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

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Colonial Goa and the ‘Asprushya Question’

The history of the so-called asprushya (untouchable), and what exactly this entailed, was actively debated in the Marathi press, since the second decade of the 20th century. New questions on the articulation of alternative social identities of the asprushya, both Catholic and Hindu, were given attention. This article examines the asprushya question within the context of Portuguese colonialism and how the Hindu liberals in turn saw it, from the 1920s to 1950s. While probing the strategies of reform formulated around the GandhiAmbedkar dispute over caste and untouchability, it situates the quest for dignity and respect of the asprushya alongside the aspirations of the Hindu elite.

In recent years, historians have broken much new ground in the study of social and economic changes in Goa during the colonial period. However, the asprushyas (untouchables) communities have been routinely marginalised from most historical accounts, and have been reduced to descriptions that originated from the principles of purity and orientalism (Burton 1851: 109; Naik et al 1873: 47; Mendes 1886: 37; Fonseca 1878: 10). The untouchable communities were commonly referred to as asprushya (Marathi and Konkani) and I have chosen to retain the term as it is ubiquitous in the local archive and retains traces of their life. Further, it has been common since the late 19th century for both historians and anthropologists to refer to the untouchables through certain generalised caste ideals that came from the Maharashtrian context, where issues of caste and untouchability feature prominently in the regions traditions, and had an all-pervading presence in Goan life. The aim here is not to rehearse these ideas to explain the caste experience of the asprushya, but rather to locate them within a regional and historical context.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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