Contributions to Indian Sociology

Published by SAGE Publications
Print ISSN: 0069-9667
This paper focuses on the interaction between the Hindus and Christians of Pondicherry between 1700 and 1900, showing how Christianity gained a foothold among the Hindus. On the one hand, pressures, preferences and persuasion were used by the French to induce conversions, while on the other hand certain cultural, social and moral aspects of Hinduism, like vegetarian ism and the caste system, made conversions difficult. The high-handed methods of some French colonisers and missionaries also slowed down the conversions. The paper brings out both the legendary tolerance of the Hindus and Hinduism, and the intolerance exhibited by egalitarian ideologies like Christianity, which pay scant regard to diverse cultural, moral and religious traditions and beliefs. The paper also rejects the theory that there is a symbiosis at work between the Hindus and Christians and affirms the distinctive existence of a Judeo-Christian-Islamic, and a Hindu-Buddhist, world.
In this article I trace certain related trajectories: the emergence and possible disappearance of the cinematic form of the soft-porn ‘morning show’; the waxing and waning arrangements of certain spaces in the city of Delhi, in particular cinema halls in Old Delhi; and lives enmeshed in this unstable itinerant matrix of cinema and the city. In confronting these situations of permanent mobility, we are led to the conceptual issue of time. Do the hands of a clock describe units of experience? Does time privilege movement or rest? How do we understand time in terms of both materiality and subjectivity? How do cinematic affects relate to durational experience? I address these questions by setting out the anthropology of a ‘moment’ as a way of understanding durational experience. The moment is conceptualised in two distinct but related forms: as a chronograph (that tracks trajectories of movement and matter) and as a crystal (that follows varying states of mind). Understanding the issue of time as a philosophical problem through the writings of Gilles Deleuze, I also consider what kind of relationship exists, or might exist, between anthropology and philosophy.
This article looks at access to and control over property and its complex inter-linkages with kinship and gender. It is based on ethnographic fieldwork among Tamil migrants in two localities of Delhi, a resettlement colony and a middle-class colony, between 1996 and 1998. The Tamils belonged to a wide range of castes and had been in Delhi for periods ranging from a few years to several decades. The study expands the conventional understanding of property by employing the concept of ‘symbolic capital’. Property, thus, includes not only material assets such as houses and jewellery, but also other resources like education and kin networks. Further, the study centrally examines access to and control over these resources in an everyday context rather than ownership, which can be merely nominal. In turn, rights to property shape both kinship relationships and gender practices in Tamil society.
This article, mainly based on research among the priests of the Minaksi temple in Madurai, Tamilnadu, is a continuation of earlier work on the relation between religious texts and ritual action which was presented in a monograph about the priests and a recent article in Contributions (Fuller 1984; 1993). It contains new data about education in the religious schools attended by the priests and their sons, which show that my previous analysis of the relation between the texts and ritual performance was flawed in some significant respects. My doubts about whether the priests' performance of ritual could be improved through education were also overstated, because educated priests have the crucial ability to recite texts when carrying out rituals, whereas their uneducated colleagues can perform only the physical ritual acts. This article also looks at the priests' `techniques of the body' and shows that education nevertheless has virtually no impact on how priests carry out physical ritual. The article concludes with some further reflections on the analysis of ritual and the problem of its misperformance.
This article explores attempts by anti-corruption and Right to Information activist groups in Delhi to discipline state–citizen interactions through the innovative application of legal mechanisms for bureaucratic transparency and accountability, in particular the Right to Information Act of 2005. Drawing on detailed ethnography, I show how activist strategies can achieve positive results in specific cases. However, a paradox emerges as, in the everyday practice of dealing with poor clients and government officials, activists have to accommodate and work through the very processes of mediation, personalisation and inequality based on social and cultural capitals which they identify as problematic in the functioning of the state. A focus on the everyday practice of anti-corruption activism provides an opportunity to look beyond the recent hubris concerning anti-corruption in India and develop a closer understanding of how projects to reform the state–citizen relationship actually play out on the ground.
This article examines the changing dynamics of development in India, focusing on partnerships between civil society organisations (CSOs)1 and the state in the area of rural health. Drawing on ethnographic perspectives of CSO work, we examine the shifting meaning of these partnerships for the institutions involved and how they function given their differing institutional cultures and values. We argue that the adoption by the state of a global language of rights and its efforts to integrate civil society language, practices and representatives in the policy and implementation of health programmes point to collaborationist models which support the creation of an ‘activist’ state, as they simultaneously strengthen as well as weaken the role of CSOs as mediators in development.
