ABSTRACT

Historical anthropologists of modern India, such as Bernard Cohn (1996), Arjun Appadurai (1993), and Nicholas Dirks (2001), have argued forcefully that caste, as a modern social institution, came to be revived and reproduced by the colonial state via its classificatory and enumerative policies. Yet, this colonialism-centred perspective, though useful in many senses, obscures the everyday sociocultural and politicaleconomic processes by which the colonised organised themselves under colonial overlordship. Insofar as caste is a system of organising labour on the basis of a hierarchical social logic, it is important to understand how distinctive ‘regional modernities’ (Sivaramakrishnan and Agrawal 2003) were built, quite literally, on the backs of labouring groups assigned the lowest ritual and socio-economic status in these new regions.