Caste, Conflict, and Ideology
Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in Nineteenth-Century Western India
By Rosalind O'Hanlon
Cambridge South Asian Studies (No. 30)
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 1985
Online Publication Date:October 2009
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511563379.003
In recent years, the perspectives provided by the history of specific castes or caste groupings have proved increasingly useful to historians looking at the broader changes taking place in South Asian society. This focus upon individual castes, and their changing fortunes under British rule, has acted as a healthy counter-balance to the study of political change in the larger societies of region and Presidency. Regional political studies, with their emphasis on British administrative and political institutions, have illustrated the complex interactions that lay behind the growth of some of the predominant styles of political organisation amongst Indians themselves. However, too great a preoccupation with the political responses of those who responded rapidly and directly to the extensions of British institutions leaves us in danger of undervaluing the very important role that older caste groupings, identities and ideologies played in the political mobilisation of many other areas of South Asian society.
There is a need to recognise that older groupings and identities formed the ideological background to the competing attempts of castes at all levels to adapt to the decay of some kinds of power and opportunity, and to their re-creation in new areas of society.
We may well be convinced, in principle, of the need for a wider definition of what constitutes ‘political’ activity in nineteenth-century South Asia. However, this shift of emphasis towards the investigation of older social structures and group identities, and their role in the nineteenth century, brings its own set of problems.