The phenomenon of caste has probably aroused more controversy than any other aspect of Indian life and thought. Susan Bayly's cogent and sophisticated analysis explores the emergence of the ideas, experiences and practices which gave rise to the so-called 'caste society' from the pre-colonial period to the end of the twentieth century. Using an historical and anthropological approach, she frames her analysis within the context of India's dynamic economic and social order, interpreting caste not as an essence of Indian culture and civilization, but rather as a contingent and variable response to the changes that occurred in the subcontinent's political landscape through the colonial conquest. The idea of caste in relation to Western and Indian 'orientalist' thought is also explored.
• A wide-ranging study of caste which covers 350 years from pre-colonial period to present day and offers an historical/anthropological approach to interpretations • Interdisciplinary study appealing to students of Indian history, as well as to anthropologists, colonial historians and religious studies students • Very accessible and beautifully written
Introduction; 1. Historical origins of a 'caste society'; 2. The 'Brahman Raj': kings and service people, c. 1700–1830; 3. Western 'Orientalists and the Colonial perception of caste'; 4. Caste and the modern nation: incubus or essence; 5. The everyday experience of caste in Colonial India; 6. Caste debate and the emergence of Gandhian Nationalism; 7. State policy and 'reservations': the politicization of caste-based social welfare goals; 8. Caste in the everyday life of Independent India; 9. 'Caste wars' and the mandate of violence; Conclusion.
'The book is extraordinary in the diversity of themes that it handles and the chronological span it covers. ... What emerges is an extraordinarily nuanced understanding of caste that satisfies the historian and provokes the social anthropologist.' Dr Seema Alavi, The Book Review
'Susan Bayley deserves praise for attempting to explain how caste in India has come to mean what it does today. Her analysis covers almost the entire Indian subcontinent, something which today is a rarity, given the current trend of ever more narrowly focused studies.' The Journal of Peasant Studies