ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Caste and Power in Villages of Colonial Bengal

An exposition of four court cases demonstrates that by the late 1920s, the educated middle classes wielded the colonial state apparatus. Moreover, the colonial state had partially delinked the premodern affiliation of local muscle to the local hubs of power. Therefore, at the village level, local malcontents were isolated and booked for lawbreaking. Villagers/village communities were located within a caste-based social structure, though caste hierarchies in Tamluk seemed more fluid. They also had the option to activate the (ideally) caste-neutral state apparatus, which sharpened their perceptions of legal subjectivity, and increased their stake in the government.

The fieldwork for this article was carried out in 2015–16 as part of fellowship granted by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. The author would like to gratefully acknowledge the extra funds made available to scholars for data collection, Sagnik Saha for assistance on the article, and the pertinent and critical insights made by the peer reviewer.

The postcolonial Indian state inherited the categories as well as the technologies of modern governance from the colonial state, especially its foundational discourse, law and order, and its analogous institutions, the legal and penal systems. These ranged from “law,” “law and order,” “rule of law,” “good governance,” to “justice.” All these categories, though their rationale and their political grammar sprang from the Western intellectual tradition, used the rhetoric of traditional indigenous claims to legitimacy—the ruler as the benevolent and generous donor of worldly goods, the universal protector, the just and even-handed patriarchal power which represented the popular expression of the ideal ruler—and the colonial state infused these into the phrase mai-baap government. These claims to legitimacy, singly or together, at some time or the other, had occupied the centre stage of colonial governance.

The Middle Class

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Updated On : 24th Apr, 2020
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