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Caste and Indian Modernity

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSUS1HS4374

Semester and Year Offered: VI / Winter Semester

Course Coordinator and Team: Dr. Shailaja Menon, Dr. Geetanjali Tyagi

Email of course coordinator: shailaja@aud.ac.in, geetanjali@aud.ac.in

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: This course seeks to analyse the different perspectives on caste, modernity and gender, the manner in which various social categories in India appropriated modernity and strove to benefit from it. For reasons of brevity, the course focuses on the social, cultural and political developments of the 19th century till independence.

The story of caste in India has a long genesis. It ranges from the most banal to the most philosophical. A wide spectrum of scholars has attempted to understand, analyse and deconstruct caste. At different historical junctures, ideas of caste have undergone permutations. It was argued that with the onset of modernity, progress rational values, caste would wither away. The term ‘modern’ is expressed to demarcate the past from the present. With the privileging of science, technology and rationality by the Enlightenment, modernity was invested with values creating a binary ‘other’ steeped in superstition and tradition. Every society, individual or institution felt compelled to acquire the abstraction of modernity. In Asia, Latin America and Africa, the experiences of colonialism mediated the abstraction of modernity. For the caste ridden Indian society, modernity, far from being an abstraction was something tangible as it enabled scores of the oppressed communities to seek entitlements by invoking the legal-juridical norms, again a by-product of modernity. At one level, the colonial encounter set free the local people from many hidebound traditions and opened up new vistas of social progress through education and emerging employment opportunities. The privileged communities sought refuge in the pristine imagined past unable to come to terms with modernity whereas the rest (the anti-caste intellectuals) eagerly courted modernity to establish a more secular and progressive society. Thus, modernity is driven with contradictions. Despite the mystic of capitalist development notwithstanding, Indian society is grappling to make sense of ‘semi-feudal and semi-colonial remnants’. (Gail Omvedt, Seeking Begumpura, Navayana, 2008, p.10) Hence, the exploited people have not relapsed into silence but have challenged the contradictions of modernity. As Ambedkar has observed, throughout its historical trajectory there have been attempts to annihilate the superstructure- the edifice of caste brutality as a precursor to create a modern liberal society.

Course Outcomes:

With the above mentioned discourse in mind, this course attempts at :

  1. Engaging students with critical imaginings of concepts like caste, modernity and gender while historically contextualising them.
  2. to work upon everyday experiences and ‘felt’ presence of the impact of these concepts in histories of people, particularly in 19th and 20th Century India.
  3. As a course offered in the final semester of the Undergraduate Programme, this course further attempts at cultivating the culture of dialogue, discussion and debate within the classroom interactions.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  1. Understanding Caste – Since inception and over its many manifestations, caste has emerged as a major discursive category within contemporary Indian society. With insights from varied scholarly explorations on caste, this module would explore various sociological and historical perspectives and debates on the idea of caste itself. How do we understand caste – is it a construct or a given category, how has this concept been variously understood, re-created in colonial times and debates around significant dimensions of caste for instance, hierarchy and difference, would be further explored. Insights would be drawn from the autobiographical narrative by Om Prakash Valmiki’s, ‘Joothan’ inorder to gauge the impact of caste and its many afflictions. The final segment would engage with the analysis of Ambedkar’s, Annihilation of Caste and Gandhi’s, Hind Swaraj and the larger Ambedkar-Gandhi debate on caste .
  2. Exploring Modernity, its interface with Caste and Gender: This module will focus on understanding the idea of ‘modernity’. The possibility of creating a new world through secular reasoning and techno-scientific exploration primarily characterised the ethos of modernity. In the 19th century, modernity became identified with industrialism and the many socio-economic and cultural changes that followed it. Is it only about technological acquisition or also, attitudinal change in inter-personal dealings? The growth of modernity in the twentieth century has been related to the making of secular state and polity, the globalised capitalist system,the advanced form of social and sexual division of labour and the overall transition from religious to secular culture. But with these positive implications of modernity, we also need to deal with its discontents, the major one being- the problem of alienation. Modernity’s emphasis with the scientific reasoning, represses the ‘non-rational’ faculties of human existence. Its global ambition, it is feared, tends to annihilate all difference and thereby, attempts at making the social structures homogenized. While exploring these problematics existent within modernity, this module will try to situate the many concerns and tensions emerging out of the interface between modernity, caste and gender.
  3. Alternative Socio-Political Mobilizations - The Colonial era witnessed some intense debates around issues of freedom and low caste assertion. The focus will be on the debates generated around these issues by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Pandita Ramabai, Phule, Ambedkar, Periyar and Narayana Guru.

