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The Caste Question

Dalits and the Politics of Modern India

Anupama Rao (Author)

Not available in South Asia, Myanmar

Paperback, 416 pages
ISBN: 9780520257610
October 2009
$34.95, £27.00
Other Formats Available:
This innovative work of historical anthropology explores how India's Dalits, or ex-untouchables, transformed themselves from stigmatized subjects into citizens. Anupama Rao's account challenges standard thinking on caste as either a vestige of precolonial society or an artifact of colonial governance. Focusing on western India in the colonial and postcolonial periods, she shines a light on South Asian historiography and on ongoing caste discrimination, to show how persons without rights came to possess them and how Dalit struggles led to the transformation of such terms of colonial liberalism as rights, equality, and personhood. Extending into the present, the ethnographic analyses of The Caste Question reveal the dynamics of an Indian democracy distinguished not by overcoming caste, but by new forms of violence and new means of regulating caste.
List of Illustrations
Author's Note

Part One. Emancipation
1. Caste Radicalism and the Making of a New Political Subject
2. The Problem of Caste Property
3. Dalits as a Political Minority

Part Two. The Paradox of Emancipation
4. Legislating Caste Atrocity
5. New Directions in Dalit Politics: Symbologies of Violence, Maharashtra, 1960–1979
6. The Sexual Politics of Caste: Violence and the Ritual-Archaic
7. Death of a Kotwal: The Violence of Recognition

Epilogue: Dalit Futures
List of Abbreviations
Anupama Rao is Associate Professor of History at Barnard College.
The Caste Question is an admirable piece of work, presenting a thoroughly novel take on its subject-matter. . . . Here, finally, is a research willing to take Dalit emancipation seriously as a political formation in its own terms. . . . Rao’s book will be required reading for any student of Dalit emancipation in India for some time to come.”—Sasheej Hegde H-Net Reviews
“Most compelling.”—Eleanor Zelliot Asian Affairs
"A powerful book on caste, a subject that has dramatic importance not only for the history of democracy in modern India, but for the general discussion on the interferences of social inequalities and cultural exclusions. The Caste Question goes beyond the usual antitheses of localism and globalism, and illustrates a decisive notion of intensive universality."—Etienne Balibar

"A sustained and probing analysis of the modern history of caste in Western India, connecting issues of gender, personhood, property, and politics to facts of oppression and inequality. This is the most politically and theoretically engaged book on caste to have come out in a long time."—Dipesh Chakrabarty, author of Habitations of Modernity

"A profound reflection, at once historically rich and theoretically nuanced, on the nature of political modernity itself."—John Comaroff, co-author (with Jean Comaroff) of Of Revelation and Revolution

"Rao is entirely convincing in this brilliant and audacious re-evaluation of political modernity in India through the perspective of anti-caste struggles."—Mrinalini Sinha, author of Specters of Mother India: The Global Re-Structuring of an Empire

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