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From untouched to untouchable: the history and politics of naming

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This paper documents the dramatic transformation of the Hindi term achut from an adjective describing the quality of being “untouched” and “pure” to a noun referring to a person or caste considered untouchable and impure. Using 19th and 20th century dictionaries and prominent Hindi language journals of the period, such as Nagari Pracharni Patrika and Saraswati, as well as literary and political pamphlets and books published by the Adi-Hindu Mahasabha, I trace the history and politics of Dalit movements in the early 20th century and their relationship to the creation of a new meaning for the term achut. In particular, I examine the Adi-Hindu Mahasabha movement in order to assess the role played by its publications and political activities in altering existing meanings.

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

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