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Ketaki Jaywant is the winner of the 2021 Sardar Patel Award

Ketaki Jaywant is the winner of the 2021 Sardar Patel Award

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Ketaki won the award for a dissertation entitled "Secularizing Caste: Mapping Nineteenth-Century Anti-caste Politics in Western India," completed at the University of Minnesota.


CISA is delighted to announce Ketaki Jaywant as the winner for the 2021 Sardar Patel Award (which honors the best doctoral dissertation on any aspect of modern India in any U.S. University or academic institution) for her dissertation, ‘Secularizing Caste: Mapping Nineteenth-Century Anti-caste Politics in Western India’, done at the University of Minnesota. Please join us in congratulating her for this exciting and inspiring work! She will share her work at an award ceremony at UCLA on Sunday 8 October.

Abstract: While caste identities had always mattered for this-worldly social processes, early nineteenth century upper-caste reformers from Bombay, secularized caste by untangling it from its divine moorings and grounding it wholly in social processes. This secularization of caste was important for it opened doors for possible a social transformation. However, middle class social reformers viewed caste in individual terms; for them it was an assemblage of rituals and religious performances that obstructed their free movement in the public world. However, by the mid-nineteenth century, as the first generation of semi-literate lower-caste writers gained a foothold in the growing vernacular print world, caste reform emerged as a contested terrain. They refused to separate caste from its religious iterations. In fact, they argued that the inequalities of the caste order were rooted in the very foundations of Hindu religion and its ‘unethical’ principles. Thus, Shudra writers secularized caste by making the very corpus of Hindu religion the object of critique. Thus, Secularizing caste shows how the caste question was systematically reframed as a primarily political phenomenon by lower-caste reformers and writers in western India. Drawing on thus far unexplored Marathi-language writings on caste in the nineteenth century, including rare treatises, newspapers, periodicals, my dissertation offers a novel account of how amateur lower-caste writers, who otherwise worked as shopkeepers, construction contractors, and tailors departed from the elite-liberal discourse on caste reform. My research focuses on how lower caste radicals criticized caste in diverse registers drawn from both the subcontinent and the wider world, especially North America. On the one hand, they cited subversive poetry of early-modern poet saints and drew on ninth-century Buddhist texts critical of Brahman domination. On the other hand, they illuminated the exploitation intrinsic to the caste system by drawing on the vocabulary of antislavery politics. By positioning themselves as the rightful heirs to indigenous heterodox intellectual traditions, and by vernacularizing North American abolitionist vocabulary, anti-caste radicals fashioned a new political discourse.

Bio: Ketaki Jaywant is an Assistant Professor of Asian History at Washington and Jefferson College. She completed her PhD in History in the History department at the University of Minnesota. She specializes in Modern South Asia with research interest in the history of caste and social reform, politics of knowledge, Marathi-print world, global circulation of categories of race and caste, and the history of intellectual trends and critical thought in South Asia.