Bernier's text Travels in the Mughal Empire; A.D. 1656-1708 was a primary source for certain European writers from Montesquieu to Marx for their representation and characterisation of oriental despotism. The distinctive features of oriental despotism in their eyes were absolutist and tyrannical monarchs who ruled over polities that lacked a hereditary nobility and private property in land. In this paper I have attempted to demonstrate that, when read closely, Bernier's text discloses particulars that can be shown to yield a quite different patterning. The Mughal empire of the 17th and 18th centuries, the period I am discussing, was characterised by a devolutionary distribution of authority among multiple lesser sovereignties, by a complex hierarchy of land tenure and appropriation of product, by a developed system of commerce, and by a tolerance and coexistence of pluralistic subcultures. The contours of the empire seem to conform to a model of what I have previously conceptualised in my writings as the 'galactic polity'. The current trend in theorising about post-colonial societies is that the representation of pre-colonial societies at the time of contact as oriental despotisms was a proto-colonial and colonial construction which served as a reason and justification for political intervention, conquest and exploitation. That was so. But I want to emphasise that the stereotypical image of oriental despotism also importantly served as a polemic for an internal political debate and advocacy in France as a warning against and attack on the alleged absolutist ambitions of French monarchy and a defense of feudal nobility as a break on such tendencies. Montesquieu in particular exemplifies this posture. Bernier's formulaic gloss on the Mughal empire, despite what he actually reports, is one kind of tendentious representation. My own reading of Bernier's text is no doubt informed by my present day intellectual and political concerns.
Through an exploration of the concepts that inform one’s conduct in everyday life, this article seeks to make manifest the performative code that lies at the heart of Barelwiyat. To ‘be’ a Barelwi, it is necessary to owe allegiance to a particular worldview in a way that one’s faith is inscribed onto one’s self, both within and without. An ineluctable relationship is thus forged between ‘doing’ and ‘being’, wherein both affirmation and denunciation become incumbent upon those who claim to be Barelwi. These practices, considered essential and public in nature, enable and necessitate the existence of a shared idiom, facilitating the decryption of bodily enactments and kinesthetics, and allowing them to be judged by the moral community at large. I draw upon my own experience of growing up in an avowedly Barelwi household, as well as ethnographic research carried out in Bareilly to bring forth this dimension of faith.
This paper attempts to problematise the founding of 'Tropical Medicine' in the late 19th century as a classificatory act by posing a question: why was the discipline founded when it was and not earlier? In the process, it offers an alternate genealogy of its advent by arguing for a mid-19th century episteme, in terms of fevers, the constitution of the body, and the weather-in originating fevers and in predisposing the body towards disease—both in the temperates and the tropics, as being crucial to an understanding of the discourse on the tropics.
This article examines the agnatic notion and the organisation of local groups among the Muduga of Attappady in Kerala. Ethnographic evidence shows that the actual practices of the Muduga deviate from an ideal patrilineal type, exhibiting bilateral tendencies which are not characteristic of a strong patrilineal system, thereby making the Muduga case appear to fall between the African and Melanesian type. In the understanding of kin groups, there is a need to differentiate between social groups and cultural categories. The nature of Muduga kinship can be understood only by meaningfully linking ideal and actual behaviour through the interrelationship between structural premises and practice.
Drawing upon a decade of empirical research, this article examines changing meanings of ‘home’ and ontological security amongst a diasporic British Indian Punjabi community. It is argued that home is pursued, transnationally, by British South Asians and that this is significantly shaped by the dynamic social context of South Asia as well as social processes within Britain and across the South Asian diaspora. Previous studies of Punjabi and South Asian diasporic meanings of home and diasporic identities have focused primarily upon Western and intra-diasporic processes in the (re)production of meanings of home, to the relative neglect of dynamic processes in South Asia. Where the South Asian context has been considered significant, it has been represented as static and unchanging. My investigation of dynamic, contemporary social and cultural processes within Punjab reveals that consumer display is replacing the ownership and control of agricultural land and produce as the primary means through which home and ontological security is pursued by the Punjabi diaspora within India. However, this is, in turn, leading to increasing resentment and conflict between the diaspora and the permanent residents of Punjab—part of wider processes of social inclusion and exclusion which also impact upon the diasporic pursuit of home and ontological security.
This article argues for an approach to archives and documents that focusses on their material effects. It traces the impact of the East Indian Railway Nationality Files on the intimate stories of family genealogies among Anglo-Indian railway workers. The procedures of proof and record-keeping associated with these files (kept from 1927-50) displaced Anglo-Indian family histories into a public realm of state documents and archives, making these the final arbiters and guardians of their origins. Anglo-Indian workers often protested their assigned status by writing to the bureaucracy, especially as family members were regularly classed differently by distinct institutions. They sought a continuous public genealogy for themselves. Their interest in doing this and the practices of the nationality archive reveal the new conjunctions between political rights and family origins in Indian civil society. Inereasingly, both the jati of nationalists and the enumer able community of colonial bureaucrats rested on a genealogical imperative, which excluded Anglo-Indians because of their 'mixed' origins from belonging to either India or Britain. The material effects of this historical moment and the archive are visible in contemporary conversations with Anglo-Indian railway families. They tell stories of disappearing documents, of ghosts disturbed by lack of an archive, of their bodies as treacherous records of identity and of the impossibilities of being an Indian community.
