Caste has long since acquired the status of a ‘foundational category’ in anthropological thought (Mathur 2000: 97). As one of the discipline’s most important gate-keeping concepts (Appadurai 1986), it has historically constituted perhaps the most widely used lens through which scholars have viewed social life in India. As several of the contributions to this volume point out, however, West Bengal is often portrayed as an exception when one speaks about caste in India – and particularly, if the question of caste is tied to a discussion of politics. As Partha Chatterjee wrote in his important 1982 essay on ‘Caste and Politics in West Bengal’:
On several aspects of contemporary politics, West Bengal appears to fall outside the general all-India pattern. Ask an informed observer whether caste has any great influence on present-day West Bengal politics and he is likely to reply: ‘Very little’.