Castes of Mind

September 8, 2017 | Author: Martin Fortier | Category: Caste, Hindu, Colonialism, Society, Ethnography
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Indianist Studies Castes Ethnohistory...


Castes of Mind Author(s): Nicholas B. Dirks Reviewed work(s): Source: Representations, No. 37, Special Issue: Imperial Fantasies and Postcolonial Histories (Winter, 1992), pp. 56-78 Published by: University of California Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 06/07/2012 22:06 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

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Castes of Mind The Original Caste WHEN

WE THINK OF INDIA it is hard not to think of caste. In com-

parativesociologyand in common parlance,caste has become a centraltrope for India, metonymicallyindexing it as fundamentallydifferentfromother places, synecdochicallyexpressingitsessence. A long historyof writing,fromthe grand treatiseof the Abbe Dubois to the general anthropologyof Louis Dumont, or fromthe desultoryobservationsof Portugueseadventurersin the sixteenthcenturyto the eye-catchingheadlines of theNewYorkTimes,has identifiedcaste as the basic formand expressionof Indian society.Caste has been seen as alwaysthere in Indian history,and as one of the major reasons whyIndia has no history,or at least no sense of history.Caste definesthe core of Indian tradition,and caste is today the major threatto Indian modernity,even if we concede that it helped pave the way for the modern or realize thatit has been exacerbated by modern institutions.If we are to understandIndia properly,and byimplicationifwe are to understand India's other principal claim to universal fame-Hinduism-we mustunderstandcaste. The agreement in the Westabout the centralityof caste has not meant that there has been agreement about what is meant by the term,or about the moral valuation of it. The Abbe Dubois wrotein 1815 thatthe institutionof caste was the only reason accounting for why Hindus did not fall into "the same state of barbarismas theirneighborsand as almostall nationsinhabitingthetorridzone." As he wenton to observe: Wecan picturewhatwouldbecomeoftheHindusiftheywerenotkeptwithin thebounds of dutybytherulesand penaltiesof caste,bylookingat thepositionof thePariahs,or outcastesof India,who,checkedbyno moralrestraint, abandonthemselves to theirnatural propensities.... For my own part,being perfectly familiarwiththisclass,and and sentiments, I am persuadedthata nationof acquaintedwithitsnaturalpredilections wouldspeedilybecomeworsethanthehordesofcannibalswho Pariahsleftto themselves wanderin thevastwasteofAfrica,and wouldsoontaketodevouring eachother.' A ratherdifferentview was held byJohn Wilson,a missionaryof the Church of Scotland who had also been onetimepresidentof theBombaybranchof theRoyal AsiaticSociety,author of anothercanonic texton caste published in 1877: It is amongthe Hindus ... thattheimagination of naturaland positivedistinctions in to fearful and has been the most everexhibited brought pernicious humanity development



37 * Winter1992?




on thefaceof theglobe.The doctrineand practiceof whatis calledCASTE, as held and observedbythispeople,has beenonlydimlyshadowedbytheworstsocialarrangements whichwereof old to be witnessed amongtheproudestnationsand amongtheproudest and ofextraordinary ordersof menin thesenations.... It is theoffspring exaggeration and religiousscrupulosity ofa greatcountry and ofall thefalsespeculation mystification, andcorruption. It isnowthesoulas well unwontedprocessesofdegeneration undergoing as thebodyof Hinduism.2 In thesetwoquotes we move fromEnlightenmentmentalityto Victorianmorality, fromearlyto late colonialism,as also fromFrance to England. But in both these quotes we read that the soul and the body, not to mention the mind, of India reside in caste. Theories of caste are not onlyabout societybut about politicsand historyas well. Weber,Marx, Henry Maine, and now Louis Dumont have all held that in India, in marked contrastto China, the statewas epiphenomenal. Caste, not the state, held society-with its constituentvillage republics and communitiestogether.In a more general sense, caste is seen as the foundationand core of Indian civilization;it is responsible for the transmissionand reproduction of societyin India. And caste, like India itself,has been seen as based on religious ratherthan politicalprinciples. in 1966, Dumont gave canonic forWiththe publicationof HomoHierarchicus mulationto thisview of the caste system,settingmanyof the termsof discourse and debate about Indian societythatcontinueto the presentday.3Dumont holds that the politicaland economic domains of social life in India are encompassed by the religious domain, whichis articulatedin termsof an opposition between purityand pollution. For Dumont, the Brahman representsthe religious principle, inasmuch as the Brahman representsthe highestformof purityattainable by Hindus. The king, while importantand powerful,representsthe political domain, and is accordinglyinferiorto, and encompassed by,the Brahman. The overarchingvalue accorded to the religiousdomain is the centralfeatureof the ideology of caste, which Dumont characterizeswith the single word hierarchy. Dumont argues that the sociological significanceof hierarchyhas been systematicallymissed by modern writersobsessed withthe ideologyof equality,and he hopes instead to "distinguishfundamentalvalues and ideas fromeverythingelse, the ideological fromthe non-ideological,or ratherthe more conscious or more valorized fromthe less conscious or valorized"withthisconcept (232). Dumont thusidentifiesthe politico-economicaspectsof caste as relativelysecondaryand isolated. In assessingrecentchanges in thecaste system,he notes that the Britishgovernment'spolicyof "not meddling in the domain of religionand the traditionalsocial order,whileintroducingthe minimumof reformsand novreduced the extentof elties on the politico-economicplane" (234), significantly change and conflictunder colonial rule. Only withthe introductionof modern of "subdemocraticpoliticshas castebegun to undergo the major transformation CastesofNMind


stantialization,"which for Dumont constitutesan importantbreakdown of the structuralrelationsof parts to wholes and an essentialchallenge to the ideology of hierarchy. Caste not only subordinatesthe political;it also reduces the individual to a position of relative unimportance.The individual only has ideological significance when placed outside society,becomingin Dumont's terms"the individualoutside-the-world"(235). This is the individual as the renouncer,the sunnyasin who must leave both societyand the mundane world to attain transcendental truth.Dumont's positionis statedmore forcefullybyJan Heesterman,an indologist who has also played an importantrole in definingthe discourse of Indian sociology: Here we touchtheinnerspringsof Indiancivilization. Itsheartis notwithsociety and its pressures.It devalorizessocietyand disregardspower.The ideal is nothierintegrative but the individualbreakwithsociety.The ultimatevalue is archicalinterdependence releasefromtheworld.And thiscannotbe realizedin a hierarchical way,butonlybythe and at thesametime abruptbreakofrenunciation.... AbovetheIndianworld,rejecting valueand authority. it,therenouncerstandsout as theexemplarof ultimate informing The individualas renouncerthusoccupies a criticalpositionin whatHeesterman calls "the innerconflictof tradition"in a transcendentalcritiqueof the possibility of politics,economics,and historyin the Indian world. The prominenceof indologistsin the contemporaryanthropologyon India has served both to secure a specialized discourse on India and to mitigatethe charge thatanthropologyhas not takencognizance of a civilizationfarmore venerable and refinedthan otherobjectsof anthropologicalscrutiny.In thisanthropology, indology has been substitutedfor history,and it has been used to dehistoricizeboth India and anthropologicalpracticein India. Not only has the state been erased as a major force in the constitutionand transformationof Indian society;the colonial historyof India also has been rendered invisible,as we havejust seen in Dumont's peculiar sense of caste'scompatibility withempire. I findthissense of compatibilityunsettling,and I see similar,and not unrelated, compatibilitiesexistingbetweenthe viewthatthe precolonial statewas weak, the assertionthattraditionalsocietywas organized bysocial and religiousratherthan political principles,and the sense that caste is the exemplary traditionalform which has resistedthe developmentof modern state and social structures.It is thus even more unsettlingto read statementssuch as thosein the introductionto Heesterman's recent book: "The modern state ... wants to bring the ideal of universalorder fromits ultramundanehaven down to earth. The inner conflict then becomes explosivelyschismatic,as eventuallybecame clear in the drama of the Partition"(8). In such views,the essential differencebetween East and West,between the recenthistoriesof India and Europe, would lie in the "invention"of the modern 58


