ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Caste, Mobility and Colonialism: Socio-Economic Emancipation of the Nadars of South India


Krishnan Deepanjan - MIT World Peace University, School of Liberal Arts, Pune, India


14 – Servitude and Mobility in Pre-Colonial and Colonial South Asia


 This paper seeks to study how occupational mobility among the Nadars, made use of innovative business practices, caste affinities and various colonial processes, for their social and political uplift.  The Nadars, erstwhile known as Shanars, are believed to have originated in the south Indian state of TamilNadu. Their traditional occupation was to climb the Palmyra tree, to fetch toddy, which was seen as a polluting activity, hence they were deemed as untouchables. They were also employed as bonded labour in agriculture. The efforts of Christian missionaries at their uplift and the mass conversion of Nadars to Christianity during the nineteenth century, provided an early impetus for their socio-economic upheaval. The weakening of caste relations in the rural areas, led to the migration of Nadars in search of better jobs. They made good use of the socio-political and technological changes brought about by colonialism. They were also taken as indentured labourers to work in other British colonies. Despite long distance migrations, the Nadars were successful in maintaining their caste bonds. Their unique strategies in trade, effective use of caste ties and opportunities provided by colonialism has led to the emergence of Nadars as a prominent regional and global business community. This research seeks to explore the interplay between caste and economy in colonial India and their necessity for the emancipation of the subaltern classes.