Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, University of Minnesota / Twin Cities

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2015
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of Minnesota / Twin Cities
Anti-Caste Critique and Vernacular Enlightenment: Reformist Thought in 19th Century Western India

This project aims to study the vocabulary and concepts mobilized to question caste relations by social reformers in 19th century western India who were closely engaging with modernity. This project will discuss the continuities and departures of lower caste thinkers of the Satyashodhak Samaj (truth seeker's society) in the late 19th century from upper caste liberal reformers active in the first half of the 19th century like Jambhekar and Deshmukh. The project argues that anti-caste thought is a retrospective category constituted by its engagements and departures from upper caste liberal reformers. My research proposes that the unique political vocabulary constituted by lower caste thinkers needs to be perceived as an amalgamation of European enlightenment thought and indigenous religious traditions. The project hypothesizes that the relationship between knowledge and caste was one of the most crucial concerns in the history of caste critique. Though the anti-caste thinkers and upper caste liberal reformers both engaged with European ideas of knowledge, anti-caste thinkers marked their departures by arguing that the primary function of knowledge is not only to dispense error but to understand exploitation. The project asks: Prior to the constitution of anti-caste discourse, how did caste appear in upper caste liberal reformist thought? How did anti-caste thinkers and upper caste liberal reformers differ in their mobilization of enlightenment ideas? These questions will guide a twelve month long archival research that will involve contextualization of ideas and a close reading of rare treatises, journals and published works housed in libraries in London and western India. The project is significant because it speaks to both a scholarship working on modernity of caste and contributes to the field of political activism by reaching out to the past for a new political vocabulary.