nation state in eighteenth-century Europe, which went hand-in-handwith the constructionof a new formof civilsociety.Civil societywas to free "individuals" in new and progressivesocietiesfrom"traditional"modes of social organization and from the myriad constraintsof premodern and/or feudal polities. Civil societyhad been constitutedby and institutionalizedin a range of bodies-the civicorganizations-that representedthe interchurch,educational institutions, ests of a private domain, interestsconstrued to be autonomous from the state (even as theywere simultaneouslyprotectedbyit). The modern state,more powerfulthan ever before,had legitimateditselfin part throughitsclaim to freethe social fromthe politicsof the past. In India caste, so colonial sociologyhad it,alwaysresistedpoliticalintrusion; itwas alreadya kindof civilsocietyin thatitregulatedand representedtheprivate domain, such as it was. But a societybased on caste could not be more different from modern Westernsociety,for caste neitherpermittedthe development of nor did itworkto reinforce voluntaristor politicallymalleable social institutions, the modern state.Indeed, caste activelyresistedthe modernstateeven more than it did the old, forthe modern stateopposed ratherthan supported dharma. Of course, under colonialismthe modern statewas not a viable option, since the developmentof modern statesin Europe depended in large part on the conquest and exploitationof premodernstatesthatfellto the technological,military, and economic power of the ascendant West. But colonialismwas predicated on more than simple economic exploitation,and its effectswere as various as they are stilldifficult to untanglefromthe presumed weightof traditionon colonized societies.It is increasinglyclear thatcolonialismin India produced new formsof societythathave been takento be traditional,and thatcaste itselfas we now know itis not a residual survivalof ancientIndia but a specificallycolonial formof civil society.As such itbothjustifiesand maintainsthecolonialvisionof an India where religiontranscendspolitics,societyresistschange, and the state awaitsits virgin birthin the postcolonialera. In a previous studyI have writtenon the relationshipbetween Indian state of thisrelationship and Indian societyin the old regime,and the transformation under Britishcolonialism,when the Indian crownbecame increasinglyhollow.5 But untilthe emergenceof Britishcolonial rule in southernIndia, the crownwas not so hollow as it has generallybeen made out to be in Indian history,anthropology, and comparative sociology.Kings were not inferiorto Brahmans; the politicaldomain was not encompassed bythereligiousdomain. State forms,while not fullyassimilableto Westerncategoriesof thestate,were powerfulcomponents in Indian civilization.Indian society,indeed caste itself,was shaped by political strugglesand processes.Both the unitsof social identityand theirrespectiverelationswere partof a complex,conjunctural,politicalworld.The referentsof social identitywere multipleand contextuallydetermined;templecommunities,territorial groups, lineage segments,familyunits,royal retinues,warriorsubcastes, CastesofMind


occupational referencegroups, sectariannetworks,even priestlycabals werejust all of themat varioustimesfarmore unitsof identification, some of the significant of uniform than metonymy endogamous "caste"groupings.Caste any significant was just one categoryamong many others,one way of organizing and representingidentity.Moreover,caste was not a single categoryor even logic of categorization. Regional, village, or residentialcommunities;kinship groups; factional parties; chieflyretinues; and so on could both supersede caste as a rubric for identityand reconstitutethe ways caste was organized. Withinlocalities,or kingdoms,groups could rise or fall (in the process becoming more or less castelike),depending on the fortunesof particularwarriorsor headmen, even as kings could routinelyreadjust the social order byroyaldecree. Social identitywas importantlypolitical,as too were the contextsin which differentunits became formed,represented,and mobilized. And politicstook on its shape and meaning in relationto local and regional systemsof power in which headmen (of lineages, temples,villages),gurus (leaders of sectsand monasteries),warriorleaders, chiefs,and kingswere figuresof centralimportance, withauthorityover constituenciesthatfromcertainperspectivescould look and act like caste groups. To read and organize social differenceand deferencepervasive features of Indian society-solely in terms of caste thus required a as well as a systematicdenial of strikingdisregard for ethnographicspecificity, the politicalmechanismsthatselected differentkindsof social unitsas most significantat differenttimes. Brahmanic texts,both vedic origin stories and the much later dharmatextsof Hinduism's puranic period, provided transregional and metahistoricalmodes of understandingIndian societythatclearlyappealed to Britishcolonial interestsand attitudes. In stressingthe politicallogic of Indian society,I am of course conscious of imposinga modern analytictermonto a situationwhereritualand politicalforms were oftenfundamentallythe same. However,I stressthe politicalbothto redress the previous emphasis on "religion"and to underscore the social factthat caste structure,ritual form,and politicalprocess were all dependent on relationsof power. These relationswere constitutedin and throughhistory,and these relations were culturallyconstructed.But most recentlythis cultural construction took place in the contextof Britishcolonial rule, when caste was representedas the essentialreligiousbasis of Indian societyand as the reason whyIndia had no genuine politics. Colonialism purposefullypreserved many of the formsof the old regime, nowheremore conspicuouslythanin theindirectlyruled PrincelyStates,of which the littlekingdom I studied was the only one in the Tamil countryof southern India. But these formswere frozenin time,and onlythe appearances of the old regime-without itsvitallyconnected politicaland social processes-were saved. Colonialism changed things both more and less than has commonly been thought.While introducingnew formsof civilsocietyand separatingthese forms 60


fromthe colonial state,colonialismalso arrestedsome of the immediatedisruptions of change by preservingmany elementsof the old regime. Paradoxically, colonialism seems to have created much of what is now accepted as Indian "tradition,"including an autonomous caste structurewiththe Brahman clearlyand unambiguouslyat the head, village-basedsystemsof exchange, isolated ceremonial residues of the old regime state,and fetishistic competitionforritualgoods in thatno longer played a vitalrole the politicalsystem. of Indian societyunder Britishrule,as also the contemThe transformations of concerns comparative sociology, are the products not only of a porary but also of the colonial interventionthatactively orientalism nineteenth-century removed politicsfromcolonial societies.Neither Britishadministratorsnor orientalistswere able to go to India and inventcaste throughsheer acts of will and rhetoricalfancy,howeveruseful caste was as a social mechanismto assistin the managementof an immenselycomplex society.Ironically,itwas the verypolitical permeabilityof Indian society that allowed caste to become India's modern apparition of itstraditionalbeing. Under colonial rule, caste-now disembodied fromitsformerpoliticalcontexts-lived on. In thisdissociatedformitwas appropriated,and reconstructed,bythe British.Whatorientalismdid mostsuccessfully in the Indian contextwas to assertthe precolonialauthorityof a specificallycolonial formof powerand representation,therebyplayinga criticalrole in disguising the politicsof caste.