David Pocock’s previously unpublished Inaugural Lecture on ‘The point of death’ marked his promotion to a Personal Chair at the University of Sussex and was delivered on 3rd May 1977. Pocock generously gave Parry a copy of his text while the latter was writing up material on death in Banares, and as far as we know, this is the only hard copy that has survived (though an audio recording of the lecture itself is listed in the Sussex University Library catalogue). It was written for verbal presentation and, at points, has a somewhat elliptical quality (though that is also true of much that Pocock published). The main text has been edited as lightly as possible and only with a view to occasionally clarifying its meaning. The comments and references in the footnotes have all been added by us. We are grateful to David Pocock’s executors, Paul and Susan Yates, for permission to include his lecture alongside our own appreciation of him. The justification for doing so is its enduring interest—both as a still highly suggestive contribution to the comparative study of mortuary practices and of ideas about death, and as an historical document that evokes a number of Pocock’s intellectual preoccupations and something of his intellectual style. As our own contribution to this issue of the journal has suggested, death was a topic on which he had long reflected; and here, he addresses it with characteristic erudition and an impressively catholic range of reference to literary and historical sources. But the resonances with his other writings go much further than that. These include: his continuing concern with the way in which uncontrollable biological occurrences and the effects of duration are subordinated to society (showing here that ‘the point of death is not the point of death’); and his related concern with the way in which unrepeatable historical events that unfold in linear time are accommodated to a theory of endlessly repeated cyclical time. Thus, the classical Hindu theory of the kaliyug is invoked to argue that the ‘good death’ of the householder is not really so ‘good’ after all. It is merely a kind of ersatz kaliyug version of the ideal, which supposes that by the time of his death, the householder will have taken sanyas. This fudge, Pocock intriguingly suggests, is associated with the fuzziness and contradictoriness of the eschatology. And that’s another of his recurring themes—the vague and tentative nature of religious belief. But perhaps, the most important message of his lecture has to do with the contrast it sets up between the ‘traditional complex’, with which the first part of the article is concerned and for which Hindu India stands, and the ‘modern complex’ exemplified by the contemporary and significantly secularised West, where the values of individualism are associated with ‘a maximal denial of death’—and indeed, of society itself. The contrast looks, on the face of it, highly Dumontian; but on closer reading, it is distinctly ambiguous. Though the ‘imperative insistence’ of Christian doctrine on the survival of the individual soul precludes the assimilation of the individual personality into a general category in a way that no other culture has done, and though the individual’s death is represented as being as unique as his birth and subsequent life, elements of the ‘traditional complex’ nevertheless persist. Rumours about mixing up bones and ashes in the crematorium recur, the standardised depersonalised coffin comes to stand for the deceased and Lily Pincus’s advocacy of a renewed intimacy with death and the dying is welcomed as a modern transformation of the older complex. It is the open-endedness and his sense of the complex ambiguity of social and intellectual life that makes Pocock both so frustratingly elusive and so attractive as a thinker. Editorial note by Jonathan Parry and Edward Simpson
Competing motivations characterise consumption practices in contemporary south India. While status-conscious Tamils are desirous of displaying wealth so as to signal kauravam (‘prestige’), such public displays risk eliciting tiruṣṭi (‘evil eye’). Based on field research in urban Tamil Nadu, the article argues that this tension—between the desire to display wealth and signal social status, and the fear that such displays will invite supernatural attack—is being resolved through newfound practices of tiruṣṭi prophylaxis. Prophylactic amulets are used to manage and divert the tiruṣṭi-bearing gazes of onlookers from things of value. The newest amulets of the Tamil Nadu public sphere capitalise upon the eye-catching ability of the normative tiruṣṭi prophylactic to directly index, rather than mask, the social status that protective amulets are deployed to protect. Today, a range of expensive consumer goods are utilised as prophylactics. Because the need to protect oneself from tiruṣṭi can itself be a sign of status, such expensive amulets serve to simultaneously protect and project the prestige of their deployers. Lower-status individuals, however, are policed in their acts of tiruṣṭi prophylaxis. Here, a politics of visibility—with respect to caste, class, gender and skin colour—conditions the ‘appropriateness’ of acts of tiruṣṭi prophylaxis.
In this article, I examine everyday ways in which residents of Madurai, Tamil Nadu work to gain and maintain recognition as middle class. In the intersubjective production of identities, people define not only what it takes to be a member of a specific local class category, but also what it means to be treated as fully human. I explore the critical importance of visibility and recognition in daily life, and the modes and meanings of the consumption through which people strive to achieve them. Focusing on two key consumption practices—presenting oneself in public according to local standards of ‘decency’ and marking class belonging through one fetishised consumer good, the cell phone—I consider the relationships among visual apprehension, counting as a social being and dignity.
This paper attempts to explain three widely-held 'stylised facts' about the recent history of north Indian classical music. First, in the precolonial period, music and musicians were patronised by the courts. Second, from the early colonial period patronage declined and music tended to be commercialised. And third, in the process, accumulated knowledge and the quality of crafts manship decayed. In a received view in music scholarship, the transition from patronage to market involved an institutional change and a diffusion of teaching from 'family' to out siders. Decay is attributed to the consequent reluctance of masters to teach well. The paper disputes this view. It suggests that the decay can be seen as an imperfect adaptation by individuals to the changing economic environment, and that this is a more general phenomenon than music scholarship believes. On the other hand, in the instructional system, which was primarily apprenticeship, there was substantial continuity. In this interpretation, music history can be seen to belong to a larger history of north Indian craftsmanship. The paper illustrates this proposition by drawing on the experiences of other skilled urban crafts.
