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Global Christianity and the transformation of Dalits in Colonial and Postcolonial Kerala

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The Smuts Memorial Lecture

Missionary Christianity was very important in the production of colonial knowledge on caste communities in India. Often the information and knowledge generated by the missionaries, entered into official documents in the 19th century and subsequently in India as acceptable knowledge on native societies. Drawing on the examples from colonial Kerala I wish to show the processes by which substantial body of knowledge was created on Kerala society. Particular emphasis is laid on the knowledge produced on Dalit communities that were enslaved historically. Protestant missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and the London Missionary Society (LMS) had interacted very closely with the enslaved masses and observed them closely recording very significantly the details of their everyday life. Such intimate narratives are not available in the native official sources in the pre-colonial times or in the writings of the colonial officials. Only the oral tradition of the slave communities provides a valuable source of information on their social and emotional world. The proposed talk would analyze the knowledge that missionaries have generated on Dalit communities in the 19th and 20th centuries and how the interface with the latter transformed them. Along side this I wish to explore intricacies of the transformation of the mental world of Dalit communities as they accepted Christianity. This particular aspect of the inner transformation of Dalits would question the arguments of dominant historiographies and social science interpretations on Dalits and Christianity.

This talk is part of the Centre of South Asian Studies occasional events series.

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