Recently, COSAS member Dr. Tori Gross published an article titled “Constructing a caste in the past: Revisionist histories and competitive authority in South India” in Modern Asian Studies. The article examines the political history of the Devendrakula Vellalars (henceforth, Devendras), a novel consolidated caste formation, which was recognized by the state and union governments in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Including a broad range of formerly endogamous “Untouchable” communities spread throughout Tamil Nadu but most highly concentrated in its southern half, the Devendras, Gross argues, have been socio-economically diverse for at least the past century and thus do not necessarily share the same political priorities. They have, nonetheless, attempted to unite in opposition to the politically powerful Thevars (Other Backward Class or OBC) who are themselves a consolidated caste formation that grew out of colonial domination. However, the Devendras’s economic diversity has troubled their oppositional political consolidation, compelling the production of revisionist mythico-histories that appeal to widely held desires for authority and honour. Disavowing the Dalit past and recasting the Devendras as the descendants of heroes, such mythico-histories produce an aspirational collective identity characterized by the ideals of righteous self-sacrifice, valour, and agrarian civility, but troubled by its reliance on the acceptance of internal and external audiences, some of which violently oppose such assertions. Through their vexed but forceful bids for recognition, the Devendras ultimately empower themselves by gathering strength in numbers.
Link to purchase article here.