Assessment Details with weights:

Tentative Assessment schedule with details of weightage:

Semester and Year Offered: VI / Winter Semester

Course Coordinator and Team: Dr. Shailaja Menon, Dr. Geetanjali Tyagi

Email of course coordinator: shailaja@aud.ac.in, geetanjali@aud.ac.in

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: This course seeks to analyse the different perspectives on caste, modernity and gender, the manner in which various social categories in India appropriated modernity and strove to benefit from it. For reasons of brevity, the course focuses on the social, cultural and political developments  of the 19th century till independence.

The story of caste in India has a long genesis. It ranges from the most banal to the most philosophical. A wide spectrum of scholars has attempted to understand, analyse and deconstruct caste. At different historical junctures, ideas of caste have undergone permutations. It was argued that with the onset of modernity, progress rational values, caste would wither away. The term ‘modern’ is expressed to demarcate the past from the present. With the privileging of science, technology and rationality by the Enlightenment, modernity was invested with values creating a binary ‘other’ steeped in superstition and tradition. Every society, individual or institution felt compelled to acquire the abstraction of modernity. In Asia, Latin America and Africa, the experiences of colonialism mediated the abstraction of modernity. For the caste ridden Indian society, modernity, far from being an abstraction was something tangible as it enabled scores of the oppressed communities to seek entitlements by invoking the legal-juridical norms, again a by-product of modernity.  At one level, the colonial encounter set free the local people from many hidebound traditions and opened up new vistas of social progress through education and emerging employment opportunities. The privileged communities sought refuge in the pristine imagined past unable to come to terms with modernity whereas the rest (the anti-caste intellectuals) eagerly courted modernity to establish a more secular and progressive society. Thus, modernity is driven with contradictions. Despite the mystic of capitalist development notwithstanding, Indian society is grappling to make sense of ‘semi-feudal and semi-colonial remnants’. (Gail Omvedt, Seeking Begumpura, Navayana, 2008, p.10) Hence, the exploited people have not relapsed into silence but have challenged the contradictions of modernity. As Ambedkar has observed, throughout its historical trajectory there have been attempts to annihilate the superstructure- the edifice of caste brutality as a precursor to create a modern liberal society.

 

Course Outcomes:

With the above mentioned discourse in mind, this course attempts at :

1. Engaging students with critical imaginings of concepts like caste, modernity and gender while historically contextualising them.

2. to work upon everyday experiences and ‘felt’ presence of the impact of these concepts in histories of people, particularly in 19th and 20th Century India.

3. As a course offered in the final semester of the Undergraduate Programme, this course further attempts at cultivating the culture of dialogue, discussion and debate within the classroom interactions.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

1.  Understanding Caste –  Since inception and over its many manifestations, caste has emerged as a major discursive category within contemporary Indian society. With insights from varied scholarly explorations on caste, this module would explore various sociological and historical perspectives and debates on the idea of caste itself. How do we understand caste – is it a construct or a given category, how has this concept been variously understood, re-created in colonial times and debates around significant dimensions of caste for instance, hierarchy and difference, would be further explored. Insights would be drawn from the autobiographical narrative by Om Prakash Valmiki’s, ‘Joothan’ inorder to gauge the impact of caste and its many afflictions. The final segment would engage with the analysis of Ambedkar’s, Annihilation of Caste  and Gandhi’s, Hind Swaraj and the larger Ambedkar-Gandhi debate on caste .

 

2.  Exploring Modernity, its interface with Caste and Gender: This module will focus on understanding the idea of ‘modernity’. The possibility of creating a new world through secular reasoning and techno-scientific exploration primarily characterised the ethos of modernity. In the 19th century, modernity became identified with industrialism and the many socio-economic and cultural changes that followed it.  Is it only about technological acquisition or also, attitudinal change in inter-personal dealings? The growth of modernity in the twentieth century has been related to the making of secular state and polity, the globalised capitalist system,the advanced form of social and sexual division of labour and the overall transition from religious to secular culture. But with these positive implications of modernity, we also need to deal with its discontents, the major one being- the problem of alienation. Modernity’s emphasis with the scientific reasoning, represses the ‘non-rational’ faculties of human existence. Its global ambition, it is feared, tends to annihilate all difference and thereby, attempts at making the social structures homogenized. While exploring these problematics existent within modernity, this module will try to situate the many concerns and tensions emerging out of the interface between modernity, caste and gender.

