Rizwana for library support. We appreciate the time and effort devoted by Shambhu Sahu, Project Manager; and Ratan Kumar Roy, Research Fellow, CPEPA at CCMG. We owe it to all the contributors for their exciting and engaged essays. We appreciate the contribution and encouragement

xii  Caste, Communication and Power

by Professor Hira Singh. Great thanks are due to Professor Gopalan Ravindaran for his insightful observations and support on behalf of All India Communication and Media Association, New Delhi (AICMA). A special note of appreciation to Ratan, who made our work much simpler as many of the essays have been edited by him in a meticulous manner, and he helped in structuring the volume thematically as well. Centre’s research scholar and CPEPA project fellow Ms Ridhi Kakkar helped us with various administrative and academic support during the process. We thank the SAGE team, especially Rajesh Dey, for facilitating the work. Editors


The contributors for this volume represent diverse disciplinary orientations with a common concern to engage with the issues of caste, communication and power. The contributions represent heterogeneity and ways of engaging with the issue that transcends location to imagination too. It rejuvenates us to think about and think through caste in everyday life. The imaginary practice allows possibilities to explore meaning-making of caste as people choose and select elements available to them with the help of cultural flows through literary text and media. People make sense of the world presented to them and, therefore, these worlds start to form a part of their social lives. The created images influence their social actions, making the imaginary not merely a fantasy but rather a practical tool in daily social life. People have gained the opportunity to consider possible alternatives to their daily social practice through their imagination. As Appadurai points out, ‘The imagination has become an organized field of social practices, a form of work (in the sense of both labour and culturally organized practice) and a form of negotiation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibility’ (Appadurai 1990, 49). People are active agents and interpret images by themselves; within and through imagination, people are enabled to negotiate their social life. The present volume, thus, pays close attention to people’s construction of social reality in relation to caste as a social phenomenon by delving deeper into the communicative practices and existing power relations. Editors

Introduction Caste and Power in Everyday Life: Tropes, Interplay and Negotiation Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi

Caste as a social phenomenon attracts much attention across academia and public life in India. As a category, it governs our polity, economy, and culture, and the statecraft in the policy domain. It is so deeply entrenched in our imagination that conceiving social realities without caste is simply unimaginable. Everyday news reportage and the stories stand as testimony to the imprint of caste on cultural and personal memories of individuals experiencing social alienation, sociability and, finally, exclusion from resources and means of production. The rising caste atrocities, exploitation and inequality—be it in village, institution and everyday life—compels us to re-examine the salience and silences in understanding the power exercised by caste in society. Singh (1986) comments that our understanding of ‘caste’ has evolved over a period of time through different perspectives that have ‘anchorage in ideologies’. Although scholarly writings on caste are very rich, they seem to highlight caste in relation to community, context and structure in society (Bailey 1958; Béteille 1965; Breman 1974; Cohn 1955; Dumont 1980; Dumont and Pocock 1957; Gough 1955; Marriott 1955; Mencher 1980; Srinivas 1955).

2  Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi

Singh (1986) elucidates the difficulty in assigning any specific theory to understand caste as most of these interpretations and theories are metaphorical rather than formal. Most of these contributions, while analyzing ‘caste’, bank upon ‘tradition’ as an episteme in the process of articulation and re-articulation of social reality. Scholars revisit and reinvent tradition by studying the repetitive practices, values and norms of behaviour as practiced by caste. The more the term becomes historicized, the more our apprehensions and convictions become naturalized. In order to grasp the context of caste and its interplay, we need to problematize caste within the everyday experiences being embedded within cultural and institutional formations. These formations are malleable and they mutate whilst being durable, which organizes social actions in powerful ways while at the same time being modified by them. The idea of ‘past’ tradition has been differently appropriated, negotiated, articulated and internalized by scholars in reflecting the dynamics of communication in framing caste and power relations in society. Communication is organically embedded in the social production process. It is due to this embeddedness of communication that caste and power, and the associated ideological representations play a crucial role. The founding contributors have said little about the role of communication in the constitution of caste and power relations. This volume proposes that communication not only constitutes but is constituted by the dynamics of caste and power relations. In fact, in contemporary times, it has received centrality in shaping the textures of everyday life. Caste, communication and power, as we argue in this volume, are inextricably interlinked. People’s construction of social reality is reflected through uses of a variety of symbolic forms. such as the aural, written, tonal and visual expressions, signs and languages. All these forms help in making the foundation of caste, communication and power in Indian society. The conceptual and theoretical foundations of caste and power relations evolve and emerge from the observation of communicative resources that represent people’s construction of realities. Its implications are twofold: first, communication constitutes the organic, rather a founding basis of caste and power relations;

Introduction  3

and second, the conceptual and theoretical discourses are deeply impacted by the manner in which analytical uses of the sources are used in concept formation and theorizing. The closer relationships between caste and power relations have their basis in this organic linkage. Consequently, communication may be treated as the ‘master social process’ in understanding caste and power relations. It is vital for cognition of realities. This interface of communication with caste and power relations reflects in its formulations the notions of ‘social structure’ and ‘culture’, and the analysis of their normative and ideological underpinnings. Any understanding of caste and power relations may not undermine the inter-caste dynamics that induce differences over resource allocation and social positions due to kinship networks. Dumont’s (1970) work provides a starting point to understand caste and power structure from an Indological perspective. Dumont construed ‘hierarchy’ against ‘equality’ at the global level; and at the specific level, he made a distinction between ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’. For him, hierarchy reigned supreme in the analysis of social relations, and was embedded both overtly and covertly in the caste system. He suggests that the principle of purity encompasses the impure. He also makes a distinction between sacerdotal (priestly) and temporal (king) power. It is the sacerdotal power that enjoys a higher rank because of the position it enjoys in the social ladder of hierarchy. ‘Power’ basically remains in the institution of hierarchy. Even if competition grows, as shown by Bailey (1958) and Leach (1971), it has the adaptability for new political, economic and social demands (Srinivas 1955, 1959, 1968). Scholars have highlighted the flaw as well as the limitations in method and sources of data in Dumont’s postulation of pure and impure categories (Das and Uberoi 1971; Leach 1960; Madan 1971, 1972), and point out the failure to have any impact in Indian society (Jain 1985). Furthermore, a number of scholars (Geertz 1973; Kessing 1974; Marriott 1976) developed new theoretical directions incorporating structuralism within the framework of ethnosociology. These studies emphasize on the meaning system related to the study of symbols and codes implied in the text and language used by people. This provides a renewed perspective and meaning to understand social structure (Inden and Nicholas 1972, 1977; Marriott 1976). Scholars within this framework suggest that

4  Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi

with ritual, communion model of communication analysis should be concerned with the ways that cultural meanings are created, changed, celebrated and contradicted by all segments of society (Carey 1988). This anthropological tradition has been effectively utilized by communication studies engaged in studying concepts such as myth, ritual and folklore drawn from the anthropology of pre-industrial societies. There is a wide range of studies within this field, like social structure and relationships, cultural values, kinship, religion, cultural transaction and symbolism of life and the world, etc. (Barnett 1976; David 1973; Fruzzetti and Ostor 1976; Inden and Nicholas 1972, 1989; Pocock 1985; Singer 1984). From the aforementioned studies, we observe that the scholars formulate the scope of their studies, and that the universes of their discourses are limited to language system, caste puranas, myths or legends. They construe social reality on the translation of the symbols and categories of the people into the structuralist language and style of social anthropology. This translation does not amount to, nor does it intend to supply, explanation (Jain 1985). Rather, it reflects the heavy methodological influence of Euro-American traditions of cultural anthropology even though its focus is on Indological sources. Many scholars within the field of anthropology do not merely pose the notion of ‘power’ to the ‘great’ texts of political theory but also expand it to encompass a much broader spectrum of human activity. Scholars (Firth 1973; Turner 1967, 1969) view political action and political rhetoric as artifacts, as buildings and city planning, paintings and sculptures, flags and costumes. Through the study of events such as feasts and festivals, carnivals and ceremonies, these scholars argue that the ‘symbolics of power’ represent and highlight the inner working order of any society (Geertz 1973). Geertz argues in the context of Bali that ‘Pomp was not in the service of power, but power was in the service of pomp’ (Geertz 1980). In most cases, such studies fall into the trap of ‘time’ and ‘change’. These studies appear static in the manner in which they view ceremonies, symbolism or ritual events, and lose the historical sense and social context. As a result, the study becomes a potted account of an entire society and the original purpose gets rather forgotten. Few studies centre on the functional relationship between power and the ceremonial occasions as consensual or

Introduction  5

conflictual instances of mobilizations. Such studies make the notion of ‘power’ essentially problematic and treat ceremonies as fundamental and important. The crucial explanation of such studies is that the anthropologists studying such dimensions are interested in the structure of meaning and try to understand how symbolic idioms are used and appropriated in a society. Geertz (1973) asserts a basic congruence between a ‘particular style of life’ and a specific metaphysic, which religious symbols formulate, but he never considers to what extent the congruence exists—whether it takes place at a purely discursive level or somehow by ‘life’ and ‘culture’ imitating each other. Likewise, the study of ritual should not only refer to all forms of symbolic behaviour because such positions assume implicitly or explicitly the existence of a normative consensus without which social life would be impossible (Asad 1975). The aforementioned analysis offers insights not about particular societies but about society in general. The basic functions or structures, no matter how sophisticated or marked they may be in modern times, still underlie modern forms. But here the thrust remains on the context and process. The meaning is a meaning in context, and structures change while old functions may find expression in the new forms. Scholars have viewed social relations and power from multidimensional perspectives, using sets of social variables and categories. Few scholars attempt through operationalizing the social dimensions. However, these studies are based on empirical observations and theoretical sophistication that vary from highly analytical to purely descriptive treatments (Agarwal 1971; Aurora 1972; Beteille 1965, 1971; Bhatt 1975; Brass 1975; Ommen 1984a; 1984b; Singh 1985; Verba, Ahmad and Bhatt 1971). Other studies with a critical tradition of thinking, initially centred around speculative politico-ideological dimensions, applied to understand the Indian social structure with the help of historical and sociological data (Dhanagare 1983; Gupta 1981, 1983; Rao 1978; Rao 1979). The critical formulations of social structure in India centre around delineation of the mode of production. Few studies attempt to combine an overt emphasis with the mode of production like class character, linkages with caste, kinship and family systems. Such studies

6  Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi

centre around economic aspects and agrarian structure; they hardly discuss popular traditions and local cultures. These studies continue to suffer from crude economism, formalism and neglect of cultural as well as symbolic systems of traditions, and linguistic forms and cultural practices. Social contradictions should not merely be grasped through the formal categories but also attempt to understand the differing aspects of traditions and the dialectic that is locked up in the popular images of the past. Most of the anthropological studies on ‘religion’ resorted to the study of culture to revive it. Culture was defined as ‘an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate and develop their knowledge about their attitudes towards life’ (Geertz 1973). Here, culture is understood as that which enabled people to communicate, perpetuate and develop knowledge about their attitudes towards life, but there is no concept of the relationship of culture so conceived to ‘life’ itself, or to the material conditions and activities for maintaining life. Indeed, the very expressions ‘knowledge about’ and ‘attitudes towards life’ suggested a distanced spectator role as compared to ‘knowledge from’ and ‘attitudes in’ living. A consequence was that when religion was conceptualized later in terms of symbols, it would be isolated from social practices and discourses, and regarded primarily in terms of consciousness. It closed off the possibility of examining how ‘knowledge’ and ‘attitudes’ were related to material conditions and social activities, and to what extent they were formed by them (see Talal Asad 1975). Power in this context could not be separated from the priesthood (Dumont 1970) because, in these societies, it would be difficult to make an ontological separation between politics and religion. Power is derived not only from worship but also from privileges accorded to the individual. Dumont’s (1970) distinction of ‘religious’ as a non-power connotation restricted power singularly to the political–economic sphere. It poses severe limitations to understand power relations because it does not qualify the mode of religious discourse and its dominance over values in the social situation. For instance, religion does not encompass kingship any more than kingship encompasses religion. Royal honour combined with the

Introduction  7

notions of restrictions, command and order were the key discursive components that were embodied in, and productive of, the nature and order of hierarchical relations. As Foucault (1983) argued, the effective existence and reproduction of any relationship of power presupposed the simultaneous operation of a hegemonic discourse, because in these societies, the relations of power could not themselves be established, consolidated, nor implemented without the production, accumulation, circulation and functioning of a discourse (Foucault 1983, 83). The process in the constitution of a true discourse was in itself a process of hierarchization and involved the subjugation of other discourses that were marginalized in the process. There is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge/ideology, nor any knowledge/ideology that did not presuppose and constitute, at the same time, power relations (Foucault 1977, 27). Ritual as a form of ideology permeated into the practical activity of the day-to-day life, which in turn built in a structure to create a context for activity and produced legitimating symbols couched in the ideologies of everyday life. Ideas of production were influenced by legitimating symbols, though these symbols conditioned, rather than determined the ideas men had about their work. In this context, ‘social’ being determines consciousness, while leaving open for common investigation the question as to how far it was meaningful in any given society to describe ‘social being’ independently of the norms and primary cognitive structures, as well as material needs, around which existence was organized (E. P. Thompson 1978, 16). The material needs are guided by the customs of traditions and inheritance (patrilinear) that are tenaciously transmitted in non-economic ways and yet profoundly influenced these societies. Even the customary rhythms of work and of leisure (of festival) were often realized as part of religious institution and beliefs of Hindu society. Here, religious and moral imperatives intermeshed with economic needs. The Brahmanical texts codified the relations. Further, it was carefully implanted through a Jajmani framework that ensured that even the lowest strata of castes enjoyed certain customary rights. These included hereditary employment, a share in the harvest, a homesite, sometimes land allotment, gifts at festivals, a more or less ensured subsistence, support in their marriage and death rituals, help in emergencies, etc. (E. P. Thompson 1978).

8  Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi

Thus, the rulers, if they had to retain a certain position of honour, had to be recognized as ‘worthy’ holders of power in terms of the dominant discourses, the maintenance of what had been termed a ‘clientele’ was absolutely vital for the dominant castes. And to sustain an effective ‘patron-client’ relation, to engender the loyalty of one’s clientele, necessitated the features of the relationship. These were the features that far from mitigating power, precisely constituted it. They were form and exercise of power in this context. These relationships were not to be studied simply as landowner/labourer relationships; they were simultaneously much more and much less than that (Gough 1979: 87). Once the communal property rights had been undermined, the dominant castes had an eminent right over the land, reflecting their dominant share in the produce. Their position of dominance meant so much more, encompassed so many more dimensions, holding sway over the labouring castes in many more spheres than just the labour process. These included the ‘power of justice’, with dominant caste peers being often entrusted with the arbitration of differences within or across other castes. They also held a pre-eminence in village affairs, in particular with their dealings with supra village authorities. So all social practices were governed by ritual practices. Although the distinction existed between public institutional and non-institutional practices, the former played a crucial role in the legitimation of the social order, thus maintaining discrete social divisions. Intimately associated with such rites was the relationship between power and knowledge. The process of initiation into a higher status involved the acquisition of knowledge in the marginal state. It did not matter what this knowledge actually was; what was important was that this knowledge existed and demarcated those who possessed it. Sometimes the rituals effectively served to challenge hierarchies, but these were usually unstable because of the lack of institutionalization, and what was essentially being manifested in both forms is power—either attempted to maintain existing power bases or to subvert them. Power relations were simultaneously affirmed and misrepresented through ritual activities. Two recurrent types of institutionalized ritual activities might be distinguished: (a) rites of passage in which individuals, were transferred from one social status to another and (b) calendrical rites associated with fertility and the passage of the seasons. The former were always rituals of status

Introduction  9

reversal. Rituals were so strongly embedded in social life because they provided an anchoring point for the affirmation of power on the part of the specific individuals or groups and for the legitimation of the social order (Bloch 1977, 36; Leach 1976; Turner 1969). Status was socially mediated and hence became invested with power because such rituals while transferring people from one status to another, also served to demarcate status in terms of an evaluative hierarchy thus maintaining discrete social divisions. Intimately associated with such rites is the relationship between power and knowledge. The process of initiation into a higher status involved the acquisition of knowledge in the marginal state. It does not matter what this knowledge actually is but what is important is that this knowledge existed and demarcated those who possessed it and those who did not. Knowledge is power and power in turn augmented knowledge. This knowledge could not be acquired by the individual but was imparted by those in positions of power and served to legitimate social divisions. The fewer the people who possessed this knowledge, the greater its value, and the value of this information was greatest when it ceased to be useful: when one person had it and did not transmit it. Authority ultimately vested in knowledge and, mediated through ritual, became projected into the past and naturalized (Barthes 1975 217; La Fontaine 1977). Another important characteristic of institutionalized rituals is their formality, reserve and apartness from daily activities. This permitted the elaboration of symbolic forms that alluded to social reality not by presenting it but by presenting it as other than it really was by characterizing society as a unitary and harmonizing whole involving song, dance and material symbols. The ritual symbols constructed and manipulated the social order, and they were themselves structured by it. They serve to identify the precarious social construction of reality with the natural order of things. Often, these relationships are exhibited in culturally stereotyped ways and are represented in culturally stereotyped forms in what Levi-Strauss calls ‘the logic of the concrete’. As anthropologists encountered ‘other cultures’ or societies for their studies, they had to make sense of their statements or observations. It was possible only through a meaningful understanding of the structure of symbols, signs and representations of the community/tribe

10  Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi

under participant observation. It also involved the ability for cognitive reflexivity on the part of the anthropologist (who was usually from an alien culture) to maintain objectivity of interpretation. Understanding the communication processes becomes the key that opens the door to meet with these challenges. Their focus on communication is reflected, first, in observations of the interactive aspect of the institutions of economy, polity, kinship, marriage, etc.—particularly through the institutionalized modes and norms of reciprocity and exchange in social interactions. Second, it is positioned in the domains of religion and belief systems, particularly the performance of rituals. The analysis of linguistic terms as indicators of social position, hierarchy, power structure, etc. mark the link between communication, culture and society as studied in social anthropology. Social anthropologists have also explored the relationship between the structure of language and the structure of society. C. Levi-Strauss observes a closer correspondence between myth and language. Myths form, according to him, the basis of social structure. Mytheme, a structural component of myths, could be treated as a vital part of the linguistic structure functionally equivalent to phonemes and morphemes, and taken together, these constitute the structure of the myth. Its logic or grammar lies below the ‘surface’ and necessitates de-codification. The tribal totemic and kinship institutions and relationships manifest it, and form a sort of ‘communication network’, says Levi-Strauss (1976). The comprehension of the grammar and the logic (in other words, the model) of the mythic nature of social structure is essential to understanding its institutions. Communication forms a vital component of this process. Since the beginning of ‘structural anthropology’, numerous studies of the overlap between the theories of linguistics and the structuralist theories of social anthropology and sociology have dominated the theoretical constructs of communication studies. Their impact has been wider and deeper, cutting across the disciplinary boundaries. The premises on which this new approach was founded were that the communication process is essentially relational in nature, and its elements matter less than the relationships themselves; that all human behaviour (not only verbal or oral) has a communicative value, and the relationships that are mutually responsive can be perceived as a vast system with a logic of their own. This approach goes beyond the

Introduction  11

functional sociological view of communication, which treats it as a conscious or deliberate verbal act with discrete qualities. Rather, it views communication as an ongoing process with multiple modes of behavioural manifestation such as speech, gestures, facial expressions and physical space between individuals. Edward T. Hall’s work The Silent Language (1959) articulated the significance of the ‘silent languages’ based on ‘codes’, languages of time, space and possession of material goods, etc., based on African-American experiences in inter-cultural communication. The inability to comprehend ‘codes’ of a people’s culture, according to this view, may lead to misunderstandings in communication. The symbolic meanings attached to the rules of space and time in different cultures have their own logic. The aforementioned discussion tries to capture and explain casteidealism, materialism and the cultural that inform contemporary scholarship. These approaches have made some significant contributions in understanding caste, communication and power. However, one cannot undermine the assumptions they foster and the temporality of ideas they demonstrate, which have roots in specific historical processes or conjunctures. In recent years, scholars (Bayly 2004; Deshpande 2003; Dirks 2003; Gupta 2000, 2004; Roy 2008; Sharma 2012; Singh 2014) have highlighted the inner logical inconsistencies and contradictions within the caste system. The contradictions arise as on the one hand caste is viewed as an institution with prescription and proscription of practice and behaviours. and on the other, the dynamism caste in polity, culture, economy and religion is looked at. The typification of caste is based on observance from the medieval practice and is often generalized. Sharma (2012) highlights that caste has become a system of oppression, social disabilities and social inequality. However, the age-old oppression has resulted in political mobilization, and assertion of identity in public policies, profession and education sector. The emergence of Dalit studies is a case in point (Kumar 2012). It provides interesting insights to understand caste. As Singh (2014) points out, there are many studies but there is less theory in understanding caste. This is because theoretical paradigms still lag behind the primordial and practical realities that living cultures and living social realities

12  Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi

reproduce and represent. In providing a privileged position in historiography to material forces of production and social relations therein, critical paradigms have, wittingly or unwittingly, underprivileged— indeed undermined—the non-material but nevertheless tangible cultural, cosmological and symbolic constellations that made the production of life and its conditions possible. That scholarly negligence has cost the understanding of communications and its social modus operandi very dearly. Perforce now in the age of corporate capitalism that boasts of having inaugurated the so-called information revolution and incorporating into its information fold, the remote recesses where oral traditions and non-literate people resided compels understanding to reckon with the nonmaterial constellations and communication structures. However, such an understanding can scarcely figure the past paradigms for its necessity springs from the negligence that those paradigms represent. Caste interaction and negotiation is organized around various ambivalences, which is a significant feature of the use of cultural forms in the process of communicational intercourse. The processes of exchange, cooptation, assimilation and re-appropriation highlight the intermingling of caste and communication. There are various moments when intense civilizational encounters take place, leading to articulation, negotiation, interweaving and reinterpretation of symbolic forms associated with caste. There are innumerable instances where the assertion of identity over symbolic assets has met with violent reactions from privileged social groups and caste. The symbolic order may include elements of both material and immaterial culture such as food, dress, festivals, rituals, discourses, narratives, artefacts, proverbs, folklores, songs and so on. The present volume attempts to explore the aforementioned dimensions and understand communication and the constitution of caste in Indian society. ‘Communication’ and ‘caste’ are extremely intertwined, and they constitute a ‘life world’ governed by history and the existential determinants of human situation. These contributions provide a shift in epistemology in understanding caste and communication in Indian society. It views communication as a form of social relation articulated through various modes of exchange, circulation of knowledge and cultural practices. As Bel et al. (2010) point out, anthropologists have highlighted oral traditions as substantive

Introduction  13

references forging bonds of thought, conduct and action, especially in communities bereft of a written script. Further, Goody (1987) comments that collective memory is not a result of a word-to-word orality; rather, it operates with variations, to the extent that mnemonic procedures are rarely perceived as necessary. Caste as a communication community indicates the two-way transitive process of interaction and negotiation rather than a fixed monolithic category waiting to be deconstructed. The proposed volume advocates that the cognitive structure of the semantic process of dominance and resistance can be explored from the point of communicational exchange. Most of the media formats be it print or electronic and the media pundits reflect a brahminic discourse as it is represented by upper caste members. The lack of representation of other caste groups clearly show who speaks on behalf of whom as well voice there as well as voice deficits in the media. It may be referred as not only caste appropriates these means of communication; indeed, media appropriates caste identity as well. The framework of communication to understand caste and power adds a crucial dimension to this volume. It is quite significant for developing an alternative viewpoint of caste in India. Critics have identified the dearth of theories of the caste system in India in opposition to the studies of caste. Singh (2014) points out, on one hand, the tendency of undermining history by the sociologists in studying caste and, on the other hand, the tendency of reading caste in isolation from the material conditions and history. Such indications are imperative for further explorations into the caste systems in India. Needless to say, the studies of caste should not be isolated from the larger structure of politics, culture and economy. The caste structure is not free from complex sets of socio-cultural, political and economic dimensions of an existing social setting. Therefore, the power structure within and beyond the caste system requires special attention in studying caste in India. It is not only through the perspectives of resistance, hegemony and hierarchic structure that we can examine power. The cultural construction of power has been given due preference in reading the caste systems in India, where the scholars tried examining the complex interplay of caste, culture and power (Bandyopadhaya 2004). But can we inquire and draw a new dimension of power from

14  Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi

a communication perspective in the history and practice of caste in India? The present volume aims at putting together essays that not only incite the theoretical debates in caste studies but also offer empirical cases based on systematic studies on caste, communication and power. This anthology is designed with five frames. The first frame looks at theories, concepts and trajectories of caste system in order to reimagine them along with communicative approach. The second frame titled ‘Caste and Lifeworlds: Rituals, Folklore and Orality’ looks at the symbolic, performative and communicative aspects to understanding various socio-cultural dimensions of caste. The third frame is about cinematic representation and subversions that examines media and mediation of caste in the realm of Indian cinema. Fourth frame primarily looks at re-appropriation of caste by examining the various modalities of negotiation across communities. The final frame titled ‘Literary Culture and Communicating Caste’ takes account of print culture and communication to explore the interrelation between literary culture and caste in India.

(Re) imagining Caste: Theories, Concepts and Trajectories A possible re-imagination of caste can begin with engaging with the origin, evaluation and spread of caste system in India. In his essay, Hira Singh emphasizes the need for engaging with Marxism in mainstream sociology so as to understand the question of caste and the Dalit issues. He argues that due to misreading and misinterpretation of Marxism, it has resulted in reductionism and has been a void in caste studies in India for making productive interlinkages between caste questions and production process. He highlights multiple aspects of approaching the history of caste and states his disagreement with the popular readings of caste and Dalit questions in India. In re-imaging the ideas of caste, power and hierarchy, he invites to pay due attention to the meta-concepts of economic, political, cultural and religion in order to develop a comprehensive framework. Similarly, he questions the dominant trends of mainstream social sciences—particularly

Introduction  15

sociology—in India that lack productive and creative dialogue between Marxism, mainstream sociology of caste and Dalit studies. Archana Singh and Biswajit Das outline the trajectory of caste and communication in India by highlighting the scholarly tradition of anthropology of communication. Analyzing D. N. Majumdar’s contribution to caste and communication studies, they show how a structural functionalist approach towards studying communities, village societies and social structure remains operational (Majumdar 1958). Authors have pointed out the need for a detailed engagement with the communication studies, empirical knowledge on communities and social world, and thus strengthen the disciplinary platform of anthropology of communication. In doing so, they discover a long due in social science tradition to engage with symbolic and cultural potential of caste that has a direct bearing on communication in Indian society. Moving beyond the narrow confines of village and small-scale society of community studies, they invite to broaden the perspective, and deploy the anthropological theories and methods to develop broader framework so as to capture the social production process of communication. The discussion put forth by Singh and Das, taking D. N. Majumdar’s seminal contribution into account, may encourage the scholars to find a fresh perspective in exploring the complex framework of caste, communication and power. Bhairabi Prasad Sahu investigates the articulation and communication, orality and practices of communities to understand the forms and transformations of the caste structure. In early India, particularly during the pre-colonial times, how has the caste hierarchy been expressed, how have the caste dimensions been communicated within and across the communities and what are the various regional dimensions of caste practices? Sahu’s essay pays attention to some of these aspects by engaging with the Dharmasastras. The essay by Vijay Kumar provides an overview of the etymological origin of caste and communication by bringing the case of Khatik in the 19th- and the early 20th-century colonial Uttar Pradesh. Taking the caste history of Khatiks, he argues that the etymological origin of caste existed in pre-colonial India; however, always in flux. The paper delves deeper into the correspondence between caste identity

16  Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi

and occupational identity among the Khatiks. Engaging with the print culture and re-interpretation of caste, the author brings out an analysis of caste and communication in India.

Caste and Lifeworlds: Rituals, Folklore and Orality Caste has always been a source of power and hierarchy. It has also been a perpetual reality in the lifeworlds of communities in the Indian subcontinent. Debates can be prolonged to consider the caste system as a defining feature of Indian culture or as an artefact of colonial politics. But the inherent features of the caste system and its various dimensions in the social and cultural realm remain significant in understanding the communicative aspects of caste. Chapters in this section highlight ritual practices, everyday practices, folklore and orality in relation to the caste system. Without engaging with the vernacular aspects, it is impossible to unravel the dynamics of the caste system. Vernacular legacies of caste include the language and practices of communities through which they communicate. Explorations into the locale, vernacular and cultural niches of the everyday caste practices enable one to see the subversion of power and hierarchy. The framework of caste, communication and power gets unfolded with the instances of subversion and adaptation. Subhadra Mitra Channa examines the subversive culture developed as an adaptive mechanism by the Dhobis to survive under caste oppression. Such instances of cultural communication are symbolic in nature and provide alternative viewpoints to look at caste hierarchy. In order to develop the broader conceptual contour of caste, communication and power, Mitra’s work contributes significantly by offering insights on the subversion of power within the caste dynamic. She notes that the Dhobis indulge a covert attempt to subvert the domination of upper caste through a communicative action using the creative languages and discourses. Empirical instances are brought by Neerja Singh and Namit Vikram Singh in their essay that discusses ‘Birha’ songs sung by Ahir community, along with various service castes such as the Dhobis and

Introduction  17

Kahars, to express their agony against the atrocities by the higher castes. Folk songs become the communicative tools for the oppressed groups to subvert the power structure and reject the enforced caste domination. The essay provides crucial insight on how the creative communicative approach such as usage of folk songs can be more qualified than a cultural form and become a vital mode of protest by the lower castes in the Indian rural society. Can we take the cases of subversion of caste as granted and imagine a convenient and possible alteration of the caste structure? Maybe we need to invite and encourage a much-nuanced approach and critical rethinking of the caste mechanism as far as the folksy subversion is concerned. It is indeed vital to bring a unique approach to capture the rituals, folklores and other everyday practices to understand the complexities of caste dynamics in a given context. Another essay in this section aims to locate such folk-literary domain of caste contestation within the Maithali context. Engaging with Harimohan Jha’s literary character Khattar Kaka, Dev Nath Pathak argues that the contradictions of caste exist within the caste structure itself. The complexity and nonlinearity are duly highlighted in the analysis of Maithali folklore, literary work and caste systems. Asha Singh’s essay on Arjak Sangh’s women’s songs adds substance to the endeavour of in-depth explorations of the lifeworlds and inherent complexities of the caste system. It takes us to the deeper complexities of the hierarchy that moves beyond the caste differences and talks about gender dimensions. Naari-Geets are considered as new orality in the context of folklore. The content of the Naari-Geet are informed by the literary forms of Phule-Ambedkarwaad and bestowed women’s role as empowered disseminator and instructor. Through the usage of linguistic and communicative resources, the Arjak Sangh’s women’s songs subvert the power structure. It challenges the ‘gendered oppression’ within and outside a caste group that is inherent to the life cycle rituals of any community. The gender and power dimension of the caste structure is also brought in another context in the final essay of this section. Atul Sinha discusses Kerala’s Tholpavakoothu puppet show and highlights the transformation in regard to accessibility of women over time. The essay argues that the role of caste and gender is closely linked to the transformation of ritual practices and traditional cultural forms.

18  Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi

Subversions and Representation While the rituals, folklores and everyday cultural practices can create an atmosphere for subverting the power structure related to the caste system, there are other significant domains for exploring the politics of subversion. Visual, tele-visual and cinematic representations provide a vibrant ground for inquiry about the normative process of mediating caste in contemporary India. In order to develop a comprehensive framework of caste, communication and power, one has can critically analyze the aspects of resistance and romance, and abundance of politics and polemics around Indian films and other communicative media. In his essay, Prashant P. engages with the debates around Dalit cinema, more specifically with the questions of representation and subversion in Popular cinema. The author analyzes Pa Ranjith’s film Kaala to highlight the symbolic expressions and deliberative representations with regards to the caste differences. The author juxtaposes the analytic aspects of social realism and cinematic symbolism of Kaala to fathom the politics of appropriation and subversion. As we have highlighted the non-linearity of subversive acts and folk-politics in the previous section, here, we would like to point out the complexities around Dalit identity and its mediation through popular representation again. In their essay, Benson Rajan and Shreya Venkatraman read three films—Kabali, Attakathi and Madras—to suggest that the markers used in the Tamil cinema for representing Dalit identity can often propagate a collective identity associated with violence and atrocities. Such popular representations end up reinforcing the typical and established prejudices. Their analysis enables one to rethink the viability and potential of mediated communication; in this case, the popular representation via cinema, as to how it can miscommunicate to the public while the glorification of typical Dalit iconography and symbols of violence triumph over the Ambedkarian proposition of rational ideas, education and empowerment of the Dalit community. Caste plays a critical role in invoking political debates and shaping identity politics in India. The communicative power of cinema and television has been influential in facilitating such discursive actions and practices in the contemporary social setting. The cultural

Introduction  19

dimension of caste is not free from the institutionalized discrimination and established norms of purity-pollution. Casteist perspectives get reflected and reproduced in popular cultural forms such as TV media. Representation and reception appear a crucial area to be explored in the mediated society to understand the modalities of caste and communication. An attempt has been made by Sushmita Pandit in her essay that examines the issues of inadequate representation of lower caste in popular Hindi television serials. Market forces in the mediated world become key determinant for the representation. Caste inequalities get embodied and facilitated in the television programmes due to the market logic of neoliberal economy. Needless to say, the neoliberal market logic has penetrated the media culture of the margins. Marketdriven media practices have reinforced social behaviours and norms. In that sense, the existent casteist mindset of society gets easily reflected in the mainstream media. But we also see a growing phenomenon of subaltern media, and localized media practices by the oppressed communities and cultures. Digital dimension of the mediated world has contributed to fostering such communicative aspect in the highly stratified society like India. Rohan Sengupta’s essay looks at the radio commentary of a football match as a case to understand the configuration of caste in postcolonial times. In this essay, we see how caste played a vital role as a register of social exclusion in the communicative domain of vernacular sports commentary. Further, it enables one to understand how the mediation becomes effective among communities while the language and expressions used in such public deliberation prepare a ground for semiotic inquiry.

Mediation, Negotiation and Re-appropriation There is a dearth of knowledge in the domain of communication studies regarding the mediation and negotiation of caste. The culture and practices related to modern media systems are not independent of the social realities, of which caste structure is a crucial component. Therefore, an approach towards fathoming the media and communication practices in contemporary India and South Asia might be

20  Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi

incomplete without considering the framework of caste, communication and power. There is a checkered history of the shifts in caste practices along with the transformation of societies, particularly from the industrial revolution to the emergence of mediated modern and of-cited digital societies. These modern aspects of mass communication, globalized culture, digital practices and democratic politics seemingly pose a collective challenge to the essentialism of caste. But such collective efforts may not be pragmatic, rather pretence as we have a wide array of examples of how these forces continue to reinforce the caste values. Therefore, the contradictions and complexities of caste, communication and power invite for a nuanced scholarly intervention. As a response to the inadequate coverage of the Dalits in Indian mainstream media, the community has opted for alternative media representation via online and offline platforms. They often express themselves on social media platforms, and also vibrantly appear on digital banners and posters. M. Suresh and V. Ratnamala bring references from Tamil Nadu and show how caste identities are constructed and negotiated through digital banners. Representation of caste in digital banners also unravels the construction of caste identities in parallel to the historical and social identities. Street media like digital banners as a popular form of representation in the context of Tamil Nadu offers a vital ground for understanding the intra- and inter-caste dynamics, power relation and communicative approach of a community. The modalities of negotiation may differ depending on the fields of operation, but the frictions and fragments can be commonly identified in the process and consequence of such mediation and negotiation. Ritu Sharma’s essay on caste identity and the emergence of new social movement highlights some aspects that provide us insights into how caste and communication have been (trans)forming public mobility and movements in India. She brings the case of Safai Karmachari (sweepers) from Rajasthan, and sheds light on the political assertions and public resistance. The prevalence of caste(ism) in Indian society and its integral mechanism hardly leave scope for the true elevation of the ‘lower-rank’ communities. While on one hand the inferior status remains static in the given structure, on the other hand the service castes keep raising their voice for social and economic justice. But in

Introduction  21

the existing political economy, the upper caste exercise their power to retain control over the system of justice and social order. The power dynamic of caste can be located in the other normative aspects of life, such as Jasmine examining the cultural politics of food to understand the dominant categorization culture. She investigates how the practices of labelling food in India such as vegetarian and non-vegetarian is closely linked to the politicized notion and power-play. One can locate a subtle play of politics in creating a hierarchy in the food categorization. The culture and politics both associated with food while the communicative aspect of everyday food practices unmasks the nature of labelling culture that is highly discriminatory. Media practices, in regard to both the old and the new, are also composed of cultural orientations and political dynamics. The age-old caste system gets (re)appropriated and newly configured within such a domain of culture and politics in/of media. This section is enriched with another essay that offers insights on communicative aspects from the media landscape of West Bengal, India. Debarati Dhar examines how social media practices of the ageing population of West Bengal invoke a caste structure. Dhar’s analysis enlightens us about digital inequality and forms of social stratification with the empirical instances of new media practices among older adults. The digital divide in new India is not limited to the class groups but also found among the caste and subcaste groups.

Literary Culture and Communication Literary culture in India has played a crucial role in disseminating the caste norms. It has also contributed in (re)forming various discourses on and around the caste system. Literary forms are vital for unfolding the dynamics of caste and communication. In the final section of the book, authors engage with various literary forms, including Dalit literature to understand how caste has been communicated to the social world. Mulk Raj Anand’s novel Untouchable provides an insider view of the caste hierarchy and an iconic picture of the caste oppression in India. In his essay, Shardool Thakur offers a critical reading of Untouchable and argues that the novel has internalized rigid norms of

22  Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi

caste that did not allow the central character to unfold in a true sense. The protagonist Bakha, an uneducated 18-year-old sweeper from the lower socio-economic community, struggles to project himself in the complex social structure. In another essay, Mayank Kumar investigates a 19th-century novel Chandrakanta written by Babu Devki Nandan Khatri. The paper looks at how the literary practices of early India had negotiated with the dominant social realities and responded to the time. One can identify, as a consequence, that the storyline of the novel ends up adhering to the caste norms of the socio-cultural context. The role of print culture in communicating and re-imagining caste has been discussed by J. Balasubramaniam. He takes the case of Pariyan, a 19th-century Dalit journal from Madras, and analyzes how it had contributed to mobilization and resistance in colonial India. The journal reflected the political aspirations of Dalits and also carried an account of the Dalit representation in the construction of modern India. The communicative power of the journal similarly helped in generating socio-political consciousness among the Dalit communities. The essay shows how the Dalit issues were brought to the public sphere in the late 19th- and early 20th-century India. We can also see the formation of the public sphere in the discussion of Maratha identity and evolving press in the early 20th century. Akhshay Sawant sheds light on the socio-political context of colonial Maharashtra and the trends of communication via the press. The essay provides insights on the interwoven practices of media communication, identity construction and formation of public sphere.

Conceptual Organization of the Volume This volume is organized conceptually along five cultural dimensions that serve to highlight core aspects of communicative experiences of caste in social and cultural life, and therefore also of significance of caste in the changing milieu. The five dimensions are fundamental to the concept of caste and, therefore, more general but they have particular significance in communication and can help broaden and develop the intellectual inquiry of communication in understanding caste.

Introduction  23

References Agarwal, P. C. 1971. Caste, Religion and Power—An Indian Case Study. New Delhi: Sri Ram Centre for Industrial Relations. Asad, Talal. 1975. ‘Anthropological Conceptions of Religion: Reflections on Geerz’. Man 18, 237–59. Aurora, G. S. 1972. Tribe–Caste–Class Encounters. Hyderabad: Administrative Staff College of India. Bailey, F. G. 1958. Caste and the Economic Frontier. Bombay: Oxford University Press. Bandyopadhaya, S. 2004. Caste, Culture and Hegemony. Sage, New Delhi. Barnet, S. 1976. ‘Coconuts and Gold: Relational Identity in a South Indian Caste’. Contributions to Indian Sociology 10 (1). Barthes, R. 1975. The Pleasure of the Text. Hill and Wang, New York. Bayly, S. 2000. Caste, Society and Politics in India: From the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Bel, Bernard, Jan Brouwer, Biswajit Das, Vibodh Parthasarathi and Guy Poitevin. 2010. Communication, Culture and Confrontation. New Delhi: SAGE Publications. Beteille, A. 1965. Caste, Class and Power. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Bhatt, A. 1975. Caste, Class and Politics: An Empirical Profile of Social Stratification in Modern India, Delhi: Manohar. Bloch, M. 1977. “The Past and the Present in the Past”, Man (N.S.), 12, pp. 278–92. Brass, P. 1975. Language, Religion and Politics in North India. Vikas, New Delhi. Breman, J. 1974. Patronage and Exploitation: Changing Agrarian Social Relations in South Gujarat, Berkeley University of California Press. Carey, J. 1988: Communication as Culture. Boston, MA/Chicago, IL: Unwin Hyman Press. Cohn, Bernard S. 1955. ‘The Changing Status of a Depressed Caste’. In Village India: Studies in the Little Community, edited by McKim Marriott, 53–77. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. Das, Veena and J. P. S. Uberoi. 1971. ‘The Elementary Structure of Centre’. Contributions to Indian Sociology 5, 33–43. Deshpande, S. 2003. Contemporary India: A Sociological View. New Delhi, Viking/ Penguin Books. Dhanagare, D.N. 1983. Peasant Movements in India, c1920–50, Delhi: Oxford University Press. Dirks, Nicholas. B. 2003. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India, New Delhi: Permanent Black. Dumont, L. 1980. Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and its Implications. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. Dumont, L., and D. Pocock. 1957. ‘Kinship.’ Contributions to Indian Sociology 1, 43–64.

24  Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi Firth. 1973. Symbols: Public and Private, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York. Foucault, M. 1977. Discipline and Punish the Birth of the Prison. Penguin Books: London. ———. 1983. ‘The Subject of Power’ in Dreyfus, H. and Rabinow, P. (Eds.), Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Brighton: Harvester. Fruzzetti, L. and A. Ostor. 1976. ‘Seed and Earth: A Cultural Analysis of Kinship in a Bengali Town’. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 10 (1), 93–132. Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. NY: Basic Books. ———. 1980. Negara: The Theatre State in 19th Century Bali. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Goody, J. 1987. ‘The Logic of Writing and the Organisation of Society’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gough, Kathleen. 1955. ‘The Social Structure of a Tanjore Village.’ In Village India: Studies in the Little Community, edited by McKim Marriott, 36–52. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. ———. 1979. ‘Dravidian Kinship and Modes of Production’, Contributions to Indian Sociology 13(12), 265–91. Gupta, D. 1981. “Caste, Infrastructure and Superstructure: A Critique”, Economic and Political Weekly, 16(51), 2093–2104. ———. 1983. “Sociologism, Marxism and the Anthropological Imagination”, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 13(1), 7–34. ———. 1984. “Continuous Hierarchies and Discrete Castes” EPW, XIX(46), 1955–58. ———. 2000. Interrogating Caste: Understanding Hierarchy and Difference in India Society, New Delhi: Penguin Books. ———. 2000b. Mistaken Modernity: India between Modern Worlds. New Delhi: Harper Collins Publishers India. ———. (Ed.). 2004. Caste in Question: Identity or Hierarchy? (Vol. 12). Sage. Hall, E. T., and Hall, T. 1959. The Silent Language (Vol. 948). Anchor books: NY. Inden, Ronald B., and Ralph W. Nichols. 1972. ‘A Cultural Analysis of Bengali Kinsnip’. I South Asia: Series, Occasional Paper, 18, 91–7. ———. 1977. Kinship in Bengali Culture. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. Jain, R. K. 1977. ‘Classes and Classification among the Peasantry of Central India: Relations of Production in Village Parsania, Madhya Pradesh’. Sociological Bulletin 2 (1), 91–115. ———. 1985. ‘Social Anthropology of India: Theory and Method. In Survey of Research in Sociology and Social Anthropology, 1969–79, Vol-I. New Delhi: ICSSR. Kessing, Roger M. 1974. ‘Theories of culture’. Annual Review of Anthropology 3, 73–97.

Introduction  25

Kumar, V. 2012. ‘Dalit Studies: Continuities and Change in Yogendra Singh (ed.) Identity, Culture and Communication’. Indian Sociology 3, 19–53. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. La Fontaine, J. (ed) 1972. The Interpretation of Ritual Tavistock, London. Leach, E. 1971. ‘Espirit in Homo Hirarchicus’ Contributions to Indian Sociology 5, l–81. ———. 1976. Culture and Communication: The Logic by which Symbols Are Connected. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Leach, E. R. ed. 1960. Aspects of Caste in South India, Ceylon and North-west Pakistan (No. 2) CUP Archive, Cambridge. Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1976. Structural Anthropology, Vol. 2. Translated from French by Monique Lato. Penguin Books. Madan, T. N. 1971. ‘On the Nature of Caste in India: A Review Symposium on louis Dumont’s Homo- Hirarchicus’. Contributions to Indian Sociology 5, 1–8i. ———. 1972. ‘Religious Ideology in a Plural Society: The Muslims and Hindus of Kashmir’. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 6, 1–27. Majumdar, D. N. 1958. Caste and Communication in an Indian Village. Bombay: Asia. Marriot, M. 1955. ‘Caste Ranking and Community Structures in Five Regions of India and Pakistan’. Doctoral Dissertation. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press. Marriott, McKim. 1976. ‘Hindu Transactions: Diversity without Dualism.’ In Transactions and Meaning: Directions in the Anthropology of Exchange and Symbolic Behavior, edited by Bruce Kapferer, 109–42. Philadelphia, PA: Institute for the Study of Human Issues. Mencher, J. P. 1980. On Being an Untouchable in India: A Materialist Perspective in Beyond the Myths of Culture: Essays in Cultural Materialism. London: Academic Press. Oommen, T. K. 1984. Social Transformation in Rural India: Mobilisation and State Intervention, Delhi: Vikas. Pocock, David. 1985. ‘Art and Theology in the Bhagavat Purana’. Contributions to Indian Sociology 19 (1), 9–40. Rao, M. S. A. 1979. Social Movements in India, Vol. II. New Delhi: Manohar. ———. (ed). 1978. Social Movements in India, Vol. I, New Delhi: Manohar. Roy, K. 2008. Kosambi and Questions of Caste, Economic and Political Weekly, 43(30), 78–84. Sharma, K. L. 2012. Is there Today Caste System or there is only Caste in India? Polish Sociological Review, (178), 245–64. ———. 2014. Caste, Continuity and Change. In Singh. Y. (ed.), ICSSR Research Surveys and Explorations: Indian Sociology, pp. 197–226. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Singer, Milton. 1984. Man’s Glassey Essence: Explorations in Semiotic Anthropology Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

26  Biswajit Das and Debendra Prasad Majhi Singh, H. 2014. Recasting Caste: From the Sacred to the Profane. New Delhi: SAGE Publications India. Singh, R. 1988. Land, Power and People: Rural Elite in Transition, 1801–1970, New Delhi, Sage. Singh, Y. 1973. ‘The Role of Social Science in India: A Sociology of Knowledge’ Sociological Bulletin 27 (1), 14–28. ———. 1976. ‘The Scope and Method of Sociology in India’. In Sociology for India, edited by T. K. N. Unnithanetal. Delhi: Prentice Hall. ———. 1986. Indian Sociology: Social Conditioning and Emerging Concerns. New Delhi: Vistaar publications. ———. 2014. Introduction. In Singh. Y. (ed.), ICSSR Research Surveys and Explorations: Indian Sociology, pp. 1–20. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Srinivas, M. N. 1955a. Castes: Can They Exist in India of Tomorrow? The Economic Weekly, 1230–32. ———. 1959. ‘The Dominant Caste in Rampura.’ American Anthropologist, 61 (1), 1–16. ———. 1968. ‘Mobility in the Caste System’. In Structure and Change in Indian Society, edited by M. Singer and B. S. Cohn. Chicago, IL: Aldine. Sundar, N. 1997. Subalterns and Sovereigns: An Anthropological History of Bastar, 1854–1996, Delhi: Oxford University Press. Thompson, E. P. 1978. The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays. London: Merlin. Turner, Victor. 1967. The Forest of Symbols. New York: Cornell University Press. ———. 1969. The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Verba, Sidney, Bashiruddin Ahmad and Anil Bhatt 1971: Caste, Race and Politics: Comparative Study of India and the United States. Beverley Hills, CA: SAGE Publications.

Section I

(Re)imagining Caste: Theories, Concepts and Trajectories

Chapter 1

Caste and the Dalit Question Mainstream Sociology, Marxism and Dalit Studies Hira Singh

Caste and the Dalit Question: Ambedkar’s Vision In an important study of race relations in America, Ruth Frankenberg (1993) outlines how race and racism have been normalized, that is, how they have become norms to be followed by all uncritically as the common sense. Normalization of race and racism as the common sense is a function of the dominant ideology masking the economic, political and cultural interests of the dominant class. Race as the common sense is functional to the perpetuation of the dominance of non-white by the white as essential to the maintenance of social order in the general interest of all. Over the centuries, rather millennia, caste in India had/has been normalized by the dominant ideology, masking the economic, political and cultural interests of the dominant caste as the common sense, as essential to the maintenance of social order in the general interest of

30  Hira Singh

all castes—from the highest to the lowest. Ambedkar questioned caste as the common sense. That is his lasting legacy to the caste question in general, and the Dalit question in caste in particular. My goal in this paper is to examine the Dalit question in caste in mainstream sociology, Marxism and Dalit studies, claiming to follow Ambedkar with a view to understanding the reality of caste and the path to overcome inequality, exploitation and discrimination in caste as systemic issues (call it annihilation of caste). It is argued that mainstream sociology and an overwhelming majority of Dalit studies share the Brahmanocentric view, which mystifies caste. It is an obstruction to understanding, let alone annihilation, of caste.

Caste and the Mainstream Sociology In his seminal essay ‘Class, Status, and Party’ (Weber 1958a), hailed as ‘perhaps the most influential single essay in the sociological literature’, Max Weber makes a distinction between class and status. His main preoccupation in this essay, it is claimed, is ‘to avoid confusing different forms of power that served as the bases for different types of social formation’ (Milner 1994, 7).

Class as Economic Weber identifies class, status and party as embodiment of economic, cultural and political power, respectively. Property and lack of property are the basic categories of all class situations, and class situation is ultimately the market situation. Those who do not have a chance of using goods or services for themselves in the market (e.g. slaves or serfs) are not classes, but status groups (Weber 1958a, 181). Class is thus exclusively economic power, independent of political and cultural power. It is important to be reminded that the common refrain of mainstream sociology—and the majority of Dalit studies—is that class in Marxism is purely economic. Hence, their reservation is not only about parity between class and caste but also about the relevance of Marxism to an understanding of caste in general, and the Dalit question in caste in particular. To the contrary, as discussed earlier, it is not Marx and the

Caste and the Dalit Question   31

Marxists but Weber and Weberians—mainstream sociologists—who reduce class to purely economic. Class in Marxism is an intersection of the economic, the political and the cultural (ideological). Dalit studies’ reservations about caste-class parity, and Marxism in the study of caste, and the Dalit question in caste has Weberian bias.

Status as Cultural Weber argues that economically conditioned power is not identical with power in general. On the contrary, economic power may be the consequence of other, albeit cultural, sources of power. He rightly notes that man (!) does not strive for power only to enrich himself, but also for social honour. Not all power entails social honour. More importantly, ‘mere’ economic power is by no means a recognized source of social honour. To the contrary, social honour may be, and has been, the basis of economic and political power (Weber 1958a, 1). The source of social honour and characteristic of status is cultural. Caste in Weber’s understanding is status, opposed to class. Weber’s attempt to separate the economic from cultural in status, albeit caste is fatally flawed. To begin with, as Weber is forced to admit, while economic power is not the basis of status, status without “economic” power becomes precarious in the long run. Similarly, propertied and non-propertied belonging to the same status on account of cultural parity becomes tenuous in the long run. What does that say about the distinction between class as economic and status as cultural, without economic and political, to begin with? Weber and Weberians do not have any satisfactory answer.

Caste as Status: Role of Religion (Hinduism) Weber identifies caste as a status group, but with a distinction. He argues that a status group can be open or closed. Caste, to him, is a closed status group. Caste as a status group has a specific feature that makes it rather distinct from other types of status groups. Status distinctions in caste are guaranteed not only by conventions and laws but also by rituals. This occurs in such a way that every physical contact

32  Hira Singh

between members of higher and lower castes results in ritualistic impurity (of the former)—a stigma that must be expiated by a religious act (Weber 1958a, 189; 1958b, 39–40). Here, we find in Weber the seeds of caste as status and status in caste as essentially religious. Caste is uniquely a product of Hinduism. There is no caste in Islam and Christianity, or any other religion for that matter. Properly understood, the so-called Islamic castes are essentially status groups and not castes, says Weber. The main reason for that is the absence of the notion of ritual defilement, especially defilement through commensalism with non-caste members, ‘the most important (sic!) characteristics of the Hindu caste system’. The religious equality before Allah provides no space for this or any equivalent notion of defilement in Islam, which rules out the possibility of development of caste in Islam. Commensalism and social intercourse among different social strata may be avoided, and rather rigidly so, even in Western society but not on religious grounds (Weber 1958b, 132). Notion of ritual defilement in commensalism as a special feature of caste is well taken. As mentioned before, the problem is to reduce caste to ritual defilement. It gets only worse when caste is treated as the essence of India. Seen thus, the history of India is summed up as the history (read non-history) of caste, which in turn is the history of ritual defilement. In treating ritual defilement as the essence— uniqueness—of caste, Weber anticipates Dumont.

Subordination of Political Power (Prince) to Religious Power (Priest): Indian Exceptionalism The distinction between status and power, and the subordination of power to status as the two distinguishing features of the caste system is the core of Louis Dumont’s notion of caste as Indian exceptionalism. He writes that some eight centuries perhaps before Christ, Hindu tradition established an absolute distinction (emphasis added) between power and hierarchical status. Indian culture, Dumont argued, is characterized by the probably unique (emphasis added) phenomenon of a thoroughgoing distinction between hierarchy and power. As a result, hierarchy appears there in its pure form (Dumont 1980, 37).

Caste and the Dalit Question   33

Milner (1994, 16, 28) echoes Dumont in saying that strange as it may seem, the culture of pre-modern India has been relatively successful over a long period of time in insulating status from economic–political power. Status and moral worth have been less directly dependent upon economic and political power than in most other complex societies. Hence, Mliner asks the question: Is status more important in India than in most societies? Dumont and Milner are advocating caste as Indian exceptionalism, mainstay of the mainstream sociology and Dalit studies. Dumont argues that status and power, combined everywhere else, are separated in caste. Second, power in caste is ‘absolutely inferior’ to status. His explanation of power and hierarchy is found in the relationship between the Brahman and the Kshatriya in the varna system. The essential (read unique) characteristic of the Indian system is the subordination of power (economic– political) to hierarchy (religious), which is intellectually absolute and practically limited (Dumont 1980, 76). If the gap between the theoretical and the empirical-historical prevails over millennia, how credible is the option to insist on the validity of the theoretical and ignore the empirical– historical—a point raised by several critics, including M. N. Srinivas (2006, 93–109)? As argued elsewhere (Singh 2014), inconsistency between theoretical and empirical-historical in Dumont’s arguments is not accidental. It is intrinsic to the inherently flawed theoretical framework premised on the primacy of ideas, religious ideas in particular, divorced from their economic-political context. It may be added that supremacy of ideas, albeit religious, is central to Dalit studies. Similarity between Weber, Dumont and Ambedkar, as noted by some scholars, is not a coincidence. Rather, it is a feature of their common understanding of caste as essentially idealist, that is, religious. Caste in the mainstream sociology and Dalit studies is sacred. In reality, caste is profane. Superiority of religious over secular in caste, it is argued, is revealed in the superiority of priest (Brahman) over prince (Kshatriya, i.e. political power)—Indian exceptionalism—emphasized by Weber and Dumont. In the first place, as Weber recognizes, the priest

34  Hira Singh

was dependent on the prince for his bread (Weber 1958b, 61). In fact, the survival of both the prince and the priest depended on those who laboured to feed them, but labour is excluded from the Brahmanocentric view of caste, central to Dumont, Weber, mainstream sociology, and yes Dalit studies. The Priest and the prince, and the temple and the court were united and separated. The priest presided over the temple, the prince over the court. The prince provided for the priest in return for the spiritual and ideological service the latter rendered—service that was necessary for the court and the prince. But the prince and the priest belonged to two separate spheres, one secular, the other religious—the profane and the sacred. To collapse the court into the temple in order to privilege the latter over the former is distortion of the reality of caste. Was the alliance between priest and prince in India unique? No. It was a feature of feudal socio-economic formations everywhere— Africa, Asia and Europe. The driving force behind the alliance was not religious but secular, that is, maintenance of social order central to which was the prince’s eminent ownership of land, monopoly of political power and social honour legitimized by the priest in return for material gain and social recognition guaranteed by the prince. The prince and the priest together, constituted the dominant class and caste. As Huberman writes about the Middle Ages in Europe, the Church and nobility were the ruling classes who seized the land and the power that went with it. The Church provided spiritual aid and the nobility military protection. In return for this, they squeezed the labouring classes (Huberman 1963, 15). Uniqueness of the prince-priest alliance in India—Indian exceptionalism—is fantasy. The gradation of status in caste hierarchy, we are told, is rooted in religion. The first rank goes not to power (prince) but to religion (priest), simply because in non-Western societies, religion represents what Hegel has called the Universal, that is, absolute truth (Dumont 1980, 292–93). The gradation of societies in terms of primacy of religion is colonial anthropology in which primitive societies (savages) with religion as primary reality occupy the bottom, and civilized and secular societies (modern West) the top. The colonial mission was to spread secularization and civilization among the darker (biologically,

Caste and the Dalit Question   35

culturally and metaphorically) peoples to liberate them from the hold of religion. Understandably, colonial anthropology reduced India to caste, and caste to its religious essence. Later, sociologists looking for the explanation of caste in the puranas and smritis contributed to the religious view of caste at the cost of the economic-political reality of caste. The Dalit question in the religious—Brahmanocentric—view of caste is mystified in the dichotomy of purity and impurity, masking the real dichotomy of monopoly of economic political power at one end and dispossession at the other—the realm of the Dalit. The question in caste is pre-eminently the question of labour an land. Status inferiority of the Sudra in Varna classification signifies devaluation of labour and labourer, with no access to the means of production and the means of subsistence—a feature of class division in all societies at all times. The history of caste as the [non]history of religious ideas of purity-impurity is fictitious historiography. It is particularly unsuited to the Dalit question in caste. The lower status of the Dalits in this historiography is attributed primarily to religious ideas (e.g. Weber and Dumont earlier), rather than to dispossession from the means of production and the means of subsistence—land—forcing them to provide labour as the only means of subsistence, labour that is devalued and demeaned, resulting in the devaluation of the labourer.

Question of Labour Weber says that abstention from or engagement with manual labour are characteristics of positive and negative social honour in caste. What is missing in Weber’s thought is the critical question of what makes it possible for the former to abstain from manual labour on the one hand, while forcing the latter to engage in labour for sheer survival. As argued by R. S. Sharma (2009, 7), hierarchy of economic–political power was the fundamental condition for the creation and reproduction of status hierarchy in caste, masked by the fictitious notion of purity and pollution. It also split society into those who had social honour and those who did not. The members of the higher castes could claim a number of exploitative privileges only when manual work was separated from non-manual. This was simply because the former had monopoly of economic and political power, which enabled them to abstain from

36  Hira Singh

manual labour, while engaging in manual labour was the only means of subsistence accessible to the lower castes. ‘No monk laboured’, wrote Weber (1958b, 157). What Weber did not write is that the monk always ate, while those who laboured to produce the food the monk ate did not have enough to eat. Not only that, the same monk who ate the food they produced propagated the doctrine that declared them impure, stigmatized as untouchable. Whose religion was that? If that was religion, what was its opposite? The problem of labour in caste is far more serious. We pursue it in brief as follows. The question of caste in general, and the Dalit question in caste in particular, is pre-eminently the question of labour. Mainstream sociology of caste and Dalit studies have paid scant attention to the question of labour and land in caste, compared to the rituals of purity-pollution, commensality and endogamy as the quintessence of caste. I strongly disagree with the view that the Dalit question in caste is the question of stigma (Rao 2013). Stigma is not the cause, but the consequence of degradation of the Dalit labour rooted in latter’s dispossession of the means of production and the means of subsistence. Dalit in that sense is akin to slave. What they have in common is complete separation from the means of production and the means of subsistence. To foreground stigma caused by Hinduism as the essence of the Dalit question in caste is ideology of the mainstream sociology of caste, subaltern studies, and Dalit studies, opposed to Marxism, which in turn views caste as economic, political and cultural—religion being a component part of the latter. Who abstained from manual labour, and who had no choice but to engage in manual labour in caste is preeminently an economic-political—and not a religious—question. Labour in caste is economically determined, politically enforced and culturally legitimized. Weber’s attempt to separate labour in status—caste—from economic and political power and to reduce it to purely cultural is myth-making. Dalit studies, following Subaltern studies, are by and large dismissive of the Marxist approach to caste as narrowly economic, while following the Weberian understanding of caste as being primarily cultural, albeit religious, independent of the economic and political, and tending to perpetuate the myth.

Caste and the Dalit Question   37

Marx: Caste as the Division of Labour Contrary to the mainstream sociology of caste and Dalit studies, the question of caste in Marx is the question of labour. For Marx, caste was division of labour, which determined access to avenues of economic and political power—ownership and control of land, the main form of property, which was also the basis of political power and social esteem or lack thereof. Dispossessed of land and political power, the Dalits were relegated to labour at the bottom of caste hierarchy masked by the fictitious binary of purity-impurity. In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels (1975) write: When the crude form of the division of labour which is to be found among the Indians, and Egyptians calls forth the caste-system in their state and religion, the historian believes that the caste-system is the power which has produced this crude social form.

In his letter to Pavel V. Annenkov, Marx writes that Proudhon did not understand division of labour correctly as he assumed it to be the same at all times: But was not the caste regime also a particular division of labour? Was not the regime of the corporations another division of labour? And is not the division of labour under the system of manufacture, which in England begins about the middle of the seventeenth century and comes to an end in the last part of the eighteenth, also totally different from the division of labour in large-scale modern industry?. (Marx to Pavel V. Annenkov in Paris, 28 December 1846).

In The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx (1955, 118) writes: Under the patriarchal system, under the caste system, under the feudal and corporative system, there was division of labour in the whole of society according to fixed rules. Were these rules established by a legislator? No. Originally born of the conditions of material production, they were raised to the status of laws only much later.1 1

For details, see: Ranganayakamma (2004).

38  Hira Singh

For Marx, division of labour in caste is not the product of a religious idea invented by the Brahmin in his head. Rather, like the division of labour in non-caste societies, it is the result of the production and property relations. Ideas—norms, rules, regulations—governing a particular form of division of labour appear only after that division of labour has actualized on the ground. The restriction on occupational mobility is treated by Marx as a lack of freedom on the part of labourers, a characteristic of traditional societies confined not only to India—antithesis of Indian exceptionalism. He writes that in free countries, workers mostly frequent the assemblies of the people. In others, they don’t. In Egypt, for instance, a worker is severely punished if he meddles with affairs of the state or carries on several trades at once. It is because he inherits from his ancestors knowledge and skills pertaining to a role, and carries it forward rather than learning new knowledge and new ways of a different occupation. In order to understand the role of material conditions in the division of labour in caste, it is important to be reminded that the upper castes monopolized the ownership and control of the means of production and means of subsistence of the lower castes; they excluded the latter not only from access to land—the most important means of production and subsistence—but also from cultural resources, the most vital being education. Excluding lower castes from education and from vocations based on education was, and continues to be, central to caste. Exclusion of the Dalits from education in caste lasted much longer than exclusion of slaves from education in the West in antiquity and modernity combined together. Slavery criminalized any attempt by slaves to acquire education as much as any attempt by a non-slave trying to educate the former. What was crime in slavery in the West was turned into sin in caste, sanctioned by the sacred texts of Hinduism—the Manusmriti being the most infamous—turning the profane into the sacred. Ironically, the very same sacred texts that held that it is by education one becomes human—hence the gratitude to the guru—excluded the Dalits from education by birth (à la Eklavya and Dronacharya in the Mahabharata). Is it mere coincidence that far fewer sociologists ever

Caste and the Dalit Question   39

took a stand against those sanctions by sacred texts of Hinduism, compared to their outrage in reaction to the provision of limited affirmative action (like caste-based reservations), for the same historically dispossessed and excluded the Dalits from education to partly make up for the systemic injuries perpetuated over millennia? The division of labour in caste envisioned by Marx and the Marxists as outlined earlier is not unique. Much like the division of labour in the caste system, the division of labour in slavery both in antiquity and modernity, and the serfdom in Medieval Europe and the feudal socio-economic formations in Africa and Asia, it was determined by production and property rights, that is, monopoly of productive resources by masters in slavery and lords in serfdom, making slaves and serfs dependent on the former for their very subsistence. The secret of the division of labour in slavery, serfdom and the caste system lies in social relations of production. The class that owns and controls the means of production does not labour but appropriates the labour or the produce of labour by those who are dispossessed of the right to own and control the means of production and the means of their subsistence. Indian exceptionalism that castebased division of labour is religious—a product of the Brahmin’s imagination—is the argument central to mainstream sociology and Dalit studies is myth.

Ambedkar and Caste: Centrality of Hinduism Born and brought up as untouchable, Ambedkar had the lived experience of the inhumanity of discrimination and humiliation suffered by untouchables on daily basis in the caste order, notwithstanding his personal accomplishments comparable to that of the individuals of the very highest castes, as noted, among others, by Gandhi. He translated his personal experience into a collective voice of protest by his people. The authenticity of Ambedkar’s complain against caste was thus beyond reproach. The lived experience of a scholar aside, her/his conceptualization of the system needs to be critically scrutinized in terms of the accepted criteria within the discipline concerned. Beginning with the paper

40  Hira Singh

on caste he wrote as a graduate student at Columbia, and continuing through his unarguably the most famous and the most controversial piece of writing, Annihilation of Caste ([1936] 2014), Ambedkar’s concept of caste was typically Weberian, focused on the symbolic— commensality and conubium—and ignoring the economic-political aspects of caste. It’s not that he was not aware of the economic-political aspects of caste. Rather, he did not have the conceptual vocabulary and the theoretical framework to connect the economic, political and cultural in caste in historical perspective. In the very first paper Ambedkar wrote when he was a student at Columbia, he claimed: ‘Labour power—power of the Sudra—is most powerful of all varna powers. Sudra is the foundation of all life’ (Ambedkar [1917] 2013, 3). The question of labour in caste is not absent in his subsequent writings or political practice, but it is not central to his conceptualization of caste or, for that matter, his vision of annihilation of caste. Even though he recognizes the significance of the labour of Sudra, it is not central to the paper itself. Instead, his focus shifts to other aspects, which remain central not only to his view of caste but also to his ultimate political action of exiting caste. Central to his paper are two features of caste relating to conubium and commensality, that is, restriction on marrying and dining outside caste. Endogamy—marrying inside caste—features prominently in the paper. He cites Nesfield to argue caste as a class [!] which disowns any connection with any other class, and can neither intermarry nor eat nor drink with any but persons of their own community ([1917] 2003, 7). This is surely a very limited view of caste, most significantly, because, as noted earlier, it disavows any ideas of labour in caste, reducing it instead to intra-caste marriage and commensality. Labour in caste, on the other hand, was pre-eminently inter-caste affair binding the Sudra and non-Sudra in an unequal relationship, a precondition of their very existence. Sudra had to labour for non-Sudra for his very subsistence. Conversely, the existence of non-Sudra depended on the labour of Sudra, labour that was not compensated for. Ambedkar rightly says that ‘Caste is a shelter, an asset to high castes and a liability to lower castes’ ([1917] 2003, 4), but does not

Caste and the Dalit Question   41

relate it to its economic-political context. The shelter high castes have in caste is the monopoly of economic-political power shielded by monopoly of legal-juridical power. Instead, he shifts the focus to privilege and discrimination associated with non-Sudra and Sudra, respectively, akin to Weber’s notion of positive and negative social honour in status, detached from economic-political power, as discussed earlier. To Ambedkar, endogamy and commensality, defining characteristics of caste, were essentially religious, creation of Hinduism. ‘As long as caste in India does exist, Hindus will hardly inter-marry or have any social intercourse with outsiders. If Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem,’ writes Ambedkar ([1917] 2003, 6). The similarity between Ambedkar, Weber and Dumont is striking. Centrality of religion, albeit Hinduism, in caste is persistent in Ambedkar’s subsequent writings and speeches. In his ‘Speech’ on the occasion of preparing for the burning of Manusmriti (September 1927), Ambedkar says that the animals belonging to untouchables were allowed to drink the water from the tanks, but not untouchables themselves. He rightly notes that Hinduism preached the principle of Sarva bhuti ek atma (a single soul resides all bodies), yet all bodies were not equal (Ambedkar, cited by Anand Teltumbde 2016, Mahad). Continuing further in the same speech, he remarks that the varna order depicts the first rule of Hinduism that the varnas are unequal. Sanctions against inter-marriage and inter-dining are markers of inequality of the varnas. Hindus have difficulty, he wrote, in allowing Dalits to drink water from the same tank, because allowing that would imply equality, which goes against the religious (read Hindu) prescription of inequality. If these rules are allowed to go, ‘the inequality established by the religion will go away and equality might get established’ (ibid., 205–06). Decades later, Ambedkar reiterates the aforementioned view in his ground-breaking essay ‘Annihilation of Caste’, stating that caste will cease to be an operational force only when inter-dining and

42  Hira Singh

inter-marriage have become matters of common course. A large majority of Hindus do not inter-dine or inter-marry, because inter-marriage and inter-dining are contrary to their beliefs rooted in religious, albeit sacred, scriptures. Caste is ‘a state of mind’ and the destruction of caste ‘a notional change’, he argued ([1936] 2014, 286–87). To the contrary, it may be argued that restrictions on marriage and dining outside caste were cultural devices, that is, symbolic boundaries of caste. The real basis of inequality, that is, material boundaries of caste, are to be found in differential access to economic-political power. Doing away with the former without doing away with the latter will not do away with inequality in caste. On the other hand, with the removal of economic-political inequality, restrictions of inter-dining and inter-marriage as markers of inequality will be rendered redundant. Caste inequality in that sense is parallel to class inequality of serfdom in medieval times and slavery in antiquity in the West. Caste is not uniquely Indian. It is global in terms of intrinsic connection between its material and symbolic boundaries. Similarly, the idea of lesser beings is inherent in all systems of inequality—slavery, serfdom, wage labour, gender, race, class and caste. Ambedkar does recognize that prohibition on intermarriage between two groups does not make them castes. He cites the case of African-Americans, indigenous peoples in the United States and whites. They don’t inter-marry, but they are not castes ([1917] 2003, 10). Ambedkar was right to note that permanent, hereditary untouchability attached to a collectivity is uniquely Indian (Hindu) phenomenon. To the orthodox Hindu, untouchability is ‘normal’ and ‘natural’. (Ambedkar [1917] 2003, iv–v, 22). As noted earlier, Weber had argued that usurpations in caste were sanctioned by religion, in addition to convention and law. Hence, the intrinsic connection between Hinduism and caste. As mentioned earlier, Weber had argued that when status privileges and disprivileges sanctioned by religion, in addition to convention and law, turn status into caste. It’s important to note that for Weber, religion is only a cultural force of legitimizing status privileges and disprivileges, not the basis of the latter (Weber 1958a). For Ambedkar, on the other hand, religion, albeit Hinduism,

Caste and the Dalit Question   43

is the very basis not only of caste privileges and disprivileges, but of the caste system itself. One may trace the root of this slip in Weber’s subsequent writings on caste (Weber 1958b).

The Doctor and the Saint Moment: Raising the Bar or a Missed Opportunity In 2014, Arundhati Roy wrote an essay, ‘The Doctor and the Saint’, to introduce an annotated edition of Annihilation of Caste by Ambedkar (for more on annihilation of caste, see further). In her Introduction, Roy raises many questions about Ambedkar and Gandhi. Our interest is confined to the questions she raises about caste. Roy writes: After 79 years following the publication of Annihilation of Caste, it is a pity that we have not been able to raise the bar of this debate just a little. (Roy 2014, 170).

Roy rightly situates Gandhi’s view of caste cited earlier in the context of the surge of activities by various religious outfits towards the end of 19th century aimed at bringing the ‘Untouchables’ back ‘home’ to the fold of Hinduism. She rightly argues that in order to demystify Gandhi’s position as well as that of the Hindu religious outfits, one has to examine them through the lens of political economy. Does she apply that criterion consistently to evaluate Gandhi and Ambedkar? She writes: Ambedkar [unlike Gandhi] knew that the real violence of caste stemmed from the denial of entitlement: to land, to wealth, to knowledge, to equal opportunity (Roy 2014,: 168).

The question is not whether Ambedkar did or did not know. How could he not? But, contrary to Roy’s claim, he did not look at caste from the lens of political economy. His notion of caste, as mentioned earlier, is analogous to that of Weber’s preceding him and Dumont’s succeeding him, the very opposite to that of political economy. Taking liberty with Ambedkar’s views in order to fit him into a particular ideological fold of the author concerned is doing him injustice. The story of caste is not

44  Hira Singh

the story of saints and sinners. Rather, it is the story of social relations of production and property that gave rise to caste, and reproduced it generation after generation. That, in short, is political economy of caste, which Roy is apparently in agreement with. She is, however, not consistent in applying that same criterion in reviewing Gandhi’s and Ambedkar’s view of caste, and the position of untouchables in the caste system. A missed opportunity, rather than raising the bar.

Competing Paradigms of Caste and the Dalit Question: Opposition to Political Economy Today, all scholarship is confined to the Brahmin…but no Brahmin has so far come forward to play the role of Voltaire, a Catholic upbringing but he spoke against the Catholic church. A Voltaire among the Brahmins would be a danger to the maintenance of Brahminical supremacy in Indian civilization. (Ambedkar 1948, iii).

The question is not that of Brahmin or non-Brahmin, rather that of ideological perspective. Ambedkar did speak against Brahmin and Brahminism. In his opposition, however, he ended up making Brahmin and Brahminism the very essence of caste, very much like Weber and Dumont, and the mainstream sociology. Dalit studies, with few exceptions, are perpetuating the Brahmanocentric view of caste as uniquely Indian and rooted in Hinduism. What they have in common is their opposition to Marxism and its relevance to the study of caste. They are apparently critical of Marxism for, allegedly, its identification of caste as ‘superstructure’, ‘determined’ by ‘base’ or ‘infrastructure’, which is ‘economic’. That is vulgarization of Marxism. In Marxism, economic, political and cultural/ideological are intrinsically connected. Separating economic, political and cultural is not Marxist. Rather, it is typical of conventional, anti-Marxist tradition in sociology (cf. Wolf 1982), in which caste is cultural, albeit religious, independent of economic and political. Towards the conclusion, it may be added that of late, there has been a shift in the mainstream sociology distancing itself from the

Caste and the Dalit Question   45

crudely religious view of caste (e.g. Louis Dumont). It is, however, yet to find an alternative framework showing the intersection of economic, political and ideological in caste in historical perspective. That is precisely the realm of Marxism. Mainstream sociology and Dalit studies have to overcome their ideological bias in the study of caste in general, and the Dalit question in caste in particular. Neither the structure of caste, nor the Dalit question in caste can be addressed without addressing the real basis of caste and the caste system, which lies not in religion, cognition, or cosmos, but in political economy, shunned by the mainstream sociology and the majority of Dalit studies for ideological reason.

Invitation to Dialogue: Marxism, Mainstream Sociology and Dalit Studies The main objective of my paper is to suggest that we need a dialogue over the relevance of Marxism, mainstream sociology and Dalit studies to the question of caste in general, and to the Dalit question in caste in particular. It is often claimed by mainstream sociology and Dalit studies that Marxists have paid no attention to caste, since in their view caste is a superstructure that will disappear with change in base, which is economic. It’s time that this caricature of Marxism should be recognized for what it is. Marxism is not economic, even less economic reductionism. The charge of economic reductionism and Marxism, albeit political economy, by mainstream sociology, subaltern studies and Dalit studies is an integral part of vulgarization of Marxism to justify their ideological partisan instance. The reality is that by ignoring political economy, the latter have only contributed to the mystification of caste by reducing the caste and caste system to the bundle of ideas of Hinduism in isolation from its economic-political context and history. It may be important to mention here that there are formidable gatekeepers to keep political economy at bay not only to the study of caste but to much more. To state the obvious, Marxism (political economy) is either not taught or is taught as an appendage to nonMarxist and/or anti-Marxist approaches occupying the centre stage in

46  Hira Singh

social sciences in general in and sociology in particular in the Indian universities at large. And the Indian universities are not an exception. In addition, there are other gatekeepers, crucial among them academic journals. It is in this context that I want to mention the contribution of the journal Contributions to Indian Sociology. Contributions, a journal founded by Louis Dumont and David Pocock, which was subsequently taken over by Indian sociologists, has worked consistently as the gatekeeper to promote non-Marxist and anti-Marxist approaches, keeping political economy (Marxism) at bay, particularly in caste studies. It should come as no surprise, considering Dumont is also the author of Homohierarchicus—considered by many in mainstream sociology as the only (emphasis added) ‘theory’ of caste and the caste system. I have written extensively about Dumont’s reservations on Marxism and the caste system in India elsewhere (Singh 2014). What I find rather disheartening is that Contributions continues to block any meaningful dialogue on the caste question between Marxism, mainstream sociology and Dalit studies. I want to briefly state that further. It is a personal story, but personal here is ideological and intellectual. Four years after the publication of my book, Recasting Caste: From the Scared to the Profane, I was happy to see it reviewed in the Contributions. In my book, I had suggested that a healthy debate on caste between Marxism and the mainstream sociology is long overdue. It was in that spirit that I approached the Contributions to enquire if the editors will allow me to respond to the review. I was disappointed to hear that they do not allow response to a review from the author of the book as a matter of policy. I was rather astonished to find, in a subsequent issue of the journal, a response from an author to her/his book review. I must clarify that my intention to respond to the review was not about the reviewer’s disagreement with the argument or the empiricalhistorical evidence presented in my book. It was rather the reviewer’s dismissive attitude toward Marxism, made worse by her/his unfamiliarity with elementary understanding of Marxism, and it was precisely the Marxist approach taken in my book s/he found ‘ambitious but unconvincing tale of caste’.

