European Foundations of 'the caste system'

Sufiya Pathan's picture
Summer Program
June 18, 2018 to June 23, 2018
Subject Fields: 
Asian History / Studies, Humanities, Law and Legal History, South Asian History / Studies, Sociology


The course takes up for serious investigation the way we understand, or better put, misunderstand, caste and the implications of continuing to do so. Participants will be expected to spend six days here at Ujire and put in a full day’s work into every day at the course. Besides readings, participants will be expected to learn how to think about the texts they are presented with and to reflect on their own experience in order to begin a serious and, what we hope will mature into path-breaking intellectual engagement on the question of caste in India. 

This course will have two parts: one that focuses on the developments in the 19th century and one that analyses the 20th century developments, in the way legal and scholarly understanding of the so-called ‘caste system’ crystallised.

The 19th century: As soon as the basic story of the caste system began to crystallise (in the works of European travellers, scholars and later on, Indologists), unconnected and discrete entities were jumbled up to form the one entity called the-caste-system: practices, ‘mythological’ stories, narratives of oppression, stereotypes about India, psychological speculations and so on. A moral attitude comprising emotions of shock and censure was added to the blend. The British courts, around this time, played a slightly different role. They took the story of the-caste-system for granted, and spent enormous amount of time and energy in figuring out how to interpret it in such a way that it can be located in concrete terms in Indian practices and attitudes, such that it can be used in court trials.

Amidst all these, Indians were fighting the cases in the British courts, in the name of the caste, which would look insanely absurd today, keeping nothing less than their life and future at stake. No wonder, we the Indians see today what cannot be seen or experienced by us: the-caste-system. This is what ‘colonial consciousness’ is.

The 20th century: What do we chafe against when we criticise the caste system? What kinds of problems do we perceive as the inheritance of the caste system? Have the solutions proposed, especially in Law, provided any relief from these perceived problems? These are some of the questions raised in this course. The focus will remain largely on examining the legal dimensions of caste in India and in international law. We hope to put into perspective the international attention that issues of caste have received over the past decade or so and to examine where India is headed if adequate answers to the questions raised at international fora such as the United Nations and the European Union Parliament are not forthcoming soon.

Too often, talk about caste remains an academic exercise with little or no relevance to our everyday lives. This course hopes to lay out the contemporary context of caste discussions in order to achieve two things: 1. to demonstrate the urgency of changing current spurious trends in reportage on caste and 2. to share with the participants as much as to invite them into the process of undertaking very concrete and meaningful new research into caste.

Venue: SDM College, Ujire 574240 (Karnataka, India)

Course fee: 2600/- (inclusive of accommodation and food in SDM PG Hostel & course material)

Course instructors: Dr. Sufiya Pathan and Dr. Dunkin Jalki

Course Duration: 18-23 June 2018 (6 days, 40 hours)

Registration deadline: 5 June 2018 (Only 12 seats available)

How To Register? Just write to us at, with your name, affiliation and education background. No particular educational qualifications required. 

Contact Info: 

Dr. Sufiya Pathan and Dr. Dunkin Jalki

Centre for Inter-disciplinary Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (CIRHS)

SDM PG College, Ujire

Karnataka 574240

Contact Email: