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Lower Strata, Older Races, and Aboriginal Peoples: Racial Anthropology and Mythical History Past and Present

  • Sumit Guha

As K. Sivaramakrishnan has pointed out in a paper published in 1993, one of the persistent ironies of postcoloniality “has been the way elites assuming the task of building a national culture and providing it with a liberatory/progressive history have turned to modes of knowledge and reconstruction produced in the colonial period.” And of the varied strands that have constituted the twentieth-century knowledge and self-knowledge of India, none is more central than the notion of the timeless, conservative caste, and its antediluvian ancestor, the unchanging primitive tribe (Sivaramakrishnan 1993; Inden 1990, 70–72). In this view South Asians, like other unprogressive people, did not change—they merely accumulated, with the latest addition to the population overlaying its predecessor, much as geological strata did. This paper will attempt to expose the historic roots and explore the contemporary ramifications of this model.

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