Caste and the Dalit Question   47

The reviewer had written that according to the Marxists I had cited in my book, caste developed with the development of the private property in land under capitalism. In the first place, neither I nor any of the authors I have cited in my book has said that. That was, however, not the problem. The problem was that the reviewer was not aware that the private property in the means of production—land to be precise—developed prior to capitalism. So did caste. My question is why young, intelligent, sensitive scholars, like the reviewer in question, remain unfamiliar with elementary understanding of Marxism, The answer is the way Marxism is taught (rather not taught) in the mainstream social sciences, sociology in particular, in India. This is yet another reason why dialogue between mainstream sociology, Marxism and Dalit studies is necessary.

References Ambedkar, B. R. (1917) 2003. Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and development. In Indian Antiquary XLI. Reprint: New Delhi: Dalit Book Trust. ———. (1936) 2014. Annihilation of Caste, with an introduction by Arundhati Roy. India. Navayana: New Delhi. Reprint: Verso: London. ———. 1948. The Untouchables: Who Were They and How They Became Untouchables? New Delhi: Amrit Book Co. Dumont, Louis. 1980. Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications. Translated into English by Mark Sansbury. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Frankenberg, R. 1993. The Social Construction of Whiteness: White Women, Race Matters. London: Routledge. Huberman, Leo. 1963. Man’s Worldly Goods: The Story of the Wealth of Nations. New York and London: Monthly Review Press. Marx, Karl. 1955. The Poverty of Philosophy. Moscow: Progress Publishers. Marx, Karl and F. Engels 1975. The German Ideology, Moscow: Progress Publishers. Milner, M. 1994. Status and Sacredness: A General Theory of Status Relations and an Analysis of Indian Culture. Oxford University Press on Demand. Ranganayakamma, M. 2004. ‘Marx on Caste’, Frontier, 18–24 January 2004. (Accessed 15 October 2016). Rao, A. 2013. ‘Revisiting Interwar Thought: Stigma, Labor, and the Immanence of Caste-Class’. In The Political Philosophies of Antonio Gramsci and B.R. Ambedkar: Itineraries of Dalits and Subalterns, edited by Cosimo Zene. London, New York: Routledge.

48  Hira Singh Roy, Arundhati. 2014. ‘The Doctor and the Saint: Introduction’. In Annihilation of Caste. Verso: London. Sharma, R. S. 2009. Rethinking India’s Past. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Singh, H. 2014. Recasting Caste: From the Sacred to the Profane, New Delhi: SAGE Publications. Srinivas, M. N. 2006. ‘Some Reflections on the Nature of Caste Hierarchy’. In Caste Hierarchy, and Individualism: Indian Critiques of Louis Dumont’s Contributions, edited by R. S. Khare, pp. 93–109. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Teltumbde, A. 2016. Mahad: The Making of the First Dalit Revolt, New Delhi: Akar. Weber, Max. 1958a. ‘Class, Status, Party’. In From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edited by Gerth, H. and C. Wright Mills. New York: Oxford University Press. ———. 1958b. The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism. Translated by Hans H. Gerth and Don Martindale. New York: The Free Press. Wolf, E. 1982. Europe and the People without History, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Chapter 2

Caste, Community and Communication in India Revisiting D. N. Majumdar’s Contribution and Beyond Archana Singh and Biswajit Das

Introduction This paper seeks to contribute to a neglected area in Indian social science and communication studies, namely anthropology of communication. Although few contributions have been made in this field in the past decades, these contributions do not necessarily qualify the linkages, nor do they provide a direction to map the field in a holistic manner (Agarwal 1976; Ambekar 2009; Hartman et al. 1989; Johnson 2001; Lakshman 1966; Roy et al. 1969). These studies demonstrated, through their research, the linkages between communication and the Indian processes of development and modernization. Most such studies, however, used empirical designs of research premised upon the rational-utilitarian paradigm of social action and the shaping of choices in decision-making.

50  Archana Singh and Biswajit Das

The empirical tradition of communication in India gradually began to establish the relevance of communication in policy formulation and development planning. It also sensitized the need for interdisciplinary perspectives to generate a fuller understanding of social structures and processes. The significance of communication in the analysis of political behaviours, institutions and processes, such as through political parties, leadership, voting behaviour, political mobilization and modernization, among other related issues, is widely reflected in these studies. As Singh (2010) writes, communication constitutes a strategic aspect of governance and administration in all societies. The efficacy and viability of the administrative processes, however, derive their legitimacy not only from projection of power but also from the nature of the cultural responses that its structures, norms and goals received from the society under governance. Although there were immense contributions by the scholars, still, there were issues that remained unaddressed, such as structures of social formation, location of authority and distribution of power—the very elements that built up systemic configurations. The simplistic nature of the unduly media–centred concerns of much of the research was a methodological and ideological shortcut. Equally, it was always superficial to seek the effect of one institution on another, rather than the conditions—economic, social, symbolic or political—under which certain media practice appeared to be curtailed or promoted (Das, Parthasarathi, and Poitevin 2005). The present paper intends to explore the relationship between ‘caste and communication’ with the help of revisiting the seminal contribution of D. N. Majumdar to the field of Caste and Communication. It evaluates Majumdar’s contribution and takes his seminal work as a point of departure in order to explore possible ways to problematize the field of anthropology of communication for future engagement.

Anthropological Beginning The year 1947 saw a turning point not only in the history of India as a nation but in the teaching and practice of the discipline of anthropology in Indian universities too. During this period, the teaching

Caste, Community and Communication in India Revisiting  51

of anthropology at various universities throughout India expanded rapidly. In this phase, a new dimension, in S. C. Dube’s words, was added to Indian anthropology when village communities were included among the subjects regarded as constituting legitimate fields of anthropological inquiry (Dube 1962). Influence of foreign scholars and their theoretically sophisticated approaches to the study of village community came into vogue. Here, a special mention could be made of R. Redfield’s (1947) folk-urban continuum, proposition of Great Tradition and Little Tradition, etc. (Singer 1958), that led to a perceptible awareness of the wider theoretical implications of some of the problems studied in India. In keeping with his general interest in cultural change, D. N. Majumdar, too, turned towards the study of village community in the 1950s. He played a notable part in this new field of research and was one of the first Indian anthropologists to have produced a book on village study in India in 1958. He wrote that ‘India is a land of villages and is likely to remain so. Half a million villages, or more, shelter 80 per cent of the Indian population; so to discover India, one must need to know the villages and the people who live in them.’ (Majumdar 1958). According to him, the approach to rural life has not been a total one. There is a general complacency, in his words, about village solidarity and integration, but those anthropologists who have worked on rural problems cannot escape a predicament between ‘the presumption of pronouncing on everything and the despair of comprehending anything’ (ibid.). According to Majumdar, [C]aste still determines occupational status, restricts social mobility, sanctions and status relationship, and orders social distance. Customs regulate the limits of individual initiative and social capillarity. Marriages are confined within the caste, rites and usages are traditionally prescribed, and income and expenditure are patterned according to the status of castes. Reciprocity, cultural exchanges and mutual obligations are still determined according to the known warps and woofs of rural life, and economic problems are integrated with those of structure and function. (Majumdar 1958).

52  Archana Singh and Biswajit Das

Thus, according to Majumdar, the Indian village still maintains its traditional way of life and its pattern of culture. He says, even education does not always help reducing the existing caste discrimination. Caste distance is not narrowed by material success or even higher standards of living, income and pattern of consumption. But this does imply that there are no changes, manifest in rural life. There have been many changes and this process will go on at a faster rate in due time but there is a lag, according to him, between aspiration and achievement between material success and social acceptance. The social matrix of an Indian village has been elaborately described by him in his study of the village ‘Mohana’, which is situated only eight miles from the capital city of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, under the title ‘Caste and Communication in an Indian Village’ (Majumdar 1958). The population of the village is about 600, and some 15 castes reside in this village. Majumdar says, [T]he manner in which different castes are dovetailed into a complex but self-sufficient community—the ‘democracy of the East’, as the Indian villages have been called, each group having an assigned role, prescribed by tradition, preserved by custom—is significantly reflective of the Indian rural social structure, as it has been through the centuries, and which, with the attainment of political independence of the country and the development programmes, seek to change to bring it in tune with the changed times and needs. (Majumdar 1958)

Majumdar says that the social organization of Mohana is a complex cultural framework built around the traditional Hindu social system and represented by the caste organization. According to him, it is difficult to place these 15 castes in the traditional varna system. However, in terms of caste superiority, which is symbolically represented by inter-dining, acceptance of food and water, seating arrangement and manner of greeting, these castes can be tentatively grouped in a hierarchical order. Majumdar says that caste is the prescriber and traditional regulator of social relations in India. It provides codes of conduct, and deviations from these are not generally tolerated. However, the caste system

Caste, Community and Communication in India Revisiting  53

has a stronger hold in the rural areas than in the cities, as can be seen in the village Mohana, too, where all systems of interaction—social, personal, economic and political—that is, in terms of leadership, are based on and provided by the inter-caste networks. Thus, Majumdar has focussed his attention on how various castes behave and reset towards the Thakur, the caste that has been dominant in the village since its inception. Majumdar maintains that Thakurs, even though they are no more the village landlords, and in no position to offer patronage to other castes by way of awarding any free-of-tax land, are still the most influential group in the village. With their wide moneylending business, they are still a powerful group. Majumdar goes on to describe the role of other castes including Brahmins, at one end of hierarchy to the Bhaskars at the other; during important occasions like birth of a baby, marriage and death in the family of a Thakur. The participation or non-participation of the other castes, participation as an equal or as an inferior etc., reveals the complex nature of inter-caste relations within the village social structure. Here, one can see Dumont’s definition of caste in terms of its attributes at the structural level of understanding while at another, that is, functional level, one can see the interactional aspect of caste system, as defined by Mckim Marriott. The major sources of communication with the outside world is not, as would have been expected, through direct contact with a city like Lucknow through Radio etc. The village keeps to itself, and except for one or two people, nobody goes to Lucknow frequently. Yet, whenever an outsider comes to the village, like the Lekhpal or Patwari, villagers come to know of changes in the land tax through announcements regarding government property, etc. One of the villagers is a doctor and whenever he comes to the village, he brings news of the developments in the country, and those in other countries, etc. Some of the villagers had been soldiers in the British army during the World War II. They also tell the tales of Burma, France, England, etc., in which the villagers show keen interest. However, they do not give much thought to the outside world, and do not consider reading newspapers or news of other countries, etc. to be very relevant. They

54  Archana Singh and Biswajit Das

want to know what the government is doing for them, rather than what is happening outside. The village is autonomous to a great degree, yet it is not an isolated whole. It is being increasingly affected by the social, political and economic changes that are taking place in the outside world. Not all the influences of the cities are of a bad kind; some have been very useful to the villager. But some in the village criticize the passing of an era of caste dominance and feudal economy. The village pandit blames the government policies for the deviations from caste rules. He believes, like many others in the village, that the government has no right to interfere with caste rules that have been framed by Bhagwan (God). According to Majumdar, an Indian village is different from the definition of a little community as given by Redfield, insofar as it has a past. It has a value system, it is a sentimental system, all moored in the rich experiences of the past. At the same time, it is not limited to the four corners of the village. The kinship ties that exist in the village do not exhaust themselves in the village itself but embrace people of distant and near villages; and crises, social and political, find the villagers in each other’s lap, and wide network of relations transcending the limits of the village bind together villages, and families, even distantly situated, so that an attempt to isolate a village would be impracticable. Thus, Majumdar maintains that a village may be conceived not as a self-contained unit, but as integrated at different levels with the total social system of the country. Just as there are different levels of cultural development, there are different levels of integration. In other words, a village is a ‘whole’ when we ignore the ties and kinship bonds that unite larger aggregations of people; it is a ‘whole’ when we ignore the methods of communication, and the structural dissimilarities that one finds in the communities inhabiting a village. Majumdar says that superficial similarities have made us assume the integrated nature of our villages. There is a process of cultural change that is proceeding in the village; this, he calls trans-culturation, in which the higher castes nowadays accept ways of life that they avoided

Caste, Community and Communication in India Revisiting  55

in the past, and are also dropping their culture-traits, beliefs and rituals, while the lower castes are adopting some of the customs and values of the upper castes—in some cases, those that the upper castes are dropping themselves. The former have accepted, and are accepting, many of the beliefs and practices of the lower castes in the village while the lower castes are becoming conscious of their important role in the village, and of a progressive future. According to him, a village is a way of life, since the people still live more or less as they did before, in spite of contact and communication. In his own terms, we cannot ignore this way of life if we want to level it up. It is through the intimate knowledge of our rural life that we can discover the ethos and aerations of our rural life. Yet, he says the Indian village is more than just a way of life. It is, in fact, a concept, a constellation of values, and so long as our value system does not change, or changes slowly and not abruptly, the village will retain its identity—which it has done till today. Majumdar says that caste in India has never been a stable structural organization. Caste mobility has been both vertical as well as horizontal. The appearance of the caste pyramid has always been more prepossessing than its base, so that it is the vertical mobility that has been noticed, and not the horizontal spread. Thus, for example, a Brahmin looks down upon all the other castes whom he considers inferior to himself. He recognizes only the vertical arrangement of the caste hierarchy. Fission produces distance while fusion heals the schism. This is, therefore, the structure and dynamics of an Indian village. Majumdar highlights that there cannot be a panIndian notion of a village community. Institutions are present in each society according to their needs by the people. Ecology, availability of food, etc., besides historical vagaries, define the nature of a ‘little community’ in India.

Looking Beyond Majumdar’s insights reflect the quantum of work with all seriousness to contest claims by anthropologists of different traditions, such as the British, American and the French scholarships, to understand Indian

56  Archana Singh and Biswajit Das

village life and caste therein (1958). Re-reading of this text from the point of view of anthropology of communication offers enormous possibilities to understand the dynamics of Caste and Communication. Most of Majumdar’s contributions are based on ethnography. These ethnographic details provide insights on various institutions, and the interplay of these institutions within a village society. Majumdar tries to explore the interlinkages and interdependency of these institutions and presents caste within the larger social structure of the village. Hence, all the structural ingredients within a village society inform and govern inter-caste relations. Majumdar’s approach is informed by structure-functionalist tradition that tries to see the overall village as a single unit, and caste therein. His analysis is not on caste per se; instead, he situates caste within the overall configurations of village social formation. However, anthropology is not all about ethnography. Many contributions have been made to explore the dynamics of village life and caste in India ever since. Majumdar did not subscribe to any particular theoretical tradition; in fact, they were diverse. As Madan (1994) points out, Majumdar was deeply influenced by Malinowski, and that he studied the dynamics of culture and social change. Although, in his early writings, his focus was on culture traits, in his later works, his engagement with ‘cultures’ as ‘wholes’ was quite distinct. Ever since the book was written, much has changed in our way of looking at Caste and Communication. While caste has moved out of the village, the media and communication has penetrated the village. What Nicholas Dirks (1990) aptly comments as castes of mind; today, one can see caste everywhere—be it social, political or cultural practices, but also in objects, artifacts and representations. Hence, recasting caste (Singh 2014) is of utmost priority. This allows us to explore a much neglected area, that is, symbolic and cultural potential of caste, that has a direct bearing on communication in Indian society. One of the significant dimensions in understanding the relationship between caste and communication is the study of language during inter-caste interactions. Das (1989) comments that the oral exchange was intrinsically symmetrical. All the villagers within certain margins possessed equal capacity to initiate exchanges, equal capacity to avoid and terminate exchanges, and equal capacity to determine the contents of exchange and terms of any

Caste, Community and Communication in India Revisiting  57

discussion. In storing and retrieving information from past exchanges, everyone within the community was more or less symmetrically placed. All individuals were equally exposed to oral exchanges. Since they required no more than a popular dialect or code, and normal physical condition of voice and ear. However, with the growing stratification and differentiation of village society, such a symmetrical means of communication came into contradiction with the emerging social relations of production. Therefore, it was not at all surprising that the oral mode existed, but without its past efficacy, that historical efficacy was now provided by the determinant development of new relations of communication that imposed a ritual or juridical asymmetry of use on intrinsically symmetrical means. The right to initiate and terminate speech became a critical factor with the emergence of a new power structure; the right to speak was now somewhat restricted so that the dominant religious voices silenced the listeners. Who must listen and who can speak, when and how, were questions that were historically significant. With the introduction of literacy, the illiterates were born, and the power structure that had its specific historicity made the asymmetric social relation of communication a structural imperative. Again, the vernacular dialect differentiated itself into ‘elite’ upper caste language, and the restricted repertoire of linguistic resources were available to the lower castes, the so-called ignorant populace. This historical asymmetry was epitomized in the fact that knowledge was constituted and circulated in one language, that of the language of power, and ignorance was preserved in another, that of the silences of the subalterns. Kinship groups guided the production and reproduction of communal relations where oral form became the dominant mode of communication. Oral form contributed, as a means of communication, in such social process where it was direct in space and immediate in time. Keeping in view such small-scale community, oral modes were indispensable. The more advanced written and complex communication modes were necessary in order to perpetuate the material and symbolic surplus. The modes of communication, in this context, appropriated significantly literate means of communication along with the existing oral form of communication. However, the inner logic of historical

58  Archana Singh and Biswajit Das

change made literate means a dominant mode of communication. Initially, it was confined to the Brahmins; later on, it passed on to the twice-born castes (higher caste), those who kept the wheel of society moving through the caste society. Thus, knowledge passed through one and ignorance through the other channel within the same society. As Foucault (1983) argued, the effective existence and reproduction of any relationship of power presupposed the simultaneous operation of a hegemonic discourse, because in these societies, the relations of power could not themselves be established, consolidated nor implemented without the production, accumulation, circulation and functioning of a discourse (Foucault 1983, 83). The process in the constitution of a true discourse was in itself a process of hierarchization, and involved the subjugation of other discourses that were marginalized in the process. There was no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge/ideology, nor any knowledge/ideology that did not presuppose and constitute, at the same time, power relations (Foucault 1977, 27).

Caste and Symbolic Power The dominant groups had to resort to a different mode of action that could validate such a claim. Only then could they become legitimate rulers, and only then would their power be accepted on a basis other than brute force. Through ‘symbolic action’, they sacralized their position and achieved this goal. This ‘symbolic action’ was inherently ideological because it bore on power and authority, and communicated in a public way. Ideology in this context did not truthfully or objectively represent or reflect the reality it spoke of. This reality, in the present case, was the extraordinary position of domination these men occupied. To use Barthes (1972) terminology, their ideological experiments were not at representing that position as one that rested on the threat of coercion but, rather, were efforts at signifying that reality in ways that transformed it into something else. The dominant groups obfuscated some aspects of the history they had made and distorted their role as strategists bent on promoting their own interests. Their aim was to create a ‘false representation’ of

Caste, Community and Communication in India Revisiting  59

their position in the society. The Brahmins, in this regard, came to their rescue by reinterpreting history—a practice common to all great ideologies, although in this case conducted with unusual thoroughness by the actual fabrication of historical sources. The ideological strength of these Brahmins was not based however much on a single religious text,’ or on a selective view of history, rather, on the selective interpretation of the religious discourse in a way that constituted a compelling way of viewing the world. Consequently, power appropriated religious ideology established the preconditions for distinctive kinds of religious personality, authorities, specifiable religious practices and utterances. It produced religiously defined knowledge. The dominant groups, by ‘mythologizing’ themselves, diluted the contingent historical dimension of their persons, drew attention away from their violent pasts and transformed themselves into sacred custodians of a stable society. In this way, they silenced possible questions concerning their character and self-serving intentions: a process of ‘mystification through mythification’. The consciousness of people and their social knowledge was united and bound to the one, present political order. It required a discourse that emphasized a synchronic consciousness and political genesis of the new system of domination (Habermass 1979). Social amnesia in the public sphere was the necessary result of such discourse (Bourdieu 1977, 79; Bourdieu and Passerson 1977, 9). The political order had to be the focus of such discourse to the extent that discussions of social stability could allow for the possibility of rulers transgressing against the order without, however, there being any serious danger that this could threaten their position. Since any particular ruler could always claim that he supported and maintained that order (Habermass 1977). Such wider justification necessarily drew upon cosmologically grounded ethical, philosophical and religious knowledge that provided rationalized world views in the form of dogmatic knowledge. Once the differing form of stratification began to emerge in these societies, the upper caste themselves fitted into the varna framework to draw the people together into a holistic theory of social functioning. Power assumed a religious form, where it directed towards an end that human events were the instruments of God. Although the mind

60  Archana Singh and Biswajit Das

did not solve spontaneously to religious truth but power imposed the conditions for experiencing that truth. Religion translated the sophisticated religious discourse into graphic and readily comprehensible forms when an overwhelming population were illiterate. It prescribed the particular discourses and practices to be systematically excluded, forbidden and denounced, and made as much as possible unthinkable. Others were to be included, allowed, praised and drawn into the narrative of sacred truth. It sought a subjection of all practice to a unified authority, to a single authentic source that could tell truth from falsehood. The preachers knew that the symbols embodied in the practice were not always identical with the theory of ‘one true religion’ that required both authorized practice and authorized doctrine, because the rulers and their orders were considered worthy of recognition as long as political domination was rendered plausible as a legacy of an order that was posited absolutely. The early forms of legitimation further transformed and rearranged to the new ideological space. They further initiated the deconstruction of the past to signify a new present. Their ambitious plan was a gigantic manoeuvre to signify in a visual (ritual) way their unprecedented hegemonic power as the new and sole centre of the realm. It was at this level of ritual signification, rather than through the vehicle of public teachings, that their principal efforts to find legitimacy took place by adopting various available doctrinal traditions. In this context, it is necessary to imagine a great deal of people’s participation: who is saying to whom through all this spectacle and sound? The speaker is elusive, as so often in the case of rituals, which was part of their force. It was not the priest speaking as much as tradition speaking through him, even if this tradition might be manipulated, consciously or unconsciously, from time to time. In this context, ritual communication had the primary role of legitimating social inequality and tended to proliferate in these societies that engendered elaborate political forms and, via their practical activity, mystified reality. Ritual, as a form of ideology, permeated to practical activity of the day-to-day life, which in turn built a structure to create a context for activity and produced legitimating symbols couched in the ideologies

Caste, Community and Communication in India Revisiting  61

of everyday life. Ideas of production were influenced by legitimating symbols, though these symbols conditioned, rather than determined, the ideas men had about their work. In this context, ‘social’ being determines consciousness, while leaving open for common investigation the question as to how far it was meaningful in any given society to describe ‘social being’ independently of the norms and primary cognitive structures, as well as material needs, around which existence was organized (E. P. Thompson 1978, 16). The material needs were guided by the customs of traditions and inheritance (patrilinear) that were tenaciously transmitted in non-economic ways, and yet, which profoundly influenced these societies. Even the customary rhythms of work, and of leisure (of festival), were often realized as part of religious institution and beliefs of Hindu society. Here, religious and moral imperatives intermeshed with economic needs. Thus, the rulers, if they had to retain a certain position of honour, had to be recognized as ‘worthy’ hoarders of power in terms of the dominant discourses, the maintenance of what had been termed a ‘clientele’ was absolutely vital for the dominant castes. And to sustain an effective ‘patron-client’ relation, to engender the loyalty of one’s clientele, necessitated the features of the relationship. These were the features that, far from mitigating power, precisely constituted it. They were form and exercise of power in this context. These relationships were not to be studied simply as land-owner–labourer relationships, for, in fact, they were simultaneously much more and much less than that (Gough, 1955: 87). Once the communal property rights had been undermined. The dominant castes had an eminent right over the land, reflecting their dominant share in the produce. Their position of dominance meant so much more, encompassed so many more dimensions, holding sway over the labouring castes in many more spheres than just the labour process. These included the ‘power of justice’, with dominant caste peers being often entrusted with the arbitration of differences within or across other castes. They also held a pre-eminence in village affairs, in particular in their dealings with supra village authorities. So all social practices were governed by ritual practices. Although the distinction existed between public institutional and non-institutional practices, the former played a crucial role in the legitimation of the social order. Sometimes, the rituals effectively served to challenge hierarchies but

62  Archana Singh and Biswajit Das

these were usually unstable because of the lack of institutionalization, and what was essentially being manifested in both forms was: power, either attempted to maintain existing power bases or to subvert them. Power relations were simultaneously affirmed and misrepresented through ritual activities. Two recurrent types of institutionalized ritual activities might be distinguished: (a) rites of passage in which individuals were transferred from one social status to another and (b) calendrical rites associated with fertility and the passage of the seasons. The former were always rituals of status reversal. Rituals were so strongly embedded in social life because they provided an anchoring point for the affirmation of power on the part of the specific individuals or groups, and the legitimation of the social order (Bloch 1977, 36; Leach 1976; Turner 1969). Status was socially mediated, and hence, became invested with power because such rituals, while transferring people from one status to another, also served to demarcate status in terms of an evaluative hierarchy, thus maintaining discrete social divisions. Intimately 
associated with such rites was the relationship between power and knowledge. The process of initiation into a higher status involved the acquisition of knowledge in the marginal state. It did not matter what this knowledge actually was, but what was important was that this knowledge existed and demarcated those who possessed it and those who did not. Knowledge was power and power, in turn, augmented knowledge. This knowledge could not be acquired by the individual, but was imparted by those in positions of power and served to legitimate social divisions. The fewer people who possessed this knowledge, the greater its value, and the value of this information was greatest when it ceased to be useful: when one person had it and did not transmit it. Authority ultimately vested in knowledge, and mediated through ritual, became projected into the past and naturalized (Barthes 1975, 217; La Fontaine 1977). Another important characteristic of institutionalized rituals was their formality, reserve and apartness from daily activities. This permitted the elaboration of symbolic forms that alluded to social reality not by presenting it, but by presenting it as other than it really was, by characterizing society as a unitary and harmonizing whole involving song, dance and material symbols. The ritual symbols constructed and manipulated the social order, and were themselves structured by it. They served to

Caste, Community and Communication in India Revisiting  63

identify the precarious social construction of reality with the natural order of things. Often, these relationships were exhibited in culturally stereotyped ways, and were represented in culturally stereotyped forms in what Levi-Strauss called ‘the logic of the concrete’. A number of features could be formulated that we might expect ritual, as a form of ideological activity, to display in these small-scale societies. The first was an emphasis on the identity and solidarity of the local lineage, the collective social group. This would involve the denial of systems of domination maintained by senior members of the community and their appropriation of the collective labour product: Second, a consequent emphasis on boundedness served to express an us/them dichotomy in relation to other groups.

Caste and Epistemology of Communication The aforementioned discussion presents a shift in conventional understanding of caste and pleads for an epistemology in understanding caste and communication in Indian society. It views communication as a form of social relation articulated through various modes of exchange, circulation of knowledge and cultural practices. As Bel et al. (2010) highlight, anthropologists have highlighted oral traditions as substantive references forging bonds of thought, conduct and action, especially in communities bereft of a written script. Further, Goody (1977) comments that collective memory is not a result of a word-to-word orality; rather, it operates with variations, to the extent that mnemonic procedures are rarely perceived as necessary. Bel et al. (2010) point out that the mnemonic procedures become necessary when associated with the maintenance of power structures: the orality of the Vedas is mnemonic, while that of grindmill songs is not. Hence, power in pre-industrial cultural practices seems to mechanize orality in a manner strikingly similar to how it homogenizes representation in the industrial mass media. While scholars in the last decades have found substance in popular oral narratives, common sense and shared representations (Ariès 1988, 167–90; Hinchman and Hinchman 1997, 7–50), historians have recognized these as epistemologically ‘valid’ and valuable sources for

64  Archana Singh and Biswajit Das

constructing their interpretations (Carr 1986). Collective memory, the raw material of history and identity—represented through a cumulative wealth of oral, written or symbolic forms—has become a fish tank for the conscious historian to draw from, for the critical social scientist to draw upon, and for the ‘unconscious’ persons to draw on in their everyday lives. Studies in other cultures have provided interesting insights and relatively new uses to the seminal concepts such as religion, ritual, culture, performance, myth and narrative. In communication studies, the interest in such anthropological concepts emerged in order to explore an alternative to effect studies tradition that depended on surveys, experimental research and content analysis. One of the areas that was neglected in communication studies was the study of culture, and the study of symbols and meanings. Hence, the need to study culture in communication rose to prominence. Besides, the idea of ‘particulars’ was a priority in anthropology, however, communication studies extended beyond by addressing cross cultural comparisons and commonalities. Communication media are pervasive and vary across societies. The non-industrial societies would have different media forms in comparison with industrial societies. Nevertheless, the importance of media and communication is across societies. Conventional media research has been reductive due to its disciplinary moorings anchored through various disciplines such as sociology, political science, psychology and journalism. Most of the studies focussed on either audience, content and specific issues. We are yet to assess how media and communication function within society, how media and communication is perceived by people in everyday life, and finally, how different caste groups have access to different forms of media. How do they use it? Do they merely receive them as passive consumer/audience or make meanings out of it? And finally, how do they act upon the media messages? Few methodological concerns are important to mention here. Any discussion about society from the media and communication perspective highlights it as a coherent community, rather than intricacies within it. Since media acquisitions are not uniform and accessible within a community to different members that may further be divided into sex, age, gender and ethnic communities. Anthropological methods add traction to understand

Caste, Community and Communication in India Revisiting  65

the community dynamics, and their use and appropriation of media in community. Scholars have attempted earlier to understand radio soap opera (Warrner and Henry 1948), ethnography of Hollywood (Powdermaker 1950), Blues music (Keil 1966), and television news personnel (Topper 1970), to list a few. Media has been always used by anthropological research as an aid or a tool—be it in a printed format to take notes, followed by audio recorders to capture voices, cameras to capture photographs and finally video cameras to capture the three-dimensional images of living beings in society. These tools have systematized and helped in documenting information and evidence in society. These media tools helped, in different ways, to store, retrieve and disseminate, to a wider constituency, the information/evidence collected from a particular society. These tools helped to spare memorization and provided a mechanism to document information, image and voices. Contemporary scholarship in communication studies has extended anthropological concepts to understand media practices. Studying anthropology of media offers us to understand media as institutions, workplaces, communicative practices, cultural products, social activities, aesthetic forms and historical developments (Spitulink 1993). Media content comprise of information, imagination and symbols. The anthropological reading of media content may view it as the symbolic content and signifying structures of cultural products. James Carey’s (1975) seminal work is a trendsetter in communication scholarship. Carey attempts to provide a ritual view of communication. This idea has been extended further by Carolyn Marvin (Marvin and Ingle 1999), by her positing mythic and ritual aspects of mass media in projecting nationalism in America. In fact, Dayan and Katz’s (1992) study of media events borrow the ideas from anthropology of ceremonies as propounded by Durkheim, Turner and Levi-Strauss. The idea of a media event is a particular form of media genre that depicted the rites of passage (such as birth, marriage and death functions), transcending the spatial dimension with a symbolic representation of continuity of tradition. As Dayan and Katz comment, ‘ceremonies are turning into fiction texts, and fiction texts are consumed in an increasingly ceremonial fashion’. Rothenbuhler’s

66  Archana Singh and Biswajit Das

(1998) work on ritual provides different meanings and relates it with social and communicative action. Scholars (Goethals 1981; Lull 1988; Morley 1992) also try to study consumption of television and newspaper as ritual behaviour. In fact, Dayan and Katz’s (1992) theoretical vision has broadened the dimension to look at ritual through televised events. Couldry (2003) extends the idea further to situate power in media institutions and modern forms of government as disciplinary practices of surveillance. Here, we observe ritual as a double-edged sword, used both for social integration as well as change, accelerated by power relations and conflict.

Conclusion As evident from the discussion, D. N. Majumdar’s seminal contribution provides a detailed account of caste and communication within the broader framework and social structure of the village. The underlying implication of this contribution adheres to a structure functionalist tradition to project the integrative aspect of the village as a social whole. This contribution has its relevance, given the time and the context. However, the meanings, modes and manifestations of caste and communication cannot be, by any means, adequately analyzed within a positivist framework. How could it be possible to understand communication without addressing ourselves to the very thing that it produced, represented and transmitted? On a broad theoretical level, the present paper has demonstrated, on the basis of substantive information, that the problem of communication is organically embedded in the social production process of communication—be it through kinship, myth, metaphor, culture, religion or performance. It is due to this embeddedness of communication that caste and its associated ideological representations played a crucial role in legitimizing as well as conflicting dimensions in understanding inter-caste relations. These concepts have been extended by scholars in media and communication scholarship with a renewed vigour and labour, thus making it over arching, rather than in the narrow confines of a village or small-scale society. Further, anthropological methods provide media and communication studies fresh perspective to engage with social phenomena. Thus, the field of anthropology of communication offers immense possibility and potentiality for future engagement.

Caste, Community and Communication in India Revisiting  67

References Agarwal, B.C. 1976. Media Anthropology and Rural Development: Some Observations on SITE (Ahmedabad: ISRO, 1976). Observations on SITE (Ahmedabad: ISRO). Agarwal, P. C. 1971. Caste, Religion and Power – An Indian Case Study, Sri Ram Centre for Industrial Relations, New Delhi. Ambekar, J. B. 1992. Communication and Rural Development: A Village of North Karnataka. Mittal publications. ———. 2009. “Introducing Communication Anthropology”, The Eastern Anthropologist, Volume 64, Number 4, October–December, pp. 433–448. Ariès, P., ëLíHistoire des mentalitésí, in J. Le Goff (ed.), 1988. La Nouvelle histoire (Paris: Complexe, 1988), pp. 167–90. Barthes, R. 1972. Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang. ———. 1975. The Pleasure of the Text. New York: Hill and Wang. Bel, B. Jan Brouwer, Biswajit Das, Vibodh Parthasarathi and Guy Poitevin (eds), 2010. Communication, Culture and Confrontation. New Delhi: Sage. Bloch, M. 1977. “The Past and the Present in the Past”, Man (N.S.), 12, 278–92. ———. 1986. From Blessings to Violence. London: Cambridge University Press. Bourdieu, P. 1977. Outline of Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J.C. 1977. Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London & Beverly Hills: Sage. Carr, D. 1986. ‘Narrative and the Real World: An Argument for Continuity’. History and Theory, 25 (2), 117–31. Carey, J. (1988). Communication as Culture. Boston, MA: Unwin Hyman Press. Couldry, Nick. 2003. Media Rituals: A Critical Approach. Routledge, London. Das, B. 1989. Communication and Power Structure: A Sociological Analysis of an Orissa Village, Doctoral Thesis submitted to Jawahar Lal Nehru University, New Delhi. Das, B. Poitevin, G. & Parthasarathi, V. 2005. “Investigating Communication: Remooring the contours of Research” in Bel, B. et al. (eds.), Media and Mediation, pp. 66–92. New Delhi: SAGE Publications. Dayan, D., and E. Katz. 1992. Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Dirks, Nicholas B. 2001. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Dube, S.C. 1962. “Social Anthropology of India” in Madan, T.H. and Saran, G. (eds), Indian Anthropology: Essays in Memory of D. N. Majumdar, Bombay. ———. ed. 1977. Tribal Heritage of India. New Delhi: Vikas. Foucault, M. 1977. Discipline and Punish the Birth of the Prison. Great Britain: Penguin Books. Foucault, Michel. 1983. “The Subject and Power.” In Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, edited by H. Dreyfus and P. Rabinow, 208–226. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

68  Archana Singh and Biswajit Das Goethals, Gregor. 1981. The TV Ritual. Boston, Beacon Press. Goody, Jack. 1977. The Domestication of the Savage Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gough, Kathleen. 1955. “The social structure of a Tanjore village.” In Village India: Studies in the Little Community, edited by McKim Marriott, 36–52. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Habermas, J. 1977. Knowledge and Human Interests. Boston: Beacon Press. Habermass, Jurgen. 1979. ‘The Public Sphere’. In Communication and Class Struggle, edited by Armand Mattelart and Sergi Siegelaub, 198–201. New York: International General. Hartman, P., Patil, B.R. & Dighe, A. 1989. The Mass Media and Village Life. New Delhi: Sage. Hinchman, L. P., and S. Hinchman. eds. 1997. Memory, Identity, Community: The Idea of Narrative in the Human Sciences. New York: SUNY Press. Johnson, K. 2001. Media and Social Change: The Modernizing Influences of Television in Rural India. Media, Culture & Society, 23(2), 147–69. Keil, C. 1966. Urban Blues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. La Fontaine, J. (ed) 1972. The Interpretation of Ritual Tavistock. London. Leach, E. 1976. Culture and Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lull, J. 1988 Constructing Rituals of Extension through Family Television Viewing. In J. Lull (Ed.), World Families Watch Television. London: Sage. Madan, T. N. 1994. Pathways: Approaches to the Study of Society in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Majumdar, D. N. 1958. Caste and Communication in an Indian Village. Bombay: Asia. Marvin, Carolyn and D.W. Ingle. 1999. Blood Sacrifices and the Nation: Myth, Ritual, and the American Flag. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Mathur, Saloni. 2000. ‘History and Anthropology in South Asia: Rethinking the Archive’. Annual Review of Anthropology 29, 89–106. Morley, D. 1992. Television Audiences and Cultural Studies. London: Routledge. Powdermaker, H. 1950. Hollywood, The Dream Factory. New York: Grosset & Dunlap. Redfield, R. 1947. ‘The Folk Society’. American Journal of Sociology 52 (4), 293–308. Rothenbuhler, E. W. 1998. Ritual communication: From everyday conversation to mediated ceremony. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. Roy, P., Waisenen, F. B. and Rogers, E.M. 1969. Impact of Communication on Rural Development: An Investigation in Costa Rica and India (Hyderabad: National Institute of Community Development, 1969). Singer, M. 1958. ‘The Great Tradition in a Metropolitan Center: Madras’. The Journal of American Folklore 71 (281), 347–88. Singh, H. 2014. Recasting Caste: From the Sacred to the Profane. New Delhi: SAGE Publications. Singh, Y. (ed.) 2010. Social Sciences: Communication, Anthropology and Sociology, New Delhi: Pearson.

Caste, Community and Communication in India Revisiting  69

Spitulnik, D. 1993. ‘Anthropology and Mass Media’. Annual Review of Anthropology 22, 293–315. Thompson, E. P. 1977. ‘Folklore, Anthropology and Social History’. The Indian Historical Review 3 (2). Topper, 1970. Report of the AAA Media Workshop, Washington, American Athropological Association. Turner, V. 1969. The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Warner, W.L. and W.E. Henry. 1948. ‘The Radio Day Time Serial: A Symbolic Analysis,’ Genetic Psychology Monographs 37, pp. 7–13 and 55–64.

Chapter 3

Facets of the Caste System in Early India Changing Forms of Expression, Communication and Its Spread Bhairabi Prasad Sahu

Preliminaries Today, caste is seen as an all-encompassing pervasive phenomenon, which is visibly manifest all through the Indian subcontinent, curiously even cutting across religions. It impacts society, polity and economy in significant ways. It is said that it helps in accessing labour much more cheaply, and undervalues the work that women do and, consequently, results in lower wages for them. It is a unique form of inequality, and it attracts attention as it finds endorsement in the Dharmashastras, and what have come to be known as creative literature of early India, such as the celebrated epics, for instance. This paper tries to reflect on the origin, evolution and spread of the caste system with reference to its forms of articulation and communication, including orality, community participatory activities, imitation and literacy. The latter included issues of intertextuality, commentaries on the Dharmashastras and their dissemination by the Brahmins through time. The varying

Facets of the Caste System in Early India  71

regional dimensions in precolonial times also receive the necessary due in this presentation. Perspectives on caste vary noticeably—from a text-based and Brahminic view to its location in political and social processes in early India.1 A necessary distinction has been worked out between varna, meaning scripturally rationalized all-India schema of ritual status, and jati, representing the actual status of local endogamous groups or castes on the ground. It has helped historians to look into the formation of new castes, issues of the hierarchical placement of groups, and social mobility in local/regional societies. Perspectives derived from the normative texts (Brahminic and Buddhist) would lead us to usually believe that the varna/caste system, or the four-fold varnas and jatis, was well established in the Gangetic plains, especially in the mid Ganga plains, by the mid-first millennium bce. Endogamy was being practiced among the higher two varnas, though the Kshatriya seem to have practiced it more firmly than the Brahmins, who were happy to have a Kshatriya son-in-law. The belief in the idea of karma and transmigration of souls, which were common to Brahminism as seen in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, were also propounded by Buddhism and Jainism—and this would have gone a long way in reinforcing popular belief in the caste order. The hope of a better next life would have made the lower orders such as the Sudras to conform to their present status, howsoever unsatisfactory that may have been. The textual perspective would also make us believe that caste and related institutions and customs diffused from the Gangetic plains, together with the spread of Brahminism, Buddhism and Jainism in the latter half of the first millennium bce and after. The political unification under the Mauryas would have created the congenial climate for its spread across regions, and the reference to the prevention of the admixture of the four varnas under the Satavahana ruler Gautamiputra in the 1st century ce can always be harnessed to argue for the continued diffusion of the caste social order. However, the fact that Ashoka, in spite of recognizing the Brahmins and sramanas, does not ever mention 1 For a rich account of the history and historiography of caste in early India see Suvira Jaiswal (1998).

72  Bhairabi Prasad Sahu

the varnas or jatis; and later the scores of donative records at Sanchi, Bharhut, Mathura and numerous sites on the western and eastern Ghats, again, do not record their presence—though they deemed it important to inscribe the name, the place of origin and the occupation of the donors (Sahu 2015, 10–12)—raises questions that need to be addressed and answered. We shall have occasion to return to it later. Manusmriti is usually perceived to represent a standard statement of the caste system, both in terms of its origins and expansion (Sahu 2013a, 31–45, idem). The text is totalizing in its nature and tries to bind society spread over Aryavarta (northern India), which is the geography of the text, within the Brahminical framework. It is seen as both, a prescriptive and descriptive work. Its importance can be measured from its multiple translations in European languages ever since it was first rendered in English by Sir William Jones in 1776. The text has nine known commentaries, including that of Medatithi in the ninth and Kuluka in the 15th century. This, together with the range of issues it addresses, invested it with great prestige in early medieval India, and even later. The wide circulation of the text was also facilitated by what is known as the practice of intertextuality. The Mrichhakatikam of Sudraka dated to the Gupta period provides an early instance of its use in the conduct of a judicial proceeding (Olivelle 2006, 23, note 38). That apart, there are ideas common to the Manusmriti, Arthasastra, Shanti Parva and the Gita, which collectively helped in sustaining varnasrama dharma, jati order and patriarchy with their right side up. In fact, these post-Mauryan works in their effort to consolidate Brahminism also provided resolutions to contradictions in theory and practice in society and ensured its continued sustenance. Further, a 7th century land-grant inscription from north Odisha suggests that the donor was a follower of the Manusmriti (Tripathy 1997, 201). Together, the evidence is impeccable and would make us believe that the written texts, or the Dharmashastras and allied texts, were the agency responsible for the dissemination and entrenchment of the idea of caste across spaces through time. In what follows, an effort is made to look at the other agencies involved in the process of its articulation and communication. The spread of the standardized texts and Sanskrit across South Asia, which has been beautifully captured in the expression ‘the

Facets of the Caste System in Early India  73

Sanskrit cosmopolis’ by Sheldon Pollock (Pollock 2006), was actualized by the Brahmins who, as recipients of land-grants since the Gupta period onwards, facilitated the spread of the idea and institution of caste across localities and regions. Armed with the Manusmriti, Arthasastra, epics and several such texts, the Brahmins were hugely successful in spreading and inculcating values associated with Brahminical ideology and the monarchical form of government. The Brahmins, Brahminic settlements known as agraharas or sasanas and their institutions helped to build a long-lasting socio-political order through the evolving regions. Communication was not always through the text; it was mostly oral, and it carried acceptability because of the Brahmins’ day-to-day conduct, their cultivated image of a recluse or hermit, and royal support for them. On closer examination, this perspective appears epicentric insofar as it imputes a civilizing mission to the Brahmins from north India and implicitly denies agency to the local societies across the varied regions. The idea of the Brahmins ‘colonizing’ the tribal frontiers was popular in the nineteen sixties and seventies2 but thereafter, there has been a shift in the discursive ground.

Historical Processes at Play and Caste Formation Though the history of acculturation goes back to the Indo-Aryans, and the formation of agrarian localities and local states beyond northern India can be traced to the post-Mauryan centuries, an intensification of the said processes across regions are visibly manifest from the Gupta period onwards. Land grants at the local and subregional levels by ruling lineages through the regions, besides being pointers to state formation and the socio-political transformation of differentiated spaces, also significantly record references to vana/aranya as well as janapadas. The transformation from tribe to caste went hand-in-hand with the emergence of peasant societies in undeveloped or developing areas. Janapadas or ksetras represented settled agrarian localities familiar with the ideas of Brahmanical ideology and complex varna/ jati society, while vana meant jungle or forest, and stood for the tribes and their cultural assemblage. The term janapada is met with 2

See, for instance, R. S. Sharma 1969; also in idem, Sharma 2001, 186–213.

74  Bhairabi Prasad Sahu

in the north Indian context, whereas the term nadu, with the same connotation, surfaces in the case of the south. The coming together of janapadas/nadus evidently led to the shaping of historical regions, popularly known as mandalas and desas. Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsa mentions Kamarupa, Vanga, Utkala and Kalinga, and so does the Vishnu Purana, recording the territories of Kuru, Panchala, Kamarupa, Pundra, Magadha, Kalinga, Saurastra and Malava, among many others (Ray, Chattopadhyaya, Chakrabarti and Mani 2000, 359–63). It emerges that the making of agrarian localities and historical regions was an ongoing process in early historical and early medieval times and beyond, and state formation was its obvious visible dimension. Rural settlements and janapadas indubitably evolved at the cost of the spatial and social transformation of the vana and the tribes. The presence of the forest or vana in the ksetra is easily noticeable in the domain of shared culture, particularly religion, and the structures of legitimation of monarchical power from around the Gupta period onwards (Kulke 1995, 233–62, idem; Sontheimer 1987, 117–64). The expansion of the hierarchically arranged caste/jati order linked to occupations was an interrelated phenomenon and needs to be located amidst these developments in the varied regions. The rise of agrarian localities and differentiated societies moving towards caste order were interrelated phenomena in the early medieval period (7th–14th centuries). Agrarian expansion had a bearing on rural societies insofar as it led to the emergence of new social categories through regions known variously as halika, ksetrakara, karsaka, prakritika, kutumbin, mahattaras, gavundas, reddis and nattars, for instance. While the earlier terms represented common peasants, the latter were well-to-do peasants. Some of them, by the end of the first millennium CE, were men of considerable status, and invested in markets and towns. The exchange centres of different grades that had surfaced by then similarly witnessed the rise of various types of traders and merchants known as vanikas, sresthis, vyaparis and their equivalents in different cultural regions. Inscriptions from the regions suggest that though occupations such as those of the potter, brazier and ironsmith started surfacing from around the 4th–7th centuries, they started registering more professional groups during the 7th–10th

Facets of the Caste System in Early India  75

centuries, and these expanded significantly in the following period. This was true of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, among others (Sahu 2013c, 61–79, idem; Talbot 2001; Karashima 2014, 175–82; Veluthat 2012). The relevance of these developments lies in the fact that with the passage of time, occupational groups transformed into castes, with professions gradually moving to become hereditary and endogamous units. Varna ideology, operating on the principle of social differentiation, helped in naturalizing hierarchy among the proliferating social segments across regions. Varna provided an organizing principle and helped in managing a wide range of social and occupational categories, though it did not manifest itself as a four-tiered system everywhere. Evidently, there was a congealing of castes in different regions around the middle of the second millennium. Two interrelated aspects need elaboration. First, like India was, and continues to be, a combination of regions and their specificities, the regions were also not undifferentiated entities. They comprised subregions and localities. Closer examination of the evidence from the modern regions suggests that the caste order was locality/subregion specific, and there was no homogeneous pattern for the regions that we encounter today. While coastal Odisha was familiar with the mahattaras, karanas, sresthins and komatis the hinterland was used to the pradhana-nivasin, kayastha and vanikas, for instance (Sahu ibid). Furthermore, with the rise of locally well-to-do or rich peasants and traders, there was a craving for asserting their economic competence socially; and thus, one notices the claims to a Vaishya status by these categories in regions such as Odisha and Karnataka, and the use of the Sat Sudra status by comparable categories in Tamil Nadu. Simultaneously, again, for reasons of social mobility, merchant groups in Rajasthan encouraged the writing of prashastis for them at different centres, and the kayasthas in central India, too, did not lag behind. Society was indeed dynamic and mobile across regions (see, for instance, Talbot 2001). The institution of Nayaka, well-known in the context of Vijayanagara, actually evolved earlier under the Hoyasalas of Karnataka, Kakatiyas of Andhra Pradesh and the Eastern Gangas of Odisha, and it constituted an important channel for upward social mobility. Caste was not a fixed and unalterable system. Besides, there

76  Bhairabi Prasad Sahu

were potters, goldsmiths, bankers and traders across regions, but neither did they share any familial relationships among themselves nor were their local/regional competences the same everywhere. Regionspecific social structures evolved with their particularities and need to be understood on their terms (Chattopadhyaya 2009, xxxi–l, idem). The distinction that the Mandal Commission report makes between the same social groups spread over different regions emerges from these historical roots of the caste order. Outside northern India, the aforementioned castes were all in the non-Brahmin/Sudra varna, but the commonalities did not extend beyond it, and the operational realities were locality specific.

Community Activities, Visual Imageries and the Spread of Caste It is usually assumed that cultures, people and spaces had the written text as the only means available to them for necessary information about the caste system. We normally forget that there existed a developed system of memorization and oral transmission, the system that ensured the survival of all pre-Mauryan Sanskrit texts. Even after Ashoka, we must imagine that literacy was not of a high kind, and oral dissemination of information must have continued through face-toface societies. Knowledge was usually transmitted from parents to children, and it was disseminated through interactions among and within societies. The Kayasthas, or the writers’ class, necessary for recording, retrieving and communicating information, began to surface from the 6th-7th centuries onwards, corresponding with the horizontal spread of local state formation in pre-state areas. Though record-keepers were there even earlier, the importance of visual representations and imageries, and oral communication in the dissemination of ideas and institutions in early India, needs due recognition. The grihyasutras, dated to c. 800–500 bce, reflect on activities centring around traditions within the household, and in the process, also on the forging of social ties. Many rituals had to be performed in the presence of the community and had a public character. Rituals associated with marriages, births and deaths performed repeatedly had

Facets of the Caste System in Early India  77

the potential of being absorbed and ingrained in the minds of people. The subordination of women to men of the first three varnas was achieved through the playing out of the rituals in the public domain constantly. Marriage practices emphasized and reinforced ideas associated with patriarchal and varna-based society. Community linkages were articulated through conformity with social rituals (Tyagi 2007). The practice of kanyadana, and subsequently gotrantara, accentuated the process. What emerged during the later Vedic times continued in the Manusmriti of the early centuries CE as well as Sanskrit dramas from the Gupta period onwards, where women, along with the Sudras, are represented as speaking an unrefined language. Shakuntala in Kalidasa’s retelling was made to undergo a change of character to suit the times—she was now unsure and timid, and no longer confident and assured, as in her earlier rendition (Thapar 1999). In late early medieval Andhra Pradesh, the Kakatiya queen Rudrama-devi exercised legitimate power by conforming to the political tradition of the age, which associated state power with masculine features. The epithets she used and the dress she adopted easily drive home the point (Talbot 1996, 391–430). The upanayana rite is first mentioned in the Satapatha Brahmana, though it seems to have become popular around the middle of the first millennium BCE and after. Its performance ensured the attainment of the dvija or twice-born status, which in turn made a person eligible for status conferring activities such as reading the Vedas, performing sacrifices and making gifts. The upper three varnas were entitled to it, but all dvijas were not alike—the time, age and materials used in their initiation varied. The differences were varna-based. Both the Sudras and women were kept out of it, reinforcing varna and gender hierarchy. The emerging structural inequalities were being validated and communicated through the grihyasutras and dharmasutras, but more importantly through regular practice of the rituals in the community (Roy 2010, 241–50, idem). Subordination of women and the persistence of the caste order were, after all, two sides of the same coin (Chakrabarti 2006, 138–55, idem). It needs to be said, what should be obvious, that in the course of the spread of the Brahminical order, it was not just the integration of the autochthons and their cultures that

78  Bhairabi Prasad Sahu

was being achieved; the widening ambit of Brahminism also involved differentiation and new hierarchies—based on the varying levels of the socio-cultural attainments of the converts. The making of binaries was integral to Brahminism from the later Vedic period onwards. The Arya/non-Arya, dvija/non-dvija, and Brahmin-Kshatriya versus the Vaishya-Sudra conceptions of society amply demonstrate it. Men and women opting out of Brahminical society and joining the Sangha or the Buddhist order, for instance, would have signalled their moving out of caste norms and patriarchy. Such occurrences, which seem to have been numerous—especially during the post-Mauryan centuries, would have brought to the fore and also transmitted codes of behaviour associated with the caste system—varna-ashrama-dharma— in everyday local and community conversations. Faxian, the Chinese monk, travelling in India in the Gupta period, was struck by the fact that the ‘Chandalas’, who lived outside the town as avarnas, had to announce their entry by striking a wooden stick so that the people would move away from them and not get polluted through the touch of the untouchable (asprishya). Aspects of hierarchy and exclusion could be talked about, observed and absorbed in day-to-day practice. As one moves on to the Gupta and post-Gupta centuries, the land-grant documents, temples and associated rituals begin to provide different narratives. Benedictory and imprecatory verses drawing on Dharmashastra passages, art deriving itself from epic-puranic episodes and the temples as sites of multiple performances through the subcontinent exude the spread of a common or comparable cultures rooted in the sastric-epic-puranic traditions. How does one account for it? Again, texts alone do not seem to exhaust the available possibilities. Land-grants on copper plates on the occasion of being executed were read out in the presence of state officials, local notables and other inhabitants. Similarly, in situations of contestation and boundary disputes, they had to be read out. The prashasti segment in the charters included sections pronouncing the king’s belief in the Dharmashastras, varna system and his abhorrence for the Kali yuga, which represented a negation of these valued core ideas of Brahminism. The numerous grants through the regions, especially in under-developed and developing areas, were a source of the dissemination of the varna/jati order,

Facets of the Caste System in Early India  79

among other things (Kulke 1997, 237–43). Patronage, over time, had moved on to epic-shastric-puranic ideology and autochthonous deities, who were being gradually integrated with the pantheon of panIndian puranic deities such as Shiva, Vishnu and Shakti, and located and worshipped in temples. It needs no emphasis that the ideal varna framework is what the sastras and epics cherished and, flowing from it, the implications of their spread in the early medieval socio-cultural milieu are obvious. In the process of the universalization of the local and localization of trans-regional cultural flows (owing to constant interactions between the local, regional and pan-Indian), the shaping of comparable socio-cultural milieus across regions in South Asia was greatly facilitated. In an environment where people were constantly subsumed under larger identities such as jati and varna, among others, there was innate focus on duties and obligations for all; to the relative exclusion of their rights and privileges in every aspect of life and the gradual absorption of ideas of hierarchy and caste was but natural. The circulation of ideas that the king was the promulgator of dharma and its protector or was responsible for the unfolding of dharma in his domain from the post-Mauryan times to the Guptas and beyond,3 must have gone a long way in the entrenchment of ideas of varnasramadharma and jatidharma. It ensured the smooth functioning of the social system of which the caste order was an essential part. It is, as they say, another story that kings had the compulsion of continuously projecting themselves as adhering to and promoting dharma. The early temples in Odisha, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are embellished with art forms drawing on episodes from the epics and puranas. The imageries include Rama and Sita as well in varied contexts, and the common visitor to these temples was continuously exposed to Maryada Purushottam and his deeds. He is revered for having been emblematic of varnashrama-dharma and all that Brahminical ideology stood for, even at the cost of immense personal suffering. His commitment to upholding the varna-jati structure led Rama to justifiably kill Valin and Sambuka. Even the The Arthasastra and Santi Parva focus on it and so do the inscriptions of the Maukharis and their contemporaries. Kings were known as dharmaraja, dharmatman. See Sharma 1991, 234–5. 3

80  Bhairabi Prasad Sahu

Mahabharata, in the episodes revolving around Ekalavya and Karna’s affiliation and alignment with Duryodhana, unequivocally endorses the idea of social origins being the determining factor in one’s access to or denial of privileges. The idea of avataras, too, endorses dharma in its varied dimensions. These epics and puranas were rendered in the vernaculars in the first half of the second millennium CE, and in medieval or early modern times, when these were read aloud and enacted by folk performers in public, they generated a connect and were remembered because of the clever use of mnemonic devices in the regional languages—and that enhanced their spread amidst people. Besides, the importance of the oral transmission of values, including those of varna-jati order across generations and households need to be given its due in premodern societies. Temples increasingly became sites of recitation of the aforementioned texts, visual and performing arts, collective bathing, singing, dancing and bhajana and kirtana (Chakrabarti 2001, chapters 5–7). In such situations, individual consciousness became a part of the collective consciousness, and people happened to absorb and imbibe ideas and values, both knowingly and even unknowingly at these sacred/cultural centres, some of which had attained the status of tirthas (pilgrimage centres). Language, symbols and idioms played a role in the negotiations in the cultural domain. The repeated transmission of messages through different channels lent them the necessary credence and authority. The success of these endeavours can be seen in the poet’s and scribe’s use of these ideas in their compositions, including the draft of land-grant documents, as well as the artist’s rendering of similar thematic episodes on stone across sites in different regions. Recently, it has been justly argued that ‘imitable models’ with varying lives have, all through Indian history, provided the necessary connectivity through the subcontinent. While Buddhism and related ideas and institutions served the requirements in the early historical times, during the early medieval period, Brahminic ideology and structures constituted the operative framework (Chattopadhyaya 2017, 31–55, idem). Brahminism created a wider cultural community through its constant interaction with local cultures and their gradual integration. However, it was not always peaceful and bereft of dissent (Sahu 2013b, 298–313, idem). Dissent was as much a part of the local and

Facets of the Caste System in Early India  81

regional societies as the dominant ideology, leading to the shaping of integration through contestations. Communication and interaction in society was both horizontal and vertical. Those between castes, or the higher and lower strata, were vertical as against intra-caste linkages that represented horizontal conversations. Caste was not just socially determined, but also culturally constituted. Different social segments had varying access to sacred spaces and rituals. Gradually, each caste segment acquired an identity and separate status. They were mostly bound by caste-specific norms. Notwithstanding these inequities, such were the advantages associated with the caste system—from meeting requirements of scavenging to assured cheap agricultural labour as and when needed—that even the Sultans of Delhi, and later the Mughal emperors, did not ever think of moving against it (Habib 1987, 1–19). In conclusion, lest one gets the feeling that caste was the only or most important unalterable social identity, it needs to be said that almost till the mid second millennium CE, social realities were far from it.4 The engraver was also bearing the epithet thakkura (a status term), the kayastha was also a sculptor and a sresthin’s (rich merchant’s) son was a potter. Several such instances of social fluidity during the pre-modern times can be cited (Sahu 2013c). Furthermore, it needs recognition that community, locality, sect, creed, among many others—and many of them overlapping on several occasions—were identities that were equally, if not more, important to people.

References Chakrabarti, Kunal. 2001. Religious Process: The Puranas and the Making of a Regional Tradition. New Delhi: OUP. Chakrabarti, Uma. ‘Conceptualising Brahmanical Patriarchy in Early India: Gender, Caste, Class and State’. In Everyday Lives, Everyday Histories: Beyond Kings and Brahmins of Ancient India, 138–55. New Delhi: Tulika Books. Chattopadhyaya, B. D. 2009. ‘Introduction: One Blind Man’s View of an Elephant: Understanding Early Indian Social History’. In A Social History of Early India, xxxi–l. Delhi: Pearson Longman. 4 Even though Nicholas B. Dirks tends to over generalize and invest colonialism with undue potentials it is useful to see his (2001) Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India.

82  Bhairabi Prasad Sahu Chattopadhyaya, B. D. 2017. ‘Space, History and Cultural Process: Some Ideas on the Ingredients of Subregional “Identity” ’. In The Concept of Bharatavarsha and Other Essays, 31–55. Ranikhet: Permanent Black. Dirks Nicholas B. 2001. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Habib, Irfan. 1987. ‘Caste and Money in Indian History.’ D. D. Kosambi Memorial Lectures (1985). Bombay: Department of History, University of Bombay. Jaiswal, Suvira. 1998. Caste: Origin, Function and Dimensions of Change. New Delhi: Manohar. Karashima, N. 2014. A Concise History of South India: Issues and Interpretations. New Delhi: OUP. Kulke, H. 1995 ‘The Early and Imperial Kingdom: A Processural Model of Integrative State Formation in Early Medieval India’. In The State in India, 1000–1700, edited by H. Kulke, pp. 233–62. New Delhi: OUP. ———. 1997. ‘Some Observations on the Political Functions of Copper-plate Grants in Early Medieval India’. In The State, the Law and Administration in Classical India, edited by Bernhard Kolver. 237–43. Munchen: Walter de Gruyter. Olivelle, Patrick. 2006. Manu’s Code of Law. New York: OUP. Pollock, S. 2006. Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture and Power in Premodern India. Ranikhet: Permanent Black. Ray, Niharranjan, B. D. Chattopadhyaya, Ranabir Chakrabarti and V. R. Mani, (eds.), 2000. A Source-book of Indian Civilization. Calcutta: Orient Longman. Roy, Kumkum. 2010. ‘Legitimation and the Brahmanical Tradition: The Upanayana and Brahmacarya in the Dharma Sutras’. In The Power of Gender and the Gender of Power: Exploration in Early Indian History, 241–50. New Delhi: OUP. Sahu, B. P. 2013a. ‘Brahmanical Conception of the Origin of Jatis—A Study of the Manusmrti’. In The Changing Gaze: Regions and the Constructions of Early India. New Delhi: OUP. ———. 2013b. ‘Dissent and Protest in Early Indian Societies: Some Historiographic Remarks’ In The Changing Gaze, 298–313. ———. 2013c. ‘Varna, Jati and the Shaping of Early Oriya Society’ In The Changing Gaze Regions and the Constructions of Early IndiaI, 61–79. New Delhi: OUP. ———. 2015. Society and Culture in Post-Mauryan India, 200 BC–AD 300. New Delhi: Tulika Books. Sharma, R. S. 1969. Social Changes in Early Medieval India (c. AD 600–1200. New Delhi: People’s Publishing House. ———. 1991. Aspects of Political Ideas and Institutions in Ancient India, 3rd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ———. 2001. Society in Early Medieval India—A Study in Feudalisation. Kolkata: Orient Longman.

Facets of the Caste System in Early India  83

Sontheimer, G.-D. 1987. ‘The Vana and the Ksetra: The Tribal Background of Some Famous Cults’. In Eschmann Memorial Lectures, edited by G. C. Tripathi and H. Kulke. Bhubaneswar: South Asia Books. Talbot, Cynthia. 1996. ‘Rudrama-devi, the Female King: Gender and Political Authority in Medieval India’. In Syllables of the Sky add Studies in South Indian Civilization in Honour of Velcheru Narayan Rao., edited by David Shulman, 391–430. New Delhi: OUP. ———. 2001. Precolonial India in Practice: Society, Region and Identity. New York: OUP. Thapar, Romila. 1999. Sakuntala: Texts, Readings, Histories. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Tripathy, S. 1997. Inscriptions of Orissa. Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass. Tyagi, Jaya S. 2007. Engendering the Early Household: Brahmanical Precepts in Early Grihasutras. New Delhi: Orient Longman. Veluthat, Kesavan. 2012. ‘Presidential Address, Ancient Section’. Proceedings of the Punjab History Conference. Patiala: Department of Punjab Historical Studies, Punjabi University.

Chapter 4

The Etymological Origin of Caste, Communication and Khatik in the 19th and the Early 20th Centuries Colonial UP Vijay Kumar

Introduction Lexicography is an old practice in India to communicate and learn languages. It is one of the principal agencies to understand the Indian knowledge system. The dictionary-making and the study of the dictionary are two essential parts of lexicography. The Nighantu (word-lists) from the south Indian Tamil tradition and the Kosh (classical dictionaries) from the north Indian Sanskrit tradition were ‘the prototype’ forms of modern Indian dictionaries. But the nature and structure of these dictionaries are not the same as the modern form of a dictionary (Muthukumaraswamy 2016). In the pre-colonial states,

The Etymological Origin of Caste, Communication and Khatik  85

the Indian lexicography in Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit flourished throughout the Sultanate and the Mughal periods in North India. Due to the shared literary tradition, their contemporary regional states would have had this tradition with some gradual change and continuity. The church missionaries and colonial orientalists continued the project of dictionary-making with the modern scientific discipline (Bayly 1993, 15; Cohn 1996, 21, 26, 40; Wilson 1855, xxiii–xxiv). In the late 18th and the early 19th centuries, under the leadership of orientalist writings, the Sanskrit-English lexicography emerged as one of the high traditions (with Arabic and Persian language traditions) to communicate with the Indian society, and to understand the caste system. For instance, H. T. Colebrook’s translated work Amarakosh (a Sanskrit text between the 5th and the 10th centuries ad) based on the Brahminical understanding of caste, gender, spirituality and the universe. Therefore, Amarakosh helped to (re)fix the etymological origin of castes, communication, traditional meanings and the classification of caste in the colonial lexicography. In other words, the colonial state inherited the Sanskrit etymological origin of caste idea, caste politics and Amarakosh. During the colonial ethnographical and census surveys, the Sanskrit etymological origin of caste was adopted as a traditional way to understand the fixed and sole caste occupational identity. But it is also true that colonial officers were struggling with it because members of the Dalit castes were breaking the law of caste and traditional occupational identity in their everyday life. Meanwhile, during the early 20th century, for the caste-communal politics, the Hindi-educated upper caste Hindus (hereafter Hindi-Hindus) and Dalit writers reinterpreted Amarakosh and the etymological origin of caste to mark their protest, contestation and negotiation. They wrote texts of the caste histories-cum-glossaries. The caste protest also continued in the post-colonial period when the Hindi-English dictionary represented the Dalit caste identity. With a case study of Khatiks and their caste history as Dalits’ voice, the present article will discuss that although Amarakosh and the etymological origin of caste existed in the pre-colonial India, their meanings were situational, nominal and never fixed. Also, with the help of Brahmins, caste Hindus and Amarakosh, the colonizers

86  Vijay Kumar

tried to re-impose the Sanskrit etymological origin of caste. But the role of colonizers was not innocent, because the colonial lexicography (re)‌legitimised or (re)provided a common site for caste politics between Dalits and caste Hindus, and for communal politics between Dalits and non-Hindus. Colonial writers and upper-caste Hindu writers sustained it in the name of ‘tradition.’ They used it in the changing and continuing contexts with other occupational developments and caste-communal politics. The chapter will discuss how the Dalits, in their caste histories, assimilated and protested against the Sanskrit etymological origin of caste, the traditional occupational identity and the lowest position in the caste hierarchy in north India. Recent studies on caste and the Dalits do not pay much attention to such issues. For instance, by using the postcolonial idea, Rawat considers the Sanskrit etymological origin of Chamar caste as a colonial discovery and ignores the Indian Kosh tradition. He argues that Chamar was a caste of agriculturists, not a caste of leatherworkers in the 19th and 20th centuries (Rawat 2012). The chapter argues that the Sanskrit etymological origin of caste was not a colonial discovery. And, it asserted one caste occupational identity but denied various occupational identities of Khatiks. Therefore, the Khatik caste was an open day labour caste, which had many occupations. The chapter is divided into four sections. The first section will represent the making of modern Amarakosh in the late 18th and the early 19th centuries. It will show the rediscovery of the Sanskrit etymological origin of Kautik, a person’s occupational identity in Amarakosh. The Sanskrit term Kautik means ‘a vendor [sic] of flesh-meat’, and is considered an etymological representative of the term ‘Khatik’. In the second and third sections, we shall see that a person’s occupational identity is used as a caste occupational identity. Therefore, the traditional caste occupational identity of Khatiks had been transforming into a caste of butchers and hunters. It will also represent the occupational diversity of Khatiks in the colonial ethnography between the mid-19th and the early 20th centuries. The last section will discuss the caste-communal politics around Amarakosh and the etymological origin of caste in the Hindi print culture. It will show how the HindiHindu writers and the Dalit writers reinterpreted the etymological origin of caste and communication.

The Etymological Origin of Caste, Communication and Khatik  87

Making of Modern Amarakosh and the Sanskrit Etymological Origin of Kautik as a Person’s Occupational Identity After the establishment of the College of Fort William, the compilation of a Sanskrit dictionary began under the supervision of colonial orientalists, particularly Henry Thomas Colebrooke. He was the director of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and the president of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. He published many writings on Hinduism. The compilation of a Sanskrit dictionary was necessary for language, command, knowledge and power of the Colonial Raj. Thus, at that time, the Amarakosh (or UmuraKosha) of Amarasimha was considered an ‘original authority’ and the ‘best guide to the acceptations of nouns in Sanskrit’ (Singha 1891, iii). It was a prototype-encyclopaedicphilosophical Sanskrit dictionary, and was very a popular kosh of the pre-colonial period. Therefore, he published it in 1807 at Serampore as a Sanskrit-English dictionary, and one of the first Sanskrit orientalist dictionaries. But it was a modern incarnation of Amarakosh, from a prototype, philosophical and spiritual kosh to modern, scientific and materialistic dictionary. One can say it was Colebrooke’s modern Amarakosh. For consultation and correction, Colebrooke used the works of William Jones and other colonial orientalists. He also used six dictionaries and vocabularies, 28 commentaries and five other “original” texts on Amarakosh (three in Devanagari, one in Bengali and one in Sanskrit), published before or in the 18th century. Some of these writings had inaccuracies and errors that were corrected by other writings and set by the ‘Panini system of etymology’ and the grammatical system of the Kalapa (Ibid, vi–xiii). It is necessary to note that the making of modern Amarakosh was a modern scientific process: compilation, consultation, collection, selection, entextualization, decontextualization, footnoting, and removal of non-materialistic elements under the supervision of the British orientalist scholarship. Colebrooke was the new author of modern Amarakosh—an orientalist version of Amarakosh. With the revival of tradition and Sanskrit, it helped to develop colonial knowledge on colonial orthography, etymology, information, alphabetical dictionary, vocabulary, grammar, language and communication.

88  Vijay Kumar

More importantly, the modern Amarakosh provided an authentic and scientific sense for the reclassification of varnas and castes. For instance, the second Khand is also known as the Bhuvargadi-Khanda. It contains the four chapters on ancient knowledge of classification of Indian society into four varnas. Like in the chapter on the Kshatriya varna, the modern Amarasimha not only mentioned the king and his associates but also included eunuchs and various types of animals, weapons and funerals that belonged to the warriors. The Sudra varna chapter of the modern Amarakosh was titled ‘Fourth Tribe Mixed Classes’, and referred to artisans, jugglers, dancers, musicians, hunters, servants and barbarians—including their occupations, tools and other related things (Ibid, 175–260). But the terms for pre-colonial artisans and non-artisans in this chapter referred to a person’s occupational identity (individual or noun), not to a caste (or caste occupational identity). For instance, the Sanskrit term Kautik was referred to as ‘a vender of flesh/meat’ in English. That means a seller of meat (like a petty trader or a travelling peddler in rural north India), not a caste of meat sellers. It does not mention that he is a butcher who slaughters animals for eating and selling purposes or a hunter who kills animals for eating purpose. Indeed, in general, there is a difference between the consumer (hunter), seller (or travelling peddler) and provider (butcher) of flesh/meat. Like, in the Oudh Census Report 1869, Charles Williams said, ‘the [Muslim] Kasais (butchers) have a subdivision called Chikwas, who differ from the general body of the caste merely in this, that they will not kill oxen, or deal in their flesh’ (Williams 1869, 81). It defines that there is a difference between the seller, provider of meat and killer of animals. Also, with the term Kautik, there are two more terms (vaitamsikah and mamsikas) denoted to ‘a vender of flesh/meat’. And there are many types of hunters in modern Amarakosh (Singha 1891, 251–52). Colonial lexicographers, ethnographers, and census commissioners overlooked these differences and silent features because they followed Sanskrit, traditional knowledge, colonial lexicography and the varna-caste system. For them, these were the primary sources of Indian history. And a person’s occupational identity was a representative of caste and varna in the official common sense.

The Etymological Origin of Caste, Communication and Khatik  89

Kautik, Khatik and Caste in Colonial Lexicography In the 19th century, Colebrook’s modern Amarakosh inspired the colonial lexicography in India, England and other parts of Europe. Many Sanskrit-English dictionaries—including German and French dictionaries, were published after modern Amarakosh. Among them, two such Sanskrit-English dictionaries were of colonial lexicographers, Horace Hayman Wilson and Monier Williams. They were the wellknown professors of Sanskrit. After modern Amarakosh, the works of Wilson and Williams represented Sanskrit and caste identity in ‘a modern European dress’. Wilson dedicated his Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1819) to Colebrooke (Williams 1872, vii, xv, xxi; Wilson 1865, 159–62, 165). He consulted Colebrooke’s Amarakosh and his notes on commentaries that were used during the making of the modern Amarakosh. He also employed many other modern and premodern commentaries, koshas and vocabularies, including Manusmiriti for law-related words (Wilson 1865, 234, 245). He added a complex history of Amarasimha and an alphabetical index, which were missing in Colebrooke’s Amarakosh. Wilson’s dictionary was an advance, simple and scientific version of Colebrooke’s modern Amarakosh. In these dictionaries, all four varnas, their representatives, occupational identities and the related terms of their lives were fixed under the caste names and caste occupation identities in alphabetic indexes. They were fixed with the Wilsonian system and the Indo-Romanized terms and annotations. But the annotations represented diverse meanings of one Sanskrit term. For instance, in Wilson’s dictionary (1819), the term Khateek referred to ‘(m.) the fist, the hand closed (f.) Chalk and the External opening of the ear’ and ‘a fragrant grass’. The term Khattik denoted to ‘(mfn.) a hunter, a fowler, one who lives by killing and selling [the] game (f.) a small bedstead, a cot’ and ‘a bier or bed on which the corpse is carried’ (Wilson [1815] 1979, 48, 221). In his second edition (1832), the term Kautkik referred to ‘a vender of the flesh of birds or beasts, a poacher, a butcher, & c.’ The term Kautik referred to ‘fraudulent, dishonest’ and ‘relating to a snare or trap…. [And] One who kills animals, and sells their flesh for his own subsistence, a hunter, a poacher, mountaineer, & c.’. And the term Khatika

90  Vijay Kumar

denoted ‘a bier’ (Wilson 1832, 253, 273). Similarly, in Williams’ dictionary, the term Kautika and Khattika were the same as mentioned by Wilson (Williams 1872, 257). But he added new meaning to the term Khattika that also referred to ‘the cream on the milk of a buffalo-cow’. Later in 1899, he added, ‘(f) khatvika (f) a woman who sells meat’ (Ibid, 272; Williams 1899, 243–44, 247, 272, 335–36). Here, it is very explicit that one word had different meanings and identities in these dictionaries. And most importantly, modern Amarakosh (re-)inspired colonial lexicography, communication and a sense of the etymological origin of caste in India.

