Hindus, Muslims, and Untouchables in Eighteenth-Century South Asia
What is the line that separates those with caste from outcastes? In the eyes of caste elites, this line was mutable. Depending on context, an outcaste could be anyone except rajputs, brahmans, and merchants. Despite shifting lines, the bhangi was indisputably and always “untouchable”. How and why did the bhangi come to constitute the extreme Other for Gandhi and for generations to come? What did this history have to do with Hindu–Muslim relations? Merchants of Virtue offers a granular, everyday account of the construction and practice of untouchability and its relationship with Hindu-ness in the kingdom of Marwar in eighteenth-century western India.
Divya Cherian uncovers how Marwari merchants enforced their caste ideals of vegetarianism and bodily austerity as universal markers of Hindu identity mobilizing the law and the state in their favor. They successfully remade the category of “Hindu” as antithetical to the “Untouchable”, and in the process reconfigured Muslims in caste terms. This book, for the first time, explores the key role that merchants played in the politics of caste and untouchability, and in defining who is a Hindu.
Divya Cherian is assistant professor in the Department of History at Princeton University.
In the Media:
‘A new book about at what it means to be a Hindu … which busts many truisms’—The Print
An excerpt from the book was published in Scroll.in.
An excerpt from the book was published in Forward Press.
‘Merchants of Virtue offers a refreshingly different perspective on the history of caste and untouchability in India’—Gopal Guru
‘A punctiliously researched and powerfully argued account of one chapter in a most painful history of social oppression’—Sheldon Pollock
‘Offers plenty of fascinating insights into kingship and the caste hierarchy in punishments for crimes like abortion and alcohol consumption’—Cynthia Talbot
‘A pathbreaking book that explodes essentialist views of the construction of Hindu and Muslim identities in pre-colonial India’—Christian Lee Novetzke