26 December 2009


Anupama Rao

The Caste Question

Dalits and the Politics of Modern India

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.

“Anupama Rao has written 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. It will be of considerable interest for scholars and students who look for an updated reflection on the anthropological dimensions of the political—and vice versa.”—Etienne Balibar

“Rao, a truly fine scholar, offers a profound reflection, at once historically rich and theoretically nuanced, on the nature of political modernity itself. Her ‘alternative history of democratic liberalism’ rooted in the global south demands a wide readershipacross the social sciences and humanities—and beyond.”—John Comaroff

“Anupama Rao's sweeping account of a century of ‘caste radicalism’ among Mahar dalits in western India [offers] an extended argument about the salience of dalit politics for many of the foundational categories of modern Indian democracy. She is entirely convincing in this brilliant and audacious re-evaluation of political modernity in India through the perspective of anti-caste struggles.”—Mrinalini Sinha

“Rao offers us 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 andinequality. This is the most politically and theoretically engaged book on caste to have come out in a long time and it will do much to further discussions of citizenship in Indian democracy.”—Dipesh Chakrabarty

Hardback / 414pp / Rs 750.00 / ISBN 81-7824-286-9 / South Asia rights / Jan-Feb 2010 / Copublished with the University of California Press, Berkeley

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