Researching Caste: The Uncharted World of Santram BA

October 11, 2022 - 5pm

Neubauer Collegium building

Charu Gupta, Visiting Fellow, Neubauer Collegium for Culture & Society, UChicago & Professor, History Department, University of Delhi  

In this workshop, I will discuss the writings of Santram BA (1887-1998), a veteran Hindi writer and radical anti-caste social reformer from Punjab. Member of the Arya Samaj, he founded the ‘Jat Pat Torak Mandal’ (Organization to Break Caste) in 1922. Along with his anti-caste writings and his autobiography, he also wrote several articles and books on inter-caste marriages, sex, and birth control, including translations of Mary Stopes’ works into Hindi for the first time. In spite of the huge repertoire of his writings, he has been marginalized in academic scholarship, which has tended to focus on ‘star’ caste radicals like Jotiba Phule, B.R. Ambedkar and Periyar. While belonging to the Shudra caste, unlike these pioneering personalities, Santram perceived caste reform within the paradigm of Hinduism, while offering a trenchant critique of caste from within. Through the life of Santram BA, the workshop will illuminate a social history of caste, its counter-narrative and archive, in north India. It will attempt to show how sexuality for Santram was a cover story for various kinds of dissonances, as he laid claim to authority by questioning savarna morality, while carving a space to think about the body beyond the parameters imagined by the emerging middle class and upper caste world.