Early Colonial Knowledge and Indian Society In the late eighteenthand earlynineteenthcenturiesa great number of Britishwriters-among themAlexander Dow, MontstuartElphinstone,Mark Wilks,John Malcolm, and Colin Mackenzie-felt compelled to writeIndian history.Although theyall saw the eighteenthcenturyas a decadent prelude to and justificationforBritishrule,and althoughtheyfrequentlydisparaged Indian historicalsensibilitiesand traditions,theyneverthelessfeltthe need to understand India historically. During thisperiod verylittlewas writtenabout caste,in marked contrastto the late nineteenthand early twentiethcenturies.What was written about caste reflectedthe textualwork of orientalists,but the paucityof general worksand the factthatthe onlymajor book of the period on caste was composed by a French Jesuit suggest a very differentcolonial emphasis than that which developed later. The early period of colonial rule is of course betterknown for the work of the orientaliststhan for that of the "historians,"though there was not always a strictseparationbetweenthe two.Alexander Dow studiedPersianwhilean officer in the East India Company's army,and he published a translationof a standard CastesofMind


Persian historyin 1768.6 In his introductionto the translationhe wrote about subjectssuch as the natureof Mughal governmentand the effectsof Britishrule, but he only wrote seven pages on Hindu customsand manners. Though not a sanskritist,Dow relied on the tutelage of a Brahman pundit in Banaras and adopted a textual and brahmanic view of Indian society.Many years later,the administratorand historianMontstuartElphinstonewrotehis two-volumework on Indian historywithoutany claim to be a proper orientalist.7 Indeed, when he in 1841 his massive tome he that his chief suggested qualificationfor published the task,whichhe feared mightseem redundant so soon afterthe publicationof was his experience in India. But in his opening secMill's eight-volumehistory,8 tions,titled"Stateof the Hindus at theTime of Menu's Code" and "Changes since Menu, and State of the Hindus in Later Times," he reproduced a textualviewof caste and earlyIndian lifebased almostentirelyon the workof orientalists,most especially Sir WilliamJones's 1798 translationof the Manu dharmashastras,the classic,brahmanicallyauthored, normativeHindu texton social mores and customs. Elphinstone'shistoricaltextgoes on forpages about the fourvarnas(Brahmans, Ksatriyas,Vaisyas,Sudras), the complex rules and formulationsabout the separation and mixingof castes,and the consequent proliferationof the myriad jatis that become the recognizable caste groups of contemporaryIndia. So pervasive is the reliance on Manu's textthat even 388 pages into his book Elphinstone begins a chapter on the historyof the Hindus by noting that "the first informationwe receive on Hindu historyis froma passage in Menu . . ." It is strikingthatElphinstonesees no contradictionbetweenan orientalisttextualism and an administrativehistoricism;it is clear that India had not yet been fully anthropologized. When Elphinstoneturnedto an inquiryintoearlyIndian historyoutside the purviewof the orientalistcanon, in particularin his chapteron the earlyhistory of the Deccan, he relied upon the manuscriptmaterialcollected by Colin Mackenzie,a man who had become, throughdiligentand prodigious effort,the first SurveyorGeneral of India. Throughout a career in southern India stretching from 1786 to 1821 as cartographerand surveyor,Mackenzie was obsessed with an interestin collectingmanuscriptsand informationto supplementthe maps he and his associatesmade of Hyderabad, Mysore,and otherregionsof the southern peninsula.9On his own initiativeand withhis own resourceshe hired and trained a group of Brahman assistantswho helped him collect local historiesof kingly dynasties,chieflyfamilies,castes,villages,temples,monasteries,as well as other local traditionsand religious and philosophical textsin a varietyof Indian languages. He also took rubbingsof stone and copper-plateinscriptions;collected coins, images, and antiquities;and made extensiveplans and drawingswherever he went. By the time of his death in 1821, Mackenzie had amassed a collection that stillcontains the largest set of sources for the studyof the early modern historicalanthropologyof southernIndia. 62


role in the rescuingof south Mackenzie played an importantifcontradictory his he consistentlyadvoIndia's precolonial historiography. career, Throughout cated the importanceof recoveringand documentingthe precolonial historyof southern India, and in this context he stressed the significanceof local texts. Unlike most of his contemporarieshe did not disparage or dismissout of hand Indian historical accounts or sensibilities.And he did not assume that his Brahman assistantswere mere informers,acknowledgingfrequentlyand generously the extremelyimportantrole played byhis assistants,such as C. V. Boria, in definingas well as transcribingthe sociologyof knowledgein precolonial peninsular India. Nevertheless,this sociologyof knowledge was clearlyearlycolonial ratherthan precolonial,as neitherMackenzie nor his assistantswere unaware of the strategicand politicalcharacterof theirhistoriographicproject. In Mackenzie's initialproject of collectingrepresentativetexts,historiesof places, particularlytemples, and polities, especially littlekingdoms, predominated. The south Indian landscape was dottedwithtemplesthatoftenserved as centersformarketingand defensein additionto worshipand that,due to the tall gopuramtowersbuilt over theirgateways,were also convenientreferencepoints for trigonometricalsurveyingand general route maps. Everytemple had a historythatinscribedthe significanceof itsdeityand the ground of the deities'worship witha special past of miracle and power. The south Indian landscape had also been controlledby myriadlittlekingdoms,rangingimmenselyin size, each witha familyhistoryforthe chiefor king.Thus the setof local tractscollectedby Mackenzie contain literallyhundreds of accounts of one lineage headman after another who, through a combinationof strategiesand successes, managed to become a littleking. Mackenzie's preoccupation withlocal chiefsand kingswas in part the result of his clear recognitionof the politicallandscape of late precolonial peninsular India, and in part his response to the land tenuredebates of Britishrulersat the time.When Mackenzie began his surveyof Mysoreafterthedefeatof Tipu Sultan in 1799, the general assumptionamong most East India Company officialswas that a revenue "settlement"withthe local lords or zamindars,along the lines of the 1793 "PermanentSettlement"in Bengal, would be the mostsuitableformof local governance and revenue collectionfor Madras Presidency.Thus Mackenzie's historiographicalconcern with the political historyof the Deccan made a great deal of sense for early colonial administrationbecause of its emphasis on the pasts and pedigrees of the potential landlords of a zamindarirevenue settlement. From myearlierwork,I was aware of the prevalenceof textsthatconcerned kingsand temples. However,when I firstturnedto the Mackenzie collectionas a repositoryfor early ethnographicknowledge about southern India, I was surprised to find very few caste histories.'0There were some general textsabout castes, as also some curious lists of caste groups that resembled Jorge Luis CastesofMind


Bor es's Chinese encyclopedia more than later ethnographicsurveys.But there were only a few specificcaste histories.Those that did exist,such as the Kallar and Maravar caste historiesI had earlierread and copied fromtheTamil,seemed of uncertaintextualgenre; theyappeared to have been hastilyput togetherfrom the chance concerns and remarksof local subcaste headmen. But in all of Mackenzie's obsessive collection,caste as a rubricfor textualizationwas surprisingly uncommon. Mackenzie seemed far less interestedin caste than I would have expected. Although he occasionallymentioned the need to collect textswithinformation about caste, I only found systematicmaterial about caste in his statisticaland cartographiccollections,as also in some of his drawings.In the statisticaltables "the population of the districtsby castes, families,and vilcalled caneeshamaris, lages" was carefullycounted and presented by local Public Officials."Some of these tables were transcribedon his actual maps of Mysore and the Ceded Districts.Here, the compilationsof population data under caste headings seemed to have the same indexical functionfor the map as the delineationsof fieldtypes and irrigationsources. These listswere highlyparticularisticand idiosyncratic; thoughBrahmans were usuallyat the head, the listswere neitherregularizednor easy to compare across districtsor regions. At firstI feltdisappointed that my interestin findingearly(and littlemediated) textson caste had turnedup so little. Only when I turned to Mackenzie's drawingsdid it seem that I had finally struckethnographicgold.'2 One of Mackenzie'slargestportfolioshas eighty-two drawingsdepictingdifferentgroups in the northernDeccan drawn during the earlyyears of the nineteenthcentury.The volume is labeled "Costumes of Balla Ghaut, Carnatick, 1800 & 1801."13 Costume is thus the key sign and objective focusof ethnographicdifference.This emphasison costumeis in parta reflection of the factthatclothes in India (as also in England) were importantmarkersof hierarchyand difference,but it was surelyalso because of the lack of any clear generic sense of what a pictorialsurveyof the castes and tribeswould be like,as well as perhaps because of the influenceof the picturesquecult'spreoccupation withthe colorfuland exoticaspects of the Indian social order. The castes and groups thatfound theirwayinto Mackenzie'sportfolioreveal a very particular ethnographic sensibility.There are a portraitof the ancient kingsof Vijayanagara; a finepictureof a royalDarbar scene; a collectionof drawings of "Boya peons," the courtservantsand soldiersof the local chiefs;as well as drawingsof other court officialssuch as Brahman amildars,or revenue agents. There are also a number of drawingsof gurus and itinerantholy men. In addition, the collection included occupational categories such as barbers, basket makers,and palmists,as wellas Brahmansof variousdescriptionsincludingcourt Brahmans, physicians,even groups of Brahman women. Both in the absence of any kind of systematicand autonomous sense of a "caste system,"and in the con-