For more than a decade, the Monpas, a Tibetan Buddhist borderland community in west Arunachal Pradesh, have been demanding the status of mother tongue for Tibetan or Bhoti, as it is commonly known in the Indian Himalayas. Bhoti or Tibetan has provided the religious script as well as the language of the religious canon for Tibetan Buddhists in the trans-Himalayas, although the communities living in the Indian Himalayas and in Bhutan and Nepal speak different variants of Tibetan (‘Tibetan-related languages’). Rather than seeing the language politics of the borderland Monpas as the localised assertion of ethnic identity by a marginal group, this article shows that Monpa language politics is underlain by a spatial discourse corresponding not to a Monpa homeland, but instead connecting different Tibetan Buddhists of the Indian Himalayan region. This is not to argue that there is a move for territorial reconfiguration on the basis of the Bhoti language politics, but to allow the discourse around Bhoti to open up the idea of an imaginative geography among Buddhist groups in the trans-Himalayas.
Also CSST Working Paper #10.
Food, human beings, ritual events and the world exchange components while their interaction alters their heterogeneous constitution as an assemblage. I intend to revise and vitalise assemblage theory by foregrounding the role fire plays in shaping exchange and transformation by the very process of ‘cooking’. I elaborate these modifications and alchemic transformations of existing theory by exploring the ritual cooking of coconut milk and the offerings made in a harvest rite in Sri Lanka. The offerings of coconuts enable participants to transfer merits as well as to purify themselves in this surrogate self-sacrifice while reconfiguring the positions within the cosmology. The boiling over of coconut milk acts as a centripetal force around which the ritual evolves, drawing together spectators, historical origins, myths, actions and intentionalities. Heated by fire, the ritual ‘cooks’ these components, from which emerge renewed assemblages of the world, human beings and food. Hence, ritual cooking of food becomes an allegorical materialisation of a ‘cooking’ of the world and interrelationships.
This article examines the process by which the Paraiyars, one of the Dalit communities of Tamil Nadu, South India, attempt to reconstruct their identity by revalorising the symbols of pollution that defined them as low and defiled into positive symbols of their culture. It argues that conflict, confrontation and radical rupture from the dominant community were essential for the formation of a new collective consciousness. Conflictual social relations between the Paraiyars and the Vanniyars, the dominant high-caste group in the village, became a resource and impetus that made the Paraiyars conscious of their stigmatised identity and persuaded them to form a new and positive self-identity that expressed aspirations for the future even as it memorialised past suffering. This article focuses on the resignification of the parai drum and the related symbols and myths that were used by the higher castes to define the Paraiyars as polluted and segregated.
Hartal, the general strike or total shutdown, is one of the defining features of politics in Bangladesh. While opposition parties proclaim it is one of their only weapons to put pressure on the ruling party, Bangladeshi middle classes and the international (donor) community view hartal as essentially disruptive. Focusing on the local organisation of hartal at the ward level, this article argues that hartal plays a crucial role in the organisation of the local power structure in Bangladesh. By considering hartal as a complex political performance, we are able to show that hartals offer unique opportunities for local party organisers to show, maintain and improve their position in the local power structure. Addressing a multi-levelled audience, it enables them to gain access to beneficial patronage relationships with the party (leadership) at the local, regional and national levels. The willingness to take risk and the ability to recruit hartal participants offers important markers to establish and improve these relationships. As such, efforts to move away from hartal to ‘less disruptive’ forms of protest are misguided.
This article, which draws on fieldwork with a community of leprosy-affected people in south India, explores the contrasting ways in which ideas about social completeness might be invoked in different contexts. Following an overview of how notions of ‘personhood’ and ‘adulthood’ in India have thus far been theorised, I go on to examine how my informants managed to construct their identities as ‘children’ in relation to foreign donors, without simultaneously surrendering claims to adult status. Since relationships with various categories of outsiders were only one set of routes through which my informants constituted themselves, the second half of the article focuses on the generational demarcations between the leprosy-affected people who founded the community, and their healthy sons. Ethnographic examples illustrate how there are different ways of becoming a man and an adult, but also that these different ways draw on shared Indian idioms of what it is to be a complete person.
At the ethnographic level this paper discusses work and work-groups in the company town of Bhilai (Madhya Pradesh). Though its central focus is on those who have permanent jobs with the Bhilai Steel Plant, a large-scale public sector enterprise, brief comparison is made with current attitudes to peasant agriculture, with contract labour in the plant and with workers in the private sector. At an analytical level, it offers a critique of E.P. Thompson's thesis that modern machine production requires and promotes a new concept of time and a new kind of work discipline, arguing that this thesis not only romanticises task-oriented peasant agriculture but also effaces the extremely variable nature of industrial production. It further suggests that—at least here—public sector employment serves in significant measure as a 'melting-pot' which creates important solidarities between work-mates that transcend the barriers of caste, religion and regional ethnicity, whereas recruitment procedures and the composition of work-groups in the private sector have tended to reproduce such 'primordial' loyalties. The tentative hypothesis is that the dominance of the public sector is not unrelated to Bhilai's history of relative communal harmony, which is potentially threatened by current economic and policy trends.
