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

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Caste and Stigmatised Labour in Colonial Bombay

Figure of the Halalkhore

Cow protection groups have been reported to engage in acts of public violence against Dalit and Muslim caste labourers. In the context of these occurrences, this article explores the relationship between caste identity and performing “stigmatised” labour—sanitation, removing refuse, and collecting urban waste—in colonial Bombay. The idea of dirt as a cultural category is not new; it is part of a hereditary system that imprints physical and moral impurity on its actors. The attacks on select castes today are part of a Hindutva ideal to purify India and remake it as a caste Hindu nation.

There have been recurrent incidents of public violence by members of the Hindu Gau Raksha Dal (Hindu Cow Protection Party) and cow protection vigilantes targeting Dalit and Muslim caste labourers. For instance, on 31 March 2016, a Muslim trader of animals from Chhoti Sadri, Rajasthan, was stripped naked, beaten, and photographed lying on the ground with cow protection activists stamping his face with their feet. Photographs of their “great achievement” were taken using their phones and circulated (Agwan 2016). Cow vigilante activists later chased a truck carrying 50 cows—allegedly being transported from Jaipur and Ajmer to be sold for slaughter in Gujarat and Maharashtra—and set it on fire in the presence of the state police and Bajrang Dal members.

Earlier that month, on 27 March, cow vigilantes killed Mustain Abbas, a farmer who left his village in Gangoh tehsil, Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh (UP), to buy cattle from Kurukshetra. According to his wife, Abbas had set out with his companions to buy buffaloes, but he had instead ended up buying two bulls for farming (Latief 2016). After ploughing the field, the bulls were to be sold for a small profit to other farmers, and their household expenses were to be met with the small profit thus earned (Latief 2016). Abbas failed to return that evening, and he was reported missing for a month. Almost a month later, his family received a call from Shahbad Police Station, asking them to identify a tortured, mutilated body that had been recovered from a drain near Kurukshetra.

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Updated On : 3rd Aug, 2018


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