Pariah is a cruel word. For most speakers of English today, only the dimmest memory of what it once meant survives. But for its victims the cruelty is not forgotten, because it is not just a memory.
Rupa Viswanath, Professor of Indian religions at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies at the University of Göttingen published The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India with Navayana last year.
This is a book about the joint efforts of native elites and British colonizers to avoid facing the fact that they were the beneficiaries of that cruelty. Drawing on newly discovered sources, Viswanath traces the emergence of what was called the “Pariah Problem”. She shows how landlords, state officials, and well- intentioned missionaries conceptualized Dalit oppression in a way that foreclosed any real solutions: after all, the entire agrarian political-economic system depended on the unfree labor of those classed as untouchable.
Welfare efforts directed at Dalits—by the colonial state, Hindus and Christian missionaries—focused on religious and social reform, but not political empowerment or structural transformation. This laid the groundwork for the present day, where the postcolonial state and elite reformers continue to sideline issues of landlessness, violence, and political subordination.
The book has been widely appreciated. P. Sivakami, author and activist says: The nexus between dominant castes and the British rulers in dealing with the ‘Pariah Problem’ has been fully exposed. In the words of James Taneti, ‘Viswanath challenges the notion of ‘induced’ conversions and the caricatures of Dalit Christians as passive beneficiaries of missionary intervention.'
‘A brilliant scholarly achievement and a major political intervention … The Pariah Problem is most far-reaching in its implications, and at its devastating best, in documenting the ‘caste–state nexus’ that developed to contain—rather than to solve—this problem and continues to thwart genuine solutions today’—Mrinalini Sinha, University of Michigan
In paperback, 416 pages, Rs 495. ISBN: 9788189059729