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The Origins, History, and Present Practice of Untouchability

A RISA-L Annotated Bibliography


By J. E. Llewellyn, Missouri State University

Aktor, Mikael. Ritualization and Segregation: The Untouchability Complex in the Scholarly Indian Lliterature on Dharma with Special Reference to Parasarasmrti and Parasaramadhaviya. Ph.D. dissertation. Copenhagen, University of Copenhagen, 1997. Unpublished but can be loaned through interlibrary loan from The Royal Library in Copenhagen.

Aktor, Mikael, "Rules of Untouchability in Ancient and Medieval Law Books: Householders, Competence and Inauspiciousness." International Journal of Hindu Studies 6, 3 (2002): 243-274. For an approach that sees "untouchability" as a total complex (caste as well as other untouchable categories such as menstruating women, etc.).

Beteille, A. Caste, Class and Power.: Changing Patterns of Stratification in a Tanjore Village. Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1966.

Biardeau, M. Hinduism, the Anthropology of a Civilization. Translated from the French by Richard Nice. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Bremen, Jan. Patronage and Exploitation: Changing Agrarian Relations in South Gujarat, India. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974. Good place to start for modern historical accounts of Dalits as agrarian landless laborers.

Clark-Deces, Isabella. No One Cries for the Dead: Tamil Dirges, Rowdy Songs, and Graveyard Petitions. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. Ethnographies of various Dalit groups in different parts of India; for Tamil Nadu, a new excellent study.

Clarke, Sathianathan. Dalits and Christianity: Subaltern Religion and Liberation Theology in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Dangle,  Arjun, ed.  Poisoned bread : translations from modern Marathi Dalit literature.  Bombay: Orient Longman, c1992.

Deliege, Robert. The Untouchables of India. Oxford: Berg, 1999.

Deliege, Robert. The World of the "Untouchables": Paraiyars of Tamil Nadu. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997. Ethnographies of various Dalit groups in different parts of India; for Tamil Nadu, influential works are by Robert Deliege, Kathleen Gough.

Dubey, Siddharth. Words Like Freedomm: The Memoirs of an Impoverished Indian Family, 1947-97. Delhi: HarperCollins Publishers India, 1998. Wonderfully up close account‹in their own words or reported conversations‹of several generations of a single untouchable family.

Galanter, Marc. Competing Equalities: Law and the Backward Classes in Contemporary India. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. The best source on postcolonial policies of compensatory discrimination.

Gorringe, H. Untouchable Citizens : Dalit Movements and Democratization in Tamil Nadu. Delhi: Sage Publications, 2005.

Gough, K. "Harijans in Thanjavur." In Imperialism and Revolution in South Asia, K. Gough and H. Sharma, eds., 222-245. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973.

Habib, I. Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception. London: Anthem Press, 2002.

Hanumanthan, K.R. Untouchability: A Historical Study up to 1500 A.D. (with Special Reference to Tamil Nadu). Madurai: Koodal Publishers, 1979. With some information about the social history of South India.

Ilaiah, Kancha. Buffalo Nationalism. No publication information found. Collection of short pieces originally published in the popular press, accessible and lively.

Ilaiah, Kancha. Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy. Kolkata: Samya, 1996.

Jadhav, Narendra. Untouchables: My Family's Triumphant Journey Out of the Caste System in Modern India. New York: Scribner, 2005. Author is chief economist of the Reserve Bank of India.

Jaffrelot, Christopher. Dr. Ambedkar and Untouchability: Fighting the Indian Caste System. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

Jha, Vivekanand N. "Candala and the Origin of Untouchability". The Indian Historical Review 13, 1-2 (no date): 1-36. For the history of untouchability.

Jha, Vivekanand. "From Tribe to Untouchable: The Case of Nisadas." In Indian Society: Historical Probings, R. S. Sharma and Vivekanand Jha, eds., 67-84. Delhi: ICHR and People's Publishing House, 1974.

Jha, Vivekanand. "Social Stratification in Ancient India: Some Reflections." Social Scientist 19, 3-4 (no date): 19-40.

Jha, Vivekanand N. "Stages in the History of Untouchability". The Indian Historical Review 2, 1 (no date): 14-31. For the history of untouchability.

Jondhale, Surendra and Johannes Beltz, eds.  Reconstructing the World: B.R. Ambedkar and Buddhism in India.  New Delhi, Oxford Univ. Press, 2004. (with lots of recent bibliography)

Kosambi, D. D. The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956.

Lamb, Ramdas. Rapt in the Name: The Ramnamis, Ramnam, and Untouchable Religion in Central India. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002. Deals with  Harijan religious movements in Central India, addresses the issue of untouchability and also gives some bio sketches.

Leslie, Julie. Authority and Meaning in Indian Religions: Hinduism and the Case of Valmiki. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003. Chapter two has a good overview of the subject and refers to many important sources.

Mahar, J. Michael, and S. Chandrasekhar, eds. Untouchables in Contemporary India. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1972. A classic which provides good historical, legal and ethnographic perspectives in one volume.

Mencher, J.: 1972.  "Continuity and Change in an Ex-Community of South India." In The Untouchables in Contemporary India, J. Michael Mahar and S. Chandrasekhar, eds., 33-58. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1972.

Mendelsohn, O., and M. Vicziany. The Untouchables: Subordination, Poverty, and the State in Modern India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Narula, Smita. Broken People: Caste Violence against India's "Untouchables". New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999. Describes the rise of violence against Dalits in the 1990s.

Prakash, Gyan. Bonded Histories: Genealogies of Labor Servitude in Colonial India. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Good place to start for modern historical accounts of Dalits as agrarian landless laborers.

Prasad, Chandra Bhan. Dalit Diary, 1999-2003: Reflections on Apartheid in India: Selected from the Weekly Column in the Pioneer. Pondicherry, Navayana, 2004. Collection of short pieces originally published in the popular press, accessible and lively.

Sharma, Ram Sharan. Sudras in Ancient India: A Social History of the lower order down to circa A.D. 600. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1958 (and later editions). For the history of untouchability.

Viramma, Josiane Racine,  and Jean-Luc Racine. Viramma: Life of an Untouchable. London: Verso, 1997. Excellent life-account of the "Adidravidar" (=Tamil untouchable) woman, translated on the basis of interview-recordings.

Webster, John. Dalit Christians: A History. 2d ed. Delhi: ISPCK, 1994.

Zelliot, Eleanor and Rohini Mokashi-Punekar. Untouchable Saints: An Indian Phenomenon. Manohar, 2005. (Has articles on Tiruppan Alvar, Nandanar, Chokamela, Soyrabai, Banka Mahar, Nirmala, Karmamela, and Ravidas. Vasudha Narayan writes: <<A disclaimer about my article in it--it was written about 13-14 years ago and I was quite surprised to suddenly get the book.  I do not recall using the word "untouchable" -- but, alas, my essay seems to be liberally sprinkled with the term.>>)


Thanks for suggestions from Simon Brodbeck, Rupa Viswanath, Mikael Aktor, Linda Hess, S. Palaniappan, Ulrike Niklas, Vasudha Narayan, and John Oliver Perry.




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Revised: November 01, 2005