Etymological Origin of Caste and Khatik in Colonial Lexicography and Ethnography The significance of modern Amarakosh, Wilson’s dictionary, and the orientalist lexicography also appeared in Wilson’s next big project on a Glossary of Official Terms (Wilson 1855, vii). Till the mid-1850s, Wilson said, ‘English documents cannot admit Oriental letters; and Indian words, when transferred from their native garb to an English dress, are often so strangely disguised that it is always difficult, sometimes impossible, to identify them.’ Consequently, the ‘typographical errors’, orthographic errors, corrupted words, carelessness, no explanation and misrepresentations of original words in official documents used to appear regularly. There was no ‘uniform system’ of language, communication and command (vowels, sound and written). Therefore, it was difficult to understand the exact meaning and to discover the exact equivalents for the native words in English (Romanized letters; Ibid, i–xxiv). Consequently, such intense criticism of Wilson inspired the late 19th century ethnographical projects like the caste and tribe series, the glossaries of revenue terms and census of different regions. These came with a modern uniform system of the representation of caste and the caste occupational identity, which mostly started with the Sanskrit etymological origin of caste. In these writings, although the Sanskrit etymological origin of caste provided a solution to colonial ethnographers to understand the caste occupational identity, they were confused with many diverse occupational identities of caste. Thus, the colonial scholars struggled between the past and the present of caste

The Etymological Origin of Caste, Communication and Khatik  91

occupations. Let us briefly discuss the three most important writings of Wilson, Nesfield and Crooke. The impact of the uniform system on caste names and occupational identities was very interesting. In the context of Khatik caste, one can find that the meanings of Kautik were consistently contesting with each other. But with the principal occupation of caste remained the same. For instance, in Wilson’s Glossary, the term Khataka or Khataki in Marathi denotes ‘a caste or an individual of it, who is by avocation a butcher’. But surprisingly, the terms Kautik, Khattik or Khatik do not exist in any language in his glossary, although the Sanskrit term Kautik existed in his first dictionary. And most importantly, a caste of butchers was entextualized in a native dialect from outside north India (Ibid, 271, 283). Here I would like to add that James Tod was perhaps the first colonial scholar who mentioned the term Khatik with its uniformed meaning as a ‘butcher’ in the context of census operation of the Jalor district (1813), Rajasthan (Tod 1829, 1268). Thus, one can notice that Khatiks as an untouchable caste already existed in the colonial records before the 1857 Uprising. By keeping the existing idea of the etymological origin of caste as traditional occupational identity, John Nesfield’s book had many of the etymological origin of castes based on Sanskrit terms (Nesfield 1885, 7, 9–12, 26, 75, 88, 126). Besides, Williams Crooke was a popular colonial ethnographer, a district commissioner and one of the writers of Tribe and Caste Series in the late 19th-century Uttar Pradesh (UP). He considered caste as a traditional occupation identity. For him, the traditional caste occupational identity provided a ‘more comprehensive and accurate indices’ for understanding caste as a system than race (Dirks 1988, 25). Therefore, his discussion on the Khatik caste began with the Sanskrit etymological origin. According to him, the term Khatik derived from the Sanskrit term ‘Khatiika’, which means ‘a butcher or hunter’. But in his time, he described them as ‘[a] cultivating, labouring and vegetable-selling caste found all over the Province’. He accepted Denzil Ibbetson’s and Matthew Atmore Sherring’s classification to understand the multiplication of caste and new sub-castes of Khatiks. Like Sherring, he noted Ajudhyabasi and Sunkhars were “territorial” sub-castes from Ayudhya and Snakh town

92  Vijay Kumar

in Mathura. Some Khatiks were also known as Mewafarosh (fruit vendors) and Chik (Bakar-qassab) in Agra; Kabariaya (peddlers and collectors of rubbish); Rajauriya derived from old Rajput name to be claimed Rajput in Etah; and Khara and Kairanga (leather dyers) in western UP. Pasis and Bauriya had been ‘excluded’ from the main stock of Khatiks. By mentioning the census report’s classification, Crooke noted ‘no less than 816 sub-divisions of the Hindu and 7 of the Musalman branches’ of the Khatik caste (Crooke 1896, 257–58). Indeed, most of these sub-clans or sub-divisions were usually classified in the day-labourer identity and non-agricultural identity in the census reports and settlement reports. In short, Khatiks were numerous and were divided into multiple occupations, not just in the traditional occupation (Sherring [1872] 1974, 352, 400). Crooke said, unlike the Sanskrit etymological origin of caste, many castes abandoned (or remained flexible with) traditional occupations and adopted new occupations. We have seen that in Wilson’s works (dictionary and glossary both), the Sanskrit etymological origin of caste, the occupational identities and meanings contradicted with each other. There were many occupational identities of Khatik caste since the beginning of the colonial state. Therefore, I argue, the Khatik caste was an open day labour caste that had many occupations. And the Sanskrit etymological origin of caste denied the diversity of caste occupational identities.

Etymological Origin of Caste and Khatiks in Hindi Amarakosh and Caste Histories-cum-Glossaries In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, due to the easy availability, accessibility and portability of print books, the Amarakosh was edited, inspired and published in Hindi as the Sanskrit-Hindi dictionary from Benares and Lucknow—two prominent centres of Hindi and Sanskrit. It was an ideal time to introduce text in Hindi. On the one hand, for the colonial sociologists and ethnologists, these dictionaries were one of the authentic and scientific methods to trace the etymological origin of caste name and occupational identities. On the other hand, the

The Etymological Origin of Caste, Communication and Khatik  93

national, communal and caste politics were on the peak in the public domain and print culture. The Hindi version of Amarakosh came as a project of revival of the Hindu-Hindi-Sanskrit culture. Due to the influence of caste politics, the Hindi versions of Amarakosh translated English and Sanskrit terms into caste names as they already appeared in the early dictionaries. For instance, the Shudra varna of the Hindi Amarakosh represented artisans and non-artisans with their occupational identity, and the locally-known caste names in Hindi and local dialects. Now, the individual identity of artisan or non-artisan was re-popularized and propagated as the caste-community identity (Abhimanyu 1937, 5, 217–26; Shastri 1919, 460–81). Indeed, many Hindi versions of the Amarakosh were reintroduced to fix ‘ideological conflict’ among caste Hindus and lower castes, particularly to counter the high caste assertions of the lower castes and the Dalits. But in the wave of castecommunal politics, it was also very useful for those caste writers who were working on the invention of caste histories and caste glossaries in Hindi to consolidate social status and caste-communal politics, and to prove their claims in court cases and administration. Their writings were, in O’Hanlon’s words, ‘Vernacular sociologies of caste’. According to her, the vernacular sociologists (Brahmans) were placing ‘the local caste communities’ of their regions in the varna-caste hierarchy since the pre-colonial period. By this way, they were justifying their domination, status, and power in the caste-communal politics and rectifying the socio-political disorder (Kalyug) (O’Hanlon, 2017, 443–451; O’Hanlon, 2015). For instance, Pandit Jwala Prasad Misra’s Jati Bhaskar published in 1926 after his death (1861–1916). It was a caste history-cumglossary. It was devoted to the discussion of the caste system and the caste origins of all four varnas in an orthodox Hindu sense. The structure and references of his book were inspired by the Manusmriti, the Amarakosh and James Tod’s Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan. Misra and Seth Khemraj Shrikrishnadass Bajaj (the editor of Misra’s book and the founder of the Venkateshwar press), were aware of the contemporary caste-communal politics, the emergence of caste associations, the issue of the communal award and the public

94  Vijay Kumar

debate on the caste system and caste origin. Bajaj was one of the patrons of Misra and commissioned him to write a granth (text) on Jati Nirnay. Hence, Misra wrote Jati Bhaskar. Being a Sanatanist, he urged that all Hindus should respect and defend the Sanatan Dharma and the caste system. All caste people must follow their caste occupation, which will reduce occupational tensions among the high caste Hindus, the lower castes and the Dalit castes (Misra 1926, 1–2, 41–43). Therefore, his book was propagated to assimilate the lower castes and the Dalits within the Hindu fold. For instance, by the legitimation of assertions, his book represented Kurmi, Ahir, Gujar, Jat, Ametiyas or Chamargaurs as Rajput Kshatriyas. Indeed, it provided a conservative Hindu vision of unity among the Dalits and the low and high castes against Muslims and Christians (Ibid, 235, 253–59, 263). In the early 20th century, after the Amarakosh, Misra’s Jati Bhaskar was one of the popular Hindi books for the high caste assertion and caste history writings among the lower castes and the Dalits like Kori, Dhobi, Chamar, Khatik, etc.1 Jati Anveshan (caste reality) of Pandit Chhote Lal Sharma (Chhotey Lall Sharma) was another text of the caste-communal politics in the Hindi-Hindu sphere. He was a preacher of Sanatan Dharma and the general secretary of the Rajputana Hindu Dharma Varna Vyavastha Mandal. He and his Mandal were devoted to the British Raj. In 1914, he published Jati Anveshan as a Hindi alphabetical historycum-glossary of Hindu castes, tribes and creeds. He was inspired by Wilson, William, Crooke and many other colonial ethnographers and Brahmanical shastras. Between the 1910s and the 1940s, his books (Jati Anveshan and a second popular book, Kshatriya Vansh Pradeep) were also continuously advertised in popular Hindi nationalist newspapers like Vertman of Kanpur (Vertman 25 November 1928; 30 March, 6 April 1931). His book deals, with the importance of caste system, the etymological origin of castes, caste discrimination, the concepts of high, low, pure and impurity, the degradation of Hindu castes and Hindu nation, and issues of caste-communal politics. Consequently, 1 For Dhobis and Koris, see File No. 29-F/1936, Franchise Branch, Reform Department, National Archives of India.

The Etymological Origin of Caste, Communication and Khatik  95

after the publication of his book and due to its huge success, about 349 castes, particularly from the lower castes and the Dalits, sent letters to him and his Mandal for the inclusion of their castes in his book (Sharma 1914, k, 3–8). Here, it is necessary to note that Chhote Lal supported Lala Lajpat Rai, Arya Samaj, and Madan Mohan Malviya and his Hindu Mahasabha on the issues of Achhutuddhar (upliftment of the untouchables), shuddhi (reconversion), cow protection and the dying Hindu race in his public lectures. For his mission, he gave a call to educated Hindus and Dalits to mobilize for the Hindu Sangathan and revival of the Hindu race. According to him, the occupation was the main factor of degradation of caste identity. But intermarriage, and the fear of Parshuram and the Muslim rule were also other factors for the social degradation of many upper castes. Thus, they were forced to adopt lower occupations. His book was filled up with Muslim hatred and it represented Hindu communalism and upper caste arrogance. It encouraged, legitimated and sometimes challenged the Rajput Kshatriya claims of the lower castes and the Dalits to strengthen the Hindu Sangathan (Ibid, k, 10–13, 20–25, 38–40, 60–71, 77–78, 164, 183–84, 205, 218). One can see the impact of these Hindi Amarakosh and caste history-cum-glossaries on the etymological origin of Khatik. As already stated, the term Kautik was considered ‘a vender of flesh/ meat’ in Colebrooke’s modern Amarakosh. And in Wilson’s and Monier William’s dictionaries, the term was also used for ‘hunter,’ ‘butcher’ and many other occupational identities. But in the Hindi versions of the Amarakosh, the term ‘Kasai’ and ‘Chikwa’ referred to the Kautik. Both the terms also denoted the Muslim butchers. The Chikwa (or Chik) was a subcaste of the Khatik community that resided in Lucknow and in central and eastern UP (Abhimanyu 1937, 220; Shastri 1919, 339). Here, it might be possible that the difference between Hindu and Muslim butchers was overlooked to claim over Muslim butchers for shuddhi (reconversion). For Misra, Khatiks were involved in wool and animal husbandry. According to him, the Hindu Kasais were also noted as Saunik; they were lower than the Sudra. The Karm-Chandal (father from an untouchable caste) and

96  Vijay Kumar

Slave (mother) were parents to them (Misra 1926, 396, 445). In the context of Khatik, Sharma’s Jati Anveshan used a folk saying that the term Khatik was up made of two words (Khat+Ik). It means that they can kill an animal in one shot (khat). Therefore, the Khatik caste was referred to a caste of butchers. For the support of his argument, he also used a popular caste proverb from Rajasthan—Chali Rove Jivane Aur Khatik rove masane, which means that a goat cries before being slaughtered, and a Khatik cries for meat. He further noted that the Khatik caste had 84 clans in Rajaputana and 816 clans in UP. Among them, many were close to the Rajputs. The Kayastha, Rajputs and caste Hindus took meat from Muslims butchers, but not from Khatiks. Therefore, this occupation had been taken over by the Muslim butchers. And Khatiks gradually adopted the trade of wool and animal husbandry. For communalizing the minds of Khatiks, Sharma said the Khatiks are said to have belonged to the Rajput-Kshatriya clan. But caste Hindus considered them as an untouchable caste. Although the caste Hindus did not have a problem with Christian and Muslim Dalits, they used to discriminate Khatiks who worshipped gomata (mother cow), Ram and Krishna. In UP, according to him, Khatiks were treated like animals by caste Hindus (Sharma 1914, 5–8, 164, 218). But for Khatik writers, the term Kautik neither belonged to Khatiks nor did it exist in the pre-Amarakosh period for them. While radical Dalit scholars consistently used the term hunter for their Kshatriya assertion and martial identity, they always questioned the meaning of the term Kautik. Like radical Khatik writer Shyamlal Bhadkariya, who wrote the Suryavanshi 360 Gotriya Kshatriya (1958). His book is a caste history-cum-genealogy-cum-glossary of Khatiks. It has many references from the Hindi Amarakosh, Jati Bhaskar and Jati Anveshan. He not only questioned colonial ethnography, lexicography and Amarakosh but also represented Khatiks as a Kshatriya caste. He provided the ideological base of caste consciousness between the 1930s and the 1950s. His book built a bridge based on presupposition and imagination. He and his book were influenced by the Hindi-Hindu ideologies of Arya Samaj, Hindu Mahasabha, Sanatan Dharma Sabha and the aforementioned Hindi-Hindu writers. Therefore, he rejected the achhut (untouchable or Dalit) identity of Khatiks, and represented

The Etymological Origin of Caste, Communication and Khatik  97

the Khatik caste as a community of protectors of cows, sacred rituals (yajnas), Brahmins and Hindu Dharma. He suspected Amarasimha was a Buddhist who imposed a Sanskrit term Kautik on Kshatriyas in his Amarakosh (Colebrooke claimed that Amarasinha was a Buddhist). Consequently, he was of the view that the term Kshatriya converted into Kautik, and later, gradually into Khatik. Due to his ideology, in 1934, a request from the Suryavanshi Rajput Sabha was sent to the UP government to name Suryavanshi Rajputs instead of being called Khatik.2 In the 1930s and the 1940s, the Rajputising3 Khatiks led a movement to remove the Khatik caste from the UP Scheduled Caste list. Similarly, the such Rajputising Dalit writers and their movements also emerged among other Dalit castes. Indeed, by using these Dalit writers, Amarakosh and caste histories-cum-glossaries, the Hindi-Hindu agencies undermined the new Dalit assertion of Ambedkar and the Dalit movement for power, and the demand of separate representation. The Hindi-Hindu writers tried to decimate the revolutionary spirit of Ambedkarist Khatiks and many other Ambedkarist Dalits.

Conclusion The modern Amarakosh is based on ‘numerous commentaries’ to make corrections, ‘counterbalance’ and ‘collation’ between different interpretations of the words (Singha 1891, iv, vii, xiii, x, xiii). Therefore, due to many translations and commentaries (based on contesting philosophies of numerous Indian religious schools), the original meaning of the words might have changed in nature with passing time. It might have changed once or many times. Like accuracy, inaccuracy and errors were common in translations and commentaries of ancient dictionaries. And entextualization and decontextualization were common in them. As pointed out elsewhere by A. K. Ramanujan, fixity is nothing in classic and folk texts (Ramanujan 2003). Therefore, there is also a need to study the long duree of Amarakosh in pre-colonial society. File No. 45/26/34- Public, Home Department, National Archives of India. The term Rajputising is for those Dalits who were claiming a Rajput identity to be the Hindu Kshatriya. 2 3

98  Vijay Kumar

In early colonial lexicography, one can see that the modern Amarakosh, the Sanskrit etymological origin of caste and the traditional occupational identity were seen as the ‘scientific and historical’ knowledge. They were also considered a traditional way of communication with the caste society. After Wilson’s works, the caste system was considered as a ‘museum’ of the caste occupational identities (or trade unions). The caste occupational identities were fixed accordingly with traditional positions and classification by colonial ethnographers. However, the orientalist rediscovery (the Sanskrit etymological origin of caste) in a Sanskrit text was consistently being challenged by the local dialects and new writings of colonial ethnography. But the Sanskrit etymological origin of caste was never abandoned by colonial writers due to their faith in the colonial scientific and historical knowledge. It remained the primary source of caste history, traditional occupational identity and caste structures. In the Hindi Amarakosh and Hindi caste histories-cum-glossaries, it was sustained to communicate, communalize, assimilate and mobilize the lower castes and the Dalits for the caste-communal politics. It was also used to negotiate and protest in the caste-communal politics. Therefore, the colonial state and Amarakosh (re)provided a space of caste-communal politics to the Dalits and the non-Dalits around the etymological origin of caste. Besides, the colonial police records, settlement and census reports, newspapers and Khatiks’ records of the late 19th and the early-mid 20th centuries show that the diversity of occupational identities of Khatiks, which was denied by the Sanskrit etymological origin of caste.

References Abhimanyu, Manna Lal. 1937. The Amara-Kosha of Shri Amara Sinha. Benares: Master Khelarilal & Sons. Bayly, C. A. 1993. ‘Knowing the Country: Empire and Information in India’. Modern Asian Studies 27 (1), 3–43. Bayly, Susan. 1999. Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age. Cambridge: CUP. Bhadkariya, Shyamlal. 1958. Suryavanshi 360 Gotriya Kshatriya Vanshwaliarthat Suryavanshiavam Chandravanshi Rajputoki Sankshipt Vanshvali. Gwalior: Royal Printing Press.

The Etymological Origin of Caste, Communication and Khatik  99

Cohn, Bernard S. 1996. ‘The Command of Language and the Language of Command’. In Colonialism and its forms of Knowledge: The British in India, 16–57. Princeton, NJ: PUP. Crooke, Williams. 1896. The Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, Vol. 3. Calcutta: The Government Press. Dirks, Nicholas B. 1988. ‘The Invention of Caste: Civil Society in Colonial India’. Transformations: CSST Working Papers. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, 1–37. ———. 2002 (2008). Caste of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Misra, Pandit Jwala Prasad. 1926. Jati Bhaskar. Bombay: Venkateshwar Press. Muthukumaraswamy, M. D. 2016. Lexicography in India, https://www.sahapedia. org/lexicography-india (Accessed 10 August 2017). Nesfield, John C. 1885. Brief View of the Caste system of the North-Western Province and Oudh Together with an Examination of the Names and Figures Shown in the Census Report, 1882. Allahabad: NWP Government Press. O’Hanlon, Rosalind. 2017. ‘Caste and its Histories in Colonial India: A Reappraisal.’ Modern Asian Studies 51(2), 443–451. O’Hanlon, Rosalind, Gergely Hidas and Csaba Kiss. 2015. ‘Discourses of Caste Over the Long Duree: Gopinatha and Social classification in India, c. 1400– 1900.’ South Asian History and Culture 6(1): 102–129. Ramanujan, A. K. 2003. ‘Who Needs Folklore?’ In The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan, 532–52. New Delhi: OUP. Rawat, Ramnarayan S. 2012. Reconsidering Untouchability: Chamars and Dalit History in North India. New Delhi: Permanent Black. Sharma, Chhote Lal. 1914. Jati Anveshan, Vol. 1. Phulera and Kasganj: UP Art Printing Works. Shastri, Pt. Shaktidhar. 1919. Amara Kosh. Lucknow: Raja Ramkumar Press. Sherring, M. A. 1974 (1872). Hindu Tribes and Castes: Benares, Vol. I, Reprint. Delhi: Cosmo Publications. Singha, Umura. 1891. Kosha or Dictionary of the Sanskrit Language by UmuraSingha, 3rd ed. English Annotations by H. T. Colebrooke. Calcutta: NundoMohun Banerjee & Co. Tod, James. 1829 (1920). Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan or the Central and Western Rajput states of India. Vol. 1. London: OUP. Vertman (Hindi Newspaper from Kanpur) 25 Nov 1928; 30 March, 6 April 1931. Vertman. 1928, 25 Nov 1928. Vertman. Williams, J. Charles. 1869. The Report on Census of Oudh. Vol. 1, Lucknow: The Oudh Government Press. Williams, Monier. 1872. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. ———. 1899 (2002). A Sanskrit—English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with special reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages, Rev. ed. Delhi and Varanasi: Motilal Banarasidass.

100  Vijay Kumar Wilson, H. H. 1815 (1979). A Sanskrit—English Dictionary, Rev. ed. Delhi: Nag Publishers. ———. 1832. A Dictionary in Sanscrit and English, 2nd ed, Calcutta: The Education Press. ———. 1855. A Glossary of Judicial and Revenue Terms and of Useful Words Occurring in Official Documents Relating to the Administration of the Government of British India. London. ———. 1865. Works by the Late Horace Hayman Wilson, Vol. 5. London: Trubner & Co.

Section II

Caste and Lifeworlds: Rituals, Folklore and Orality

Chapter 5

Negotiating Hierarchies Through Symbolic Praxis Subhadra Mitra Channa

An elderly Dhobi woman had once proudly displayed the markings with black ink that the Dhobis make on their clothes, saying, ‘We dhobis write like this. You people write on paper, you scribble words, we make our drawings, we write and our writing is useful. Hundreds of clothes come to us and we always know which clothes have to be delivered to which household. We never make a mistake. Yet you people say we are illiterate’.

The woman was referring to the intricate system of symbolic markings by which Dhobis, a caste group of launderers or washermen, identify and sort the clothes that come to them for washing. It is true that hundreds of clothes are sorted and delivered on the doorsteps of the correct houses. The symbolisms used follow simple logic, such as the house with two sons, the house with four windows, the household with a red car and so on; they are not simply blank symbols but are causatively linked to some ontological character that acts as a memory aid. The

104  Subhadra Mitra Channa

marking system indicates both, the ingenuity and the imagination of the Dhobis as well as their efficiency. But this is not just one kind of writing that they do. The caste system is an inherently and essentially hierarchical system where those at the bottom have been routinely marginalized and humiliated by those in power. Many sociologists have proposed that caste values propagated by the upper castes are acceptable to even those at the bottom, or in other words, they are willing participants in this system of inequality (Moffat 1979). However, my study of the Dhobis, that has by now extended to more than 40 years, has always pointed to another reality—that the subversive culture that they have developed over centuries of surviving under oppressive conditions has been developed as an adaptive mechanism to enable them to retain their humanity and their identity, which is represented not as individual but as a community. Thus, the Dhobi culture can be viewed, in the words of Marcus (1990, 178), as a ‘class culture or sub-culture, entailing its formation in a historic process’ that arises in response to conflict, a class conflict or, as in this case, a caste/class conflict. For the Dhobis, it is a covert attempt to subvert the domination of the upper castes, not an overt class conflict. It is more of a negotiation, a contra-culture that makes use of its own language to form a critique and provide a self-assertion; the former directed towards the upper caste efforts to subvert them through a dominant hegemonic discourse, and the latter achieved through a creative language, expressed in multivocal forms. Clifford (1990a, 117) cites Derrida (1974) to describe the expanded definition of writing. Derrida had criticized the restrictive understanding of writing as alphabetic, creating a disjunction between the written and the spoken words, as well as the ‘gestures, marks and special articulations’ that characterize communication in its various forms. ‘What matters for ethnography is the claim that all human groups write—if they are articulate, classify, possess an ‘oral-literature’ or inscribe their world in ritual acts’ (Clifford 1990a, 117). Thus, Clifford treats ethnographic writing as always situated to translate, rather than create writing. The ethnographer only translates what the culture is already communicating through its own modes. This paper engages with the manner in which a marginalized caste group in an

Negotiating Hierarchies Through Symbolic Praxis  105

urban setting negotiates with their social environment to adapt to the hierarchy for their economic survival, and at the same time, create a network of support through ritual and other cultural means, ensuring that their dignity and humanism is not lost, in spite of the unfavourable dominant ideology that marginalizes them. A small ethnographic sketch of the community and the methodology of data collection follows in the next section.

The Dhobis of Old Delhi A number of caste or jati groups at the bottom of the caste hierarchy serve to absorb the pollution and perform various tasks of daily necessities that are unavoidable, yet according to the purity and pollution norms of the caste system, the upper castes would lose their pure status by engaging in any one of them. All these tasks involve touching or using material that is considered demeaning and polluting according to jati and varna norms prescribed in ancient texts, where they exist in the form of inscribed and written formal documents. These communities include the Dhobis, who absorb pollution released by the body onto the clothing in terms of sweat, menstrual blood, visit to the toilet, semen and other bodily fluids that are contaminating, yet essential products of the body. In all conservative upper caste homes, clothes worn on the body, as well as others such as sheets spread on the bed, were given for washing to the washerman, and never washed at home. Without the existence of these bottom layer castes, the entire caste system would collapse, as the bodies of the upper castes are able to maintain their purity only by passing it on to that of the lower castes. When urbanization was spreading in the subcontinent and largescale migration—especially of the middle-level caste groups such as those of the merchants—was taking place, there was a parallel effort to bring many of the lower castes to the city. In the rural areas, these castes had a more limiting role; but in the cities, they were settled in large numbers to cater to the rising middle classes who needed an affirmation of their often new-found respectable caste status, by making use of service caste groups like barbers, washermen, scavengers and others (Bayley 1999). This particular community of Dhobis

106  Subhadra Mitra Channa

to whom I refer in this paper were the ones to be settled in the city of Shahjehanabad, built by Emperor Shah Jehan, and later known more popularly as Old Delhi. They prefer to call themselves ‘Sheheri Dhobis’ (city washermen), and form an endogamous group, keeping their identity distinct from late migrants from the rural areas. This endogamous group is referred by them as their biradari (community) and forms the crux of their social identity. In my earlier publications on the Dhobis, I have dealt extensively with the structure of the biradari (Channa 1985). While the structure of the biradari is a multilayered one, extending from the All India Dhobi Mahasabha—the apex body of all the Dhobis of India—the actual operational units are local; for our paper, the focus will be on the smallest local unit, the endogamous biradari. Most studies on caste tend to emphasize the vertical hierarchy, and few—such as the works of Gupta (1991) and Channa (1979)—have focused on the identity aspects of caste groups and their horizontal solidarities. A caste identity is the key to the formation of closed, heredity-based social units that make survival possible under adverse circumstances and gives social security, where shared oppression—and even prosperity—provides mechanisms of enforcement of dignity and a collective consciousness of belongingness. My study indicates that the Dhobis are keen to maintain their biradari identity in spite of internal stratification of class; where some are successful in making money even in their own work, some are educated and hold good jobs, and some have diversified into occupations other than that of washing and ironing clothes. Yet there are symbolic forms of asserting and claiming their unified identity that still remains important as they are not able to transcend their stigmatized lower caste identity, in spite of class mobility. An important message communicated through the collective public rituals is not that of claim to a higher caste identity, like what Srinivas had proposed in his theory of Sanskritization. The Dhobis have no wish to shed their caste identity. What they wish to communicate is that they are a social and political entity that is seeking its respectable place in the social and political arena. They neither wish

Negotiating Hierarchies Through Symbolic Praxis  107

for an upper caste identity, nor do they have any special regard for those who are in positions of domination. This realistic assessment of their position, viewed from the privileged vantage position of the marginalized and dominated, who, in the words of Marcus (1990, 180) are the most powerful critics of capitalist society and of the traditional caste system, situated as they are in the marginal position without the need of the dominant strata to create an ideology to hide the reality of their oppression. The data that I have used for this work is drawn from my field experience that began when I started as a young PhD scholar in 1974, and that continues even today, as I have now retired as a professor from Delhi University. The most intensive fieldwork was done between the years 1974 and 1980, when I lived and worked with the Dhobis (Channa 2013a). I decided to do the study again, and began doing fieldwork all over again—visiting the same locations, contacting whosoever I could—and found that I was readily accepted and remembered by several of my earlier interview subjects, who, like me, had grown older and reached different points in their lifecycles. In between, I had been making sporadic visits to my friends in the field, but these were more for social than for academic pursuits. Since 1974, the Dhobis have remained a part of my life. The continuation of biradari identity, as well as the manner in which the traditional occupation of washing and ironing clothes has found renewed viability in the fast-developing capitalist economy of the mega city of Delhi, have also made the Dhobis a case away from the usual stereotype of vanishing ‘traditions’ and disappearing occupations that find no place in the contemporary economy. Thus, although people have started to wash clothes at home, often using washing machines, the dhobi work has found other avenues of expansion as the capitalist economy expands in the city. Even in the earlier phase of colonial period, with industrialization and trade proliferations, these services were patronized in the new urban structures of ‘mills, docks and Public Works Departments’ (Bayley 1999, 226). Bayley (ibid) further writes, ‘In all these settings, people who were known by such titles as Chamar, Mahar and Dom were not likely to become

108  Subhadra Mitra Channa

detached from caste Hindu norms, which had come to define them as lowly and unclean’. In other words, even though the services of the lower castes remain in demand, their social status never changed. My observations in the contemporary urban city also show that most age-old occupations thrive and have made their niche within the informal part of the total economy. Most of them—including those of barbers, scavengers, vegetable-sellers, butchers, leather workers and bead-makers, to name a few—occupy strategic points on the informal side of the economy, from where they are linked by complex networks to practically the global economy. Maintenance of identity and community, and evolving cultural and the means to communicate them is, thus, not divorced from the global market and emerging so-called modern sectors of the economy (Bapat 2018). It makes good sense to remain a dhobi in more ways than one. The next section will develop on the processes of culture and communication, and how they are being developed. Theoretically it is accepted that ‘culture is contested, temporal and emergent’ (Clifford 1990b, 19).

The Cultural Critique Coming from the Bottom The present-day city of Delhi locates the Dhobis in a fast0developing urban milieu where, due to the rapid mushrooming of commercial enterprises and numerous institutions, the demand for laundry is growing rapidly. A visit to any Dhobi residential cluster or a ghat (place for washing clothes) shows huge piles of clothes and the Dhobis working furiously, with hardly a moment to spare. Even in the early 1970s, they had begun to diversify from washing of clothes from homes to those that came from export houses (that had begun to proliferate at that time), and to those that came from small hotels, restaurants, hostels, hospitals and other institutions. The biradari was then thriving on the banks of the river Yamuna, where the panchayats were held on every New Moon night. There was very little political activity as first, the Dhobis are busy with a lot of work, and second, while they are fully aware of their marginal social status, they also realize the close interdependence that they have with those whose clothes they wash.

Negotiating Hierarchies Through Symbolic Praxis  109

However, one public movement had taken place about 40 years ago under the leadership of one Arya, who was a political leader with some clout. At that time, a large number of Dhobis had gathered in the Town Hall in Old Delhi to demand for more ghats for themselves in the expanding city of Delhi, and also as compensation for the breaking of their ghats. They were also put in jail for three days, and finally, a decision was taken by the then municipality of Delhi to provide Dhobi Ghats all over Delhi—Malka Ganj, Gulabi Bagh, Jehangirpuri and Hailey Road were some of the locations. No other incidence of mass protest is known from memory and record. Washing of clothes is a personalized interaction, and one through which the Dhobis could build up tropes of ribald satire and gossip about the so-called respectable and high-status households whom they served. At the same time, since the relationships often extended over generations, there were ties of near fictive kinship with these families. The female Dhobi, known popularly as dhoban (a name that the Dhobis resent), is the key figure in any neighbourhood. In the traditional set up of the Old city, when the men were busy washing clothes at the ghats, she went from house-to-house. Even today, in many neighbourhoods, the dhoban continues her house-to-house visits and is also a key centre for dissemination of information as she occupies one corner in practically every neighbourhood of Delhi. In the Old Delhi area, the women of the upper caste households were largely housebound, being prevented by caste norms to be too visible in public. The dhoban, however, was a free bird. She went from one door to the other, and often the mistress of the house would offer her a glass of tea and some snacks, and invite her to sit down at the back of the kitchen (the Dhobis were not allowed in the main house) or the outer part of the courtyard and then inquire about all the gossip in the neighbourhood—to which the dhoban had privileged access. From this vantage point, she also formed her own critique of what went on in these upper class/caste households. A peculiar intimacy was established through the clothes that came to be washed. Till the late 1970s, almost every Dhobi household told me that they never spent any money in buying clothes but wore the clothes of the clients that came to be washed. This almost taken

110  Subhadra Mitra Channa

for granted privilege is also communicated in folk sayings like, ‘The King’s headgear is the Dhobi’s loin cloth’. By wearing their clients’ clothes, the Dhobis also effectively critiqued the notion of their polluted bodies. Till such time as the clothes remained with them, they had the power and the control to do what they wished. The wearing of the clients’ clothes erased the difference between the upper caste and the lower caste bodies. The Dhobis anyway had scant respect for the upper castes, who they deemed morally inferior to themselves. During the period of my fieldwork, in the initial phase, when there were significant class differences between the Dhobis and their clientele, this critique was often quite scathing. The major point of departure was like in most other situations of exclusion and inclusion, on the bodies and character of the women. The bodies of women are the boundary markers on which groups draw their identity. The upper caste dominant discourse has always built itself around the debasement of the bodies of lower caste women (Chakravarty 2003; Channa 2001; Unnithan Kumar 1997), yet, ironically, the lower caste discourse not only negates the dominant point of view but has its own discourse of morality and the superior morals of their own biradari as against the upper classes—especially against the so-called ‘modern’ women. The dhoban was always full of gossip about the sexual misconducts, the escapades of the bahu-beti (daughter-in-law and daughters) of the well-off households she visited. Of special target were the collegegoing girls in their jeans and Western clothes, that had entered the wardrobes of the young women in the 1970s. My very first introduction to the field area was in the form of a group conversation with some young men, several of whom were going to college at that time. One of the narratives that came up quite strongly about the ‘others’ was about the loose morals of the girls of the upper castes/classes who went to college wearing jeans, and who did not follow the rigid code imposed on unmarried girls of the Dhobi biradari. In fact, the proper conduct of women was of special concern to the Dhobis as their women were out in the open public space to carry on their duties as wives and daughters of the Dhobi men. They were carrying clothes to and fro, standing out on the streets to iron them and, most importantly, their bodies were

Negotiating Hierarchies Through Symbolic Praxis  111

not protected by caste norms. The Manusmriti is often cited as the source from which sanction is drawn by men of the upper castes to exploit the bodies of the lower caste women. But it is the day-to-day practices that highlight the actualization of such liberties, whether or not they have a textual source. The occupational and normative structures of the jati system insidiously and systematically exposed the bodies of the lower caste women to the public domain for earning their livelihood, and they were forced to communicate their sexuality as well as passively accept the exploitation carried out by the upper caste men. Women working in the fields, carrying clothes to and fro, carrying night soil and working as domestic servants were also marked by a form of cultural communication, perfected by prescriptions of bodily attire and ornaments, to send signals of their lower caste status. Lower caste women were forced to expose their bodies, not wear blouses, not wear nose rings and certain markers of upper caste status. In Rajasthan (Channa 2013b), I was told that each jati group—including the tribals—had their own dress and colour code. This code also extended to the marking of women as unmarried, married, widowed or separated, and having a male child or being childless. At the same time, in no place—including the Dhobis but also from rural communities—was there a complete rejection of the dominant discourse by those exploited by it. From the lower caste women of Haryana to the Dhobis in urban Delhi (Channa 2004), I was told about the purity and high moral standards of the women of the marginal communities. There was a clear perception of the loose morality of the upper caste men and the advantages that the upper caste women had, and of their reputations being protected not because of their actual conduct but by the power wielded by men of their communities. This resentment or the sense of injustice was communicated covertly by the Dhobis, by the gossip as well as the overt restrictions placed on the Dhobi women in terms of their attire and behaviour. Within the biradari, in the lanes and by lanes of Old Delhi, any older Dhobi woman would reprimand a young Dhobi girl for any misconduct, like talking to people from other communities, not covering her head properly or laughing too loud.

112  Subhadra Mitra Channa

However, in the present times, there has been considerable transformation. The Dhobis are fully cognizant of their rights and, with changes in conservative caste norms, at least in the city, the caste-based discrimination against women has been replaced by an overall attack on women’s bodies in public places (Channa 2004, 2018). There is another aspect of locating bodies in public places in the urban context. As long as they are not out of place, they remain invisible. Thus, the dhoban ironing clothes in all localities of Delhi remains merged with the city’s landscape. As long as she maintains her looks in terms of her dress and bodily signification as a woman of the proper caste group, she remains protected. The lower caste women, forced into the public space, have—over a long period—developed a culture of resistance to protect themselves from unwanted attention. For one, it is usually the older married women who go out in public. The young married as well as unmarried women are left at home to take care of domestic duties (see Channa 1985, 2007, 2013a). The mannerism developed by these women also communicate overt aggression, loud voice and a stimulated hostility towards any untoward interaction. They are quick to use abusive language and walk with their heads held high, and with nonchalant attitude. They remain polite and friendly with their clients and those considered well-wishers. The upper caste women are socialized to behave in an exact opposite manner, heads down, eyes lowered and a passive body language. The situation is changing greatly at present. The Dhobi men, too, depend on their social network as well as their strong bodies to fight the system. I was once told by a young dhobi, We find strength in our biradari ties. If one dhobi man gets into an argument or fight with another person from another biradari, the men from our community will be quick to gather around. Within a few minutes, within the boundaries of Old Delhi, a hundred dhobis can gather quickly.

Since the dhobi work involves hard physical labour, they are also proud of their physique, comparing them to the weak bodies of the upper castes of Brahmins and Baniya in their localities. A popular hobby among the Dhobis is body-building and wrestling, and they often double up as bone-setters. The most popular young men, considered

Negotiating Hierarchies Through Symbolic Praxis  113

‘heroes’ in the biradari, are the body-builders and sports men. They have actually produced excellent body-builders of considerable fame. Thus, the Dhobi men flaunt their bodies and their biradari’s collective spirit to critique the weak upper caste men. The weakness, or kamzori, is used in more than one sense—apart from referring to physical weakness, it also refers to the lack of social support or biradari among the upper castes and, obliquely, to their lack of morality. In present times, the discourse regarding women is taking a different course, although not quite radically different. Many young Dhobi women are going to school and college, and now the communication of identity is about the lack of difference than about creating a different identity. The young women getting education do not want to be marked out from other girls studying with them. They now appear in the same kind of clothes, Western as well as currently fashionable. The attitudes of the older persons in the family has also changed. The young girls, and even young married women, are no longer required to project themselves as Dhobis. The reason is also clear: they are no longer practicing the traditional service in public places. These women still help in the traditional trade but not on the street corners and in public. One dhobi, while washing clothes at the dhobi ghat, told me that he had lost his wife several years back and his son helps him with his washing. He said that his daughters are studying: the older one is pursuing her Masters in political science from Delhi University and the younger one is in senior school. But both the girls help their father by ironing the clothes that come from the clients. I have seen educated girls working at home, but they do not expose themselves in public. Clearly, the present generation of both men and women of the Dhobi community do not consider their occupation to be demeaning or polluting. They also do not believe in the dominant caste ideology, which is also losing its significance in the urban city. In present times, class is outweighing caste in the urban market context. Yet the Dhobis cannot and do not consider it rational or prudent to give up their caste identity, for it is this identity that is ensuring a viable livelihood for them. Even in the shadows of unemployment and general economic distress, the Dhobi trade is flourishing. Most dhobis who are continuing their traditional work are able to make a

114  Subhadra Mitra Channa

good living. Over the period of last 40 years, their houses are getting renovated, they are improving their standards of living to approximate to that of middle class homes—although most of them still continue in the old and congested neighbourhoods, and are nowhere near the glittering dwellings of the rich and upper classes of Delhi. Yet, they are not among the homeless and the really poor and marginal. They are not placed diametrically in opposition to the upper strata as they derive their livelihood from there, but they are also not in a relationship equality. They still do not find acceptance in the social networks of the upper castes/classes. It is nearly impossible for them to marry into any upper caste family. Even in day-to-day interactions, the stigma of a low—and for some untouchable—status remains. Given both the economic and social exigencies, there is still a need for them to keep their biradari alive.

The Continuity of the Biradari The most important communication that the Dhobis make, both to themselves and to the others, is about their identity as Dhobis. In earlier times, they were less conspicuous in their assertions. They lived in close quarters to each other, in the thickly clustered katras, in Old Delhi. The environment dominated by the upper castes and dominant caste values did not allow much display of lower caste sentiments and assertions. Over the years, the Dhobis moved out of the katras and into various parts of Delhi. This movement had begun from the late 1970s, when some of them moved to trans-Yamuna areas and to a newly-built ghat at Hailey Road. At that time, whenever one family moved, they took their extended family with them. The Dhobis have slowly built up their communities in the comparatively later housing complexes that have been coming up in Delhi. When the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had relocated large numbers of marginal populations of Delhi in new colonies, she had made ghats in several of them. For the Dhobis, it was important to rebuild their communities, as they could not live in isolation from their own kind. While describing to me the location of a new colony, the person guiding me to the location said, ‘You cannot but find it as you will see large amounts of

Negotiating Hierarchies Through Symbolic Praxis  115

clothes drying out in the open’. The dhobis have a traditional mode of making a stand-out of bamboo poles and then hanging their clothes on them. They also spread them on the sides of flyovers and bridges that now dot the fast-developing city of Delhi. All these modern structures are used by Dhobis to ply their ancient trade of washing. Whereas earlier the sandy banks of the river Yamuna were used for drying clothes and steaming the clothes in bhattis, today the washings of the dhobis mark many points in the Delhi urban landscape. Dhobis also refer to them as their signature—a symbolism of their claims to the geography of the city. They have also taken to lavish and ostentatious display of their community rituals. I will mention two to which I was an eyewitness. The Dhobis at present recognize some primary figures as their ancestors as well as their patron saint—a phenomenon that I did not observe 40 years ago. They now have a Baba Nagar Sain Janmostav Samiti (registered), an organization that is devoted to celebrating the birth date of their mythical ancestor, Nagar Sain. They organize a Shobha Yatra (celebratory procession) every September. I participated in the one held on 21 September 2015. The celebrations were on a large scale and held in the heart of Old Delhi, where a huge gathering was organized; and while women and children, in their finery, assembled directly in a huge enclosed space and adjoining building, most of the men participated in a procession with many floats of the most important Hindu deities—along with that of Nagar Sain. There were loudspeakers blaring, the entire space was brightly lit and many images of various gods and goddesses were put up. Arrangements were on for a big feast on one side, with huge cauldrons placed on ovens and many men working to prepare a lavish spread. Even before the dinner that took place on a large scale, all who were present were given ‘prasad’ in the form of puris, sabzi and sweets. One Dhobi was preparing certificates to be given to all the Dhobi children who did well in their schools and colleges. There was an overall environment of assertion and claim, to space, identity and also respectability. A prominently displayed poster informed that the then Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi Mr Sisodia would be gracing the function. There was clearly the presence of nearly a thousand people, and the entire

116  Subhadra Mitra Channa

show was also done to dazzle and show off the economic and social assets of the biradari. The second function that I attended was on 5t January 2019, in another part of the city, near the trans-Yamuna resettlement colonies. This was done in honour of Balaji or Hanuman, a very popular deity in this part of India. However, while attending the ritual—which was also mounted on a very lavish scale with a lot of pomp and show—I noticed that this time also, the podium that was put up displayed all the major Hindu gods and goddesses, with Ram and Sita at the centre and Hanuman at their feet. There were other images of Balaji as well, and a prominent one of a deity unknown to most Hindus but who, I was told, was Sham Bhatu—a presiding deity of the Dhobis. Earlier, in the 1970s, I had not heard of such Dhobi-specific deities. There were Sufi alcoves called Ala in each house, where a lamp would be lit in the evening. On special occasions, goats were sacrificed at the altar of Saint Nizamuddin, a well-known Sufi saint of Delhi. Both the practices continue as goats are offered to Mia at the occasion of marriage, but visits to Nizamuddin are rare. The Dhobis are gravitating towards fringe Hindu deities—like the Bhairon temple located in Purana Kila, and there is a great surge in their devotion towards Sai Baba, another Sufi saint who is now appropriated by the Hindus as one of their own. Religious tours in groups to places like Shirdi and Vaishno Devi are also becoming fashionable as the Dhobis are asserting their identity as respectable and active social members within the social fabric of Delhi. The communications that are coming from them are not at all towards change of jati status that is becoming a non-issue in the context of a cosmopolitan lifestyle adopted by most who live in Delhi. However, there is a clear alignment of cosmopolitanism with class. The more educated and better off dhobis receive greater acceptance from persons of higher castes/classes than those who are still identified only as Dhobis. Here is also a paradox: the dhobi trade is flourishing and providing a good living for many. It would be imprudent and irrational to barter livelihood for mere respectability. So the Dhobis have found a way out. They are attempting to reinvent their identity by conjuring

Negotiating Hierarchies Through Symbolic Praxis  117

an archaeology of ancestors and deities, who are also being elevated and put on the same pedestal as major Hindu gods and goddesses. This display is not meant for their own brethren but as a public and very conspicuous display of identity, to be consumed by the society at large. Instead of trying to camouflage their identity, they are proclaiming it loudly but in a transformed image. The present-day Dhobis are trying to communicate respectability and an honourable mention in the social diaries by saying ‘we, too, have ancestry, history and a ritual status’. The Dhobi deities are thus being elevated to the level of higher Hindu deities, like Hanuman, Rama, Sita, Parvati and Shiva. On both the occasions mentioned, the Dhobi-specific deities had been elevated, and the Dhobi strength of biradari announced through very conspicuous display of money and political power. While the former was evident in terms of the expenses incurred in the lavish displays, feasts and paraphernalia of music and technology, the latter was clear in terms of linking the ceremonies to the presence of prominent political leaders. The local neighbourhood was made well aware of the happenings as most persons around were able to tell that a Dhobi occasion was taking place. Thus, to this end, the communication was successful. To what extent these displays elevated their status in the outside world, one cannot be too sure. Caste Hindu society is very conservative at its core, and it is doubtful that at the level of community, the Dhobi status has undergone any change. On the second occasion of the Jagran (night-long vigil for a deity), while some outsiders were present, the crowd was overwhelmingly composed of biradari members. What is probably more evident and communicated is the elevation of the biradari itself. People now comment on the prosperity and strength of the Dhobi biradari on the basis of these displays. The interesting aspect is the duplication of higher caste/class mechanisms to communicate rather than invention of any alternate mechanisms. Here, the Dhobis are clearly situated away from the assertion of Dalit identity by other marginalized communities. Their actions and communications can be understood from the perspective of what Santos (2018, 30–31) calls counterhegemonic appropriations: ‘concepts, philosophies and practices, developed by dominant social groups to reproduce domination, but that are

118  Subhadra Mitra Channa

appropriated by oppressed social groups and then re-signified, reconfigured, re-founded, subverted, and selectively and creatively changed so as to be turned into tools for struggles against domination’. The Dhobis praxis of appropriating dominant Hindu practices, rituals and also deities, and merging their own symbols of identity into these rituals and practices indicates that they do not wish to break away but negotiate for a new position from within the dominant philosophy and practices. This has also become possible in the urban city milieu, where they are no longer subject to what Santos (2018, 24) refers to as abyssal exclusions—the form of exclusion that is ontological in its philosophy, where the exclusion is justified by the natural order rather than as an aberration of social justice. In other words, the classical exclusion practiced by the jati system was based on abyssal exclusion, where it was believed that the jatis were differentiated on natural basis. But in the contemporary world, and especially in the urban environment, the Dhobis themselves—as well as many others—do not consider the jati difference as abyssal, but more in the light of a correctable exclusion in the light of social injustice.

Conclusion The theoretical premise on which the aforementioned arguments are based draws from the conceptualization of culture as practice, as a process that evolves in relation to the context of struggle and contestation. The symbolic practices such as rituals and public celebrations are significant as communication of certain aspirations, critiques and contestations of the dominant discourse, and the impositions that are unacceptable, especially in a changed environment where the dominated find that they can negotiate from the side of a non-abyssal form of exclusion. With greater cosmopolitanism of a metropolitan city providing multiple avenues of expression, a marginal community like the Dhobis is able to attempt (it is too early to say succeed) in making public assertions of a class transformation while still adhering to their jati identity. They are strengthening their biradari ties and, at the same time, making claims for respectability and social acceptance.

Negotiating Hierarchies Through Symbolic Praxis  119

Given the weight of traditional hierarchies, how far they can succeed with respect to the larger society is not predictable. But where they are succeeding is in building up higher self-esteem and value for their own selves, and for their community.

References Bapat, Dipti. 2018. ‘Nomadic Vendors in Indian Formal Economy: A Study of the Waghiri Community.’ Unpublished PhD Diss. Central University Hyderabad, India. Bayley, Susan. 1999. Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age (The New Cambridge History of India, 1 V.3). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chakravarthi, Uma. 2003. Gendering Caste-Through a Feminist Lens. Kolkata: Stree. Channa, Subhadra Mitra. 1985. Tradition and Rationality in Economic Behaviour. New Delhi: Cosmo Pub. ———. 2001. ‘The Right to Self-Hood: The Paradox of being a Dalit Woman’. Social Action 51 (4), 337–51. ———. 2004. ‘Globalization and Modernity in India: A Gendered Critique’. Urban Anthropology 33 (1), 37–42. ———. 2007. ‘“The ‘Ideal Indian Woman”: Social Imagination and Lived Realities’. In Recent Studies on Indian Women, edited by Kamal K Misra and Janet Hubert Lowry, 37–52. Jaipur: Rawat. ———. 2013a. ‘Becoming a Dhobi’. In Life as a Dalit: Views from the Bottom on Caste in India, Subhadra Mitra Channa and Joan P. Mencher, 171–88. New Delhi: SAGE Publications. ———. 2013b. ‘Marking Bodies! Dress and Ornaments as Signs of Social and Sexual Status’. In Gendering Material Culture: Representations and Practice, edited by Subhadra Mitra Channa and Kamal K. Misra, 79–94. Jaipur: Rawat Pub. ———. 2018. ‘Negotiating Gendered Violence in the Public Spaces of Indian Cities: Globalization and Urbanization in Contemporary India’. In Women of Asia: Globalization, Development and Gender Equity, Mehrangiz Najafizadeh and Linda L Lindsay, 307–18. New York: Routledge. Channa, Vardesh Chander. 1979. Caste Identity and Continuity. New Delhi: Concept Pub. Clifford, James. 1990a. ‘On Ethnographic Allegory’. In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus, 98–121. Bombay: Oxford University Press. ———. 1990b. ‘Partial Truths’. In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus, 1–26. Bombay: Oxford University Press.

120  Subhadra Mitra Channa Derrida, Jaques. 1974. On Grammatology. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. Gupta, Dipankar. 1991. ‘Continuous Hierarchies and Discrete Castes’. In Social Stratification, edited by Dipankar Gupta. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Marcus, George E. 1990. ‘Contemporary Problems of Ethnography in the Modern World System’. In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus, 165–93. Bombay: Oxford University Press. Moffat, Michael. 1979. An Untouchable Community in South India: Structure and Consensus. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Santos, Boaventura de Sousa. 2018. The End of the Cognitive Empire: The Coming of Age of Epistemologies of the South. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Unnithan-Kumar, Maya. 1997. Identity, Gender and Poverty: New Perspectives on Caste and Tribe in Rajasthan. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Chapter 6

Popular Culture and Social Movements A Caste Based Narrative Neerja Singh and Namit Vikram Singh

Understanding Folk Culture and Society in India Folk forms of culture in India have had a scattered and isolated identity (Achuthan 1987, 395). However, the most interesting aspect of folk culture in India has been its distinct set of dialects, which have been both, expressive and powerful in nature. Folk forms of culture, be it ‘Birha’ or ‘Bedesia’, have reflected the seasons of life of the Indian village society (Achuthan 1987, 396). The unique characteristic of such cultural forms of the older traditions has been the styles of presenting the past events of social evils and atrocities in the form of songs and plays committed by the members of the higher caste upon the depressed communities, and how such instances have passed on from generations as a reminder of subjugation faced by them. It also helped in sensitizing the local public about specific cultural practices that, despite being ritualistic in nature, had strong hegemonic characteristics. The approach towards such forms of discrimination was not

122  Neerja Singh and Namit Vikram Singh

direct, rather, it incorporated the themes of religion, spirituality, love and seasons to narrate the instances, and project the deeper meaning hidden within such cultural forms. For instance, Aaj Khelo Shyama Sanga Hori Kunwar Kanhaiyya Sanga Sakhi Radha Rang Bhari Joree Sorat Ri (Let Us Play Holi With Lord Krishna, The Prince Among Shepherds Who Is With His Consort Radha Besmeared With Colour, What A Handsome Couple They Make)

The aforementioned song not only narrates a scene between Lord Krishna and Radha on the festival of Holi but also denotes the importance of harmony and solidarity between different communities on the eve of Holi. Holi has been symbolized as a holy event where different communities are reminded to forget about their animosities with each other, thus encouraging syncretism and strengthening cultural solidarity. Such instances of folk cultures in India have helped in developing a strong platform for communicating with the members of different communities and sensitizing them about rationality through the use of folk songs (Achuthan 1987, 399). Another important aspect of the folk culture in India has been the community-based participation (Achuthan 1987, 397), where certain folk songs were sung in a collective manner, where members of different cultural communities would sing folk songs together to welcome the new season of life and encourage togetherness during the ills of harvesting. Folk songs such as, Manik Hamaro Herai Le Ho Rama Jamuna Main, Kehu Nahin Khojela Hamaro Padarath Ho Rama, Jamuna Main. (Oh Lord Rama, My Jewel Is Lost In The River Jamuna, Nobody Is Searching My Jewel Which Is Lost In The River).

Popular Culture and Social Movements  123

These lyrics discussed the fears of losing the harvest, which was given a symbolic meaning of jewel. During the hostile weather conditions, there was a risk of losing the harvest. The song symbolized the fear of isolation during such conditions as no one would aid in finding the jewel (harvest) that had got lost in the river Jamuna (harsh weather conditions). This instance was seen to be a common threat amongst the community members who were involved in agricultural practices, such as Kurmis, Koeriesand, Kushwahas, etc. (agricultural communities). The songs were sung to sensitize them about the issues, to remind them of the impending threat and the need for collective support (Achuthan 1987, 398). Apart from that, folk songs have played a pivotal role in the ceremonial practices in the rural societies of India—especially in the ceremonies of marriage, where the songs denoted the roles of the husband and the wife after marriage, the importance of family and relationships, and the challenges before a wife in begetting a child (Nanadiya Kaahe Maare Bol; Achuthan 1987, 398). Folk songs in India also symbolized the unique cultural identity of distinct communities (Achuthan 1987, 399). For instance, the folk song ‘Birha’ was a form that was sung mainly by the peasants, craftsmen and herdsmen in India. It was a type of song that was sung in fast tempo, where the themes of seasonal change, love and devotion, and religion and historical instances were common (Achuthan 1987, 399). The unique characteristic of ‘Birha’ was its community involvement—most of its songs were sung collectively as it involved high-pitched sounds. These forms of folk culture played a crucial role in retaining the rich cultural identity of such communities. Further, the interesting aspects of such songs were that they were not rigid in terms of explanation, rather, the songs underwent change in terms of representation of the social plights of the respective communities while keeping the central meaning of the song similar, that is, if the songs were sung by peasants, they would reflect upon their issues, and similarly in the case of craftsmen and herdsmen. However, the prime aspects of all these songs would remain the same, that is, to sensitize the fellow community members.

124  Neerja Singh and Namit Vikram Singh

Folk culture in India was understood as a form of practice that was non-primitive and simple in terms of engagement. It did undergo different phases of modification over the period of its existence through self-evolution (Foster 1953, 159). Further, such forms of culture also reflected generations of traits that were accumulated from the classical traditions (Singh 2002). Folk societies of India, despite being generally branded as small, isolated and nearly self-sufficient group of communities, have had pivotal social roles in the caste hierarchy. Their respective folk forms of culture helped in fulfilling larger social customs and practices within the Indian rural society. For instance, the binding force between the community members of a folk society has been the ‘jajmani system’, where the members of the lower caste would perform their folk art in front of the members of different cultural communities and the higher castes, and would be rewarded in the form of payments and gifts for their services. This event marked a collective engagement between different communities, and also presented acts of protest and dissent if the rewards offered were not fair in terms of the services provided. Another interesting aspect of the Indian folk society was that despite the divided social roles in the customary practices, the members of distinct cultural communities ensured that their identity remained sacred and closely guarded. It did not provide much scope for inclusivity, and it actively ensured to remain outside the boundaries of modern and urbanized ways of engagement (Foster 1953, 162). This was primarily done to ensure that periods of struggle against the social evils of the society do not deviate due to the forces of modernization (Foster 1953, 162). Different forms of folk culture also played a significant role in the political sphere of the society. It can be historically observed that over the generations within the rural society, two broad social categories were involved in the series of political engagements: the rich landlords and the poor peasants. In most of the rural societies, the production relations in the agriculture sector largely witnessed high degrees of exploitation of the labourers by their respective maliks (heads/lords). There was no scope for tenurial rights for the peasants, and the nature of farming remained confined to bataidari (bonded

Popular Culture and Social Movements  125

labour) or sharecropping. With the lack of legal rights over property and rising levels of oppression, the folk forms of engagement, such as songs and drama, were seen as spaces to convey the grievances shared by different communities, and also to sensitize the public about the prevalent issues of the rural society. Even after the decentralization of power and the steady decline in the traditional authority, folk culture still held its ground as the means for staging protest through art against the dominant members of the Indian rural society, such as the Thakur community (Dhanagare 2007, 3420; Upadhyay, 1954, 201). Further, folk forms of culture helped the oppressed communities in retaining the generations of their political identity, and also in defining the norms of engagement within the political sphere through its cultural practices (Upadhyay 2013, 20). Folk songs of distinct cultural communities helped in developing a general understanding of the Brahmanical practices. It introduced stories of their respective religious icons such as Rai Das, who was revered as a great saint amongst the members of the lower castes (Cohn 1958, 420). Another such similarity can be seen in the case of ‘Birha’ folk songs, which were traditionally centred around the religious and historical themes about different social and cultural occasions. The narration of the historic tales in the form of ‘Birha’ songs reflected the evils of the society, and how the struggles of the past should not be forgotten but be taken as markers for collective social action. It helped the members of different lower caste communities in developing an understanding of their social positioning within the society. It also motivated them to engage in the struggle for social mobility within the restricted traditional system of the Indian rural society (Singh 2012, 153). Within folk culture in India, the faith in the divine and the supernatural not only had a strong prevalence but it also played a principal role in influencing the public’s actions (Singh 2012, 154). For the alteration of the fundamental values of the communities and challenging the validity of the traditional customary practices, folk forms of culture behaved as the counter force to dominant social practices within the Indian society. In addition to that, folk forms of culture have played an important role in concretizing the identities of the

126  Neerja Singh and Namit Vikram Singh

distinct cultural communities that had been subjected to repression for generations (Singh 2012, 159). It is because of the Indian folk culture we find that the elements of the classical traditions were borrowed and passed on to generations and led to composite forms of cultures that reflected parochialization as opposed to universalization (Singh 2012, 161).

Folk Forms of Protest and Inter-Community Autonomy History has narrated events of protest, revolts and revolutions while chartering the forward march of human race. This aspect of history has been duly acknowledged by social scientists—be it historians, sociologists, social anthropologists, economists or political scientists. However, the role of culture in modulating or heightening the tenor of social protest, which has been seen as a potent tool in bringing about change in human existence, did not receive much attention as compared to other aspects such as the political, religious, social or economic factors. Therefore, it is imperative to examine and analyze, while studying social participation in social movements, as to what extent the cultural entities were employed in the articulation of forms of protest in India. It further raises questions such as why were they used? What dimensions of social exploitation or religious servility engendered this process? What were the aspects of social conflict and resurgence of identity consciousness that this process gave rise to? To what extent did the historical and the socio-cultural conditions of a society provide resilience and dynamism to meet such challenges? It is also necessary to remember that before any protest explodes into a movement, much effort—whether psychological, physical, material or emotional—goes into preparing the ground for it. The major role in strengthening the morale, spirit and psychology of the masses is played by cultural expressions like songs, plays, storytelling and other mediums of cultural articulations (Singh 2002). They provide not only the matrix for protest but further keep the fire of rebellious spirit against injustice alive and burning. It has been seen that the use of cultural tools like

Popular Culture and Social Movements  127

songs, storytelling, plays, etc. had a very constructive role in protecting the social movements in their initial stages by warding off immediate doubt, suspicion and anger of the perpetrators of the exploitation. Thus, what we see is that the Indian society in eastern Uttar Pradesh in mid-19th century to early 20th century, the cultural forms such as ‘Birha’, ‘Nautanki’ and ‘Bedesia’ were used in exposing the acts of exploitation of the Zamindars, the company Bahadur, Thanedars and Sahukars, and in sensitizing the farmers, before a full-blown peasant movement broke out from the 1920s to 1940s in the form of ‘Nijaibol–Andolan’ in parts of Central Awadh and eastern Uttar Pradesh (R. Singh 2001). The traditional social structure gave enough leverage to interstructural autonomy. According to Yogendra Singh (2002), in some key elements of the social and cultural systems, there existed substantial autonomy within the principles of social stratification based on caste, political system governed by the rulers, and the value system and religious traditions that were under the control of the priest and the local communities (Singh 2002, 15–16). Sahab Lal Srivastava (1974) gave a very interesting view on oral folk tradition. According to him, it played a pivotal role in the process of socialization and social control (Srivastava 1974, 278). For example, the village elders would narrate stories of ideal men and women to the children. These stories and songs would later become a part and parcel of their personality structure. They further helped in describing the ways to adjust within a society. They also set life-history examples of legends amongst the caste members and helped them to modify their behaviour in accordance with the need of their respective community (Srivastava 1974, 278). In terms of social control, these folk traditions helped the members of different castes to voice their opinion against any form of behaviour that was considered unruly in the existing social environment. For instance, if the member of a higher caste would attempt to take advantage of a favourable situation, the members of the lower caste would taunt him by saying ‘Apne Ghare Mein Kukuro Bariar Hola’, which meant ‘In its own house, even a dog feels stronger’. Also, in

128  Neerja Singh and Namit Vikram Singh

situations of deviation by a high caste member from the social norms and values of his/her respective community, taunts such as ‘Desi Ghodi, Bilaiti Chal’, which meant ‘Country mare and Britannic gait’ from the members of the lower caste would follow. These statements indicated the degree of scope the members of the lower caste had in terms of voicing their counter-arguments against the members of the higher caste. Sahab Lal Srivastava (1974) had further described another instance of the commensal relations between different castes in the rural societies of eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP), where he pointed out that the relations among the higher and the middle castes such as the Brahmins, Thakurs, Baniyas, etc. were lot more homogenous in comparison with the untouchable castes. In the case of Pangat, which involved the exchange of food, the untouchables were made to sit in their specific caste assigned space. They were not allowed to interact with the members of other castes and communities. However, in case of dissatisfaction, the members of the lower caste would oppose the acceptance of food and would refuse to be a part of the ceremony. Similarly, if the priests enjoyed cultural authority that was independent of the rulers and had freedom to pronounce upon matters related to rituals, customary rights, and ceremonies, local communities such as the lower castes, too, played pivotal roles in certain aspects of the religio-cultural matters based on the traditions and local cultures. For instance, in the Tarai area of Basti and Sidharth Nagar (eastern UP), local customs prevailed where, amongst the Brahmin families, it was a common practice to sacrifice a piglet for the long life of their newlyborn sons. The custom involved the sacrifice of the piglet in honour of the local deities and putting a drop of the blood of the sacrificed piglet on the newborn child’s lips as a means to ensure long life of the child and protect him from any evil eye. The piglet, however, was supplied by the ‘Harwaha’, or the tenant of the Brahmin, under the customs of ‘Jajmani’ system. The interesting facts to be observed here are that if the ‘Jajman’ or the ‘Harwaha’, who was an untouchable by caste, had any complaints regarding misbehaviour with their womenfolk or over issues of rent with the Brahmin family, then this was seen as an opportunity to settle

Popular Culture and Social Movements  129

scores with the Brahmin by refusal to participate in the ceremony. In addition to that, the role of getting the piglet could not be performed by the Brahmin as it was considered socially inferior and humiliating. And under the Jajmani system, the piglet could not be acquired from any other family of the untouchable caste. The Brahmins, therefore, out of fear of not receiving the piglet voluntarily by the Harwaha attached to the family under the Jajmani system, would accept the terms laid down by the tenant and made the necessary payments. Similarly, during festivals—especially on Holi and Dussehra—bands of service caste such as the Kahars, Dhobis, Thatheras, etc. would visit the houses of big landowners, landlords and important members of the village belonging to the upper castes. They would sing songs replete with mockery and satire, sexual innuendoes and allegations of misbehaviour in order to demand gifts and rewards from the members of the upper castes. The upper caste community would be compelled to reward the members of the lower castes with gifts and money in order to hide information of value from these bands of tenants, as otherwise their songs would include satire and elements of humour about the embarrassing instances of the members of the higher castes. As a result, the upper caste community enjoyed the power of dominant position as well as embarrassment in such social situations over their petty acts of authority, power and money (Singh 2002). The performance of the tenants was designed as a spectacle where the songs would be sung accompanied by cymbals, dhols, kartals, etc. The lyrics would be: Ramji Jaise Raja Morey, Ravan Na Banjai, Lelo Raja Ke Bhadaar, Aur Khutiya Par Se Bole Rajaiya, Hum Dhobiya Ghar Jabe Rama.

The text given here described the needs of the tenants, which they shared by singing at social occasions. It indicated their lack of capacity in gaining material needs such as the blanket (Rajaiya) and urged the members of the higher castes to offer them as a gift. Failure to do so would result in the singing of similar songs, but it would include

130  Neerja Singh and Namit Vikram Singh

elements of ridicule against the higher caste members. Each caste would sing a similar song and change the name of the castes in it. Higher the status of the landlord, higher would be the demands of the tenants in such social occasions. The landlords would not be in a position to refuse anything as they would always fear the risk of getting embarrassed within the community or fear the loss of social and political status in such events. Further, the peasants would play upon the feudal sense of pride and honour of one Zamindar (landlord) against the other, subtly creating a sense of competition (R. Singh 2001). Such cultural spaces played the role of social shock absorbers, where opportunities—however restrictive and rare—were provided, which could be used as a bargaining point by the peasants. Similarly, during the wedding rituals amongst the Rajputs (Warrior caste) of these regions, it was observed that though customarily it was the groom who would put sindoor (vermilion) on the bride, the first sindoor or suhag would be given by the washerwoman (Dhobi community) of the village. A week before the final ceremony, the would-be bride— accompanied by the ladies of the house—would visit the house of the washerwoman in the night, due to the Purdah system, and sing songs in her praise. Upon reaching her house, the Thakur girl would request the washerwoman for the suhag by pampering her. She would apply oil on the head of the washerwoman, and on her feet, and massage them to convince her for the ritual. The would-be bride would also carry sweets, money and sarees for her as gifts to ensure that she accepts her request. Once the washerwoman agreed to grant suhag to the bride, she would apply large amounts of sindoor on herself and rub her head with the Thakur girl’s, covered by a piece of cloth. Such cultural spaces that existed at the time created a space that reflected both, a sense of cooperation and subordination based on the Jajmani system, apparently amongst the social components of the area. These instances could also be identified as markers for protest that could gradually shape into a social movement. In parts of Rajasthan also, during marriage ceremonies, the folk tradition of Agya Kadhana involved the nai (barber) to dress the bridegroom’s hair before the commencement of the marriage party,

Popular Culture and Social Movements  131

and in return for his service; the nai would be offered neg (gifts). Here again, if the gifts offered were insufficient, the nai would refuse to dress the hair of the groom and the ritual would remain incomplete and would be regarded inauspicious. According to K. L. Sharma (1986), in Rajasthan, in the case of marriage ceremonies—especially of a Thakur community—the member of the Nai community would provide a wooden stick to the bridegroom as a ceremonial practice and would be offered gifts in return. In case the gifts offered turned out to be insufficient, the entire Nai community would turn out in protest and deny any service to the higher caste family. The same was the case with the Kumhars (Potter community), where a kumhar would refuse to provide a kalash (earthen pot) to the bride’s family for the completion of the wedding ceremony if the gifts offered to him were not sufficient. Thus, it reflected that there was no overpowering subjugation of the lower castes by the members of the upper castes, leaving no space for protest and rejection. Unlike in India, in the West, the serfs were in absolute control by their masters with no scope for protest or resistance. In India, however, caste panchayats and Jajmani system provided the lower castes the space for protest and voicing their dissonance to a larger public. In India, it was seen that caste was based on both, subordination and cooperation. In another similar instance, the bride would be welcomed to the husband’s village by a woman of the lower caste and guided to the village shrine while singing songs about love and devotion (Cohn 1958, 414). The customs would require the members of the Thakur community to distribute gifts to the members of the lower castes on such occasions. The members of the higher castes would also be subjected to criticism in case they failed to fulfil their obligations of providing gifts (Cohn 1958, 414). This would again be carried out in the form of songs, but the lyrics would include elements of humiliation against the Thakur community (R. Singh 2001). These actions through folk culture helped in sensitizing the public about the right for equal share in different spheres of the Indian rural society. One can also observe how complex the Indian rural society is due to the different layers of overlapping engagements and multi-dimensional comprehensions. From the focal point of folk culture, the customs themselves empowered the members of the lower castes to play vital roles in the rituals of

132  Neerja Singh and Namit Vikram Singh

the higher caste communities and revealed space for protest embedded within the folk tradition itself. In terms of marriage, even in parts of South India, there existed the scope for protest by the members of the lower castes against the exploitation of the members belonging to the higher castes. For instance, the Komati Chetty (a higher caste), the wealthy business caste of South India, followed a tradition in their marriage ceremony that involved a customary practice of inviting the Madiga caste (untouchable caste of Andhra Pradesh) for the wedding feast in order to avoid ill-fortune on the newly-married couple. The Madiga caste, on the other hand, regarded such an invitation insulting. Therefore, if a Komati dared to invite them openly, his messenger would be treated roughly at the hands of the irate Madigas. The Komati would wait for an appropriate moment where the members of the Madiga could not see him, and he would take an iron vessel with which he measured grain and make his way to the Madiga hamlet. Hiding behind one of the Madiga houses, he would whisper into the vessel, ‘In the house of the small ones (Komati) a marriage is to take place, the members of the big house (Madiga) are to come’. What is important to note here is that the Komati regarded the Madiga as a higher caste because of his importance in the completion of the marriage ceremony. The Madiga, on the other hand, had the space to protest against the exploitation (Clough 2000, 34). In addition to that, the light with which the fire was kindled during the marriage ceremony was also to come from the house of Madigas. However, there would be obstinate refusal when the Komatis asked the Madigas directly. Therefore, the approach was strategic, which involved pampering or stealth for the completion of the ritual (Clough 2000, 36). Another such event that could be taken into consideration as a space for protest was the ceremony of childbirth in a higher caste household in parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. According to Sahab Lal Srivastava (1974), if the first child born was a boy then the nai (member of the Barber community) would take a green blade of grass with him and present it to the eldest member of the mother’s family. In return, he would be given neg. This ceremony is called

Popular Culture and Social Movements  133

‘Hira Manana’. In case the neg offered was insufficient, it would result in the entire Nai community protesting against the respective higher caste family till the time the family provided sufficient compensation in the form of gifts to the respective nai. Further, the Indian caste system enjoyed a large major of autonomy through its Panchayats, and exercised self-rule in economic, social and cultural matters in day-to-day life (Y Singh 2000, 16). This aspect of cultural inter-structural autonomy helped in developing cultural and social resilience for adaptive transformation such as the process of globalization or modernization. However, the existence of cultural and inter-structural autonomy provided the scope for day-to-day resistance and conflict. Such cultural forms like ‘Birha, Kaharwa and Kissagoi, Dhobia Naach and sometimes Allaha, Ramkatha and Kabir-Baani’, and other folk forms of retelling acts of bravery and valour were used metaphorically and idiomatically in recounting their existential angst, exploitation and discrimination. These cultural forms were used as unobtrusive, non-pervasive but potent force for sensitizing the social milieu against all kinds of evils and excesses. For example, (i) Pisan Ke Parikal, Musariya Tusiriya Dudhwa Ke, Prikaal Bilar Apan Jobna Samhari Re, Bitiuia Rahri Mein Lage Le, Bahunda Aur Rajakwa. (Mice and such are habituated to flour, Cats are accustomed to milk, Hey daughters keep your youth covered sensibly, In the field of pigeon pulses lurks the wolf).

The song reflects upon the constant threat of humiliation against the members of the lower caste, especially women, and how it was important for them to keep themselves protected from the higher castes. Further, the song helped in igniting forms of dissent among the lower castes in case such actions were committed by the higher caste communities.

134  Neerja Singh and Namit Vikram Singh

(ii) Pisa Lo Pisa Lo, Jaat Aapan Bhuj Loho, Bhuj Loho Jaati Aapan Bhuj Loho, Karije Karamwa Kharab Panditwa, Cheen Liye Jivika Hamar Thakurwa, Manai Leb Manai Leb, Pandit Ka Manai Leb, Gor Tohe Laga Aey Ravan Ke Bhatijwa. (Keep grinding your caste, Keep grinding your caste, Brahmin has ruined your fortune, Thakur has snatched your livelihood, Make up with Brahmins and I touch your feet, O Ravan’s nephew).

The song reflects upon the degrees of exploitation that the lower caste communities faced from the higher castes, especially the Thakur community, and how they were forced to follow the norms and conditions laid by them. These songs also act as constant reminders about the social atrocities that exist within the social system. It also helped in keeping the fire of protest alive from generations through the practice of such forms of folk culture. Other examples of Birha songs are: Kekare Paharawd Mein Ratiya Hole, Kekare Paharawd Mein Din, Kekare Paharawd Mein Coriya Hole, Ki Kekare Herale Bati Ho Nar, Are Candawa Paharawa Mein Ratiya Hole, Suraj Paharawa Mein Din, Lachman Paharawa Mein Coriya Hole, Ki Ram Ke Heraile Bati Ho Nar. (In which period is the night, in which period is the day? In which period did the kidnapping take place, and whose wife was lost? In the period of the moon is the night, in the period of the sun is the day, in the period of Laksman the kidnapping took place, and the wife of Ram was lost).

The song reflects on a scene in the Ramayana where Sita was abducted. It symbolizes Sita as the womenfolk of lower caste communities while

Popular Culture and Social Movements  135

Raavan as the member of higher caste. The crucial aspect of Birha is that folk artists of specific communities had the freedom to make changes in the lines and the message they wanted to convey through their songs (Henry 2002, 110). It is interesting to note how such instances took shape as point of references within the folk forms of art and culture and were used to narrate the evils of the society, while also propelling the community to voice their anguish and collectively engage in protest. These three examples of Birha songs are largely sung by the cowherds or Ahir community but in times of acute crisis—for instance, voicing the angst of indentured communities—it was joined by other service castes such as the Dhobis and Kahars. The Birha songs also voiced the anger against the atrocities committed by the members of the higher castes against the womenfolk of the lower caste communities, as seen in the third song. It portrayed, on one hand, the anger and daily struggle of the reluctant acceptance of their existential reality, and on the other hand, their constant struggle between rejection that they wanted to do away with and the acceptance that they were forced to acknowledge. Thus, folk culture plays a pivotal role within the Indian rural society. It provides the space and the scope to protest against the social atrocities committed by the higher castes. It creates a strong base from which social movements can takeoff. However, works on usage of cultural forms in the study of social movements are still few and scattered, and the need of the hour is to record these oral sources depicting the non-aggressive and unobtrusive yet creative mode of protest by the lower castes in the Indian rural society.

References Achuthan, N. S. 1987. ‘Folk Songs of Uttar Pradesh.’ Ethnomusicology, 31 (3, Autumn), 395–406. Clough, E. R. 2000. ‘Transformed into a Buffalo.’ Tales of a Telugu Pariah Tribe, edited by Emma Rauschenbusch-Clough. New York: Asian Educational Services. Cohn, B. S. 1958. ‘Changing Traditions of a Low Caste.’ The Journal of American Folklore 71 (281, July–September), 413–21. Dhanagare, D. 2007. Practising Sociology through History: The Indian Experience – I. Economic and Political Weekly, 42(33), 3414–21.

136  Neerja Singh and Namit Vikram Singh Foster, G. M. 1953. What is Folk Culture? American Anthropologist 55 (2, part 1; Apr–June), 159–73 Henry, E. O. 2002. ‘Melodic Structure of the Khari Birha of North India: A Simple Mode. Asian Music 33 (1, Autumn–Winter), 105–24. https://bit. ly/2EOjimq Islam, M. 2006. ‘Post-modernized Cultural Globalization: Threatening Folk Cultures in India’. Social Scientist 34 (9/10), 48–71. Sharma, K. L. 1986. Caste, Class, and Social Movements. Jaipur: Rawat Publications. Singh, R. 2001. Social Movements, Old and New: A Post-Modernist Critique. New Delhi: SAGE Publications. Singh, Y. 2002. Culture Change in India. New Delhi: Rawat Publications Pvt Ltd. ———. 2012. ‘Modernization and Its Contradictions: Contemporary Social Changes in India’. Polish Sociological Review 178, 151–66. Srivastava, S. L. 1974. Folk Culture and Oral Tradition: A Comparative Study of Regions in Rajasthan and Eastern U.P. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications. Upadhyaya, K. D. 1954. A General Survey of Folklore Activities in India. Midwest Folklore, 4 (4, Winter), 201–12.