Who are the Naxalites today? What drives them to take on a life that, even given the adversity of their prior life conditions, seems very bleak? What are the real tenets of the ideology that make it possible for them to kill? Why are they prepared to die for it? This article is an attempt to bring out the standpoint of foot soldiers of the Naxalite movement. It categorises a sample of forty Naxalite armed cadre met with across Jharkhand and parts of Bihar in 2003 into three motivational profiles: Committed, Opportunists and Drifters. The Drifters make up most of the Naxalite armed cadre and reflect their changing spirit.
Seasonal casual labour migration in India has conventionally been understood as the result of extreme poverty whereby villagers are forced to become migrants for the dry six months to subsist or merely survive. This article draws on fieldwork in a village in Jharkhand and a brick kiln in West Bengal to argue that migrants do not understand their movement in economic terms alone. Many see the brick kilns as a temporary space of freedom to escape problems back home, explore a new country, gain independence from parents or live out prohibited amorous relationships. It is suggested that Jharkhandi activists and policy-makers’ construction of such migration as a ‘problem’ is as much about their vision of how the new tribal state ought to be as about exploitation. Migration to the kilns is seen by them as a threat to the purity and regulation of the social and sexual tribal citizen. This moralising perspective creates a climate that paradoxically encourages many young people to flee to the brick kilns where they can live ‘freely’. In this way, the new puritanism at home helps to reproduce the conditions for capitalist exploitation and the extraction of surplus value.
This article examines the production of the internationally familiar landscapes of gated high-rise housing, malls and information technology campuses that have been constructed in the National Capital Region, India since the liberalisation of the economy in the early 1990s. It argues that Indian real estate developers have elaborated on one figure of personhood—the upwardly-mobile, high-earning, internationally-oriented ‘professional’—as part of their efforts to convince both potential international investors and Indian consumers to buy into their high-rise housing projects. The figure of the ‘professional’ must be understood as a discursive construct that industry members use to do various kinds of work, rather than as a straightforward description of actual apartment residents. This article traces the work that developers have done to create social indexical linkages between buildings and figures of personhood by analysing a range of communicative genres through which Indian real estate developers have attempted to create demand for their projects. By delineating the metadiscursive practices through which housing comes to have social indexical value, this article helps to elucidate relationships between new urban landscapes and the production of new class identities in India today.
Much has been written about Goswamis or Gosains as ascetics, but little has been written about their evolution into a caste, an endogamous marriage network with women and children. Coming from northern India to Hyderabad as sanyasis, male ascetics tracing lines of spiritual succession from guru to chela, Goswamis lived in maths, ostensibly without women or biological heirs. Goswami lineages established themselves as banking houses in Begum Bazar and leading Goswamis were termed Rajas because of their participation in the Nizam’s Mughlai administration and court culture. As modern educational and legal systems developed in Hyderabad and north Indian Goswami practices in British India began to influence Hyderabad’s Goswamis, they moved from Goswami law governing guru-chela successions and inheritances to Hindu family law governing marriage and inheritance. The nominally ascetic bankers and their dependents became householders following new occupations, developing an endogamous marriage network and self-identifying as a caste. Evidence about Gosains in Mirzapur and Varanasi strengthens the argument that educational and legal alternatives helped empower the women and children associated with the maths and develop a Goswami caste in Hyderabad.
This article examines the contemporary significance of caste as a dimension of social stratification in Pakistani Punjab, using rural housing as a vantage point. Work on the interplay of class and kinship group, mediated by status hierarchy between agricultural and non-agricultural castes, serves as a point of departure. The organisation of the system of private property in rural land, based on the colonial village record and land alienation laws, is actively used to maintain class power and status hierarchy between kinship groups. Post-independence reforms sustained caste disadvantage, which is particularly conspicuous with regard to housing. The Five Marla Scheme was an exceptional intervention, rooted in populist electoral politics of the 1970s, which provided residential land to rural workers belonging to non-agricultural castes. This significant but dormant and largely undocumented intervention is examined through the case study of a large village in Okara district. We argue for a re-engagement with caste as a valid category for the understanding of class and citizenship in Pakistani Punjab.
Following the devastating tsunami that ravaged parts of the South Indian coast in December 2004, there were reports of continuing caste discrimination against India's Scheduled Caste (Dalit) community. The reported absence of common feeling shattered the image of India as an ‘imagined community’. Taking its cue from Aloysius, Nigam and Chatterjee, this article draws on field notes and archival reports to examine the ongoing and contested processes of nation and national identity formation in India. It is argued that the template against which the post-colonial state imagined the Indian ‘nation’ was one that excluded marginalised sections of the population. The article concludes by asking whether India may be seen as a ‘national-state’, and critically analyses the interplay between caste and nation.
Editorial Note: We give here a translation of the Introduction of an old but valuable, and much neglected study of caste,1 which is further discussed on p. 31 sq. Although we were bound to render the text as accurately as possible, we do not comment upon each point of detail or every minor inaccuracy. The reader is invited to turn his attention rather to our author's approach. It is this which prompted us to give here an English version of the following text.
