I know it’s off the subject, but I just read Sujatha Gidla’s book Ants Among Elephants about…
David Cearley

I’ve been wanting to read Sujatha Gidla’s book myself since I read a positive review of it on The Economist and also since untouchability and the caste system in India in general are issues that are as personally political as they get for me, having been born into that community myself. The Hindu caste system, itself is a form of slave labour indoctrinated at and by birth and enforced through a variety of rituals that govern the act of living which ancient texts like the Manusmriti elaborate upon. There is a book by Nicholas Dirks called Castes of the Mind that argues that the British codified and by extension, rigidified caste in India by enhancing the significance of upper caste or Brahminical texts like the Manusmriti in interpreting the ‘Hindu way of life’, thus ensuring the relevance of caste based stratification for ages to come.

Slave trade in broader terms, conducted under the auspices of the British until it was abolished in the 1840s may not have had a particular caste association as such, founded as it was on the economic distress of the ruled and the mercenary exploits of the ruler. I remember stumbling upon the terrible legacy of Yale University’s benefactor and eponym, Eli Yale who profiteered immensely from(and apparently reauthorized in the 1640s what was illegal for a time )the slave trade off the coast of present day Chennai in South India. Similarly, I’m not sure if Mughal/other Muslim rulers in India took advantage of existing caste based oppression to stock their slaves as Gidla says or if it more broadly reflected the ravages of war and post-war oppression and affected a host of conquered communities.

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