Chapter 7

Communicating the Contestation of Caste In Between Folklore and Modern Literature in Mithila Dev Nath Pathak

Subversion of caste surface in Maithili folklore through barbs, wit, wisdom. But this is not a linear case of subversion leading to any envisaged radical change in the structure of caste. This complexity summons a nuanced approach while dealing with the Maithili context. Broadly located in the northeast of Bihar and abutting the linguistic-cultural geography of Nepal on one side and Bengal on the other, the Maithili worldview thrived on the immense body of folklore. With the advent of modernity, this only assumed more thickness as modern Maithili literature, too, accommodated the elements of folksy subversion, opening up a possibility of critical rethinking on caste. This paper tries to locate the broad folk-literary domain of caste-contestation. Needless to say, folk worldview and modern literary attempts constitute a cultural stock of knowledge, shaping up the schemes of thinking, reasoning and imagining. Maithili folklore and modern literature have shared manifold characteristics. A glance through Jaykant Mishra’s history of Maithili

138  Dev Nath Pathak

literature offers ample evidence of the shared features of non-textual oral tradition and textual-literate tradition. And thereby arises a possibility of rethinking not only the 20th century binaries of ‘Little and Great traditions’1, but also that of tradition and modernity in the context of Maithili folk. The interaction between the classical and folk, and the tradition of literate and the non-literate, has manifested in various tales, songs and sayings, inter alia. The conjoined nature of traditional components also reveals in the way the modern and the traditional interact2. The conceptual interaction corresponds with the societal and cultural negotiations that amounted to the fusion of tradition and modernity in Mithila3. In this backdrop of complex epistemological injunction, it is curious to posit the folk perspective on caste structure with its due complexity and non-linearity, which has often escaped the methodologically myopic approaches of sociologists and social anthropologists in India. This paper seeks to strengthen an idea that the contradictions of caste exist within the caste structure, enabling the folk to pass judgements detrimental to the caste identities. On one hand, the paper creates a broader contour of Maithili folklore, on the other, it revisits an important character named Khattar Kaka from the modern Maithili literature of a doyen littérateur, Harimohan Jha4. The modern rationalist orientation of Khattar Kaka, in the hue of oral tradition, enables an articulation of folk criticality about caste hierarchy, identity and structural arrangements. To briefly introduce him, Harimohan Jha earned various epithets for ushering modern trend in the Maithili prose. In addition to an arresting world of Maithili folk, ornate with wit and wisdom, and inversion and subversion, Jha emboldened a typical characteristic of critical reasoning While these binaries are owed to some of the earliest works such as Redfield (1960), for a more engaging discussion along this line, see, controverting the validity of binaries, see Obeyesekere (1963). 2 It is worth looking at an insightful essay to make sense of this complexity, see Mishra (1977). And for a more recent take, see Jha (2014). 3 A couple of essays by one of the pioneer sociologists from Mithila, Hetukar Jha, is worth a reflection toward this proposition. See Jha (1974) and Jha (1977). 4 The essay dwells upon the compilation by Harimohan Jha, that gives an overall view of the world and tales of the character Khattar Kaka. 1

Communicating the Contestation of Caste  139

through his most renowned protagonist, Khattar Kaka. This paper seeks to highlight the folk socio-cultural background in which the becoming of Khattar Kaka, the protagonist with critical conscience and subversive reasoning, could be possible. Methodologically, on one hand, this paper will do a close reading of the text of Harimohan Jha, relating the instances of Khattar Kaka, on the other hand, there will be interpretative readings of select Maithili folklore. In implication, the paper also underlines the fluidity of folklore that begins to reflect in modern Maithili literary work too. Reading Jha’s Khattar Kaka discourse, one comes across a probing question: is Khattar Kaka merely a fictional invention in modern Maithili literature or embedded in the folklore of Mithila? And is Khattar Kaka only for the sake of amusement or there is a deeper value that he embodies? In short, in what ways does Khattar Kaka—at the intersection of modern and traditional, and printed and oral tradition—divulge the problems of caste hierarchy, and the logic of purity and pollution?

Orienting Folk Subversive Humour The politics of subversive humour is not unknown. This may imply a performative act through various forms of speeches that can collapse the cultural and the political5, and also, the folkloric and the contemporary. Such performative acts may offend some, while regaling some others; most importantly, these communicate messages laced with barbed wit. Irrespective of progressive or regressive implications, such performative dimensions bring about an imperative in cultural sociology to fathom the intricate relations of power and performance, political and cultural6. More important in the following discussion is a creative dialectic that Scott (1990) informs us about. The dual aspects, namely, are public transcripts and hidden transcripts associated with performative acts. These seemingly ‘hidden transcripts’ of the folk, rendered in their loaded expressions, need not be confined 5 For a more theoretically inclined discussion, one can refer to Butler (1997). This has been discussed as a potential phenomenon of performative communication in the context of South Asia, see Pathak and Perera (2017). 6 I am informed by another crucial work, such as Alexander (2011).

140  Dev Nath Pathak

to the private spheres. Their dynamic presence in the public sphere is undeniable. Scott, however, has convincingly shown, not only ‘the public transcript as respectable performance’ but also various instances of fully, or partially, concealed performances of hidden transcripts—off stage, away from the glare of the masters, play an important role in forms of articulation and resistance7. With this synoptic conceptual orientation, this essay unravels the content from the Maithili folklore and an exemplar of modern Maithili prose. The unravelling, however, has to begin with an iota of self-reflexive narration. Resorting to auto-ethnographic narrations, almost everyone who grew up in the Maithili-speaking region refers to an imagination of Khattar Kaka. Such accounts highlight households that have a few partially moth-eaten books in Maithili. Some among such books contained the stories of Khattar Kaka. However, it never seemed true that Khattar Kaka would merely be a fictional character imprisoned in a few books. The name appeared in everyday mention, sometimes to chastise someone, and sometimes to compliment. Whenever anyone acted mischievously, elder siblings or parents reprimanded him/her by saying ‘he is talking like Khattar Kaka’. And several times, I was confused whether Khattar Kaka and Gonu Jha were synonyms. Yet another name oft heard in everyday life in the Maithili worldview, Gonu Jha8, has more posterity than Khattar Kaka. Scholars attribute historicity to the character as a real one, while also indicating the folkloric value of the name9. Many tales related to Gonu Jha were afloat in the everyday speech acts in the Maithili-speaking society. And moreover, it was used as an epithet for a witty-wise speech act. Both, Khattar Kaka and Gonu Jha were most frequently-mentioned characters. And while one is with clear relation to modern fiction, the other is with conjectured historical 7 We have worked along this line in an edited book, Pathak and Perera (2017). For more along the specifics of public and private, see Scott (1990). 8 For a glimpse of the location of Gonu Jha in Maithili literature, see Singh (1970). 9 Makhan Jha (1997) suggests of Gonu Jha’s existence based on the traditional Maithili Panji records. But then, the character of Gonu Jha acquires more anthropological value than historical.

Communicating the Contestation of Caste  141

origins. And both were so intricately related to the everyday lives that the folks refused to believe in the constructivism entailed in them. Such is a personal-narrative trope in which these characters assumed more than what could be attributed to them in the printed texts. Tales and references to Khattar Kaka, mostly improvised upon what one may have heard from the books, engendered a performative communication with a clear message: if you are a questioning type, you are from the ilk of Khattar Kaka and Gonu Jha. And this questioning type was not the same as the slogan-shouting type. It was the questioning type with wit, humour, barbs, ridicule and so on. That was what made this questioning type potentially endearing, even though it was sufficiently subversive. The essay will return to the idea of locating the disposition of this kind, characterized by subversive humour, in the larger scene of Maithili folklore. Returning to the reflexive narration, in addition to being a character mostly alluded to in everyday life, Khattar Kaka appeared as a literary figure too. It brought about a combination of literary and folkloric, as it were. Some of the elderly folks inform that they had to read the stories of Khattar Kaka in hiding. It was socio-culturally censored, as it contained disturbing content. However, many of my friends knew of the character of Khattar Kaka, but were not sure of Harimohan Jha, the creator of the character. That’s the powerful machinery of folklorization10, which converts nearly everything into folk items. The same is the case with Madhubani painting, which has been transformed from an indigenous art of wall murals to a commercially viable artwork available as collector’s item, or some of the wedding and devotional folk songs that are mostly identified as ‘Sharada Sinha songs’ and popularized by cassette-culture in Mithila. Intangible heritage, however, may or may not amount to a tangible product ready for circulation and consumption. For example, Maithili folklore may not be entirely translated into a commodity conducive for trade and commerce, but parts of Maithili folklore could be refashioned and packaged for circulation and consumption. 10

Along the idea of folklorization, see Chatterji (2003).

142  Dev Nath Pathak

Context of Maithili Folk and Modern Literature There has been a curious practice of counting Maithili folklore as part of textual literature in Maithili literary domain. Most of the classification of literature seems to confuse the distinction, as though folklore is as systematic as crafted literary works. Dr Jayakant Mishra was the first scholar to classify Maithili folktales into eight categories. This was followed by Dr Anima Singh, who proposes four-fold division. Dr Ramdev Jha (2002) has proposed a synthesis of these classifications into the following categories:   1. Ramya katha (romantic and fairy tales)  2. Dharmik katha (religious tales)  3. Updeshatmak katha (didactic tales)  4. Bhut-o-dainak katha (tales of ghost and witches)  5. Hasya-vyangya katha (tales of wit and humour)  6. Bal katha (tales for children)  7. Aitihya (legends related to historical events and persons)  8. Lokshruti (popular reports)  9. Lok-gaatha katha (tales from folk epics and ballads) 10. Pihani katha (tales with riddles) Most of the categories of tales are told and re-told during routine, everyday life situations of the Maithili folk. However, dharmic katha and lok-gaatha katha are associated with special occasions for rendition. The former is mostly associated with minor religious occasions in the everyday life context. Within the dharmic katha, the vrata katha is utilized on various occasions as per the Mithila Panchang (calendar), such as jitiya, katik, chhathi, badsait and madhushravani, and are very popular amongst the women folk. Discussing madhushravani, Mishra notes, ‘The Madhushravani vrata katha, perhaps the longest and most important of all vrata kathas, is divided into 15 chapters (called khandas). It is a sort of a long vernacular prose, or Purana, and has all the characteristics of myths’ (1951, 70). The dharmic katha includes many stories about the Pauranik gods as well as folk deities and demigods. Lokgatha katha is mostly narrated through performances by groups of folk artists. Some of the lokgathas possess the stature of folk epics; some of these are Raja Salhes (sung by people belonging to the Dusadh

Communicating the Contestation of Caste  143

caste), Dina Bhadri (sung by folk from Mushar caste), Lorik (sung by people from the Yadav caste), etc. Dulra Dayal, Bihula, Rayaranpal, Naika Banjara, Gopichand Mainawati, Kumar Vrijbhanare are included in this category too. The list also includes the tale of Hasal-Husail (Hasan-Hussain), which is performed by the Muslim community on the occasion of Muharram, and describes the battle of Karbala. In addition, there is another popular form of performance of tales known as Pamariya-ke-naach, which is performed by the lower caste groups. The Pamara was a genre of rendition in the medieval times that narrated stories of the kings’ triumph in war. Pamariya-ke-naach is now famous for the performance of the heroic stories of AalhaRudal (also called Aalha-Udal) in a night-long performance. This also includes stories such as Raiyaranpala-ke-geet, Bakhtaura-ke-geet and Vijayamala-ke-geet. These folk performances of lokgathas are caste specific, but the audience invariably includes folks from across caste groups. These gathas narrate themes of love, triumph, patience and perseverance, human and divine power, magical powers of flora and fauna, and the unity between mortal and immortal. Another genre, the hasya-vyangya katha, appears at moments of storytelling in everyday life in Mithila. The tales of Gonu Jha are commonplace. Tales of ghost and witches, and nursery tales are equally common in everyday Mithila life. But scholars such as Jayakant Mishra, Chanda Jha and Parmeshwar Jha have underlined the historical significance of Aitihya (legends related to historical events and persons). It includes popular conjectures, such as poet Vidyapati’s relation with his servant Ugna, who was lord Shiva in disguise; Shiv Singh’s story of triumph; poet Kalidas’s invocation of the goddess; the visit of goddess Ganga to the poet Vidyapati; the story of Sant Sahebram Das; and miracles performed by Laxminath Gosain. The list is indeed too exhaustive, and only a synopsis of it is possible in the limited space of this essay. In addition to the lok-gatha katha, many other forms of crisp statements are also commonly used in everyday life of Mithila. They have been termed as lok-vachan or lok-sukti by the scholars of folk literature. Though all the lok-vachans do not carry confirmed authorship, many of them are also identified with persons who articulate these. These

144  Dev Nath Pathak

persons are called dak, and hence, lok-vachan is often also called dakvachan. Folks belonging to the Ahir caste are the ones who articulate these lok-vachans in a didactic fashion. These crisp dictums present commentaries on agriculture, season, climate, householders’ lives, astrology and folk behaviour. Marking the significance of the role of a dak, there is a particular vachan that reads as follows11: Jani bujhjak dak nirbudhdhi ! Nashahikal vinashahin budhdhi! (Mistaking a dak for an ignorant is evidence of perilous time and injurious sense)

In Mithila everyday life, lokokti (proverb) is another often-heard part of folklore. Lokokti is a Sanskrit word known as kahbi/fakda in Maithili. Scholars of folk literature distinguish kahbi and fakda on the grounds of their distinctive style and scope. However, the folk of Mithila use them interchangeably. According to Ramdev Jha, fakda is derived from the Arabic fikr. This is believed to be the source of the Urdu term fikara as well. The kahbi/fakada communicate coded wisdom as well as sarcastic comments, and may be moralistic or/and obscene. Their immediate impact is effective and undeniable. Some popular kahbi/ fakda are as follows: Pet me ghaas nai, seengh me tel ! (What sharp horns despite there being not a single grain in the stomach!) Bhel biyah mor karabahki, dhiya chodi lebahki ! (Once married, you have to just take your bride and go)

The kahbi/fakda appear every now and then in Maithili speech and dialogue. These express folk expectations, social behaviour and social control. Some of them are also identified with famous individuals, though their authorship is always doubtful. For example, Bhanahi Vidyapati sun ge sajani, bitat jena girahi jayat kahni! (Says Vidyapati, listen my dear, life will be over and tales alone will survive) 11

All translations in English are mine.

Communicating the Contestation of Caste  145

Similarly, there are several fakda presenting pithy comments laced with humour that are attributed to Gonu Jha. Some fakda have been modified as per the norm of caste and class. For example, the lower caste people will say: Apne nahay chhi, jhaant dahay ye! (Bathing in the courtyard, pubic hair in the air)

The upper caste folk will replace jhaant (pubic hair) with kidain (something). Similarly, Nab jogi ke kankh me jata! (A new renouncer has matted locks in his armpit)

There has also been contemporary attempt at creating folk proverbs to critique the political issues, such as, Puri-jilebi tel me, fallan neta jail me (Like sweet dishes slip into oil for frying, so goes our leader into prison, crying)

Maithili folklore represents a plural socio-cultural world in Mithila. These underline the distinctions of caste and gender, making it difficult to consider one particular variety of language as ‘Maithili’. Burghart (1993) critically noted, ‘Maithili Pundit’s “chaste Maithili” became the European philologist’s “standard Maithili”. By implication, the Maithili spoken outside the Panckosi (the micro region of Madhubani) became variant forms, which were classified as “dialects”’ (Ibid., 775). Along this line, it is imperative to rediscover Maithili folklore, taking into account some neglected variants. For example, there have not been sincere attempts to record folklore among the Muslims of Mithila. A rare and brief account, however, provides a glimpse. A song among Muslims during weddings is as following12: Hum ta mangal chul bala, belmunda kiye ayal re Maar o saalachottake, Dal-bhattakhayalaayal re 12

These songs figure in a brief essay, see Hashmi (1993, 126–31).

146  Dev Nath Pathak

(We sought for a hairy groom, why has the balding fellow arrived Beat the rascal fellow, for he has come to eat our rice-lentil)

Much akin to the abusive songs heard among other caste groups, another song among Muslims in Mithila presents hilarity geared towards subversion of kinship relation: Samadhi gaari nahi daichhi, supari mangait chhi Hamar dada achhi kumar hum daadi mangait chhi (This is not to abuse you o, wife-giver Only a plea that my grandfather is unwed, and if you can give us a nice pair!)

Maithili folklore contains cultural pluralism with diverse sets of expressions. While some parts could be deemed conforming to the status quo of ritual orders, a substantial chunk is expressive of critical notions through hilarity, ridicule, and abuses, inter alia. The subversive cultural politics is indeed embedded in Maithili folklore. Also, it is not a monolithic whole immune to changes. Contemporary socio-political situations have also impacted the language, generating anonymous constructions of new folklore, such as the fakra, with a contemporary touch. It will be much more fruitful for us to stop lamenting about the impending threat about the death of Maithili folklore, or romantically exoticize Maithili. It is, in fact, imperative to search for the new folklore to successfully comprehend the immense vitality and evolution of the language.

Harimohan Jha’s Khattar Kaka Given the predominant background of vernacular literature inclusive of both, elite literary creations and folklore, it is understandable that modern realism entered very late (about the first quarter of 20th century) in Maithili literature (Mishra 1977). But when it did, it brought about a hybridity of a critical kind. The impact of folklore did not vanish. Rather, it stayed on for new inquiries stressing on a folkloric tendency of subverting the dominant. That is what Harimohan Jha’s Khattar Kaka performed—subversion of the dominant understanding, thereby sharpening the critical outlook of the world at large.

Communicating the Contestation of Caste  147

Needless to say, this tendency was already present, as elucidated in the aforementioned subversive tales, fakras and songs. But then, in the context of folklore, there was a dovetailing of conformist Samskara songs and subversive orality. Folklore still seemed to carry forward a sense of folk morality of the elite, while still providing room for critical expressions that could question that morality. This balancing feature thinned as Jha’s Khattar Kaka went on converting the folk, literate as well as not-so-literate, with critical messages laced with humour. What is the doing of the character named Khattar Kaka: he invites us to critically revisit the classical epics, which may have been the source of socio-religious reverence. While doing so, Kaka seeks our irreverence by doing something that may be deemed blasphemous by the virulent believers. Some excerpts of heuristic significance for this essay would elucidate the case of the folksy subversion performed by Khattar Kaka13. In one Hindi compilation of the key thoughts of Kaka, Harimohan Jha (1971) attempted mapping the subversive worldview of the character. The first chapter in this compilation is titled ‘Ramayana’, after the title of the great epic deemed sacred by the Hindus. The opening scenario and setting makes it all clear (ibid., 13): Khattar kaka was picking up raisin for the fruit-diet during the festival of Ramnavami (the celebration of the birth of lord Ram). I14 asked, ‘Kaka, there is a performance of Ramlila tonight. Would you like to come for it?’ Kaka inquired, ‘which episode is going to take place?’ I said, ‘the exile of Sita’. Kaka replied, ‘not coming then’. I wondered, ‘why so, Kaka? There are so many episodes about Maryadapurushottam (the best of all) Ram’. He affirmed, ‘that’s true, the Maryadapurushottam has shown us various feats—how to pain a helpless woman, how to throw a chaste woman out of As indicated earlier, most of these excerpts are from a particular collection by Harimohan Jha (1971). The translation is mine. 14 Here, the usage ‘I’ denotes the author, Harimohan Jha, who is in consistent and critical dialogue with his character, Khattar kaka. 13

148  Dev Nath Pathak

her home, how to have a woman’s nose chopped off, how to target a woman with arrow! In a way, his heroism begins by making a woman miserable and ends with the same’.

A point to be noted is that the folklore in Mithila presents a poignant critique of Rama and his clan for putting Sita, popular as the mythological daughter of Mithila, in trouble. Thus, it is not surprising that Khattar Kaka echoes the folkloric concern while criticizing the mythological actor, Ram. It is not only the critique of the mythological characters of such prominence in the Hindu socio-religious order. Kaka emphasizes on the general issue of the secondary status of women in a society riddled with the normative order of caste and religion. An order, which puts Sita in a miserable situation, cannot spare ordinary mortal women, as it were. Underlining the problematic intersections of caste and gender, Harimohan Jha’s character pre-empts the idea of intersectionality that has elsewhere been central15. The intersection of caste and gender in this episode drives a progressive agenda in the register of folklore, offering a scathing critique that does not spare the image of maryadapurushottam (the best of the embodiment of the normative order). While Khattar Kaka adopts a critical attitude towards some of the revered characters from mythology popular among the Hindus, he does not spare the deities worshipped in everyday life, such as Satyanarayan Bhagwan16. How could a polished stone be deemed a manifestation of lords? It holds the cunning class of Brahmin priests responsible for turning everything banal into an object of worship so it could become part of the political economy of caste groups. This further alleges an ulterior motif in the jajmani system prevalent in the caste structure. It benefits most the so-called learned class of the priests as they reinforce their superiority. Similarly, Khattar Kaka chastises a worshipper of the goddess Durga who would recite verses from the book Durga Saptshati, ‘Rupamdehi, jayamdehi, yashodehi, dwishojahi’. The begging for victory See Chakravarty (2018), for example. Satyanarayan Bhagwan is a variant of lord Vishnu, and is worhsipped in households through Satyanarayanvrata kathas. 15 16

Communicating the Contestation of Caste  149

is a ridiculous idea. While challenging the preoccupation with the holy Hindu texts, Khattar Kaka is subverting the social order of purity and pollution, supremacy of the pundits and religious texts, and the dominance of one cultural preference and practices over others. Though he is critical about the Vedic propositions, he also hails the Vedic as more emancipatory. It is in the Vedic texts that he finds substances to show the vulnerability and mortality of sages and seers. As it appears (ibid., 192–93): It was the occasion of the festival Holi. Khattar kaka was already high on several rounds of cannabis and still on with it. He offered me to have some. I refused saying I never drink. Without delay kaka said, ‘oh! Why are you not following your eternal Vedic dharma?’ Perplexed, I asked, ‘Really! How is it Vedic dharma to consume such toxicating drinks’. Kaka said, ‘read the Vedas then you would understand that our ancestors consumed such potions. The Vedas eulogize somrasa (intoxicating beverages).’…. I asked, ‘but, if somrasa was cannabis, how could our sages come up with such profound.’ Kaka said, ‘gentleman! Profundity comes only after immersing in this fluid. That was the reason why the sages could unravel the deeper issues, even including that of love and romance. There is no comparison of sexual union as described in the Vedic texts’. I impatiently said, ‘what! The description of sexual union in the Vedas!’ Kaka asserted, ‘well, sexual union of such profundity! Under the spell of somras such streams of unbridled thoughts about pleasure drives have emerged. Therefore I always suggest that the celibates and students ought not to be reading the Vedas.’

Thereafter, Khattar Kaka goes on to describe the ideas of sexual union in vivid details, with reference to the verses from the Rg Veda. Despite the endorsement of the chatur-varna (colour-based, racial four-fold division), Kaka shows the possibility of mischievous readings of the Vedic texts. It amounts to subverting the notions of purity and pollution, which get vociferously articulated in the sexual-emotional normative order. The profundity of existence in this discourse seems to arise from the free-floating unions and consumption of the beverage that persuades for the crossing over of the socio-cultural boundaries.

150  Dev Nath Pathak

In a time when any slur is prone to vigilante-violence, one wonders how Khattar Kaka’s articulations could be taken17.

Conclusion One of the recent collections of essays unwittingly puts together challenging sets of essays, proposing ‘the cognitive challenges of the indigenous’ (See Devy, Davis and Chakravarty 2014); however, without allowing a debate on the idea of indigenous. For the subversive stock of knowledge, that arises from the cultural domain, ornate with folklore and modern literary works, may be resistant to the utilitarian notions that characterize the category of indigenous. The case of Maithili folk subversive humour, with folkloric content and modern literary deliberation, draws to attention precisely the fraught character of cultural texts from oral as well as modern literary tradition. Moreover, the materials shared in this essay are not monolithic. The self-reflexive narration, with which the discussion on Maithili subversive attitude towards caste, religion and normative order began, stands testimonial to the changing appearances (as well as disappearances) of the content. In this wake, the implicit (re)invention of tradition qua indigenous is a foregone conclusion in post-colonial societies.

References Alexander, Jeffrey C. 2011. Performance and Power. London: Polity. Burghart, Richard. 1993. ‘A Quarrel in the Language Family: Agency and Representation of Speech in Mithila.’ Modern Asian Studies 27 (4), 761–804. Butler, Judith. 1997. Excitable Speech: The Politics of the Performative. New York and London: Routledge. Chakravarty, Uma. 2018. Gendering Caste: Through a Feminist Lense. Delhi: SAGE Publications. Recently, a student brought to notice that a seminar rejected a paper that called Hanuman a monkey. Imagine, what would have been fate of Khattar kaka who calls names for the characters from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. What would have been fate of the author Harimohan Jha in a time when Wendy Doniger’s Alternative History of the Hindus receives vigilante acrimony? 17

Communicating the Contestation of Caste  151

Chatterji, Roma. 2003. ‘The Category of Folk.’ In The Oxford India Companion of Sociology and Social Anthropology, edited by Veena Das, 567–97. Delhi, India: OUP. Devy, G. N., Geoffrey V. Davis and K. K. Chakravarty. 2014. Knowing Differently: The Cognitive Challenge of the Indigenous. Delhi: Routledge. Hashmi, Fazlur Rahman. 1993. ‘Mithilak Muslim-Samudayak Maithili Loksahitya, In Maithili Loksahitya, edited by Chandranath Mishra Amar, 126–31. Delhi: SahityaAkademi. Jha, H. 1971. Khattar Kaka. Delhi, India: Rajkamal Prakashan. ———. 1974. ‘Understanding Caste through its sources of Identity: An Account of the Shrotriyas of Mithila.’ Sociological Bulletin, 23 (1), 93–98. ———. 1977. ‘Lower Caste Peasants and Upper Caste Zamindars in Bihar (1921–1925): An Analysis of Sanskritization and Conflict between the two groups.’ Indian Economic and Social History Review 14, 549–59. Jha, Makhan. 1997. Anthropology of Ancient Hindu Kingdoms: A Study in Civilizational Prespective. Delhi: M D Publications Jha, Pankaj Kumar. 2014. ‘Beyond the Local and the Universal: Exclusionary Strategies of Expansive Literary Cultures in Fifteenth Century Mithila’. The Indian Economic and Social History Review 51 (1). http://journals.sagepub. com/doi/full/10.1177/0019464613515549 (Accessed on 5 June 2015) Jha, Ramdev. 2002. Maithili Loksahitya: Swarup O Saundarya. Darbhanga: Mithila Research Society. Mishra, Jayakant. 1951. Introduction to the Folk Literature of Mithila (Vol. 1 & 2). Allahabad: Tirabhukti Publication Mishra, Jayakanta. 1977. ‘Social Ideals and Patriotism in Maithili Literature (1900–1930)’. Indian Literature, 20 (3), 96–101. Obeyesekere, G. 1963. ‘The Great Tradition and the Little in the Perspective of Sinhalese Buddhism.’ The Journal of Asian Studies 22 (2), 139–53. Pathak, Dev Nath, and Perera, Sasanka, (eds.) 2017. Culture and Politics in South Asia: Peformative Communication. Delhi: Routledge. Pathak, Dev Nath. 2018. Living and Dying: Meanings in Maithili Folklore. Delhi: Primus Books Redfield, Robert. 1960. The Little Tradition and Peasant Society and Culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Scott, James C. 1990. Domination and The Art of Resistance. London: Yale University Press. Singh, Prem Shankar. 1970. ‘Maithili: Writers at Work’. Indian Literature 13 (4), 60–63.

Chapter 8

Pedagogies, Social Transformations and New Oralities of Arjak Sangh Asha Singh

This chapter would sociologically analyze ‘naari geet’, or women’s songs, composed by Sadanand Verma and Raghunath Singh of Arjak Sangh. The Sangh, established in the late 1960s in Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh) by Ramswaroop Verma, is a social movement, with an anti-caste, rationalist programme based on the ideas of the Buddha, Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule and Carl Marx. Arjak denotes an imagined community of productive castes and classes (sramik jaatiyan) against the anarjak, or non-productive, ruling minority. Arjak also forms the methodological premise for new cultural productions, such as the naari-geets. I argue that Arjak songs betray and dismantle the usual frameworks that inform ‘folklore’ in North India. Folklorists have always tried to formulate musical folklore or its languages as authentic ‘living antiquities’, which provide either a ‘past’ for what is christened as modern or as completely anti-modern (Singh 2018). The story of

Pedagogies, Social Transformations and New Oralities of Arjak Sangh   153

new oralities such as Arjak songs move beyond such claims. They underline the possibilities of change and departures in living cultures (in this case, musical genres). They also tell us about how oral cultural productions can be heavily shaped by vibrant literary movements, dismantling the old to win something new. ‘The annihilation of Brahmanism and establishment of an egalitarian society,’ writes Kanwal Bharati, ‘were the basic ideals of the Arjak movement, led by Ramswaroop Verma.1 (Bharati 2018). Imagined as a humanist and rationalist organization, Arjak Sangh conceptualizes Brahminism (or Brahmanvaad) as the ideological edifice of caste and Hinduism. Verma, in one of his pivotal works, ‘Manusmriti—Rashtra ka Kalank (Manusmriti—Nation’s Stain)’, argues that Brahminism makes any attempt of associated life a nonstarter. He points out that the ability to speak, walk, congregate and inter-dine are crucial to build even a rudimentary sense of ‘association’. Establishing mutual equality (paraspar samata) and fraternity in these basic actions are essential for social transformation. However, the caste order creates a mutual and collective sense of inequality (parasparik vishamta). According to Verma, this sense pervades every aspect of Hindu life, including everyday public salutations (Verma 1996, 1–6). Arjak Sangh, through its reconstruction of social life, aimed at undoing ‘graded inequality’ in a context sensitive to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Verma regarded the doctrines of rebirth, fatalism and hatred for physical labour and labouring communities as the fundamental features of Brahminism. The Sangh denies the existence of God and soul. In his ‘Manathavadi Prashnotatri’ (Humanist Quiz), Verma tries to explain the non-existence of god/ afterlife, and the centrality of matter and labour in understanding society and its history. This lucid series of questions and answers in Hindi not only underline his ideological convictions but also his pedagogical qualities. Thus, borrowing from V. Geetha’s contemplations on the self-respect movement in Tamil Nadu, one can argue that the aim of the Arjak Movement (much like the self-respect movement) was not Ramswaroop Verma (1923–98) was born on 22 August 1923 in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India. For detailed biographical account, see Bhagwan Swaroop Katiyar’s Ramswaroop Verma Samagra Vol. I &II’ 1

154  Asha Singh

simply a negative rejection of the Brahmin but also a positive exercise to make him irrelevant and ‘unimportant’.2 Arjak Sangh can be contextualized in at least three different but inter-connected scales. One, the Sangh was formed in 1968, a time of great upheaval and intellectual churning across the globe. Second, it drew its social programmes from a long history of anti-caste, socialist activism in the subcontinent. Third, it marked an imminent, outward break and rupture from the all-pervasive nature of Gandhian Lohiawaad in UP and Bihar and proposed a total reconstruction of cultural lives. Premkumar Mani, in his essay ‘My Memories of Ramswaroop Verma’, underlines that the socialist leadership in the ‘Hindi belt’, including Lohia-conceptualized lower-caste representation as a ‘favour from the dwija (twice-born forces)’, divested of any self-respect. On the other hand, Ramswaroop Verma and Jagdev Prasad devised a self-respect movement in the 1970s through the formation of Arjak Sangh, and later, the Shoshit Samaj Dal (Mani 2018; Patel 2016). ‘This was a big deal in the 1970s,’ Mani comments, ‘because Phule and Ambedkar rarely figured in the discourse here (of the Hindi Belt)’. Arjak Sangh legally and politically fought against the Charan Singh government’s decision to ban Ambedkar’s books in the early 1970s (Singh 2018a). Lalai Singh Yadav’s resolute legal victory against the government’s decision in Allahabad High Court is a significant episode in Arjak Sangh’s history. Chaudhary Maharaj Singh Bharati, in his book ‘Sidhantvihin Rajneeti ke Dushparinaam’, writes that starting from the 14th of April 1978, Arjak Sangh workers openly burnt copies of Tulsi Ramayana persistently for a fortnight to protest its Brahmin-supremacist and anti-constitutional content. This incident led to several instances of violence against the Sangh members (Chaudhary 1984, 7). While Lohia is often recovered as a feminist icon for his reformatory reinterpretation of myths, leaders of Arjak Sangh are not appreciated for their total rejection of Ramayana, Mahabharata and Manusmriti (Dhara 2017). Also, scholars who have studied Lohia’s views on the women’s question do admit, with some hesitation, that 2

Pedagogies, Social Transformations and New Oralities of Arjak Sangh   155

none of his liberal views on women found a place in his social or political programmes (Dhara 2017). On the other hand, Arjak Sangh, working under the hostility of successive governments (Chaudhary 1984, 7–10), conceptualized and instituted new roles for women in the fight against Brahmanism. I would argue that the naari-geets of Arjak Sangh are pedagogical tools in these conceptualizations. While Lohia just replaced the mythical Sita with an equally mythical Draupadi, Arjak Sangh rejected all the myths to imagine a new mode of associated life that looked beyond Hindu cosmology.

Arjak Marriage: Building a New Rite Arjak Sangh drew its programmatic lessons from an array of anticaste traditions. The Sangh aimed at radical reconstruction of rites of passage and festivals. Singh points out that the Sangh rejected the Hindu calendar and replaced it with 14 ‘manavthavaadi’ festivals, or observances, which included the Ambedkar Jayanti, Buddha Jayanti, death anniversaries of Birsa Munda and Periyar Ramaswamy, Republic Day, etc. (Singh 2018a). Similarly, the Sangh reduced and simplified rites of passage to just two major events—marriage and death. The introduction of Arjak Pratigya (or paper-kalam wali shaadi) in the place of Brahminical rituals is a watershed in the history of marriage reforms among the lower castes in North India. Arjak marriage, much like the Satyashodhak marriage in Maharashtra or the self-respect marriage in Tamil Nadu, denounced the role of Brahmin priesthood, rejected dowry and ensuing rituals (Hodges 2005). V. Geetha traces Periyar’s critique of the institution and his attempts to ‘divest marriage of its seemingly invincible sacred aura’. She argues that the ‘sacrality and irrevocability’ of Hindu marriage, according to Periyar, had a deeper impact on women than men (Geetha 1998). Quite similarly, Arjak Vivaah (marriage) attempts to make marriage an institution bound by a commonly agreed written contract, stripped of sacredness. It also addressed specific issues of gender disparity that characterized marriages in UP and Bihar. These included keeping women veiled under the purdah (purdah pratha), applying the vermilion mark or sindoor, disallowing the bride to be seated in a chair alongside the

156  Asha Singh

bridegroom, the worship of cow dung, early marriage, etc. One needs to carefully study the processes involved in denouncing the role of the Brahmin or his appointee in such marriages. The brahmin usually plays a crucial role in deciding the appropriateness and time of the wedding. His presence is considered crucial not only at the time of solemnization but also during an array of preceding rituals. Anoop Patel, in his essay, captures this significance and also describes the negotiations and fights involved in rejecting the Brahmin (Patel 2017). An Arjak marriage is wired around the oath repeated by the bride and the groom over a microphone followed by their signatures on a marriage certificate. Clearly, reading and writing play a practical and symbolic role in the solemnization of the event. Arjak Sangh upholds that anyone with basic literacy can read out the oath to the prospective couple. The oath focuses on the value of ‘samata (affinity)’ between the couple, and a commitment on their part to work for the creation of an egalitarian society (manav-manav ke beech samata ka vikas). After the oath ceremony, witnesses from either side sign the certificate and socially endorse the marriage. With the spread of digital technology, one finds several Arjak Vivaah videos on the internet, explaining the process step by step. One realizes that such attempts are muddled with constant negotiations and reconciliations with the old. For example, women continue to be burdened with the purdah and other cultural markers while men have comfortably shifted to modern outfits. Nevertheless, Arjak oath continues to create a new, modern spectacle, which attempts to translate anti-caste convictions on the ground.

Arjak Marriage Songs Arjak Vivaah has retained the significance of songs in its rituals. However, this centrality is reimagined in the light of Phule-Ambedkarite thought. The songs we would analyze in this paper provide evidence of this reimagination. Sanskar geet, or songs of rites of passage, are perceived and classified as authentic feminine domain. Thus, the songs in the Arjak booklet are anthologized under the broad category of ‘naari geet’, or women’s songs. However, such an identification does

Image 8.1  (Left) Reading and Repeating the Arjak Oath; (Right) Signing the Marriage Certificate

158  Asha Singh

not stop the poet and anthologist from radically shifting the cultural grounds held sacred and authentic. The slim anthology, co-authored by Arjak Sangh members Sadanand Verma and Raghunath Singh, include a variety of established folksong genres—kajali, vivaah geet, jevnaar geet (songs sung during the marriage feast), vidaai geet, jhanki and sohar. On one hand, these traditional genres are emptied out of their usual content and, on the other hand, they are intercepted with new genres such as naari jagran geet and devasursangram (based on the Aryan invasion legend). Alan Dundes (1969), in his work ‘Folklore as a Mirror of Culture’, tells us how folklore is a ‘matrix of cultural knowledge’ and its generational dissemination. He thought of folklore as a socially sanctioned outlet for suppressed wishes and anxieties. In a way, folklore (in this case folksongs) school anxieties, without any promise of its alleviation. Dundes observes that it is the triad of text, context and texture, which together brings a folksong to life. This author has elsewhere analyzed the disjuncture in the text and performance contexts of Bhojpuri folksongs in some detail (Singh 2017). Since folksongs simply provide an index, matrix or window for emotional outlet, one should be cautious of any attempt to read absolute resistance in them (Singh 2015). Moreover, scholarly attempts of assigning old oralities as authentic expressions of resistance are informed by their own political and literary convictions. Musical folklore in North India continues to be inseparable from processes of gendered labour and life-cycle events. Folksongs are institutionalized within established structures of power and exploitation. They are an end in itself. In other words, there is no world or dream that it aims to capture. On the other hand, new oralities, such as Arjak naari-geet, imagine songs as an instrument of concrete change. It is imagined as a viable resource that can be put to use to meet modern goals of equality, fraternity and liberty. One borrows the idea of new orality from Walter J. Ong’s seminal work Orality and Literacy (2013). He distinguishes old and new oralities based on the nature of influences and cultures that produce them. Unlike the already existing body of folksongs that

Pedagogies, Social Transformations and New Oralities of Arjak Sangh   159

were produced and reproduced within the orality of a given speech community, Arjak Sangh’s naari geets clearly draw from modern, written sources—thus marking a significant departure. Ong argues that though new oralities are similar to the old in their ‘participatory mystique, communal sense, its concentration on the present moment, and even its use of formulas’, they essentially differ as they are ‘based permanently on the use of writing and print’ (Ong 2013, 133). Let us turn our attention to a few illustrative songs. The schema of songs in the anthology follows a chronological order.3 The genre of vivaah geet encapsulates not just the descriptions on the day of the marriage but also includes a variety of themes, such as dialogues between the would-be bride and her father or mother. The traditional content of such songs index dowry negotiations, conjugal aspirations, lament over the birth of a girl-child, etc. (See Devi 2001; Dwivedi 1998, 101–46; Upadhyaya 1990, 384–437). However, Arjak geet marks a significant shift in the content and context: Vivaah Geet: Beti kaheli baba hamrebiyahavamein, Vinatihamaarbaar-baar ho Pahile to more baba laraki aur larika ke, Noaaturakhihasudhar ho Larika and Larki baba dunopadaaya, Jeevan bane ujiyaar ho Kabahu h more baba kaajeparaajanemein, Purohit n avaiduaar ho

Dharam majahabva ke kaaran he baba, Deshavalootanbaarbaar ho Jaune puranvameinlikhaldahejva, Phunki da bhasam ho jaai ho Buddha Bhim Jyotiba ke sada gun gaava, Je dihehamkajagaai ho Arajakpartigyapanvidhibyaharachaava, Bachijaaydhansamman ho (Verma and Singh 2007, 9)

Thus, after a variety of vivaah geet, one finds the swagat geet, mandap geet, baraat geet, var samman geet, var vadhu varnan, vivaah varnan, shubhkamna geet, jevnaar geet, and finally, vidaai geet. 3

160  Asha Singh

In the aforementioned song, the daughter requests and reminds her father to contemplate on her marriage only when the would-be couple attains an enabling education. She tells him that her marriage should be free of priesthood, of exploitative religious trappings and dowry. She concludes that the Buddha, Ambedkar (Bhim) and Jyotiba Phule have shown her the right path. She would prefer an Arjak marriage that saves both money and dignity. The new content of the vivaah geet leads to a new context (Arjak marriage) in a self-conscious and attuned fashion. This may also transform the performance of the song. An ‘Arjak beti’ with a transformed anti-caste consciousness, is imagined by the poet, who departs from her usual appeals and speaks a new language in a known troupe of daughter-father dialogue. Let us take a look at another such song: – Vivaah Geet: Beti ke baba ji var khojainikale, Beti arajkaraithaat ho Ayisan var mat khojya ho baba, Mange dahejapaar ho Holenkasaiyadahejva kai lobhi Deihaiujaarigharbaar ho Daandahejva ke kaaran he baba Bahutgharbhaileujaad ho Daandahejvamitaava he baba

Kanyasukhi hoi jaay ho Lagan ohi din manya ho baba Jab hovaisuvidhatoha ho Kabahu he baba more bharamnamanya Sab din hothsamaan ho Lagan muhurat ke dhokenabhulya Hoi jaaysugambiyaha ho Saayit aur ganana se kuchnaahi hove Sheel gun karihavichaar ho (Verma and Singh 2007, 12)

In this song, Arjak beti, or daughter, not only rejects dowry but also tries to convince her father about its tyranny. She then moves on to tell that marriage or lagan should be arranged as per one’s convenience on any day of the week or any time of the year. She abhors the interceptions of the Pandit’s lagan muharat, and calls it a trap, or dhoka. She reminds her father to think about the qualities of the bridegroom instead of irrational rituals. Again, the aim of the poet is to induce a sense of rationality, and thereby puncture the sacred sphere of marriage overdetermined by priestly commands. The next song is a graphical description of Arjak vivaah:

Pedagogies, Social Transformations and New Oralities of Arjak Sangh   161

Arjak Vivaah Varnan Chayemanavahamaaratiuchahsakhiya, Avato hoi arjak reeti se vivahsakhiya. Ganana aur saayitnaahi purohit se puchavaljaai, Samaya mutabikshubhdinavadharavaljaai Hoi dinavamein shaadi laghubaaratsakhiya Vans gaadi mandava naphoos se chavavaljaai, Gauri ganeshnaahigoba ke pujavaljaai Hoi dinavaimein shaadi laghubaaratsakhiyan Lakeer ke fakir van ke dhiyanajaravaljaai Parda ke andarnaahikanya ke baithavaljaai Hatipardabharam ke toharsakhiya

Chowkapisaan ke napataribichavaljaai, Manchuparkursi par dono ko baithavaljaai Mile samata ke hameadhikarsakhiya Mandap keinchitragautam buddha ke lagaavaljaai Prerakkabir, lohia, naikarsajaavaljaai Hoi ambedkarjagadev ke sangeet sakhiyan Daankivastunaahibitiyabataawaljaai Samata pratigya var-vadhu ke karaavaljaai Hoi phulva ke upar se barsaatsakhiyan Verma aur bharatishubhakaamnakaraavaljaai Sammanmeinmalyaarpan var-vadhukaraavaljaai Milihaivivahpratigyapratidono ko sakhiyan (Verma and Singh, 2007: 23)

In the above song, the poet imagines women describing an Arjak marriage, which denounces the spectacle of a Hindu pandal constructed by bamboo (vans mandava), where gauri, ganesh and gobar (cow-dung) are worshipped. The marriage is being solemnized during the day with a modest number of guests, devoid of unquestioned (lakir ke fakir) rituals, and purdah (both, physical and cognitive— pardabharam ke). The pandal would be adorned with photographs of the Buddha, Kabir, Lohia and Naicker (Periyar). Songs of Ambedkar and Jagadeo Prasad Mahto would play in the backdrop, where the bride and groom would take the samata pratigya in the midst of floral offerings. The ceremony would conclude with the bride and the groom getting a copy each of the vivaah partigya. The varnan is an exceptional feat of poetic imagination. However, it does not presume

162  Asha Singh

an end in itself. It only operates as a medium to promote a new rite, radically opposed to existing marriage ceremonies. Take a look at the following vidaai and pre-baraat songs: Vidaai Geet:

Var Ko Gaadi Mein Bithate Samay:

Bhulyana samadhi ho arjak kai kahana Mahamana buddha jaunrahiyabataaigaye Usi rah ab to magan man chalna Joti raophoolejaunrahiyabataaigaye Naari kishikshachalaayrakhna Naikar ji jaunrahiyabataaigaye Thagavan ke chal se bachirahana Ambedkar jaunrahiyabataaigaye Hak ke liyesanghathit hoi ladana Bharati ji jaunrahiyabataaigaye Parivartan ke path par badhana Ram swaroopjaunrahiyabataayigaye Samata moolak samajsarachana

Bhaiyabhoolnakarjaanamanyabaityahamari Bhabhi saathlekeaanamanyavatiyahamari Pooja homnakarvaaya, gobargaiyanapujaaya Lodha musar napujavanamanyavatiyahamari Purvajpurkhanatopvayakanyapatarinabaithaya Paav pooja nakarvanamanyavatiyahamari Jantar mantarnapadhvaaya, laavakheelnaparchaya Vadhu se juanakhelvanamanyavatiyahamari Unchamanchtulagvana, kanyakursi par baithana Byah arjak vidhikarvaana, manyavatiyahamari (Verma and Singh 2007, 20)

(Verma and Singh 2007, 31)

The vidaai, or farewell, song serves as a reminder to the samadhi (or in-laws) to stay committed to the message of the Buddha, Phule, Periyar, Ambedkar, Chaudhary Maharaj Singh Bharati and Ramswaroop Verma, which aims at constructing an egalitarian (samata moolak) society. The pre-baraat song (on the right) is an appeal to the bridegroom by his sister to denounce the practices of worshipping cow-dung, lodha (grinding stone) or reciting incomprehensive (jantar mantar) chants and rituals (such as laavakheel). The sister also reminds her brother to seat his bride in a chair in a raised platform, where they take the Arjak oath together. Finally, let us go through two examples of Jevnaar Geet:

Pedagogies, Social Transformations and New Oralities of Arjak Sangh   163

Jevnaar Geet:

Jevnaar Geet:

Naari kabpaai samata ke adhikar Bola bhaiyahamaar Bhai bahindouekkokhupajai Bahinkahejhelaidahejva kai maar Naari shram aur sevakarai nit Phirbhipurushkaraikaheatyachar Apunapurushyaariduniyameinghumey Naari pe bandhanlagaayabeshumaar Beta bhayeghargharbajaibadhiya Bitayabhayekaheaavaibukhar Naari ke maathenarsendurlagaavai Purushan ke rahaikaahesunalilaar

Kabtaksoibaarajak shoshit Uthabhail ab bhor, murugavabolela Yahisovai kai phal tohre Gatharilaigaichor, murugavabolela Kamkandyagyavrat puja Hai shoshanchuhu or, murugavabolela Arajaksanghjagaairahaba Dai vigyanajor, murugavabolela Andhavishwasandhakarmitava Gahigyantarkkidormurugavabolela (Verma and Singh 2007, 28)

(Verma and Singh 2007, 27)

The jevnaar song (on the left) proceeds as a series of rational questions posed to the kinsmen in the ceremony. These questions address gender inequality by underlining issues of dowry, women’s labour, enforced immobility and male-preference. The second song (to the right) is composed as a song of awakening with the intercepting chorus of ‘muruguvabolela’, a metaphor drawn from a traditional jevnaar geet. The song is a call to the Arjak shoshit to move away from superstitions and rise against exploitation. Each of these songs envisage a conscious change in the culturalscape of a marriage ceremony. The implication of this shift can be fully appreciated or recovered only when we posit or contradict the life in the folksongs with real performance contexts. Such an exercise is significant but falls beyond the scope of this paper.

Conclusion Naari geet is an important example of new orality. It marks a point of departure from the usual metaphors and content, though retaining the style of old oral traditions. The content of the naari geet emerges from a literate culture that has engaged deeply with the written world of Phule-Ambedkarwaad. Women are seen as capable of introducing the

164  Asha Singh

Buddha, Ambedkar and Periyar to her menfolk through songs. They are bestowed with the role of a disseminator, philosopher and teacher who can convince the family that we should reject the Pandit and the philosophical base of his religion; we should reject superstitions, spend less on marriages and other events. In this process of modern imagination, women are also transforming their own lot, breaking away from what they are assigned to produce and reproduce. Singh and Verma use folksongs as repositories of Arjak/bahujan life-worlds and experiences to advance an anti-Brahmin ethic. Such politicization of everyday life or folklore of the masses is not infrequent (Reuss 1975). The biographical reconstruction of an anti-Hindu ethic is the basis of Kancha Illiah Shepherd’s Why I am Not a Hindu (2019). However, in such a reconstruction, Illiah ends up negating the presence of male dominance among the lower castes by coining unscrupulous terms such as ‘democratic patriarchy’. Contrary to such a stance, Arjak Sangh, following the centrality of ‘gendered oppression’ in Phule-Ambedkarite analysis of the caste order, starts with a realization that ‘Arjak women’ suffer and resist structures of male dominance within their communities and outside. These structures are intrinsically linked and embodied in life-cycle rituals such as marriage. The composition of naari geets only reasserts this insight. Thus, it views everyday domesticity and life-cycle events as critical spaces of intervention. Gail Omvedt (2008) argues that Phule explained Hinduism as ‘Brahmin exploitation’. Here, the term ‘Brahmin’ captures the complex structure of social domination and exploitation legitimized through Brahmin mythologies. In order to popularize his anti-caste, anti-Aryan theory, he utilized several linguistic and communicative resources. He composed poems, dramas and dialogic prose, drawing his influence clearly from bahujan life-worlds and cultural productions. These creative productions demolished the Aryan myth by turning it upside down. One finds similar strategies in the language, style and poetics of Arjak Sangh’s women’s songs. The Sangh had its ears close to the ground to tap expressions and linguistic resources that were specific to the context of the so-called ‘cow belt’. However, these specificities are utilized to convey messages that have a universal thrust. Manatavaad, or Humanism, which is propounded as an ethical value by the Arjak Sangh, is an evidence of this universality.

Pedagogies, Social Transformations and New Oralities of Arjak Sangh   165

Image 8.2  Women Singing in an Arjak Vivaah Samaroh

References Bharati, K. 2018. ‘Ramswaroop Verma’s Contribution to Bahujan Renaissance.’ Forward Press, 6 Sept. (Accessed on 25 February 2019). Chaudhary, M. S. B. 1984. Sidhantvihin Rajneeti ke Dushparinaam: Dharmnirapekshata, Achut Prem aur SwachaPrashasan ka Bhandaphod. Uttar Pradesh Branch: Shoshit Samaj Dal (All India). Devi, Vindhyavasini. 2001. Bihar ke Sanskar Geet. Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh Adivasi Lokkala Parishad. Dhara, L. 2017. Do You Know the Feminist Lohia? Forward Press, 21 March. (Accessed on 31 January 2019). Dundes, Alan. 1969. ‘Folklore as a Mirror of Culture’. Elementary English 46 (4), 471–82. Dwivedi, B. L. 1998. Poorvanchal ke Lokgeet. Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh Adivasi Lokkala Parishad. Geetha, V. 1998. ‘Periyar, Women and an Ethic of Citizenship’. Economic and Political Weekly 33 (17), WS9–WS15. Hodges, S. 2005. ‘Revolutionary Family Life and the Self Respect Movement in Tamil South India, 1926–49’. Contributions to Indian Sociology 39 (2), 251–77. Mani, P. 2018. ‘My Memories of Ramswaroop Verma’. Forward Press, Aug 28. Link: (Accessed on 26 February 2019). Narayan, K., W. Schneider, and Barre Toelken. 2008.’ Singing and Retelling the Past’. In Living with Stories: Telling, Re-telling, and Remembering, edited by & W. Schneider, 74–98. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.

166  Asha Singh Omvedt, G. 2008. Seeking Begumpura: The Social Vision of Anticaste Intellectuals. New Delhi: Navayana Publication. Ong, Walter J. 2013. Orality and Literacy. Abington: Routledge. Patel, A. 2016. ‘Jagdev Prasad: Bihar’s Lenin’. Forward Press, Oct. 22. Link: (Accessed on 27 February 2019). Patel, A. 2017. ‘A Wedding far Removed from Hypocrisy.’ Forward Press, June 5. Link: (Accessed on 27 January 2019). Reuss, Richard A. ‘American Folksongs and Left-Wing Politics: 1935–56’. Journal of the Folklore Institute 12 (2/3), 89–111. Shepherd, K. I. 2019.  Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy. New Delhi: SAGE Publications. Singh, Amit. 2018. ‘Ramswaroop Verma: AndhavishwasSampradayikta ke Khilaaftark aur Manavtavaadkibaatkarnewalaneta’. The Wire Hindi, Aug. 22. (Accessed on 27 January 2019). Singh, Asha. 2015. ‘Of Women, by Men: Understanding the ‘First Person Feminine’in Bhojpuri Folksongs.’ Sociological Bulletin 64 (2), 171–96. ———. 2017. ‘Bhojpuri Folk Songs as Scripts of Conjugal Performance.’ In Culture and Politics in South Asia, edited by Dev Nath Pathak and Sasanka Perera, 205–21. New Delhi: Routledge. ———. 2018. ‘Conceptualizing Bhojpuri for a National Hindi Elite: A Critical Reading of Folklorist Krishna Deva Upadhyaya.’ Prabuddha: Journal of Social Equality 1 (1), 33–44. Tiwari, Vivek. 2015, 30 January. ‘Arjak Marriage System’. Youtube. https://www. (Accessed 23 January 2019) Upadhyaya, Krishna Dev. 1990. Bhojpuri LokgeetBhaag 1. Allahahabad: Hindi Sahitya Sammelan Prayag. Verma, R. 1996. Manusmriti Rashtra ka Kalank. Uttar Pradesh: Arjak Sangh. Verma, Sadanand, and Raghunath Singh. 2007. Naari-Geet. Kanpur: Arjak Sangh.

Section III

Culture, Subversions and Representation

Chapter 9

Popular Subversions Aesthetics of Resistance in Kaala Prashant Parvataneni

Prologue and Some Problems Year 1818. On the banks of river Bhima near Pune in Maharashtra, in a village called Koregaon, a decisive war was fought between the British and the Peshwa army (Anglo-Maratha war)—a war that many believe broke the Peshwa regime in Maharashtra and solidified the power of the British empire in the region. The Peshwas had an army of 28,000 soldiers, and on the British side was a battalion of mere 800 soldiers. Most of the soldiers on the British side were ‘Indian’. They belonged to the Mahar community, considered untouchables and oppressed under the casteist rule of the Peshwas. On behalf of the British, this army of Mahars brought down the mighty Maratha empire, which was one of the strongest military forces resisting British occupation in the Indian subcontinent (Teltumbde 2018). It is a remarkable story that reveals the fault lines present in the imagination of a united and essential ‘Indianness’ pitted against the ‘foreignness’ of colonial powers. Yet, it is surprising that this story came into the mainstream awareness only three years ago, at the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, when right-wing

170  Prashant Parvataneni

Hindutva groups attacked the Dalit-Bahujans who had gathered in Koregaon to commemorate this historical event. This led to further clashes—some violent—and protest strikes across Maharashtra. A closer look at Somnath Waghmare’s (2017) documentary The Battle of Bhima Koregaon reveals why this story is largely absent from the mainstream discourse around caste. The film documents the annual gathering of Dalit-Bahujans at a monument in Koregoan erected by the British to commemorate martyrs of Bhima Koregaon battle. We see Dalits celebrating, singing songs, raising slogans, flaunting the blue flags and banners of the Ambedkarite movement. These scenes of celebration are interspersed with interviews of Dalit scholars who provide the historical context of the event and the commentary on caste oppression in pre-colonial and post-colonial India. The overall atmosphere of the film reflects Dalit pride, assertion and creativity. Missing from the picture are images of Dalit suffering and victimhood, which have been repeated through several other documentaries made by Savarna filmmakers, and which often find some space in the mainstream media as well. The images of Dalits that populate the mainstream are tragic—engaged in menial labour like manual scavenging in inhuman conditions, beaten, raped or massacred. While this tragedy is real, the regurgitation of such images fixes the identity of Dalits as helpless subjects without agency. This gaze of media is Brahminical—a gaze that produces, at best, shock and sympathy—cathartic but not something that can necessarily transform the material or the discursive ground. These images claim to ‘expose’ reality, but in a perverse way flatten the contours of the Dalit experience by excluding other layers that might disrupt the singular story of mere subjugation. Films like The Battle of Bhima Koregaon attempt to present an alternate image and narrative from the Dalit standpoint. We see Dalit bodies engaged not in caste-based labour but leisure. We see the bodies dancing, not breaking under the weight of systemic violence. We see them taking control of history as its agents rather than its victims. In other words, in a film like this, we see Dalits doing things out of choice and inspiration, rather than things happening to them. That we do not see enough of these stories and these forms

Popular Subversions  171

of representation in popular media suggests that it is only interested in repeating the stereotypes and confining the possibilities of experience and imagination. It is also a result of media being governed and produced by largely Savarna filmmakers and journalists, who consciously or otherwise perpetuate the Brahminical gaze. Another Dalit documentary filmmaker, Prateek Parmar, speaks about the problems of working with his Brahmin cinematographers who, while documenting a Valmiki community, were hunting for images of poverty and suffering, and unable to think beyond the schema of image-making around Dalits (Shende, 2017). The kind of images these cameramen seem to be looking for are not unlike those that we saw in films like Ankur (Benegal 1974), Aakrosh (Nihalani 1980), Damul (1985), Sadgati (Ray 1981), Tamas (Nihalani 1988), etc. to name a few—films that are categorized under the tag of ‘Parallel Cinema’ in India. Parallel cinema emerged in resistance to mainstream Bollywood films, which were seen as escapist fantasies with little or no connection to the real socio-political conditions of life and culture. Parallel cinema filmmakers decried the exaggerated, melodramatic style of these films and complained about its archetypal heroes and simple mythical conflicts of good versus evil. The dominant aesthetic of Parallel cinema was social-realism—de-glamourized, naturalistic representations of overtly political stories often dealing with marginalization and oppression of women, Dalits and the poor. Topicality was posed as an alternative to myth-making, and the claim was that these films ‘expose’ the socio-political reality that Bollywood hid under its veneer for so long. While this form of cinema resisted the stereotypes of Bollywood, it created its own types—doubly dangerous now, because they came with the credibility of realism. As I pointed out earlier, in the case of documentary films, these realistic fiction films mimicked a selective Dalit experience—that of oppression and lack of agency. In Aakrosh, the protagonist Lahanya Bhiku remains mute throughout the film, despite being on trial for a wrongful charge, symbolizing the ‘voicelessness’ of the adivasis. In Ankur, a lower caste woman is sexually exploited by an upper-caste landlord, and the narrative follows the trajectory of systematic loss of her agency to transform her situation.

172  Prashant Parvataneni

In Sadgati, the protagonist Dukhi dies out of hunger while doing unreasonable amount of unpaid work forced upon him by a Brahmin priest. Even in these stories with Dalit protagonists, there is often a second Savarna protagonist who, through his encounter with the ‘other’, reaches a point of realization or transformation. Bhiku’s young and idealist Brahmin lawyer Bhaskar gets the final scene in Aakrosh where his disillusionment with the system is complete. Ankur ends with the upper caste landlord shedding tears of guilt against the cries of the helpless Dalit woman. In Sadgati, once Dukhi dies, the narrative focus shifts completely to the Brahmin who has to find a way of disposing the body of Dukhi, although his caste-dharma prevents him from touching the body. The closures and realizations are reserved for the upper-caste characters while the Dalits merely act as foils to make this happen. Even more problematic is the kind of visual language that the films adopt. To keep their images naturalistic, they shunned any visible stylization and expressive representations. The result is best described by Pa Ranjith, a Tamil Dalit filmmaker, when he says, ‘Our world is shown as colourless and poverty-stricken. Yes, we are economically poor but not culturally so. Where is the depiction of our vibrant culture, music and food? Why is our world shown bereft of it all?’ (Nagpaul, 2018). The lack of songs, style and imaginative liberties unwittingly reiterated that Dalit lives cannot be part of the popular mainstream.

Beyond Realism I offer this rather lengthy prologue to underline some of my key concerns regarding caste, cinematic representation and resistance. It bears no repetition that mainstream popular cinema is shaped by the upper-caste morality and attitudes. The Dalit ‘heroes’ are largely absent from mainstream popular cinema, and even a token representation of Dalit characters is largely missing—except in a derogatory manner, as comedians or side-kicks of the villains. According to Judith Butler (2009, i), ‘Precarity seems to focus on conditions that threaten life in ways that appear to be outside of one’s

Popular Subversions  173

control.’ The precarity produced by Brahmanical order is characterized by systematic and cultural violence. This state of precarity of the Dalit community is maintained by overt and violent marginalization but also by simply ignoring, and not acknowledging a Dalit way of life—their icons, their cultural forms, their knowledge systems, their emotional and artistic visions, among other things. That the films made in the form of social realism had little or no place for the latter suggests the limits of realism to transform reality and present a dissenting vision. Realism produces documents of what is, rather than visions of what could be. It fails to do what Bell Hooks (1992, 2) in the context of race and representation underlines as the primary concern of Black artists and intellectuals when she writes: to see ourselves oppositionally, to imagine, describe, and invent ourselves in ways that are liberatory’ and work towards ‘transforming the image’. Realism shows us a mirror but often fails to open new windows to look at the world from a different perspective. Can dissent be devoid of such revisioning? What kind of cinematic practices and forms can perform this revisioning to produce a counterculture, rather than just a parallel-culture? I would like to argue here that subversion is a crucial part of dissent. A subversive work of art would seek to actively engage with the popular mainstream but with an intention ‘to shift its meaning or transform it’ (Peterle, 2013). Dissent through subversion is like playing a game to change its rules. The example Butler gives while arguing for a relationship between precarity and performativity is telling. In May 2006, a group of illegal immigrants demanding citizenship from the United States government decided to sing the country’s national anthem on the streets in the original English language, and also in Spanish. They weren’t petitioning or requesting but directly claiming their right to the nation by not only singing, but also transforming (through translation) the anthem that ostensibly did not belong to them. Butler (2009, vi) writes: The singing in Spanish on the street gives voice and visibility to those populations that are regularly disavowed as part of the nation, and in this way, the singing exposes the modes of disavowal through which the nation constitutes itself. In other words, the singing exposes and opposes those modes of exclusion through which the nation imagines and enforces its own unity.

174  Prashant Parvataneni

In recent years, we have been witnessing similar acts of appropriation and subversion of popular symbols and forms to question their value by Dalit filmmakers. Two prominent mainstream filmmakers, Nagraj Manjule in Marathi and Pa Ranjith in Tamil, who are not shy about calling themselves ‘Dalit filmmakers’, have sought to reclaim the ‘popular’ from the stranglehold of Savarna filmmakers and their moral universe. Manjule’s film Sairat (2016) on the surface follows an oft-repeated plot—boy meets girl, they elope and marry against family’s wishes and die in the end. The difference, however, was that the caste of the ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ was put at the forefront. It was perhaps the first time in the history of Indian cinema that we saw a Dalit romantic hero who sings songs, runs in slow motion and serenades the heroine in the fields. The images of these lovers became so iconic that people started visiting the tree, and the bawadi (stepwell/ pond) where important love scenes were shot (Chopra 2016). The dance numbers became a big hit in the clubs and the weddings across the country. Cast in this popular mould with subtle reinvention of the genre, this inter-caste love story refused to remain a forgettable news-story or a niche art-film that reminds people of the horrors of caste. Instead, its songs and images became iconic, the stuff of legends and, above all, aspirational. This became possible because of the form of filmmaking. While the characters and their conflicts were rooted in real socio-historical struggles, the form and style of representation did not shy away from making them larger than life and heroic. If cinema manufactures our dreams and fantasies, then why can’t Dalit imagination be part of those aspirations? It goes to show that when we speak of making visible the castebased marginalization and resisting it through art and representation, we have to keenly engage with popular culture and its effects. Stuart Hall (2019, 318) alerts us to the ‘double movement of containment and resistance’ in popular culture. While popular culture repeats dominant ideologies and creates a normalized, homogenous code of beauty and morality by excluding precarious ideas and people from its framework, it is equally a ground for resistance. For marginalized communities, the classical forms of representation are even more inaccessible, and it is through visibility in popular modes that a shift in mass perception can be affected. If it is the popular culture that

Popular Subversions  175

defines and directs our ideals of beauty, truth and goodness in favour of the dominant castes, then it is precisely by seizing those popular forms and subverting them that artists from oppressed caste positions propose their counter visions.

Making of a Dalit Hero: Inversions and Re-mythification The films of Tamil filmmaker Pa Ranjith further pushes the envelope of the popular conventions of cinema to bring Dalit imagination of life, politics and culture into the mainstream. The Dalit hero has arrived, and he has arrived in style (Kumar 2018). Played by none other than superstar Rajinikanth in Kabali (2016) and Kaala (2018) directed by Tamil Dalit filmmaker Pa Ranjith, he does all that a ‘mass’ hero is expected to do—he sings and dances, he romances and fights against ‘the villain’ to save his people. Rajini has often been seen as an icon, rather than a character. It is said that Rajini’s style precedes his character, and his dramatic punchlines overshadow other elements of the script and dialogue. Ranjith does not shy away from using these precise qualities of a popular star to his advantage. While filmmakers in the past, like Mani Ratnam in Thalapathi (1991), have tried to strip the actor of his mass image by casting him in more character-driven roles, in Kabali and Kaala, Rajini is treated like the style icon that he is. Only now, the style and iconography are defined by a specifically Dalit worldview. Popular heroes are perceived as icons because they have a mythic presence in the film. Their names, their character arcs and the symbols that surround them often come from the Hindu mythology for the majority audiences to relate to them as their natural heroes. The question that Ranjith’s films ask is whether we can imagine a hero who is equally powerful and awe-inspiring but with a different mythology and different set of symbols defining him. Rajini plays the titular character Kabali in the film—a name that was often ascribed to the villains’ henchmen or slaves of the upper caste feudal lords in Tamil cinema. Ranjith not only names his hero that, he uses the Rajini’s punchlines to reclaim the name as a matter of pride. The punchline that ends with a proclamatory ‘Kabali Da!’, uttered in

176  Prashant Parvataneni

trademark Rajini style, went viral. The story is set in Malaysia and Kabali is a leader of the lower caste Tamil immigrants—descendants of those who migrated to Malaysia to work in the estates at the time of the British occupation. The clothes that Kabali wears also come with a double edge: they create a Rajini fashion statement for the movie, but also, his insistence on wearing suits and shoes throughout the movie evoke the Ambedkarite politics of clothing. Kancha Ilaiah points to the crucial difference between Gandhian view of caste and the Ambedkarite view of caste through their clothing. Gandhi’s patronizing embrace of the lower caste/lower class clothing can be read as a glorification of conditions forced upon a community whereas Ambedkar’s choice to wear suits as a bid to transcend the social position and assert oneself as a global citizen (Ilaiah 2004, 156–57). In Kaala, the myth and symbolism around the hero intensifies and the Dalit assertion is more visibly present. The poster of the film itself is loaded with symbols. We see Kaala (Rajinikath) sitting on a jeep that carries the number plate MH 01 BR 1956. BR is a reference to BR Ambedkar and the number 1956 invokes the year when Ambedkar led a large group of Dalits to convert to Buddhism as a mark of protest against the caste-ridden religion of Hinduism. We see his world, the Dharavi slum, presented as a dynamic swirl that revolves around Kaala in the background. Rajini is clad in black, a colour that the film will go on to glorify as ‘the colour of the proletariat’ (Ranjith 2018). The other colour Kaala wears in the film is blue, the colour of the Ambedkarite movement. He is never seen in any other colour. The villain is as iconic as the hero. Played by Nana Patekar, Haridev Abhyankar is as visibly upper caste as Kaala is Dalit. He is always clad in white and is a leader of the party that flaunts its saffron banners across the city. The banners with Hari’s smiling face bear an eerie similarity to the banners of Narendra Modi. Hari’s policies like ‘Pure Mumbai’ and ‘Digital Dharavi’ sound like an ironic mimicry of Modi’s flagship programs ‘Swachh Bharat’ and ‘Digital India’. At a political rally, he says he is going to speak his ‘dil ki baat’ a la ‘Mann ki Baat’. Along with these contemporary symbols of the political right wing, he is often framed against the idols of gods and symbols of Hinduism and is even seen polishing a sword—that weapon of mythical warfare.

Popular Subversions  177

This reversal of myth is radical in the context of popular cinema where the hero often fights the villains with divine sanction—underscored by religious background music, props like tridents and swords, and at times by religious markers like vermillion or ash, or by setting the fight against the temple in the background. Here, the temples, the vermillion marks, the archaic weapons are all reserved for the villains. Ranjith stages the conflict as a mythical fight between the good and the evil—a fight between two icons. But these two icons represent not just two moral positions but also two different ideological positions. The characters are black and white, and a grey shade is hard to find here. However, the values of black and white are inverted. The villain is white, and the hero is black. This construct challenges the principles of purity and moral superiority of the upper castes and reveals the limits of such a binary. It also seems strikingly similar to Kancha Ilaiah’s proposition of a ‘Buffalo nationalism’ as a Dalit-Bahujan vision to challenge the Hindutva ‘Cow nationalism’ (Shepherd 2004, 141–43). Such reversal of popular iconography is felt quite strongly in scenes where the two characters are pitted against each other. The loaded conversation between the hero and the villain is presented in an identical shot–reverse shot structure, each dominated by respective colours of black and white. When Kaala goes to the house of Haridev, it looks like a transgression because he is the only thing visibly black in a household where everything—from the walls to the upholstery—is white. It is an image of confrontation that reverses the popular notion of good and evil, beautiful and ugly, and pure and impure. Even the dialogue in this scene seems to be talking about the politics of colour, as if deconstructing the very motif of the film. Haridev mocks Kaala’s name and says that it is dirty, and that it irritates him. Kaala reverts with a comment that it is his perception that is dirty not the colour. Kaala further challenges Hari’s Hindu worldview by referring to his full name—Karikaalan, the god of death. This god of the lower castes is turned into a heroic figure in the context of the film represented by the greatest superstar of the country. The most radical reversal of popular mythology happens in the climactic fight. Hari’s henchmen have surrounded Dharavi and are

178  Prashant Parvataneni

massacring people while Kaala is trying to protect them. Ranjith intercuts this with Hari and his family participating in a ritual of Rama Katha. Through clever use of montage reminiscent of Godfather (1972), a religious sermon describing the victory of Rama over Raavana, ironically plays over the events leading to the killing of Kaala. In the universe of this film, Raavana becomes the hero who is deviously killed by Rama. In a direct reference to Dravidian politics, the upper caste oppressor is cast in the mould of the Aryan god Rama, and the hero’s tragic death is equated with Raavana’s fall. At the end of the Rama Katha, Hari exclaims with entitlement—‘born to rule!’ Such juxtaposition of the battle between the hero and the villain with religious good versus evil stories in popular films is not new. What is new is the inversion of the myth where the good and the evil according of the dominant Hindu mythology are reversed. Rajesh Rajamani’s (2018) analysis of Kaala as a deliberate inversion of Mani Ratnam’s Nayagan—another film set in Dharavi but positioned as an upper caste saviour narrative—is telling. Despite ostensibly speaking for the urban poor of Dharavi (the caste identities are carefully ignored), Nayagan ends up reiterating the Savarna gaze. Through its subversions, Kaala presents a form of dissent where the popular forms and styles of filmmaking are used to present an alternative, transgressive image. As a Dalit filmmaker, Ranjith uses his heroes and villains, and his mise-en-scène and montage to transform what we perceive as popular and what we perceive as beautiful. As Bell Hooks (1992, 4) writes, ‘The transgressive image, the outlaw rebel vision, is essential to any effort to create a context for transformation’.

The Unmaking of the ‘Rajini Movie’ Hooks also reminds us, however, that along with presenting a transgressive image, it is also necessary to evolve a different ‘way of seeing’. While Kaala is invested in the making of a Dalit hero, it also simultaneously raises questions of what makes a hero. Through clever use of film form, Ranjith undercuts easy gratification of dominant expectations and pleasures of a Rajinikanth film. The making of a

Popular Subversions  179

Dalit hero is also the unmaking of the kind of heroes Rajinikanth has played and popularized. The introduction of Rajinikanth is surprisingly low key. We get the build-up—as the goons try to evict people of Dharavi from Dhobi ghat, a character runs to call Kaala. But the scene we get is a complete antithesis of the popular hero introduction scene. We see Kaala playing cricket with the children. He challenges a kid that he is going to hit a sixer. Instead, he gets bowled out. The scene subverts our expectations while also presenting a hero who wears his greatness lightly. In another scene, we see that the goons have surrounded Kaala with the intention to kill him. The scene is staged in such a way that Kaala is also surrounded by Haridev Abhyankar’s saffron political banners laughing down at him. We get the punchline, exhorting the goons to come and attack him if they dare. We also get a low angle shot where Rajini lifts his lungi against the lightning in the sky. But soon the expectation of a Rajini fight sequence is subverted with the entry of Kaala’s aides, who do all the fighting while their leader stands in one spot, immobile. Kaala’s power comes from his collective community and makes for a perfect foil to Hari’s narcissistic banners.

The Inclusive Frame: Film Form and Politics Ranjith creates a style of storytelling where the collective takes the centre stage even while projecting Rajini’s Kaala as their leader. His frames are overcrowded, with people of Dharavi always surrounding Kaala. He is shown as a symbolic presence, a force that people draw from to fight their battles themselves. When a group of builders present their plan for Dharavi’s redevelopment into an elite colony, the presentation (by ‘Manu’ builders) is intercut with a shot of Kaala sitting silently among the crowd. Once the presentation is over, Kaala remains silent but the people start talking back to the builders and challenging their trap to capture land in the name of redevelopment. Ranjith’s dominant style is the use of long shot, which brings in multiple characters in a single frame. This is a subtle shift, but it makes the visuals more inclusive of multiple voices than being exclusively obsessed with the central star/hero.

180  Prashant Parvataneni

This cinematic construct takes on surrealistic dimensions in the final scene. In the penultimate scene, we see that Kaala is shot and the house that he is in has blown up. But the people of Dharavi claim that Kaala is not dead, and even say that they have seen him walking around Dharavi. Dismissing such rumours, Haridev Abhyankar decides to come to Dharavi to lay the foundation stone of the redevelopment project. His act is interrupted by a young girl throwing a ball of black powder, soiling his pure white clothes, and Abhyankar sees Kaala among the crowd. The whole crowd starts throwing colours in the air and dancing to the song that sings of Kaala as the ‘single-headed Raavana’, as he appears and disappears like a ghost. In a flight of fancy, we go through monochromatic set pieces—the crowd is first covered in black, then red (possibly a reference to the leftist politics) and then to blue (the colour of the Ambedkarite movement). Haridev is cornered by the crowd and in that, he sees Kaala coming and hitting him. Ranjith cuts to the top angle, long shot and we see several colours flying together to create a multicoloured riot. In this sequence, we see Kaala merging into the crowd, symbolizing that while the individual hero might be dead, he lives on through the collective that finally vanquishes the villain (who is reported dead under mysterious circumstances). This staging of the final battle as a multicoloured celebration ends the film with an alternative image of the popular. We see a community of people, often presented as precarious in the culture of representation, taking centre stage and transforming the way we look at political struggle. It presents a vision where popular is defined by the collective, rather than an individual hero. More importantly, it gives us an assertive image of the Dalit pride that is powerful, rather than submissive. That Kaala polarized the public and film critics is not surprising. Any articulation of dissent is bound to make people uncomfortable because it transgresses what we consider possible.

Conclusion I began this paper by noting some of the key problems with ‘social realism’—the cinematic form most commonly employed by Savarna filmmakers while narrating the marginalization of Dalit-Bahujan

Popular Subversions  181

communities. I further argued that resisting such marginalization must consider appropriation and subversion of popular cinema and its cinematic style as a political act. In my analysis of Pa Ranjith’s Kaala, I have tried to highlight its deliberate stylization using an iconic star, counter mythification, suggestive use of colours and symbols, and the expressive and dramatic use of mise-en-scène and montage. I have argued that the deliberate stylization in Kaala is a political choice made by a Dalit filmmaker to project the ideals and celebrate the creativity of Dalit politics and its icons, instead of regurgitating the oppression and marginalization of precarious subjects/communities through realism. This study also revealed the subversions that happen to the archetypes and narrative tropes of a popular film when this performance of dissent undercuts easy gratification of dominant expectations and pleasures of popular cinema.

References Benegal, S. 1974. Ankur [Motion picture on DVD]. India: Blaze Film Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. Butler, J. 2009. ‘Performativity, Precarity and Sexual Politics.’ AIBR. Revista De Antropología Iberoamericana 04(03). Chopra A. 2016, 8 June. (Sairat) Interview of Nagraj Manjule and Rinku Rajguru. (Accessed 20 February 2019). Hall, S. 2019. Notes on Deconstructing ‘the Popular’. In Essential Essays, Vol. 1, edited by D. Morley. Durham, NJ: Duke University Press. Hooks, B. 1992. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston, MA: South End Press. Kumar, V. 2018, 25 June. ‘I Watched Kaala. Now Tell Me Whose Permission Do Dalits Need To Be Stylish In Life?’ The Ladies Finger. http://theladiesfinger. com/kaala/ (Accessed 22 January 2019). Manjule, N. 2016. Sairat. [Motion picture on DVD]. Essel Vision Productions Nagpaul, D. 2018, 12 June. When Dalit filmmakers embrace their identity and reclaim their stories. Indian Express. express-sunday-eye/when-dalit-filmmakers-embrace-their-identity-andreclaim-their-stories-5209972/ (Accessed 14 January 2019). Nihalani, G. 1980. Aakrosh. [Motion picture on DVD]. NFDC. ———. 1988. Tamas. Blaze Film Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. Peterle, A. 2013, 7 November. Thinking through Subversion in the Time of Its Impossibility. (Accessed 22 January 2019).