This article attempts to pioneer a better theoretical understanding of the social institution of caste. It argues that caste, in contrast to more conventional perspectives, is not a monolithic institution, but rather a compromise between economic, biological and ideational aspects of human existence. In its most abstract and basic form, caste systematically connects competing rationales—economic interdependence with biological separation—by a specific form of rationalisation. However, within the process of modernisation, the economic element is increasingly losing its importance, while the biological aspect of caste survives only in connection with a reduced, non-systematic form of rationalisation. In its theoretical design, this model offers an opportunity to understand caste quite differently from that presented by conventional definitions. By breaking this institution into its essential ingredients, it is receptive to the inherent breaks and frictions of caste and hence, can account for the changes that caste is going through. Applied to the existing theories of caste and empirical research, it can provide the theoretical tools for a meta-analysis of all interpretations of caste and a guideline for empirical research on caste in modernity.
This article looks at the phenomenon of bitterly contested marriages in Haryana which breach the principles of village and clan exogamy, and analyses the issues thrown up by such marriages. Based on recent case studies, it examines the social factors operating behind the intervention of the caste panchayat—an extra-judicial body—and the success and limitations of this intervention in resolving such issues. The analysis highlights fluctuations in the status of different clans, and the contemporary multi-directional pulls within a caste, with different groups either claiming a higher or equal status, or attempting to maintain their status against challenges and erosions effected by other clan groups within the caste fold. The issue of contentious marriages reflects the degree of internal strife, conflict and cleavage in contemporary rural society in Haryana, underlining the way in which a combination of forces are using traditional tools for traditional as well as modern political purposes.
This article examines the popular, cheaply mass-produced prints known as 'calendar' or 'bazaar' art, going 'beyond appearances' to explore how their value and power is located not just in their visuality as such, but also in their capacity as circulating objects. I describe how these prints can be seen as sites of intersection between the colonially derived institution of 'fine art' and what historians have called the 'bazaar' economy. The postcolonial visual regime in which bazaar images circulate is therefore character ised by different but co-existing frames of value and moral-commercial economies. The animated circuits of bazaar icons, I argue, have served to shore up relations of credit and exchange in the 'informal' social, moral-ethical and commercial networks of the bazaar, obviating the distinction between sacred and commercial forms of value. However, there are tensions between the role of images in the bazaar and the schema of aesthetic judgement within 'fine art'. Here I focus on the way in which performative and bodily engagements, integral to a ritual and devotional relationship with images, have been denigrated within an aesthetic schema which privileges a distanced, disembodied gaze. This paves the way for a re-examination of the notion of the fetish, asking why one of the few categories that speaks to the power of the image as a circulating object rather than as a static sign does so within a moral framework of denigration and abnormal ity. I relate this denigration to the historical conditions of this concept's appearance, and the specific ideological work it has had to do within a European bourgeois-liberal public sphere.
In analysing the significance of circumcision for the Ansaris of Barabanki, this paper draws out the discursive terrain of two terms: khatna, used to describe the ritual of circumcision; and musalmani, employed to discuss the range of meanings of circumcision in everyday life. In the process of describing the two terms, the paper shows the relationship between the everyday and the extraordinary. The two terms, khatna and musalmani, are not hierarchically ordered: they are linked through the articulation of a collective memory. Substantively, the ritual shows how the body of the person undergoing circumcision is classified and made corporeal, while with the discourse of musalmani, the body becomes an ornamental inscription in the pronouncements of men.
The figure of the citizen as it emerged with modernity also produced the ‘constitutive outsider’ denoting differential or layered inclusions. The legal-constitutional language of citizenship in India and the manner in which it has unfolded in practice shows that citizenship oscillates ambivalently between encompassment and closure, creating a differential layering of citizenship. While encompassment unfolds as a potential moment of liberatory change, closure, as a simultaneous differential experience of citizenship, creates a breach in the differentiated-universalism envisaged by the logic of encompassment. It is this oscillation and ambivalence which creates the ‘disturbed zones of citizenship’ that propel the category of the citizen out of a legal trapping into a concept whose realisation has its own logic and momentum. In order to demonstrate this, this article maps the amendments that have taken place in citizenship laws in India, sieving out in particular the category of the ‘migrant’, to identify moments of encompassment and closure. It shows how the migrant has been integral to the amendments, and traces its different figurations within them, to demonstrate shifts in the ideological basis and institutional practices of citizenship in India.
Among themselves and within their families, workers of a public sector power project in Orissa, constantly and intentionally, violate the restrictions on inter-caste contact that they perceive as prevailing in their various villages of origin. Subscribing to the teleology of modernisation, the workers dichotomise the industrial settlement and the village as ‘modern’ and ‘backward’ sites, respectively. Their withdrawal into these ‘backward’ villages for weddings and other rituals is explained with reference to the ‘outside’, peripheral character of the settlement. I argue that this conceptualisation hints at a spatial limitation of the institution of caste, and has, at the very least, facilitated the creation of a ‘modern’, caste-negating working class.