centrationof pictorialattentiongiven to characterswho reflectedthe political Deccan-the same characterswho figurein landscape of the eighteenth-century most of Mackenzie's local texts-we see major differencesbetween Mackenzie's visionof India's ethnographyand the ethnographythatbecame canonized in the late nineteenthcentury. One of the firstindicationsof the importanceof caste-and of the liabilities of officialignorance about it-came in an officialmemo of 1816 recommending support for and publicationof a revisionof Abbe Dubois's Hindu Manners,Custhe firsteditionof whichwas said to containa large number toms,and Ceremonies, of errorsand omissions.The Board of Controlwrote,"There is nothingperhaps of more importanceto the Hindoo communitythanthattheirdistinctionsof caste should be well understood by the civilofficersof the governmentin the interior to proof the country,yetthereis no subjectat presenton whichit is so difficult cure correctinformation."'4In later years,of course, the collectionof information about caste structureand customswasjustifiedless in termsof the needs of Hindu community.Lord Bentinck also gave contemporarytestimonyto the importanceof the Abbe's work. "I am of opinion that,"he wrote,"in a political point of view,the informationwhichthe workof the Abbe Dubois has to impart mightbe of the greatestbenefitin aiding the servantsof the Governmentin conducting themselves more in unison with the customs and prejudices of the natives."'5Here Bentincksuggeststhatethnographicknowledgewill contribute a very differentuse of ethnographyindeed from to administrativesensitivity, what develops later in the century. Earlycolonial ethnographywas thusboth unsystematicand stillin the service of a regime thatrememberedthe struggleof conquest, thatcould not yetafford to dehistoricizeand recastIndian society.This ethnographyalso reflectedin part what the silencesof Mackenzie's collectionillustrate,the lack of local textualand culturaltraditionsabout civilsociety(separated fromitspoliticaland institutional moorings)thatcould be immediatelyappropriatedand re-presented.The uncertainpedigree and recentgenre of colonial ethnographyis perhaps nowheremore cogentlyillustratedthan in a book compiled by the youngest brother of the Brahman familythathad supplied Mackenzie withhis chiefinformants.In 1847 C. V. Ramaswamy privatelypublished "A Digest of the DifferentCastes of the Southern Division of Southern India, with Descriptionsof Their Habits, Customs,Etc."The workwas dedicated to the"Britishpublicof India" and was clearly and intended fora European audience ("thattheymay receive thatgratification instructionwhich it is myanxious desire to impart").The treatisebegan withan account of the four varnaswith their dharmic duties, and it then in catalogue fashion listed the castes of the south of India with brief descriptionsfor each one. The listbegins like this: "Butler,Dubash, Cook, Cooks' mate,Ayea, Lampand then includes such standardcastes as the lighter,waterwoman,grasscutter,"



As idiosyncraticas thisworkclearly dog boy,the hammaul,and the agriculturalist. of and convention lack the it reflects is, regarding caste as a site for clarity textualization.

A Colonial Sociology of India As Britishcolonial rule became increasinglysecure, we begin to encounter growing traces of a new ethnographic sensibility.In mid- and latecollections,I found, caste historieshad begun to predominineteenth-century reason for this had to do withthe demise of the littlekings; Part of the nate.'6 those who had survivedat all had done so as zamindarsor landlords withlittle particularclaim to historiesof theirown. Temple historiescontinuedto be important,but theywere considered to be relevantbythe colonial stateonly insofaras they could be used to decide disputes over temple control,management, and honors. But fora varietyof reasons caste historieswere considered to be particularlyimportant,and caste became increasinglythe only relevantsocial site for the textualizationof Indian identity. During the nineteenthcentury,the collectionof materialabout castes and tribesand theircustoms,and the specificationof what kindsof customs,kinship behaviors, ritual forms,and so on, were appropriate and necessaryfor ethnographicdescription,became increasinglyformalizedand canonic. In thefirsthalf of thecentury,theemphasison castewas consistentwiththechange fromrevenue settlementswith landlords to settlementswith village headmen and individual cultivators,providing a ready means to evaluate the authoritativeclaims and social positionsof the individualsto be grantedrevenue titles.But graduallythe institutionalprovenance of caste expanded, affectingthe recruitmentof soldiers into the army(particularlyafterthe greatrebellionof 1857), the implementation of legal codes that made the provisionsof the law applicable on caste lines, the criminalizationof certainentirecaste groups forlocal policingpurposes, the curtailmentof the freedomof the land marketwhen excessiveamountsof land were thoughtto be sold by "agricultural"to "merchant"groups, the assessmentof the politicalimplicationsof differentcolonial policies in the area of local administration in caste terms,to mentiononlya fewexamples.7 One of the firstgeneral compilationsof materialon caste was assembled by the Rev. M.A. Sherring, who in 1872 published his influentialthree-volume work,Hindu Tribesand Castes.'8The work aims to be encyclopedicin coverage, startingwith Brahmans then movingto Ksatriyasand so on. But unlike earlier colonial works that relied on textual varna categories as a general guide about Indian societyand thenturnedto historicalmodes of investigation, Sherringused these categories to frame an empirical study of Indian society.The footnotes referto DistrictManuals, writingssuch as thosebyJamesTod on Rajasthan,even 66


SettlementReports.'9Gone is the ubiquitous reliance on Manu; orientalismhas become empiricistrather than textual. Ironically,at the very point that race becomes invoked as the biological referentof caste in Britishanthropological conjecture,the pervasive referencesto the "mixingof castes" based on Manu's textcease as well. The new empiricismnot only replaced earlier orientalistemphases on textualityand history;it also eclipsed earlierenthusiasmsforthingsIndian, even if, as in the case of most early orientalists,these enthusiasmswere exclusivelyfor ancient Indian civilization.Sherringshares the same general outlook on caste as John Wilson, and in clearlybetrayinghis missionaryaffiliationshe also reveals that missionarydisdain for caste is no longer incompatiblewiththe colonial scientificscrutinyof it. In his concluding essay on the "Prospectsof Hindu Caste," he begins his opening series of paragraphs withthe followingassertions(which wentuncontestedin myriadsubsequentuses of thistext):"Caste is swornenemy to human happiness"; "Caste is opposed to intellectualfreedom"; "Caste sets its face sternlyagainst progress";"Caste makes no compromises";"The tiesof caste are strongerthan those of religion"; and "Caste is intenselyselfish"(274-96). Nevertheless,he is waryof progresswhen not accompanied byChristianconversion. Afternoting that "some of the caste-emancipatedBengalees have a character for adopting European usages," he went on to observe that "in our judgement, itis farbetterfornativesof India to adhere to theirown customsthan to adopt those of foreigners." Collection of the kind of empiricalinformationassembled by Sherring,and sharingthe increasingformalizationof his information,soon became the centerpiece of an officialcolonial sociologyof knowledge.As stated in the announcement of the ethnographicsurveyof India published in the firstissue of Man in 1901: to dwellat lengthupontheobviousadvantagesto manybranchesofthe It is unnecessary inthiscountry ofan accurateand well-arranged recordofthecustomsand administration of ofthevariouscastesand tribes.The entireframework thedomesticand socialrelations nativelifein India is madeup of groupsofthiskind,and thestatusand conductof individualsare largelydetermined bytherulesof thegroupto whichtheybelong.For the and dealings of of purposes legislation, judicialprocedure,offaminerelief,ofsanitation withepidemicdisease,and of almosteveryformof executiveaction,an ethnographic an incidentof surveyof India,and a recordof thecustomsof thepeopleis as necessary of the land a of the a cadastral and record as administration survey rightsof its good itremainstobringoutand interpret tenants.The censusprovidesthenecessary statistics; thefactswhichliebehindthestatistics.20 And so the political relevance of caste was announced. Caste was the site for detailinga record of the customsof the people, the locus of all importantinformation about Indian society.This information,which the colonial state felt increasinglycompelled to collect,organize,and disseminate,would thus become Castesof Mind


