Secularizing Caste: Mapping Nineteenth-Century Anti-caste Politics in Western India

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Secularizing Caste: Mapping Nineteenth-Century Anti-caste Politics in Western India

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This dissertation argues that the caste question was first framed as a primarily political phenomenon by the nineteenth-century 'lower-caste' writers in western India. Elite 'upper-caste' reformers in early nineteenth-century Bombay, had secularized caste by untangling it from its divine moorings and grounding it exclusively in social and political processes. By drawing on rare nineteenth-century Marathi-language treatises, journals, newspapers, and books housed in archives in western India and London, I show that 'lower-caste' activists not only secularized caste, but went further to argue that it was an exploitative power relation. They explained how the dominant Brahmanical ideology had historically marginalized 'lower-castes' and the ‘untouchables’ communities by mobilizing objective historical information, analyzing Sanskrit religious texts for internal contradictions, invoking ethics rooted in local heterodox religious traditions, and contextualizing universal principles of humanism and rights from the European enlightenment traditions. The dissertation shows how this new organic political vocabulary was used to acerbically criticize not only orthodox opinions in support of caste, but also 'upper-caste' liberals who viewed caste only as an impediment to fully embracing a modern This ethical political discourse, produced from the margins, continues to shape the contours of Indian democracy in the present.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2021. Major: History. Advisor: Ajay Skaria. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 278 pages.

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Jaywant, Ketaki. (2021). Secularizing Caste: Mapping Nineteenth-Century Anti-caste Politics in Western India. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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