Caste Pride is a radically new history of caste, based on previously unseen legislative and judicial records going back over two centuries. It traces battles for equality that affected all castes, in varying degrees and forms. Indeed, the rationale behind the ironic title, Caste Pride, is to signal a shift in the gaze, from the plight of the marginalised castes to the dilemmas and conflicts within the upper castes and dominant castes.
The stirring stories of courage and conviction narrated in this book throw light on an array of historical characters who never got their due. The struggles waged by equality champions to overcome caste prejudice predated the freedom struggle and carry on even after decolonisation.
As for the even more sacrosanct tradition of untouchability, it took many more years of hard negotiations led by the likes of Ambedkar to codify penalties against its various forms. While endogamy remains the norm among Hindus, the systemic reluctance to deal sternly with untouchability escalated the violence against Dalits, way beyond anything that Gandhi and Ambedkar had encountered in their lifetimes. Against this fraught backdrop, the book brings out some of the patterns of impunity despite all the rhetoric and statutory provisions against caste violence. The wealth of new material on the intersection of law and caste provides insights on a problem that persists because of its deep roots or ‘civilisational’ justification in Hindu India.
Those who tiptoed around caste or blatantly opposed its reform were not always from overtly Hindu formations. Indeed, freedom fighters were not necessarily equality champions. The historical revelations offered by the book underlie many of the fault lines of today’s India.
Manoj Mitta is a Delhi-based print journalist focused on law, human rights and social justice. A law graduate from Hyderabad, he has been a senior editor with the Times of India and Indian Express, besides working with India Today magazine.
Caste Pride: Battles for Equality in Hindu India is Mitta’s third book. His earlier books were on the two most egregious instances of mass violence in the Indian Republic: When a Tree Shook Delhi: The 1984 Carnage and its Aftermath (2007) and The Fiction of Fact-finding: Modi and Godhra (2014).
He was awarded the New India Foundation Fellowship in 2017-18 to research caste-based mass violence. He owes this book likewise to a five-month research stint in 2015-16 in Washington DC courtesy of a fellowship from the National Endowment for Democracy, which helped him gain a comparative legal perspective on race and caste.