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Important Similarities, Strange Differences: Caste, Race and Durban

Against Stigma: Studies in Caste, Race and Justice since Durban edited by Balmurli Natrajan and Paul Greenough




Important Similarities, Strange Differences: Caste, Race and Durban

Kalpana Kannabiran



enables this shift (p 77). Examining analyses of caste in the context of the Bhopal Declaration, Balmurli Natrajan looks at the import of “diversity” from north American scholarship into the articulation of caste discrimination and resistance to it. He suggests that caste be viewed “as the

his volume, according to the editors Balmurli Natrajan and Paul Greenough, is an attempt to disrupt globalisation’s tidy parlour, through a look at caste and race. While globalisation is about domination, it is also about the globalisation of emancipatory struggles: It “simultaneously supplies both, the need for emancipation due to globalisation’s widely perceived and experienced negative impacts, and the context for emancipatory struggles that seek new possibilities within globalising processes. From this perspective, globalisation must also include within itself the globalisation of emancipatory struggles – their forms, content and sites” (p 3). The editors argue that there is a “Durban-turn” post-2001, which has introduced three new elements – the language of social construction, the framework of comparative analysis and a body of “critical caste theory” – into caste scholarship (p 10). Rupturing the smug s ilence around the creation of unique and separate spaces of scholarship on caste and on race, Durban breached borders between disciplines and theoretical paradigms – focusing attention thereby on scholarship that emanated from anti-racist and anti-casteist standpoints (pp 11-16). It is this texture of the Durban process that this volume sets out to present.

Against Stigma: Studies in Caste, Race and Justice since Durban edited by Balmurli Natrajan and Paul Greenough (Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan), 2009; pp 490, Rs 795.

Anthropologist Gerald D Berreman reviewing literature on caste and race and their interconnections begins by observing how he has been “…consistently struck by the structural, behavioural and ideological similarity of the Indian and the North American systems of birth-ascribed inequality in the two societies despite their obvious cultural differences” (p 47). Attempting to situate Andre Beteille’s a ssertions in the context of Durban, he finds that since during most of Beteille’s early research on Tanjore, he was “housed and surrounded by Brahmins” (p 59), this elite bias pervades all of his writing, similar being the case of Louis Dumont’s writing (p 63), and Dipankar Gupta’s as well (pp 64-67). The common sense of caste, and a pervasive sense of Hinduness, which shaped the sociological imagination in I ndia, observes Kamala Visweswaran, also provided the sociological description for Hindutva (p 346).

The way forward for Berreman is to tap and nourish social and ethnic diversity in ways that social difference is not burdened with the weight of inequality – and by implication to nurture scholarship that

july 10, 2010

effect of a relational or relation-producing process” with a focus on discrimination as well as the cultural construction of essentialised and naturalised identities (p 323).

Arguing that analogies between caste and race that are based on comparisons between their relatively unique characteristics, while sociologically fascinating, are socially pointless, Gary M Tartakov develops the analogy within the framework of “stigmatised classes” – a track that allows consideration of shared experiences of segregation, criminalisation, and being subject to violence and sexual exploitation, denial of education, healthcare and political participation (p 98). This framework for him contains the possibility of resisting stigmatising, stereotyping and exploitation, as “[n]o democracy is possible as long as stigmatised classes exist” (p 137).

“If people do not choose to see ‘racism’ in a society…that does not discursively structure itself in terms of race, at what level can we identify the benefits of such a move?” (p 94). Virginia R Dominguez poses this question in the context of “racismtalk” in Israel, a country in which talk of racism has focused historically on Nazi attitudes in its genocidal form, observing through a careful analysis of specific cases in Israel that invoking racism may not always be a sign of visionary, oppositional

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Economic & Political Weekly

politics in every world of inequality (p 83). Deepa S Reddy explores the possibility of looking at caste in terms of ethnicity, a term that might help to think about “what happens to ‘caste’ as it traverses the global landscapes of modernity: as a means of understanding its paradoxes, and of viewing caste as inherently fluid and performative, a discursive formation as much as social reality” (p 258).

Katya G Mevorach, through an account of discussions on race in a classroom in North America, asserts, echoing Tartakov, “I think intellectual integrity and political clarity are professional responsibilities that come with the academic vocation. Discrimination should be condemned. Period” (p 249, emphasis in the original).

Durban 2001

Tracing the history of UN responses to caste discrimination, Sukhadeo Thorat finds that it is only in 1996 that the Committee on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) made its first reference to caste discrimination, untouchability and SCs as descent based discrimination. (p 146). Rebutting the arguments against inclusion of caste within this framework, he argues (similarly with Tartakov) that the focus must be on discrimination and racism (as distinct from race), and that locating this discussion within the UN framework places obligations on the Indian state to fulfil its own constitutional and legislative obligations better (p 156).

