South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Silencing the Caste Question in West Bengal

Friday, July 6
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Amaltas, Lower Ground Floor

Until recent years, the absence of caste-based mobilizations in West Bengal’s electoral politics led to the perception that caste is non-existent in Bengal and an irrelevant category in the analysis of politics in the state. The dominance of leftist political culture and the disproportionate hegemony of urban, educated, upper-caste Hindu bhadralok perpetuated the notion that caste is a regressive feudal legacy and in ‘modern’ times class equality remains the only progressive and determinant category in politics. Thus the subsumption of caste question in the politics of class made demands for caste-based political aspirations a non-viable option. This conscious silencing of the caste question gave rise to scholarly concepts of ‘hyper-invisibilization of caste’ in the state, ‘West Bengal exceptionalism’ as well as ‘absent-minded casteism. However, caste-based exclusionary processes and even untouchability remained a notable feature of both public and private lives of the upper-caste bhadralok. Yet such atrocities were denied beneath the “classless” camaraderie. This paper demonstrates the modes through which the groundswell of resentment over caste-based atrocities and deliberated discrimination was skillfully managed by the upper caste, modern, liberal, bhadralok by the virtue of their preponderance in social, cultural and political turfs and control over socio-cultural capital. It establishes the facticity of upper caste dominance in West Bengal by citing statistical evidence, instances of social sanction when caste norms were transgressed, and personal narratives of respondents.

Maroona Murmu

Jadavpur University, India

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