182  Prashant Parvataneni Rajamani, R. 2018. ‘1 September. The Dharavi Story in Tamil Cinema: How “Kaala” Inverts the “Nayakan” Gaze’. The News Minute. (Accessed 13 January 2019). Ratnam, M. 1991. Thalapathi. [Motion picture on DVD]. G.V. Films Ltd. Ray, S. 1981. Sadgati. [Motion picture on DVD]. Doordarshan Shende V. 2017, 10 October. Fighting Caste through Film. com/watch?v=L8J08mxT_C4 (Accessed 13 January 2019). Shepherd, K. I. 2004. Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism. New Delhi: Samya. Teltumbde, A. 2018, 2 January. ‘The Myth of Bhima Koregaon Reinforces the Identities It Seeks to Transcend’. The Wire. (Accessed 6 February 2019). Waghmare, S. 2017, 2 February. The Battle of Bhima Koregaon[Video file]. &id=8961&catid=129&Itemid=195 (Accessed 12 February 2019)

Chapter 10

Caste, Class and the Market Representation of Caste in Hindi Television Serials Sushmita Pandit

Introduction In India, caste plays an important role in the creation of identity politics. India, known for its diversity, has often faced challenges regarding the question of inclusion of different social communities and groups within the wide ambit of media, politics, health and society. Caste has been one of the most pertinent issues of political debates and deliberations since independence. Even after more than 70 years of independence, caste is deeply rooted in the Indian society. There exists a perception of casteless-ness in some Indian states like West Bengal (Sen 2018, 2), but caste has been a major issue while observing social and religious ceremonies and rituals. The Indian caste system enabled trade by emphasizing contract reinforcement, thus providing the economic basis to the system. Caste system in India is a hierarchical system, dating back to approximately 3000 bc to 1000 bc. In many cases, the choices of an individual are shaped by his/her caste (Frietas 2006, 1).

184  Sushmita Pandit

A number of scholars have explored the issues and debates on caste from various angles. Yogendra Singh (1999) explained that caste was conceived both as a structural unit of social stratification and as a system from a theoretical standpoint. Sociologists who focused on the cultural aspect of caste linked it with a principle of stratification resulting from institutionalized discrimination, social structure of social mobility, division of labour legitimized on ritual bases of reciprocity, and emphasis on purity rather than capability. The same line of argument is foregrounded in the works of Max Weber (2013) and N. K. Bose (1968), who believed that caste was a structural reality that would fade away when the society in India reaches an advanced level. While there is evident difference between the sociologist who perceive caste as a cultural phenomenon and those who describe it as a structural phenomenon, the structural particularistic conception of caste stratification is believed to be the most dominant trajectory. Dipankar Gupta (2004) conceives caste as a persisting social reality that can be traced from the varna to jati system of stratification. According to Gupta, since economic obligations were only directed vertically, the perception of caste from the bottom is more varied and appears less differentiated. Emphasizing the material history and specific socioeconomic formations of India, he contends that in the feudal period caste system was characterized by localized exploitation, whereas the varna is a system in the period of Asiatic mode of production. The relation between caste and class is explored in the works of Pradeep Kumar Bose (1979), who argues that class conflict becomes important in the process of change is class structure, since there is a constant dialectic between capitalism and the pre-existing social formation, class formation and class disintegration. The idea is to focus on the capital–labour relation to understand the transformation of caste structure. Similarly, as K. L. Sharma (1984) explains, caste incorporates the elements of class, and class has a cultural way of functioning. The triad of class, caste and power needs to be studied in a structural historical perspective, in response to the normative and relational aspects of the Indian society. The lamentable condition of the lower caste, according to Vakil (1985), is not only because of forced social and cultural incapacities

Caste, Class and the Market   185

but also mainly because of the disparity created by the emergence of structural discrimination within them, which is an outcome of the policies and plans undertaken supposedly for their progress and benefit. In other words, the differential treatment given to the Scheduled Castes is a major reason for these continuing inequalities. Radhika Ramaseshan (2012), in her study, highlights the politics of caste, where she analyzes the political ramification over caste in Uttar Pradesh, and claims that unless the lower castes acquire control over essential economic resources, they would not get the actual power to fight against social and political prejudices. André Béteille (2012) argues that the conflict between castes follows the contradictions between the normative and existential orders. These conflicts emerge in their most heightened form in course of a move from a harmonious order to a disharmonious one. However, Venkateswarlu (1986), in his study on the upper class conflict in Andhra Pradesh, explains that the traditional system of structural inequalities is being contested by the continuing introduction of progressive values like modernization, democratization and constitutional measures for marginal communities. Therefore, upper caste Hindus, who had enjoyed not only a traditional superiority in the social sphere but also economic and political dominance, might be in opposition to the lower castes in their efforts for socio-economic progress. Studies on caste by G. K. Karnath (1996) illustrated that attempts by the lower castes to perform their urban status into their villages have resulted in inter-caste violence. The nature of the struggle for power and group conflict has changed in response to the advancement of new economic forces and new values introduced by political democracy. Consequently, traditional social institutions of the village—like the joint family, the village caste Panchayat and the caste system as such—have changed significantly. While caste has been an important point of contention for scholars working in the field of political science and sociology, media and communication studies have had very limited focus on the topic. This paper attempts to address that gap by critically engaging with the issue of the representation of lower castes in popular Hindi television serials.

186  Sushmita Pandit

Exploring the various aspects in which caste is represented in the narrative and characters of popular television serials involves asking questions about how particular caste-based subject positions are presented to the audience. These issues are explored through engaging with specific television serials, which are popular in terms of TRP and involve characters, plot structure or narratives related to castebased issues. The serials are selected based on purposive sampling, which represents non-probability sampling techniques that rely on the judgement of the researcher when it comes to selecting the units that are to be studied. The main objective of purposive sampling is to focus on particular characteristics of a population that are of interest, which will enable the researcher to answer the research question. In the context of the present study, eight serials are selected using critical case sampling, which is a type of purposive sampling technique that is particularly useful in exploratory qualitative research, with limited resources, and where a small number of cases can be decisive in explaining the phenomenon of interest. Although such critical cases are not used to make statistical generalizations, they may help in making logical generalizations.

Understanding Caste Within the Representational Logic Even after more than 70 years of independence, caste system in India still operates at a subtle level. Although, political rhetoric has strategically and cautiously responded to caste-based issues and debates, the fact remains that people belonging to the lower castes might have reservation at various sectors but their representation is still poor in consideration to the people belonging to the higher castes—particularly in universities, medicine, law and entertainment industries. Interestingly, the nuances of the representation of caste is also noticeable in a state like West Bengal, which was considered to be free of caste politics by Ram Manohar Lohia, whose point was further strengthened by the reply of Chief Minister Jyoti Basu to Mandal Commission, stating that caste was a legacy of feudalism, and thus, was not pertinent to the social scene of West Bengal. However, questions were raised at different sectors about how the lack of leaders with Dalit identity in

Caste, Class and the Market   187

the politics of West Bengal shows a completely different picture of a ‘so- called’ secular state (Sen 2018, 1–2). If we seek to critically analyze the ways in which caste is represented in popular culture, then a rich site for exploration could be on how caste-based identities play an important part in the narrative of popular television serials in India. The Hindi television serials, though broadly considered regressive in their portrayal of women and for endorsing irrational beliefs, essentially under-represent lower caste identities as well. Even a passing glance at these serials may reveal that the narratives are mostly shaped around the upper caste individuals and their lives and worlds, their trials and tribulations, in such a pervasive way that it may sometimes seem that the entire Indian society is a homogeneous community composed of people belonging to these communities. Caste represents a symbolic power in the Indian society. An individual belonging to a lower caste may have money and land but that does not help him to gain status among the upper caste people. Hence, in mainstream television serials, we hardly find any narrative that portrays protagonists belonging to lower caste. Even when the character belongs to a small village, we find the representation being limited to the relatively wealthy and/or higher caste people. The surnames of the leading characters help in the retention of certain stereotypes. For example, the lead characters in the hugely popular serial Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai of Star Plus belongs to the Bania community (Patel 2014), and it continuously portrays and glorifies the customs and traditions of the upper caste community. The serial has been the longest running serial of Star Plus (first episode broadcast on 12 January 2009), and has undergone a revamp quite a few times. However, the caste identity and lineage of the characters have remained pivotal to the story and visualization. Similar instances may be cited from serials like Kumkum Bhagya (2014–present), Sasural Simar Ka (2014–18) and Diya Aur Baati Hum (2011–16, 2017–18), where the characters have surnames like Arora, Mehra, Bharadwaj, Mehta and Rathi (all upper caste surnames; Mishra 2014). There have been a few diversifications of the main characters (in terms of caste), like in Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo (2009–11),

188  Sushmita Pandit

where the protagonist Laali belongs to the Musahar caste while in Uttaran (2008–15), one of the protagonists, Iccha, was from lower class while Tapasya was from the higher class and caste. Although the caste identity of the protagonist Iccha remains ambiguous, it is clear that she belongs to the lower rung of the social ladder. It is important to mention that in both the serials, the protagonist belonging to the lower caste and the protagonist whose caste remains ambiguous live in poor economic conditions, and they eventually find solace and respite after getting married to a person belonging to the higher caste and class. In almost all the serials, the protagonist whose caste is well-specified (mostly upper caste) are shown to be rich and powerful. So, the upper caste character will always have a surname. Thus, we rarely get to see assertive Dalit characters in Hindi serials. It is also important to note that the serial Yeh Pyar Na Hoga Kam (2009–10) covered the issue of inter-caste marriage between Abeer Bajpayee and Leher Mathur. However, here, too, the fight was mostly between the members of the upper caste—a Brahmin and a Kayastha (both upper caste). Also, the girl, Leher, was a Kayashta who is supposed to achieve social mobility by marrying Abeer, a Brahmin. In one of the sequences, the patriarch of the household proudly puts forward the notion of belonging to the Kanyakubja Brahmin (one of the Pancha Gauda Brahmins of North India) community, as if the status of being a part of this community is incomparable to the other members belonging to the Brahmin community. Another Brahmin family’s daughter living in the neighbourhood is not even considered an equal match for the patriarch’s son, Abeer, due to the hierarchical position occupied by the Bajpayee family in the social ladder. The Brahmin family in question also lacks money in comparison to the Bajpayees, which acts as another important factor in not considering their daughter a match for Abeer. As the character, Mataji claims that, ‘Belonging to the same caste is not enough. There is a queue of upper caste people having money wanting their daughters to get married to my Lalla. So are we left with just this girl for my Lalla in the whole world?’ Apart from few such instances, there is hardly any effort towards representing caste-based issues and lower caste characters, their customs

Caste, Class and the Market   189

and practices in contrast to ubiquitous depiction of orthodox scriptural and Brahminical rituals, customs and culture in majority of the serials. However, the point is to understand the exclusion of caste identities from mainstream media, in a time when it seems to be far more significant, since the implications of this exclusion can be reflected in broader accounts of caste politics and neoliberal transition.

Symbolic Power and the Domain of Consumption Here, it may be useful to look at caste in the Indian society through the lens of symbolic power. Pierre Bourdieu formulated the concept of symbolic power in his book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1984). For Bourdieu, social space has multiple dimensions (economic, educational, cultural, etc.). These dimensions can be categorized in the form of capital. The amount of capital one possesses helps in sorting these dimensions. Bourdieu has identified four types of capital: economic, cultural, social and symbolic. The social field is infused with power struggles. It is a field of forces—the system of relations, alliances and power struggles. Symbolic capital rests on the idea of recognition. Symbolic power is reproduced by objective power relations. By ‘objective’, Bourdieu means that one’s perspective of the world is shaped differently as they occupy different spaces in the world. The self-recognized power to name and make distinctions is characterized as symbolic power. Symbolic capital exercises power by legitimizing the prevailing economic and political relations and creates unequal social relations. In the serial Balika Vadhu (2008–16), we are introduced to the family of Bhairon Singh, which owns lands in the village and exercises considerable power over the village people owing to the caste and class to which they belong. Here, we see that symbolic power of the family gets manifested when they get the support of the entire village in ensuring that the wedding of their young son (who is a child) is not hampered. Even the police refuses to take any action as Bhairon Singh’s family is respected in the neighbourhood—owing to their class and caste status and power. ‘Power’ for Bourdieu is domination by an actor in a field and occupies an important role in his analysis. Bourdieu points to the

190  Sushmita Pandit

‘double historicity’ of dispositions by locating symbolic power within the habitus and fields of practices (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992). Domination is legitimized and is often not recognized under the façade of status or culture. This leads to the acceptance of the condition of domination by the subordinates, thus fulfilling the political function by creating symbolic violence (Bourdieu 1977). In an episode of Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo (2009–11), we see Laali happily engaging in a custom of using a strand of her hair for the haldi ceremony of a girl belonging to a Zamindar family, hoping to get food for her family in return. In order to be considered for the ceremony, she proudly mentions, ‘I belong to the lower caste. Look at me, do I look like I belong to the pure Brahmin caste? I will perform the custom on the condition of getting food for myself and my siblings’. She does this hoping to get food in return from the upper caste family for her siblings. However, she also believes that her position in the social hierarchy does not allow her to question the people with power and status as they are way ahead in skills, aptitude and money. The social battles take place at the threshold (Bourdieu 1977), and therefore, the practices and the discourses act as a threat to the established order. The threshold is characterized by ambiguity, inherent tension and a sense of in-between-ness. Also, here the meaning is derived intersubjectively (Bourdieu 1977). Thus, the domain of consumption leads to the creation of new thresholds or transforming the older ones through the subjective actions of the people. While interpreting Hindi TV serials, we can consider the living area as the threshold where the characters discuss their problems with the family members. In most of the serials, the ‘living area’ acts as the physical space—one that is not totally private nor public, but acts as a threshold for discussions, fights and all the drama. We also get a sense of the status and the position of the family from their living rooms. The jewellery, the make-up, the clothes, the furniture, the small temple, etc. act as markers of caste and class identity. However, in the serial Yeh Pyar Na Hoga Kam and Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo, we find the ‘courtyard’ acting as the threshold. It should be noted that since the representation of lower caste characters are marginal, we don’t see the characters coming back to claim their status and identity in the courtyard or the living room. In most of the cases, the lower caste characters’ assertion is not claimed independently but through

Caste, Class and the Market   191

marriage to a person from the higher caste. So, it becomes important to understand how symbolic power of different groups has changed in a neoliberal society, and how we can place ‘caste’ in it. Also, another important question to consider is whether the market forces determine the representation of the characters in television serials.

Capital and Hindi TV Serials Cultural capital promotes social mobility through non-economic social assets like education, intellect, clothes, accent, etc., while economic capital rests on the possession of financial assets like house, job, business, etc. Similarly, social capital includes the economic benefits dependent on the network of social relationships that an individual possesses in a society while symbolic capital is based on the honour and recognition that one has within a culture. It is interesting thus, to use these formulations in understanding caste-based representation in Hindi TV serials. The neo-liberal conditions offer us an important site to understand how market plays an important role in the depiction of characters belonging to the upper castes. There are certain characteristics that most of the protagonists of these Hindi TV serials portray: they belong to the upper caste and have respect among the community, thus possessing symbolic capital; they enjoy the economic liberties to fulfil certain needs, thus possessing economic capital; and they are a part of a network of social relationships that provide them the ability to exercise control over other social groups, thus exercising social capital. However, the possession of cultural capital is represented through the progressive attitude of the families towards women’s education, widow remarriage, women in workforce, etc., however, limiting their roles outside the ambit of the household. The protagonists in these serials live in huge, spacious houses, have businesses of their own, are rooted to the traditional ethos of the Indian society and are God-fearing individuals. The camera captures their palatial mansions in long shots before entering the premises, where the action takes place. If we look at one of the sequences of the serial Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo, which showcased a protagonist belonging to a lower

192  Sushmita Pandit

caste and class then, we will be able to get a better picture of the depiction of the character. In the first episode of the show, the camera covers shots of a temple with a river flowing on the banks filled with worshippers. In a top angle shot, we see some bananas falling off in the river and a girl jumping into the water to get hold of the bananas. The audience can hear a voiceover in the background introducing the character as Laali. Laali emerges victorious and hands over one banana each to her siblings, keeping one for her parents. In the next few sequences, we come to know her family, and the fact that they live in extreme conditions in a village named Koyna. We are introduced to the miserable lives of this family when we witness the patriarch of the family to be differently abled and jobless. Laali undergoes considerable trials and tribulations, eventually attaining social mobility after getting married to Shekhar Singh, a Zamindar belonging to the upper caste. Even after attaining mobility, she faces discrimination in Shekhar’s household due to her caste and class. In the serial Uttaran, which was broadcast on Colors TV, we are introduced to child protagonist Iccha sitting on the pavement of the busy streets of Mumbai, keeping a tab on the money procured by her friends Bajju and Taklu. She comes across the birthday celebrations of a child at a nearby school, and is amazed by the grandeur of the celebration, craving to have a piece of the cake. She, however, loses the piece of cake in a fight with other underprivileged kids. Although the caste identity of Iccha is not clearly revealed, it is clear that she belongs to the lower rung of the social ladder. Here, it is important to note that the other protagonist, Tapasya, belongs to a higher caste and class. After a generational leap, we come across the grown-up Iccha marrying Veer Singh-Bundela, who belongs to a higher caste and class. Thus, Iccha, too, achieves social mobility by marrying a rich person belonging to the upper caste community. In the present context, when we come across representation of characters in Hindi serials, we are greeted with the presence of rich, upper caste and sympathetic protagonists who live in huge mansions, have several servants to do the household chores, belong to a business family and own huge offices. It is here that we need to understand how market plays an important role in the depiction

Caste, Class and the Market   193

of caste-based identities. In the neoliberal sphere, when we talk about media representation, we find the caste identity to be closely linked to the class identity. Thus, we see North Indian upper caste surnames like Shastri, Mehra, Parekh, Vaghela, Shekhawat, Pathak and the likes—who belong mostly to the business families—shaping the identity of the characters. The representational logic is linked to the symbolic and economic capital of the characters. Although neo-liberalism has brought changes in the society—even changing the habitus of the lower caste—when it comes to the question of representation, we often find them depicting the roles belonging to the older habitus. Take, for example, the serial Yeh Pyar Na Hoga Kam (2009–10) where we come across a character named Dulaari, who works as a laundry woman. She comes to the house of the upper caste Bajpayee family and starts talking to the character Mataji about the laundry. When Dulaari admires the jars filled with pickles laying in the courtyard, Mataji fiercely restricts her from touching the jars. Dulaari, in turn, replies, ‘I understand, Mataji. If I touch the jars the food will become poison for you. Isn’t it?’ She further asks her, ‘You make me wash and iron your clothes. Don’t the clothes become impure for you by my touch?’ So, here we see the character, Dulaari, questioning the upper caste character, Mataji, but she eventually understands her position in the caste hierarchy as well as her status in terms of money and power. So, she is complicit with the views of the upper caste, and thus, even after raising questions, accepts the food that the Bajpayee family considers unpalatable for consumption. Thus, the social order of differentiation and exclusion is visible in the depiction of the lower caste characters. Hence, there is hardly any shift in the representation of the lower caste characters from their old habitus in the contemporary serials, though, under neo-liberalism, in the real-life setting, there has been a constant shift towards a new habitus of coexistence and generation of economic capital (Vikas, Varman and Belk 2015, 487). Therefore, the portrayal in majority of the serials is limited to those characters who belong to the top of the social ladder—the people who have businesses and own properties, or have factories. Although the feudal collectives and bonds of patronage have been broken in many places in India, still, in case of representation, it remains intact.

194  Sushmita Pandit

Conclusion It is important to note that the representation of the upper caste in popular media can only be understood in the context of market economy. Though it is true that many people from the lower caste have been able to access economic capital, their representation is limited. The reason behind this can be traced to the presence of the upper caste people as the directors, producers and editors of these serials. It might also be noted that the producers and directors might identify the lower caste people with the absence of symbolic capital, and thus, their representation as people with power might challenge the social hierarchy, which is still essentially dominated by the upper caste people. It should be noted that the combined population of the Dalit and the OBC is almost 70 per cent, there is still a considerable lack of characterization and portrayal of their identities on television. However, the scope of the paper doesn’t allow me to deal with the issue of caste affiliations of the industry people. But it is important to note that the representation of the protagonists in the Hindi TV serials is closely linked to the demands of the neo-liberal economy, thus depicting people belonging to the higher class. So, it is important for us to understand that the inherent contradictions in neoliberalism creates a tension in the representation of the lower caste protagonists as belonging to the higher class. Hence, in order to grab the market and advertisers, and find a fertile terrain for advertisers, the representation of the upper caste and class creates a harmony for the producers.

References Beteille, Andre. 2012. Caste, Class and Power: Changing Patterns of Stratification in a Tanjore Village. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Bose, Nirmal Kumar. 1968. Calcutta, 1964: A Social Survey. Bombay: Lalvani Publishing House. Bose, Pradeep Kumar. 1979. ‘Agrarian Structure, Peasant Society and Social Change: A Study of Selected Regions in West Bengal’. PhD. diss., Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Caste, Class and the Market   195

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. ‘Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste.’ Translated by Richard Nice. Londres, Routledge. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1986. “The forms of capital.” In Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. edited by J. Richardson. New York: Greenwood. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. ‘The Logic of Practice.’ Translated by. Richard Nice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Bourdieu, Pierre and Loic J. D. Wacquant. 1992. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Freitas, Kripa. 2006. ‘The Indian Caste System as a Means of Contract Enforcement.’ Nortwestern University, unpublished manuscript. https://web.stanford. edu/~avner/Greif_228_2007/Freitas,%20Kripa.%202006.%20The%20 Indian%20Caste%20System.pdf Gupta, Dipankar. ed. 2004. Caste in Question: Identity or Hierarchy?. New Delhi: SAGE Publications. Karnath, G. K. 1996. ‘Caste in Contemporary Rural India’. In Caste: Its Twentieth Century Avatar. edited by Mysore Narasimhachar Srinivas. New Delhi: Penguin Books India. Mishra, Anamika. 2014. ‘Television’s Caste-Aways’., 13 August. Patel, Aakar. 2014. ‘Caste and conservatism in our TV serials’. Livemint, 27 September 2014. Ramaseshan, Radhika. 2012. ‘Uttar Pradesh Elections and Samajwadi Party’s Victory’. Economic and Political Weekly 47 (14), 13–18. Sen, Dwaipayan. 2018. The Decline of the Caste Question: Jogendranath Mandal and the Defeat of Dalit Politics in Bengal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Singh, Yogendra. 1997. Social Stratification and Change in India. New Delhi: Manohar. Vakil, Alimullakhan Kalimullakhan. 1985. Reservation Policy and Scheduled Castes in India. New Delhi: APH Publishing. Venkateswarlu, D. 1986. ‘Socio-Economic Differences between Harijans, Middle Castes and Upper Castes: A Comparative Study of Six Villages in Andhra Pradesh’. The Eastern Anthropologist 39 (3), 209–223. Vikas, Ram Manohar, Rohit Varman and Russell W. Belk. 2015. ‘Status, Caste, and Market in a Changing Indian Village’. Journal of Consumer Research 42 (3), 472–498. Weber, Max. 2013. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Routledge.

Chapter 11

Dalit Empowerment, Narratives and Violence Locating Ambedkar Through Select Films Benson Rajan and Shreya Venkatraman

In March 2017, the village of Thottiyapati in Tamil Nadu saw Dalit homes being damaged and the members of the community being abused (Vinita 2017). It was the battle for water that led to a fight between the Dalit community of Arunthathiyar and the upper caste Thottinayaykars. In the conflict, it was unclear who the victim and the perpetrator were, with cases filed against members of both the groups for inciting violence and harassment. The Dalit community’s participation in communal violence as a solution to a basic problem like water supply raises questions about the relevance of Ambedkar’s ideas in the context of socio-political empowerment. Caste has been an issue pervading the socio-politico-historical spectrum of India. Its origin can be traced back to the traditional hierarchical and organized system of varna (Rajan and Venkatraman 2017). The system not only defines the relations between the caste members but also affects their own ideas of being, self-worth and identity (ibid). The Dalit community was the bottom of the caste structure and subjected to marginalization and inherent violence due

Dalit Empowerment, Narratives and Violence  197

to their status of being untouchables. The problem lies in the subjected personhoods that the individuals gain due to the violence and caste indignities that a community is marked with, and their inability to reconstruct it. As personhoods are the making of a society, education acts as the common public domain in order to recognize and remove the inadequacies and socio-cultural markings (ibid). Therefore, education becomes a necessary tool for redefining the Dalit identity. Identity became the core of all social and political movements to empower the Dalit community in Tamil Nadu. Ambedkar has been the most profound thinker to formulate an assertive and separate Dalit identity (Wankhede 2008). According to Mukherjee, Ambedkar and few other scholars contested the glorification of Brahminical ancient texts that categorized humans into touchables and untouchables (Mukherjee 2009). In ‘Annihilation of Caste’, Ambedkar critiques the high caste intellects and reformers who did not have the courage to fight against caste (Ghose 2003). Further, Ambedkar saw the use of the textual past in order to continue the system of inequality as a way of preventing marginalized communities from making progress (Mukherjee 2009). This argument arose from the fact that the textual resources were primarily inaccessible to the Dalits, which discouraged and prevented them from attaining education. Kancha Ilaiah points to the 19th-century British intervention to educate the Indian community, which was confined to the non-Sudra upper castes, and it eliminated the lower castes from this process (Ilaiah 1990). Such notions are prevalent even to this day, where teachers view the Dalit students as having inherent intellectual deficiencies (Rajan and Venkatraman 2017). This leads to further internalization and socialization of a submissive and inferior identity amongst the Dalits. The end result of such humiliation would be higher dropout rates and subsequent unemployment that would nullify the power of knowledge and education. The unemployed, instead of fighting for their own rights, find agency in fundamentalist agendas, in which their role is to practice violence against the provided enemy (ibid). According to Sen, violence is promoted by the cultivation of an identity that is seen as inevitable and makes extensive demands on citizens (Sen 2006). This can be seen as the basis of communal violence,

198  Benson Rajan and Shreya Venkatraman

which has hampered the development of the Dalit identity. Even in mass media, violence, which involves intentional physical harm, is highly popular (Duncum 2014). More and more instances of counter violence by the Dalit communities are coming to the forefront. For instance, when a statue of Dr Ambedkar was vandalized in Kanpur, Maharashtra flared up with violent Dalit protests (Rao 2011). In January 2018, another protest against the dilution of SC/ST Act took a violent turn, leaving six dead and several injured in the city of Mumbai (Talukdar 2018). The continuous use of violence in order to assert group identities is in contradiction to the Ambedkarite Dalit philosophy. Wankhede argues that Ambedkar was adamant about a modern and dignified status for an individual (Wankhede 2008). This was necessary for participation in politics, and to attain the benefits of a democracy. Ambedkar’s assertive separatist politics and demands for reservations in education freed the Dalits from being mere subordinates to the upper caste (Ghose 2003). However, the Post-Ambedkarite period has witnessed a drift towards a Dalit identity based on radical ideas of social emancipation. Such ideas have made their way into contemporary Tamil films, which show an allegiance towards Ambedkar through political iconography like flags, statues, pictures, etc. However, the implementation of his ideas is traded in for a more instantaneous solution, which is the use of physical violence for social empowerment. An example can be seen in Marudhu (Maruthu, the male protagonist in the movie, is a labourer), a 2016 film where the male lead resorts to killing the goons who murdered his grandmother and mother-in-law. The killing of all the gang members by the male lead is shown as recourse to the legal system’s failure in protecting a member of a marginal group. This paper is an extension to understand the representational politics behind the portrayal of a Dalit identity in contrast to Ambedkar’s idea for the community through Pa. Ranjith’s Attakathi1(2012), Madras (2014) and Kabali (2016). Pa. Ranjith has been vocal about his affiliation with Dalit issues and his Dalit identity. 1

Attakathi translates to ‘cardboard knife’ in English.

Dalit Empowerment, Narratives and Violence  199

Understanding the Dalit Symbolic Representation Using select frames, the presence of Ambedkar’s ideas was mapped in Attakathi, Kabali and Madras. Five prominent ideas—emphasis on higher education, political participation, social democracy, adoption of a Western lifestyle, and non-violence—from Ambedkar’s writings on the Dalit identity could be traced in these films. Keeping these ideas central to the chapter assists in understanding the subordination of these ideas in comparison to the glorification of violence as a means to attain empowerment. The scenes that use violence tend to dominate other ideas represented in the films (Zillmann 1998). The idea of ‘witness perspective’ espoused by the audience, gives an otherwise subjugated protagonist the power of moral authority to justify the act of counter violence in the film narratives. The three films use Dalit iconography and embody subtle references to incidences of Dalit violence and state politics in Tamil Nadu (Rajan and Venkatraman 2017). This legitimizes the use of these films as visual data in order to study the effect of actual incidents of counter violence, and their influence in representation of the Dalit community in films. Frame analysis was used to study each frame and understand how the film uses symbols associated with Ambedkar to reflect upon his ideology. According to Wimmer and Dominick, one of the reasons for using this method of content analysis in research is to compare media content to the ‘real world’ (Dominick and Wimmer 2006). Goffman used frames to organize social events, and to show our subjective involvement in it (Goffman 1974). A parallel definition was provided by Reese, Gandy and Grant, who described frames as an organizing principle that are shared socially and show persistence over time to symbolically structure a meaningful social world (Reese and Grant 2003). The idea behind using a qualitative frame analysis as against a quantitative one is based on Wood’s argument (Wood 2004). Wood is of the view that quantitative data cannot provide insight into the meaning of an experience—in this case, a particular event of Dalit counter violence. On the same trajectory, Du Plooy says that qualitative inquiry is analytical and interpretative, and the research methodology has to be shaped according to the nature of the data (ibid). Hence, in

200  Benson Rajan and Shreya Venkatraman

accordance with the frames that act as visual data, the methodology of frame analysis was employed in this study (Du Plooy 1995). To analyze the subordination of Ambedkar’s five prominent ideas, the paper uses Roland Barthes’ method of semiotic analysis (Barthes 1968). His framework is an extension to Saussure’s framework of analyzing signs (Saussure 1915). Barthes appoints two levels of sign interpretation to understand its significance: Denotation and Connotation (Barthes 1968). While denotation is the literal and obvious meanings of signs, connotation is the subjective interpretation of signs (Bouzida 2014). For Barthes connotation was in itself a system that encompassed the signified and the signifier, and the process to attain signification (Barthes 1968). The Barthesian approach of analyzing a visual image involves choosing the appropriate sample, determining the sample size within the research’s need and then analyzing the images on the two levels of signification (Bouzida 2014). In the context of this study, the signification is attained by observing signifiers like colours, clothes, background, etc. in the denotative level. According to Barthes, connotation relies on the description provided by denotation (Barthes 1968). Hence, connotative level will require interpretation using the same signifiers but with a social and cultural background of the semiotic reader, which forms the signified. The connotative meaning will be understood using a synchronic method of analysis. Synchronic analysis in semiotics involves reading the events that are happening within the frame (Lindroth and Monaco 2000). This is in contrast to diachronic analysis, which depends on the continuous building of events across a period of time. For a synchronic analysis, the following research will use iconography like statues, colours, posters, etc. attached to the popular representation of Ambedkar. This approach has been undertaken in order to highlight the dominance of violent imagery as opposed to educational empowerment on the screen. The subtle use of Ambedkar icons in the films show a developed Dalit identity that is subordinated due to the glorification of violence, which happens to be the protagonist’s primary and the most effective way of attaining an empowered identity. The categorization of the sub-themes focuses on the use of violence to devalue Ambedkar and his influence on the Dalit identities. Based

Dalit Empowerment, Narratives and Violence  201

on the parameters set by the researcher in the methodology, the paper has categorized frames from Pa. Ranjith’s films into their denotative and connotative meanings. The semiotic analysis of the frames led to the selection of sub-topics according to the similarity in their connotative meanings.

Locating Ambedkar’s Blue The three films: Attakathi, Kabali and Madras, each have more than one frame with the colour blue occasionally dominating the screen. In his introductory scene, Dinakaran, the lead character of Attakathi, is shown wearing a blue shirt as he heads for college. The film revolves around the protagonist’s effort to find love in the process of selfdevelopment. This particular connotation is significant, given that Dinakaran’s shirts are in shades of blue each time he comes across a new love interest. On the other hand, Madras is a more politically charged narrative. The film is about two political rivals who fight to claim their right on a wall. The male lead is from a backward community of north Chennai and is the only man from his community to have a job in the Information Technology (IT) sector. The protagonist is a constant support to his politician best friend, who is about to enter the elite group of his political party. Tension arises when the protagonist falls for the rival party leader’s daughter. The political use of the colour blue is seen in a protest organized by the rival party. The members of the party have the thoul thundu (the signature piece of cloth worn on the shoulders by men) in blue. Along with the cloth, the flags that the people in the protest hold are also of the same colour, with water shortage becoming the political cause for the fight. The colour’s significance is shown in another political gathering, with the male lead wearing the same shade of blue as the flags instituted in the place. Henceforth, blue is established as the colour of the opposition party fighting for the rights of the backward community by repeatedly showing the party leader’s blue side cloth throughout the film. The colour blue is juxtaposed with red, a colour that is associated with Marxism. The football team of which the male lead is a member is given blue uniform, while the rival team embraces red uniform. The connotation here is the differing ideologies of Marx and Ambedkar,

202  Benson Rajan and Shreya Venkatraman

with both thinkers being rooted in the cause of uplifting the downtrodden. A significant scene of Dalit empowerment is shown when the male lead confronts the murderer of his politician best friend. The symbolic rise of the community’s power is represented through male lead character of Madras, Kaali, action of throwing a can of blue paint on the wall, previously associated with the rival upper caste party’s dominance. The disputed property is representative of the unequal distribution of power between the lower castes and the upper castes in the political arena. The climax is one of the poignant scenes, wherein both the male and the female leads in their new roles as educators are shown wearing blue with the portrait of Ambedkar towering in the blue background. Kabali, for instance, does not make use of the colour blue in an explicit format but subtly refers to it through the choice of clothing. The prison where Rajinikanth’s character is held captive has blue as the colour of its uniform. When Rajnikanth’s character steps out of jail, he is shown dressed in a Western suit along with blue coloured sunglasses. The glasses can be understood as the new, empowered vision that Kabali comes out with, further hinting at the influence of the Dalit literature in shaping his ideology during the time of his imprisonment. The school-cum-rehabilitation centre that Kabali runs has colours blue and red as its uniform. In Kabali, as opposed to his earlier movie Madras, the director makes an attempt to bring together the ideologies of Marx and Ambedkar. The connotation here is embedded in the familial backgrounds of the students who are enrolled in Kabali’s school—they all hail from a backward caste. From criminals to drug addicts, it is their marginalized social backgrounds that ties them together. Although the male lead is depicted as relying on violence, education is seen as the means to rise above and fight against one’s socio-economic oppression and backwardness. With education in Kabali being closely linked to the colour blue, one does note how the director uses the colour to resonate of a certain kind of empowerment.

Influence of Dalit Iconography The use of icons like flags, books and statues by the Dalit community was based on the representation of Ambedkar, Periyar E.  V. Ramasamy, Kanshi Ram and other activists. The pattern of

Dalit Empowerment, Narratives and Violence  203

iconography is evident in the three films. For instance, in Kabali, the introductory scene of Rajinikanth’s character is shown reading a copy of My Father Baliah in his cell in Malaysia. The book is significant in constructing the larger profile of the character. My Father Baliah, written by Y. B. Satyanarayan, is a family biography describing the state of the author’s Dalit family and echoes of a Telangana Dalit experience. The experience of being a Dalit is part of the clothes that they adorn. The choice of fabric, the decision about the colours, the state of cleanliness—all play a major role in shaping an experience of being a Dalit (Rajan and Venkatraman 2017). It is in this regard that the choice of clothing used in the movie, especially that pertaining to Kabali and his mentor, evokes the Ambedkarite style. The mentor, Ramprasad, is the leader of the Tamil indentured workers and fights against their oppression by the residents of Malaysia. Dressed in a blue suit and a red tie, as he addresses the Tamil community to rise against their oppressors, he distinctly reminds the audience of Ambedkar. The image of Ambedkar wearing the suit and a tie stood not only for the dismissal of traditional Indian clothing for Western attire but also for the successful attacks on the upper caste strongholds. Similarly, the establishing scene of the school that Kabali runs has stand in posters of Che Guevara and Dr Ambedkar in the same frame as the male lead. This can be perceived as the director’s attempt at situating the male lead on an equal footing as that of the two rebel leaders. Religion, too, plays a significant role here. The adoption of Buddhism to attain a casteless society is evident in Kabali. The Buddha’s posters are placed all over the Yoga room, especially above the male lead’s position in the frame. Other than the heavy use of the colour blue placed all over the film, Madras has one significant scene where the influence of Ambedkarite ideology on the lead character is established. The concluding scene, where the wall featuring the rival party leader’s face is smeared with blue paint, signifies the change of political regime in the neighbourhood. Together, the lead characters open a school for the children of their community, and the classroom frame has Ambedkar’s picture placed centrally. The scene is symbolic of the promotion of education amongst the future generation as opposed to violence that was primarily used by the male lead. Even

204  Benson Rajan and Shreya Venkatraman

though there is not much use of iconography in Attakathi, a subtle emphasis on Ambedkar’s influence is seen in a fleeting shot. The climax has the male lead getting over his heartbreak with a series of shots portraying him running across his village to meet his future wife. As he runs, one of the shots shows a picture of Ambedkar painted on the wall of a school that he passes by. In the subsequent scenes, the male lead is shown to have become a highly educated teacher, and the address plate that details his educational achievements becomes a reflection of his social mobility. The movie, thus, offered a socially acceptable ending with the protagonist choosing a stable life over his stint as a feared leader.

Glorification of Violence as a Source of Power In their study, Viduthalai, Divakar and Natarajan argue that the violent scenes in Pa. Ranjith’s films seem to overshadow the educational scenes (Viduthalai, Divakar and Natarajan 2017). This frame is parallel to this paper’s argument of using violence to solve major problems, and the subsequent dismissal of Ambedkar’s philosophy in that moment. This is applicable, for instance, in Attakathi, when the male lead abandons his original agenda of completing his education, and instead becomes a student leader. The initial impression of the lead is that of a below average student, devoid of a strong personality. This image of the lead changes when the audience witnesses his physical strength in a much-glorified scene between that of the lead character and the brother of the girl he is pursuing. The importance of political participation to attain social justice is subordinated when the lead’s later role as a student leader involves him having an aggressive attitude and beating up anyone who does not comply with his outlook. The last resort for the male lead changes from education to violence, making it a simpler option than passing his exams. This newfound identity provides him with respect and power, and he grows to be a feared personality—attributes that were initially absent when the pursuit of education was his priority. The same is visible in the case of Kabali, where the self-righteous farmer and activist turns into a gangster. His transformation is justified

Dalit Empowerment, Narratives and Violence  205

by combining the identity of a don with that of a philanthropist. The new identity is accompanied with the idea of avenging his wife’s and child’s murder, which forms a cause-and-effect relationship between the incident and his choice of occupation. The ambitious and educated male lead of Madras is hailed for his physical strength, and constantly criticized for his high-end job and office clothes. This criticism originates from the view that the male lead, Kaali, is no more a part of the backward community because of his choice of clothing and his regular job. A montage of scenes with the male lead’s frequent involvement in local fights and his shorttempered nature is shown. This forms the first impression in the audiences’ mind of the protagonist’s inclination to use violence as the primary means to resolve a problem. To avoid isolation, Kaali is seen using physical strength to solve every problem that comes his way. The importance of political power is represented by Anbu (Kaali’s best friend and a budding politician), who rises as a politician hailing from a backward community in a party dominated by upper caste members. This political success is shown to be a result of Anbu’s use of Kaali’s physical strength as a source of power. Anbu’s rise to power is seen as a threat to the political stronghold by the other members of the party who eventually get Anbu assassinated on the party leader’s instruction. After Kaali finds out about the murder, he is shown fighting a group of goons hired by the party leader in a football field, where he singlehandedly defeats them. The most significant scene of violence is that of Kaali engaging in a duel with his friend’s murderer in an abandoned warehouse. Here, the use of violence by the protagonist to avenge his friend’s murder is upheld as an instance of moral elevation and justified as a legitimate reason for an educated individual to embrace violence. Even though the study conducted by Viduthalai, Divakar and Natarajan does not highlight the influence of Ambedkar in the films highlighting Dalit oppression. The use of Dalit ‘genre’ is not established/problematic. The use of violence definitely seems to stand in contrast to Ambedkar’s ideology (ibid). Violence is made a tool of empowerment and a specific group marker in the process. The placement of an educational institution or the opting for an academic career is seen as a moral closure to a film highly dominated by violent action.

206  Benson Rajan and Shreya Venkatraman

The interesting aspect here is that it is only after the main crisis has been averted using violence that the thematic focus shifts to education. The use of physical strength is not concentrated on solving everyday issues (as mentioned by Viduthalai, Divakar and Natarajan) but becomes the only solution to the crisis around which the story is narrated (ibid). Ambedkar’s influence, even though advocated indirectly, is disregarded in comparison to the use of physical strength. The director’s effort to promote Ambedkar’s idea of empowerment through educating the community is contrasted by his repeated glorification of action scenes.

Conclusion The Dalit representation in Tamil cinema has been influential in cementing identity markers of the community. This is problematic as the markers chosen by the filmmaker can further propagate the collective identity of the concerned communities as that of a violent group. It either helps in empowering a backward community or ends up reinforcing established prejudices. The politics of cinematic representation can be understood from the references that the filmmakers choose and present as a form of reality. Cultural identity is understood as a reflection of shared ancestral experience and community codes, which become a stable and common reference for the members of a community (Hall 1989). What Hall suggests is that the stagnancy of the group identity contrasts the actual changing attitudes and traditional historical positions of a community in the society. Hence, the established identity markers and history might stand in opposition to the socio-economic developments of a traditionally oppressed group. The study of the three films—Kabali, Attakathi and Madras—probed into this issue of representing an established Dalit identity of using violence in contrast to the Ambedkarite idea of attaining empowerment through education. The viewing of the films helped in narrowing down on three themes to shape the argument of the dissertation: persistence of the colour blue, Dalit iconography and the glorification of violence. The themes were narrowed down based on their recurrence in all three films, thus forming a common ground for analysis. Colour, iconography and

Dalit Empowerment, Narratives and Violence  207

violence are seen as the mediums through which filmmaker Pa. Ranjith has tried to show glimpses of real-life incidents involving the Dalit community in Tamil Nadu. This establishes a sense of connection with real life Dalit issues, though the influence of markers like violence projects a regressive identity of the group. The choice of such representation further ignores the educational and financial achievements that the community has achieved. Dominance of violence in decisions regarding the mode to attain justice disregards alternative ideas of nonviolence and political participation suggested by Ambedkar in the three films. It is noted that Pa. Ranjith has made efforts to show his adherence to Ambedkar through symbolic representation throughout the three films. Such efforts of propagating education and other rational ideas through the male lead, however, falls short due to the primary choice of making violence the means of attaining empowerment. Duncum explains that the attractiveness towards violence in visual culture is more to do with the predictability that it provides to the narrative (Duncum 2014). This makes the means of violence a clear signal of the triumph of good over evil, and a just path of achieving justice and emancipation (ibid). This can be used to understand the glorification of violent scenes and the male lead’s physical strength—as in Madras—and subordinating the lead’s educational and financial mobility. Similarly, the achievement of political success is given a skewed representation, especially in Madras and Attakathi, as the use of physical strength and violence is made a requirement in attaining political power. This subordinates Ambedkar’s objective of political participation to attain social justice and paints the identity of the Dalit community as one that uses violence as a prerequisite to achieve social mobility. In the three films, the protagonist’s educational qualification, political participation and democratic ideas are degraded or shunned by other members of the community. This leads to the repression of an evolved identity, and the involuntary adoption of a regressive community identity. Such representational politics leads to the formation of a primitive and misplaced identity of the Dalits. This might act as an obstacle in creating positive aspirational goals like higher education to create a forward and evolved attitude for the Dalit individuals. Hence, the emphasis on representing Ambedkar’s ideas in films can be seen as an attempt to carve a new visual identity of the Dalit

208  Benson Rajan and Shreya Venkatraman

community. Further studies can be conducted on the absence of Ambedkar’s ideas in films dealing with Dalit issues, which can then be used to reflect on social parameters such as gender, class, religion and other social parameters.

References Barthes, Roland. 1968. Elements of Semiology. New York: Hill and Wang. Bouzida, Feyrouz. 2014. The Semiology Analysis in Media Studies: Roland Barthes Approach. Dominick, Joseph, and Roger Wimmer. 2006. Mass Media Research: An Introduction, 8th ed. Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth. Duncum, Paul. 2014. ‘Attractions to Violence and the Limits of Education’. Journal of Aesthetic Education 40 (4), 21–38. Du Plooy, Trudie. 1995. ‘Measurement in Communication Research’. In Introduction to Communication Course Book 2, Communication Research, edited byTrudie Du Plooy, 67–84. Cape Town: Juta. Ghose, Sagarika. 2003. ‘The Dalit in India’. Social Research 70, (1), 83–109. http://  Goffman, Erving. 1974. Frame Analysis. New York: Harper Colophon Books. Govindarajan, Vinita. 2017. ‘The Backstory: Crossing An Invisible Barrier To Report On Caste Violence In Tamil Nadu’. Scroll.In. Hall, Stuart. 1989. ‘Cultural Identity And Cinematic Representation’. Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 36, 68–81. http://www.jstor. org/stable/44111666. Ilaiah, Kancha. 1990. ‘Reservations: Experience as Framework of Debate’. Economic and Political Weekly 25 (41), 2307–10. stable/4396868 Lindroth, David and James Monaco. 2000. How to Read a Film: The World of Movies, Media, and Multimedia: Language, History, Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Mukherjee, Arun. 2009. ‘B. R. Ambedkar, John Dewey, and the Meaning of Democracy’. New Literary History 40, (2), 345–70. stable/27760261 Rajan, Benson and Shreya Venkatraman. 2017. ‘Fabric-Rendered Identity: A Study of Dalit Representation in Pa. Ranjith’s Attakathi, Madras and Kabali’. Artha-Journal of Social Sciences 16 (3), 17–37. http://journals.christuniversity. in/index.php/artha/article/view/1767 Rao, Anupama. 2011. ‘Violence and Humanity: Or, Vulnerability as Political Subjectivity’. Social Research 78 (2), 607–32. 23347192

Dalit Empowerment, Narratives and Violence  209

Reese, Stephen Gandy Oscar, and August Grant. 2003. Framing Public Life: Perspectives on Media and Our Understanding of the Social World. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Saussure, Ferdinand. 1915. Course in General Linguistics, 2nd ed. New York: Hill Book Company. Sen, Amartya. 2006. Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. Talukdar, Sreemoy. 2018. ‘Maharashtra Bandh: Are We Normalising Violent Dalit Protests, Why Are We Blaming All Except the Perpetrators?’ Firstpost.  Viduthalai, Divakar. A. K., and V. Natarajan. 2017. ‘Failure of Dalit Renaissance: A Semiotic Analysis of Dalit and Non-Dalit Films’. Amity Journal of Media and Communication Studies. 7 (1). ISSUE48_1.%20Viduthalai,%20Divakar,%20Natarajan.pdf Wankhede, Harish. 2008. ‘The Political and the Social in the Dalit Movement Today’. Economic and Political Weekly 43 (6), 50–57. stable/40277102 Wood, Julia. 2004. Communication Theories in Action: An Introduction, 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth. Zillmann, Dolf. 1998. ‘The Psychology of the Appeal of Portrayals of Violence’. In Why We Watch: The Attractions of Violent Entertainment, edited by Goldstein Jeffery, 179–211. New York: Oxford University Press.

Chapter 12

Lives of Voice Radio Commentary and the Grammar of Sporting Merit in Postcolonial Calcutta Rohan Sengupta

This essay attempts to examine the relationship between the human voice—the material, mediated and the metaphorical, and the ways in which it charts a grammar of sporting merit through a study of Bangla sports commentary on the Calcutta radio. I focus on the professional practice of radio commentary within the institutional precincts of the All India Radio, Kolkata (henceforth AIR-K) from the late 1950s onwards till the onset of the economic liberalization in the early 1990s. In the immediate years following independence, broadcasting had become synonymous with the gradually all-encompassing rhetoric of ‘communication’.1 Communication and broadcasting policies during 1952, for instance, developed under the aegis of the Five Year Plans premised on the centralization of industries. Within that 1 For a more detailed analysis of the term communication and its genealogies, see John Durham Peters (1999). See also, Arvind Rajagopal (2009) for a genealogy of the term with respect to the changing political implications of ‘the media’ and its infrastructure in India.

Lives of Voice  211

broad context, the specific political-linguistic practice of vernacular commentary produced affective expressions whose caste identities could not be separated from the infrastructures that mediated it. To narrate such an account so heavily reliant on an auditory archive and ethnographic fieldwork would entail taking cognizance of both the material and the affective registers of voice and caste. Given the nature of practice and the histories of reception I am dealing with in this essay, I cannot possibly address the impact that commentary had on any one particular caste community. Both, at an empirical and analytical level, such an attempt would seem to be limiting and inconceivable. Instead, my focus is on how caste played (and continues to play) a significant role as a register of sporting merit through networks of production and publicity. In the passages that follow, I delve into an analysis commentary files to make my point. At the same time, I also claim that constructions of this sporting iteration of merit are equally structural: framed in light of policies that also dictated employment standards. I hope to show how the grammar of sporting merit is shaped by an arena of experts (the commentators), in relation to the sport (football), the institution (AIR-K) and the political climate at the time. Within the everyday lives of media institutions, such practices could offer insights into registers of caste-based expressions and their interactions with the broader public. The ethnographic and archival material of commentary that the essay deals with revolves around the sport of football. Here, I am less concerned with the technical aspects of sports commentary and more directly about the political life it charted for itself. The essay, in dealing with the dissemination of commentary as a form of popular consumption of sport, ultimately attempts to make connections between the grammar of caste in light of the grammar of sport, and vice versa. Broadly speaking, what makes dissemination and circulation of text, images and sounds effective in the public sphere for larger consuming publics is the process of mediation. By mediation, I am referring to practices (in this case sports commentary and its dissemination) that, despite being located within a specific technological-institutional moment (in this case, the All India Radio), express themselves through histories and languages of political power—both within and

212  Rohan Sengupta

beyond its immediate folds (in this case, notions of caste and voicing). Media theorists and political anthropologists in particular have found the term ‘mediation’ useful to describe a set of relationships that emanate from specific technologies of power.2 My attempt, in a similar vein, has been to contextualize this practice. By doing so, I also hope to flag how the phenomenon of voicing has, in turn, shaped configurations of caste in the case of vernacular sports commentary on the Kolkata radio.

The ‘Regional Project’: Bengali Commentary on the Calcutta Radio Commentary as a professional practice is largely dependent on specific voices, their aesthetic appeal and the strategies that make voices identifiable to listening publics. The systematic introduction of Bengali commentary in the radio from 15 July 1957 was generally thought to have been an experiment that was subject to much ridicule in its formative days.3 While Bengali was the first vernacular language from South Asia in which such an endeavour was initiated, there were very deliberate intentions on the part of the broadcasters at the time to view the introduction of commentary as a ‘regional project’—essentially intended to a nature of sports consumption that was not necessarily ‘nationalistic’. This project acquired gradual significance from the early 1960’s onwards by creating social spaces of circulation across rural and urban Bengal and being able to generate specific affective-auditory archives of imagination. There have been three generations of predominantly Hindu upper caste male radio commentators who have chronicled this project in terms of uninterrupted and ceaseless description of events on the field of play, staying 2 For a more detailed theoretical discussion of mediation and the role of publics in their construction see, Cody (2011); Rajagopal (2009); Mehta (2008). 3 Although the first instances of ‘experimenting’ with Bangla commentary dates back to 1934, the first systematic attempt to broadcast games in the vernacular started with the Calcutta football league season that commenced from 1957 onwards. The commentary would run for the entire duration of the match. Over by over, cricket commentary on the radio was introduced a couple of years later, in 1959. See, Basu (1966).

Lives of Voice  213

true to its translation.4 I spent a significant portion of my fieldwork interviewing some of these commentators from different generations and ‘schools’.5 Using imageries, metaphors and phrases that eventually became a part of the middle class Bhadralok vernacular vocabulary for everyday conversation had become a fairly common occurrence at the time.6 Often, my interlocutors—most of whom are no longer employed as radio commentators—would re-enact their stylistic repertoires that they would deploy during matches when I would probe them about the specific nature of their practice. Promptly, they would also be sure to remark that such repertoires were ‘not just about style but also about substance’—the ‘substance’ being the voice itself. While conveying the match proceedings to the larger listening publics, the commentators would never compromise upon the grandeur of the game. One reason for this, they would indicate implicitly, was owing to their prestige of persona; their own iconicity being intimately linked to sanctity of the game that they would describe. Through acts of describing and flagging the game’s evocative capabilities, the commentator would pave the way for himself being remembered as ‘iconic’. In my interviews with them, I would keep coming back to this question 4 In its earliest form, Bangla running commentary would be translated as ‘choltibiboroni’ to indicate the notion of speed: something that has to keep pace with the game that is being described. Over time, the word ‘dharabhashyo’ gained preference, both in terms of translation and to identify the commentators as the ones who practice this profession—‘dharabhasshyokar’. The word dharabhasshyo itself, coined by the linguist Suniti Kumar Chatterji, refers to the continuous and uninterrupted flow of words, using imageries of water bodies such as rivers. 5 There is no formally recognized school of Bangla commentary per se. This is a phrase that was used by almost all of my interlocutors from the erstwhile professional world of radio commentary. While some believed that the ‘school’ comprises of Ajay Basu, Pushpen Sarkar and Kamal Bhattacharya, a few others also felt it important to mention the name of Premangshu Chatterjee in the same bracket. Although Chatterjee was a later recruit, there is very little evidence that I could find about his life as a commentator other than passing mentions in interviews. 6 The Bhadralok is usually used to refer to the upper caste Hindu community of Bengal. The understanding of the Bhadralok (respectable people) emerged as an internal movement of social reform against what was considered the unmasculine Babus of Calcutta. In that light, educated Bengali men took to the physical arena of competitive sport. See, Chatterjee (2012, 292–293).

214  Rohan Sengupta

of iconicity. For my interlocutors, commentary was about storytelling and they imagined themselves as raconteurs. Most of my interviews took place in their respective living rooms. They would often show me their pictures with famous footballers, letters written to them from different parts of the state by fans and other souvenirs to drive home the point about their popularity. However, the construction of this iconicity was also intimately tied to describing the game as one that is sanitized through languages of merit and competence. Mediating such forms of technical competence (both on the field with respect to players and off the field with respect to their narrations on the radio) were instrumental in shaping the grammar of sporting merit in this context. This grammar undergirds the larger practice that I have detailed below. How, then, does this grammar of sporting merit acquire its political life? Scholars of media history in South Asia have explained the role of state-controlled media infrastructures in shaping national identities (see Breckenridge 1995; Jeffrey 2000; Rajagopal 2001). Deployed by Central government to champion integrative tendencies within the political purview of nation states, these infrastructures have predominantly attempted to define nationalism in terms of languages—the Persianized Urdu of Radio Pakistan, the Sanskritized Hindi of All India Radio and the Bengali of Radio Bangladesh, which differs in many respects from the Bangla broadcast of Akashbani Bhawan, Kolkata (see William Crawley and David Page 2001). Similarly, scholars have flagged the different markers of what they have called ‘regional’ affiliation—primarily along the lines of religious, caste and class identities.7 Contemporary political movements have also oscillated around the term but almost always in relation to the nation-state. The declining hegemony of the Congress party at a regional level was perhaps the biggest marker of disintegration for the ‘nation-building’ rhetoric. By 1977, when the Congress Party was defeated for the first time at the national level at the end of Emergency, the authoritarian populism of Indira Gandhi’s stint had proved to be a political failure. 7 There have been far too many studies on different conceptions of the ‘region’ within historical and anthropological scholarship on South Asia. See Zutshi (2003); Deshpande (2013); Talbot (2001); Mitchell (2010).

Lives of Voice  215

By the early 1980s, a series of powerful regional secessionist movements that had gripped the country not only indicated political fragmentation at the national level but provided enough evidence to think that the ‘regional’ was emerging as a legitimate terrain within which politics could be thought of and debated. The account of sporting merit was, therefore, constructed as part of such broader movements and forces. Nonetheless, commentary’s significance in the Bengali public sphere is best understood as foregrounding of a public culture vis-à-vis language-based mediation.8 The question of media policy also reproduced to the political tension within a simplistic ‘nation versus region’ framework. At the level of communication policies, there were two major reports that raised considerable debate on questions concerning autonomy of the AIR directly, and the clearly defined roles it would play in terms of broadcasting. The first was the Committee on Broadcasting and Information Media, popularly known as the Chanda Committee, constituted in December 1964, presenting the Report on Radio and Television in April 1966 (see V. S. Gupta 1995, 48–53). The committee recommended that Akashvani and Doordarshan should be set up under separate corporations, each having its own methods of recruitment, regulation of scales of pay and conditions of service based on respective needs. The second was the Working Group on Autonomy for Akashvani and Doordarshan, otherwise known as the Verghese Committee, appointed in August 1977, that submitted its Report to the government in February 1978. Considered a landmark document on the aspect of granting autonomy to electronic media, there were a number of recommendations put forward to the government, of which the prime one was the setting up of Akash Bharati: the National Broadcast Trust, under which Akashvani and Doordarshan would function. At the same time, the rejection of autonomous regional corporations was envisioned with a ‘decentralized national broadcasting By ‘Bengali Public Sphere’ I am referring to the social and cultural space of circulation in which Bangla commentary was most widely heard. Language as a means of asserting this cultural space is important. For a more elaborate account of how language becomes an instrument to chart the contours of a new nation, see Orsini (2002). 8

216  Rohan Sengupta

authority’ (ibid). The nation-building hypothesis was foregrounded not merely in terms of cultural invasion or broadcasting regulation but equally by demarcating a distinction between the regional and the national, even at the level of policy. The institutions of television and radio were grappling with questions of autonomy from a policy point of view. In terms of mediation of the sport, however, we are faced with a very different story. To sum up then, let me recount the two strands of this story that are shaped by different registers of institutional aspirations. The first is concerned with the project of Bengali commentary that was conceived as a novel shift away from English language-based commentary to its vernacular counterpart. Here, the motivation on the part of the commentators was in describing the game as iconic: but one whose iconicity was shaped by the voice of the commentator, the stylistic repertoires and invoking a sporting merit. The question of caste is persistent here, and in the next section I will describe the specifics of it. The second strand is concerned with the broader political context within which this project saw its heyday. Radio commentary at the time felt far removed from the ‘nation versus region’ paradigm against which media bodies were defining themselves. The very fact that Bengali sports commentary could foreground itself not necessarily in opposition to the nation but despite it, is not insignificant. At a time when radio broadcast was concerned with producing a nationally defined public affect in the fields of agriculture, economic policies, political propaganda and music, vernacular sports commentary was instrumental in charting a sanitized form of merit that has so far been overlooked by historians and anthropologists of media in India.

The Sensationalism in and of Commentary: Interplays of Caste and Language In this section, I will detail what I mean by notions of sporting merit and try to write about the larger political implications of describing the sporting field of play as such. Given the paucity of space, it will not be possible for me to get into a detailed semiotic analysis of commentary. Instead, I shall provide transcriptions of excerpts from larger audio clips and their respective translations. The intention is to show

Lives of Voice  217

how vocal transmissions of the athletic and the sanitized sporting body is intimately tied to the commentator’s own self-fashioning as icons. A reminder here about the iconicity of the commentator is also a reminder of the upper caste linguistic world’s prevalence in the public sphere. Consider for instance, the following passages. Achinta’r kach theke Monoranjan. Monoranjan paye ball pawa matro sobuj gallery ekta uchchhase ulloshito hoye uthlo karon dirghodin tini chhilen shotrushibire. Ebare Mohun Bagan ey ashar phole shombhobhoto onake ghire Mohun Bagan er onuragi dol onek rokom swapno dekhchen ebong kolpona korchen. Shomorthokera kintu taderkaaj kore jachchhen jaatey Monoranjan k uthsahito kora jaye. Achintya passes it on to Monoranjan. As soon as Monoranjan receives the ball, the gallery of Mohun Bagan supporters in green break into a jubilant cheer because Monoranjan was very much a part of the rivals, prior to this. Now that he has joined Mohun Bagan, so many supporters of Mohun Bagan have put their faith in him. The supporters are doing their bit by cheering him on. 9 Tanumoy ball ta shundor shajalen. Bariye dilen. Tarpor ball ti pherot pelen. Ebar volley. Center line er kaach borabor; peyechilen Sanjib kintu dhore rakhte paren ni. Ekhono porjonto jake bola hoy ghatanatmak procheshta, diye niye khela, ebong akromon ke sarthok kore tolar maphik buddhidipto proyashta bodhoy bishesh dekhte pawa jayeni. Tanumoy places the ball beautifully and passes it forward. He receives it back. He sends a volley almost near the centre circle. Sanjib could not control the ball. Thus far, there has been a lack of constructive attempt on the part of the teams, a lack of one-two’s and quick passing. The lack of intelligent play has resulted in the dearth of these constructive attacking moves. 10

These clips detail the interactive relationships between the players and the spectators on the field as one of the most important tropes of 9 Commentary file of Mohun Bagan versus Kalighat Club; Super Division Football League, 17 June 1991; retrieved from Akashbani Studio Listening Room, 1 March 2018; 5:20 pm. 10 Commentary file of Mohun Bagan versus Port Trust, unknown; Retrieved from Akashbani Studio Listening Room, 3 March; 4:10 pm.

218  Rohan Sengupta

commentary on the radio. Acquainting the player in question, and his temperament to be able to play the sport at the highest level with the listening public, is considered extremely important in commentary. Such an acquainting is not merely in terms of ensuring that listeners know which player is on the ball at which point, but also to present an extremely cogitative account of the sporting capabilities of the player in question. The reassurance that commentators extend to the listening public is precisely a part of this celebratory eulogizing of players as individuals who instil hope and faith. The fact that the player in question has already represented another club (in the first clip) at the same level lends further credence to the player’s ability. This eulogizing, interestingly, often turned inwards when it is the commentator who deciphers what it might mean to play responsibly. Consider for example, the manner in which he talks about the responsibility with which Abhijit plays, and his anticipation of what the crowd expects from him. This is the thread that he pulls to effectively cobble the expectations of the spectators and the performance of the player, presenting it as an interactive engagement to a larger listening audience. Hence, the lack of quick passing, intelligent play and constructive moves reflects the persistence of the player in a match that lacks quality and the aesthetic appeal. It is within the internal logic of commentary that the melodramatic becomes important to eulogize play, the sanitized body, the lack of touch and, therefore, the relationship with the game itself. By melodrama, then, I am primarily referring to the nature of sensationalism associated with commentary that heightens the experience of not just the match itself but also the experience of listening to it. This sensationalism, expressed through words, pitch and sounds, remain firmly rooted in its task to reformulate the field of play as a zone of iconic calibration—one in which the commentators become mediators in being able to ‘bring in’ the listening audience within the folds of the live match through detailed description, yet rearticulating the sociological imaginary of the ‘on field spectators’ and off the field ‘listeners’, implying the literal and metaphorical distance between the two. This tendency is replete in commentary, allowing for its past to be remembered through phrases that are rather sensational themselves. What this calibration allows for is the commentator himself being a figure of great reverence in the public view.

Lives of Voice  219

Another crucial signalling of the aspirational sporting body in play would be the body ‘jaake chowa jayeni’/’jaake chute pareni keu’—literally translatable to ‘someone who could not be touched’ or ‘someone who nobody else could touch’, referring to the technical superiority of the untouched body. These are phrases that are used in zest in colloquial parlance in reference to the sport to this day. Here, ‘touch’ and its spoken connotations reverse the dominant intention of associating a lack of touch with social exclusion rooted in social practices of untouchability.11 But this is not to say that either untouchability or the implied casteism of equating the sanitized body disappears in the case of commentary. Instead, the trope reconfigures questions of touch and the figure of the body, in relation to the sporting field of play. Recall that Bangla commentary was often spoken of as a ‘regional assertion’ and not necessarily a nationalist one. But if such assertive practices are reliant on the sanitized body that cannot be touched—including other linguistic expressions that have historically had the implied violence of caste by the upper caste intelligentsia—what kind of an ‘assertion’ are we dealing with in this case? What appeals to me about these claims is not whether they were indeed assertive or not—I take the claims seriously as a starting point. Quite telling, however, is the manner in which a distinctively upper caste vocabulary gains publicity within the public sphere. It is within this transmitted world of publicity that questions of the sporting merit of the game acquired a register that had its roots in language. This publicity is representative of the affective indices of caste—one where its life world is intimately tied into the grammar of the sport. Sociologists of sport often overlook such links while talking about how caste features within such institutions. There also exist evidence of commentators repeatedly using phrases such as ‘unchu jaater shot’ (superior form of shot) and ‘nichu maaner khela’ (inferior quality of match)—with standard implications of casteism. Intermittent references to Ramayana and Mahabharata are simultaneously symptomatic of a distinct Hindu-ness of imagination. Recurring examples such as this only go on to demonstrate the 11 For a detailed and theoretically fertile exposition of caste, and its relationship with touch (or the lack of it) and untouchability—including forms of expression, see Aniket Jaaware (2019).

220  Rohan Sengupta

analytical impetus of voice within what may generally be understood as the charismatic element of public performers. What is often referred to as ‘mass appeal’ may, therefore, be charted along such gradual practices of deploying a linguistic world wherein voices become the dominant mode of mediation, without necessarily a complete suspension of the visual or the tactile elements of sport.

The Voice of the Commentator: The Material and the Mediated In this final section of the essay, I want to briefly address the question of voice and how the human sensoria at large can anchor discussions around questions of power and caste. Analyses of the voice as an object of anthropological investigation speaks of the tension between their material and metaphorical registers—a tension reflected in ethnographic accounts on the category within traditions of linguistic anthropology.12 On the one hand, ‘voice’ is associated with regimes of political struggle such as anti-colonial nationalist movements, emergence of new democracies and the discourses of human rights. Discourses of power are central to these discussions. On the other hand, everyday uses of voice: finding one’s voice, or voicing concerns, have found a more commonsensical usage in the English language. During my interviews with numerous commentators, this question of voice would be a common theme that we would keep coming back to. Many would recount tales of going to the stadiums to sit on the galleries and watch footballers train so that they could identify idiosyncratic traits in their play that they would describe stylistically. What is crucial to the project of radio commentary in relation to voice is not merely this aesthetic-stylistic endeavour but how caste driven notions of merit found material expression in the Savarna voice. The circulation of the phrases within the public sphere was crucial in shaping ‘what the listeners wanted to hear’—as one of my interlocutors in AIR-K would claim. This rationale of the listeners wanting to hear only specific kinds of voices on the radio eventually determined selection protocols for 12 For a detailed account of voice and its theoretical treatment within the discipline of linguistic anthropology, see Amanda Weidman (2011).

Lives of Voice  221

people aspiring to become professional radio hosts and broadcasters. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate any document that maintained a systematic record of the commentators who were contracted to the institution. Yet, the rigorous selection criteria in terms of ‘voice trials’ of prospective broadcasters was spoken of almost unanimously by those associated with the institution. Technological mediation through sound reproduction on the radio (or the transistor in earlier days) is critical of matching voices with bodies and enumerating upon them as idealized and sanitized. The production of voices through objects such as microphones mediated through the transistors and the radio, both on and off the field of play, readily construct aspirational dimension of sport—often giving rise to new audiences and publics. Voicing of commentary was also invested in producing listening publics through more deliberate uses of a linguistic world that deliberately introduced forms of speaking that acquired a powerful social valence. The linguistic anthropologist Miyako Inoue, for example, calls this ‘reverse indexicality’: a process in which certain largely invented speech forms, rather than indexing pre-existing social groups, actually bring those groups into being (see Miyako Inoue 2006). Anthropologists who draw attention to voice as an analytical category often speak broadly about the relationship between questions of representation and voice under various conditions of political domination. Instead, I have tried to show how the maintenance of this domination rests upon invocation of caste, both in terms of its affective and material worlds simultaneously. They are disseminated through media and voice-based performance, giving rise to new forms of collective identities and ethics, affects and intimacies (see Charles Hirschkind 2006). Towards that end, I also found an interesting conceptual resonance in Bernard Bate’s study of political oratory in Madurai. Bate demonstrates how politicians in mid-20th century Tamil-speaking South India constituted a new authoritative subjectivity through specific oratorical styles. Evidently, political oratory was less about conveying meaning and information, and instead about political power through speeches delivered in public meetings and gatherings (Bernard Bate 2009). Much like political oratory (although quite distinguished from it at the same time), the task of commentary on the radio was as much about persuasion as it was

222  Rohan Sengupta

about the enunciations of an ideologically-driven political project. The socially privileged voices of the upper caste commentators chronicling the project of vernacular commentary on the Calcutta radio for close to six decades post-Independence, therefore, comes to stand in for an upper caste framing of the ‘regional’. While commonplace understandings of sport is one of inclusion, wherein the affective point of relay is the nation, vernacular commentary shaped a grammar of sporting merit that was hardly inspired by a nationalist ethos. I want to conclude by flagging the specific ethos of this unique practice of commentary that, as of today, is a significantly transformed reality. Despite vernacular commentary seeing almost negligible air time today (except Hindi), it helped consider both the sport and its professional practitioners as being constituted together within broader sociological imaginaries of political life. When I started out my fieldwork, I was not intellectually invested in thinking about this element of expertise that is often associated with other fields of everyday work-life in India. Much like any other institution in the country, this professional world was also deeply influenced by caste-based governing—both in hiring and the affective worlds it sought to pitch. Ironically, this lack of separation between the game and its mediation, between who describes and who listens to the commentary, what gets popularized through transmission and what does not, no longer remains an innocuous story of leisurely consumption that scholars of the sport would have us believe.

References Basu, Ajay. 1966. Math Theke Bolchi. Calcutta: Rooprekha Publishing. Bate, Bernard. 2009. Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic: Democratic Practice in South India. New York: Columbia University Press. Breckenridge, Carol, (ed.) 1995. Consuming Modernity: Public Culture in a South Asian World. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Chatterjee, Partha. 2012. The Black Hole of Empire: History of a Global Practice of Power. Ranikhet: Permanent Black. Cody, Francis. 2011. ‘Publics and Politics’. Annual Review of Anthropology 40 (1), 37–52. Crawley, William, and David Page. 2001. Satellites Over South Asia: Broadcasting Culture and the Public Interest. New Delhi and London: SAGE Publication.

Lives of Voice  223

Deshpande, Prachi, 2013. Creative Pasts: Historical memory and Identity in Western India, 1700–1960. New Delhi: Permanent Black. Gupta, V. S. 1995. Third Revolution in Indian Perspective: Contemporary Issues and Themes in Communication. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company. Hirschkind, Charles. 2006. The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics. New York. Columbia University Press. Inoue, Miyako. 2006. Vicarious Language: Gender and Linguistic Modernity in Japan. Berkeley, CA: California University Press. Jaaware, Aniket. 2019. Practicing Caste: On Touching and Not Touching. Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan. Jeffrey, Robin. 2000. India’s Newspaper Revolution: Capitalism, Politics and the Indian Language Press 1977–1999. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Mitchell, Lisa. 2009. Language, Emotion and Politics in South India: The Making of a Mother Tongue. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Mehta, Nalin, ( ed.) 2008. Television in India: Satellites, Politics and Cultural Change. London and New York: Routledge. Orsini, Francesca. 2002. The Hindi Public Sphere (1920–1940): Language and Literature in the Age of Nationalism. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Peters, John Durham. 1999. Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication. London: University of Chicago Press. Rajagopal, Arvind. 2001. Politics after Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ———. (2009).  The Indian Public Sphere: Readings in Media History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Talbot, Cynthia. 2001. Precolonial India in Practice: Society, Region and Identity in Medieval Andhra. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Weidman, Amanda. 2011. ‘Anthropology and the Voice’. Annual Review of Anthropology 3 (1), 37–51. Zutshi, Chitralekha. 2003. Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity and the Making of Kashmir. New Delhi. Permanent Black.

Section IV

Mediation, Negotiation and Re-appropriation of Caste

Chapter 13

Imagined Caste in Digital Banners of Tamil Nadu M. Suresh and V. Ratnamala

Introduction The digital banner is one of the most important visual media in Tamil Nadu. It can be considered as street media as the streets of Tamil Nadu are flooded with digital banners, which have become the part and parcel of Tamil culture. Whenever there is any celebration, the people have their own digital banners on the roadside. Here celebration includes marriages, housewarming ceremonies, village temple festivals, Pongal, puberty functions and many others. Digital refers to the digital technology, and banner refers to a long sign that is announcing or advertising something. So we can define digital banners as digitally made banners for the purpose of publicity. This is one of the pioneer studies on digital banner culture in Tamil Nadu in the field of mass communication. This study has analyzed how the intrapersonal communication happened while seeing or watching any images or moving images in roadsides in Tamil Nadu. The objectives of the studies are

228  M. Suresh and V. Ratnamala

as follows: To analyze how caste identities are constructed and negotiated through digital banners in Tamil Nadu. To study how the people celebrated leaders’ images as the caste leader or caste icon of their own caste. To understand the reason behind using weapon symbols, animal images, film stars images and colour in these banners. The researcher has utilized qualitative research method for data collocation, that is, ethnography research approach, for this study. The researcher has selected two main districts, Madurai and Tirunelveli (both cities are culturally important cities in Tamil Nadu). The researcher went around these two districts’ villages for data collections, and also visited digital banner creators and designers for this study. Collected photographs of the digital banners were documented, and they have been used for content analysis.

Background of the Study Media and Caste Caste still has significance in the Tamil society, and many business and organizations are named after a caste. People use the name of their caste in businesses to popularize their business. They use their caste identities in various places like their homes, shops, business areas, villages, on their T-shirts and many other things. The media is operating in the social setting and it will reflect the social reality. In India several studies have confirmed that caste is present in all visual, print and social media. A number of newspapers and magazines articles written by reputed journalists like Sainath, Siddharth Varadarajan, Kalpana Sharma, and Anand and the reportage of S. Viswanathan in the Frontline magazine are authenticated observations on the caste matters in the Indian media. In south Tamil Nadu, people are using their own caste symbols, figures, and personalities in digital banners that they exhibit for marriages, village festivals and family functions in their villages. The symbols of weapons, caste leader’s images and animals metaphorically represent the caste pride and valour and reinforce the dominance of that particular caste. The images of film stars are also used to represent their caste identity. The digital banner designers and the digital

Imagined Caste in Digital Banners of Tamil Nadu  229

banner consumers imagine the caste and manufacture the caste of the film actors based on their films. They also manufacture and imagine caste identities through the use of the images of film stars, animals, colours and the royal past. The researcher tried to explore four major caste identities from four important castes, Thevar, Vellalar, Yadav and Devendrakula Vellalar, in this study. The researcher has observed three kinds of identities: first is historical identity; second is political identity and third is caste identity. In Tamil Nadu, all three of these identities can be found among all caste groups in their digital banners. Here the historical identity refers to the use of images of kings who lived in the 16th century as one’s own caste symbol as well as using images of those who were fought and sacrificed their lives in the struggle against the British Government. The current generations people period are using those collected images and are claiming that they belonged to their own caste through the digital banners. Political identity, refers to the use of images of the political leaders who worked/are working for the social transformation of the caste, their economic development, defying the caste discrimination and championing their rights. Mostly the political identities used are of those who had worked in post-Independent India as a Member of Parliament, like B. R. Ambedkar, K. Kamarajar and Muthuramalinga Thevar. In this context, many of the leaders were killed and brutally murdered; they are considered as martyrs for their caste in Tamil Nadu and they later became an idol for their caste.

Construction of Thevar’s Caste Identities in the Digital Banners The Thevar community is one of the most dominant castes in southern Tamil Nadu; they wield most of the political power in the state. There are three major caste groups in the Thevar community— Agamudayar, Maravar and Kallar. They are collectively known as the Mukkulathor people and the Thevar. They consist of social groups that share a common myth of origin and claim to be a member of ancient important South Indian families (Muthulakshmi 1997).

230  M. Suresh and V. Ratnamala

Political Identities for Thevar Caste Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose1 is one of the political identities used for the Thevar community. He is omnipresent in all drawings, hoardings, cut-outs and digital banners of Thevar caste people. In Madurai, majority of the Thevar people names starts with Netaji. Some use Netaji as their surname, and in some cases, people name their social or political Group after him. For example, Netaji Peravai (Netaji Union), Netaji Auto Sangam (Netaji Auto Association) and Netaji Purachipadai (Netaji Revolutionary Army). The content analysis of the digital banners reveals that the Mukkulathor community has given equal space for Netaji and Muthuramalingam Thevar in their digital banners.

Image 13.1  The Banner has Displayed for Pasumpon Muthuramaling Thevar 105th Gooru Poja in Kaalavasal, Madurai Photo Credit: M. Suresh.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (23 January 1897–18 August 1945, presumed) known by the name Netaji (Hindi: respected leader) was an Indian revolutionary who led an Indian national political movement. Bose was one of the most prominent leaders in the Indian independence movement and is a legendary figure in India today. 1

Imagined Caste in Digital Banners of Tamil Nadu  231

Why do Thevar community people give equal space for Netaji? Netaji did not belong to the Thevar community. He was basically from West Bengal. But both Muthuramalingam Thevar and Netaji worked in the Forward Bloc Party at the all-India level. So majority of the Thevar community support Netaji. In 1939, Muthuramalingam Thevar met Subhas Chandra Bose during a Congress Session. Bose later quit Congress and formed the Forward Bloc, and Muthuramalingam Thevar was an ardent supporter who later became his lieutenant in the Madras Presidency. After the formation of the Forward Bloc, Bose had visited Madurai in 1939 (Srinivas and Kaali 2002). He is accepted as another political icon of the Thevar community in Tamil Nadu. We could see the images of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s and Muthuramalinga Thevar images exhibited by Thevar Caste groups. They also seldom use the image of Subash Chandra Bose in Army uniform. They never use any of his photographs in civilian dress as they want to reiterate his active participation in Indian freedom struggle. The Thevar community used to design their banners by displaying images of their leader Muthuramalingam2 Thevar (the icon of the Thevar community). The youngsters design his images in various styles. They display him like a Saint and God. They usually display his images posed sitting in a chair between two lions. The Thevar community use many different kinds of photos for different functions. For weddings, they show Muthuramalingam Thevar having a flower in his hand, which represent that he is welcoming everyone to the wedding. The digital banners studios have numerous photographs of Muthuramalingam Thevar; the customer chose what kind of pose/photos they wants to present, depending upon their functions. The people write things in the banner like ‘Thevar Veetu Kalyanam’ (Thevar family wedding function) and ‘Thevar Kottaiyil Manavizha’ (Thevar castle wedding).