 

Reading List:

  1. Sarkar Sumit and Sarkar Tanika (ed) Caste in Modern India, Permanent Black, 2014 ( select chapters)
  2. Srinivas, M.N., ‘Caste, its Twentieth Century Avatar’, Penguin India,1997 (select chapters)
  3. Omvedt, Gail,‘Understanding Caste, From Buddha to Ambedkar and Beyond’,Orient Black Swan, 2012.( Introductory chapter)
  4. Gupta Dipankar, ‘Interrogating Caste, Understanding Hierarchy and Difference in Indian Society’, Penguin India,2000 ( Introductory chapter)
  5. Valmiki, Omprakash, ‘Joothan, A Dalit’s Life’, trans, Arun Prabha Mukherjee,Bhatkal & Sen, 2007
  6. Ambedkar, B.R, ‘Annihilation of Caste’, The Annotated Critical Edition (Arundhati roy), Navayana, 2015.
  7. Gandhi, M.K. ‘Hind Swaraj’, Rajpal Publishing, 2009
  8. Roy Arundhati, ‘Doctor and the Saint: Caste, Race and Annihilation of Caste: The Debate between B.R. Ambedkar and M.K. Gandhi’, Haymarket Books, 2017
  9. Gupta Dipankar, Mistaken Modernity: India Between Worlds, Harper Collins, 2000
  10. Pathak Avijit, Indian Modernity: Contradictions, Paradoxes and Possibilities, Orient Black Swan, New Delhi, 2015
  11. Gail Omvedt, Seeking Begumpura, Navayana, 2008
  12. Chakravarty Uma, Gendering Caste: Through a Feminist Lens, Bhatkal & Sen, 2003 (select chapters)
  13. John Mary, Women’s Studies in India: A Reader, Penguin India, 2008 ( select chapters)
  14. Menon, Nivedita, Seeing like a Feminist, Penguin India, 2012
  15. Pawar Urmila, “We Too Made History: Women in the Ambedkarite Movement”, Kamble Baby, “The Prisons we Broke”.
  16. Critical Quest publications on Pandita Ramabai, Jotiba Phule, Narayana Guru and Periyar

ADDITIONAL REFERENCE:

  1. Dirks, Nicholas, ‘Castes of Mind : Colonialism and the Making of Modern India’, Princeton University Press, 2001( select chapters)
  2. Srinivas, M.N., ‘Caste, its Twentieth Century Avatar’, Penguin India,1997 (select chapters)
  3. Omvedt, Gail,‘Understanding Caste, From Buddha to Ambedkar and Beyond’,Orient Black Swan, 2012.( Introductory chapter)
  4. Kothari Rajni, Caste in Indian Politics (ed), New Delhi, Orient Blackswan, 1970.
  5. Sarkar Tanika, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation: Religion, Community, Cultural Nationalism, Permanent Black, Delhi, and Indiana University Press, 2000 ( Introductory chapter)
  6. Vaid Sudesh and Sangari Kumkum, (ed) Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History, Rutgers, 1990 ( select chapters)
  7. Pandian M.S.S., Brahmin and Non-Brahmin, Permanent Black, 2007.
  8. Omvedt, Gail, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution: Dr. Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement in Colonial India, New Delhi: Sage Publications. 1994
  9. Zelliot Eleanor, From Untouchable to Dalit, Essays in the Ambedkar Movement, Manohar, New Delhi, 1996
  10. Keer, Dhananjay Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission, 3rd edition, Bombay: Popular Prakashan. 1991
  11. Geetha, V & Rajadurai, Towards a Non-Brahmin Millennium: From Iyothee Thass to Periyar. Calcutta: Samya.1998
  12. Mani, B.R, Debrahmanising History: Dominance and Resistance in Indian Society, Delhi: Manohar Publishers. 2005
  13. Lerner Gerda, The Creation of Patriarchy : the Origins of Women’s Subordination, Women and History, Vol I, OUP,1988 (Introductory chapter)
  14. Kancha Illiah, Why I Am Not a Hindu? A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Culture, Ideology and Political Economy. Calcutta: Samya. 1996