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The Decline of the Caste Question

Book description

This revisionist history of caste politics in twentieth-century Bengal argues that the decline of this form of political mobilization in the region was as much the result of coercion as of consent. It traces this process through the political career of Jogendranath Mandal, the leader of the Dalit movement in eastern India and a prominent figure in the history of India and Pakistan, over the transition of Partition and Independence. Utilising Mandal's private papers, this study reveals both the strength and achievements of his movement for Dalit recognition, as well as the major challenges and constraints he encountered. Departing from analyses that have stressed the role of integration, Dwaipayan Sen demonstrates how a wide range of coercions shaped the eventual defeat of Dalit politics in Bengal. The region's acclaimed 'castelessness' was born of the historical refusal of Mandal's struggle to pose the caste question.


‘This pioneering and probing study of Jogendranath Mandal and his political predicament adds a completely new dimension to the history of Bengal. It brings out in detail some enduring caste-conflicts that marked the politics of the partition of the province and that have so far gone unacknowledged in mainstream histories of the subcontinent. An original and lasting contribution to modern South Asian history.’

Dipesh Chakrabarty - University of Chicago

‘With lucidity and passion, Sen recovers a profoundly important history of Bengal Dalit self-assertion between 1930s and 1960s. Focussing on a remarkable leader, it grows into the biography of a 'general category': provocatively arguing that Dalit politics was crushed by, and not integrated into, mainstream nationalism.’

Tanika Sarkar - Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi

‘This is a crucially important book that will help solve the mystery of the disappearance of the caste question from West Bengal's politics. Focusing on the career of Jogendranath Mandal, the foremost political leader of the Namasudra caste in the 1940s, Sen has brought to our attention much new archival material and raised some provocative questions.’

Partha Chatterjee - Columbia University, New York, and Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta

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