2 Muthuramalingam Thevar was Member of the Indian Parliament. He later joined Netaji Subas Chanda Bose’s Forward Bloc Party. He was good orator and he died on 31 October 1963.

232  M. Suresh and V. Ratnamala

Historical Identities for Agamudayar Community Images pf the Maruthu brothers (Periya Maruthu and China Marudhu3) are widely used by most of the Agamudaiyar community, and they give important space for them in their digital banners. They often design their banners with the colour red ; the colour signifies danger and valour. The Maruthu brothers are known for their battle against British colonials. So youngsters normally use a red background for their banners. The Maruthu brothers’ images are designed with weapons like swords. Although there is no record confirming that the Maruthu brothers belonged to the Agamudayar community,

Image 13.2  The Banner has Displayed by South-Indian Forward Block Parties Youngsters with Images of Thevar and Maruthu Brothers in Chinnamanoor, Theni. Photo Credit: M. Suresh.

3 Agamudaiyar community in Tamil Nadu (one of the Thevar community in Mukkulathor).

Imagined Caste in Digital Banners of Tamil Nadu  233

they imagine them as their royal lineage. Arivalagan (28 years) who belongs to the Agamudayar community informed the researcher that Agamudaiyar community exhibits Maruthu brothers’ photographs in their banner as a sub-caste identity. Agamudayar caste is a part of Thevar caste, but more space is given to Maruthu brothers in their banners. The Maruthu brothers are the historical identities for the Agamudayar community, which shows their difference from the two other groups (Kallar and Maravar). All the Agamudayar people give first and foremost importance to Maruthu brothers’ images, and Muthuramalingam Thevar’s images are given secondary importance in their digital banners.

Identities of Vellalar Caste in the Digital Banners The common titular name Vellalar normally applies to Mudaliyar, Karkattar, Pillaimar, Kottai Pillaimar and Illathu Pillaimar in Tirunelveli district. They are believed to have migrated to this part of the state from Thondaimandalam. They claim that they are on par with the Brahmins in the caste hierarchy. They constitute over 9 per cent of the population in the Tirunelveli District. The term Vellalar means ‘Landlords’. The Vellalar community use the images of VOC as their caste icon and identity in their digital banners. Valliappan Olaganathan Chidambaram Pillai (1872–1936), popularly known by his initials, VOC, is also known as Kappalottiya Tamilan, ‘The Tamil Helmsman’ who had launched the first indigenous Indian shipping service between Tuticorin and Colombo with the Swedish Steam Navigation Company, competing against British ships. He actively participated in the Indian freedom struggle and he opposed the English colonials. The digital banner was displayed for the V. O. Chithambaram Pillai’s Gurupooja in Tirunelveli. Every year on November 18, the birthday of late VOC, is celebrated as Gurupooja by the Vellalar community. His name has the Pillai title and because of that Pillai title, the Vellalar community claims VOC as Vellalar. The Vellalar community exhibit digital banners on certain occasions. In the earlier banner, there are three images of VOC and in the right and left

234  M. Suresh and V. Ratnamala

corner, Maruthanayagam Pillai’s4 images with his sword, riding a horse. There are images of three youngsters at the bottom of the digital banner. They have used the caste title Pillai and have used red, yellow and green colours in their names. The other given digital banner was designed for a Wedding function in Samayannallur near Madurai. The images of the bride and groom, and the friends of the groom who belongs to the VOC Youth Union were there in the digital banner. In this banner also, we can find VOC in the left corner and Maruthanayagam Pillai in the right corner.

Image 13.3  The Banner has Displayed by Vellalar Community People for Pongal Celebration, they have Designed with Images of VOC and Maruthanayagam in VOC Nagar, Madurai. Photo Credit: M. Suresh. 4 Muhammad Yusuf Khan (1725–15 October 1764) or Maruthanayagam (Maruthanayagam) Pillai was born in Pannaiyur, Ramanathapuram District, Tamil Nadu, India, in 1725. He was a warrior in the Arcot troops, and later Commandant for the British East India Company troops. The British and the Arcot Nawab used him to suppress the Polygars (Palayakkarar) in the south of Tamil Nadu. Later he was entrusted to rule the Madurai country when the Madurai Nayaks rule ended. Later a dispute arose with the British and Arco tNawab, and three of his associates were bribed to capture Yusuf Khan; he was hanged in 1764 in Madurai (Arjhun Srinivasan 2016).

Imagined Caste in Digital Banners of Tamil Nadu  235

The images of Velupillai Prabhakaran5 are also predominantly used by Vellalar community in the digital banners. Although he is of Sri Lankan Tamil origin, he is celebrated as a Vellalar hero because of his Pillai title. Instead of Tamil identity, they use Prabhakaran as their caste identity. In Tamil Nadu, the Vellalar community has claimed him to be of Vellalar community. The researcher found that Vellalar community banners are designed with VOC and Prabhakaran as their political and social leaders. Here it is interesting to note that VOC fought colonial British government and Prabhakaran fought for a separate Tamil nation in Sri Lanka. But here the Vellalar community is using their images only to show their caste pride and valour.

Konar Community (Yadavar) Caste in the Digital Banners Old records including the Tirunelveli District Gazette have noted Konar as Idayan. Numerically, it is a less populous caste in the district, but they are found distributed all over the district. In former days, the main occupation of this caste people was rearing cattle, particularly cows, and hence the name Idayan (shepherd). Besides this, they were engaged in agriculture work. Their main source of income was derived from dairy and agriculture. But now, like all other castes, the members of Konar caste are showing interest in education and taking up different occupations. The caste has also founded a string of educational institutions to patronize the educational needs of its members. The leaders of this caste successfully established a pan-Indian identity by joining hands with the popular north Indian caste of Yadav and rechristened their caste with the same name (Yadav) after Independence. Konar, Idaiyar or Tamil Yadavar is a caste from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is a sub-division of the Yadav community. In Madurai and Tirunelveli, most of the Konar community settled in villages and they also use caste identities in their banners. They are the worshippers of Lord Vishnu. The researcher found many digital 5 Velupillai Prabhakaran (54 years), the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who was declared killed by the Sri Lankan government on 18 May 2009 had decades to think about how his end would come.

236  M. Suresh and V. Ratnamala

Image 13.4  The Banner has Displayed by Konar Community. It Designed with Images of Lord Krishna and Azhagumuthukon, Meenachipuram, Rajapalayam. Photo Credit: M. Suresh.

banners designed with the god Krishna in their digital banners. They are using the Lord Krishna images as their caste code in their digital banners. They are also using the historical identity of Maveeran Alagumuthu Kone’s6 (1710–1759) images in the later-shown banner designed and displayed in Meenachipuram village near Tirunelveli. The design has Lord Krishna at left corner and Alagumuthu Kone at right corner of the banner. The banners found in the field visit reveals that the Konar community is using Devanathan Yadav and Gurusamy Yadav in their digital banners. Devanathan Yadav is the leader of the Indian People’s Education Development Party and owner of the Tamil Television channel Win TV. The Gurusamy Yadav was murdered by unknown persons in Sankaran Kovil. After his death the Yadavar community hails him as a local hero and they design digital banners with his images. 6 He was born in Kattalankulam village in Tirunelveli district. He became a military leader in the town of Ettayapuram, and was defeated in battle there against the British and Maruthanayagam’s forces and executed in 1759.

Imagined Caste in Digital Banners of Tamil Nadu  237

Lord Krishna is symbolic representation of the caste of Yadavar,7 The people of Yadav/Konar caste use the photo of Lord Krishna in their banners. They celebrate the Krishna Jayanthi festival (birthday of Lord Krishna) in a grand manner. The Yadav community displayed many banners in their family functions in all over Tamil Nadu. They have they own digital banners studios in Madurai, Tirunelveli and Sankarankovil.

Devendrakula Vellalar Caste in the Digital Banners The researcher starts with a brief introduction of the history of Devendrakula Vellalar. Devendrakula is the name of a caste in Tamil Nadu. The members of the caste claim that they are the descendants of Lord Indira and the King of the Devas. They are also called as Pallars and they belong to a scheduled caste. The Pallars are mostly agricultural labourers. Their name is said to be derived from Pallam (crater land), a pit in which they stood when the castes were originally formed. It is also said to be derived from low ground or wet cultivation in which they are experts. Devendrakula, Kadianan, Kaladi, Kudumbar and Pannadi are the sub-divisions of the Pallar. The people are living in and around Madurai village and the majority lives in Thirumagalam, Alanganallur, Vadipatti and Avaniyapuram in the Madurai region. The people display digital banners for their home functions in their villages. The people normally show the digital banners with caste identities. The Pallar community desperate to be delisted from Scheduled Caste category and aspires to be OBCs. They use the images of the Chola King, Raja Raja Cholan and Pandian King to claim a royal past. They coin slogans like to be unique from the other banners. The digital banner users design and self-portray themselves as the descendants of royal past. In Tamil Nadu, the Devendrakula Vellalar community display the images of Rajaraja Cholan, King Pandia and lord Indiran in their wall posters and digital banners. 7 Yadavar belong to Vishnu Kotra. They were shepherd community people (Aayar). They worship lord Krishna.

238  M. Suresh and V. Ratnamala

Historical Identity for Devendrakula Vellalar Veeran Sundara Lingam was one of the earliest freedom fighters of India against the British. He and his fiancée, Shanmuga Vadivu, fought against British government, and sacrificed their soul and martyrdom for the liberation of their country. The Devendrakula Vellalar community used his images as their historical identity in their digital banners. In every village, we can see his images in the Devendrakula Vellalar community area’s digital banners. The people used his images in wall posters, murals and digital banners in public places. The Devendrakula Vellalar people worship his images in their homes and kept his photos in their pooja room. In Tirunelveli and Madurai, people request the designer to design their banners with images of Sundaralinganar. When the researcher asked why the community used his image in their digital banner, one of the interviewees Murugan (28 years) from Avaniyapuram said, ‘Sundaralinganar represents the historical identity of Devendrakula Vellalars. So we should remember his contribution and celebrate his

Image 13.5  The Banner has Displayed by Devendrakula Vellalar Community. It Designed with Images of Immanuel Sekaran, Seelayampatti, Theni. Photo Credit: M. Suresh.

Imagined Caste in Digital Banners of Tamil Nadu  239

birthday and death anniversary lavishly. If not Devendrakula people celebrate Sundaralingam, then who will celebrate him?’ Accordingly, digital banners are one of the media used for displaying and popularizing his images in the public places and disseminating his valour of fighting for the liberation from British colonizers. He is celebrated as the pride of their caste.

Political Identities for Devendrakula Vellalar During the colonial period of the 1930s, Ramanathapuram district was known to be notorious for caste violence and caste discrimination. Dalits were systematically denied equal opportunities and status. J. H. Hutton, the then census commissioner, in his book Caste in India: Its Nature, Function and Origin, discussed the inhumane treatment of Dalits by the dominant castes in Ramanathapuram district. Immanuel Sekaran,8 born in Ramanathapuram district, was murdered by the Hindus caste. He participated in the Quit India Movement at the age of 18 and was imprisoned for three months by the British government. In 1945, he joined the Indian Army as a Major. After serving the Army for few years, he returned to Paramakudi to be Youth Congress leader. He worked towards uplifting the Dalits and organized the Annihilation of Caste Conference in Madurai. He persistently fought against the discrimination of Dalits by other communities in the region. He was actively involved in the depressed classes’ movement in and around his native villages, and he propagated the importance of education among Dalits and raised awareness to fight against oppression. On 11 September 1957, Immanuel Sekaran, who returned to Paraiyar village, was attacked by the Maravars and was murdered by them. This led to the Mudukulathoor riot. The then chief minister of Tamil Nadum K. Kamaraj, immediately arrested Muthuramalingam Thevar and all the Maravars who were responsible for the riots. After this incident, Thevar and Devendrakula community still continue the cold war in many villages. Both Muthuramalingam Thevar and 8 Immanuel Sekaran was born to Vedhanayagam, a school teacher and founder of Devendrakula Vellalar Sangam, on 9 October 1924 in Sellur village in Mudukulathoor Kalavaram, Ramanathapuram.

240  M. Suresh and V. Ratnamala

Immanuel Sekaran have their memorial grounds in this district. Today there is a memorial place for Immanuel Sekaran at Paramakudi in southern Tamil Nadu. Every year, Devendrakula Vellalars celebrate his Gurupooja in Paramakudi. Most of the Devendrakula Vellalars put up their digital banners with Immanuel Sekaran’s images on his Gurupooja. The researcher met Devendrakula youngsters at Ramayampatti village in Tirunelveli. A University student named Ilango (25 years) said: ‘We offer our gratitude to Immanuel Sekaran because he fought against the caste discrimination of our people during the 1950s. He had sacrificed his entire life for uplifting the Devendrakula Vellalars and other marginalized communities of Southern Tamil Nadu. If we display the digital banners with the images of Immanuel Sekaran, then other community will also learn his sacrifice for the community. Nevertheless, the image of Immanuel Sekaran image can bring solidarity and unity among Devendrakula Vellalars.

Throughout Tamil Nadu, Devendrakula Vellalars gather in unison in the name of Immanuel Sekaran. He is one of the icons of the Devendrakula Vellalar community. Every year on September 11, thousands and thousands of people gather in Paramakudi to offer homage to Immanuel Sekaran.

Social Identities for Devendrakula Vellalar The Devendrakula Vellalar community also displays some intellectuals in their digital banners. The people re-construct their past history through using these intellectuals’ images in the banners. R. Deva Asirvatham,9 a noted researcher who contributed much literary work for the community. According to him, the word Pallar first appeared in the Pallu literatures, which were published in the 17th century. Recently the Pallars are being called as Mallar and Devendrakula Vellalarar and are claiming them to be the inheritors of Moovendar. He was a retired deputy collector and Pallar by birth, and he published a book called Moovendar Yaar (Who are three monarchs?). He discussed in this book that the Pallar lived in the tracts of Marutham land (the agricultural land) where the institutions of state and family emerged. 9

Imagined Caste in Digital Banners of Tamil Nadu  241

In another book Asirvatham analyzed the Vellalars and identified the Vellalars as an agrarian caste who are similar to the Pallars. The Vellalar caste is given importance next to Brahmins in the caste hierarchical structure of Tamil Nadu. Thus, this work of Asirvatham threatens the positions of the Vellalar. He wrote in his book that ‘Devendrakula Vellalars are the heirs of three monarchs: the Chera, Chola and Pandya’. In this perspective, the Pallar people designed their banners in the name of Devendrakula and Mallar Vamsam. His book and works inspires and give awareness to the upcoming generation of Pallar community (Senthil Mallar 2015). Devaneya Pavanar,10 a Tamil professor, belongs to the Pallar community. In certain Tamil books, they note that Devaneya Pavanar belonged to the Thevar community. Devaneya Pavanar’s photos and images are used in Pallar community’s’ digital banners but not in Thevar community’s banners. Thekkampaati Balasundaraj11 designed the flag for the political identities of Pallar in the year 1924, using two colours—green and red. He had explained the meaning of the flag colours. Green represents agriculture and red represents war (fight for their rights). He organized a mega political conference in Kottur, Theni (Interview: Senthil Mallar 2018). Karuppasamy (35 years), Kovilpatti, Thuthukudi district, said that Thekkampatti Balasudaraj was one of the revolutionaries of the Devendrakula Vellalar community. He created the flag for the Devendrakula community. We can see the green and red flag mainly because of his relentless work. 10 Devaneya Pavanar was born on 7 February 1902 in Sankaranayinarkoil, Tirunelveli, in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. He is an author, writer; activist & poet. He began his professional career as a teacher and served his services in several high schools from 1922 to 1944. He then went on to become a Tamil professor, and served at Municipal College, Salem, from 1944 to 1956. He then served as the head of Dravidian department at Annamalai University from 1956 to 1961. He was an associate of the Tamil Development and Research Council, which was founded by the Nehru government in the year 1959. 11 Thekkampaati Balasundaraj was born in Thekkampatti, Theni District. He was the founder of The Unity of Devendrakula Vellalar people (Devendrakula Vellalar Kuttamaibu).

242  M. Suresh and V. Ratnamala

Political Identity for the Devendrakula Vellalar Dr Krishnaswamy, the leader of Puthiya Tamizhagam, struggled a lot for social equality and fought to capture political power. He formed a political party, Puthiya Tamizhagam (New Tamil Nadu), in 1998 and his party contested in 16 Parliament constituencies. Krishnaswamy himself contested in the Tenkasi constituency. He is one of the prominent political leaders of Devendrakula Vellalar community and he had won assembly elections twice in Tamil Nadu. He participated and protested for Dalit developments, and conducted many conferences for the Devendrakula Vellalar community. There was an incident where he went to Manjolai estate, which comes under his constituency, for election campaign. The workers of Devendrakula (Pallar), Parayar and other communities shared their grievances and asked him to release them from their sufferings. Dr Krishnaswamy wanted his caste to emerge from the schedule caste and into the most backward class. He had criticized both the DMK and AIADMK for supressing the rights of Devendrakula Vellalar. He had stated in the Puthiya Tamilagam conference that the community had a strong resolution to move out from the list of scheduled castes. He has insisted that it was a fight against an ‘imposed’ identity and for reclaiming the history of the community, and had mentioned a few important things about identities. He said that, ‘We, the Pallar community want social, economic and political equality’, because the Devendrakula Vellalars has a great history, similar to that of the upper class. Dr Krishnaswamy mentioned that caste identities are people’s pride and subduing in the name of caste identity is against the principles of human rights. According to him, caste identity is not a problem and the discrimination on the basis of caste identity is the real problem. His theory reveals that the caste will never be annihilated from society. So everyone should be proud of their caste identities, which will later drag them out from the label of untouchability. Nevertheless, he said: I am not saying that Devendrakula Vellalar is superior to others; we are neither superior nor inferior to anyone. We are just trying to reclaim our identity. This movement will be an eye opener for

Imagined Caste in Digital Banners of Tamil Nadu  243

the community, the identity is very important to everyone, which says who I am? in this society.

Many youngsters read and seek their caste identities from books and by studying the history of the states, identity is a vital and powerful tool for them to prove their caste superiority among other community.

Findings and Conclusion Digital banners are a democratic media, and all are having the access and freedom to put up digital banners irrespective of their caste. The digital banner is used for the publicity of their caste identities and caste pride. The people are using their caste symbols, figures and personalities in any kind of digital banners, which they exhibit for marriages, village festivals and family functions. The symbols of weapons, caste leader’s images and animals metaphorically represent the caste pride and valour and reinforce the dominance of that particular caste. People use banners to silently warn the other caste people. They write slogans like ‘Payamariyathavan boys’ (fearless boys) and ‘Kettavan groups’ (notorious group) to stand out from the other banners. The digital banner users are doing designing and portrayed their images as a Descendant ruler family (Aandaparamparai). The Dalits used to assert their rights and freedom, but caste Hindus could not digest their assertion and it led to caste conflict. The review of the literature reveals that caste is ubiquitous in majority of media. The Dalits have little space in the mainstream media. The beauty of the digital banners is that it is used and accessed by all, irrespective of their caste and creed. We can call it a democratic space for all common people. But this democratic space is also used for the publicity of caste identities and caste pride in south Tamil Nadu. The people are using their caste symbols, figures, and personalities in any kind of digital banners, which they exhibit for marriages, village festivals and family functions. They also include the identity of political party to which they belong to in their banner’s. Today the banners have become the board to announce the caste identity. In Tamil Nadu, there are separate political leaders for each

244  M. Suresh and V. Ratnamala

caste. Today, most of the Tamil films come out based on caste. So people celebrate the character that reparation a particular community of the film as caste identity. The banner designers design the banners with caste representations. Thevar community use the images of lion and Dalits use the images of panther in their digital banners respectively. In 2018, the Government of Tamil Nadu prohibited and restricted the use of caste symbols in banners. The ones who consider their caste as a source of pride design banners that hurt the feeling of other people of the caste. They are frequently warned by the police because these communal clashes are to be kept under control. Colour plays a vital role in digital banners. The Dalits predominantly use blue and red colours that symbolizes the Viduthalai Siruthaigal Party flag. Thevar community predominantly uses red and yellow in their digital banners, which symbolizes the All India Forward Bloc. Devendirakula Vellalar community uses green and red colour in their banners, which symbolizes the Puthiya Thamizhagam Party flag. Most of the community people use designs with lion symbols in their banners. The lion symbolizes the caste valour, power and dominance. Original pictures are not used in the digital banners. The original pictures of the historical and political icons are very old and are in black and white; the designers did colour correction and retouching of the pictures. After the photo editing, all the photographs look very different from the original ones. The vintage photos are designed as very colourful to satisfy the customers. The Dalits never display their banners in Hindus’ caste street, but the Hindu caste has the access and freedom to display their banners anywhere in their locality. People use banners to silently warn the other caste people. Particular caste people use the images of weapons like knifes and rude lions to frighten the other caste people. In retaliation, other people also display a banner to silently record their protest. The symbols of weapons, caste leaders’ photo and lions metaphorically represent that the particular caste is dominant. How much ever the world becomes technological and modern, the people still not able to erase the shadow of caste in their daily life. Same is the case with banners too.

Imagined Caste in Digital Banners of Tamil Nadu  245

Manufacturing Caste and Imagining caste The digital banner designers and the digital banner consumers imagine the caste and manufacture the caste of the film actors based on their films. They also manufacture and imagine caste identities through the use of the images of film stars, animals, colours and the royal past. All the communities tend to have a royal lineage. The digital banners intend to romanticize the caste pride and valour. Also, the data reveals that we cannot see two caste identities in the same banner. The field study confirms the presence of singular caste identity in the digital banners.

Celebration of Endogamy The caste society thrives on endogamy, and love marriages are considered as a threat to the reputation and honour of the particular caste. Caste, endogamy and gender are inseparable. The caste system requires the oppression of women to be viable, and punishments for violations of endogamy are more severe for women than they are for men (Bidner and Eswaran 2015). The digital banners celebrate endogamy, that is, intra-caste marriages. The field study hardly finds any digital banners on inter-caste marriages. Tamil Nadu is known for its honour killings, and there is absence of digital banners on inter-caste marriages. The intercaste marriages are not socially accepted, and love marriages used to be secretly in temples or registrar offices. Also, there are rarely any extravagant inter-caste weddings.

Need to Problematize Caste in Digital Banners The Dravidian politics, although lead to the shedding of caste titles in the names, has not annihilated the caste in Tamil society. The Dravidian politics that popularized self-respect marriages and inter caste dining has not withered the caste from the Tamil society. The digital banners are the mirrors of Tamil society. It mirrors the presence of caste in Tamil society. The common man is celebrating his

246  M. Suresh and V. Ratnamala

caste and wants to reiterate the manufactured caste pride and valour through the digital banners. Only in the obituary digital banners the caste pride and valour is not exaggerated. But they are using the caste titles in the obituary digital banners. So the caste is omnipresent, and us fabric of the culture starting from birth to death, and the digital banners are overrated representation of caste in Tamil Nadu.

References Ambedkar, B. R. 1916. Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development. New Delhi: The Awami Press. Albertha, A. Kaal. 2012. Metaphor in Conversation. Vrije Universitesit: Uitgeverij Box Press. Anderson, Benedict. 2006. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso. Arnheim, Rudolf. 1969. Visual Thinking. Berkley, CA: University of California Press. Balasubramaniam. J. 2010. Dalits and a Lack of Diversity in the News room. Economic & Political Weekly, 1–3. Banks, Marcus. 2001. Visual Methods in Social Research. London: SAGE Publications. Bate, Bernard. 2009. Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic: Democratic Practice in South India. New York: Columbia University Press. Bidner C. and Eswaran M. 2012. A Gender – Based Theory of the Origin of the Caste System of India. Published in University of New South Wales. ———. 2015. ‘A gender-based theory of the origin of the caste system of India’. Journal of Development Economics, 114, 142–158. Caldarola, Victor J. 1985. ‘Visual Contexts: A Photographic Research Method in Anthropology’. Srudies in Visual Communication, 11 (3), 33–53. Carey, James W. 2009. Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. New York: Routledge, 243–248. Celarent, Barbara. 1932. Caste and Race in India by Ghurye. G.S. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Christopher, Pinney. 1997. Camera Indica: The Social Life of Indian Photographs. London: Reaktion. Dwyer, Rache and Divya Patel. 2002. Cinema India: The Visual Culture of Hindi Filml. London: Rutgers University Press. Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. Gerristsen, Roos. 2013. ‘Canvases of Political Competition; Images Production as Politics in Tamilnadu, India’. Ethnos, 79 (4), Germany: Heidelberg University: ———. 2012. Fandom on display: intimate, visualities and the politics of spectacle [Doctoral dissertation, Leiden University, Netherlands].

Imagined Caste in Digital Banners of Tamil Nadu  247

Gorringe Hugo. 2017. Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste and Political Power in South India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Innis, Harold A. 1951. The Bias of Communication (with new introduction in 1999). Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data. Jacob, Preminda. 2010. Celluloid Deities: The Visual Culture of Cinema and Politics in South India. Uninted Kingdom: Lexington Books. Jenkins, Richard. 1996. Social Identity. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Kumar, Keval. J. 2010. Mass Communication in India. New Delhi: Jaico Publishing House. Hughes, Melisha. L. 2009. Street Art & Graffiti Art: Developing an Understanding. Atlanta: Art and Design Theses: Georgia State University. Laswell, Harold. 1948. ‘The Structure and Function of Communication in Society’. In The Communication of Ideas. edited nu Bryson Lymans. New York: Harper & Row. Lefevre, Henri. (1974) 1991. The Production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell. Mallar Senthil. 2015. Meedelum Pandiya Varalaru, Publication: Tamil Cultural Research Institute. ———. 2018. Devendrakula Velalar’s identities in Digital Banner. (Suresh, Interviewer) Mines, Mattison. 1994. Public Faces, Private Voices: Community and Individuality in South India. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Muthulakashmi R. 1997. Female Infanticide, Its Causes and Solutions. New Delhi: Discovery Publishing. Pandian, Jacob. 1987. Caste, Nationalism, and Ethnicity: An Interpretation of Tamil Cultural History and Social Order. Bombay: Popular Prakashan. Pandian, Andand. 2005. ‘Securing the Rural Citizen: The Anti-Kallar Movement of 1896’. Indian Economic and Social History Review, 42(1), 1–39. Pandian, M. S. S. 1992. The Image Trap: M.G. Ramachadran in Film and Politics. New Delhi: SAGE Publication. Ratnamala, Vanamamalai. 2008. Media and Minorities: Media Representation of Dalits in Tamil Nadu. London: Lap Lambert Academic Publishing. Rekha, Murthy. 1996. ‘Street Media: Ambient Message in an Urban Space’. Comparative Media Studies, 5–127. Rose, Gillian. 2001. Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials. London: SAGE Publications. Srinivas, K. Ravi and Sundar Kaali. 1998. On Castes and Comedians: The Language of Power in Recent Tamil Cinema. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Susan, Hilligoss. 2003. Visual Communication: A Writer’s Guide. Clemson, SC: Clemson University Press. Vaasanthi. 2008. Cut-outs, Caste and Cine Stars: The World of Tamil Politics. New Delhi: Penguin Books. Velayutham, Selvaraj. 2008. Tamil Cinema: The Cuiltural Political of India’s Other Film Industry. London and New York: Routledge.

Chapter 14

Caste Identity, Communication and New Social Movement Ritu Sharma

Till the time there is caste I’ll use it for the benefit of my community. If you have a problem, end caste system.

The Supreme Court judgement observation ‘affluent and socially and economically advanced classes’ within the Dalit community are not allowing the benefits of reservation to ‘trickle down’ to the needy (May 2020). The discourse to limit the constitutional provision of caste reservation delves deep beyond theoretical reflections of social transformation in communicating social change. More so, reservation is a reflection of social representation and its ideological practice. The main focus here is to examine sustenance, that demands legitimacy (reservation), communicating the path of regressive political domination. The aim of this study is to explain emergent crises as an offshoot of post-modern space of disadvantage due to closed communication and exclusion. Hence, the hypothesis remains that despite the development paradigm of representation (reservation), caste-based differences are mobilized to weaken socio-economic empowerment by the ‘bourgeois’, demanding

Caste Identity, Communication and New Social Movement  249

hegemonic control of employment vis-à-vis occupation contrary to traditional times. Despite this, manual scavenging by the lower caste people was ‘institutionalized’ by the British during colonial urbanization and industrialization (Ramaswamy, 2005). Here, the aggression is expressed in the form of protests by the sweepers hailing from Harijan community. Using data from Rajasthan; and collecting empirical facts from recent recruitment of sweepers (safai karmachari, 2019) from ‘others’ (un)reserved castes challenged their vocational specialization based upon division of labour so far. Does employment in lower cadre guarantee economic affluence or social upliftment? Or does it bring equity in public jobs? This is the focal point of mediating caste as a ‘referential category’; as the lower castes used as frame of reference, that is, socio-economic subjugation-poverty. Otherwise, what is the need to discuss subaltern perspective in the light of new social movement? So, absolute claims on unclean employment (sarkari naukari) of untouchables communicates their socio-economic subalternity. This paper is different in three ways; first, (safai) karmachari applications by ‘all castes’ raised eyebrows in lieu of the benefits incurred in government jobs; second, the premise in itself interrogates the changing needs and requirements of the dominant castes, irrespective of the negative connotation attached to cleaning as occupation; and third, examining resilience against the inclusion and resistance of exclusion—ipso facto, required analysis. In their own wisdom, the Dalits opine the view that they ought to be thekedars (custodian) of swacchhata (cleanliness) based on vocation of their Aadhar Card and Swacchh Bharat (identity card). Therefore, resistance against political-patronage of the upper caste was seen as entitlement of ‘sarkari safai-karmachari’ in Rajasthan. Although the constitutional representation of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes’ (SC and ST)1 reservation was to eradicate their historical The term ‘Scheduled Castes’ has been used for the first time in the Government of India Act, 1933; Article 29 and 30 mandates certain quotas that are sometimes referred to as ‘Scheduled Castes’ and ‘Scheduled Tribes’, often ‘SC’ and ‘ST’. The term was accepted by Dr B. R. Ambedkar for a special recognition. The Scheduled Castes has a legal connotation, virtually more constitutional and less socio-economic, given to a cluster of castes and sub-castes that does not necessarily carry all the attributes of untouchability, but colloquially implying the same. An act to this effect known as Untouchability (Offences) Act 1955 was also enacted in Rajasthan. 1

250  Ritu Sharma

disability of long-standing inequality (article 16) only much later, the Other Backwards Castes (OBC) category was also included in the list. Nevertheless, the court rejected the plea in the aforementioned case: ‘no reservation can be given beyond the prescribed limit under the law’. Therefore, the only way to redeem social justice was to accept and abide the verdict by law to compete ‘fairly’ by competing cleaning skills in selection procedures with the other upper castes looked too strange.

Framework of the Study Based on the earlier premise of observation that, in turn, is based upon the collected facts and figures of assessing 5,000 to 6,000 applications invited for the vacancy opened for the want of ‘safai–karmachari’ required by the Municipal Corporation of Ajmer district in Rajasthan state in 2018. This also attracted attention because of the newspaper advertisement and its social media coverage; the matter drew attention on a vast scale. Manifold job applications came across within and outside Rajasthan, subject to economic benefits of ‘sarkari-naukari’ (LSG). Resultantly, there was much dissent from the Dalits, and the matter went to the court after an ugly feud between the Dalits and the municipal officials. The narrative followed the counter narrative of the urban space: Valmiki Samaj: Yeh hamara kaam hai, hum hi karenge. Municipal Officials: kisne kaha kanoon me nahin hai. Valmiki Samaj: Yeh hamara haq hai–hamare purkhe karte aaye hai. Hamari naukri hai–hum nahin denge kisi aur ko. Municipal Officials: Phir office ki seat chod do, who hamara kaam hai Valmiki Samaj: Hum choddenge to shahar ganda ho jaayega

‘Mahtars’, in colloquial dialect, perceived regression to their status from dominant castes on employment. The aggression was overt, proclaiming on absolute right (stakeholders) as sarkari-safaiwalas. The officials of municipal corporation (govt-office), thus expressed their anger by proclaiming authority challenging absolute right over their desk vis-à-vis sanitation jobs claimed by Dalits! Subsequently, the conflict went to the court and the judgement came in adverse to the expectations of the Dalits. The seats (50 per cent)

Caste Identity, Communication and New Social Movement  251

to be allotted to reserved (SC, ST and OBC) and the other 50 per cent for all the other castes after a four-week notice. However, over-qualified applications appeared (BA, MA, engineering and MBA), whereby only matriculation was required. Hence, the economic-political loss as reverse osmosis of the Harijans/untouchables were noticed. Moreover, the selection-cum-recruitment rules (18–35 years of age, two children, one marriage) were rare traits found in valmiki-samaj, and thus, ‘other castes’—Jats, Baniyas and Rajputs—were appointed on court order (50–50 per cent). Eventually, the upper castes outsourced ‘safai duty’ by hiring ‘zamandar’ (supervisor in Harijans) on 50 per cent commission and got themselves transferred to other departments’ posts (peons, babus, office boys) after completing a two-year probation period. Here, the structural feudal relationship of socio-economic nature is manipulated in post-liberal times. Further, analyzed qualification/ recruitment list and application form for ‘safai-shramik’ communicates contestation over lowest-ritual cadre of employment. Although, the final selection and shortlisting of candidates across all castes were executed irrespective of their socio-economic criteria that promote/ hinder the recruitment. Therefore, the empirical realities of inclusion of the ‘dominant-castes’ and exclusion impact of discrimination on the Dalits affects candidature of equity, and benefits compels investigation. The whole idea of nation as an imagined community positions ‘references of representation’ via ‘reservation’, and depicts state production of development. Hypothetically, the change is unchanging, wherein communities engage in the processes of continuous dynamism. Inquisitive questions such as ‘What kind of development does reservation brings to the lives, significantly for minorities on the margins of society (the Dalits/adivasis and the backward castes)? How do they explore new codes of conduct via political, social and economic movements? The advertisement for recruitment of ‘safai karmacharis’ (sweeping jobs) had mixed reactions in the society, which got open for any/all social category of populations. Consequently, this incited a massive protest by ‘valmiki–samaj ’ (a Dalit community) towards dominant caste-confronted state. However, this was taken as subversion of the Dalits, and an encroachment on their livelihood and lifeworld as governed by logically controlled and socially produced practices in prevailing mode of production in the social system. This outcome does not obviously have to arise in all the villages and between all the castes.

252  Ritu Sharma

This might be due to the problems faced during implementation of reservations from various spheres (Thorat, 2007).The high population act as barriers for people finding jobs, as there is huge competition. In light of denial of education to dalits, they have not been adequately prepared to compete with the others for jobs (Rao Jasmine 2010). This paper is different in three ways. Firstly, does it makes any claims to deconstruct a relationship as inherent or descriptive of constructing the reservation policy. Second, despite negative stigma attached to cleaning, open defecation interest of all castes is observed. Third, identity negotiation within democratic participation of allcastes attaching social significance to ‘sarkari naukari’. Therefore, the need arises to decode the dichotomy of employment versus occupation, theory versus practice and unclean versus clean castes so far. The integral focus is to understand the realities of material lifeworld by mainstreaming the marginalized sections of the society, subsequently locating the epicentre of struggles spatially and temporally in order to communicate a direct, proportionate relationship with identity and power struggles. Thus reflecting the state’s role in deciding ‘who is and who is not eligible, thereby making the need for the representation to be reframed not merely on inequality but inequality of opportunity. The social conflict situation arises as a result of aggressive behaviour towards the state and its agency (government), aggravated by differential treatment mediated by the New Social Movement (NSM). This perspective of resistance from dominant power centric groups violated norms for implementation of affirmative action for direct beneficiaries (Dalits). This reflects the modern economic subjugation contradictory to the consciousness of traditional times. Metaphorically, reform is the fundamental determinant communicating strong social relation, and vice versa—regardless of changing the connotations of domination and yet not guaranteeing equality of any kind. Despite reservation in employment is substantial; only 15% out of 66% has been provided by government whilst largest formal sector in India (Bagde 2016: 249). Therefore, this study squarely addresses the challenges and confrontations by coding versus decoding of meaningful connect, on the one hand, and the limits on the other hand, of counter social movement with the help of empirical data. The foreground discussions deal with multiple debates regarding the framework of discussion.

Caste Identity, Communication and New Social Movement  253

Hypothesis 1: The proclamation of ‘safai-karmachari’ is ‘Dalitization’ placed within the larger perspective of benefits accrued vis-à-vis restricting opportunities of inclusion in government jobs within the reservation politics. Hypothesis 2: The upper castes’ applications for safai-karmachari remains a negative correlation with stigma attached to unclean castes/ occupation. Hypothesis 3: The resistance of (un)reserved inter-castes is an indicator of dilution of reservation, despite the socio-economic change in attitude towards the Dalits. Hypothesis 4: Minimum eligibility criteria is a proposition of socioeconomic backwardness, despite reservation for the SCs—especially the ‘Untouchables’. This recruitment contradicted the constitutional promise inherent in division of labour present in everyday struggles of employment and survival. Thus, to introspect inspite of reservation, the marginalized been able to develop economically and socially. As, inequality can be a consequence of resistance empowered by ‘dominant caste’ still excludes the depressed group from prestigious jobs (Desai 2008; 246). The focus here is on the tripartite relationship of safai-karmachari intersecting socio-economic lifeworld of (LSG) municipal/government jobs that have been encroached by the dominant castes. Primarily, this insight is interpreted as a challenge to disentangle conventional categories without promoting adverse effects in specific ways. An obvious analysis of balance of forces with material conditions converge the direction predominantly for (new social) movements. This causal interpretation of conflict and insecurity restructures the socio-political framework of their movement. However, the study is not focusing on the forces that compelled the dominant castes to get associated with the (unclean or impure) jobs accorded low in prestige in social structure. In retrospection, the whole issue investigates the predisposed materiality and its transformation with changing times. The NSM often occurs in exceptional times, wherein reforms are constructed through protest and not the other way around. A useful debate on historical material conjectures of transformation (caste)

254  Ritu Sharma

and agency (communication) as mediations propels movements, particularly in South Asia. The driving force is commodification, seen as antithetical to decommodification, is a challenge in present times. So far, rigid norms deem to demystify political intervention for negotiating identities. Consecutively, the challenge is to problematize actively-constructed history of the NSM, contradictory to the caste movements and subject to interplay of purity and pollution dichotomy surfacing from the narrative of the third world perspective. Therefore, to question alternative identities with subservient positions is indeed an emerging social crisis, leaving the complex problems unaddressed. Does this question their survival, stemming from a disruption of their daily lives as legitimacy crisis? As Weber clearly remarked, it is difficult for the lower caste people to advance beyond their caste in the Indian society. So far, this entails the conflict of transforming narratives co-opted from semiotics of representation to similar life-chance of curtailing human dignity. Besides, dealing with resurgence of movements embark upon several presumptions viz. a socio-materialist analysis reflecting on questions of rethinking ways of struggle of ideological affirmation, and how it thrives in urban space. Also, how sociality transforms into economic exchange with multiplications, but why now? Thus, the need to understand the political assertion and make sense of the resistances of the sweepers in the public domain of lifeworld.

Communication and Production of Caste(ism) The caste and class dichotomy might not be a socio-economic construct of the modern society, as is elaborated in the contestation of identity based on the premise of ‘social-capital’ inherited from a closed (communication) system of stratification. The Dalits have been unequally institutionalized in the social ladder of unclean occupation for ages. The caste hierarchy, thus, inhibits people to communicate with one another in India (Richard West and Lynn Turner 2009). Depressed-castes have been discriminated as reservation policy is confined to government, public sectors of the government and

Caste Identity, Communication and New Social Movement  255

educational institutions (Ambedkar 1991). Historically, the Sudras are universally related to cleaning the filthy toilets of houses (private) and manholes (public naalas) as deep as five feet, and accorded low self-esteem by the dominant castes. Tracing bourgeois democracy itself in new forms and methods is counter-narrative to the histographical materiality. Communication in caste is that which is meaningful for the social system (Mandelbum 1959), and thus, the protest movement in Ajmer is a result of the long-standing struggle to secure their social capital of dominance in skill-based hierarchy. Having said that, identity is shaped from an affirmation with the group to enhance selfesteem (Tajfel and Turner 1986). With the existence of this level of insecurity and closed communication with the dominant castes, newer forms of caste (ab)use and inequalities have emerged. Caste provides a particularly illustrative case of interrelation (community, hierarchy, leadership) of cultural institution, where sharedness and disparity (domination and inequality) co-exist with each other in a state of perpetual tension (Dumont [1970]1980). The economic dependence on the upper caste (landlord/patron) determines the subordination by the lower castes, even though the latter may not necessarily accept any values that underpin the system of subordination (Still 2009). Also, government jobs warranty higher socio-economic status, contrary to lower social stigma attached to it. The established hierarchy inhibits people to communicate via cognitions that coincide social interest and safeguard one’s identity. Indeed, the segregation has further accelerated the gap and rigidified their private sphere, despite the dominant paradigm (Sanskritization, modernization and Westernization). Hence, the assumption lies on two themes; first, the nature of change in structural forms; and second, on concept formation independent of historicity and materiality of empirical tradition (Desai), which directly tries to look into spatial and temporal reality of Asiatic tradition of employment. Likewise, besides deductive reasoning, inducing Marxism or Weberian discourse conceptualize theoretical construct. This awareness of neo-political economy of intervention aggravated the whole issue of (sub)superordination as the phenomenological way of marginalized communities (the Dalits) dwindling between the state vis-à-vis its policies. This changing social cohesion unfolds (neo)critical leadership emerging

256  Ritu Sharma

via the realm of self-renunciation within the ambit of long standing protest for change. This absolute paradox of articulating ideology coexisting with interest pervades new definitions of centres of productivity. The central concepts have been undergoing theoretical deficient of second generation narratives to the empirical studies found so far. In fact, this has bypassed the control from political boundaries of inside vis-à-vis outside the territorial anchorage of group formation in following discourses.

Discourses of Theory vs. Practice Having said this, caste has evolved with interdependence, and old institutions became obsolete dealing primarily with complications of agriculture and distribution. Three interrelated traits of caste are considered central: community (socio-cultural)-oriented, intersectionality of inter-caste dominance, and subordination and political assertion coexisting together in the lifeworld of everyday practice. Furthermore, the continued emancipation of the so-called ‘lower’ castes is a conscious rejection of the dominant Hindu norms and worldviews, and/or a strategic mobilization of alternate ‘traditions’ that do not have their roots in mainstream Hinduism (see, for example, Ilaiah 1996; Karanth 2004; Still 2009). This new understanding of caste brings relations of power, difference and subversion of dominant value systems to the centre. Moreover, the reconstitutions of gendered aspects of class emerge from disadvantaged yet not disoriented groups of social stratum. Nevertheless, equality of opportunity attained on socio-political levels deconstruct false consciousness of archaic accomplishments (development) achieved superficially. Then, has resistance evolved as an inevitable consequence? Or, perhaps, the code of conduct of interest mediate to reassert their social relations within the group? Reservation has stratifying people by birth on an occupational basis. Should a specific caste identity be required to embody a subject position that is authorized to voice the narrative of caste related suffering? (Brueck 2014: 190). There has been interaction of multiple identities (caste-class, gender, party) claiming affirmation of group membership vis-à-vis enhancing one’s status and self- esteem. However, this can be viewed as counter movements discursive of the structure of

Caste Identity, Communication and New Social Movement  257

movements. This leaves the state incompetence enchanting specific characteristics of reactionary exploration than representative democracy in South Asia. Besides, it is particularly critical of questioning the dispositions of the democratic government due to its actor-network theory in contrasts to mitigation roles of counterintuitive reactions. That is why, despite the representation—both in political and economic spheres—there has been selective communication on social taboos and norms. Perhaps this elicits, then, that the deprived have developed a voice and became empowered? Or the exploitation in use and the abuse have made them strategize harder? In essence, the agitation is unique, in a sense, from the cardinal law of movements (re-claiming reservation) and sharing the benefits of reservation.

Clean vs. Unclean (Occupations) Job The young and the old work in the most deplorable condition, working for less than 7,500–10,000 rupees a month. Data revealed a total of 573 people died between 2008 and 2018. A further 96 people died from January to September this year as a direct relationship, though historically some people have been assigned extremely low ranks in the caste system (Deshpande, 2011).

These so-called ‘Untouchables’ or ‘Dalits’ (a word meaning ‘the oppressed’) are, and historically have been, assigned dirty, degrading and manual labour. Many Dalits have been ‘sweepers’ (a common euphemism; also ‘scavengers’), whose job it is to physically collect and remove human faeces from places where the higher caste people have defecated without using a toilet or latrine (Ramaswamy 2005). The Indian Constitution mandates certain quotas for such lower caste people, henceforth, it reflect the state’s role in deciding who is and who is not eligible for reserved political positions. This, to our knowledge, had far-reaching effects of political reservation, little realizing the unequal status demands equal means to bridge inequality. Even now, people in India define their association by the caste they belong to as a salient identity. The social cost on individuals is still very high, resulting from non-acceptance within the paradigm of reproduced inequality of human capital.

258  Ritu Sharma

The Idea of ‘Izzat’ vs. Communication Status is cognitively represented, and is directly proportionate to the way caste is communicated with limited social mobility in Indian Society. Therefore, caste identity determines, and is prominent, in explaining status perception. Furthermore, members of the so-called higher castes often affirm their identity (theoretically and pragmatically), deprecating members of the other castes. On the other hand, solidarity compels to treat the ‘other’ as less permanent, and strives consistently for upward social mobility (higher jobs). Status, though abstract, can be mentally represented; it is an inbuilt mechanism in an embodied way. Albert Bandura’s social learning theory observes that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation and modelling. Let us now understand the new structural changes as caste is not the sole factor in deciding but does filter the reflected reality of emerging times. Hence, threat to one’s social identity (caste) would resultantly be fortification from outside forces. This would inadvertently secure employment based upon association and, thereafter, construct the methodological terrains of the socio-economic formation relying on caste norms. The resentment is not stemming from merely wanting to safeguard their present jobs but future positions of their coming generations as well. The social conflict is observed as the result of agitation involving aggressive behaviour towards the state and its agency (government), and mediated between members of different castes subject to support. Therefore, the aim of this study is to examine the role of caste-communicating to resist (dominant) caste norms inconsistent (violating) with the mental representations of status and life chances. Additionally, the political economy of the media and hyper media make moral judgments by creating a complex situation of norm violation vs. non-violation within these alternative power-centric groups. The aforementioned relationship is the reflection of modern economic subjugation contradictory to the classconsciousness of traditional times. Metaphorically, identity is also the fundamental determinant communicating strong social relation, and vice versa—regardless of the condition, whether the perpetrator is of high or low caste. Thus, members of the lower caste are devalued in socio-economic paradigm to get represented in political advantage

Caste Identity, Communication and New Social Movement  259

invariably to evaluate high in esteem. And in this way, it represents an image of the deprived group to maintain association with in-group members (symbolically and practically) to accomplish benefits of high status individuals in a reserved job.

Text vs. Context? Theories of caste coincide with empirical facts and descriptive analysis. Thereby, despite the representation—both in political and economic sphere—there has been selective communication due to social taboos and norms. In a way, hegemony of the dominant caste is resilient towards reservation politically patronizing the Dalits. So the use and abuse of caste have made them protest harder. Individual castes, Gupta believes, are discrete entities and hierarchies that came much later. What makes caste unique here is advocating protective discrimination. Hence, every caste can have an alternative theory and multiple hierarchies that are semaphored by the ritualization of multiple social practices. The episteme of this institution leads to the discursive continuity of the discontinuous reality over representation. This is despite government programs, welfare plans and multiple projects at work aimed for the development of the community. And yet, the complex notions of caste mediate through logically controlled and socially produced practices of the dominant caste. Undoubtedly, the differential categories of castes have adopted skill-based specialization dependent on each other. However, there is an abundant caution in practicing the social taboo reinforced by social, cultural and religious rites that reassure inequality. Hence, the common practice of dependence is observed by assigning ‘cleaning’ jobs to ‘unclean’ castes in the society. Although the reservation system was introduced to uplift the downtrodden, it soon met with resistance and provided an unjust advantage to them.

Findings The overall thrust is to understand the caste status, attainments and challenges of present-day India associated with ‘unclean occupations’. Caste-based ideology of hereditary occupations has far-reaching

260  Ritu Sharma

impact in the life of such communities engaged in ‘unclean occupations’, which are closely associated with untouchability. As Desai puts it, ‘there is untouchability among the untouchables’ (Desai 1976; Shah and Desai 1988). Some points that need to be examined are as follows: • To analyze the correlation associated with ‘unclean occupations’ and reclaiming their (municipal jobs) rights on the basis of caste dominance. • To study the social, economic and cultural causes that promote/ hinder equal opportunities in terms of occupation. • To examine the insecurity and identity conflict emerging within subordinate caste to that dominant caste. Since independence, caste has become a pretext to impose superiority, and if someone poses a challenge, they must fear severe consequences. Caste has been central to the formation of the Indian Republic. This is a kind of caste(ism) we have inherited, and it has been relegated to the feeble connotations of reservation, and not merit. In public discourse, caste membership is prevalent people’s minds, which in itself is indicative of the inbuilt mechanism of brutal reality of discrimination in modern times. Whether the marginalization of the Dalits in India is becoming worst or getting better is the point of communication. Are the retrograde policies of reservation merely electoral coinage for social upliftment? To be Dalit is not to share all that they have but to share what they cannot have. Thus, their lived-experience signifies the lack of freedom in an experience (Guru/ Sarukkai 2012: 36–37). Finally, to put into perspective the collateral damage in all spheres of dalit life. The integral focus here is confinement to a specific work or upgradation through reservation facing a backlash of all the upper caste; and the measures are not insufficient to get rid of the socio-economic atrocities, and thus, cannot be a reflection of democratic development. Concomitantly, the uprising of self-esteem raised consciousness within the so called ‘Untouchables’ due to education and high positions in occupations, and yet does not guarantee equality of any kind. Hence, given where they come from, the situation is oxymoronic because initially, they were oppressed, and reservation served them representation so as to uplift them but they are still depressed and marginalized. And yet, there is pressure to end

Caste Identity, Communication and New Social Movement  261

reservation. Indeed, the mental and cognitive skills of acceptance and culturation from the co-existence can be seen from the illustration study in Rajasthan. On the other hand, people born into low-ranking castes in India continue to face profound economic, political, social and health disadvantages and discrimination (Deshpande 2011; Thorat and Newman 2010). In fact, the dimension of stratification has significantly transformed along with the challenges forwarded by subordinate castes. Dominant classes essentialize the old custom of domination, and consider the ‘other’ as weak and meaningless to the society. As per the order of social hierarchy in India, the lower castes deteriorate at the lower strata where material deficiency and impurity reinforce one another (Beteille 1998). Thus, the Dalits are a minority with negligible opportunities to develop skills, and are not genuinely empowered or liberated by the traditional prejudice of according them inferior status. In summary, the aforementioned discussion has highlighted that although the hierarchical facets of the caste system may have weakened, they have not disappeared—only to become stronger. Thus, this ontology would challenge the underlying basis of the political economy articulating conveniently with the material realities of interest and power in India. This was observed with the differential treatment meted to the ‘others’ as an effect of subversion and identity crises— evident in terms of the radical shift in conjunction to their systematic marginalization. Hence, it implicitly excludes the inclusion—given the third world perspective of pre-existing inequalities impinged upon spaces other than their native land. Developed from aforementioned strands, the focus on intersectionality seen within new paradigm of social movement is committed to resolving the fundamental problems of social change. In a democracy, all should have been rendered power, and decentralized authority must be present to enable resources for the common man. However, the upper caste became more empowered, which communicates injustice vis-à-vis social spheres of life. The new generation is trained socially and culturally to subordinate the others. Hence, the minority is always under the threat of social insecurity breeding socio-economic and psychological injustice. The so-called ‘Untouchables’ are still feeling neglected, and hence, want to usurp the rights by resilience and aggression, if needed.

262  Ritu Sharma

References Agrawal, A. 2004. ‘ “The Bedias are Rajputs”: Caste Consciousness of a Marginal Community’. In Caste in Question: Identity or Hierarchy, D. Gupta, 221–46. New Delhi: SAGE Publications.  Ambedkar, Babasaheb. 1991. Writings and Speeches.Vol 9, 401, 1st ed.Vasant Moon. Betteille, Andre. 1998. The Idea of Indigenous People. Current Anthropology https://www.journals.uchicago. edu/toc/ca/1998/39/2, 39(2), 187–192. Brueck, Laura. 2014. Writing Resistence. New York: Columbia University Press. Deshpande, A. 2011. The Grammar of Caste: Economic Discrimination in Contemporary. India: Oxford. ———. 2001.  ‘Caste at Birth? Redefining Disparity in India’. Review of Development Economics 5, 130–44.  ———. 2002. ‘Does Caste Still Define Disparity? A Look at Inequality in Kerala, India’. American Economic Review 90, 322–25.  Devika, J. 2013.  ‘Contemporary Dalit Assertions in Kerala: Governmental Categories vs Identity Politics’. History and Sociology of South Asia 7, 1–17.  Dumont, L. (1970) 1980. Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and its Implications. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.  Emirbayer, M., Goodwin, J. 1994. ‘Network Analysis, Culture, and the Problem of Agency’. American Journal of Sociology 99, 1411–54.  Freeman, L. 1979.  ‘Centrality in Social Networks: Conceptual Clarification’. Social Networks 1, 215–39.  Fuhse, J. 2009. ‘The Meaning Structure of Social Networks’. Sociological Theory 27, 51–73.  Fuller, C. J., ed. 1996a. Caste Today (SOAS studies on South Asia). New York: Oxford University Press.  ———. 1996b. ‘Introduction’. In Caste Today, edited by C. J. Fuller, 1–31. New York: Oxford University Press. Gould, R. 1989. ‘Power and Social Structure in Community Elites’. Social Forces 68, 531–52. Gupta, D. 2004. ‘The Certitudes of Caste: When Identity Trumps Hierarchy’. In Caste in Question: Identity or Hierarchy, edited by D. Gupta, ix–xxi. New Delhi: SAGE Publications.  Guru, G. / Sarukkai, S. 2012. The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Hall, S. 1997.  ‘Introduction’. In Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, edited by S. Hall, 1–11. London: SAGE Publications.  Hanson, S., and M. Blake. 2009. ‘Gender and Entrepreneurial Networks’. Regional Studies 43, 135–49.  Ilaiah, K. 1996. Why I Am Not a Hindu? Calcutta: Samya. Jasmine Rao, The Caste System: Effect on Poverty in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, 1(2) GLOBAL MAJORITY E-JOURNAL 97, 101 (2010).

Caste Identity, Communication and New Social Movement  263

Karamsi, S. R. 2010.  ‘Deconstructing Caste Hegemony: Lambada Oral Literature’. Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences 2, 455–67.  Karanth, G. K. 2004. ‘Replication or Dissent? Culture and Institutions among “Untouchable” scheduled Castes in Karnataka’. In Caste in Question: Identity or Hierarchy, edited by D. Gupta, 137–64. New Delhi: SAGE Publications. Mandelbaum, David G. 1959. ‘Concepts and Methods in the Study of Caste’, The Economic Weekly, Annual Volume 2, pp. 4–6. Micheluti, L. 2007. ‘The Vernacularization of Democracy: Political Participation and Popular Politics in North India’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13, 639–56.  Mies, M. 1976. ‘The Shahada Movement: A Peasant Movement in Maharashtra (India)—Its Development and its Perspectives’. Journal of Peasant Studies 3, 472–82.  Mines, D. P. 2002. ‘Hindu Nationalism, Untouchable Reform, and the Ritual Production of a South Indian Village’. American Ethnologist 29, 58–85.  Natarajan, B. 2011. The Culturalization of Caste in India: Identity and Inequality in a Multicultural Age. London: Routledge.  Oommen, T. K. 1970.  ‘Rural Community Power Structure in India’. Social Forces 49, 226–39.  Ramaswamy Gita. 2005. India Stinking: Manual Scavengers in Andhra Pradesh and Their Work. Pondicherry: Navayana. Reddy, D. S. 2005. ‘The Ethnicity of Caste’. Anthropological Quarterly 78, 543–84. Shah, A.M., Desai Pragati Ishwarlal, Srinivas M. N. 1988. Division and Hierarchy: An Overview of Caste in Gujarat. Hindustan Publishing Corporation, Delhi. Somjee, A. H. 1973.  ‘Caste and the Decline of Political Homogeneity’. The American Political Science Review 67, 799–816.  Sonalde Desai, and Veena Kulkarni. 2008. Changing Educational Inequalities in India in the Context of Affirmative Action, Demography, 45(2), 245–270. Sooryamoorthy, R. 2008. ‘Untouchability in Modern India’. International Sociology 23, 283–93.  Sukhadeo Thorat, and Chittaranjan Senapati. 2007. Reservation in Employment, Education and Legislature – Status and Emerging Issues, (Working Paper Series No. 5, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, 45(2) DEMOGRAPHY 245. Surendrakumar Bagde et al. 2016. Does Affirmative Action Work? Caste, Gender, College Quality, and Academic Success in India, American Economic Review 106(6), 247–249. Tajfel, H., and J. C. Turner. 1986. ‘The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behaviour’. in the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relation, edited by S. Worchel and W. Austin. 7–24. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall. The Constitution of India  [India],  26 January 1950, available at: https://www. [accessed on 14 february 2020] West, Richard, and Lynn Turner. 2009. Understanding Interpersonnel Communication: Making Choices in Changing Times, 2nd ed. Boston, MA: Wadesworth Cenange Learning.

Chapter 15

The Power Dynamics Behind Labelling in the Food Culture of India Jasmine

The problem of food evokes diverse images, ranging from those of food scarcity and food wastage to those pertaining to taste, palate, diversity and choice. In a globalized world, food has increasingly emerged not only as an essential component of culture, but in the face of vanishing ethnic and cultural diversity, food has been steadily replacing culture to become its sole representative. In the transnational marketplace, the target is the individualized consumer who makes her selection from the diverse platter on offer. The appearance of free choice belies the interlinkages of food to the political, social, and economic structures. In the Indian context, not only the food items and practices of consumption but the language, terminology and symbolism surrounding food are implicated in the cultural politics of food. This chapter seeks to interrogate the practices of labelling food in the Indian context, and to examine how such categorization is related to secularization of food culture wherein the use of noncontroversial labels works—if not to erase, then at least to hide the contestations surrounding food culture.

The Power Dynamics Behind Labelling in the Food Culture of India  265

The pages to follow contain an examination of the upper caste Hindu anxieties that parade as Indian sensibilities when it comes to choice as well as to ways of consumption of food. The instances of othering faced by the food practices and food cultures of the non-Hindus and/or the non-upper castes serve to throw into relief the hegemony of the upper caste Hindu claims when it comes to representing what Indian food culture is. Through an analysis of the major ways in which food is categorized, labelled and marked, both in official terminology as well as in popular culture, the paper seeks to bring to the forefront the hidden social and political mechanisms at work behind the scene, and interrogates how the very language employed in the categorization of food is implicated in the processes of homogenization of food culture, hegemonic domination by a certain type of food, and secularization of identity concerns.

Vegetarian/Non-vegetarian and Other Labels If one considers ‘Food as a Metaphor for Cultural Hierarchies’, to borrow the title from Gopal Guru’s (2009) essay, then the distinction between ‘meatatarian’ and ‘non-vegetarian’—two signifiers for the same concept—becomes the central focus of analysis. While the first definition refers to a positive identity, the second definition refers to the categorical other of ‘vegetarian.’ ‘Is “non-vegetarian” a correct word?’: this enquiry posted by a user on the internet can act as a powerful symbolic representative for the import of the following paragraphs (‘Vocabulary: Is “Non-vegetarian” a Correct Word? English Language & Usage Stack Exchange’ n.d.). The replies to the query are equally interesting, ranging from alternative words like ‘meatatarian’ to ‘If you are speaking to English speakers from India, these will be perfectly normal and familiar words. In other English-speaking cultures, people probably aren’t as familiar with the word, but I doubt they would have much trouble understanding what it means’ (ibid.). Not only does this exchange make visible the taken-for-granted practice of relegating meat and other such foods into the categorical other of the term vegetarian, but it also lays bare the centrality of culture in the way meat-eating is conceptualized. Oxford English dictionary defines non-vegetarian as: ‘(of food) not suitable for vegetarians; containing meat and (of a

266  Jasmine

person) having a diet that includes meat’ (Non-vegetarian | Meaning of Non-vegetarian by Lexico’ n.d.). This and other such definitions used for the term non-vegetarian include two axes to define it: first, that it is associated with meat, and second, that it is something that is not vegetarian. The seemingly innocuous ways of labelling food along various axes are deeply embedded in the social, cultural, political and economic milieu that constitutes the context. It is not uncommon though for categories to be defined as ‘non-’ of some other categories. The most readily available framework to make sense of such categorization is French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s (1969) theory of binary opposition. These dichotomies and the othering involved in defining various categories provide a blueprint to interrogate the dichotomy vegetarian/non-vegetarian as well as the category of non-vegetarian. However, concomitant with the need to rescue meat and meat-eating from negative connotations is the need to unpack the category of vegetarian food. In urban India, non-meat serving restaurants proudly proclaim as being ‘pure veg’. Even though vegetarian marks itself as such, it is still unmarked in the sense that it does so on its own terms. Vegetarian food is not labelled as ‘non-meat’ or ‘meat-free’; rather, it is a positive, affirmative category in itself while the label of non-vegetarian is thrust upon all that lies outside the normative ambit defined by the former. In this respect, it is interesting to consider the definitions given by Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011. ‘ “Non-vegetarian Food” means an article of food that contains whole or part of any animal—including birds, fresh water or marine animals or eggs, or products of any animal origin, but excluding milk or milk products, as an ingredient; “Vegetarian Food” means any article of food other than Non-vegetarian food as defined’ (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare 2011, 29–30). While in the definitions given by the regulations earlier Nonvegetarian food is defined on its own terms with certain definite attributes, vegetarian food, on the other hand, is defined as that which is not Non-vegetarian food. At the outset, one encounters the absurdity of naming meat and animal-based products as ‘non-’ of vegetarian food where the latter could have been defined as ‘meat-free’,

The Power Dynamics Behind Labelling in the Food Culture of India  267

‘non-meat’ or ‘plant-based’ instead; but it is not difficult to ascertain the problems to be encountered in such a proposed endeavour. The label ‘non-vegetarian food’ performs a very specific function as it conveys the meaning not of animal based-food but of that which is culturally not thought of as vegetarian in India. Employing the categorization of plant and animal-based food would not convey the cultural sensibilities associated with the idea of vegetarianism in India, where milk and various dairy products constitute the mainstay of the vegetarian diet. The meanings associated with food change with the cultures they are situated in. The obsession with vegetarianism in India does not stem purely from individual choice arising from ethical and environmental considerations. Rather, the stress on pure-vegetarian and the segregation of utensils used for cooking meat and vegetarian food reflect the caste-Hindu’s constant preoccupation with ritual purity and pollution. The disgust felt by a vegetarian person in this regard is not universal but is rooted in the Indian cultural universe. The brown/green labelling1 for non-veg/veg. food items seems to be an innocuous exercise at the outset, but material and symbolic value of these labels lay in carefully segregating non-vegetarian from vegetarian food and proclaiming it as such for the customers. At the symbolic level, brown (which almost appears red for all practical purposes) and green signs on the food items in India reveal not just the association of meat with red colour and of vegetables with green, but they also highlight red as a colour marking danger and eliciting caution from the beholder while green represents a positive assertion declaring the universality of access and safety. The red colour stops some even as the green colour welcomes all the consumers. The obsession with vegetarianism in India is not accompanied by a strong vegan movement in the popular culture of Indian food. The question in the Indian public mind is not whether a food item contains animal ingredients or not, or whether it is entirely plantbased. Brown/green labelling occupies at least as much, if not more space in the Indian public imagination than the scientifically more 1

Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and) Regulations, 2011.

268  Jasmine

important allergen and nutritional information. Health, nutrition, safety and hygiene, then, are accorded only as important a place in food labelling in India as the anxiety of catering to the cultural and/or religious basis of food choices pertaining to vegetarian food and meat consumption. The importance of cultural undertones in determining the public face of food categorization is more than evident in the cultural meanings given to widespread prevalence of fish consumption along the eastern coast of India, in Bengali Bhadralok (respectable people) referring to fish as ‘sea vegetarian food’ (Guru 2009, 11). Another interesting example to consider at this juncture is the curious case of egg in India. The endless discussions on the online fora as well as common remarks such as ‘I am a vegetarian, but I eat eggs’ show the cultural aspect of food with respect to the ambivalence and confusion created by the place of eggs along the binary vegetarian/non-vegetarian. The anxiety to place eggs in a separate category from non-vegetarian proper is reflected in Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) Regulations which state, ‘[W]here any article of food contains egg only as non-vegetarian’ ingredient, the manufacturer, packer or seller may give declaration to this effect in addition to the said symbol [that is, the brown label indicating nonvegetarian food]’ (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare 2011, 35). The vegetarians in India obsessively deliberate over whether dark chocolates, cheese or breads are vegetarian foods or not, owing to their having some animal-based extract (‘10 Vegetarian Food Items That Are Actually Non-Vegetarian | Times Food’ n.d.). The discussion on eggs invariably finds itself dominating the many dilemmas India’s vegetarians have to confront on an everyday basis. From eggless mayonnaise to eggless bakeries, dairy-based options abound for the vegetarian clientele in India. In this scenario, however, if dairy products are considered vegetarian, the characterization of most of the commercially available unfertilized eggs as vegetarian (if vegetarian diet refers to the exclusion of animal flesh) also stands its ground on a logical basis. Thus, ‘ovo-vegetarian’ is the term applied to a vegetarian diet that allows for eggs but not dairy as contrasted with ‘lacto-vegetarian’, which allows for dairy products but not eggs. A rational categorization of food based on ethical considerations would be that of plant-based food and animal-based food.

The Power Dynamics Behind Labelling in the Food Culture of India  269

Hegemony and Othering in Food Culture The power position occupied by the unmarked, universal category of vegetarian can be examined through an analysis of the statistical data on the extent and incidence of vegetarianism in India. Using large-scale survey data from NSSO2, NFHS3, and IHDS4, Natarajan and Jacob conclude that ‘the vegetarian population of India is at best 31 per cent, and realistically less than 20 per cent’ (2018, 63). The myths of India as the land of vegetarianism/vegetarian Hindus and the meat-eating other form the bedrock for the hegemonic appropriation of what constitutes Indian food culture as well as for the secularization of identities in terms of categorization of food. The claim to be Indian, nevertheless, when it comes to food is solely hijacked by the trope of India as a land of vegetarianism. The hegemony of the trope of vegetarianism is not lost either, within or outside India. What is encountered in such a situation is not a simple attempt of the vegetarian particular at universalization but a nuanced and blatant display of difference in order to differentiate itself from what it defines as the other. While the food culture of the upper caste Hindus have come to universalize the public food scene in India, food culture of the tribals, the Dalits, and the minority religious communities has become the marginalized other of the former. The othering that some food practices are subjected to is evident in the politics around beef in India. With regard to beef, the upper caste Hindu sensibility is presented as the Indian sensibility that has to be safeguarded from influences of those communities constructed as alien to the authentic Indian culture. From proposals for ban on display of meat in shops (‘In Delhi, BJP-Ruled Civic Body to Ban Display of Non-Veg Food Outside Eateries for “Sentimental” Reasons’ n.d.), to a chief minister publicly proclaiming his desire to make a whole state vegetarian (Firstpost 2017.), to beef bans across different states, the politics of beef occupies a prominent place in the public sphere. Alternatively, here the contentious issue National Sample Survey Office. National Family Health Survey. 4 India Human Development Survey. 2 3

270  Jasmine

of beef is approached from the psychosocial perspective drawing on the experience of beef-eating and social location. Drawing on the Facebook posts of Muthukrishanan5 (or Rajini Krish as he called himself on Facebook), Vasudevan Mukunth (2017) writes, ‘Rajini used smelly meat to remind the world about the persistence of day-to-day discrimination’. The black bag and the smell of beef he is carrying home ensures that people avoid him, maintain their distance, cringe away and make hostile gestures. This incident from 2003 shows that along with the politics of governance, the politics of caste plays out a central role in the domain of culture as well. The cultural politics of food in everyday life works in more insidious and seemingly innocuous ways as compared to the politics proper, but the effects of the former are more intimately connected to the lived experiences of food, culture and caste. The distancing that beef begets in Rajini’s case is not only physical but must also be thought of as being a significant contributor to social and cultural distance. This distance not only acts as a barrier to communication across the gap but also distorts the very possibility of communication. The exclusion of the other is built into the hierarchies of caste, food and culture in India. The diversity of food is culturally grounded as a hierarchical ordering of pure and impure food. The universal legitimacy of vegetarian food and the othering of non-vegetarian food in Indian food culture are not only symptomatic of the hegemonizing discourses of food, caste and purity but, in turn, they serve as the instruments reinforcing these hegemonic discourses. The hegemonizing influence of dominant food culture over marginalized others operates at the level of both form and substance.6 Laxman Gaikwad’s autobiographical novel Uchalya provides a strikingly graphic and personal account of such cultural difference where the protagonist, as a young boy belonging to an erstwhile Criminal 5 An M.Phil. student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi who committed suicide on March 13, 2017. 6 Pierre Bourdieu’s discussion of ‘tastes of luxury and the tastes of necessity’ (2013, 31) and the binary opposition between ‘form and substance’ (ibid, 38) in relation to food is an important contribution to the study of food as a part and parcel of culture. According to Bourdieu, while the working class focuses on the materiality of food, ‘the bourgeoisie is concerned to eat with all due form’ (ibid, 37).

The Power Dynamics Behind Labelling in the Food Culture of India  271

Tribe, goes to eat at the house of a caste Hindu classmate and finds himself confused by the variety of food as well as the way of eating, as expressed in the passage given here: I wondered how so many stainless steel plates, bowls, carafes would be there in Dattu’s house. I had not imagined in my wildest fantasies that there could be so many utensils in a house… I had no idea which item to eat first…I felt as if my hands and feet were paralyzed. My hands trembled while eating and twitched as if with nervous shocks… Finally I used both hands to eat all the food… The paat7 on which I was sitting hurt my flesh and bones, making me feel restless and uncomfortable…[I] washed my hands in the plate itself…I also committed another blunder! I took the plate and the carafe outside to wash (Gaikwad 2014, 101–02).

Roland Barthes’s (2013) discussion of food as a ‘system of communication’ is particularly relevant to the arguments surrounding commensality between communities in India. In the absence of free commensal relations between various religious and caste communities, it is not a surprising observation that there exist separate food cultures across these communities. Putting Barthes (2013) in conversation with Pierre Bourdieu (2013) leads to the argument that there would not only be differences in the form and substance of food between various communities but that these differences would also define and dictate the role of food as a system of communication, both within and between these social groups. The difference between both form and substance was illustrated in the example quoted in the preceding section from Uchalya. A similar argument is presented by Guru as well, where he lucidly outlines the differences between ‘taste’ of the Dalits and the caste Hindus. According to Guru, the taste of the upper castes ends up defining taste for all, thus hegemonizing the cultural domain of food. The hegemonic domination of the very definition of good taste by the food and cultural practices of caste Hindus is evident in the fact that in Marathi language, the poor themselves convey good taste as sweet, even though the food is hot and spicy (Guru 2009, 9). Reinforcing Guru’s interpretation is one striking example from Uchalya 7

A wooden plank used as a seat for meals.

272  Jasmine

where the author enjoys the wal and compares its taste to that of the coconut kernel.8 The symbolism associated with the coconut draws the image of the Brahmin priest and the Hindu temple. Coconut is regularly offered to the gods, and it is customary to burst a coconut on auspicious occasions and on starting a new endeavour. The symbolism of the coconut is in stark contrast to the image drawn by the author— that of pigs fattened up on human faeces and roasted in the ‘shit-yard of Maratha and Yelama women. (Gaikwad 2014, 13). The question of form rather than substance of food gains even more relevance in the global capitalist marketplace characterized by transnational culture. It is interesting to note how contradictions arising from the coexistence of local tradition and global modernity are resolved at the level of appearance and symbolic imagery of food. The highly contrasting imagery of food is presented by huge chunks of raw meat hung on display in the famous by lanes of Old Delhi, and of small, bite-sized chicken nuggets served in the restaurants of multinational fast food chains. The latter is made palatable, made to appear like food, and not as what it is in its raw form, that is, meat. On the one hand, in today’s era of globalization, the urbanized and the Westernized caste Hindus are accepting meat into their diets (at least at the restaurants, if not at home); on the other hand, one can find the Sanskritized Dalits who have turned vegetarian. There is a need, however, to closely investigate what appears as free choice at the outset. Even when both groups eat pig meat, the Westernized caste Hindu consumes ‘pork’ and the non-Sanskritized Dalit eats ‘pig’. Guru argues that ‘non-vegetarian food is also used by the upper caste from other parts of the country to construct the ‘Savage Identity’. Thus, in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, a section of the so-called Untouchables is called Musahari (the rat eaters; Guru 2009, 14), his submission can be extended to argue that in the case of consumption of ‘pork’ on the one hand, and ‘pig’ on the other, the former is associated with a ‘civilized identity’ while the latter is attributed the ‘savage identity.’ While the consumption of ‘pig’ by the Dalits is a matter of compulsion (in the absence of any other viable food source), the Westernized caste Hindu consumes pork as an exercise of choice presented in a 8

A piece of meat from the back of a pig.

The Power Dynamics Behind Labelling in the Food Culture of India  273

globalized restaurant. Pig signifies food of scarcity and pork signifies food of abundance. In Bourdieu’s conceptual vocabulary, the former corresponds to ‘taste of necessity’ and the latter to ‘taste of luxury’. In the absence of choice and the constraints imposed by starvation, the food culture of the Dalits gets associated not with dignity but humiliation. In Uchalya, Laxman’s (the author) love for the taste of crab curry appears in contrast to his harassment at the hands of other boys at school who teased, mocked and humiliated him saying, ‘Lachhmantata, crab-curry khataa’ (Gaikwad 2014, 34).9 The universalizing claims of the dominant culture to represent what constitutes authentic Indian food are not uncontested, however. The book Isn’t this Plate Indian? Dalit Histories and Memories of Food (Rege, Tak, Thosar, and Aranha 2009) questions the claim to universality and hegemony of caste Hindu food practices with respect to Indian food culture by documenting the recipes of the marginalized studiously neglected in the mainstream of the world of cookbooks and cuisines. Such invisibilization is made possible by dual processes of secularization of identity and hegemonic homogenization by the dominant food culture.

Secularizing the Food Culture While differences in food practices of various caste and religious communities have always existed, it is in the context of capitalism that identity-neutral terms come to replace traditional cultural terminology for different food items. What is otherwise called maans, gosht, murga, or bakra in regional languages is given a secular colour by the terminology of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food.10 With this move, the positive affirmative identity of meat is replaced by the other-ed identity of non-vegetarian. The label of non-vegetarian then comes to stand in as a euphemism for all that is unpalatable to the caste Hindu’s food culture. On the basis of the arguments presented in the preceding pages, it can be proposed that secularization of caste and religious identities in food culture brought about by the operation of Lachhmantata eats crab curry. First two terms mean meat, the third one means chicken, and the fourth refers to mutton in north Indian languages. 9


274  Jasmine

food and categorization practices is intricately linked to the workings and logic of free market capitalism defined by choice, individualism and self-expression through consumption. While hegemony operates in homogenization of food culture, still, the different is accommodated as one more neutral and secular choice within a platter of diversity on offer. Rather than letting the identity contestations come to the surface and be problematic for business to deal with, capitalist system of production and consumption appropriates the marginalized other as exotic, as in the case of tribal food. Thus, the logic of capital, in the case of food, works through repackaging cultural fissures in the rhetoric of diversity and choice. It has to be noted, however, that the force of the stigma of caste is strong enough to make its presence felt through the politically neutral veneer, thus keeping stigmatized food practices of the Dalits off the table. Relating caste and culture, Arjun Appadurai has argued that consumption practices are ‘the semiotic instrument of Hindu ideas of rank and distance’ (Appadurai 1980, 497). Thus, in the Indian context, vegetarianism is never purely a matter of personal choice, but it is always a potent symbol of caste identity. This leads to the question of the practices through which secularization of caste takes place. In its modern form, caste practices are draped in the rhetoric of culture and diversity, rather than that of hierarchy and distinction. As a result, ‘pure-veg.’ restaurants overtly cater to a culture of individualistic choice and entail a respect for culture; but rigorous analysis seems to suggest that these are all instruments of disguising caste and presenting it in a secular, more palatable form. Iversen and Raghavendra’s (2006) title ‘What the Signboard Hides’ aptly sums up the arguments made by these authors as presented in the preceding lines. In an attempt to substantiate the arguments further, let us present some of the examples that abound in the Indian public space. A notice in the canteen of the national daily The Hindu created a furore when it asked its employees to abstain from bringing and consuming non-vegetarian food in the canteen. The notice read, ‘All are aware non-veg. food is not permitted in our Canteen premises as it causes discomfort to the majority of the employees who are vegetarian’ (Gorringe and Karthikeyan 2014). Iversen and Raghavendra’s article on South Indian restaurants makes visible many of the hidden ways in which vegetarianism expresses caste

The Power Dynamics Behind Labelling in the Food Culture of India  275

sensibilities. ‘Pure-veg.’ restaurants, then, can be seen as expressing the upper caste anxiety of caste purity in terms of a secular food choice. It is due to the intersection of caste and politics in India that culture and food practices cannot be seen as wholly innocent, secular and/or apolitical.

