Often identified as leatherworkers or characterized as a criminal caste, the Chamars of North India have long been stigmatized as untouchables. In this pathbreaking study, Ramnarayan S. Rawat shows that in fact the majority of Chamars have always been agriculturalists, and their association with the ritually impure occupation of leatherworking has largely been constructed through Hindu, colonial, and postcolonial representations of untouchability.
Rawat undertakes a comprehensive reconsideration of the history, identity, and politics of this important Dalit group. Using Dalit vernacular literature, local-level archival sources, and interviews in Dalit neighborhoods, he reveals a previously unrecognized Dalit movement which has flourished in North India from the earliest decades of the twentieth century and which has recently achieved major political successes.
‘A milestone in the study of caste. Based on a wealth of archival, vernacular, and ethnographic sources, Rawat reformulates questions of untouchability, impure occupation, and identity, and reveals a previously unrecognized history of Dalit political mobilization in North India dating back to the 1910s and 1920s.’
—Gopal Guru, Jawaharlal Nehru University
‘A wonderfully full and enlightening book which opens up a critical aspect of Indian social history.’
—C.A. Bayly, Cambridge University