Caste, complicity, and the contemporary

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter insists on two dueling frameworks: “caste” and “ contemporaneity.” Presumed to be mutually exclusive, one is marked, the other clear and transparent, one archaic, the other heralding the new, one evoking dirty realisms and realpolitik, the other, the freedoms of abstraction. This chapter will insist on the intertwining of caste and the contemporary in order to argue that the contemporary is a category constructed by and around caste, rather than a radical break from it, or a true Novum in the Blochian sense, the time/space of the contemporary is, in fact, in complicity with caste. It is now a truism to say that caste does not disappear with what we refer to as modernity but takes new and subtle forms. Caste “prejudice,” caste conflict, casteist violence, and caste humiliation have all accommodated themselves to institutions and bureaucracies, colleges and community gyms. And caste identitarianism, of which Dalit literary movements are no small part, has become increasingly important for both structural and affective reasons. How does caste insert itself into the discourse of the casteless contemporary? We will examine here the modalities via which caste politics makes itself visible in Dalit autobiography, the Anglophone novel, the contemporary Hindi novel, and new Dalit fiction. Contemporaneity, as a concept, poses a kind of problem. Unlike modernity, large and long enough to include vernacular, subaltern, and other downtrodden if politically suspect versions of itself, contemporaneity is presumed to be secular, post-identitarian, and fleeting, most importantly, its globality is implicit. There are many different contemporaries, but contemporaneity is not the province of one region, sector or “world”, it is not, in other words, a gift granted to the colony by the metropole. The contemporary is theorized and represented by both honor killings and occupation, footloose construction and air travel. This is why in one of Hindi Dalit writer Ajay Navariya's stories, the chaiwallah in his ramshackle stand is glued to both “an international channel … now showing pictures of Saddam Hussein” (“New” 74) and the vulture-like investigation of a passerby's caste identity. Contemporaneity need not be progressive, in either sense of the word, but rather collagist. And in this inheres the tragedy of the contemporary, which, though ringing with newness and emergence in the work of many postmodern theorists, is a problematic continuity of time past.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationA History of the Indian Novel in English
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781139942355
ISBN (Print)9781107079960
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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