available fora wide varietyof governmentalinitiativesand activities-relatingto "almosteveryformof executiveaction." If the ethnographicsurveyannounced the preeminenceof caste forcolonial sociology,itwas the decennial census thatplayed the mostimportantinstitutional role not only in providingthe "facts"but in installingcaste as the fundamental unitof India's social structure.There was general agreementamong mostof the administratorsof the census,whichbegan on an all-India basis in 1871, thatcaste should be the basic categoryused to organize the population counts. But there was far less agreement about what caste reallywas. For example, various commissionersdebated whethera caste withfewerthan 100,000 persons should be included, or how to organize the "vague and indefinite"entries that in 1891 exceeded 2.3 million names. There were also debates about whether,and if so how, to list the castes on the basis of "social precedence." When H.H. Risley adopted a procedure to establishprecedence in the 1901 Census, caste became politicizedall over again. Caste associationssprang up to contesttheirassigned position in the officialhierarchy,holding meetings,writingpetitions,and organizing protests.By 1931 some caste groups were distributinghandbills to their fellowcaste membersto tell them how to answer questions about theirreligious as also theirrace, language, and caste status.After1931 and sectarianaffiliations, the Britishcould no longer ignore the politicaleffectsof the census, and they abandoned the use of caste forcensus countingaltogether.21 The rise of caste as the single most importanttrope for colonial Indian society,and the complicityof Indian anthropologyin the projectof colonial state formation,is documented in a great many texts,perhaps nowhere more fully, though complexly,than in Risley'sclassic work ThePeopleofIndia.22Risley,who was the Census Commissionerof India for the 1901 Census (the regulationsof which greatlyinfluenced the 1911 Census as well), had earlier produced the multivolumework TheTribesand CastesofBengal,published in 1891. ThePeopleof India resulted directlyfromRisley'swork as Census Commissioner,and it is an expanded versionof the commissioner'sreporton the 1901 Census (writtenwith the assistance of E. A. Gait) that,among other things,summarized his viewson the origin and classificationof the Indian races based on his historicalspeculationsand anthropometricresearch. Risleyhas been much criticizedbycontemporaryas wellas subsequentwriters for overemphasizingthe racial basis of caste and stressinganthropometry.William Crooke argued against Risleywith particularvehemence, suggestingthat occupational criteriaprovided much more comprehensiveand accurate indices for understanding caste as a system than race.23 And the anthropometric researches of subsequent scholarssteadilyeroded the confidenceof the anthropological establishmentthatracial typesin India were anywherenear as pure or clear as Risleyhad assumed. But Risley'sgeneral viewsof caste as a social system and forcein India were littlechallenged. Risleyseemed to speak formanyin both 68


colonial and academic establishmentswhen he wrotethatcaste "formsthecement that holds together the myriad units of Indian society.... Were its cohesive to formany idea of the power withdrawnor itsessentialtiesrelaxed, it is difficult would more than a revolution;itwould Such a be change consequences. probable resemble the withdrawalof some elemental force like gravitationor molecular attraction.Order would vanish and chaos would supervene" (278). At the dawn to put the case much more strongly of the twentiethcentury,itwould be difficult than that. When in 1901 the governmentof India resolved itssupport fora scheme to carryout an ethnographicalsurveyof India, one of Risley'sfirstacts,as the new Directorof Ethnographyfor India, was to appoint Edgar Thurston,Directorof the Madras Museum between 1885 and 1908, as the Superintendentof Ethnography for Madras Presidency.Risleywas particularlydelightedwithThurston's availabilitybecause of their common enthusiasm about anthropometryas the principalmeans for the collectionof physicaldata about the castes and tribesof India. Thurston's obsession withanthropometrywas so marked that before he delivered a lecture to the Royal Society of the Arts in London in 1909, Lord Ampthillintroduced him with the followingstory:"A visitto the Government Museum at Madras was always a very pleasant experience, although at first thathe seized everyman, alarming.Such was theauthor'szeal foranthropometry, woman, or child in order to measure them."24 In the proposal for the ethnographicalsurveyof India, the Secretaryto the Governmentof India wrotethat ithas oftenbeen observedthatanthropometry yieldspeculiarly good resultsin India by oftenclosely whichprevailsamongHindus,andofthedivisions, reasonofthecastesystem takes Muhammadans. are which castes, place only by Marriage recognized resembling elementof crossingis to a greatextentexcluded; withina limitedcircle;thedisturbing isintendedtoestablish, aremore ofphysical and thedifferences type,whichmeasurement elseintheworld.25 thananywhere markedand morepersistent Thus the governmentjustifieditsproject,and itschoice of Risleyand Thurston, for a surveythatwas specificallydirected "to collectthe physicalmeasurements and his theories of selectedcastesand tribes."Risley'sadvocacyof anthropometry, about the relationof race and caste, were clearlyfundamentalto the definition colonial India. The scientific of the ethnographicproject in turn-of-the-century claim about caste reflectsRisley'sassumptionthathe could actuallytestin India the various theoriesabout race and the human species thathad been merelyproposed on speculativegroundsin Europe. At thesame time,theseclaimsconcealed the continuitybetween the assumptionthatcastes were biologicallydiscreteand the beliefthatin culturalas well as biologicaltermscastesin India were like individuals in the West. During the firstdecade of the twentiethcentury,Thurston worked systemCastesofMind


aticallyon his ethnographicsurveyalong the lines set down by Risley,collecting myriad ethnographic details and extensive archives of measurements, all arranged according to the differentcastes and tribesin the presidency.Indian subjectswere not onlyorganized bybut contained in theircastes or tribes,which of determinedthe cultural,economic,social,moral,and biologicalcharacteristics their constituentmembers. Individuals only existed as representativetypesor, rather,as bodies. Thurston wrote two major ethnographicworks.The firstwas published in 1906 while he was in the middle of his labors forthe ethnographicsurvey.Titled Notesin Southern India,itconsistedof a seriesof essayson a varietyof Ethnographic Thurston that Perhaps also he realized thoughtheld intrinsicinterest.26 subjects thattheseessayscould notbe readilycontainedbytheformatof theethnographic survey.I read thisworkas an example of how ethnographicsubjectswere constitutedwhen caste was not the organizingconceitforanthropologicalinquiry.The book begins withthreeconventionalessayson marriagecustoms,death ceremonies, and omens. But in the subsequent chapters the organizingprincipleis no longer the conventionalframe of caste, and the subjectsseem no longer to be standardanthropologicalfare.The fourthchapteris titled"Deformityand Mutilation,"the next "Torture in Bygone Days," followedby such other chapters as "Slavery,""Firewalking,""Hookswinging,""Infanticide,"and "Meriah Sacrifice." entriesof Thurston'sethnographicsurveyvolumes focus on If the caste-by-caste the social (whichin India was forthe Britishcaste), these essaysinstead focus on the body,and in particularon the subjectionof Indian bodies bytraditionalpractices.The individual forcolonial anthropologythusbecame the body-the body that had been in precolonial timessubjected by tradition,now the body as caste that could be measured by science, significantly always a body that could be described withoutany referenceto mind,will,or agency. The ethnographicsurveyended in Madras withthecompletionof Thurston's India (1907), whichhad entries seven-volumework,TheCastesand TribesofSouthern on more thanthreehundred caste groupslistedin alphabeticalorder.The entries on each caste range in lengthfromone sentenceto seventy-five pages, and they include such salient ethnographicfactsas origin stories,occupational profiles, descriptionsof kinshipstructure,marriageand funeraryrituals,mannerof dress and decoration,as well as assortedstories,observations,and accountsabout each group. Naturally,Thurston also included the results of his anthropometric researches. The textwas obviouslydesigned as an easy referencework forcolonial administrators,for the police as well as revenue agents,districtmagistrates, and armyrecruiters.It was clear thatyou could knowa man byhis caste. The ethnographicsurveyresultedin a series of similarvolumes for the differentregions of India, and while not all the surveyorsshared Risley'santhropological views to Thurston's extent, all of the volumes neverthelessreflect Risley'sgeneral sense of what the surveyshould entail. Risley'scharacterization 70


