The Pariah Problem

Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India

Rupa Viswanath

Columbia University Press

The Pariah Problem

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Pub Date: July 2014

ISBN: 9780231163064

416 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $65.00£54.95

Pub Date: July 2014

ISBN: 9780231537506

416 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $64.99£54.95

The Pariah Problem

Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India

Rupa Viswanath

Columbia University Press

Once known as "Pariahs," Dalits are primarily descendants of unfree agrarian laborers. They belong to India's most subordinated castes, face overwhelming poverty and discrimination, and provoke public anxiety. Drawing on a wealth of previously untapped sources, this book follows the conception and evolution of the "Pariah Problem" in public consciousness in the 1890s. It shows how high-caste landlords, state officials, and well-intentioned missionaries conceived of Dalit oppression, and effectively foreclosed the emergence of substantive solutions to the "Problem"—with consequences that continue to be felt today.

Rupa Viswanath begins with a description of the everyday lives of Dalit laborers in the 1890s and highlights the systematic efforts made by the state and Indian elites to protect Indian slavery from public scrutiny. Protestant missionaries were the first non-Dalits to draw attention to their plight. The missionaries' vision of the Pariahs' suffering as being a result of Hindu religious prejudice, however, obscured the fact that the entire agrarian political–economic system depended on unfree Pariah labor. Both the Indian public and colonial officials came to share a view compatible with missionary explanations, which meant all subsequent welfare efforts directed at Dalits focused on religious and social transformation rather than on structural reform. Methodologically, theoretically, and empirically, this book breaks new ground to demonstrate how events in the early decades of state-sponsored welfare directed at Dalits laid the groundwork for the present day, where the postcolonial state and well-meaning social and religious reformers continue to downplay Dalits' landlessness, violent suppression, and political subordination.
Rupa Viswanath has carried out an extraordinary feat of historical scholarship in the new field of Dalit studies. Skillfully negotiating two different archives—the official and the missionary—she grounds the cultural struggles of the untouchable castes of Tamil Nadu in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the political economy of land and labor. Viswanath powerfully argues that there was a government–missionary nexus that sought to turn the pariah from traditional forms of slavery to modern forms of dispossessed labor. Most remarkably, she shows that the initiative for conversion to Christianity came not from missionaries but from Dalits who were motivated not by abstract ideas of emancipation but by strategic considerations of material advantage in their daily struggles. The Pariah Problem is a breakthrough in modern South Asian studies. Partha Chatterjee, Columbia University and the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
The combination of historical depth and theoretical nuance makes The Pariah Problem both a brilliant scholarly achievement and a major political intervention. Taking the agrarian unfreedom that marked rural life in Madras Presidency as her starting point, Viswanath reconstructs with meticulous precision the problem of the 'Pariah'—hereditarily unfree Dalit laborers—that by the late nineteenth century compelled the reluctant attention of the colonial state and the elite indigenous public sphere. The Pariah Problem is most far-reaching in its implications, and at its devastating best, in documenting the 'caste–state nexus' that developed to contain—rather than to solve—this problem and continue to thwart genuine solutions today. This book will take its place justifiably among the best on the Dalit struggle for equality in India. Mrinalini Sinha, University of Michigan
Essential... The volume is meticulous in its scholarship and written with great care and precision. A must read for South Asian specialists and general educated readers. CHOICE
A remarkable feat in historical scholarship and a nuanced theoretical intervention in the new field of Dalit Studies. American Historical Review
In this brilliant study, Viswanath traces the origins of the many myths that the social elite continue to spread...This book would be a valuable reference to those engaged in the study of colonial India as well as those interested in the study of modern missions. James Taneti, Mission Studies
Rupa Viswanath's The Pariah Problem is an important, insightful, and very likely lasting contribution to the burgeoning field of Dalit studies, and more broadly the study of Indian religion, caste, and the colonial state... Ground-breaking. Journal of Hindu Studies
An outstanding work of historical scholarship. Pacific Affairs Journal
An absorbing combination of scholarly erudition, analytical force, and lucid exposition. Arvind Sharma, International Journal of Dharma Studies
Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Introduction
1. Land Tenure or Labor Control? The Agrarian Mise-en-Scène
2. Conceptualizing Pariah Conversion: Caste
3. The Pariah–Missionary Alliance: Agrarian Contestation and the Local State
4. The State and the Ceri
5. Settling Land
6. The Marriage of Sacred and Secular Authority: New Liberalism
7. Giving the Panchama a Home: Creating a Friction Where None Exists
8. Everyday Warfare: Caste
9. The Depressed Classes
Conclusion: The Pariah Problem's Enduring Legacies
Glossary
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Read the introduction to The Pariah Problem:

Outstanding Academic Title

About the Author

Rupa Viswanath is professor of Indian religions at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies at the University of Göttingen. She has held positions at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Cambridge. Her interests include national minorities and practices of minoritization, comparative secularisms, slavery and race, transnational religious movements, religions and representative democracy, and political theory and the global south.