Conclusion The labelling of food (as vegetarian/non-vegetarian, for example) is not wholly innocent as it hierarchizes and homogenizes at the same time as it standardizes and seeks to contain diversity of food within a system of categorization. Inevitably, in the context of India, seemingly innocuous labelling practices lead to secularization of caste and religious identities, which hides a history of close association of community, food, culture, oppression and marginalization. Rather than staying put in the past, the history of othering spills into the banal, everyday reality of food in India in contemporary times. The labelling of meat as ‘non-vegetarian’ is just one example of spilling out of cultural tensions into the secular, public arena, and of the strategies of containment and misrepresentation associated with its secularization. Food can be employed as a unique category in the study of culture and society in India as it serves as the site, medium and process as well as the grammar, syntax and vocabulary of communication. Food as both substance and form, the eating of food, the setting of consumption as well as the conversations about and around food—all form important constituents to understand the role of food as either the facilitator or inhibitor of social networks. The study of labels associated with food provides further evidence that food is not ‘“merely” cultural’ (to borrow from the title of Judith Butler’s [1997] iconic essay).

Reference Appadurai, Arjun. 1980. ‘Gastro-Politics in Hindu South Asia.’ American Ethnologist 8 (3), 494–511. Barthes, Roland. 2013. “Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption.” Food and Culture: A Reader, Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik, (ed.), pp. 213–230. Third, New York & London: Routledge. Bourdieu, Pierre (tr. Richard Nice). 2013. “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (ed.), pp. 31–39. Third, New York & London: Routledge.

276  Jasmine Butler, Judith. 1997. ‘Merely Cultural.’ Social Text 52/53, 265–77. Htpp://doi. org/10.2307/466744. Firstpost. 2017, 1 April ‘Vijay Rupani Says He Wants a ‘Vegetarian’ Gujarat after State Imposes Life Term for Cow Slaughter’. Firstpost. https://www.firstpost. com/india/vijay-rupani-says-he-wants-a-vegetarian-gujarat-after-stateimposes-life-term-for-cow-slaughter-3362764.html (Accessed 22 May 2020). Gaikwad, Laxman. 2014. The Branded: Uchalya. Translated by P. A. Kolharkar. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. Gorringe, Hugo, and D. Karthikeyan. 2014. ‘The Hidden Politics of Vegetarianism: Caste and The Hindu Canteen.’ Economic and Political Weekly 49 (20), 17 May. Guru, Gopal. 2009. ‘Food as a Metaphor for Cultural Hierarchies.’ CASI Working Paper Series No. 09-01. Philadelphia, PA: Center for the Advanced Study of India Mukunth, Vasudevan. 2017. ‘In Dalit Student’s Notes, an Intimate Portrait of Life, Loss and Longing on the Margins.’ The Wire, 14 March. https://thewire. in/culture/rajini-krish-jnu-suicide (Accessed 22 May 2020). In Delhi, BJP-Ruled Civic Body to Ban Display of Non-Veg Food Outside Eateries for ‘Sentimental’ Reasons.” Hindustantimes.Com., https:// Accessed 22 May 2020. Iversen, Vegard, and Raghavendra P. S. 2006. ‘What the Signboard Hides: Food, Caste and Employability in Small South Indian Eating Places.’ Contributions to Indian Sociology 40 (3), 311–41. Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1969. The Raw and the Cooked. New York: Harper & Row. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. 2011. Government of India. Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and) Regulations. Part 3(4). Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India/ Non-Vegetarian | Meaning of Non-Vegetarian by Lexico.” Lexico Dictionaries | English., Accessed 22 May 2020. Natarajan, Balmurli, and Suraj Jacob. 2018. ‘ “Provincialising” Vegetarianism: Putting Indian Food Habits in Their Place’. Economic and Political Weekly 53 (9), 3 March. Rege, Sharmila, Deepa Tak, Sangita Thosar, and Tina Aranha, eds. 2009. Isn’t this Plate Indian? Dalit Histories and Memories of Food. Pune: University of Pune. ‘Vocabulary - Is ‘Non-Vegetarian’ a Correct Word?’ n.d. English Language & Usage Stack Exchange.’ is-non-vegetarian-a-correct-word (Accessed 22 May 2020). 10 Vegetarian Food Items That Are Actually Non-Vegetarian | Times Food. https://m. Accessed 22 May 2020.

Chapter 16

New Media, Caste and Ageing Population A Study of Appropriation in Select Areas of West Bengal Debarati Dhar

Introduction As societies are ageing and mediatizing at the same time, it becomes both timely and relevant to develop a perspectives on the role and meaning of media for older people. The diversity and inequality in the lived experience of the ageing population in the new media environment constitutes the core of this paper; it attempts to analyze the digital life of older adults in the context of access and consumption. By analyzing the existing literature on new media and ageing studies, this paper would try to focus on the social stratification and digital inequality in the society, and the way new media has played a role of a leveller across caste groups in society. This paper studies the varied perspectives of the older adults as a means of understanding the complexities as well as the need to remain connected in the evolving new media milieu. Technology—be it printing, radio and television, since long has been facilitating the changes in the social, cultural and economic

278  Debarati Dhar

dimensions by diffusion of innovative ideas and practices. There has been a widespread change in the media scenario in the country with the diffusion of new media in the past eight decades. It has brought a material transformation in the social fabric, changing people’s way of working, communicating or spending their leisure time, forming a new level of social interactions. People having access to new media feel to be a part of the network society where the computer-mediated communication has been integrated into their daily lives. Embracing the new media technologies can also be marked as diffusion of innovation in the existing media practices. For instance, just as the print media was defined as the cultural predominance over the spoken words, similarly, new media has changed our way of communication due to ‘interactivity’ and ‘instantaneity’. Both the terms are exclusively crucial as new media not only makes interaction possible but also provides a speed of interaction that is real-like but not real. Media’s role among ageing population has not attracted significant attention in India. Studies (Burnett 1991; Chafetz, Holmes, Lande, Childress, and Glazer 1998; Doolittle 1979) in the West have shown a sign of maturity in terms of their research focus, attention and concern about a population age group that otherwise remains at the threshold of Indian population. As noted by Roe (1983), the way individuals make use of the media varies appreciably as per their position in the social structure. It is illustrated that any noteworthy change as a whole in the configuration of the social structure is bound to influence the patterns of media use by individuals (Roe 1983). For older adults, the influence of the new media technology coincides with withdrawal from the labour market, and at a stage when they experience loss of companions, friends or family members. and also decline in health and mobility. New media tools such as chat, blogs and social networking platforms mediate their relationships and larger networks in society. Hence, new media serve as ‘technologies of relationships’ for the ageing people. The media technologies are thus also considered as the objects of emotions, and experiences that can be associated to how the media can be integrated and used in the daily lives of the older adults.

New Media, Caste and Ageing Population  279

Review of Literature The historical account of technology is believed to be way more than any existing account of material objects and their physical processes. It is as vast as the formation of modern nations like India, where the history of technology was shaped by the ways with which people identified with particular technological goods, skills and processes. India, unlike many other countries across the globe, became a market for the newly produced small-scale machines and industrially produced goods in the late 19th century, and increasingly by the 1920s and 1930s. The scribal history of India is quite long and cultured. The clerical skill in India was developed under the bureaucratic empires of the Mughals and the Marathas, which was later on immensely utilized by the British. The service communities comprising the typists, stenographers or clerks mostly belonged to Brahmins and Kayasthas. In the early 20th century, Brahmins held a substantial proportion as clerks in government offices (Bandyopadhyay 2016). Ageing in India has always been projected as outcaste and weak. Existing literature suggests that there are a number of circumstances under which problems of depression, social isolation, exclusion and exploitation can thrive (Dandekar 1996; Gore 2000; Gurumurthy 1998; Jamuna 2003). For instance, in India there is an absence of a Western-style social security system, and aged people consistently experience a sharp reduction in their income soon after retirement (Mukherjee 2011). Moreover, older adults deter to seek professional assistance as there is a social stigma associated with institutional living, making them more dependent on their children and other family networks for basic sustenance. In such a scenario, the question arises whether the emerging new media technology can be a level playing field to bridge the digital divide among caste, ethnicity and aging people in the society. A closer look into the studies done on new media shows that the older adults are fast stepping towards the world of the internet and making use of it to cope with their susceptibilities (The Economic Times 2006). To understand the role of new media in the lives of the older adults, it is important to first understand the problems and exact position of

280  Debarati Dhar

the ageing people in the contemporary society, and the way they are projected by the popular media. Earlier studies (Basu 2014; Dandekar 1996; Gurumurthy 1998) have addressed the challenges and issues faced by the elderly though the need to understand what old people themselves perceive as the good quality of life. As noted by Chakravarty (2001), modern ageing acted unfavourably to the family support for the older adults, both in urban as well as rural settings in Bengal. Media and the advanced information communication tools play a great role in the development of each stage of life in this mediated environment. In this context, old age, too, does not differ. Sufficient research has been done on the effect of demographic variables on the use of the internet and new media by the older adults (Bhatt 2010; Kanayama 2003; Sourbati 2004). At the same time, new media technologies also have the potential of posing the threat of digitally excluding people. In some policy documents by the Government of India, such as National Policy on Older Persons, the mention of use of new media technology for supporting independent living and promoting sense of independence of older adults can be found (Goyal and Dixit 2008). Hence, for the effective use of the media, an elderly is expected to have competences, which is described as learning skills and consciousness. Social media is one of the most widespread services that have not only altered the lives of aged people in many ways, but have also remarkably increased in popularity. Because of the increasing popularity and participation of elderly in social networking sites, Baugess (2015) proposes that aged people may greatly be profiting from social networking activities, and it is also quite possible that virtual networking plays a constructive role in their lives. Wagner, Hassanein and Head (2010) also cited that social support received online in coping with sorrow and dealing with terrestrial boundaries or restricted mobility are some of the substantial indications of the benefits of social networking sites. The outlooks of the senior citizens, and their perceptions and concerns towards the social media have been studied by many scholars, and how they insist the need of new media in serving them purposefully (Eastman and Iyer 2004; Mitzner et. al 2010; Xie, Watkins, Golbeck, and Huang 2012). Another study highlighted that considering the fact that when the conventional media is fulfilling their basic communication needs, then at this point

New Media, Caste and Ageing Population  281

it is quite unclear why the elderly people use the internet the way they do (Brakel 2011). The new media has developed the new context of communication for older adults that is known as the computer-mediated communication. It brings forth the need for digital literacy in a country as populous and diverse as India, which is critical. With a constant tugof-war between resources and requirements, technology is the only way to scale up solutions and bridge the gaps between them. Moreover, inadequate knowledge often leads to a common perception of fear to use the social media among the first-time users. Understanding the conceptualization of digital independence and inclusion by the aged people is significant for bridging the digital divide. The older adults, all their lives, have been using conventional media; and with the changing media environment, they realize the need for adopting a completely new media that poses a huge challenge for them—considering their increasing age and physical decline (Dhar 2018). Taking a cue from the existing studies on ageing and on new media technology, the present study attempts to find the interrelationships among caste, age and new media in the Indian society. During the British rule, Bengal was considered to be the first region of the country to be colonized and modernized. Mostly, the opportunities that were provided by the colonial rule were availed by people belonging to the upper caste, and in such, a vision and institution like ‘caste’ were viewed as a ‘backward’ institution and were not found to be having any significant presence. Subsequently, in most of the academic and other scholarly domains, the middle class society became an established point as compared to other states where caste-based politics or violence was having quite a strong presence (Bandyopadhyay 2016). Moreover, the same study also suggests that the absence of visible forms of violence, and of caste-based parties, does not necessarily indicate the casteless nature of Bengali society (Bandyopadhyay 2016). In the late 19th century and the early years of the 20th century, the authoritative works by Edgar Thurston’s Castes and Tribes of Southern India (1909), or the similar volumes by R. V. Russell on Central Provinces (1916), customary skills and traditional occupations were firmly identified with particular castes in certain provinces of India. However, not much

282  Debarati Dhar

connection could be observed on technological change over the ages, and its impact or intersection with the castes in the available literature. For instance, Thurston puts less light on the impact of technological change on caste and occupations.

Theoretical Grounding and Methodological Approach The present study draws on John B. Thompson’s The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media (1995). Thompson highlights a constructive role played by the communication media in the formation of modern societies. This theory posits the social and cultural impact by the diffusion of the information and communication forms in the existing communication structure as well as by the expansion of the global communication network. It is being argued that the development of communication media has lately altered the spatial and progressive composition of social life by providing new forms of interaction channels. The present study draws inspiration from Thompson’s work and attempts to extend to understand how old people conduct their daily lives and their social network of friends and family. This study analyzes how and in what ways new media has brought in the sense of belonging among the aged people (all above the age of 60 years) across the city of Kolkata (West Bengal). According to the Census of India, persons above 60 years of age constitute the ageing population (Directorate of Census, 19991). Empirical and qualitative methods have been adopted and selective respondents across caste groups have been interviewed to find out the accessibility of new media by them. The responses have been objectively analyzed and interpreted. Survey followed by person-to-person interview has been adapted to illustrate how the aged people make use of social media. Total respondents for this study were 160. A questionnaire containing the design of a basic ‘tick box’ was prepared, and the respondents from across zones—North, South, West and East of Kolkata Municipal Corporation—were asked to complete it. Further, this questionnaire also worked as a conversation motivation for the elderly participants 1

New Media, Caste and Ageing Population  283

who wished to provide any further insight. All the qualitative responses were recorded and transcribed immediately after the interview. According to the field survey, majority of the respondents were found to be moderately educated with stable financial conditions. It indicates that education and income can probably have a link with technology adoption accounting for direct effects. Further, the findings also reveal that aged people across caste groups are comfortable using conventional mass media. Newspapers, television and radio access by the ageing people has been found to be standard across all zones, and not much difference in terms of usage has been observed. Daily newspaper readership is common among the aged. It is a long-term habit of the old people to read the newspapers manually, and not with keypads or keyboards and screen. Even the advent of new media has not been able to change that habit. Through the various internet platforms, the aged people are using new media technologies to transcend barriers of digital literacy in ways not possible before by sharing understandings and interests with people of their age group, who have previously been beyond their reach. In a way, new media helps in creating a sort of socializing space. Further, the mobility of the aged population gets restricted due lack of physical and other supports required for socialization. Hence, the new media provides an interesting occasion for socialization through 180 160 140 120 100

Series 1


Series 2


Series 3


Series 4

20 0 Zone/ New media accessibility


Figure 16.1  Accessibility of New Media Tools Across Zones

284  Debarati Dhar

virtual spaces to renew, re-establish and continue their association and identity. Nevertheless, it indicates that older people have found a means of communicating with each other beyond the physical or geographical limitations. With the advancement of age, importance of staying connected, that mainly includes maintaining relationships with family and friends, has been established by a number of ageing theories (Raju 2002; Vijaykumar 1999). Besides the conventional mass media, the aged people were found to be having stable accessibility to new media at their homes across the city. All the respondents were further interviewed to get in-depth ideas. The usage pattern of new media by the aged respondents was found to be interesting as well. Older adults have said that they use the new media mainly for socialization as well as for obtaining information. Respondents opined that new media and the internet use enables them to stay in contact with their near and dear ones. They further said that new media also reduces the impact of geographic distance, and that the internet and the new media is the primary channel through which they withstand generational bonds. Though the access and usage of new media by the aged people were found to be not having any direct connection with the caste factor, rather, the family structure was found to be having a strong influence on the accessibility and interest in using new media by the elderly people. For instance, few respondents said that they do not have much requirement of the smartphones except for making some calls as most of their children lived with them, and they preferred the television over the smartphones for spending their leisure time. Further, some respondents also said that they looked for poems, music, etc. on the online channels. For instance, one aged lady of around 66 years said that she writes screenplays for drama whenever there is some cultural event in her society, and she finds it easier to look for Tagore songs that she uses in her screenplay on the internet. She admits that as the age increases, there is a decline in the memory, and it becomes impossible to remember which book has the mention of some particular song or dialogue that she needs for her reference work. So, when her daughter taught her how to search things on Google, her work has become easier, and it takes less time to finish her script. She feels that new media and the internet is a boon for aged people in many ways; it not only helps in communication but is also a

New Media, Caste and Ageing Population  285

great source for spending leisure lone time. It gives fruitful company to those who live alone; it gives them the reason to remain engaged in some way or the other. From the experiences of the aged respondents, it can be said that the online social networks are rapidly changing the way they interact and spend their time in this digital era.

Caste, Ageing and Digital Literacy This paper, so far, discussed the importance of new media in the lives of the elderly people by examining how it affects them as they deal with their normal everyday lives. The new media is employed in an extensive variety of activities such as keeping in touch with friends and relatives, seeking useful information and for passing the time leisurely. The findings from our field survey suggest that the aged people across zones (caste factor was not prominent or noticeable) have proper affordability power, and have accessibility of new media tools (Figure 16.1). Moreover, the aged people have different usage purposes of new media—like for socializing, entertainment and for information regarding health, finance or information about any new topic or place, though they have their share of difficulties in using the new media and face problems in handling the smart device. They majorly use new media for socializing and connecting with friends. Arguments about new media technology’s impact are often contentious, and hence, the case of the aged is no different. What is inevitable is that the new media technologies have made the options much broader as compared to earlier times. One of the ways for bridging the digital divide for ageing people is not by asking in what way information communication tools can be made available to this particular group but rather by knowing the optimal way the aged groups use new media for their day-to-day requirements, and their way of appropriating new media and the needs they have in the process of using it. Most of these populations have specific requirements that need customizing, such as making bigger fonts or modifying the display contrast for people suffering from low vision while using the smartphone. During fieldwork, most of the aged people expressed their interest in using online banking system or paying bills online, as it might not always be feasible for them to go to the bank or other places to pay bills because of health reasons. Their

286  Debarati Dhar

computer use mainly takes place at home, helped by family members and relatives. Since majority of them live either in a joint family or in a very close-knit community life, the support and help from others is immense. When the respondents were further probed for knowing the reason of not having any smartphone or internet connection at home, they answered that there are several factors—like weakening memory, physical problems due to increased age, complexities of the smartphones, the devices are not aged-friendly, smaller keypad, distraction as well as trust issues, fear of online fraudulence, etc.—create a hindrance in using smartphones. Diverse reasons of increasing digital barrier were derived from the respondents. A 68-year-old active social media user explained how she was intimidated by the challenges of social media initially, and that she had to get past the fear by logging on every day to remain connected with friends and her associates. She believes that one can only become more comfortable with the new technology by using it frequently. At the end, she opined that keeping up with the continuous changes in technology is a constant endeavour for older people as they are scared to try because they think they are too old to learn. While referring to digital literacy, the elderly respondents admitted that the internet has made it possible for them to explore new worlds beyond any barrier and age. For them, their greying age is a plus point as it gives them all the extra time for investing in leisure opportunities. One respondent of around 70 years of age said that for him the internet is the world, even though his entire family lives with him except one son, who is staying in another city. For him, connectivity was not the basic necessity when he took to using new media, it was his enthusiasm that led him to explore the unseen virtual world. According to him, if the younger generation can remain so engrossed with the online world, why not people of his age group, why would they lag behind? He explains that there is a limit to all the things that an old person is supposed to do, like how long can one read newspapers, books, watch television or interact with friends in clubs. He figuratively points out that he has become an avid blogger, that the mind is growing all the time even if the body is ageing, and it needs an outlet to share the opinions or thoughts on various issues. He further adds that he finds himself restless if he doesn’t have access to the internet for an entire day.

New Media, Caste and Ageing Population  287

Concluding Notes In earlier times, the advent of technology symbolized modernity and an exciting new world of speed, reliability, position and self-expression. This symbolism can still be found relevant with the new modes of communication technology having made possible an expansion of the personal as well as public sphere. The understanding of the digital divide is not only limited, or may be confined to the rich and poor. It may equally be seen within rich and poor aged population along caste and sub-caste groups. The need for appropriation of new media varies across caste and sub-caste of the aged population. The need and reasons for appropriation vary across these caste groups. While there might be commonalities across these differentiation as regards the architecture of the media but the needs vary due to the socio-economic background of the aged population. Hence, while analyzing the intensity of new media use by the older adults of different caste groups, concepts such as digital literacy, digital inclusion and digital skills acquire a larger prominence in their everyday life. The field findings indicate towards a setting where the percentage of the aged people did not differ much in terms of accession across caste groups.

References Bandyopadhyay, S. 2016, 21 April. ‘Does the Caste System Really Not Exist in Bengal?’ Open Democracy: (Accessed 20 March, 2019) Basu, R. (2014, November 19). ‘Aged, Ailing and Home Alone’. The Telegraph, V2beSPl97I U Baugess, B. E. 2015. ‘Examining Social Network Site Usage by Older Adults: A Phenomenological Approach.’ Unpublished Doctoral Diss, Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences, Nova South-eastern University. Bhatt, N. 2010, 4 October. ‘ “Enter,” All Ye Web Fuchchas’. Outlook. http:// (Accessed 3 January 2017). Brakel, A. V. 2011. ‘Older People New Media Use’. Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, University of Twente, 1–115. Burnett, J. 1991. ‘Examining the Media Habits of the Affluent Elderly’. Journal of Advertising Research 31, 33–41.

288  Debarati Dhar Chakravarty, I. 2001. ‘Combating Problems of Widows’. Ageing and Society: The Indian Journal of Gerontology XI (I & II), 53–66. Chafetz, P. K., H. Holmes, K. Lande, E. Childress, and H. Glazer. 1998. ‘Older Adults and the News Media: Utilization, Opinions, and Preferred Reference Terms’. The Cerontologist 38 (4), 481–89. Dandekar, K. 1996. The Elderly in India. New Delhi: Sage Publications. Dhar, D. 2018. ‘Media, Sociality, and Aging Process: A Study of Aging Process through New Media in Select Areas of Kolkata’. Asian Journal for Public Opinion Research 5 (3), 204–27. Doolittle, J. 1979. ‘News Media Use by Older Adults’. Journalism Quarterly 56, 311–17. Eastman, J. K. and R. Iyer. 2005. ‘The Impact of Cognitive Age on Internet Use of the Elderly: An Introduction to the Public Policy Implications’. International Journal of Consumer Studies 29, 125–36. Gore, M. 2000. Third Survey of Research in Sociology and Social Anthropology. New Delhi: ICSSR. Goyal, V. C., and U. Dixit. 2008. ‘Technology Interventions for Elderly People’. HelpAge India-R&D Jl 14 (2). Jamuna, D. 2003. ‘Issues of Elder Care and Elder Abuse in the Indian Context’. Journal of Aging & Social Policy, 15, 125–42. Kanayama, T. 2003. ‘Ethnographic Research on the Experience of Japanese Elderly People Online’. New Media & Society 5 (2), 267–88. Mitzner, T. L., J. B. Boron, C. B. Fausset, A. E. Adams, N. Charness, S. J. Czaja, Katinka Dijkstra, Arthur Fisk, Wendy Anne Rogers, and Joseph Sharit. 2010. ‘Older adults Talk Technology: Technology usage and attitudes’. Computers in Human Behavior 26 (6), 1710–21. Mukherjee, D. 2011. ‘Information and Communication Technologies for the Protection of older adults in India’. Asia Pacific Tech Monitor. http://www. Roe, K. 1983. ‘Media Use and Social Mobility’. In Media Effects and Beyond, edited by K. Rosengren. London: Routledge. Russell, R. V. 1916. The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India. London: Macmillan. Siva Raju, S. 2002. Health Status of the Urban Elderly. Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation. Smith, A. 2014, 3 April. ‘Older Adults and Technology Use’. Pew Research Center: (Accessed 2 January 2017). Sourbati, M. 2004. Internet use in Sheltered Housing: Older People’s Access to New Media and Online Service Delivery. London: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The Economic Times. 2006. ‘Senior Citizens Driving Internet Usage’. The Economic Times, 3 March. (Accessed 24 December 2016).

New Media, Caste and Ageing Population  289

Thompson, J. B. 1995. The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media. Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell Publishers. Thurston, E. 1909. Castes and Tribes of Southern India. Madras: Government Press. Vijayakumar, S. 1999. Population ageing in India. Help Age India Research Development Journal, 5(2). Wagner, N., K. Hassanein, and M. Head. 2010. ‘Computer Use by Older Adults: A Multi-disciplinary Review’. Computers in Human Behavior, 26, 870–82. Xie, B., I. Watkins, J. Golbeck, and M. Huang. 2012. ‘Understanding and Changing Older Adults’ Perceptions and Learning of Social Media.’ Educational Gerontology 38 (4), 282–96.

Section V

Literary Culture and Communicating Caste

Chapter 17

Pariyan: Print Media, Mobilization and Resistance in Colonial Madras J. Balasubramaniam

Introduction The chapter analyzes the content of the Dalit journal Pariyan in the issue of simultaneous examination in colonial India. Content analysis will help us understand the views of one of the most prominent Dalit leaders, Rettaimalai Srinivasan, and those of the contributors of Pariyan on political, social and cultural issues from 1893 to 1900. With the support of archival data, this paper also tries to describe how Rettaimalai Srinivasan carried forward his struggles for the liberation of the Dalits through the print medium, and how he responded to the mainstream journals, most of which were nationalist in orientation. The Dalit leaders questioned the ideology and activities of the Indian National Congress (INC) right from its inception. They also

294  J. Balasubramaniam

challenged the Congress’ assumed authority as the sole representative of all Indians (Srinivasan 1939, 48; Iyothee Thass Tamilan, 29 April 1908). The late 19th and early 20th century colonial period was an important phase where the Dalit leaders attempted to influence the public sphere, particularly for discussing the problems of the Dalits. The Pariyan reflected the modern social and political aspirations of the Dalits, like self-respect, equality, economic independence, education for all, abolition of untouchability, temperance, etc. Undoubtedly, the content of the Pariyan demonstrates the Dalit participation in the construction of modern India. It is considered a significant journal because of its efforts to instil political and social consciousness. The journal was edited by Rettaimalai Srinivasan and was published from October 1893 to 1900 from Chennai.

Rettaimalai Srinivasan’s Biography There are valuable biographical details available from his autobiography, Diwan Bahadur Rettaimalai Srinivasan Jeeviya Sarithira Surukkam (A Short Biography of Diwan Bahadur Rettaimalai Srinivasan), written and published by him in 1939. Srinivasan was born on 7 July 1860 in Maduranthagam in Chengalpet district, Tamil Nadu. His father’s name was Rettaimalai. At the age of 22, he started travelling to various places around the country to understand the condition of the Depressed Classes. In 1891, he founded the Pariyar Mahajana Sabha, one of the earliest organizations of the Dalits; he was also the secretary of the Sabha. He started his career in South Africa, where he worked as a clerk and an Indian interpreter at the district court of Verulam near Durban for a period of 16 years. In 1921, he returned to India without achieving his dream of visiting London. In 1923, he was nominated to the Madras Legislative Council. He served as a legislator for 15 years. For his selfless service to the Depressed Classes, the government honoured him by presenting him with the titles of ‘Rao Sahib’ on 1 January 1926, ‘Rao Bahadur’ on 3 June 1930 and ‘Diwan Bahadur’ on 1 January 1936. In 1931, he attended the Round Table Conference along with B. R. Ambedkar as a representative of the Depressed Classes. Until

Pariyan: Print Media, Mobilization and Resistance in Colonial Madras  295

his demise on 18 September 1945, he devoted himself to the development of the Depressed Classes. His autobiography reveals what triggered him to start a journal: In 1893, the British government brought out an order to educate the Pariah people but unfortunately the matter did not reach the people concerned. As a result, I started a journal called Pariyan to inform and educate people. This four page journal was sold for two annas. The Pariah people recognized it with a lot of expectations. The production and advertisement cost came to around Rs. 10 for the first issue. Within two days, 300 issues were sold in Madras city. Within three months, it became a weekly and we owned a press also. This journal advocated the interest of the Pariah people, approached the British government for support. Wherever the Pariah people gathered, they commented about the journal (Srinivasan, 1999).

Rettaimalai Srinivasan became a Dalit icon in the contemporary Dalit movements. All the Dalit movements used his pictures to mobilize the people. They also commemorate his birth and death anniversaries. From the year 2011, the Tamil Nadu government started to celebrate his birth anniversary. There are also a few Dalit organizations named after him in Tamil Nadu.

Origin of the Term ‘Pariah’ The word Pariah refers to one of the major untouchable castes of Tamil Nadu. Now, they are categorized as Scheduled Caste. The popular understanding of the origin of the word Pariah is from the music instrument of parai. According to this definition, those engaged in the profession of drum beating (parai) came to be known as Pariahs. But there are many interpretations of the origin of the word Pariah. Nineteenth-century modern thinker Iyothee Thass wrote in his journal Tamilan that the word ‘Pariyan’ was imposed by the Brahmins to humiliate this people. He also explained the origin of the word Pariah, saying that in history these people were Buddhists, who opposed the graded system of caste that was introduced by the

296  J. Balasubramaniam

Brahmins. In Tamil, the word Parai means ‘to say’ (to this day in Malayalam, this word retains this meaning). The native people disclosed (paraithal) the cunningness of the Brahmins, so the Brahmins called these people Pariah. There is another version for the origin of the word Pariah. Raj Sekhar Basu states that there is no mention of the name Paraiyar either in early Tamil literature or in inscriptions, until the time of Rajaraja Chola (AD 1013), from whose period it was evidently obtained as a caste denomination. It is commonly derived from Parai, a drum, by Dr Caldwell and native writers. This etymology, though reasonable, seems unsatisfactory as it is inconceivable that the beating of drums could be the occupation of nearly two and half million labourers, since the murasu of the drum-beating section of that comprehensive caste forms only 1/120th part of it. The more accurate derivation seems to be that of Col. Cunningham, M. Letourneau and Dr Oppert from the Sanskrit pahariya, a hill man, or from Tamil poraian, which is more in keeping with the regional division assigned to Eyinas by ancient Tamil grammarians (Basu 2011). However, for a long time, this term has been used to demean people. Even today, the word Pariah is used in a derogatory way to humiliate a person. For instance, Oxford English dictionary defines ‘pariah’ as an outcast: they were treated as social pariahs. But Rettaimalai Srinivasan named his journal Pariyan, 100 years ago, when the practice of untouchability was at its worst. He believed that every person who belonged to the Pariah caste should come forward and declare himself the same. Only then can one liberate themselves from caste oppression. At the same time, the other group from the same caste, led by Iyothee Thass, had the strong view that the word Pariah was imposed by the Brahmins to degrade the native Buddhists, and argued that we should reinvent the original identity that was the Buddhist identity. This ideological difference is visible in the names of their respective journals, Tamilan and Pariyan. Srinivasan used the term ‘Pariya’ or ‘Pariah’ in a broad sense to denote all the untouchable castes in the Tamil-speaking land. Now, it refers to a single caste in Tamil Nadu that comes under the Scheduled Caste category. Also, he often used the terms race and class to denote caste.

Pariyan: Print Media, Mobilization and Resistance in Colonial Madras  297

The Journal Pariyan Rettaimalai Srinivasan founded the Pariyan on 7 October 1893 as a Tamil-monthly (it occasionally published articles in English as well). From March 1894, it was published as a weekly (NNPR: 1883 to 1899). Even though the journal appeared till 1900, not a single copy is available in any archives or in any private collection. So the Native Newspapers Report (NNPR) excerpts are the only source for this study. All important issues discussed by Pariyan were translated into English and recorded in the NNPR. The translated excerpts were sent to the concerned government departments. Thus, the act of recording politically important content of native newspapers by the British India government did not only serve to monitor purpose but also as an agency to convey the grievances of natives to the ruler. This paper relies on the excerpts of Pariyan and some other Indian language journals published in the NNPR between 1893 and 1900. As the journal fully devoted itself to the upliftment of the Depressed Classes, most of its contents were concerned with the Dalits. Letters from readers published in the journal confirm that Pariyan enjoyed a considerable readership and was active across the state. Pariyan also had overseas readers in places like Ceylon, Burma and South Africa, where the Tamil Dalits had migrated as labourers. The readers actively engaged in the discussions raised in the journal, and also expressed and registered their grievances and opinions in it. By publishing the grievances and the wretched condition of the oppressed people, Pariyan not only disseminated information to a large number of readers but also conveyed it to the rulers. Accordingly, Pariyan registered its opinion on all government policies as well as the political agenda of the Indian National Congress. The journal was actively involved in all important debates during its period of publication like Civil Service examination in India, separate schools for Pariahs, etc. The objective of the paper is to analyze the content of Pariyan on simultaneous examination to understand its views and opinion. An analysis will also reveal how Pariyan’s opinion influenced its readers and the government, and consequently, how it worked for the awakening of the Dalits.

298  J. Balasubramaniam

Pariyan on the Issue of Civil Service Examination in India Right from the beginning, representatives of Pariahs opposed the proposal for simultaneous examination. The journal had also started propaganda against simultaneous exams, which was the dream goal of Congressmen. As a part of its campaign, a meeting was convened by the editor of the Pariyan, Rettaimalai Srinivasan. At the convention, a 112 feet length memorial (called Pariya Memorial) signed by 3,412 members of the Pariya caste was submitted to the parliament through General Chesney, protesting the proposal to hold Civil Service Examination in India. Some other language journals like Vrittanta Patrika and Kerala Sanchari also published news about the Pariya meeting (10 January 1894). Several articles and petitions were sent to the government to influence public opinion. The NNPR contains six excerpts from Pariyan on the issue of Simultaneous Examination. The Pariyan was very clear in its argument that if the proposal of Simultaneous Examination succeeded, it would grant more power to caste oppressors, the Brahmins. So it allied with Muslims and opposed the proposal. Under the leadership of Rettaimalai Srinivasan, deliberations were held to oppose the Simultaneous Examination. Articles were regularly published, and the issue was discussed in the letters to the correspondence on the issue. Its first article against the issue appeared on 1st December 1893. The article opposed holding the Civil Service examination in India on the ground that Brahmins and other high-caste Hindus will easily get through the examination and become Collectors and other leading officials in the public service, and will, in consequence of their superior position, treat the Pariahs and other low-caste men with racial contempt and dislike. The second news item appeared in June 1894; it said: The National Congress, composed mostly of Bengalis and Brahmins, with selfish motives has been agitating for Simultaneous Examination in India. The dispatch of the Secretary of State Mr. Fowler has once and for all silenced the selfish congressmen for the good of the country.

Pariyan: Print Media, Mobilization and Resistance in Colonial Madras  299

The House of Commons had stated that any further move on the issue would depend on the opinion of the Secretary of State. The second article reveals that the Secretary of State Mr. Fowler did not send the report in favour of the issue. As a result, sympathizers of the Simultaneous Examination were silent. Also, the Secretary of State announced in Parliament that there was no possibility to introduce Simultaneous Examination in the present situation in the country. At this juncture, Pariyan announced in its issue dated 25 August 1894 that ‘any attempt on the part of the so-called high castemen to have the Civil Service examination held in India will be of no avail’ (NNPR, 1894). Subsequently, the supporters of Simultaneous Examination were called for meetings. Many nationalist journals put forth their arguments in favour of simultaneous exams. But Pariyan and some Muslim journals countered those arguments. The Congressmen conducted a meeting at Pachaiyappa’s Hall in Madras city to achieve their objective. The Pariyan on 22nd September published a detailed article criticizing the speech of every participant at the meeting. It argued that no Pariyas, Muslims, Native Christians and other lower castes were present at the meeting. It was largely attended only by students of the college. The article also criticized Brahmins stating that they are selfish class caring only for their welfare, totally unmindful of the well-being of other classes. A more or less similar view was expressed by the Muhammadan journal Jaridah-i-Rozgar (1893). From the earlier evidence, it is clear that the opinion of the Pariyan played an important role in the issue of simultaneous examination. The Pariyan’s tough opposition compelled the Congress to adopt policies in favour of the Depressed Classes. Dadabhai Naoroji’s advice to the Madras Congress Committee to adopt necessary steps regarding the Depressed Classes was definitely a victory for Pariyan’s intervention in Indian public sphere. The measures taken by the Madras Congress Committee regarding the Depressed Classes were unknown, but it is obvious that the Congress was compelled to prove its impartiality to counter the opinion of Dalit intelligentsia. In addition, the Congress had to appoint Depressed Classes representatives to the organisation to show its capacity to mobilize ‘Indians’, irrespective of caste and religious differences for the cause of independence.

300  J. Balasubramaniam

After a year, it seems that the issue was revived before the Parliament by Dadabai Naoroji. In this situation, a correspondent wrote in the Pariyan (1895): Mr. Dadabai Naoroji is intending to move before Parliament a proposition that the decision of the Secretary of State on the question of simultaneous examination was unjust, while exhorting the Sudras, Muhammadans and Pariyas to bind themselves together and oppose the proposition and not to be led astray by the Congress organized by the crafty Brahmins. The Pariyan gave an open call to the oppressed people – Sudras and Muhammadans – to oppose the issue.

The situation changed dramatically in the following month as Dadabai Naoroji was not elected as Member of Parliament for second term. The Pariyan (1895) believed that the failure of Naoroji would greatly weaken the spirit of Congress – an assembly constituted by Brahmins – and hereafter the efforts of Brahmins will be useless. The paper also added that Bownagiri would struggle hard to represent before parliament the grievances of the poor state of India and also the inefficiency of the party. The editor of the journal, believed the British rule and British officials alone could function without caste prejudice and could consequently improve the life of untouchables.

Swadesamitran on Civil Service Examination During the late 19th century, among Tamil journals, Swadesamitran was a strong supporter of Indian National Congress and that had larger readership. Many nationalist journals supported the Simultaneous Examination across the country and so did Swadesmitran. Hence, it was considered a Tamil nationalist journal for the study. The Swadesamitran (1893) wrote that: After hot and protracted discussions, the Parliament and the British Government have once and for all decided that the Indian Civil Service Examinations should be conducted simultaneously in England and India, and as the practicability of the decision in

Pariyan: Print Media, Mobilization and Resistance in Colonial Madras  301

question more or less depends on the favourable opinion of the Government of India (GOI), of late GOI has shown symptoms of disapproval, and this circumstance creates a painful anxiety in the minds of the natives of India. The attitude of the GOI in this regard to the question of holding the Indian Civil Service Examination in India makes people believe that Government will oppose the measure. This will be the only course left to the people if they desire to prevent the Government of India from shelving the measures for an indefinite length of time.

In another issue, the Swadesamitran (1894) admitted that the Government of India was strongly opposed to holding the Civil Service examination in India and in England simultaneously. It had, therefore, endeavoured to represent to the Secretary of State that many practical difficulties existed in carrying out the resolution of the Parliament on that subject. The paper also advised people not to depend only on the Government of India but to appeal to the British Parliament, as well as to the people of England, to ensure their long-cherished objective is accomplished. These two news items show the commitment of Swadesamitran (1894) in the issue of the Civil Service examination. It also argued for simultaneous examination by referring to the declaration of 1833, saying that ‘it is not to grant us any new rights and privileges but simply to redeem the several pledges that England had already made to India’. Swadesamitran’s efforts are clear from the aforementioned evidence. Many non-Dalit journals also supported the views of Swadesamitran. There were two groups that fought through print over the issue of civil service examination, one was nationalist, demanding simultaneous examination, and another was untouchables and minorities, opposing it.

Opinion of Non-Dalit Journals in Favour of Civil Service Examination Some journals other than Swadesamitran also supported the simultaneous examination. The Andhraprakasika (in 1917, it became an organ of Justice Party), a Telugu weekly, referred to the meeting held

302  J. Balasubramaniam

at Pachaiyappa’s hall and requested the government to consider the question of simultaneous examinations for the civil service. It also supported the opinion of P. Chentsal Row, who declared that successful candidates should not be compelled to proceed to England (Andhraprakasika: 1893). The Malayalam weekly Manorama (1893) published from Calicut said that there should be an examination in England and India at the same time and with the same question papers, and that there should be one uniform list for all competitors. The list should rank all competitors according to merit, without making any other distinction. Successful Indian candidates should be sent to England to get trained in administration. It is obvious that all the south Indian language journals participated in the discussion and expressed their opinion on simultaneous examinations. Not all the non-Dalit journals supported the Congress agenda, but some did for the cause of Dalits.

Opinion of Non-Dalit Journals in Support of Pariyan’s View There was a visible divide among the journals published from Madras Presidency on the issue of Simultaneous Examinations, other than Muslim and Dalit journals. Some journals supported the demand for simultaneous exams, and some opposed it. Since the issue was raised by the Congress, enough attention was given to it on all the regional language journals of Madras presidency. Among the other language journals that supported the opinion of Pariyan were Kerala Sanchari (Malayalam), Vrittanta Patrika (Kannada), Vrittanta Chintamani (Kannada). The Kerala Sanchari (1894) regularly updated the news about Pariyar Mahajana Sabha’s position in simultaneous examination. Other journals like Vrittanta Chintamani (1894) also agreed that the decision of the Secretary of State for India on the question of Simultaneous Examination was entirely due to the petitions forwarded by Muslims and Pariahs praying against the holding of the examination in India.

Pariyan: Print Media, Mobilization and Resistance in Colonial Madras  303

A Kannada weekly, Vrittanta Patrika (1894), said that A meeting of the Pariahs was held in Madras during which it was resolved that the holding of the competitive examination for the Indian Civil Service in India was undesirable in as much as it would be prejudicial to the interest of many of the Indian people. This resolution has been communicated to the parliament. We hope due consideration will be given to this resolution by that august body.

Vrittanta Patrika (1893) observed that Those who had never been out of India cannot deal administrative matters satisfactorily. Any blunder committed in such matters may involve the whole of India in a war with a foreign nation. Besides this, we think that the education available in India does not afford sufficient training for such responsible offices. It is true that we get a sort of education by mere reading of books. But this is not sufficient. It is therefore necessary that Indians should study in England in order to be fit for the Civil Service.

The aforementioned data shows that there was not a single Tamil journal that fully supported the opinion of Pariyan. At the same time, not many Tamil journals vigorously supported the issue like Swadesamitran. The reason was that the Tamil journals mostly concentrated on subjects like literature and religion besides local issues during that period. Even some journals that dealt with politics did not make any comment on the issue of Civil Service. For instance Vikata Dutan, a Dalit journal that had a circulation of 1500 copies in 1893, did not comment on the civil service exam issue though it often discussed political matters. Against this backdrop, Pariyan was waging an opinion war with Swadesamitran. It is important to note that not a single Tamil nationalist journal discussed the Pariyas’ petition against the Simultaneous Examination. Only a few other language journals supported the opinion of Pariyan and agreed with the effect of the Pariya memorandum. But the journals that supported the demand for Simultaneous Examination in India

304  J. Balasubramaniam

did not mention the Pariya memorandum. Pariyan also concentrated other important issues like education for untouchable.

Pariyan on the Issue of Education In 1893, the Madras Government passed a G.O. 68, 1893, assuring that wherever seven children or more were studying, it would be considered as a school eligible to get grant-in-aid from the Government. Some clauses in the G.O granted benefits to the Depressed Classes. Though many initiatives were taken by the Government in various spheres for the development of the Depressed Classes, there were many hindrances to realize policies, such as this Government Order. Untouchable children were not allowed into public schools. Even if they managed to secure admissions somewhere, they could not attend the schools due to abject poverty. They had to work as farm labourers to feed themselves and their family. Several articles in Pariyan testified to this scenario. To remove these hurdles, Srinivasan suggested that separate schools be formed for Pariyas. He also wanted the Government to provide monetary support to Pariya students to meet their food expenses. As a result, the Government decided to start separate schools for Pariahs. Here, we would like to note that missionaries, colonial officials and other societies also worked for the primary education of the Depressed Classes. Among them, Colonel Henry Steel Olcott’s concern was notable. He was the founder of the Theosophical Society at Adyar in Chennai. He opened many ‘Panchama Free Schools’ in Madras city for the education of the Pariahs in 1894 (Colonel Henry Steel Olcott: 1902). Wesleyan Methodist missionaries were among the early ones to open schools for untouchable children. The following news item in Pariyan helps us understand the position of the Depressed Classes and how they were excluded from educational institutions. A correspondent of Pariyan wrote: There is a Local Fund Mission school at Kaveripakkam in Walaja taluk. While the school is open for all classes of people, the school authorities do not allow Pariah boys, however anxious they may

Pariyan: Print Media, Mobilization and Resistance in Colonial Madras  305

be to read, even to step into the school premises. Why not the local fund authorities pay heed to this? O! Congress! Where is the appropriateness of the term ‘national’ as applied to thee? If Pariah boys are not allowed to read in ordinary schools at present when will they qualify themselves for the Indian Civil Service? Why not the Pariahs study for and pass the Civil Service examination? O! Congress Wallahs! Cast away your jealousy and ambition and do no unjust acts even though Government may be blind to them (8 December 1894).

Here we must keep in mind that when the untouchable children were denied permission to enter the primary school, the Congress was vigorously fighting for conducting simultaneous examinations for civil service. This was the situation in every part of Madras presidency. So, the Pariyan was keen to establish separate schools for untouchables. It seems that the idea of separate schools for Pariahs emerged as early as 1726. Josiah Bateman writes that ‘we read from the “Extract from the Ancient and Modern Missionary Reports on the subject of Distinction of Castes” that of separate schools being allowed, because the parents of Sudra children objected to their sitting with Pariah children’ (Bateman: 1860, 336) During the late 19th and early 20th century, the efforts to establish separate school for untouchables spread across India. For instance, on 19 October 1882, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule submitted a memorandum to the education commission of Bombay headed by Mr. Hunter for separate schools for untouchable children. In 1904, Ayyankali set up the Katakala School, near Venganoor in Kerala (Narayan Mishra: 2001, 9–10).

Separate Schools for Pariahs The Pariyan republished the memorandum of Dr. Duncan published in an English newspaper, insisting on separate schools for Pariahs. In the memorandum, he suggested that missionary and others working for the amelioration of the condition of Pariahs should be elected as members of local boards and an extra allowance of `2 should be given to Pariah students along with their scholarship. He emphasized the

306  J. Balasubramaniam

fact that schools should be established exclusively for Pariahs and the buildings for such schools should be erected on poramboke (Vacant land belonging to the government is known as poramboke land) lands of paracheries (Settlements inhabited by the Pariahs) the management of such schools should be left in the hands of municipal authorities, leaving the Director of Public Instruction to fix the rate of fees to be paid by Pariah pupils, which should be one-half of the rate fixed for other schools and an Inspector of Schools should be selected from among their class. The paper urged Pariahs to take steps to bring this order into execution (1 February 1894). To strengthen the argument in favour of separate schools for Pariahs, the Pariyan cited incidents of exclusion of Pariahs from schools in various parts of Madras Presidency. A correspondent of the Pariyan remarked that, in the village of Kilakarai, mostly inhabited by the Muslims, there were nearly 300 houses of Pariahs who, as a class, have to meet with very harsh treatment from the Muslims, and that it is desirable that the authorities should be pleased to open a school exclusively for the use of the Pariahs (10 November 1894). In the next month, the Pariyan, by referring the order of the Government regarding the education of the Pariahs, asked why the Government had not given effect to the order by opening schools exclusively for Pariahs in different parts of the district (1 December 1894). The Pariyan by citing the Tremenheere’s report (A Note on the Pariahs of Chingleput District in 1891) in its issue of 13 April 1895, requested the Government to open primary schools for the education of Pariahs. In the beginning, Rettaimalai Srinivasan demanded separate schools for the untouchables. Later, he requested extending free education to all the backward class people. It also refers to the free education implemented by the Gaikwar of Baroda and suggested that the Government follow the example of Baroda (5 October 1895). After consistent appeals and struggles of the leaders of Depressed Classes particularly the Pariyar Mahajana Sabha, separate schools for Pariahs was introduced. The Government passed resolution advising municipalities and district boards to open schools exclusively for the

Pariyan: Print Media, Mobilization and Resistance in Colonial Madras  307

education of Pariahs. At this juncture, the Pariyan, referring to the resolution of the Government, observed that [T]he members, who constitute the boards and the Municipal councils being high castemen, will never like to see Pariahs improve in education and will therefore never spend the money allotted for the purpose in question. The paper thinks it desirable that Government should pass a strict rule that Municipalities and District Boards should set apart a certain percentage of their revenue for the education of Pariahs and that the educational authorities should see whether the amount so allotted is utilized for the purpose for which it is intended. (17 August 1895)

Obstacles to Separate Schools and the Suggestions of Pariyan The demand for separate schools faced severe opposition from the caste Hindus. It was also reflected at the stage of execution of the policy. After the opening of the separate schools for Pariahs, there were many difficulties that cropped up. These included the higher caste servants (teachers and inspectors) who showed inhibition to serve in these schools. To overcome this kind of caste discrimination Srinivasan demanded the appointment of teachers from the same class and also build schools in paracheries. A number of correspondents wrote to Pariyan narrating the difficulties of Depressed Classes to get primary education. One correspondent wrote that Rev. H.C. Hozen has purchased the village of Palani Vayil from the Sivaganga zamindari with a view to erect houses and schools for the use of Pariahs. As this village is in the midst of a forest, Pariahs will find great difficulty in procuring food and other necessities. So the journal asked for the intervention of government in the matter. (5 May 1894).

Another correspondent reported that the local fund school, opened for Pariahs in the village of Nattarasankottai in the Sivaganga Zamindari, was without a teacher. Stating that Vellala teachers (Middle Caste)

308  J. Balasubramaniam

and Brahmin inspectors would never do good for Pariah Schools, he suggested keeping all Pariah Schools in the district of Madura under the management of missionaries or of the Madura Pariah Reform Society with a Pariah as Superintendent, on the ground that he would evince greater interest in the education of his own caste than what may be expected from high castemen (4 January 1896). The Pariyan followed not only the establishment of schools and but also the functioning of the schools, watching the practical difficulties faced by the Pariah pupil. It explained the inability of Pariah boys to afford school fees. It seems that the concessions granted by the Director of Public Instruction for the education of Pariah boys was practically inoperative in the town of Madras. The concessions were 1) that in Municipal and Local fund schools, Pariah boys would be taught on payment of half the prescribed fees; 2) that in schools especially established for the benefit of Pariahs, no fees would be levied for Pariah boys. In this situation, in Madras, there were no Municipal Schools, and the only Government institution was the Presidency College, which was unaffordable for Pariah boys. The rest of the schools in town are run by missionaries or other private agencies, supported by municipal grants. In these schools, Pariah boys were not admitted on payment of half fees, nor was there any rule enforcing admission at reduced rates. It is true that higher rates of grants are given for Pariah boys. But what is required is a rule compelling managers of schools to admit Pariah boys and only levy half the fees in order to get the Government grant (4 September 1897). On another occasion, Pariyan felt that the Hindu landowners did not like to see their Panchama tillers of land improving themselves in education or otherwise, and that the municipalities and local fund boards were not coming forward to open schools for the benefit of the Panchamas. The journal therefore recommended the appointment of a special officer entrusted with the work of visiting villages and of establishing schools for the benefit of the Panchamas (11 September 1897). So there were many difficulties in the establishment of separate schools for pariahs. The problems included upper-caste landlords and inhibition of higher caste teachers and inspectors. The economic situation also did not allow the Pariah boys to go to school. But, in every

Pariyan: Print Media, Mobilization and Resistance in Colonial Madras  309

situation, the Pariyan suggested a way and also gave a possible solution for the problem. Moreover, it was a voice for the under-privileged people of Madras presidency. The memorial submitted to Government by the Committee of the Paraiyar Mahajana Sabha in October 1898, requested Government to adopt measures to make it obligatory on the part of the private schools in Madras to observe the rules passed by the Department of Education in regard to the Pariah pupils in G.O., No. 63, dated 1st February 1893. The journal stated that the said rules will prove beneficial to the Pariahs only if they were being observed. It requested the Government to take necessary action in this regard (19 February 1899). Rettaimalai Srinivasan believed that education alone would improve the condition of the Dalits. So he took great efforts to adopt the policies in favour of Dalits. Even after the successful adaptation of the policies they faced many hurdles at the level of implementation from the dominant caste officials. From this, we can understand the role of the journal in articulating a distinct Dalit perspective. To achieve the desired goal they used several ways like conducting meetings, sending petitions etc. These kinds of appeals were really effective because the British India government was in compulsion to satisfy the lower classes to counter pressure from the Congress.

Pariyan and the Indian National Congress Rettaimalai Srinivasan started criticizing the Indian National Congress right from the launch of the journal in 1893. He ridiculed the organization saying that it never was going to be a movement for all Indians, and that it would represent only Brahmins. The Pariyan wrote: In the beginning, the Congress was in affluent circumstances owing to the liberal contribution of Mr. Hume, Mr. Norton and of many Maharajas and Zamindars; but now the pecuniary condition of the Congress is more or less very precarious. The said Europeans and Maharajas, discovering the treacherous and selfish policy of Brahmins, and observing that the Congress is organized with a view to further the prospects of the members of the Bar and of the Academy, who now chiefly constitute the Congress, greater than

310  J. Balasubramaniam

the well being of the public, have ceased their connection with it (15 September 1895).

In the issue dated 23 November 1895, Pariyan was of the opinion that [T]he Congress, under the pretext of doing good to the public, seeks merely the self-aggrandisement of a section of it, and its aims are that Brahmins and Pariyas, who belong to the same body of general public, should not be on a footing of equality.

When the Congress asked for open competitive examination for Government posts, Pariyan opposed it by arguing that ‘there is no doubt that they will convince none, we are equally certain. However here is another indication of the expressed determination to virtually nationalize, that is, as we interpret it, to brahmanize and babuize the administration’. Pariyan carried an article in English in its issue dated 22 nd December 1894 in which it argued that the Congress was not a mass movement of people, India was not a homogeneous whole but with diverse nationalities held together by the strong hand of that Government. And at last, as a reply to The Hindu’s criticism that Pariyas do not have political grievance, the article stated that, The Brahman class at present professes a sort of lip sympathy for our people, but if ever it should obtain a position lending weight to its influence, we unhesitatingly assert that the influence, operated upon by caste prejudice and vested interest, will be thrown into the scale against us. (22 December 1894).

In another article Srinivasan questioned, when Congress could not maintain unity even within the organisation how could it protect the country at a time of emergency? (5 January 1895). In its 12 January 1895, issue, Pariyan reproduced the opinion of Bownagiri, regarding India and the Congress. At the end of the article it expressed its opinion that, ‘If Bownagiri becomes a member of parliament he will convince parliament of the evil effects of the Congress and the Congress will then end up in smoke, showing to the world the frauds

Pariyan: Print Media, Mobilization and Resistance in Colonial Madras  311

of Brahmins and other high castemen’. In its July, 10, 1897 issue, Pariyan accused the Congress, ‘The Poona murders and the Calcutta riots are the outcome of the mischief that is being wrought by the congress party’.

Conclusion Some important aspects of Rettaimalai Srinivasan’s journalistic work are as follows- First, his conception of the public. He criticised the Congress for not admitting oppressed people into the organization. Besides, its agenda was only to obtain political freedom while Srinivasan advocated social equality. He often insisted upon the inclusion of Pariyas, Muslims, Anglo-Indians, Native Christians, etc in the Congress. He was very strong in his position that no organization could claim to be ‘national’ without including Pariahs in its fold. Many of his correspondents also wrote against the monstrous inequities of caste. Whenever Srinivasan wrote against the Congress’ agenda of self-rule, he quoted incidents of caste discrimination and practices of untouchablity in the country, which clearly insisted that internal social reformation was a must before political reformation. He asserted that India is eligible for freedom only when it treats Pariahs equally. He was also very cautious about power sharing with Indians. This is obvious in relation to the issue of Simultaneous Examination for Civil Services. He was of the opinion that without annihilating caste and graded differences in India, it was unjust to give self-rule to Indians. If the British left the country, then Brahmins would become the rulers and will use Government machinery against the Pariahs, he argued. The Pariyan played a great role in the issue of simultaneous examination. Through print Dalits resisted the caste hegemony in the name of nationalism. The opinion of Pariyan was also duly considered by the colonial Indian government, it gained the power of political bargaining. Dalit leaders understood that the colonial situation was the right time to represent their cause and get benefits from the government. The Congress tried to convince the British rulers that they had consolidated all Indians. But the reality was different, Indian society was divided on the basis of castes and religion. By the system of caste,

312  J. Balasubramaniam

Dalits were the most oppressed among the Hindus. So the Dalits expressed this social reality to the British rulers through the print. Not only on the Civil Service examination issue, he differed with the Indian National Congress on each and every issue that he felt would affect Depressed Classes. The main objective of Pariyan was to form a distinct identity for oppressed people and to mobilize them on the basis of that identity to achieve the goal of equal status.

References Journals and Periodicals   1. 1893, 1 July. Jaridah-i-Rozgar.   2. Srinivasan, R. 1894, 10 January. Pariyan.   3. Srinivasan, R. 1894, 1 February. Pariyan.   4. Srinivasan, R. 1894, 5 May. Pariyan.   5. Srinivasan, R. 1894, 10 November. Pariyan.   6. Srinivasan, R. 1894, 1 December. Pariyan.   7. Srinivasan, R. 1894, 8 December. Pariyan.   8. Srinivasan, R. 1894, 22 December. Pariyan   9. Srinivasan, R. 1895, 5 January. Pariyan. 10. Srinivasan, R. 1895, 12 January. Pariyan. 11. Srinivasan, R. 1895, 15 June. Pariyan. 12. Srinivasan, R. 1895, 20 July. Pariyan. 13. Srinivasan, R. 1895, 5 October. Pariyan. 14. Srinivasan, R. 1895, 17 August. Pariyan. 15. Srinivasan, R. 1895, 15 September. Pariyan. 16. Srinivasan, R. 1896, 4 January. Pariyan. 17. Srinivasan, R. 1897, 10 July. Pariyan. 18. Srinivasan, R. 1897, 4 September. Pariyan. 19. Srinivasan, R. 1897, 11 September. Pariyan. 20. Srinivasan, R. 1899, 19 February. Pariyan. 21. Thass, Iyothee. 1908, 29 April. Tamilan. 22. 1893, 16 June. Swadesamitran. 23. 1894, 6 February. Swadesamitran. 24. 1893, 12 August. Andhraprakasika. 25. 1893, 2 August. Vivekavardhani. 26. 1893, 25 November. Vrittanta Chintamany. 27. 1893, 19 June. Manorama. 28. 1894, 10 January. Kerala Sanchari. 29. 1894, 31 January. Kerala Sanchari.

Pariyan: Print Media, Mobilization and Resistance in Colonial Madras  313

30. 1894, 30 May. Vrittanta Chintamani. 31. 1894, 11 January. Vrittanta Patrika. 32. 1893, 15 June. Vrittanta Patrika. Balasubramaniam, J. 2017. Sooryothayam Muthal Uthayasooriyan Varai Dalit Ithalgal 1869–1943. Nagercoil: Kalachuvadu. Basu, Raj Sekhar. 2011. Nandanar’s Children: The Paraiyans’ Tryst with Destiny, Tamil Nadu 1850–1956. Vol. 14. New Delhi: SAGE Publications. Bateman, Josiah. 1860. The life of Daniel Wilson, D.D., Bishop if Calcutta and Metropolitan of India. New York: Shelton and Company. Mishra, Narayan. 2001. Scheduled Castes Education – Issues and Aspects. Delhi: Kalpaz Publications. NNPR. 1883–99. Olcott, Henry Steel. 1902. The Poor Pariah. Madras: Addison & Co. Srinivasan, Rettamalai. 1939. Diwan Bahadur Rettamalai Srinivasan Avargalin Jeevia Sarithira Surukkam. Chennai: Dalit Sahitya Academy.

Chapter 18

Caste Identity and Self-fashioning in Mulkraj Anand’s Untouchable Shardool Thakur

Is human identity ‘given’ or ‘made/constructed’, and what is the role of the ‘individual’ and the ‘social’ in identity-formation? These questions have been debated for a long time. Jonathan Culler uses these elements to posit four strands of identity, namely given+individual, given+social, individual+constructed, and social+constructed (Culler 2007). I am interested in the fourth strand, which views human identity as a complex entity evolved out of the interplay between the social and the constructed. This chapter analyzes how the rigid caste-based norms internalized by the ‘untouchables’ over generations, together, constrain and thwart the attempts of Bakha, the protagonist of Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable, to fashion his own identity—preventing it from blooming fully to its utmost potential. This reading of Untouchable focusses on the characterization of the protagonist Bakha, aiming to show that the definition of the self and the notion of self-fashioning as proposed by Greenblatt in his book Renaissance Self-Fashioning is useful to understand Bakha’s identity formation.

Caste Identity and Self-fashioning in Mulkraj Anand’s Untouchable  315

Self-fashioning, a term popularized by Stephen Greenblatt, describes the process of constructing one’s identity and public persona according to a set of socially acceptable standards. In his book, Stephen Greenblatt talks about how, starting from the 16th century onwards, there was an increased self-consciousness about the fashioning of human identity as a manipulable, artful process. Mark Robson points out that in the opening paragraph of Greenblatt’s book (Greenblatt 1980), the definition of self that Greenblatt employs is given four distinct characteristics: a) ‘a sense of personal order’; b) ‘a characteristic mode of address to the world’; c) ‘a structure of bounded desires’; and d) ‘an element of deliberate shaping in the formation and expression of identity’ (Robson 2008)

Let us analyze the four characteristics in the definition of the self and explore their applicability to Bakha. Robson points out that the first point focusses on an individual’s sense of self, that is, how a person imagines himself to be. This sense is similar to the notion of subjectivity, as described by Donald Hall, in that subjectivity always implies a degree of thought and self-consciousness about identity (Hall 1960). Before the world sees and identifies you in a particular manner, it is important to see how you see yourself. Priyamwada Gopal points out that Bakha is deemed a fit protagonist for this novel ‘less because he represents his community than for the ways in which he is different’ (Gopal 2009, 52). However, as this study tries to show, it is precisely Bakha’s difference from the others in his community that is worthy of analysis. What is significant is that though Bakha is just an uneducated 18-year-old sweeper from the lowest socio-economic strata of society who hasn’t travelled extensively, he has fashioned a remarkable ethical framework for himself. The eldest son of Lakha, a grumpy old sweeper, Bakha cares for his family by working, bringing in money and food, and looking out for his siblings Sohini and Rakha like a father would. Though repeatedly abused by his father Lakha, he never replies in a disrespectful manner. He is the most hardworking member of his family, and yet he never complains, working harder stoically—reminding one of Boxer, the horse in Orwell’s Animal Farm. He has the moral

316  Shardool Thakur

courage to hold on to his convictions (like his ‘English’ clothing), even at the risk of being ridiculed. An extension of Bakha’s ethical framework is seen in his work ethic. In Bakha’s scheme of things, duty always comes first, even if means missing a game of khuti (a local Punjabi game) or hockey with friends (though he excels in both games). Bakha probably realizes that for the toiling class that he belongs to, work is everything. While at work, he is always very quick and efficient, and displays considerable skill and alacrity, moving from one latrine to the other, and yet succeeds in staying clean—which would make him ‘look intelligent, even sensitive, with a sort of dignity that does not belong to the ordinary scavenger’ (8). Thus, not only does Bakha look different from other outcastes, he is different. As a child, Bakha happens to work in the barracks of a British regiment with an uncle and is impressed with the lifestyle of the ‘superior’ sahibs. Anand points out that the Tommies had treated him as a human being, and he had learnt to think of himself as superior to his fellow outcastes. Bakha ‘had soon become possessed with the overwhelming desire to live their life’, copying them ‘in everything, to copy them as well as he could in the exigencies of his peculiarly Indian circumstances’ (3). Bakha’s secret desire was to look like a sahib and to walk like them, in twos with his friend Chota in tow. Bakha does not just think about wanting to become a sahib. He realizes that to become a sahib, he must get educated. The noted social reformer Jyotirao Phule had correctly diagnosed the link between education and the economic progress of the Sudras, and had argued that education was the key to material progress (Deshpande 2002, 17). In this context, Ramchandra Guha rightly points out that early on, Bakha realized that education, or even self-education, was one route to individual emancipation (Anand [2001] 2014). So Bakha asks to be sent to school but his father refuses, pointing out that since they are ‘untouchables’, the upper caste students and teachers would never allow Bakha in school as he would ‘pollute’ them. Yet, Bakha never gives up on the dream of getting educated and becoming a sahib. He often sits in his spare time trying to read, and even buys a first primer of English. Since his self-education does not proceed beyond the

Caste Identity and Self-fashioning in Mulkraj Anand’s Untouchable  317

alphabet, a resolute and ingenious Bakha even offers to pay an anna per lesson to the babu’s child (who studies in fifth standard) to teach him daily. However, following a brawl at a hockey match, when the babu’s younger son gets hurt, Bakha is blamed for it and his chance of continuing his ‘education’, and thus ameliorating his status in society, ends abruptly. Thus, irrespective of the image of his self that Bakha might have constructed in his mind, there is a big disconnect between that image and the harsh ground reality that Bakha is an ‘untouchable’ who is forced to clean latrines for a living. The second point in Greenblatt’s framework of the self, Robson argues, emphasizes how that individual presents himself to the world, suggesting that there is a consistency to this, that becomes characteristic or idiomatic (Robson 2008). In this sense, Robson argues, it is a version of the self that is recognizable to others. Similarly, the social philosopher George Herbert Mead argues that it is the capacity to imagine how others would see us and our capacity to carry images in our heads, which is an important distinguishing feature of human beings (quoted in Woodward 2000). Mead argues that we symbolize the sort of person we want others to think we are through the clothes we wear and the ways in which we behave. Symbols and representations are important in the production of identities. This is true of Bakha’s identity as well: And he knew of course, that except for his English clothes there was nothing English in his life. But he kept up his new form, rigidly adhering to his clothes day and night, and guarding them from all base taint of Indianness, not even risking the formlessness of an Indian quilt, though he shivered with the cold at night (4).

Bakha doesn’t mind the cold very much, suffering it willingly because he didn’t mind sacrificing comfort for the sake of ‘fashun’ (4), by which he understood the art of wearing trousers, breeches, coat, puttees, boots, etc., as worn by the British and Indian soldiers in India. Jose Ternueus rightly points out that ‘Bakha is drawn to the fetishized clothing that signifies the power associated with English identity’ (Terneus 2016). Though his friends make fun of him for this, calling him ‘Pilpali Sahib’ (imitation sahib), Bakha keeps on his new form.

318  Shardool Thakur

Now, how does one see Bakha’s desire to dress like a European? Ramchandra Guha rightly points out that ‘to dress like a European was not to exhibit cultural cringe—as a conventional left-wing critic of colonial rule might see it—but to express a desire for change, to seek to escape from the old, established, confining and degrading hierarchies’ (Anand [2001] 2014). Thus, for Bakha, dressing like Europeans is a symbol of his desire for self-emancipation. Apart from his appearance, Bakha would also pay attention to his behaviour and his image. When invited for a game of khuti, where he stood a chance of winning some money, Bakha is more worried about what his father would think if he came to know. When Bakha is momentarily attracted to his sister’s physical beauty, he immediately corrects himself because he wishes to be seen as a good brother. He gives up the idea of stealing a Solar-topee (hat) from the barracks, which he pines for to be seen like a sahib, worrying about public opinion. At work, he desires to be seen as a sincere and dexterous sweeper. After work, Bakha would brush his clean clothes with a rag, and walk out on the street, the envy of all other boys, and would love it when he was seen as ‘the most conspicuous man in the outcaste colony’ (4). The disconnect between what Bakha fancied himself to be and his reality, mentioned earlier, does not, however, stop him from projecting a certain image of himself to his fellow-outcastes, and society at large. Referring to the third point in Greenblatt’s framework of the self, the ‘structure of bounded desires’, Robson argues that the desires of the individual are confined by the individual’s sense of limits, or else these desires encounter a structure that serves to limit them. There are constraints that may lie in the external world where material and social factors may limit the degree of agency of individuals. The social structure in question here is the caste system, and the desires are the desires of Bakha to become a sahib or simply to lead a life of dignity and honour—a life better than his present life. The shaping of Bakha’s identity can be better understood through an in-depth analysis of certain significant incidents that take place during the one day that the novel deals with. These incidents are the results of crossing the threshold or boundaries imposed by the caste system.

Caste Identity and Self-fashioning in Mulkraj Anand’s Untouchable  319

Saumya Lal rightly argues that the novel highlights ‘the political potency of thresholds by constructing ‘formal thresholds’ that serve as textual corollaries for Bakha’s troubled affective experience of casteized spaces’ (Lal 2018). The first incident takes place in the main bazaar of the town, when Lakha sends Bakha in his place to clean the main road and the temple courtyard. On the way, when Bakha wishes to buy cigarettes, the shop keeper asks him to keep his money in a corner, sprinkles some water over it to ‘purify’ it and flings the packet at Bakha, ‘as a butcher might throw a bone to an insistent dog sniffing round the corner of his shop’ (34). Though this is outright humiliating, Bakha conditioned not to complain, just picks the packet and moves away. This ‘purification’ ritual is repeated at the jalebi shop where, in addition to the humiliation, Bakha is cheated in terms of the quantity. Bakha does realize this but, being a low caste sweeper, he is forced to accept this cheating without a murmur. Then the rhythm of the day ‘is broken suddenly as Bakha, lost in the pleasures of eating jalebis and looking at the sights around him, forgets to keep to the side of the road and ritually announce his presence’ (Gopal 2009, 51); and he accidentally touches a high caste Hindu merchant. This touching is seen as a serious transgression of boundaries that invites instant retribution. A crowd of high caste Hindus gathers around Bakha menacingly, and he is abused in the filthiest of terms. A paralyzed Bakha is simply unable to utter a single word. While the muscular Bakha could have easily run away by pushing away ‘the skeleton-like bodies of the Hindu merchants’, he cannot do so because of the realization that ‘he was surrounded by a barrier, not a physical barrier’ but ‘a moral one’—the barrier of caste (39). In other words, Bakha was conditioned to not retaliate. He is abused, humiliated and slapped by the Hindu merchant, and it is the providential intervention of the Muslim tonga-wallah that saves him from lynching. Wiping his tears, Bakha moves on. Though his heart was full of anguish at the humiliation at being an ‘untouchable’, the warning shout ‘posh, keep away, posh, sweeper coming’ (39) was in his mouth, displaying a Pavlovian internalization of caste-based restrictions. A crushed Bakha introspects, arguing that the upper caste

320  Shardool Thakur

Hindus think of them as dirt because they (the ‘untouchables’) clean their dirt. He realizes that is a very intricate link between his repeated humiliation, his profession and his caste: For them I am a sweeper, sweeper—untouchable. Untouchable! Untouchable! That’s the word! Untouchable! ‘I am an Untouchable!’ (44)

Here, Bakha experiences the most potent form of degradation that a downtrodden person suffers, that is, the internalization of the identity that has been imposed on him by the upper caste Hindus, leading him to both, an acceptance of his lowly status and an acute sense of self-pity. It is one thing for an identity to be thrust on you, and another to internalize that identity; and when that happens, whatever little sense of self-worth a person has, is shattered. This incident clearly shows the friction between Bakha’s desires to lead a carefree life—to go out to the market in the town, smoke a cigarette, have some jalebis, wear good clothes like a sahib—and the situation that he finds himself in. These very basic desires are denied to him because of his caste. And Bakha is conditioned to accept his fate without a murmur. In fact, Bakha is not the only one conditioned in this manner. Later, when Bakha narrates this incident to his father and tells him that he had thought of retaliating, his father Lakha cautions him that in the eyes of the police their testimony would be useless against one word uttered by the priest. First, Lakha also gently reminds Bakha of the ‘kindness’ once shown by an upper caste Hindu, Hakim Bhagwan Das, who had saved his life by coming down to their house to treat a very sick and dying young Bakha. Lakha’s advice is significant because it clearly indicates the extent to which ‘untouchables’ like Lakha have been conditioned to expect only occasional handouts of kindness from the upper caste Hindus rather than any dignified or humane behaviour. Second, in spite of being a physician or Hakim, even Bhagwan Das—presumably a high caste Hindu—is also conditioned to treat ‘untouchables’ like Bakha as dirt, and not as patients who deserve treatment. Finally, so convinced is Lakha that the Hakim is not really at fault, he points out that the upper caste Hindus like the Hakim are

Caste Identity and Self-fashioning in Mulkraj Anand’s Untouchable  321

really kind, arguing that ‘it is religion that prevents them from touching’ ‘untouchables’ like Lakha (74). Lakha’s shifting the blame from the Hakim to religion only shows how deeply Lakha had internalized a sense of inferiority, attributing it to fate. The second incident takes place when Bakha visits the temple to clean the courtyard. The tension between the internalization of the caste-based structure of do’s and don’ts, and his instinctive curiosity is seen when Bakha is drawn towards the snake image in the temple, after having cleaned the courtyard. However, he is instantly reminded of the dangers of transgression and announces his arrival. Hearing the name of a new God Shantideva, Bakha is drawn in towards the temple again, and crosses yet another ‘formal threshold’ built by society, as Lal argues, but instantly realizes that an untouchable going into a temple polluted it past purification (49). He mounts two steps and then, completely demoralized with fear, retreats. It is almost as if his body behaves like Bakha himself, a free-thinking individual, while the mind goes back to a conditioned response of servility. For some time, he forgets the lure of the temple and continues his work of cleaning. Very soon, he finds himself near the steps of the temple again. Oscillating between a firm resolve to enter the temple and fear, Bakha finally covers 15 steps to steal a glance of the inner sanctum. Once again, Soumya Lal is right in pointing out how ‘the novel’s attention to the potency of thresholds in the temple scene is further enhanced by the fact that while Bakha vacillates across the threshold, a priest molests his sister inside the temple’ (Lal 2018). The priest, to cover up his crime, alleges that he has been polluted. Interestingly, the devotees who respond to the priest’s cries of being polluted, being representatives of the rigid caste system, are also conditioned to see this transgression as a very serious offense. Hearing the cry of the devotees, Bakha is virtually paralyzed and unable to speak, and his limbs go weak. When Sohini tells Bakha of her molestation, he explodes with anger and starts looking for the priest, resolving to kill him. His sister Sohini stops him and tells him to come back. The sister’s response is also one conditioned by the helplessness in which the community finds itself. Even as they walk out of the temple, Bakha reiterates his desire to kill the priest. However, the

322  Shardool Thakur

desire for revenge is reduced to a Hamlet-like speech, devoid of any concrete physical action: Why didn’t I go and kill that hypocrite! I could have sacrificed myself for Sohini. Everyone will know about her. My poor sister! How can she show her face to the world after this? But why didn’t she let me go and kill that man? (56)

So deeply imprinted in his psyche are the unsaid consequences of any transgression from his expected behaviour as an ‘untouchable’ that though he contemplates retaliation, he cannot act upon it. His helplessness gets transformed into self-guilt, and he starts blaming fate that Sohini was born as a girl in their house to bring ‘disgrace’ upon them. Thus, Bakha’s innocuous desire to know more about Shaktideva has disastrous consequences for him. Bakha and Sohini are denied a simple life full of dignity and honour. While Sohini is molested by Kalinath, in place of justice, she and Bakha are accused of polluting him and the temple. And, like earlier incidents, Bakha is resigned, and is forced to accept the situation without protesting. He then sends his sister home and goes to look for food for the family. Poverty forces Bakha to beg for food for his family, and this quest for food results in the third incident of transgression by Bakha. Saumya Lal argues that the most conspicuous instance of the novel’s critical investment in threshold spaces appears in the scene where Bakha waits at the doorstep of a caste Hindu household for his daily supply of food (Lal 2018). People like Bakha could not ‘insult the sanctity of the houses’ (59) by climbing the stairs to the top floors where the kitchens were but had to shout and announce their arrival from below. Accordingly, Bakha cries at a couple of houses begging for bread from below, but in vain. A tired Bakha, working since morning, falls asleep at the wooden threshold of a house. His sleep is soon shattered by a sadhu’s cries of ‘Alakh, Alakh’, and appealing for alms. The lady of the house where Bakha had fallen asleep sets out to give the food to the sadhu. However, seeing Bakha at the threshold of the house, she goes mad with rage, accusing Bakha of defiling her house. Though this time, the transgression is totally inadvertent, the consequences are similarly very humiliating for Bakha. While the lady talks to the sadhu courteously—and for her,

Caste Identity and Self-fashioning in Mulkraj Anand’s Untouchable  323

the chore of donating food to the sadhu is an act of a pious obligation, with an ‘untouchable’ like Bakha, her tone drastically changes to abuse and she flings the bread at Bakha, which falls near a drain. This varied response, in my opinion, is the result of conditioning of the upper caste Hindus. The same lady is trained to respond differently to two people belonging to two diametrically opposite ends of the caste-spectrum. A helpless and hungry Bakha quietly picks the bread up and walks away. Sometime later, when Ramcharan gives him sweetmeats prepared for his sister’s wedding, Bakha hesitates to take the sweets directly from Ramcharan. Admittedly Ramcharan (a washerman’s son) and Chota (a leatherman’s son) are socially higher up than Bakha. However, as friends they had ‘banished all thought of distinction, except when this snobbery of caste feeling supplied the basis for putting on airs for a joke’ (87) and would freely share sweets and touch each other during hockey matches. Now, however, Bakha simply cannot be his normal self, enjoying with Chota and Ramcharan. The reason for Bakha’s reluctance to accept sweets from Ramcharan is that after the humiliating incidents in the morning, he is unwilling to take for granted the willing suspension of caste hierarchy by his friends. This is a powerful statement of the extent to which his ascribed low caste identity forcibly reasserts itself, not allowing him to behave normally even with his closest friends. Bakha’s inner turmoil is clearly seen in these words: He boiled with rage. ‘Horrible, horrible’, his soul seemed to cry out within him. He felt the most excruciating mental pain he had ever felt in his body. His broad, impassive face was pale with hostility. But he couldn’t do anything. He hung his head and walked with the drooping chest. His frame seemed to be burdened with weight of an inexpressible, unrelieved power. He was deliberately trying to hide his stature in his stoop, as if he were afraid of being seen at all (89).