of caste deploys withparticularclaritywhat I have characterizedas the standard late-colonialconceptionof Indian society,in whichcaste is the source of all order and the fundamentalbasis of the social. It is perhaps not ironicthatthe surveys were conducted during the early years of Indian nationalism,for the new ethnographic knowledge was to be used to curtail popular agitationas well as to justifythe colonial assumptionthatIndian nationalistaspirationswere essentially futile. Althoughcolonial ethnographersrarelyaddressed directlythepoliticalimplicationsof theirscientificprojects,Risleydid preciselythatin his ThePeopleofIndia, where he confrontsthe question of nationalism.In one of the two new chapters writtenfor the 1909 publicationof the book, Risleyassesses the role caste might play in the futureof India's politicaldevelopment.And he quotes withapproval the words of Sir Henry Cotton,who surmisedthat"the problemof the futureis not to destroycaste, but to modifyit,to preserveitsdistinctiveconceptions,and to graduallyplace themupon a social insteadof a supernaturalbasis" (282). Here Cotton,and Risley,advocate preciselywhatI have suggestedcolonialismin India encouraged: the constitutionof caste as a necessarycomplementto social order and governmentalauthority,a new kind of civilsocietyforthe colonial state. In Risley'sview,caste has an ambivalentstatus.It is botha religiousinstitution and a social or civilone. It is anarchic,yetitencourages the developmentof moneven though it is the necessaryand inevitablebasis for archy.It is particularistic, in Indian context. On the one hand Risleynoted,basing his concluthe any unity sions largelyon the lecturesof SirJohnSeeley,that"thefactsare beyonddispute, and theypoint to the inevitableconclusion thatnational sentimentin India can derive no encouragementfromthe studyof Indian history"(291). On the other hand, Risley also wrote that "the caste systemitself,with its singularlyperfect communal organization,is a machineryadmirablyfittedforthe diffusionof new ideas; thatcastesmayin course of timegroup themselvesintoclassesrepresenting the differentstrataof society;and that India may thus attain,by the agency of these indigenous corporations,the resultswhichhave been arrivedat elsewhere throughthe fusionof individualtypes"(293). These contradictionsare interestinglyresolvedin (and by)thecolonial situation.And here we confrontthecolonial mind in its most liberal guise. For Risleywritesthat"the factorsof nationalityin India are two-the common use of the English language for certain purposes and the common employmentof Indians in Englishadministration"(300). Risleythus holds out a kind of limitedbut realistichope for national develwillstand opment in India, measured byhis sense thatcaste ideas and institutions in the way,though he is optimisticthata steady(and English) pragmatismon the But Risley'sliberalism partof Indian leaders can sow the seeds of a new mentality. is complicitin the general projectof Britishcolonialismas it supportsthe notion thatcaste is simultaneouslya barrierto national developmentand an inevitable realityfor Indian societyin the foreseeablefuture.Risleysuggeststhatcaste, as CastesofMind


he has interpretedit,can be made into a virtueout of itsnecessity.It can accommodate and shape a graduallydeveloping class society,perhaps even softening itspotentialconflictsand antagonisms,and itcan providea model (in itsidealized varna version) for the articulationof an all-embracingideology thatmightwork at a general level to confound and even counteractthe fissiparoustendenciesof caste as a specificsocial institution.Caste in thissense is the keyto the greattransitionfromfeudalismto capitalism/democracy-exceptthatin the colonial situation that transitioncan never be fullymade. The teleologyof self-ruleis here, as always,couched in a futurethathas absolutelyno temporalreality.

Toward a Nationalist Sociology of India It is usual in analyses such as thisto attend only to the Britishside of colonial discourse and to assume thattherewere no resistantreadingsof Risley's anthropological politics. In fact, a number of Indian scholars joined in the growingchorus of criticalcommentaryon Risley'semphasis on the racial basis of caste, extendingtheircriticismsas well to some of the fundamentalpremisesof colonial anthropology. S. V. Ketkar,a Maharashtrianwho came to Cornell in the earlyyears of the twentiethcenturyto study for a Ph.D. in political science, published his influential Historyof Castein India in 1909.27He began his work by noting that "it is quite natural that no other feelingthan thatof amusementshould occur to the Englishmind. He can affordto laugh at theabsurditiesand contradictionsin such an antiquated and complicated institution."WritingfromAmerica, he did not restricthis concerns to the English: "An American missionaryfindsthe subject veryuseful to induce his countrymento subscribemoneyto save the souls of two hundred millionsof people fromheathenism"(l). Ketkardoes not go on to apologize forcaste but ratherto suggestthat,as a Hindu who cannotremainunmoved and uninvolvedin the face of such a momentoustopic,he is well placed to propose the methodologicalguidelinesforitsscientificstudy. One of Ketkar'smajor complaintswas the suspicionabout Brahmans held by his contemporarycolonial commentatorson caste. Indeed, whereasearlycolonial writershad relied on Brahmans and on their texts,later writershad not only replaced a textualwithan empiricalapproach; theyoftenaccused Brahmans of writingtexts-and organizingthe caste system-in order to maintaintheirsuperior position. Ketkar writes,"The thanklesstask of guiding the people and of preventingthem fromdoing wrong fell,to a large extent,on spiritualauthority, as the political authoritywas unfitfor their share of the burden.... But with such a huge taskbefore the Brahmanas what power did theyhave? All thatthey had to relyon was theirknowledgeof the sacred literature,forwhichall people 72


had high respect"(53-54). In counteringthe disregardfor India's sacred traditions,Ketkarbought directlyinto colonial disregardforIndia's politicalpast. Although Ketkarraised a numberof criticalquestionsabout Risley'santhropology,disputinghis seven-foldclassificationand blaming the Britishfor introducing an obsession with race to India (78-82), the eminent sociologistG.S. Ghurye moved the critiqueof Risley,and colonial anthropology,to another level altogether.In his Casteand Race in India, Ghuryetook up Risley'stheoryof race as well as his use of anthropometricmethodsand data.28Ghuryewas verycritical of both thedata and itsuses, and he ultimatelydeterminedthatonlyin the Punjab and partsof the United Provinceswas therea correlationbetweenrace and caste, in which Brahmans betrayedphysiognomicindicationsof theirhereditaryconnection to the Aryan invaders of the subcontinent.Everywhereelse, and for all other groups, general miscegenationhad eroded any racial distinctnessto caste. Ghurye emphasized the mixing of castes particularlyin Maharashtra and Madras, where he also feltcaste, in the formof anti-Brahmanmovements,had become dangerously(and erroneouslyjustifiedbyracial criteria)politicized. Ghuryewas also directlycriticalof Risley'srole in politicizingcaste, particularlyin relationto the census. AlthoughRisleywas not the firstto use the decennial census forcollectingand presentingmaterialabout caste,Ghuryenoted that "thisprocedure reached its culminationin the Census of 1901 under the guidance of Sir Herbert Risleyof ethnographicfame" (157). Risleyhad assumed that the onlyintelligiblepictureof social groupingsin India could be gained byusing a classificationof "social precedence as recognizedbythe nativepublic opinion." Ghurye complained that Risley adopted this procedure despite "his own clear admission thateven in thiscaste-riddensocietya person,when questioned about his caste, may offera bewilderingvarietyof replies" according to whether he chooses to emphasize his sect,subcaste,exogamous section,titulardesignation, occupation, or region. Ghurye lamented the growthof caste sabhasorganized expressly around the attemptto press forwardclaims of higher status in the census. Ghuryequoted withapproval the remarksof a Mr. Middleton,one of the twoCensus Superintendentsin 1921, to the effectthatthe so-calledoccupational castes"have been largelymanufacturedand almostentirelypreservedas separate castes bythe BritishGovernment"and that"Government'spassion forlabels and of thecaste system,which,exceptamongst pigeon-holeshas led to a crystallization the aristocraticcastes,was reallyveryfluidunder indigenous rule" (160). Ghurye also feltthat various decisions of governmenthad encouraged the anti-Brahman movement,and he criticizedin particularthe use of quotas to restrictgovernmentemploymentfor Brahmans in Maharashtra and Madras. Ghuryesaw thisas partof a general strategyon the partof the Britishto use caste for the purposes of "divide and rule." Indeed, he quoted as evidence of thisthe 1865 statementof James Kerr,the principal of the Hindu College at Calcutta, that"it may be doubted if the existenceof caste is on the whole unfavourableto CastesofMind


the permanence of our rule. It mayeven be consideredfavourableto it,provided we act with prudence and forbearance.Its spiritis opposed to national union" (164). Not that Ghurye apologized for all aspects of the caste system,and even thoughhe lamentedthe decline of the "priesthood,"and was particularlyworried about the rise of prejudice against Brahmans, he clearly supported Gandhi's attemptsto ameliorate the conditions of the untouchables (even as he disapproved of Ambedkar's attemptto politicizecaste around an untouchable movement). However,Ghurye'ssense was thatthe Britishwere largelyresponsiblefor caste's alleged antipathyto nationalistideals. While Ketkarand Ghuryeaccepted manymore colonial assumptionsin their anthropologythan theyrejected,and while as activeexponentsof the brahmanical cause theywere clearly situated in a sociologyof knowledge of their own, their readings both anticipatesome of my own criticismsand demonstratethe possibilityof nationalistresistancewithinprofessionaldiscourses. If this resistance does not seem as successfulor completeas perhaps it should in retrospect, it is because, as Partha Chatterjee has noted in a slightlydifferentcontext,colonized discourseswere necessarilypredicatedon colonial ones.29

Recasting India The assumption that the colonial state could manipulate and invent the social, Indian traditionat will,creatinga new formof caste and reconstituting and that a studyof its own writingsand discourse is sufficientto argue such a case, is clearlyinadequate and largelywrong. Long after I began to study the complex dynamics of colonial interventionin India, the studyof what is now called colonial discoursehas become the sitefora compellingrange of theoretical projects in literaryand cultural studies.30This is in large part because of the impactof Edward Said's workand the ease withwhichcolonialismfallssubjectto a poststructuralist critique.31But in spite of Said's insistenceon a reading of Michel Foucault thatsituatesdiscursiveformationsin historicalprocessesof institutionaldominationand hegemony,much recentcriticaltheoryhas merelygestured toward history-no sooner completing the gesture than appropriating historyto support ahistorical-and even antihistorical-readings of texts.The ease withwhichcriticalreadingsof colonial textsand "thirdworld"referentsare made in certain literarycircles today may indicate the ironic birth of a new orientalism.32 worked One of Said's mostinsistentpointsis thatorientalismhas consistently for of Said itsobjects knowledge, to deny history,both foritselfand argues that orientalismdeploys a kind of "mythicdiscourse"that"conceals itsown originsas well as those of what it describes."In thisdiscourse,"Arabs [as the most salient example of Said's book] are presentedin the imageryof static,almostideal types, 74


and neitheras creatureswitha potentialin the process of being realized nor as historybeing made" (321). In thedenial of historyto theoriental,historybecomes lost altogether.Said insistson reading the historyback in, seeing the originsof orientalistdiscourse in colonial historiespredicated on a past of conquest and rule. The pastsof thecolonized, he argues,were erased as soon as conquest made possible the production of new formsof knowledge that endowed colonialism withnatural legitimacy. Nevertheless,Said no sooner makes this point than he proceeds to concentrate on textsof high imperialismwrittenwell after the historiesof conquest. These textsassume the absence of historyfor the colonized subject,displaying fewsigns of struggle.But Said also failsto focus on the strugglesthatwere part of the consolidationof hegemonicdiscoursesabout the Orient,becominguncannilycomplicitin the orientalistelisionof bruteorientalrealitiesbyconcentrating so exclusivelyon the metropolitanproduction and reproductionof orientalist knowledge. Early in his study,Said writes,"There were-and are-cultures and nationswhose location is in the East, and theirlives,histories,and customshave a brute realityobviouslygreaterthan anythingthatcould be said about them in the West. About that factthisstudyof Orientalismhas verylittleto contribute" (5). However, Said's later point that the Orient was orientalized by the West because of a historicalrelationshipof domination both contradictshis earlier statementand leaves us askingformore. Said oftenwritesabout orientalismas if it transcendsthe exigenciesof history,exemptingit of its necessarilycontingent relations to historiesof nationalismand colonialism,rendering it a totalizing monolith.33 Any studyof colonial discourse thatfailsto examine the historicalcharacter and contradictorynature of colonial interventionand the institutionalbases of colonial impact must be rejected even if we accept, as I do, Foucault's emphasis on the fieldsof power created bydiscursivepractices.The power of colonial discourse was not that it created whole new fieldsof meaning instantaneouslybut thatitshiftedold meaningsslowly,sometimesimperceptibly, throughthecolonial for which the studyof caste those new of controlof a range institutions, including wasjudged necessaryin the earliernote fromthe ethnographicsurvey.Although an emphasis on ideas and discourses reveals that institutionalhegemony is not based solely,or even principally,on brute force,discourse does not do it alone. when Institutionsactivateideological changes most often,and most effectively, theydo so subtly,maskingseduction as mutuality,resistanceas complicity,and change as continuity.Transformationsoccurredbecause of the wayscolonial discourse inscribeditspeculiar,oftenmasterful,combinationof old and new meanings in institutionaltheaterswithmajor consequences for the colonial subjects. As I have argued elsewhere,thisprocess ofteninvolvedthe paradoxical preservation of old regime forms,creatinga shadow theaterin whichcontinuitiesand changes seemed alwaysto mimiceach other.34 CastesofMind


