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A Roundtable on Rupa Viswanath's The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India and the Study of Caste

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 February 2021

Abstract

In this roundtable discussion, five scholars of modern India with diverse methodological training examine aspects of Rupa Viswanath's 2014 book, The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India, and assess its arguments and contributions. This book has made strong challenges to the scholarly consensus on the nature of caste in India, arguing that, in the Madras presidency under the British, caste functioned as a form of labour control of the lowest orders and, in this roundtable, she calls colonial Madras a ‘slave society’. The scholars included here examine that contention and the major subsidiary arguments on which it is based. Uday Chandra identifies The Pariah Problem with a new social history of caste and Dalitness. Brian K. Pennington links the ‘religionization’ of caste that Viswanath identifies to the contemporary Hindu right's concerns for religious sentiment and authenticity. Lucinda Ramberg takes up Viswanath's account of the constitution of a public that excluded the Dalit to inquire further about the gendered nature of that public and the private realm it simultaneously generated. Zoe Sherinian calls attention to Viswanath's characterization of missionary opposition to social equality for Dalits and examines missionary and Dalit discourses that stand apart from those that Viswanath studied. Joel Lee extends some of Viswanath's claims about the Madras presidency by showing strong parallels to social practices in colonial North India. Finally, Viswanath's own response addresses the assessments of her colleagues.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s) 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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A Roundtable on Rupa Viswanath's The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India and the Study of Caste
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