“Caste” is today almost universally perceived as an ancient and unchanging Hindu institution preserved solely by deep-seated religious ideology. Yet the word itself is an importation from sixteenth-century Europe.
This book tracks the long history of the practices amalgamated under this label and shows their connection to changing patterns of social and political power down to the present. It frames caste as an involuted and complex form of ethnicity and explains why it persisted under non-Hindu rulers and in non-Hindu communities across South Asia.
Sumit Guha has a History PhD (1981) from the University of Cambridge. He is Frances Higginbotham Nalle Centennial Professor in History at the University of Texas at Austin. His previous books include Environment and Ethnicity in India, c.1200–1991 (1999), and Health and Population in South Asia from Earliest Times to the Present (2001).
“Sumit Guha’s Beyond Caste is the most important synoptic study of caste since Louis Dumont’s Homo Hierarchicus. Guha is an historian, not an anthropologist, but anthropologists should take note. He has marshalled a vast array of evidence drawn from native and pre-colonial sources, rather than the more conveniently accessible colonial reconstructions that Dumont and others depended on, along with an up-to-date reading of historical literatures few anthropologists are aware of, to powerfully challenge both popular and anthropological common sense on the topic.”
“A new book on such a profoundly challenging and yet overworked subjectneeded to join a number of qualities. Beyond Caste combines theoretical rigour,a close knowledge of the archives, the ambition to bridge the gulf of time andlink the premodern, the early-modern, the colonial and the present in a “longuedurée” account, and an elegant writing style enhanced by a fine sense of humour.These characteristics, present in many of Sumit Guha’s publications, make himone of the most interesting and stimulating social historians today. This workjustifies that reputation.”
“. . . there is much in this book besides caste, all of which is worth engaging with. Thebook opens up new questions and invites us to imagine India and its pasts afresh.”
—Surinder S. Jodhka