As Patricia Uberoi’s work has shown, the ‘family’ is a key site on which questions of culture, identity and authenticity are played out. This article looks at two contexts of matrilineal kinship, among the Mosuo of Yunan (China) and the Khasi of Meghalaya (India), and traces the different trajectories the matrilineal system has undergone. In the Mosuo case, matrilineal kinship is enlisted and strengthened in the service of tourism. It also serves as a marker of Mosuo identity against dominant nationalities. In the Khasi case on the other hand, Khasi identity politics has involved a more conflicted approach to the Khasi matrilineal system, with some people wanting it to give way to patriliny in the name of progress, and others wishing to preserve it. In both cases, it is the women who bear the burden of upholding identity.
This article explores the cultures of urban spaces and consumerism at the economic and cultural margins of the city. Building upon contemporary research on the efflorescence of consumerism in the wake of economic ‘liberalisation’, it focuses on the involvement of residents of the erstwhile Nangla Matchi ‘slum’ in Delhi in the activities of the ‘multilevel marketing’ company Revolution Forever (RF). The discussion proceeds through presenting a series of ethnographic vignettes relating to those who ‘work’ for the company as well as ‘seminar’ sessions organised by it. The article suggests that poor people’s work as agents of RF allows us to explore their relationships with imagined and real spaces, commitment to the notion of ‘free enterprise’ and the ways in which the company’s operational methods reproduce and reinforce the unstable worlds of the urban poor.
The Great Temple at Madurai, Tamilnadu, formally known as the Arulmiku ('grace-bestowing') Minaksi-Sundaresvara Tirukkoyil ('temple'), is dedicated to the goddess Minaksi and her husband, the god Sundaresvara, who is a form of Siva. In Madurai, the goddess rather than the god is pre-eminent, and their temple is popularly called the 'Minaksi temple'. The Minaksi temple has a very complex festival cycle, but it includes only a few relatively minor events held solely or mainly for Sundaresvara; most festivals are celebrated for Minaksi and Sundaresvara jointly, or for the goddess alone. The most notable of Sundaresvara's own festivals is the Pavitra festival, the subject of this article. Although this festival is untypical of ritual activity in the Minaksi temple, it does raise questions of wider significance about ritual mistakes and the relationship between Siva and his priests, which I shall be examining.
In spite of the success encountered in India by the court system of justice –a system that India initially inherited from the British– the resort to the court for conflict resolution may sometimes simply corresponds to a choice which the parties make in the first place, but which might eventually be abandoned in favour of other non official forms of compromise or adjustment. Even in serious criminal cases where the State acts as plaintiff, it often happens that prosecutor witnesses, who initially testify against the accused when the case is registered by the police, deny or strongly tone down their accusations, when questioned by the judge. By referring to a specific court case I followed during fieldwork in a District court of North India, this contribution aims at analysing how the witnesses' denial of any previous statement takes form inside an Indian court, the kind of interaction this corresponds to during the trial and the kind of narrative it is associated with. This will lead me to spell out the roles that each participant –the judge, the prosecutor, the lawyers and witnesses- plays during the trial, to follow their verbal exchanges, and to see how these exchanges are transformed when they are recorded in written form, into what will become the official version of the trial. I will also compare the way in which the case is tried inside the court with the way it is understood by the protagonists outside the courtroom.
This article seeks to be a contribution to the recent bourgeoning of studies in the anthropology of (sacred) spaces, places and landscapes. Ethnographically, it deals with the social topography of Navadvip and Mayapur, vaishnava pilgrimage places in the Nadia district of West Bengal. It analyses the contemporary articulations of the experience and making of a contrasted and consecrated landscape, and its potential in embodying differentiated community identities. It describes the various public faces of Bengal-Vaishnava groups and argues in favour of the inherent relationships between devotional self-experiences and the emotional landscape which is inhabited and constituted simultaneously. It details the cultural geography of Navadvip and Mayapur as embodied in the layout of different temples and ashrams, and the circulating stories establishing their significance. The stories sometimes hunt out lost sites, sometimes legitimise existing ones and, at other times, override all such concerns over specific sites in favour of a passionate engagement with the entire landscape. In every instance among the plural modes of ‘dwelling’ in the mnemonic-fabled sacred space, the vaishnava groups claim to discover the essence of the landscape and thereby assert their multiform practices of self-experiences as authentic representations of the sect. In the end, the article also contrasts the inhabitants’ landscapes and devotional self-experiences with that of the traveller and throws up new questions in the anthropological understandings of places, landscapes, journeys and devotion.
This article focuses on long-distance rural migrants to the steel town of Bhilai. The Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP) was built with Soviet aid and by largely migrant labour drawn from all over India. It was one of a handful of mega-projects intended to kick-start India's modernisation, epitomising the Nehruvian dream. The central question addressed here concerns the extent to which its workforce have become permanent urban dwellers or form part of a pattern of rotating migration. The argument is that different patterns of migration are characteristic of workers in public and private sector factories, and at different levels of the industrial hierarchy. The aristocracy of labour are most likely to become fully-fledged townsmen. Surprisingly, this pattern is not significantly inflected by regional origin. The supposedly visceral commitment of migrants from Bhojpur to their villages does not make them more likely to return there. There are pragmatic reasons why not, but the article suggests that this is also a consequence of the extent to which the BSP workforce has internalised a vision of modernity which antithetically constructs the village as an area of darkness—a 'waiting room' from which one hopes to escape.
