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Past of the Future

Manjur Ali

Edited by Satish Deshpande
Orient BlackSwan, Noida, 2014, pp. 436, Rs. 595.00


A dalit died and 40 others injured in an attack by the upper caste while dalits in Rohtas, Bihar, were trying to unfurl the national flag. A dalit woman was beaten up by upper caste people for drawing potable water from government-dug deep tube well in Kendrapara, Odisha.1 A dalit boy E. Ilavarasan was allegedly murdered in Tamil Nadu for marrying a girl from the Vanniyar caste. Rape of a dalit girl took place in Jind which the administration has been denying. Contrary to these incidents of attacks on socially disadvantage community, during the 16th Lok Sabha election many scholars have written an obituary to ‘caste politics’—social and political mobilization of caste groups for electoral success. Development modelled on the Gujarat experience was marketed by the campaign machinery. Yet, Narendra Modi often reminded voters about his OBC identity. Disguised identity politics under the agenda of growth created necessary political convulsion, which brings ‘deprived sections’ facing development deficit closer to the Bhartiya Janata Party. Hence, a political environment of conflicting claims and counter claims always puts forward the question of relevance and current form of the caste system in modern India. It is in this context, the book under review, a collection of forty articles from the Economic and Political Weekly spanning over 62 years takes us to the past of the future. The timing of the book could not have been better. However, the editor acknowledges the ‘presentist bias’ in the selection of the articles. 77.5 percent of total articles are from 1990-2012. The articles from three generations of scholars are an epistemological journey of study on caste in Indian Social Sciences. It coincides with the journey of modern India’s ‘Tryst with Destiny’. Hence, it also presents the evaluation of the project ‘Modern India’, whose source has been upper caste. It put the idea of Dr. Ambedkar about the ‘age of contradiction’ to the litmus test. The six sections of the book  deal with definitions of caste, various theoretical positions on it, class versus caste, Left parties’ role in dealing with caste questions, economic discrimination in modern industries, reservation versus merit debate, new social movement and caste question, the role of dalit women, etc. ‘How Egalitarian are the Social Sciences in India?’ written by Gopal Guru is an analysis of domination of upper caste in social science theory. Guru discusses how ‘theoretical Brahmins’ have paved the way for epistemological imperialism. Guru ...

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