The South Asian Studies Council Colloquium Series presents:
James Manor, University of London: “Some Debatable Arguments about Changing Inter-Caste Dynamics in Rural India.”
Since the mid-1990s, we have had solid evidence from diverse Indian regions of increasing (and increasingly obvious) refusals by the so-called ‘lower’ castes – especially Dalits – to accept caste hierarchies in rural areas. This is a monumental change since caste hierarchies have long been fundamental to the rural social order.What are its implications?
Inter-caste tensions have certainly risen as a result. But do we see increases in violence (and at times, more severe violence than 20 or 30 years ago), or in grudgingly negotiated accommodations between castes to pre-empt violence, or in uneasy stalemates between castes which stop short of violence? Field research in twelve diverse regions and sub-regions indicates that all three of these things have increased in recent years. But in most regions, accommodations appear to have outnumbered acts of physical violence (against persons and property).
Those accommodations result not from a change of heart among the so-called ‘higher’ castes, but from a change of mind. There is next to no evidence of empathy among them for Dalits. Their self-restraint amid rising tensions is the result of calculations that violence will ensnare ‘higher’ castes in unacceptably severe difficulties.
This talk will explain why inter-caste violence within one village almost never spreads to other nearby localities. It will also explain how inter-caste accommodations are forged. It will discuss conditions which increase or decrease the likelihood of violence – and how ‘higher’ castes’ exits, distractions and disengagements from village power dynamics often facilitate accommodations. It will also examine trends that may make accommodations more difficult to arrange in the future.