In the case of caste,we have onlybegun to examine the complex and contradictorycharacterof colonial change. I do not have the space here to detail the mechanisms by which radically new forms and meanings became inscribed around the trope of caste in the late colonial projectof Britishstateformationin India. Sufficeit for the moment to say that theyincluded, as anticipatedin my discussion of Ghurye,the politicizationof inventedformsof caste in the census as well as in the communallybased franchisesof early electoral reform,in the developmentand implementationof legal codes, in the introductionand elaborationof revenue systemsand policiespredicatedon a colonial sociologyof India, of and in the textualizationand professionalappropriationand reinterpretation Indian traditionsand social forms.And all of these historicalprocesses themselves reston a thickhistoricalbase, forcaste achieved itscriticalcolonial position only because the Britishstatewas successfulin separatingcaste as a social form fromitsdependence on precolonial politicalprocesses. The historyof discourseson caste cannot be separated fromthe fullinstitutional historyof Britishcolonialism.But if colonial discourse and the documentationapparatus thatprovided theevidence and the ground forthecolonial caste neitherwas itepiphenomof mind was not totallyand autonomouslyconstitutive, enal. Orientalistversionsof India's essence and anthropologicalrepresentations of the centralityof caste have conspired to deny Indians theirhistoryand their historicitysimultaneously;their failure to have historywas all their own fault. Historybelonged to the colonizers,not the colonized. The potentialsubjectivity of Indian subjectswas not suppressed outrightbut shiftedinto the culturallogic which in India of reproduction implied by terms such as customand tradition, meant "caste."35At the same time,under colonialismcaste became a specifically Indian formof civil society,the most criticalsite for the textualizationof social identitybut also for the specificationof public and privatedomains, the rights and responsibilitiesof the colonial state, the legitimatingconceits of social freedom and societal control,and the developmentof the documentationand certification regimesof the bureaucraticstate. It seems clear in the Indian case thattheformsof casteismand communalism thatcontinueto workagainstthe imaginedcommunityof the nascentnationstate have been imagined as well.36However, they have been imagined precisely throughand withinthe same historicalmechanismsthatin thecolonizingnations of Europe and America were far more securelyharnessed to the projectof state formation.And theyhave been imagined withsuch success thatwhen we think be remindedthatIndia's postcolonialcondition of India, we mustnow insistently is not its precolonial fault.



Notes I am gratefulto Arjun Appadurai, Carol Breckenridge,Val Daniel, Tom Laqueur, David Ludden, Gyan Prakash,Joan Scott,StanleyTambiah, Peter van der Veer,and Anne Watersfortheirhelp in draftingthefinalversionof thispaper; to Bernard Cohn forhis inspirationalworkon thissubject;to manyotherswho have made criticalcommentsalong the way. 1. Abbe J.A. Dubois, Description Manners,and Customs ofthePeopleofIndia; oftheCharacter, and trans. K. and of TheirInstitutions, Civil, Henry Religious Beauchamp (London, 1817), 29. 2. John Wilson,Indian Caste(1877; New Delhi, 1976). and Its Implications, trans. Mark 3. Louis Dumont, Homo Hierarchicus:The Caste System et al. (1966; Chicago, 1980). Sainsbury 4. Jan Heesterman, TheInnerConflict of Tradition:Essaysin Indian Ritual,Kingship,and (Chicago, 1985), 193. Society 5. Nicholas B. Dirks, The HollowCrown:Ethnohistory ofan Indian Kingdom(Cambridge, 1987). 6. Alexander Dow, TheHistory ofHindustan(London, 1768-71). 7. MonstuartElphinstone,TheHistory ofIndia, 2 vols. (London, 1842). 8. James Mill, TheHistory ofBritishIndia (London, 1820). 9. H. H. Wilson,CatalogueofOrientalMSS. ofCol. Mackenzie(Calcutta, 1828); W. C. Mackenzie,ColonelColinMackenzie:FirstSurveyor-General ofIndia (Edinburgh,n.d.). 10. The Mackenzie collectionis housed in the India OfficeLibrary,London, and the GovernmentOriental ManuscriptsLibrary,Madras. 11. The MysoreSurveyDocuments, National Archivesof India, New Delhi. 12. Mackenzie's drawings are in the Map Libraryof the India OfficeLibraryand cataLibrary,2 vols. (London, logued in Mildred Archer,BritishDrawingsin theIndia Office 1969). 13. Ibid., 534-38. 14. Board of Controlcollections,India OfficeLibrary,no. 541 (1816). vii. 15. Quoted in Dubois, Description, 16. See, for example, the extensivemanuscriptcollectionsof WalterElliott(India Office Library,London), whichdrew heavilyon the Mackenzie collection. in British India (Tucson, Ariz., 1985); David 17. See Anand Yang, ed., Crimeand Criminality Washbrook,"Law, State,and AgrarianSocietyin Colonial India," ModernAsianStudies 15, no. 3 (1981): 649-721; A. H. Bingleyand A. Nicholls,Brahmans:CasteHandbook fortheIndianArmy(Simla, India, 1897). 18. M. A. Sherring,Hindu Tribesand Castes(1872; New Delhi, 1974). 19. James Tod, Annalsand Antiquities RajpootStates ofRajasthan;or,theCentraland Western vols. 2 London, 1950). (1829-32; ofIndia, 20. Such interpretationoftenrestedin a peculiarsetof notionsabout origins,whichthemselves had less to do withhistorythan witha set of functionalcorrelatesassumed to be demonstratedbythe particularoriginsof any given group and itsderivativeoccupational and social status.These preoccupationswere reflectedin the kindsof information(texts,traditions,statistics)the colonial statecollected,stored,and published. 21. This paragraph summarizesthe pathbreakingworkof Bernard S. Cohn, in Cohn, An AmongtheHistoriansand OtherEssays(New Delhi, 1987). Anthropologist



22. H. H. Risley,ThePeopleofIndia (London, 1908). Provincesand Oudh,4 vols. (Calcutta, 23. W. Crooke, Tribesand CastesoftheNorth-Western 1896). 24. JournaloftheRoyalSociety ofArts,52 (9 April 1909). 25. Governmentorder no. 647, Madras Public Department,26 June 1901. India (Madras, 1906). Notesin Southern 26. Edgar Thurston,Ethnographic 27. S. V. Ketkar,History ofCastein India: EvidenceoftheLaws ofManu on theSocialCondition and Examined,Withan Appendixon in India During theThirdCentury A.D., Interpreted Radical DefectsofEthnology (1909; Jaipur,1979). 28. G. S. Ghurye,Casteand Race in India (London, 1932). and theColonialWorld(London, 1986). 29. Partha Chatterjee,NationalistThought and Difference 30. For an excellentexample, see Henry Louis Gates,Jr.,ed., Race, Writing, of this field of assessment for a recent study,see Robert sympathetic (Chicago, 1986); and the West (London, 1990). Writing History Mythologies: Young, Writing 31. Edward Said, Orientalism (New York, 1979). 32. See FredricJameson, "Third-WorldLiteraturein the Era of MultinationalCapital," Social Text15 (Fall 1986): 65-88; and the response byAijaz Ahmad, "Jameson'sRhetoric of Otherness and the 'National Allegory,"'Social Text17 (Fall 1987): 3-25. For more recentcriticismsof postorientalismwriting,see HenryLouis Gates,Jr.,"Critical Fanonism," CriticalInquiry 17, no. 8 (Spring 1991): 457-70; and Aijaz Ahmad, "Between Orientalismand Historicism:AnthropologicalKnowledge of India," Studies in History7, no. 1 (January-June1991): 135-63. 33. This is meant neitherto dismissthe extraordinaryimportanceof Said's suggestions, nor to implythatSaid is necessarilyunaware of the peculiardistortionsof his polemic. For what is stillthe best criticalconsiderationof Said's book, see James Clifford,"On Orientalism,"in ThePredicament ofCulture(Cambridge,Mass., 1988). For a more complete statementof myown position,whichconcentrateson competinghistoricitiesin earlycolonial India, see my"Colonial Historiesand Native Informants:Biographyof and the an Archive,"in Carol Breckenridgeand Peter van der Veer,eds., Orientalism Predicament Post-Colonial (forthcoming). 34. See myTheHollowCrown. 35. This is neither to argue against anthropologyitselfnor to suggest that the simple reallocationof historyeitherto India or to anthropologywillsolve all the problems I have identified.I have elsewhere suggestedthatone of the principaltasksof a postcolonial anthropologyis to challenge currentcertaintiesabout the universalcharacter of historyand the meaningof historicism.Historytoo can be reifiedand essentialized. See Nicholas B. Dirks, "Is Vice Versa?: HistoricalAnthropologiesand Anthropological Histories,"in Terrence McDonald, ed., The HistoricTurnin theHuman Sciences (forthcoming). on theOriginand SpreadofNation36. Benedict Anderson,ImaginedCommunities: Reflections alism(London, 1983).



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