ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Whatever Has Happened to Caste in West Bengal?

Taking the discussion in EPW on caste in West Bengal further, a comment on the mobilisation and autonomy of the lower-caste movement post-Partition, the reduced scope for the lower castes to develop a hegemonic politics or strategy, and the importance of a bahujan samaj in this context.

Whatever has happened to caste in West Bengal merits serious political attention. Therefore, the discussion on the pages of EPW last year (Praskanva Sinharay, “A New Politics of Caste”, 25 August 2012, Uday Chandra and Kenneth Bo Nielsen, “The Importance of Caste in Bengal”, 3 November 2012, and Partha Chatterjee, “Historicising Caste in Bengal Politics” and Sarbani Bandyopadhyay, “Caste and Politics in Bengal”, 15 December 2012) on caste in West Bengal is welcome, and also my excuse to join it and take the inquiry further. It seems the discussants are unanimous regarding a few factors, namely that the scheduled caste (SC) movement was strong in Bengal before Independence; that Partition changed the scenario, and then the Namasudras, after their migration to West Bengal, could not build up a similar kind of movement in this part of the land; and that today, with middle-class elites commanding the resources of public life, the autonomy of the caste movement has become a difficult enterprise, if not altogether impossible.

The Bengal Situation

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