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March 23, 2011
11 b&w illus., 1 map
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v2.1 Reference

Reconsidering Untouchability

Chamars and Dalit History in North India

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.

About the Author

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


"Reconsidering Untouchability overall stands as an authoritative challenge to conventional accounts of Dalit history."—American Historical Review

"Awarded the Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences, Ramnarayan Rawat's Reconsidering Untouchability charts a new trajectory for scholarship on Dalitis in North India."—The Journal of Asian Studies

"Rawat's Reconsidering Untouchability is a valuable addition to [the] recent tradition of caste interpretation . . . [He] elicits from the history of the Chamars of . . . Uttar Pradesh a historiographical and sociological position which is both viable and distinctive, identifies new departures for a history of 'untouchability' itself, and defends the position from challenges. April 2012"—Ssheej Hegde, Central University Hyderabad

"This engaging historiography of Dalit identity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in northern India is a significant contribution to understanding the situation of the "untouchables" in Indian society as a whole."—Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

"A timely and important contribution to the study of modern India. Rawat's excellent and revisionist piece of Dalit history successfully overturns the stereotypical image of Chamars as leather-workers. It also helps us to understand why the ex-untouchables of north India came to invest in a politics of identity that challenged both nationalists and socialists alike."—Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago

"Challenges and revises our understanding of the historical and contemporary role of dalits in Indian society. A pathbreaking book that rightfully restores the historical agency of and gives voice to dalits in north India."—Anand A. Yang, University of Washington
Indiana University Press
Contemporary Indian Studies

9780253222626 : reconsidering-untouchability-rawat
Paperback / softback
298 Pages
$28.00 USD

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