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Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Dissatisfaction was one of the most anticipated non-fiction books of 2020. It certainly did not disappoint. Wilkerson’s razor-sharp analysis of ongoing racism in America depends on the concept of caste. “A caste system,” she writes, “is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded hierarchy of human worth.” In a caste-dominated society, people are divided into highly stratified and rigid groups, separated by social boundaries. According to Wilkerson, the caste is the infrastructure for systemic racism in America: the race itself acts as a social clue or marker of who belongs to which caste. And while racial categories change over time – for example, who is included and excluded from being white – the connection between certain races and castes does not. It is immediately one of the classic books on caste as we see it in the United States

However, as Wilkerson notes, the Indian caste system predates and corresponds to that of the United States. Article 15 of the Indian Constitution officially repealed caste discrimination in 1949. Similar to the United States, the caste continues to play a significant role in Indian society today. The following books on caste describe modern caste terms in India. Read and read to learn more about the caste system that informs Wilkerson’s book.

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The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2008, The White Tiger is a fast-paced novel that shows the corruption at the heart of the caste system. In Adiga’s work, the protagonist Balram Halwai escapes the narrow life of a low caste that determines most aspects of his existence. Halwai made a new life for himself in Delhi, working as a driver for a rich man. However, in order to completely break the bonds of his caste and gain prosperity for himself, Halwai commits a terrible crime. In a somber and somber humorous style, Adiga reveals the violence that divides social castes in modern India.

Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand

Mulk Raj Anand’s novel is a classic in the field of Indian caste literature. It was published in 1935 and is older than Article 15, so it shows the solid social laws that separated the castes. Anand’s novel is about Bakha, a member of the untouchable caste. Bakha is limited to a life of low work and experiences the daily insults and shame of being of the lowest class. Although slightly out of date, Untouchable reveals the humiliation and inhumanity of pre-colonial India. Anand’s work is worth reading.

The Web of My Life: The Memories of a Dalit Woman from Urmila Pawar

In modern usage, the term “planned caste” officially replaced “inviolable” when it referred to the lowest position in the caste hierarchy. However, many who defy the neutral tone of SC have reclaimed the older term “Dalit” to categorize their caste identity. Dalit means “oppressed” or “broken” and has a political agency that “inviolable” does not have. And in The Weave of My Life Urmila Pawar describes the freedom of choice and resilience of Dalit women in the midst of social humiliation. Pawar’s memoirs are exciting and show her journey from her village on the Kolkan Coast to her life as a Dalit activist and feminist in Mumbai. Pick up this, especially if you are interested in how the caste intersects with women’s rights issues.

Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Origin of Modern India by Sujatha Gidla

In her memoir Ants Among Elephants, Sujatha Gidla reports in detail and movingly about her Dalit family life in central India. Like Urmila Pawar, Gidla is an activist and her memoir captures the dehumanization her family has experienced within the caste system. However, ants among elephants is also a celebration of the individuals who make up their family group. Her uncle was a Naxalite guerrilla revolutionary, while her mother waged her own war against the misogyny and caste discrimination that characterized her life. This is exciting and engaging read not to be missed.

Dotted Goddesses: Dalit Women’s Agency Tales of Fall and Gender Violence by Roja Singh

In Spotted Goddesses, Roja Singh writes that she draws attention to Dalit women because “they are at the forefront of change in their respective communities.” Similar to the work by Pawar and Gidla mentioned above, Singh emphasizes the important role Dalit women play in advocacy and in easing caste restrictions. At the same time, it documents the terrible and routine violence that Dalit women experience. Dotted goddesses are an important work because they reveal the interface between the caste system and misogyny. To do this, Singh collects the stories, songs, poems and anecdotes of Dalit women. Spotted Goddesses is a rich and far-reaching work.

The Litter of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan

Unlike the other books mentioned in this post, The Toss of a Lemon focuses on the highest social caste, the Brahmins. In her debut novel, Padma Viswanathan tells the intergenerational story of a Brahmin family. At the center of her extensive novel is the story of a young Brahmin widow, Sivakami. With an expert eye for detail, Viswanathan describes the social rituals and ways of life of the Brahmins. The characters, especially those of the older generations, live in a world of extreme exclusivity. However, as the novel shifts from the late 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, Sivakami is faced with a changing social order in which the traditions and values ​​of the Brahmin caste are beginning to lose their power. Viswanathan’s novel is epic and a valuable look at the upper levels of the Indian caste system.