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South Asia Without Borders Seminar

James Manor, Professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Chair: Parimal Patil, Professor of Religion and Indian Philosophy, Committee on the Study of Religion, FAS, Chair of the Department of South Asian Studies

This talk will examine certain key implications of a monumentally important trend, the declining acceptance of caste hierarchies across rural India. When so-called ‘lower’ castes – especially Dalits (ex-untouchables) – refuse to acknowledge and even challenge the principle of hierarchy, what ensues? We might expect violence as ‘higher’ castes seek to enforce old injustices. Some of that has occurred, and taken more savage form than a generation ago. But such outrages are greatly outweighed by accommodations between Dalits and others when inter-caste tensions arise. Those accommodations are based not on a change of heart among ‘higher’ castes, but a change of mind – on measured calculations by ‘higher’ caste leaders. This talk will explain the logic of inter-caste accommodations between Dalits and one set of ‘higher’ castes, the formerly dominant landowning groups. It will focus briefly on the repertoire of actions which Dalits use to indicate their rejection of caste hierarchies, and then on the often difficult realities which landed castes face – and on their perceptions of them. Finally, it will deal with the negotiating processes which lead to accommodations – and of potential threats to those processes.

*Please note: This time of this seminar is different than other South Asia Without Borders Seminars