Theses Doctoral

Reimagining the Modern Hindu Self: Caste, Untouchability and Hindu Theology in Colonial South Asia, 1899-1948

Sarwate, Rahul Shirish

My dissertation project, ‘Reimagining the Modern Hindu Self: Caste, Untouchability and Hindu Theology in Colonial South Asia, 1899-1948’ examines the interrelationship between modern forms of Hinduness and the narratives of Progressivism in the context of Maharashtra, a region in Western India. I present a thick description of the complex social world of Marathi intellectuals and cultural actors of the early twentieth century through various discursive/philosophical writings, journals, newspapers, pamphlets, personal correspondence, biographies, as well as a wide range of literary corpus of novels, plays and literary criticism in Marathi. My project hopes to demonstrate that a deeper engagement with the vernacular discourses would be enriching and productive for South Asian intellectual history. My methodology involved an exploration of the dialogic and transformational relationships between the centre and the peripheries of ‘Hinduness’ across disparate sites of discursive productions like non-Brahmin print publics, theological debates and literary culture. Through an examination of the ways in which the various peripheries of Hinduness – like Untouchables, the non-Brahmin, the non-Hindu and the women – had transformed the ideas of what constituted the core of modern Hinduness, I argue that the various narratives of Maharashtra’s progressivism and a complex phenomenon of modern Hinduness were deeply implicated in the production of each other in the first half of the twentieth century.

My project identifies untouchables, women, anti-caste intellectuals, toilet cleaners, translators of Sanskrit texts and people who fasted unto death as crucial actors in this reimagination of modern Hindu self. Also, by providing a regionally specific history of Hindu ethic, my project challenges the Pan-Indian narrative of universal Hinduism that is privileged in the historiography of South Asia and enables me to argue that the ethical value of Hinduness was inherently political and the universal idea of Hinduness did not emerge through a singular genealogy. It is in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, that the contradiction between the ethical and political aspects of Hinduness became significant. My project is to write a long and complex history of this imperative moment that coincided with the dawn of independent India.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Ahmed, Manan
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 24, 2020