Reconsidering Untouchability: Chamars and Dalit History in North India

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Indiana University Press, 2011 - History - 272 pages
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Often identified as leatherworkers or characterized as a criminal caste, Chamars of North India have long been stigmatized as untouchables. In this pathbreaking study, Ramnarayan S. Rawat shows that in fact the majority of Chamars have always been agriculturalists, and their association with the ritually impure occupation of leatherworking has largely been constructed through Hindu, colonial, and postcolonial representations of untouchability. Rawat undertakes a comprehensive reconsideration of the history, identity, and politics of this important Dalit group. Using Dalit vernacular literature, local-level archival sources, and interviews in Dalit neighborhoods, he reveals a previously unrecognized Dalit movement which has flourished in North India from the earliest decades of the 20th century and which has recently achieved major political successes.

  

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Contents

Untouchable Boundaries
1
The Crime of Cattle Poisoning
24
Chamar Peasants and Agricultural Laborers
54
3 Is the Leather Industry a Chamar Enterprise? The Making of Leatherworkers
85
Chamar Histories and Politics
120
The Making of an Achhut Identity and Politics 192756
155
Overcoming Domination The Emergence of a New Achhut Identity
185
Statistical Tables
191
Glossary
201
Notes
205
Bibliography
235
Index
261
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About the author (2011)

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Ramnarayan S. Rawat is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Delaware.

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