This article seeks to find the metaphorical ‘signature’ of the food official in the intricate materialities of everyday life and particularly, in one such familiar realm, the production of documents. While doing so, this article considers the worlds of instinct, emotion and conscience as well as kinship and family in shaping official roles and welfare processes. This article argues that documentary practices of rationing provided the space for the self-fashioning of food officials who animatedly fleshed out their parts in enacting various regulations and injunctions. This article also attempts to lay out the postcolonial framework of food distribution through an ethnographic study of documentary forms and practices around the rationing document within what used to be the Union Territory of Delhi from 1965 to 1990.
Procreative ideologies, alternatively called conception beliefs, are ideas concerning the male and female contributions to biological reproduction. Expressed through the metaphor of ‘seed’ and ‘earth’ in many South Asian cultures, these ideologies have been found to be demonstrably gendered, acting sometimes as a central variable in mediating men's and women's access to material and symbolic resources. Many gender-sensitive ethnographies have demonstrated the power of this metaphorical understanding in regulating and controlling the body and sexuality of women, and affecting the everyday lives of men and women as gendered subjects. The present article examines and evaluates the operation of procreative ideology in the case of the Kolams, a ‘primitive’ tribal community in south-eastern Maharashtra.
Popular Hinduism in rural India abounds with many village and domestic rituals. In the latter category, puberty, pregnancy and death rituals appear very prominent among the womenfolk of the Telugu region. Of these, the death ritual, the worship of a deceased married woman whose husband is still alive, is especially important because it exemplifies the dominant theme of these rituals honouring fertility. Though generally considered inferior to men, women in these rituals receive reverence and status elevation as either symbolic or real deities. An attempt is made in this paper to describe and analyse these recurring rituals with the help of Dumont's concepts of hierarchy, encompassing contrariness and gender complementarity. The paper also focuses on the cultural basis and the mechanisms involved in female status elevation within the overall context of male domination. Female status elevation in the rituals does not alleviate female subordination in everyday life, as the sexuality and generative power of women ultimately remain under the control of men. These rituals also reflect the social structural features of south Indian society, and the complementarity between matri- and patrifiliation.
Through a discussion of the articles of this issue, this introduction explores the ways in which the social landscape of post-liberalisation India can be seen through the question of value. We are particularly interested in elucidating how heterogeneous kinds of value—be they economic, ritual, aesthetic, ethical or otherwise—have come to be articulated to and thus constitutive of various forms of cultural practice in contemporary India. We suggest that one way to understand the question of value is through in-depth ethnographic analysis of ‘social value projects’: reflexive and purposive attempts by social actors to produce, negotiate, transform, maintain and sometimes abjure various types of value. We suggest that such value projects can be ethnographically approached through the interactional events that comprise them and that these, in turn, require attention to the emergent and contingent nature of value, its multiplicities and excesses and the ways in which value is articulated to, and through, the performing and ratifying of social identities.
What has been the relationship of nationalism to nature in India? Starting with this basic yet hitherto unexamined question, this article examines the varieties of nationalism that can be associated with nature love and ideas of nature conservation in India through the 20th century. After identifying the limitations of the dichotomised approach that explains nationalism as either statist or culturalist, this article also examines the extent to which this dualist and oppositional view of nationalism informs and constrains public debate on ideas of nature and environmental management in India. A key argument made here is that nationalism that is thin and exclusive, and thereby inherently the source of conflict and confrontation, is not a new problem in India, and the tendencies for the emergence of thin nationalisms around ideas of nature and their relation to heritage and conservation were already present in the ecological debates and post-War conditions of the mid 20th century as the sun finally set on the British empire.
This article examines young men’s concepts of status in urban Tamil Nadu, India, focussing in particular on their concept of ‘style’. The article shows how young men experience their position in the life cycle as between childhood and adulthood, and how this liminality mediates their concepts of status. In particular, I focus on the construction of the youth peer group as in distinction to, and transgressive of, the forms of adult respectability, propriety and authority from which young men are excluded by virtue of their age. I show how the peer group is marked by a productive tension between transgression and self-differentiation, and reciprocity, intimacy and peer pressure. The article then turns to two kinds of source material for young men’s performances of status: English-Tamil slang and counterfeit global brands. I show how the tension between, and negotiation of, the mandates to status-raise and status-level in the peer group transform and revalourise these signs of status. The article concludes by arguing that while from afar, such youth practice seems to be negotiating globalisation, modernity and tradition, a close analysis of peer-group dynamics shows that youth practice is more centrally concerned with peer-group status negotiations.
Top-cited authors
Veena Das
  • Johns Hopkins University
Filippo Osella
  • University of Sussex
Jonathan Parry
  • The London School of Economics and Political Science
Patricia Jeffery
  • The University of Edinburgh
Arjun Appadurai
  • New York University