South Asia

Organized Panel Session

5 - Ways of Knowing: Asari Practices in Twentieth Century Malabar, India

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

This paper explores the issues of the dichotomy of mental and manual labor in the context of artisanal practices in early colonial India. It analyzes the possibilities and limitations of notions such as indigenous knowledge, embodied knowledge and so on as an alternative to the Eurocentric knowledge practices that dominate our academic scholarship. Analyzing the practices of Asaris (carpenters) in the early twentieth century Malabar, I argue that while many of the oppressed caste groups imagined colonial education as a liberating opportunity, craftsmen were hesitant to enter into the colonial mode of knowledge production. Scholars considered community reform movements as reactions to the colonial attempts of modernization and modern education is central to this process of modernization. In other words, in a modernizing world, given an opportunity, every community and individual will seek knowledge, as knowledge is intrinsically connected to the natural desire of human beings for welfare and progress. However, a close observation of the Asari world in the first half of the twentieth century tells us a different story.  In this period, by actively ignoring/avoiding the opportunities provided by the colonizers, Asaris refused to reinterpret their practice based on colonial categorizations. In the refusal to define asarippani in the colonial categories, Asaris were not using some traditional categories to define their work; rather they were redefining their work in their own new categories which they thought will help in keeping a distance from the colonial state.

Sunandan K N

Azim Premji University, India

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