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. 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.
‘Rupa Viswanath has carried out an extraordinary feat of historical scholarship.. The Pariah Problem is a breakthrough in modern South Asian studies .’—Partha Chatterjee, Columbia University, New York and The Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.
‘The book has been able to put together a very important story about the struggle of a community, the colonial apathy, the interface with missionaries and an ever-growing assertion of basic human rights’—Business Standard
‘Viswanath brilliantly demonstrates the intertwining of the colonial and the missionary discourses and shows ultimately they become to inform each other. What she offers is a tour-de-force in the historian’s craft.’—David Washbrook, Trinity College, Cambridge.
‘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