Sara Dickey
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Conundrums of caste, history, and truth
Hindu Nadar identities in urban South India
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Nadars occupy a uniquely disjunctive set of social positions in southern India. Historically viewed as one of the lowest ranked castes in the region, over the past two centuries they have also become one of the wealthiest. In negotiating identities and social status today, Nadars must balance the honour of their socioeconomic class with the continuing stigma of their caste. Part of this effort involves claims made on history to explain past and present standings. Such claims are especially likely to appear in the recounting of family history. This chapter uses such accounts – which chart movements across both space and hierarchy – to explore urban Hindu Nadars’ discursive strategies for managing disjunctive identities. They range from claiming expulsion from uppermost echelons during ancient regime changes; to acknowledging centuries-old degradation, albeit now overcome by a singular work ethic; to highlighting shared past discrimination with ‘untouchables’ as a radical critique of caste inequalities. Examining embedded class, caste, and religious politics, I consider the potential outcomes, losses, and gains of each strategy. Drawing from Caste and the Economic Frontier, Gifts and Poison and The Kingdom of Individuals, I build on Bailey’s insights into honour and reputation, caste mobility, and collective vs. individual goods.

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