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8 - Caste in the everyday life of independent India

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

Susan Bayly
University of Cambridge
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Having seen that the modern Indian state has been anything but caste-free in its language and actions, the focus now returns to the domain of family, locality and personal perception. Today, as in the colonial period, the claims of caste still extend well beyond the conventions of public policy and the electoral arena. Yet it is equally clear that these norms have been significantly affected by the many changes which have transformed Indian life and thought in the years since Independence. The aim of Chapters 8 and 9 will be to ask what altered meanings Indians have come to attach to these aspects of jati and varna, exploring those areas of contemporary experience in which assertions of caste logic have had appeal for both the insecure and the advantaged.

There are two distinct though overlapping manifestations of caste to be pursued here. The first, to be explored in this chapter, concerns caste consciousness as it has been manifested in surprising though generally uncontentious forms, most notably where we see conventions of jati and varna difference retaining their power in the modern workplace and in the thinking of educated city-dwellers. The second, to be explored in Chapter 9, is a far more sensitive matter in modern India: the persistence and extreme violence of the so-called caste war outbreaks which have received much sensational coverage since the 1970s.

In both of these areas, a particular conception of caste identity has come to the fore, especially among people who see themselves as informed and modern-minded.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1999

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