South Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - Disciplining Caste Bodies: Manual Training for the Poor and the Pariah in Colonial Madras

Saturday, July 7
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Jacaranda II, First Floor

Through an examination of missionary and theosophical interventions in mass education, this paper investigates anxieties around reform of lower caste bodies in colonial Madras. Whereas caste provided the basis for inferiorizing bodily work over the work of the mind, orientalist constructions attributed a special kind of mental discipline and moral character to craftsmanship. Craft provided the model of industrious activity that ultimately inflected the discourse of ‘uplift’ of depressed classes, including women, and ‘pariah’ or outcast groups, even as dominant notions of caste naturalized manual occupations as hereditary aptitude.

In the first part of the paper we discuss how missionaries deployed industrial schools as a means for ostensibly erasing prevailing caste and gender prejudices to achieve goals of social and economic reform. In the second part, we explore how theosophists reconstituted manual training within an evolutionary framework of race and culture for the sanitization of lower caste bodies. 


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