The usefulness of taking the issue of caste discrimination to Durban is reiterated by Gopal Guru, with a caveat that we might need to revisit the key categories or concepts through which discrimination is experienced and understood – colour in the case of race, but touch in the case of caste. On another track however, he observes, the groups participating in the Durban process did not fully utilise the opportunity before them to embark on and sustain a thoroughgoing critique of caste discrimination – an effort that would involve a critical assessment of the absorption of ideologies of caste by the Christian churches in India (p 180).

The Durban Conference was, it can scarcely be forgotten, “political dramaturgy at its best: a stage for re-enactments of

cruelty and torture as well as a site for bearing witness against them” (V Geetha: 206). But, Geetha asks, what are the local contexts of this global moment, and what implications do the Durban articulations bear for the everyday struggles for dignity and life for the dalits and oppressed castes in India? The contradictions this question alludes to, however, are intrinsic to the growing politics of globalism, where a m oment while redemptive in that it creates “an ethical outrage amongst an imagined global community” (p 206), is fraught



and complicated in its translation into the local, where globalisation, for instance, has seen the state withdrawing from the economy with disastrous consequences for dalit communities, especially.

The mutual fascination between dalits and African Americans, goes back to Jotirao Phule (Gulamgiri, 1873) and W E B Du Bois (Dark Princess, 1928). Gai Omvedt believes that the conversation on race and caste will be strengthened through a comparative study of Ambedkar and Du Bois and the movements they represented –











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a cursory reading points to “(s)trange similarities and important differences, and almost no contact” (p 377). Kancha Ilaiah argues that the focus on colonialismnationalism masks the far-reaching effects of brahminism/Hinduism vs nationalism debate. It is necessary at this point to weave frameworks that allow “the expansion of spiritual democratic religions that have no roots in casteism and allow

Agarwal, P K (2010): Land Reforms in States and Union Territories in India (New Delhi: Concept Publishing); pp x + 254, Rs 600.

Ahmed, Sadiq, Saman Kelegama and Ejaz Ghani, ed. (2010): Promoting Economic Cooperation in South Asia: Beyond SAFTA (New Delhi: Sage Publications); pp xxvi + 435, Rs 850.

Asian Development Bank (2010): Agriculture, Food Security, and Rural Development (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp xxx + 345, Rs 775.

Bajpai, Nirupam, Jeffrey D Sachs and Ravindra H Dholakia (2010): Improving Access and Efficiency in Public Health Services: Mid-term Evaluation of India’s National Rural Health Mission (New Delhi: Sage Publications); pp xviii + 117, Rs 695.

Basu, Pradip, ed. (2010): Discourses on Naxalite Movement 1967-2009: Insights into Radical Left Politics

(Kolkata: Setu Prakashani); pp 532, price not indicated.

Bhukya, Bhangya (2010): Subjugated Nomadas: The Lambadas under the Rule of the Nizams

(Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan); pp xxii + 296, Rs 550.

Chatterji, Prashanto Kumar (2010): Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Indian Politics: An Account of an Outstanding Political Leader (New Delhi: Foundation Books); pp x + 381, Rs 795.

Chen, Kuan-Hsing (2010): Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization (Durham and London: Duke University Press); pp xx + 321, $23.95 (paper).

Dhaka, Rajvir S (2010): Right to Information and Good Governance (New Delhi: Concept Publishing); pp 473, Rs 1,000.

Dickson, Janet R, Barry B Hughes and Mohammod T Irfan (2010): Advancing Global Education: Patterns of Potential Human Progress – Vol 2 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press and Paradigm Publishers); pp xvi + 333, Rs 995.

Dutt, Amitava Krishna and Charles K Wilber (2010): Economics and Ethics: An Introduction (England: Palgrave Macmillan); pp x + 269, Pounds 65.

Gautam, Vinayshil (2010): International Finance Revisited (Delhi: Macmillan Publishers); pp xiv + 271, Rs 295.

Gonsalves, Peter (2010): Clothing for Liberation: A Communication Analysis of Gandhi’s Swadeshi Revolution (New Delhi: Sage Publications); pp xxii + 163, Rs 495.

Gould, Harold A (2010): The South Asia Story: The First Sixty Years of US Relations with India and Pakistan (New Delhi: Sage Publications); pp 136, Rs 295.

the racial notions to get killed in the process of historical change” (p 431).

Much of the area covered by this volume has already been written about and theorised extensively in India, not just in English but in regional languages as well. A significant part of this writing has focused on questions of labour and gender in the context of the Durban debates – a focus that is conspicuous in its absence in this collection.

Books Received

Haqqi, S A H (2010): Chingiz Khan: The Life and Legacy of an Empire Builder (Delhi: Primus Books); pp xxx + 326, Rs 995.

India Micro, Small Medium Enterprises Report 2010,

Institute of Small Enterprises and Development, Kochi, pp 388, Rs 995.

Jagmohan (2010): Reforming Vaishno Devi and a Case for Reformed, Reawakened and Enlightened Hinduism (New Delhi: Rupa Co), pp xiv + 304, Rs 395.

Kassam, Tazim R and Francoise Mallison, ed. (2010):

Ginans Texts and Contexts: Essays on Ismaili Hymns from South Asia in Honour of Zawahir Moir

(Delhi: Primus Books); pp xxvi + 225, Rs 795.