Here, the internalization of his caste identity ceases to be merely psychological, becoming truly psychosomatic in nature. This is perhaps the most powerful statement about the debilitating impact of the caste system on an individual. A man’s sense of dignity is linked to his ability to earn his livelihood with self-respect. However, the rigidity of the caste system denies Bakha education, thus preventing

324  Shardool Thakur

upward social mobility for ‘untouchables’ like Bakha, forcing them to live in poverty and to continue begging for food. While doing so, one inadvertent mistake by Bakha leads to a fresh round of humiliation. Thus, the overall effect of all three incidents is that it crushes Bakha’s individuality, his aspirations and his attempts to fashion an identity of his own that would lead to self-emancipation. The fourth point, Robson argues, is that not only the formation of identity but its expression, both are constructed by an act of will, at least partially chosen rather than the given aspects of identity. While we have already discussed Bakha’s imitation of the British clothes and his attempts to study to become a sahib, one more incident of transgression highlights the true nobility of Bakha as a wonderful human being, one who values human life over everything else. The fourth incident of transgression on Bakha’s part highlights Bakha’s chosen identity. In a brawl that takes place during a hockey match, the eight-yearold son of a Babu gets grievously injured, and blood starts pouring from his head. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Bakha picks up the child in his arms and takes him to his house. Seeing Bakha with her injured child, his mother accuses Bakha of killing her son of defiling her house. Though her elder son defends Bakha, pointing out that Ramcharan was the one responsible, she still continues abusing Bakha, calling him an ‘eater of his masters’ (106). This time, however, the transgression by Bakha was one done knowingly, given the peculiar exigencies of the situation: Of course, I polluted the child. I couldn’t help doing so. I knew my touch would pollute. But it was impossible not to pick him up. He was dazed, the poor little thing (107).

Bakha clearly knew that by picking up the child he would ‘pollute’ him but out of compassion for the Babu’s child (whom he liked a lot), he picks him up, risking the humiliation that would come his way. In this context, Suijit Dulai rightly points out that ‘while his low social status should make him an object of compassion, he is full of compassion himself’ (Dulai 1992). Bakha comes across as a fine human being with sterling qualities. However, being an ‘untouchable’, he is abused and

Caste Identity and Self-fashioning in Mulkraj Anand’s Untouchable  325

humiliated. Accepting this as his fate, he starts cursing himself for his goal, which started the brawl. So, the question is how do we see Bakha’s identity at the end of the novel? No doubt the humiliating experiences throughout the day crush Bakha’s sense of self-worth. However, after listening to Mahatma Gandhi’s speech and hearing the poet Iqbalnath Sarashar discuss a machine (flush) that could eventually eliminate manual scavenging, Bakha is very excited, and his spirits are raised. As Binod Mishra rightly points out, the novel does not end on a note of despair, paralyzing the hero into inaction (Misra 2005). In the end, Bakha displays a quiet optimism and decides to share with his father everything that Gandhiji had said about the ‘untouchables’. Bakha heads homeward and possibly resumes life afresh.

Conclusion Hilda Pontes rightly points out that ‘to make Bakha, a sweeper lad, the chief character of his novel, was certainly a revolutionary stance in an Indian novelist in the 1930s’ (Pontes 1988). Despite this huge risk that he took, Anand did succeed in creating a very endearing character, a ‘child of modern India’ as he calls him, and a pioneer in his own right. As this study has attempted to show, on multiple occasions, caste acts as a constraint, preventing Bakha from achieving his full potential. He comes across a character who, through the sheer dint of his hard work and industry, could have risen from poverty to become a sahib or a wonderful hockey player, and led a dignified life in better material circumstances. Unfortunately, all his aspirations are constrained by his caste. While Bakha does take many efforts to fashion his own identity, his ‘low caste’ acts as a barrier every single time. His caring nature, his naïve beliefs, his ingenuity, his perseverance, his sense of ethics—all leave an indelible mark on the readers’ minds. K. R. Shrinivas Iyengar rightly points out that Untouchable strikes us as ‘the picture of a place, of a society, and of certain persons not to be easily forgotten’ (Iyengar 1985, 339). Indeed, Bakha is a unique character, one of a kind, who comes across as a fine and memorable specimen of humanity, who stays in our hearts long after we finish reading the book.

326  Shardool Thakur

References Anand, Mulk Raj. (2001) 2014. Untouchable. New Delhi: Penguin Random House India. Print. Reprint, London: Penguin Books. Kindle. Culler, Jonathan. 2007. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, Indian ed. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Deshpande, G. P., ed. 2002. Selected Writings of Jotirao Phule. New Delhi: Left Word Publishers. Dulai, Suijit S. 1992. ‘Practice Before Ideology: Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable’. Journal of South Asian Literature 27(2), 187–207. Minneapolis, MN: Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University). stable/40874125 (Accessed 11 June 2020). Gopal, Priyamwada. 2009. The Indian English Novel: Nation, History and Narration. New York: Oxford University Press. Greenblatt, Stephen. 1980. Renaissance Self Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hall, Donald. 1960. Subjectitvity, South Asian ed. New York: Routledge. Iyengar, K. R. Shrinivasa. 1985. Indian Writing in English. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers. Lal, Soumya. 2018. ‘Thresholds of Caste and Nation: Mulk Raj Anand’s Spatial Aesthetics in Untouchable’. Journal of Postcolonial Writing (Routledge Taylor and Francis Online) 7. (Accessed 11 June 2020). Misra, Binod. 2005. ‘Despair and Delight in the Novels of Mulk Raj Anand’. In The Novels of Mulk Raj Anand: A New Critical Spectrum, edited by T. M. J. Indra Mohan, 9. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers. Pontes, Hilda. 1988. ‘A Select Checklist of Critical Responses to Mulk Raj Anand’. The Journal of Commonwaelth Literature (Sage Journals). jcl.sagpub. com (Accessed 12 June 12, 2020). Robson, Mark, ed. 2008. Stephen Greenblatt. London: Routledge. Terneus, Jose Sebastian. 2016. ‘The Empire’s New Clothes: The Politics of Dress in Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable’. South Asian Review. 080/02759527.2016.11933065 (Accessed 12 June 2020) Woodward, Kath, ed. 2000. Questioning Identity: Gender, Class Nation. London: Routledge.

Chapter 19

Communicating Caste? Investigating Chandrakanta Mayank Kumar

The important role played by the communication power of print media has been historically recognized. In response to growth of print media, India has seen emergence and growth of numerous new forms of literary styles. It will not be an exaggeration to suggest that novels emerged in direct response to expanding reach of print media. Novel writing traditions in the age of printing press, which offered possibilities of printing multiple copies, was gradually gaining momentum in India since the beginning of the 19th century. Proposed paper will investigate the complexities associated with ‘modern’ mode of communication as seen in the literary style of novels, and its negotiation with the social realities of the times with specific reference to Chandrakanta, written by Babu Devki Nandan Khatri. Embrace of ‘modern mode of communication’; conceptualization of a highly mechanized vaults to protect the wealth of the dynasty known as Tilism; an imagination fuelled by alchemy, and coupled with recent developments in the field of chemistry and

328  Mayank Kumar

modern engineering; persistent quest of the socio-religious reform movements for a just civil society; and political mobilization for participatory form of government does deter reiteration of normative caste/varna hierarchies by the author. Was it due to predominantly upper caste readership of print media or location of the author himself in the social hierarchies of the regions, or social sensibilities in an era of social reform movements? Let me begin by offering a brief description of the historical context so as to locate the social sensibilities being reflected in the imagination of the plot, the characters, their etiquettes and the linguistic tools deployed by the author in this all-time favourite novel of the Hindi heartland. It is important to bear in mind that this was the period when ‘British Paramountcy’ was reigning control over the entire Indian subcontinent. ‘British Paramountcy’ sustained two almost contradictory political formations; on the one hand, we encounter British-administered area that, by 1858 CE, came under the direct control of the Parliamentary form of governance of the British Parliament, and on the other, we witness continuance of monarchies in numerous principalities under the protection of the British Parliament once again. This was the period when India was also witnessing socio-religious reform movements, which was divided over the issue of accepting ‘Western-enlightenment modernity’ and/ or going back to the Vedas—or an amalgamation of the two. It will be erroneous not to mention the deliberate attempts on the part of the British government to foment the communal divide post the Revolt of 1857. Politics of language was a very important tool deployed by the British to further their agenda of divide and rule. Literature of the day could not have remained untouched by the turmoil of the times, and it can be deciphered in the literary production of the time. Moving forward but before delving deep into the nuances of the argument, let me briefly sketch the story of the novel Chandrakanta, which was first among several novels of the same genre by the same author. Chandrakanta is a love story [F]irst published in the year 1892, had run to a twentieth impression of eight thousand copies by 1936 and was certainly in print

Communicating Caste? Investigating Chandrakanta  329

until recently. No Hindi novel has been more successful, and thousands of people are said to have learned the Devanagari script for the sole purpose of reading it. (Clark 1970, 156).

Geographically, it is located in the Vindhyachal mountains of eastern Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring areas of Bihar. The protagonist of this novel is Prince Birendra Singh of Naugarh, who is in love with princess Chandrakanta of Vijayagarh. The villain of the novel is the son of the Prime Minister of Vijayagarh, Kroor Singh. When he was expelled by King Jai Singh of Vijaygarh from his kingdom, he went to the neighbouring kingdom of Chunar. There, he instigates the mighty King Shivdutt of Chunar to marry the beautiful princess Chandrakanta. Shivdutt threatens the king of Vijayagarh either to handover princess Chandrakanta in marriage or be prepared for consequences. Another pivotal feature of the novel is the huge amount of wealth that is left behind by the forefathers for prince Birendra Singh under the protection of Tilism. In his preface, Babu Devkinandan Khatri writes, ‘magician-warriors of the royal courts of old world who could change their forms, deal in magic potions, sing, play, bear arms, and spy and had many arts besides these. When wars broke, they would try to bring it to an end with their cunning manipulations and will not allow bloodshed to the extent possible. They enjoyed great respect. Up till now, no Hindi book has taken note of their amazing deeds; an elaboration would be advantageous in several ways. The chief of these is that the reader of such stories will not easily let anyone deceive him. Bearing all this in mind, I have written this novel Chandrakanta (ibid). Babu Devkinandan Khatri very emphatically states that he has not seen any book on this theme, that is, the fantasy world of Aiyars/ magician-warriors. Given the fact that it is fictional writing, does that mean, as Rajendra Yadav (Yadav 2012, i–xxxix). has argued, there is no need to examine the historical context and social sensibilities of the novel? Merely because it claims to be a work of fiction dealing with fantasy world of magician-warriors, is it devoid of social context? Especially because, unlike similar tradition in Urdu/Persian of Dastani-Aamir Hamza, who had the sole objective of propagating Islam,

330  Mayank Kumar

author of Chandrakanta does not spell any such objective. Rather, absence of stated objective constitutes one of the basic reasons for the proposed scrutiny. It will not be out of place if we briefly outline the literary scenario of the 19th-century North India. First and foremost, despite gradual but consistent growth in vernacular languages, oral tradition remained the preferred mode of communication. Oral tradition was not only convenient but was also cost effective; and in the largely illiterate society, it was the most viable source of communication. We all are well aware that the economics of manuscript writing was always restrictive and catered to the wealthy sections of the society only (Williams 2018, 265–301). Access to resources for written communication had class as well as caste divide, and in the absence of mass education, possibility of readership was also very restricted. Following excerpt from the novel very succinctly captures the prevalent caste and class divide. It may please be noted that though original description in Devnagari would have captured the sensibilities in much better manner, however, in adherence to the general guidelines of the volume, English translation of the text is being offered. To begin with, let me cite a scene in the novel that goes something like this: Please come, smoke tobacco! And gatekeeper (Chobdar) and the soldiers (pyade) kept the hookah in front of Tej Singh. Tej Singh said, ‘I am a Hindu, I cannot share hookah. But, I will definitely smoke it by hand’. Not even two puff of tobacco was inhaled and Tej Singh started coughing, to the extent that he even vomited a bit and then said: Brothers, you guys smoke bitter tobacco? I always drink royal tobacco. The personal attendant (Hukkabadar) of the King has become my friend, he gives some of the chosen tobacco which is consumed by the Maharaja. Now it has become such a habit that no tobacco other than that tobacco tastes good! Saying this, Tej Singh who was concealing himself as gatekeeper (Chobdar) took out small amount of tobacco from his wallet and said, ‘You people should also taste this and see what refined tobacco is all about’. Well, the Chobdars had never imagined that they will ever get a chance to taste the same royal tobacco which

Communicating Caste? Investigating Chandrakanta  331

is consumed by Maharaja himself. They quickly grabbed and said, ‘thanks brother, because of you, we are also getting chance to taste royal tobacco’. You are very fortunate to live with Maharaj, you will be very enjoying. Saying this, one of them took tobacco from the hands of fake Chobdar (Tej Singh), and after preparing it, brought it in front of Tej Singh. Tej Singh said, ‘You all begin, I will follow you all’. (Khatri 1895, 11–12)

Please note the following insistences: ‘I am a Hindu, I cannot “share hookah”’(emphasis in double quotes by me), ‘But, I will definitely smoke it by hand.’; and second, the gatekeepers were excited to taste the tobacco used by royalty. Thus, one gets the glimpse of social ethos of the intended audience as well as the historical consciousness of the author. Along with this, we need to bear in mind the linguistic conflict of the time in this region. The author of Rani Ketki ki Kahani, which is considered to be the first ‘prose’ composition in Hindi, wrote in his preface: One day was sitting about, I had the idea of composing a story in which no other language than Hindi would be used; and my heart expanded like a flower bud. The work should contain no foreign language, or local dialect. A certain literate, conservative, shrewd old fellow of my acquaintance protested at this and with shaking head, screwed up face, raised nose and eyebrows, and rolling eyes said: this can never come off. Your story will neither lose its Hindui character, nor take on bhasa character. You will simply write just as worthy folk generally talk among themselves? Using no admixture of language? It won’t succeed! (Clark 1970, 145–46)

Resistance against the so-called foreign language by Insha Allah Khan, author of Rani Ketki ki Kahani, reminds us about the HindiUrdu contestations and conflict. Unfortunately, it soon overlapped with religious-communal divide of Hindi-Hindu and Urdu-Muslim. Not even a half a century ago, North India had witnessed the first war of Independence. Most damaging consequence of post first war of Independence decades was a very subtle promotion of

332  Mayank Kumar

Hindu-Muslim divide by the British. One can decipher British preference for the Hindu kings, and principalities and discrimination against Muslims gentry. Thus, linguistic gap was further fuelled by the British policies. How this divide is played out in the contemporary psyche can be seen in the following examples from the novel Chandrakanta. Seen in this context, it is not very surprising to note that most of the Muslim characters in the novel have been described in bad light. To begin with, Aiyars (magician-warriors) Ahmad and Nazim instigate Kroor Singh to plan a coup against the king; and for the purpose, he was advised by these two to eliminate his own father as well. Malign description of the Muslim character does not stop here, rather, it is extended to the purported aim of Islamic community, that is, conversion. King will not spare me? It would be better to first arrest and murder Birendra Singh and his associate Tej Singh at such a place that nobody can find out for a thousand years. After that I will try to get rid of King also. Thereby, I will become the king then I will be able to marry Chandrakanta. But tell me how will I become king after assassinating the King? Will people accept me as their king? Nazim: Our king, in his kingdom has more Muslims than Kafirs (Hindus), I can persuade all the Muslims to help you and will ask them to swear that after Maharaja’s assassination, they will accept you as their king, but the condition is that once done you will have to accept Islam and become Muslim? Kroor Singh: If so, I accept your condition from the bottom of my heart. Ahmad: Well, just write the contract to me, I will show it to all the Muslim brothers and unite them under your banner. Kroor Singh immediately wrote agreement to convert to Islam and gave it to Nazim and Ahmad, to which Ahmad said to Kroor Singh, now onwards we are responsible for uniting all the Muslims, You need not bother. However, there should be an agreement that when you become the King, we will be appointed as Prime ministers, and watch the way we create nuisance for the present King. (Khatri 1895, 11)

Communicating Caste? Investigating Chandrakanta  333

Natural corollary of such instigation was deliberate discrimination against the Muslims, and this is also reflected in the following policy narrated, attributed to Hindu ruler by the author: You need to take care of two things: one is that as far as possible keep the Muslims away and deploy more Hindus, and the second is that always take care of the Birendra Singh and convey his bravery to King, so that the King seeks his help! (ibid, 44)

Subsequently, following directives were enumerated: As soon getting a chance in the court, Hardayal Singh the Prime Minister very politely requested, O King, I have received very creditable and definite information that Shivdutt Singh of Chunar has offered support to Kroor Singh and has deployed his five warriormagicians (Aiyars) to depose you. He has also promised to invade your kingdom sooner than later. These are very difficult times, our both the warrior-magicians (Aiyars) Nazim and Ahmad have also sided with Kroor Singh. Moreover, even the Muslims of the state have also become their sympathizer. Nowadays, these warriormagicians (Aiyar) are planning to disrupt the harmony and peace of the State. Maharaj Jai Singh said, even I have noticed changes in the attitude of the Muslims. What precautions have you initiated? (ibid, 39–40)

and When the court was dismissed, Maharaj called Hardayal Singh and confidentially asked- “What is the matter?” He said, Sir, Tej Singh had told me many times, and even Birendra Singh and his father had also warned that all the Muslims of our state are planning a coup. They are aligning with Kroor Singh, therefore, as far as possible we need to sideline them from important assignments. King said, even I have noticed it. Let us now slowly exclude all Muslims from sensitive positions. Saying this, Maharaj went to his house. (ibid, 60–61)

It is in this era of the strengthening binary of the Hindus and the Muslims that the author, being an upper caste Hindu himself, is visibly

334  Mayank Kumar

tilted towards Hindu kingships. Thus, he is trying his best to defend adherence of the so-called ‘ideal Hindu social order’ and ‘Hindu kingship’. Rajendra Yadav, while commenting on the narrative of the novel, makes following two important observations: first, he says: after the turmoil of 1857 and continuous reconfiguration of the political order, on one hand, led to displacement of the ruling elite and, on the other, created possibilities for an emergence of the new ruling class. In such a scenario, loyalty and allegiance to new ruling dispensation was the most sought-after characteristic (Yadav 2012, xviii). Second, close similarity with the intentions of the author with the ideals portrayed in the Ramcharitmanas, a very cherished and celebrated epic of the region. An imagination of ideal varnashramdharma, which strengthens the normative social order under the leadership of Kshatriyas, constitutes the core narrative of Chandrakanta (Yadav 2012, xxi). Thomas Metcalf, while elaborating the mechanism adopted by the British to establish and maintain their rule, examines the ideologies supposedly deployed by the Raj. He argues that [I]t is no surprise that in India the medievalist fantasy reached its fullest flower in the 1877 Imperial Assemblage, when Disraeli’s creation of Victoria as empress was proclaimed to India’s princess. The viceroy Lord Lytton, a romantic medievalist…determined to use this occasion to give India’s ‘feudal nobility’ a firm institutionalized basis and to secure for the British crown as ‘the recognized fountain of honour’: a visible place ‘as its feudal head’…the Imperial supremacy of the British Crown could be associated with all hereditary ranks and titles…the medievalist vision also found expression in the creation of orders of knighthood.… Four years after the Mutiny, in 1961…the first Indian Order, the Star of India was created. By 1877 there were several hundred holders, British and India…and in 1878 it was joined by a new order, the Order of the Indian Empire, established on the occasion of the Imperial Assemblage.… Rajputs in their desert fastness, given knightly rank, were made to take up the role of ‘proud nobles’. (Metcalf [1995] 2018, 75–79)

An echo of this narrative can also be seen in the writings of Colonel James Tod. His Annals and Antiquities of Rajpootana remains, even

Communicating Caste? Investigating Chandrakanta  335

till today, a very powerful narrative in support of the glorification of normative ideal of varnashramadharma under the protection of ideal Hindu kingship (Kothiyal 2016). In the words of Metcalf, Tod, for instance, insisted that British ‘generosity’ had ‘rescued’ the Rajputs ‘from impending degradation and destruction’…. Yet, he said, the British alliance was itself ‘pregnant with evil’, liable to ‘lay prostrate’ these ancient relics of civilization. Tod nevertheless maintained that by a scrupulous policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of these states, it was possible to restore the harmony and continuity that had once existed, and so perpetuate this oasis of ancient rule. (Metcalf [1995] 2018, 79)

Even a cursory look at the narrative of the novel Chandrakanta, in no uncertain terms, makes an attempt to reiterate the normative social structure. It is no surprise to students of Indian history that normative social structure places Brahmins at the top of the social hierarchy, followed by Kshatriya. However, given the historical context of the social structure in relation to the prevalent hierarchies based on real political power, it was the Kshatriya who were at the top of the order. Babu Devki Nandan Kharti is aware of this inconsistency, and he makes an earnest effort to negate this apparent contradiction. Following example makes it very clear: Kumar was thinking about all these things when he saw Tej Singh coming from the front, behind him Devi Singh and Pandit Jagannath, the astrologers were also there. Kumar came forward to welcome them. Tej Singh moved forward and bowed before the Kumar and touched his feet. Kumar met Devi Singh and welcomed Jyotishji by touching his feet. Now they sat on a stone under a tree and started talking. (Khatri 1895, 177–78)

The author, while providing the details of the routine exchange of pleasantries, is very careful to adhere to the normative social order. When Tej Singh and Devi Singh, along with Jyotishi Pundit Badri Nath, came to meet Prince Birendra Singh, Tej Singh bowed down to touch the feet of the prince; but when it came to Jyotishi Pundit Badri Nath, Prince Birendra Singh bowed to him, despite

336  Mayank Kumar

the fact that Jyotishi Pundit Badri Nath was merely an employee of Birendra Singh. After thinking for a long time, Nazim said that in the court of Maharaj Shivdutt Singh of Chunargarh, there is an astrologer named Pandit Jagath who knows Ramal (an art of predicting the location of individuals) very well. He is so proficient in his predictions that it becomes easy for them to nab the culprits and enemies. If we can somehow get his support and he agrees to come here and stay with us for few days, we will be in better position to manage the affairs. Chunargarh is not too far from here, it is only twenty three Kos, let us go and seek his help at whatever the cost. (Khatri 1895, 31)

In the same vein, he is careful to attribute various qualities to different characters in accordance with the normative order. The knowledge of astrology is vested with the Brahmin, Pundit Badri Nath, and martial characters are attributed to the Kshatriya. By doing this, he also conveys the incompleteness of either of the two. The mutuality of interest is important to protect the privileges of both the sections/castes. It will not be an exaggeration to suggest that valour of the Ksahtriya is the core of this novel. Following example will further establish my submission: Kumar: What is wrong in that let us move in the night itself. Overnight we will remain hidden inside the fort, in the morning when the fight will become fierce, and most of the soldiers will be on the parapet, we will tackle 50–100 men who will be guarding the gate and we will break open the gate. Devi: Kumar’s opinion is very good, let Jyotishiji stay out of this. Astrologer: Why? Devi: You are a Brahmin, why should you go there? Why should we invite the curse of getting a Brahmin killed? Fighting and valor belongs to the Kshatriyas, not you. Kumar: Yes Jyotishji, you should not go inside the fort. Astrologer: If I would not have become warrior-magician (Aiyar), it would have been appropriate for you to say such a thing. You know

Communicating Caste? Investigating Chandrakanta  337

it better that only those who are courageous and chivalrous become warrior-magician (Aiyar) even if they are Brahmans. Devi: Well, then, let us move. With you, we have more to gain. Kumar: What is the gain? Devi: There is no doubt that Jyotishji is our very close friend, he will never desert us. Moreover even if he is killed, he will appear as spirit (Brahmarakshas) and that way he will be a greater asset. Jyotishi: Will I be the only one? If I will die I will not spare you? You are my closest friend. Kumar was enjoying this exchange of pleasantries. Thereafter he rode the horse and along with warrior-magician left for Chunar. By evening, these people reached Chunar and as soon got a chance at night they entered the palace. (Khatri 1895, 192–93)

The imprint of the normative characteristics is so imbibed in his narrative that he concludes his narrative with the following incident: Maharaj Shivdutt could not resist and came to see the procession of the marriage, but once he noticed that he has been depicted as flag bearer in the process. Instantly he realised that this is mischief of a warrior-magician (Aiyar). Raged with anger he took out his sword and challenged him. However he was overpowered and compelled to become torchbearer (Mashachali) in reality of the procession. Nevertheless, Birendra Singh was happily married to Kumari Chandrakanta. (Khatri 1895, 260)

However, what is more important to be taken note of is the shared characteristics between the Brahmins and the Kshatriya. When an opportunity came, the Brahmin, Pundit Badri Nath, came forward to display the shared characteristics of valour; he also joins other warriors in their eagerness to demonstrate their valour. It will not be out of place to mention that although the ideal of varnashramdharma bestows martial character with the Kshatriya, there has been a long tradition of Brahmin-warriors in the mythologies. This reminds us about the story of Parashuram, a Brahman warrior who decided to annihilate Kshatriya from the earth—on the strength of his valour. The tradition of Brahmin-warrior, at times in the form of ascetic-warriors, was a

338  Mayank Kumar

well-established tradition at least till the early modern times in North India (Pinch 2006; N Lorenzen 1978, 61–75. One can also refer Kolff [1990] 2007). Kumar himself had beheaded forty men at the gate, but he also got injured along with the warrior-magicians. As soon Raja Surendra Singh had entered inside the fort that Kumar, Tej Singh and Devi Singh fell on the steps with their weapons, Jyotishji blessed them but could not remain conscious and all four fell unconscious due to excessive bleeding (Khatri 1895, 194).

It may also be noted that this particular incident is concluded by the author in a manner where the Brahmin, Pundit Badri Nath, blesses even the king—although he is in the service of the same king. This normative position was buttressed by the writings of the early British administrators. James Mill, writing in 1820 states that, [T]he Brahmins among the Hindus have acquired and maintained an authority, more exalted, more cumulative and extensive than the priests have been able to engross among any other portion of mankind. As great a distance as there is between the Brahmins and the Divinity, so great a distance is there between the Brahmins and the rest of his species…. The Brahmin is declared to be the lord of all the species.… Their influence over the government is only bounded by their desires, since they have impressed the belief that all laws that a Hindu is bound to respect are contained in the sacred books. (Mill 1820, 159–62, as quoted in Singh 1977, 50).

Yogerndra Singh has pointed out that this apparent contradiction in hierarchies is an interplay between normative ritual status-based elites and real power holders, that is, the ruling elites. He says, ‘Indeed, it is true that the Brahmins have comprised a predominant section of the elite category through the British period up to now. It is also true that the elite structure in India bears a deep imprint of the traditional forms of caste stratification’ (Singh 1977, 51). Last but not the least, it is important to note that rather than describing conflicts between different principalities in terms of gotra,

Communicating Caste? Investigating Chandrakanta  339

or dynastic superiority, an integral feature of the 19th-century Rajput social order, the author prefers to rely on broader varna category of Brahmin, Kshatriya, etc. This is important in the context because despite efforts by certain sections of the British administration to restore and retain the normative Brahminical social structure, we witness the reordering of elite status in the society due to gradual penetration of the British administration and integration of Indian economy more intimately with the global economy. Yogendra Singh argues that, ‘…although the transfer of land did often create new landed classes, it did not necessarily lead to the extinction of the older landed magnate classes.’ He further adds, Indeed, it is through this process of mobility and dispossession of the landed rural elite in interaction with the urban elites, who as aforementioned, were moneylenders, speculators, traders and professional persons like judges, lawyers and clerks, that slowly the Western-educated elites, who engineered the cultural and political renaissance in India, came into being. The traditional elites of the patrimonial and prebendal domains, right from the early 18th century, had a liaison with or offered patronage to various ranks of the professional elites.… In this process of interactions, both caste and class factors played a role (ibid, 56–57).

Thus, it can be argued that Chandrakanta makes an attempt to communicate the normative caste hierarchies in an era of the reordering of social hierarchies and change.

References Clark, T. W. 1970. The Novels in India: Its Birth and Development. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 156. Khatri, Devkinandan. 1895. Chandrakanta. Delhi: Bharti Bhasha Prakashan. Kolff, Dirk H.A. (1990) 2007. Naukar, Rajput and Sepoy: The Ethnohistory of the Military Labour Market in Hindustan, 1450–1850. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kothiyal, Tanuja. 2016. Nomadic Narratives: A History of Mobility and Identity in the Great Indian Desert. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press. Lorenzen, David N. 1978. ‘Warrior Ascetics in Indian History’. Journal of American Oriental Society 98 (1), 61–75.

340  Mayank Kumar Metcalf, Thomas. (1995) 2018. The New Cambridge History of India, Vol-iii. 4: Ideologies of the Raj. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press. (South Asian ed, reprint). Mill, James. 1820. The History of British India. London: Baldwin, Cradock and Joy. Vol. 1. Pinch, William R. 2006. Warrior Ascetics and Indian Empire. New York: Cambridge University Press. Singh, Yogendra. 1977. Social Stratification and Change in India. Delhi: Manohar. Williams, Tyler. 2018 ‘Notes of Exchange: Scribal Practices and Vernacular Religious Scholarship in Early Modern North India.’ Manuscript Studies: A Journal of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies 3 (2), 265–301. Yadav, Rajendra. 2012. ‘Dayniya Mahanta ki Dilchasp Dastaan: Chandrakanta’, In Chandrakanta, by Devki Nandan Khatri, i-xxxix. Delhi: Radhakrishan.

Chapter 20

Marathas, Brahmin and Non-Brahmin Contestations Press and Public Sphere in Early 20th Century Akshay Sawant

The second half of the 19th century initiated many new forces of change in the Indian society. Two such changes were making of the ‘caste’ identities and the expansion of print media, and both these changes have fed into each other. This paper examines the sociopolitical conditions under which the press was evolved and propagated. It charts the process of making of the ‘Maratha’1 from a broader historical category, which was more flexible in terms of its definition of caste boundaries to a consolidated upper caste identity. It does so by examining events such as the Vedokta controversy and the separate electorate. Through this, the paper engages with the concept of the 1 The scare quotes for the word is to indicate the instability, flexibility and contestations this category is open to, which is also the very focus of the paper. Hereafter, even if the scare quotes are not in use, it is advised to remember the affected nature of the category.

342  Akshay Sawant

‘public sphere’, and the significance of tracing changes happening in categories, with a particular focus on defining/redefining boundaries. The term Maratha evokes a pre-colonial warrior heritage, mainly embodied in the ‘Maratha polity’. It continues to signal, in popular discourse and scholarly works, a polity that resisted Mughal expansion into the Deccan region in the 17th and 18th centuries. However, its dominant usage in the 20th century has been as a specific caste group. The late 19th century started to witness a transformation in the usage of the term Maratha, when the fight between Brahmins and non-Brahmins sharpened over social and political issues. The Maratha category had been used to indicate a cluster of peasant/ warrior communities and, sometimes, to refer to the elite ruling class Marathas. On other occasions, it was used for residents of a particular region, or those who speak Marathi. Adapting to as well as resisting the colonial rule involved both merging and moving away of communities. Fundamental to this process was a growing need for distinct and legitimized identities. At one level, national identity, and at other levels, identity formations along caste, linguistic, regional and religious lines were taking place. Central to the politics of identity in Western India was the category of Maratha. Vital to these developments was the role of the press. Print media, at the time, simultaneously assumed the form of propagating the cause of a particular caste, and also forming a larger alliance among castes. In the colonial period, it facilitated the rise of multiple vernacular publics. Consumption and circulation of print media, vigorous debates and discussions over social, ideological, religious and cultural practices, and political rights characterized these new public spheres. The socio-political context of the early 20th century Maharashtra2, under which the press was evolved and propagated, will be discussed in the first section. This description also addresses the nature of Brahmin and non-Brahmin contestations, which are central in shaping the character of the press. The second section will discuss It is anachronistic to speak of ‘Maharashtra’ as it was formed only in 1960. Thus, it is to be read simply as a substitute for a long-winding list of the many regions that come under today’s Maharashtra. 2

Marathas, Brahmin and Non-Brahmin Contestations  343

the Vedokta Controversy and debates around the separate electorate. In the process, I will be tracing the changes happening to the categories—non-Brahmin, Maratha—so as to analyze the reasons for its development and political significance. This discussion will be interwoven with the nature of the press. In the third section, I will conclude by drawing more substantial theoretical reflections on the concept of the ‘public sphere’ as a contested zone of power where various caste identities become prominent and rigidly defined under specific socio-historical conditions.

Brahmin and Non-Brahmin Contestations By the end of the 19th century, Brahmins who had access to education grabbed new administrative opportunities generated by the colonial government. The colonial policies regarding land taxation created distress to the castes associated with farming and allied labours. With increased capital generation under the colonial economy, the Brahmins could start the printing press since the mid-19th century, which rapidly developed by the end of the century, whereas other communities struggled to mobilize the resources required to initiate such ventures. A significant marker of this time was the growing importance of education as a determiner of social and economic opportunities among non-Brahmins; they started mobilizing themselves to spread education. Claims for professional and administrative jobs began. During the same period, private bodies started to build educational institutions. Here also, Brahmins and other literate castes were at the forefront. The Deccan Education Society was one such institute, started by Vishnu Chiplunkar, with the assistance of Bal Tilak and Gopal Agarkar—all Brahmins (Gore 1989). In 1883, Gangadhar Mhaske, a Maratha, took the lead in establishing the ‘Deccan Maratha Education Association’. This association was conservative in defining ‘Maratha’. It was restricted to the elite Maratha families; its orientation was narrow and elitist (Gore 1989). Narayan Lokhande, a Mali, tried to counter such limited use of ‘Maratha’ term by forming ‘Maratha Aikyechu Sabha’ in 1887, which aimed to provide education among various non-Brahmin castes.

344  Akshay Sawant

Given these differences, the consciousness built by Satyashodhak Samaj’s activities and ideology enabled the formation of a non-Brahmin front. The Brahmins started public celebration of Ganpati and Shivaji festival primarily to counter the Satyashodhak mobilization. Through these festivals, Brahmins began to assemble non-Brahmins for the nationalist movement, thereby sidelining the issue of the Brahmin dominance raised by the non-Brahmins (Phadke 2013).3 Let us complicate this further by discussing what was happening with the category ‘Maratha’ through two texts. First is Phule’s appendix to Cultivator’s Whipcord titled ‘The one who calls himself a Pure Maratha’. Phule records a ‘typical example’ that he encountered: [A] gentleman wearing a brahman-like headgear visited me…I tried to place him…As I was trying to figure out who he could be, he turned to me and asked if I had not recognized him. Jotirao: Yes, indeed, I have not. I apologize. Gentleman: I am a maratha from a maratha family. Jotirao: You may be a maratha. But what is your caste? Gentleman: My caste is maratha. Jotirao: Well, all Marathi-speaking people, from mahars to brahmans, are known as marathas. It is not possible to locate anybody’s caste if only the term maratha is used. Gentleman: In that case, my caste is Kunbi. (Deshpande 2002, 184–85)

Though one accepts the argument of Gail Omvedt that ‘it illustrates Phule’s refusal to recognize the legitimacy of ‘Maratha’ as a castecategory’, it clearly shows that the mobility of Kunbis for the status of Maratha had already existed (Omvedt 1971, 197). The dress codes signified the mobility, to associate with the status of Maratha, which might result in intangible benefits for the Kunbis. Interactions between Brahmins and non-Brahmins during this period requires a more detailed and layered discussion. For the discussion on sociopolitical changes, see Kumar (1968); for an analysis of non-Brahmin movement, see Omvedt (2011). 3

Marathas, Brahmin and Non-Brahmin Contestations  345

Let us consider Lokhande’s article ‘Are the Brahmans Marathas?’ written as a response to a speech made by the governor of Bombay, Lord Harris. As per Lokhande, Maratha means those of the Kshatriya varna. In this Kshatriya varna, there are 96 families, and many sub-families within these. The people who were born into these families are the true Marathas (Kshatriyas). Those who hold surnames from among these families can become Marathas; other people can never do so…If in this country of Maharashtra, the Brahmans could become Marathas, then even the Muslims and other people could call themselves Marathas…We can never allow the Brahmans to take the liberty of calling themselves Marathas. (O’Hanlon 2016, 291)

Lokhande acknowledges the elite nature of the Maratha category, but he also challenged the attempts ‘to restrict the application of the title’ (ibid.). This allowed for its expansion to include families with the same surname of other castes, but not from castes that differed a lot in ritual status and occupations. Lokhande, like Phule, attempted to tame such upward mobilizing tendencies, and channelized it to an anti-Brahmin articulation. The use of ‘even the Muslims’ points to how distant the Maratha identity was from the Muslims. Lokhande marks the distinction of Maratha with other communities, which becomes stark to demarcate Maratha as a consolidated caste identity throughout the early 20th century. This paper attempts to delineate that process.

Press in the Early 20th Century Veena Naregal (2001) traces the hierarchical relation between English and vernacular spheres in the Bombay-Pune region between 1830–81. Starting her inquiry from initiations to establish the first Marathi newspaper, the Bombay Durpan, in 1832, she traces it until the point where the ‘lower caste imagination of counter-public’ challenged the ‘hegemony of upper caste’ public sphere (ibid., 247–81). Despite this challenge, the specific question her work raises is why the vernacular public sphere after 1860 took such a decisively conservative turn. She argues, on the contrary, that the 1870s mark the success of the conservative defense of the hierarchical structure of native society.

346  Akshay Sawant

The challenge from ‘lower castes’ creating new public-political domain mainly came from the Satyashodhak Samaj. With great proximity to popular practices such as shahiri, tamasha, melas and jalsas, the Satyashodhaks represented a potential counter-public. This distinct counter-public contested the ‘upper caste’ dominance over new modes of publicity besides using innovative mobilizing strategies and the popular expressive forms (Naregal 2001). Though Satyashodhaks were successful in distributing books and pamphlets, they could not manage to convert it into a long-standing printing venture. It was an arduous task for the non-Brahmins to run a newspaper. Before Shahu’s—Maharaja of Kolhapur princely state—period, non-Brahmin papers rarely sustained. Even though the circulation of newspapers at that time was fewer, most of the discussions were happening there. This new space of the public, I argue, made an avenue for elite Marathas, who had high stakes in running newspapers to claim/project themselves as a consolidated caste identity.

The Vedokta Controversy The Vedokta controversy is, in essence, the contestation over who has the right to do rituals according to the Vedas. This conflict broke out initially during the coronation of the Maratha ruler Shivaji Bhosale in 1674, and later, during the reign of Pratap Singh Bhosale in 1818. The question of Marathas being Kshatriyas was never fully settled. The occurrence of conflicts before colonial encounter suggests the role of widespread social practices in these controversies, which exceeded merely the impact of colonial government. The Vedokta controversy brought to the surface the contradictions not just within the Brahmin-dominated nationalist movement but also those among the non-Brahmins. This controversy proved to be an essential marker for later politics in Maharashtra as well as in creating the ‘Maratha’ identity. The socio-economic distress among the non-Brahmins against the prosperity of Brahmins and moneylenders, along with continued efforts of Satyashodhaks, exposed the Brahmin ‘exploitation’ and ‘hypocrisy.’ This consciousness, coupled with an aspiration for Kshatriya status among the Marathas, marked the Vedokta controversy.

Marathas, Brahmin and Non-Brahmin Contestations  347

Shahu’s policies regarding administrative jobs, I argue, became an immediate reason for the conflict to emerge. The appointment of Bhaskarrao Jadhav as an assistant Sar Subha was not well-received by the Brahmin officials. They were arguing about the capability of the nonBrahmins—in this case, Maratha-Kunbi—to work in the administration. Also, the contestation between Brahmin feudatories and Shahu’s state in growing/retaining the territory was a significant reason for the Brahmins in Kolhapur to oppose Shahu in the Vedokta controversy. In 1900, Shahu found out that Rajopadhye, a Brahmin royal chaplin, performed all the ceremonies in the palace according to the Puranic rites. Rajopadhye refused to perform rituals according to the Vedas. Getting furious on Rajopadhye, Shahu gave him a show cause notice, stating why he should not be deprived of the inam lands granted to him (Latthe 1924). Shahu confiscated his lands in 1902 after receiving no response. Rajopadhaye appealed to the Bombay government, which rejected his appeal. This gave a chance to the Brahmin press4, who were already in search of an opportunity, to get involved in the matter actively. Most of the newspapers run by the Brahmins condemned the decision of the government. The Brahmins in Kolhapur and other regions, especially from Pune, started giving open support to Rajopadhye. Vishnu Vijapurkar, in an article, appealed to the Brahmins to restrict themselves from joining Shahu’s palace as a priest, stating that ‘they should not go after money and land’ but ‘maintain our pride’ (Keer 2016, 94). This was only an instance of a chain of strategies that the Brahmins deployed against Shahu. The fury of the Samarth, a Brahmin-run newspaper, knew no bounds. Its condemnation of Shahu’s decision was compelling. The press in the Deccan, dominated by the Brahmins, echoed these sentiments. The slur of this debate remained for long on Shahu. The claim for Kshatriya status rested on acceptance of the Hindu identity. This claim got institutionalized in the setting up of the Kshatrajagatguru Peeth (the seat of the Maratha High Priest) in 1917. The Kshatriya assertion was also significant for material gains such as army recruitment.5 4

By this, I mean press run by the Brahmins.

I elaborate this aspect of the Marathas, increasingly located in the Hindu fold, having the Kshatriya and the masculine tendencies in Chapter Two of my dissertation, see Sawant (2018). 5

348  Akshay Sawant

Separate Electorates: Conflicts Within The period of the debate on separate electorates started with the announcement of Montagu-Chelmsford statement in 1917, and saw an upsurge in the establishment of the non-Brahmin newspapers— many of which ran successfully for several years. By this time, there was a generation of the non-Brahmins, though small in number, who were benefited by the education initiated by the Satyashodhaks and colonial policies. Debates and texts of that time reveal the printing press’ new-found role as one of leading fora for public debate. Newspapers of that time were divided into two camps: the Brahmins—predominantly aligning with Tilak—and the non-Brahmins, who supported Shahu. Shahu generously helped various non-Brahmin newspapers and played a vital role in the birth of the non-Brahmin press. These newspapers voiced different opinions within the non-Brahmins, even as they were vociferously condemning the Brahmin dominance. Newspapers of that period were running on the funds collected from the prosperous members of the caste. A clear ideological divide started to emerge within the nonBrahmins by the end of the 1920s. This ideological divide was not only enabled by newspapers but, in many ways, was constituted by the debates they published. This ‘public’ debate entered a new level when the Southborough Commission report was out. It is important to note here that by the time of inception of the ‘separate electorate,’ in the general usage and that of the colonial government, the category of ‘non-Brahmin’ no longer included the ‘untouchables’. ‘Non-Brahmins’ comprised of the Sudra castes, including the Lingayats and Jains, but significantly excluding the Mohammedans.

Marathas and Allied Communities V. Shinde, who publicly opposed separate electorates for the Marathas, supported reserving seats for the Dalits, arguing that they are historically disadvantaged. He described the demand by the Marathas as a

Marathas, Brahmin and Non-Brahmin Contestations  349

case where the medicine was more dangerous than the disease, and if the Marathas were educationally backward, then the reasons for that were not natural but artificial (Phadke 2013). He argued for the ‘untouchables’ to get this political right and not the Marathas and other non-Brahmins. He rather demanded relaxation and expansion of the ‘franchise’ so that more people would participate in the political process (Shinde 2009). Dr B. R. Ambedkar, in his written statement, repudiates the demands of the separate electorate for the non-Brahmins. He argues educational backwardness criterion is not peculiar to the nonBrahmins as it should apply to all—even the educationally backward Brahmins. He continues that ‘the intellectual and the social domination of the Brahmins’ affects all, so that is also not a ‘special interest’. Instead of separate electorate, he argues that a ‘low pitched franchise’ should be given, as they are educationally backward compared to the Brahmins (ibid., 306–08). A significant development took place when Bhaskarrao Jadhav— sent by the Maratha League and the Deccan Rayat Association— testified in front of the Southborough Commission. He demanded separate electorate for the Marathas, the Jains, the Lingayats, other non-Brahmin communities and the Depressed Classes. He made two crucial points while defining who the Marathas were. The recorded statement reads: His (Jadhav’s) definition of Marathas would include everybody already classified as such in the Census and, in addition, the Kunbis of the Bombay Deccan (ibid., 334–35).

Jadhav rejects Maratha Aikyecchu Sabha’s definition of the Maratha, which includes the Maratha and the other Sudra castes. His contention clarifies that Maratha is to be a caste-specific identity. Still, a complexity remains of the Kunbis, which he soon explains by stating that Maratha refers to all those registered in the Census as the Maratha plus the Kunbis. Importantly, Jadhav did not make a case for the inclusion of all the Kunbis in Maharashtra but particularly of the Bombay Deccan.

350  Akshay Sawant

While these developments were going on, the Jains were demanding separate electorate based on educational backwardness; the British government rejected their demands. Kothari ferociously criticized the government through his newspaper. Shahu advised Kothari to concentrate on opposing the Brahmins (Phadke 2013). The absence of support from the fellow non-Brahmins infuriated Kothari, and he blamed the non-Brahmin movement’s steadfast focus on the issues concerning the Marathas for the rejection of demands of the Jains. Conflict and dissent against Kothari’s various stands resulted in the starting of a new newspaper by the Marathas in Pune. Shripatrao Shinde started Vijayi Maratha in 1919. In its formative years, Keshavrao Jedhe, a Maratha leader who later joined the National Congress, backed him. Naming the newspaper ‘Maratha’ was not accidental. Previously, Tilak used to run Mahratta, an English weekly. Tilak’s idea of Mahratta ensued from the reference to the ‘Maratha polity’ used as a symbol to resist the colonizers. But Shinde’s ‘Maratha’ came from a caste-specific identity. Shinde, through Vijayi Maratha, continuously wrote about Maratha caste representation. It received a furious response from Mukundrao Patil in Din Mitra, saying that this demand of a separate electorate for the Marathas is wrong as per Satyashodhak ideology.6 The result, however, of the movement and the statements made by Jadhav and others resulted in confusion about the demands of the non-Brahmins. It allowed the colonizers to perceive the Maharashtrian non-Brahmin movement primarily in terms of ‘Marathas and others’. Thus, when the Southborough Commission made its first decision on giving separate representation, it referred to the non-Brahmins as ‘Marathas and allied communities’. Shripatrao Shinde, on behalf of the Marathas, objected to this categorization. Latthe wrote on behalf of the Deccan Rayat Association, arguing that the Marathas as such have claimed separate representation, ‘but they have never articulated as a group of “Marathas and Allied Communities” and held the British government accountable for it’.7 6 7

Din Mitra, 1 September 1920. Deccan Rayat, 22 May 1919.

Marathas, Brahmin and Non-Brahmin Contestations  351

Image 20.1  Outlook of a Maratha-owned Newspaper, “Vijayi Maratha” Given here are images of the Maratha-owned newspapers, displaying its name and logo (Shinde 2006). A random perusal of these newspapers provides a sense of the overwhelming use of the icon of Shivaji and the symbols of the ‘warrior tradition’. Many newspapers were themselves named after Shivaji. The logos and images that these newspapers used were indicative of the Kshatriya symbolism, Hinduness and nationalistic tendencies.

352  Akshay Sawant

S. Bole, a Bhandari member of the Maratha Aikyecchu Sabha, wrote to the governor of Bombay on behalf of the ‘Hindu backward communities’ that the word ‘Maratha’ should not be ‘caste specific’ but should include all the ‘Hindu backward castes’ (Keer 1978, 109–10). Sabha publicly declared that the stand taken by Bole is not to be confused with the position of the organization, but they did mention that the ‘Maratha’ word should include all backward castes.8 The nonMarathas criticized the government’s decision of not awarding a separate electorate to them. Responding to which, the government granted seven reserved seats in the Deccan region for the non-Brahmins under the ‘Maratha’ category. The definition of ‘Maratha’ here was: A person belonging to any of the following castes, namely, the Mahrattas, Kunbi, Mali, Koli, Bhandari, Lohar, Shimpi, Kumbhar, Bhoi, Dhangar, Bari, Lohari, Bhavin and Deloi or any other caste which the local government may by notification in the Gazetter, declare to be a Maratha caste (Omvedt 2011, 212).

The government declared that ‘Maratha’ does not include Lingayats and Jains. The leaders of these communities were furious with this declaration and started questioning Maratha dominance over the non-Brahmin movement. This categorization made the non-Marathas more conscious of the numerical dominance and monopoly of the Marathas. Latthe, in a letter to the government, demanded that Maratha should comprise of all peasant and backward communities, so that the council be adequately represented (Phadke, 2013). Leaving out the Lingayats and the Jains was an effect of articulation around who is non-Brahmin, who is backward and, thereby, who needs special provision. It focussed on the Marathas, which sidelined the demands of the Lingayats and the Jains. Further, the argument that the Hindus are constituted of three major groups—the Brahmin, the non-Brahmin and the ‘untouchables’—increasingly made nonBrahmin a Hindu category, omitting the non-Hindus. This terminological jumble highlighted the real and perceived differences among the non-Brahmins and the growing dominance of the Marathas. Maratha became the central marker in determining the non-Brahmin. 8

Induprakash, 12 March 1920.

Marathas, Brahmin and Non-Brahmin Contestations  353

Apart from the separate electorate, the press was deployed for mobilization of the Kunbis under the fold of the Marathas, thereby defining/redefining who a Maratha is. During an election in Khandesh in 1920, P. Patil, an agricultural officer from Kolhapur, advised a Maratha candidate Anandrao Deshmukh to gather votes by telling the Tirole Kunbis that they were, in fact, Marathas (Patil 1964). The 1931 diktat, issued by the Kshatrajagdguru, published in a newspaper marks another such attempt: All literate Maratha people know that in census times many illiterate villagers call their caste ‘Kulvadi’ or ‘Kunbi’ rather than ‘Maratha’ …all those who call themselves ‘Kunbis’ or ‘Kulvadis’ in Maharashtra, Konkan, Berar etc. are of ‘Maratha’ caste…The days of the rule of wealth have gone and the day of the rule of numbers has come (Omvedt 2011, 142–43).

The evident stress on the changed situation and the importance of tapping that change are marked by emphasizing that the moment of the ‘rule of numbers’ is here. The efforts towards unification also had to negotiate with the socio-economic characteristics of diverse regions due to the impact that previous mobilizations had on them. Also, class played an important role as Kunbis, who had managed an upward mobility, possessed a higher chance of securing marriage alliances from the poor Marathas. This enabled the argument that the division between the Maratha and the Kunbi is false. For centuries marriages have taken place between Kunbis and Marathas. How can they be different?…We are one jati.9

Vijayi Maratha ran a series of articles on the issue of the ritual status of the Marathas, arguing that rulers of Kolhapur and Baroda are the Kshatriyas.10 Similarly, recuperating a valorous Maratha past was a recurrent theme in these newspapers. The content and issues that were discussed in the newspapers mostly concerned the well-off and educated Maratha and Maratha-Kunbi readers. Histories of elite 9

Rashtraveer, 4 May 1919. Vijayi Maratha, 24 July 1922.


354  Akshay Sawant

Maratha families were also prominent. Matrimonial advertisements, for example, were invariably ‘from Maratha families of high birth, seeking contacts with similar families’ (Deshpande 2004, 21).

Conclusion The conflict between journalists discussed earlier suggests that the concept of ‘rational debate’ may itself be a resource of power, and it has to be conceptualized not only as constitutive of public but also as a dynamic and external variable that reshapes the power struggle in public (Udupa 2010). Education and knowledge, which played a significant role in the mobilizations of that period, has also been used to define legitimate and illegitimate demands. The public sphere that is getting constituted is fundamentally shaped around the caste identity, and as Ambedkar argues, caste is a structure of graded inequality (Ambedkar 2014). The public sphere is also of the same nature. It is not just to say that there was a plurality of public but also to locate this within the field of power. Understanding this public sphere as a contested zone of power rather than simply a space of rational debate helps in understanding and analyzing how specific categories and identities were propagated in particular socio-historical conditions. The separate electorate debate signals the role of the state in the formation of the ‘public’. The emergence of the political communities in case of Maharashtra marks the role of the state in demarcating the boundary between castes, and mobilizing various caste groups and creating new actors in the public sphere. The separate electorate also interjected the idea of citizenship; thereby pushing caste-based mobilization even further and defining boundaries more stringently. The distinction between self and the other was central to this idea of citizenship; the identity of Maratha was built on the claim of an identity distinct from the Brahmins on the one hand, and Sudras on the other. In this paper, through the category of Maratha, I set out to examine how modern political processes enable individuals and groups to organize into political subjectivities and formations, and how the latter

Marathas, Brahmin and Non-Brahmin Contestations  355

influenced the way power is structured and distributed. Tracing the meanings, contents, and imaginations associated with the Marathas that changed, lived and were sustained over the period can be enlightening to how ‘internal’ contradictions within the Maratha were managed. This included reinventing their power and domination over the caste society. It is also an alert to scholars on taking the framework of ‘dominant caste’ and applying it easily to any singular caste without being observant to the historical threads that are at play. Being attentive to contestations ‘within’ can provide newer insights and help us in destabilizing the constructed understanding of the non-Brahmin movement elsewhere.

References Ambedkar, B. 2014. Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition. Brooklyn, NY: Verso Books. Deshpande, G, ed. 2002. Selected Writings of Jotirao Phule. New Delhi: Leftword. Deshpande, P. 2004. ‘Caste as Maratha: Social Categories, Colonial Policy and Identity in Early Twentieth-Century Maharashtra’. The Indian Economic and Social History Review 41 (1), 7–32. Gore, M. 1989. Non-Brahman Movement in Maharashtra. New Delhi: Segment Book Distributors. Keer, D. 1978. Lokhitkarte Babasaheb Bole. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan. ———. 2016. Rajarshi Shahu Chatrapati: Ek Samaj Kratikarak Raja. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan. Kumar, R. 1968. Western India in the Nineteenth Century. London: Routledge. Latthe, A. 1924. His Highness Shri Shahu Chatrapati: Maharaja of Kolhapur. Bombay: The Times Press. Naregal, V. 2001. Language Politics, Elites, and the Public Sphere: Western India Under Colonialism. Ranikhet: Permanent Black. O’Hanlon, R. 2016. Caste, Conflict and Ideology: Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in Nineteenth-Century Western India. Ranikhet: Permanenet Black. Omvedt, G. 1971. ‘Jotirao Phule and the Ideology of Social Revolution in India’. Economic and Political Weekly 6 (37), 1969–1979. ———. 2011. Cultural Revolt in a Colonial Society: The Non-Brahman Movement in Western India. New Delhi: Manohar Publication. Patil, P. 1964. Mazya Athavani. Bombay: Mauj Prakashan. Phadke, Y. 2013. Visavya Shatkatil Maharashtra, Vol. 2. Pune: K’Sagar Publication. Sawant, A. 2018. ‘Maratha Tituka Melvava: Making the Modern Maratha’. MPhil Diss., Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.

356  Akshay Sawant Shinde, A. 2006. ‘Satyashodhak Chalvalichya Niyatkalikancha Vandmayin Abhyas 1877–1930’. PhD Diss., Shivaji University. Shinde, V. 2009. Maharshi Vitthal Ramji Shinde Samgra Vangmay. Edited by G. M. Pawar. Mumbai: Maharashtra Rajya Sahitya aani Sanskruti Mandal. Udupa, S. 2010. ‘Print Communalism: The Press and the Non-Brahmin Movement in Early Mysore, 1900–30’. Contributions to Indian Sociology 44 (3), 265–97.

About the Editors and Contributors

Editors Biswajit Das is Professor and Founding Director of Centre for Culture, Media & Governance. He has over three decades of teaching and research experience in the field of theory, method and history of communication in India. Prior to joining the centre, he worked with national and international agencies in conducting communication research and training. Professor Das has taught sociology of communication in Department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia, offering courses on media and society; culture, media and society; and media education. He has also taught Communication Theory and Development Communication in AJK-MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, Mudra Institute of Communication, Ahmedabad, and other central universities. He has been on the advisory board of several universities and colleges in devising course curriculum. Professor Das has been a visiting Professor at York University, Canada, Fellow at the University of Windsor, Canada, Fellow at MSH, Paris, INALCO, Paris, Charles Wallace Trust, London and the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, India. Currently, he is the Founding President of All India Communication and Media Association in India. Debendra Prasad Majhi is presently working as Director, Dr Ambedkar Foundation, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. An academic by heart, he has acquired professional qualifications in various disciplines from various prestigious universities across the world, including management schools. Some of these disciplines are: mass communication, public policy and management, journalism and health system management. Dr Majhi also has very rich experience and exposure in multi-disciplinary fields in general administration,

358  Caste, Communication and Power

human resource management, media advocacy and management, healthy public building initiatives and campaign, disaster management, etc. He attended the 18th World Conference on Health Promotion in Melbourne, Australia, in 2004 as WHO-India delegate, and served as Co-Chair of the Editorial Committee in 2007–2008 in ISS, Netherlands.

Contributors Akshay Sawant is a PhD scholar in sociology at IIT Bombay. He is working on the life and career of the Marathas, tracing it from the late 19th century till contemporary times. He has worked on the Maratha identity formation in the early 20th century Maharashtra for his MPhil. thesis. Anti-caste movements in India, caste in India today, transactions between caste and gender, and psychological aspect of caste are his areas of interest. He has also been active in the anti-caste movements and is currently a member of the Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC-IITB). Archana Singh is currently Associate Professor in the Faculty of Sociology, School of Social Sciences, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi. Dr Singh graduated in sociology from Miranda House, University of Delhi, and completed her MA, MPhil and PhD from the Centre for the Study of Social System, JNU. She has been associated with IGNOU since 1992. Dr Singh has contributed in the area of social stratification and change, urban sociology, and sociology in India. She has also contributed chapters in books and journals in the area of social anthropology of D. N. Majumdar, middle class, culture and communication, and anthropology of hunger. Asha Singh is an Assistant Professor in Gender Studies with Centre for Studies in Social  Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC). Previously, she taught at Ambedkar University, Delhi, and Amity University, Noida. Also, she has worked as a journalist in Hindi newspapers Nai Dunia, Bhopal and Lokmat Samachar, Maharashtra. Her PhD is from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Her doctoral work focusses on the intersections of gender, caste and migration in Bhojpuri folksongs. Her current research focusses on the sociology of Bhojpuri language, and its institutional history and implications on social transformation.

About the Editors and Contributors  359

Benson Rajan is an Associate Professor at Jindal School of Journalism and Communication, India. He specializes in visual culture and media semiotics. His research on social media, gender studies and human computer interaction studies has been published in various journals such as Punctum: International Journal of Semiotics, Hypertext.Net, Funes: Journal of Narratives and Social Sciences, MAI: Feminism and Visual Culture, and Health & New Media Research. His work ‘Curating an Affective Push: Indian Women’s Facebook Profile Pictures and their Affective Turns’ was published in Deleuzian and Guattarian Approaches to Contemporary Communication Cultures in India (2020) by Springer Nature. ‘Popular Culture and the (mis)Representation of Asperger’s: A Study on the Sitcoms Community and The Big Bang Theory’ is his latest book chapter, which was published in Normalizing Mental Illness and Neurodiversity in Entertainment Media: Quieting the Madness (2021) by Routledge. Bhairabi Prasad Sahu is currently Professor of History, University of Delhi. Formerly, he was Secretary, Indian History Congress (2006–09), and Council Member, Indian Council of Historical Research (2008–14). He was associated with the German Research Council’s (DFG) Orissa Research Project (1999–2005). Sahu has been President, Ancient India, Indian History Congress (2003) and at other regional History Congresses. He has been on the Editorial Board of Indian Historical Review, Studies in People’s History and Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. His publications include From Hunters to Breeders: Faunal Background of Early India (1988), The Changing Gaze: Regions and the Constructions of Early India (2013), Society and Culture in Post-Mauryan India c. 200 BC-AD 300 (2015), History of Precolonial India: Issues and Debates (with H. Kulke in 2018), and The Making of Regions in Indian History: Society, State and Identity in Premodern Odisha (2020). Debarati Dhar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi. She has done her doctoral thesis on new media and gerontology. She has been a Research Fellow at the Centre for Innovative Ageing at Swansea University, Wales, UK (2015) under UGC-UKIERI Thematic Partnership Programme. Dr Dhar has presented papers in a number of national

360  Caste, Communication and Power

and international conferences/seminars, and has also participated in various national consultation programmes and workshops. She has several publications in reputed journals under her name. Dr Dhar has research interest in the areas of new media and society, ageing studies, development communication, and media and creative industry. Dev Nath Pathak is Senior Assistant Professor in Sociology and Social Anthropology at South Asian University, New Delhi (India). He is the Editor and Editorial Member of the journal Society and Culture in South Asia (SAGE). A couple of his very recent publications include Intersections of Contemporary Art, Anthropology and Art History in South Asia: Decoding Visual Worlds; Living & Dying: Meanings in Maithili Folklore; Sociology and Social Anthropology in South Asia: Histories and Practices; Another South Asia; Performative Communication: Culture and Politics in South Asia; Narrating Nations, Performing Politics: A Conversation with Vasudha Dalmia; and  Intersections of Art, Anthropology and Art History: A Conversation with Parul DaveMukherji. He was a visiting scholar at Brown International Advance Research Institute, at Brown University, USA, and a Charles Wallace Fellow at Queen’s University, Belfast. His areas of interest include folklore and performance, popular culture and media, theoretical and methodological issues in social sciences, epistemology and philosophy in social science, and education, youth and resistance. Hira Singh is Professor of Sociology at York University, Toronto. He taught Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. He also taught Sociology at various other universities in Canada, like Wilfrid Laurier, Victoria and University of New Brunswick. His book titled Recasting Caste: From the Sacred to the Profane is widely acclaimed in academia. His previous publications include Colonial Hegemony and Popular Resistance: Princes, Peasants and Paramount Power, and essays in prominent journals. He is interested in the field of social theory, social inequality, social movements; feudalism in Non-European and European Societies; colonialism and popular protests; and empire and indenture (South Africa). J. Balasubramaniam is Assistant Professor at the Department of Journalism and Science Communication, Madurai Kamaraj University.

About the Editors and Contributors  361

He has published a book on History of Dalit Journalism in Colonial Madras from 1869 to 1943 in Tamil. A committed scholar, he contributes on the print history of the Dalits in colonial Tamil Nadu. He has also contributed articles in Economic and Political Weekly. Jasmine is a Doctoral Candidate at the Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She holds a Master’s degree in sociology from Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She is awardee of Junior Research Fellowship in Sociology. Presently, she is working on transgender marriages in India. Her research interests include secularism, migration and labour in the informal sector. She is also interested in exploring Eurocentric, decolonial and post-colonial perspectives, and how different modes of understanding elucidate the cultural flows in a globalized world. M. Suresh is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, St. Joseph University, Dimapur, Nagaland, India. He got his PhD from Mizoram Central University, Mizoram, India. The title of his thesis is ‘Representation of Caste in Digital Banners: A Study of Socio-Cultural Dimensions in Tamil Nadu’. Dr Suresh, an awardee of UGC-MZU Fellowship, has done his MPhil in Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, 2015, Madurai Kamaraj University. The title of his thesis is ‘A Socio Cultural Introspective Reflected on the flex Banner Communication’. He is an Associate Editor on the editorial board of Indiana Journal of Arts and Literature of Indiana Publications. Mayank Kumar is Associate professor of History, School of Social Sciences, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi. Dr Kumar completed his MPhil by examining Hindi Literature of 16th and 17th century North India to examine the complex intricacies of caste system. Later, he argued, as his Doctoral thesis at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, that the ecology is defined and redefined by a mutual and continuous interface amid the complex webs of interactions among the physical, socio-cultural, and politico-economic settings. He was associated with Decision Centre for Desert City, Arizona State University, as Fulbright Fellow. He was a Fellow at

362  Caste, Communication and Power

Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, before availing UGC National Research Award. Dr Kumar has a monograph, Monsoon Ecologies: Irrigation, Agriculture and Settlement Patterns in Rajasthan During the Pre-Colonial Period, Manohar, New Dehi-2013, and has co-edited Revisiting the History of Medieval Rajasthan: Essays for Professor Dilbagh Singh, Primus, Delhi, 2017. Namit Vikram Singh is a PhD scholar from University School of Mass Communication, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi. An avid researcher, he has published articles on media studies and presented papers in India and abroad. Neerja Singh is an Associate Professor in the Department of History, Satyawati College (evening.), University of Delhi. She has authored a widely read book, Patel, Prasad, and Rajaji: Myth of the Indian Right. Prashant Parvataneni is an independent writer and researcher from Bengaluru, who also teaches courses on cinema and literature. He won the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize in 2019. His creative and critical writing has appeared in Seminar, Nether Quarterly, and The Bombay Literary Magazine, among others. Prashant works with the Kabir Project at Srishti Institute of Art, Design, and Technology, and is part of an arts collective called Brown-study Works. Ritu Sharma is a Senior Assistant Professor at Kamala Nehru College, University of Delhi. She served as Head of the Department of Sociology from 2014–2016, and briefly till December-April 2020. She has more than 25 papers presented in the conferences and a dozen papers published in international and national journals to her credit. The interest areas range from inequality and stratification, environmental sociology, gender and society, media studies, visual culture and cultural studies etc. Dr Sharma completed her MPhil and Doctorate under Professor Dipankar Gupta from Jawahar Lal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has been convener for Committee of Course and Syllabus-revision committee in Delhi University. Rohan Sengupta is a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at New York University. His research interests are situated

About the Editors and Contributors  363

at the interface of political and media anthropology, anthropology of the voice and semiotics, and South Asian legal history. His previous research was on the anthropology of sport and histories of fan practices in Kolkata. Shardool Thakur is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at Fergusson College, Pune, India. He has a Doctorate from The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad, India, and the topic of his PhD dissertation was ‘Identity, Radicalization and Reform in Islam: An Analysis of Select Personal Contemporary Narratives’. Apart from teaching literature, his areas of interest are literary criticism, political theory, current affairs and international relations, interdisciplinary studies, Indian writing in English and translation, Dalit writing, translation studies, English language teaching, and the use of technology in teaching. Shreya Venkatraman has completed her MA in arts and aesthetics from the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She graduated from Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, with a Bachelors Honors Degree in journalism, from the School of Business Studies and Social Sciences in 2018. Her research interests lie in the field of cinema, performance and visual studies. Subhadra Mitra Channa taught anthropology at the University of Delhi. She retired on 31 October 2016. Her areas of interest are marginalization and identity, gender, religion and cosmology, and ecology and landscapes. She was a Charles Wallace Fellow to the UK (Queen’s University 2000), a Visiting Professor to MSH, Paris (2002), Fulbright Visiting Lecturer to USA (2003) and a Visiting Professor in 2008–09 to USC, USA. She has written about 50 scholarly papers and is the author/editor of 8 books. She was the President of the Indian Anthropological Association, and is currently the editor of the Indian Anthropologist. She was Chair of the Commission on the Anthropology of Women (IUAES) and is now an elected Vice President of IUAES. She was awarded the S. C. Roy memorial gold medal by the Asiatic Society for ‘Lifetime Contribution to Cultural Anthropology’. Her most recent publications include (Cambridge University Press); The Inner and Outer Selves (Oxford University Press) and the edited book, Life as a Dalit (ed.) and Gendering Material Culture. 

364  Caste, Communication and Power

Sushmita Pandit is an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Future Media School, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad University of Technology, India. She also works as a radio presenter at All India Radio, Kolkata, and is a program manager at an international digital radio channel. She has published her research in journals such as Media Asia, Journalism Practice, Journal of Digital Media and Policy, Global Media Journal and tripleC, among others. Her research interests include Television Studies, Digital Media, Digital Humanities and Media Policy. V. Ratnamala is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mass Communication, Mizoram University, Mizoram, India. She was a Visiting Fellow at Institute for Comparative Modernities, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. Dr Ratnamala is also the co-coordinator for Technology Enabling Centre at Mizoram University sponsored by Department of Science and Technology. She got her PhD from Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. Prior to joining the university, she was a lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, for three years. The title of her doctoral thesis is  ‘Dalit Issues and Tamil Press: The Coverage of Dalit Participation in Politics in the Southern Districts of Tamil Nadu’. She was the recipient of ‘Young Scholar Award’ from CPR South in 2014. She recently completed a Joint Research Project titled, ‘Race, Space and the City’ under ICSSR (India)-NIHSS (South Africa) Joint Research Programme in Social Sciences. She collaborated with Professor Rozena Maart, Director, Centre for Critical Research on Race and Identity, University of Kwazulu Natal, Durban, South Africa, for that project. Vijay Kumar is currently a PhD scholar and an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Delhi. His work focuses on the Dalit history, labour history and popular culture of modern North India. His works have been published by SAGE and Bloomsbury. He presented research papers on various themes on the Dalits in the national and international conferences. The present article is a part of his PhD thesis.


Agamudayar Community historical identities, 232–33 Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo, 187, 190–91 Ahir community, 135 Ala, 116 Amarakosh, 85 modern version making, 87 Annals and Antiquities of Rajpootana, 334 anthropology beginning in Indian universities, 50 D.N. Majumdar, role and contribution, 51 Arjak Sangh annihilation of Brahmanism, 153 conceptualization, 154 marriage, building, new rite, 155–56 movement, 153 songs of marriage, 156, 158–63 arjak shoshit, 163 Bengali commentary systematic introduction, 212 Bhagavad Gita karma, 71 Bhuvargadi-Khanda, 88 biography Rettaimalai Srinivasan, 294 biradari continuity, 114–18 structure, 106 Birha songs, 135 Brahmins contestations with non-Brahmin, 343

British Paramountcy, 328 brown/green labelling, 267 case appropriation in select areas of West Bengal, 277–87 Bakha and her story, 315–25 Khatiks, 85 study of Mulkraj Anand’s Bakha in Untouchable, 314–25 Caste and Communication in an Indian Village, 52 caste and Dalit question Ambedkar’s vision, 30 Caste Hindu society, 117 caste identity, 106 communication and new social movement, 248–61 communication and production, 254–56 discourses of theory vs. practise, 256–57 findings, 259 framework of study, 250–54 Izzat vs. communication idea, 258 occupations, clean vs. unclean, 257 text vs context, 259 caste system ageing and digital literacy, 285–86 colonial lexicography, 89–90 community activities and visual imageries, 76–81 difficulty in using new media, 286 Dumont’s definition, 53 etymological origin colonial lexicography and ethnography, 90–92

366  Caste, Communication and Power Hindi Amarakosh and caste histories-cum-glossaries, 92–97 facets in early India, 70–73 hierarchical system, 104 historical processes of formation, 73–76 new media usage reasons, 284 representation in Hindi television serials, 191–93 role in creation of identity politics, 183 social categories, 74 symbolic power, 58–63 Thakurs position in villages, 53 todays time, 70 traders and merchants, 74 views of D.N. Majumdar, 51 Chanda Committee, 215 Chandrakanta, 327 caste system’s highlights, 335–39 geographical base, 329 magician-warriors, 329 portray of Islamic community, 332 Rajendra Yadav’s comment, 334 villain, 329 written by Devki Nandan Khatri, 327 Chikwas, 88 class economic, 30 commentary, 212 Bengali regional project, 212–16 sensationalism, 216–20 voice of commentator, 220–22 communication epistemology of caste, 63–66 Singh’s view, 50 cultural critique, 108–14 cultural identity, 206 Dalit community, 196 identity, 197 influence of iconography, 202–04 symbolic representation, 199–201 Tamil cinema, 206

Dalit empowerment, 202 Devendrakula Vellalar caste in digital banners, 238 historical identity, 238 political identities, 239–40 political identity, 242–43 social identities, 240–41 Dharmashastras, 72 dharmik-katha, 142 Dhobi woman, 103 digital banners, 227 construction of Thevar’s caste identities, 229 Devendrakula Vellalar, 238 historical identities for Agamudayar Community, 232–33 Konar Community (Yadavar), 235–37 media and caste, Tamil Nadu, India, 228–29 political identities for Thevar caste, 230–31 Vellalar caste, identities, 233–35 digital independence, 281 digital literacy caste and ageing, 285–86 Distinction A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, 189 Diya Aur Baati Hum, 187 education and economic progress Jotirao Phule diagnosed link between, 316 fikara, 144 film Aakrosh, 171 absence of Dalit heros, 172 Ankur, 171 Attakathi, 201 form and politics, 179–80 Kabali, 202 Madrasis, 201

Index  367

Parallel Cinema, 171 Sadgati, 172 unmaking of ‘Rajini movie’, 178 folk culture understanding based approach, 124 folk forms culture, India, 121–26 protest and inter-community autonomy, 126–35 food culture of India hegemony and othering, 269–73 power dynamics behind labelling, 264–75 secularising, 273–75 food labelling practices, 264 vegetarian/non-vegetarian and other, 265–68 grihyasutras, 76 hasya-vyangya katha, 143 humor orienting folk, 139–41 India folk culture, 121–26 tradition of communication, 50 Indian National Congress (INC) Dalit leaders questioned ideology, 293 Indian universities beginning of anthropology, 50 Indian village D.N. Majumdar’s views, 52 izzat vs communication, 258 jajmani system, 124, 128 Janapadas/ksetras, 73 Jaridah-i-Rozgar, 299 jati Brahmanic view, 71 jevnaar geet, 163 Kaala, 178

Kautik, 86 meaning, 88 vaitamsikah and mamsikas, 88 Khateek, 89 Khatiks etymological origin colonial lexicography and ethnography, 90–92 Hindi Amarakosh and caste histories-cum-glossaries, 92–97 Khattar kaka, 141 Khattik, 89 Komati Chetty, 132 Konar Community (Yadavar) digital banners, 235–37 Kosh, 84 Kumkum Bhagya, 187 Lachhmantata, crab-curry khataa, 273 lexicography, 84 lok-gaathakatha, 142 lok-gatha-katha, 143 lokgatha-katha, 142 lokokti, 144 Madiga caste, 132 Maithili folk, 142–46 HarimohanJha’sKhattar Kaka, 146–50 Manusmrit, 72 Maratha polity, 342 Marathas and allied communities, 348–54 newspapers images, 351 S. Bole’s views, 351 Marudhu, 198 meatatarian on-vegetarian, distinction with, 265 media role among ageing population, 278 Mohana social matrix of Indian villages, 52 social organisation, 52 Mrichhakatikam of Sudraka, 72

368  Caste, Communication and Power Mukkulathor people, 229 Musahar caste, 188 Musahari, 272 My Memories of Ramswaroop Verma, 154 naari-geet, 152, 155 Nai community, 131 Agya Kadhana, 131 Native Newspapers Report (NNPR), 297 new media review of literature, caste and ageing population, 279–82 role among older people, 279 theoretical grounding and methodological approach, 282–85 Nighantu, 84 non-Brahmins contestations Brahmin, 343 non-Dalit journals opinion in favour of Civil Service Examination, 302 support of Pariyan’s view, opinion, 302–04 non-vegetarian define by Oxford English dictionary, 265 meatatarian, distinction with, 265 occupations job clean vs unclean, 257 Old Delhi dhobis, 105–08 Katras, 114 ovo-vegetarian, 268 pamariya-ke-naach, 143 Pariahs origin, 295–96 Pariyan, 297 Civil Service examination in India, 298–300

content portrays, 294 Dalit journal, 293 Indian National Congress, 310 obstacles to separate schools and the suggestions, 307–09 views on issue of education, 304–05 print media communication power, 327 Rani Ketki ki Kahani, 331 sanskritization, 106 Sasural Simar Ka, 187 Satapatha Brahmana, 77 self definition by Greenblatt, 315 presenting yourself in world, 317 self-fashioning, 315 separate electorates, 348 service caste dands, 129 Sheheri Dhobis, 106 social media ageing population, 280 status cultural, 31 Swadesamitran Civil Service Examination, 301 technology media, 277 Thakur community, 131, 134 The Battle of Bhima Koregaon Dalit standpoint and alternative, 170 documents, 170 Thevar’s caste construction of identities in digital banners, 229 political identities, 230–31 untouchables, 257, 314 upanayana rite, 77 Uttaran, 188, 192

Index  369

varna, 196 Brahmanic view, 71 Vedokta controversy, 346–47 vegetarian food labelling, 266 Vellalar caste identities in digital banners, 233–35 vidaai or farewell song, 162 Vijayi Maratha, 350

violence glorification as source of power, 204–06 Sen’s views, 197 Yeh Pyar Na Hoga Kam, 188 Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, 187 Zamindars acts of exploitation, 127