- Fellowship year:2017-2018
- University: Columbia University
- Dissertation Topic/Category: South Asia
- Dissertation Title: Reimagining the Hindu Ethical Self: Caste , Untouchability and Hindu Theology in India, 1899-1948
My dissertation interrogates the central contradiction between the ethical and political ways of being Hindu particularly through an examination of the interplay between the categories of Jati (caste), Bhakti (devotionalism) and Hindutva (Hinduness) in the Western Indian region of Maharashtra, from 1899 to 1948. I analyze how an egalitarian Hindu ethic was imagined through an engagement with the interlocking hierarchies of caste, untouchability and gender that structured the Marathi public sphere. By challenging the centrality of colonial and legal registers in modern South Asian historiography, my project locates the 'Hindu self" along multiple vernacular invocations, religious traditions, and cultural formations.
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 the ethical 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. I argue that the ethical value of Hinduism 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.