Siva and Her Sisters: Gender, Caste, and Class in Rural South India

Siva and Her Sisters: Gender, Caste, and Class in Rural South India

Siva and Her Sisters: Gender, Caste, and Class in Rural South India

Siva and Her Sisters: Gender, Caste, and Class in Rural South India

Synopsis

This book examines two subordinated groups- "untouchables" and women- in a village in Tamilnadu, South India. The lives and work of "untouchable" women in this village provide a unique analytical focus that clarifies the ways in which three axes of identity- gender, caste, and class- are constructed in South India. Karin Kapadia argues that subordinated groups do not internalize the values of their masters but instead reject them in innumerable subtle ways. Kapadia contends that elites who hold economic power do not dominate the symbolic means of production. Looking at the everyday practices, rituals, and cultural discourses of Tamil low castes, she shows how their cultural values repudiate the norms of Brahminical elites. She also demonstrates that caste and class processes cannot be fully addressed without considering their interrelationship with gender.

Excerpt

Isn't our blood as red as theirs? In what way are they our superiors? -- Ambal (Pallar)

Forms of Resistance

IN HIS BOOK ON EVERYDAY forms of peasant resistance, James Scott argues that the notion of "false consciousness" "typically rests on the assumption that elites dominate not only the physical means of production but the symbolic means of production as well -- and that this symbolic hegemony allows them to control the very standards by which their rule is evaluated" (1985: 39). Scott rejects this notion, arguing that such a view is blind to the "unwritten history of resistance" (1985: 28) -- forms of resistance that are necessarily covert and underhand and that "typically avoid any direct symbolic confrontation with authority or with elite norms" (1985: 29). Apart from making the qualification that false consciousness does sometimes exist, I endorse this approach. Scott's conclusions resonate with those I came to in my own research, focused primarily on women in a village in rural Tamilnadu (Figure 1.1). I, too, found that subordinate groups - preeminently the so-called "untouchables" who are at the bottom of India's caste hierarchy -- resisted and rejected upper-caste representations of themselves. I argue that "untouchable" Pallars in Aruloor village do not share the Brahminical values of elite groups. I therefore question the claims of Louis Dumont (1970) and Michael Moffatt (1979) that there is a pervasive "cultural consensus" between all groups in Hindu caste society. I contend, instead, that through distinc-

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