The Caste Question

Dalits and the Politics of Modern India

Anupama Rao


Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2009

Language: English

392 pages

Price INR 695.00

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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 artefact 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

Anupama Rao is TOW Associate Professor, History and MESAAS, Barnard College, Columbia University, and Senior Editor, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. She has research and teaching interests in gender and sexuality studies; caste and race; historical anthropology; social theory; comparative urbanism; and colonial genealogies of human rights and humanitarianism.


Rao's book will be required reading for any student of Dalit emancipation in India for some time to come.

Sasheej Hegde, Humanities & Social Sciences Online

In this erudite addition to the study of India's modernity and democracy, Rao attempts an exploration of dalit ideas and actions in the colonial and post-colonial periods. The productive alliance between caste, liberal institutions and democratic ideals is interrogated through the formation of dalit political subjectivity and personhood, an exercise that has been hitherto residual within the writings by Marxist historians and those from Subaltern Studies circles.

Suryakant Waghmore, Contributions to Indian Sociology, vol. 44, no. 3