Kelley, Michele and Deepika D’Souza, ed. (2010): The World Bank in India: Undermining Soverignty, Distorting Development (Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan); pp xxvii + 507, Rs 895.

Kohli, Harinder S and Ashok Sharma, ed. (2010): A Resilient Asia Amidst Global Financial Crisis: From Crisis Management to Global Leadership (New Delhi: Sage Publications and Asian Development Bank); pp xxxvii + 417, Rs 995.

Malhotra, Ashok (2010): Child Man: The Selfless Narcissist (New Delhi: Routledge); pp xviii + 170, Rs 495.

Mazumdar, Vina (2010): Memories of a Rolling Stone (New Delhi: Zubaan); pp viii + 183, Rs 350.

McLeod, Hew (2010): Sikhism (New Delhi: Yoda Press); pp xxxix + 335, Rs 350.

McPherson, Kenneth (2010): How Best Do We Survive?: A Modern Political History of the Tamil Muslims

(New Delhi: Routledge); pp xvii + 252, Rs 695.

Narayan Swamy, M R (2010): The Tiger Vanquished: LTTE’s Story (New Delhi: Sage Publications); pp lxxxii + 189, Rs 325.

Pal, R M and Meera Verma, ed. (2007): Power to the People: The Political Thought of M K Gandhi, M N Roy and Jayaprakash Narayan Vols 1 and 2 (New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House); pp 438, Rs 1,800 (set).

Pandey, Nishchal Nath (2010): New Nepal: The Fault Lines (New Delhi: Sage Publications); pp xiv + 164, Rs 495.

Pandian, Anand (2010): Crooked Stalks: Cultivating Virtue in South India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp xii + 325, Rs 750.

Raman, Vasanthi (2010): The Warp and the Weft: Community and Gender Identity among Banaras Weavers

(New Delhi: Routledge); pp xxviii + 384, Rs 795.

Ramesh Bairy, T S (2010): Being Brahmin Being Modern: Exploring the Lives of Caste Today (New Delhi: Routledge); pp xi + 357, Rs 795.

It is useful, however, to have a volume that brings a sizeable section of the English writing together, as also a useful bibliography, for use by scholars with an interest in questions of caste, race and discrimination located o utside India.

Kalpana Kannabiran (kalpana.kannabiran@ is with Chityala Ailamma Centre for Interdisciplinary Research anchored in Asmita.

Rao, Parimala V (2010): Foundations of Tilak’s Nationalism: Discrimination, Education and Hindutva (Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan); pp x + 361, Rs 795.

Ray, Raka and Seemin Qayum (2010): Cultures of Servitude: Modernity, Domesticity, and Class in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp xvi + 255, Rs 595.

Saldanha, Denzil (2010): Civil Society Processes and the State: The BGVS and the Literacy Campaigns (Jaipur: Rawat Publications), pp xiv + 336, Rs 725.

Scudder, Thayer (2010): Global Threats, Global Futures: Living with Declining Living Standards (Edward Elgar Publishing); pp vii + 292, price not indicated.

Sengupta, Chandan and Stuart Corbridge, ed. (2010): Democracy, Development and Decentralisation in India (New Delhi: Routledge); pp x + 337, Rs 795.

Sharma, Jyotirmaya and A Raghuramaraju, ed. (2010): Grounding Morality: Freedom, Knowledge and the Plurality of Cultures (New Delhi: Routledge); pp xiv + 368, Rs 795.

Shetty, Rekha (2010): Innovate! 90 Days to Transform Your Business (New Delhi: Penguin Books); pp x + 246, Rs 299.

Sreedharan, E and Bharat Wakhlu, ed. (2010): Restoring Values: Keys to Integrity, Ethical Behaviour and Good Governance (New Delhi: Sage Publications); pp xx + 205, Rs 395.

Tagger, R S (2009): Approaches to Social Stratification Social Mobility (Gurdaspur: ProQuest Publications); pp 536, Rs 435.

Tambe, Ashwini (2009): Codes of Misconduct: Regulating Prostitution in Late Colonial Bombay, Zubaan (New Delhi: Kali for Women), pp xxvii + 179, Rs 395.

Trivedi, Madhu (2010): The Making of the Awadh Culture (Delhi: Primus Books); pp xii + 314, Rs 1,095.

Tsikata, Dzodzi and Pamela Golah, ed. (2010): Land Tenure, Gender and Globalisation: Research and Analysis from Africa, Asia and Lain America (New Delhi: Zubaan); pp xii + 299, Rs 395.

Varma, Sudhir (2010): Gender, HIV and Social Work (Jaipur: Rawat Publications); pp xvii + 236, Rs 575.

Wildavasky, Ben (2010): The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World (New Jersey: Princeton University Press); pp xiii + 240, $26.95.

Wright, Rita P (2010): The Ancient Indus: Urbanism, Economy, and Society (New Delhi: Cambridge University Press); pp xviii + 396, Rs 895.

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