ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

From Claiming Higher Social Status to Political Rights: Artisanal Communities in the Twentieth Century India


Kumar Arun - Nottingham University, Hisotry, Nottingham, United Kingdom


09 – Making Artisans: Artisanal Lives and Production in South Asia


This paper analyses the engagement of labouring (weavers, tailors, washermen etc.) communities in the early twentieth century north India with the caste question and political rights. On the one hand, it focuses on their critiques of the upper caste’s birth-based caste social hierarchy. On the other hand, it discusses their alternative conception of the social order with skills, labour, and craft knowledge at the centre of framing this alternative world. The paper uses journals, tracts, petitions and memorandums produced by these communities, and situates these community histories as a forerunner in developing a language of community politics, caste mobilisation, and alternative knowledge creation about the community. The paper suggests that the experience of education and demand for education was integral to the knowledge production by these communities. The paper also assesses this educational politics by subaltern castes during a phase of volatile caste assertion, and the growing hegemony of the colonial state-led public education system.