Radha KumarNov 23, 2021
The Everyday State and Caste Politics in South India, 1900–1975
Cornell University Press 2021
Police Matters: The Everyday State and Caste Politics in South India, 1900–1975 (Cornell UP, 2021) moves beyond the city to examine the intertwined nature of police and caste in the Tamil countryside. Radha Kumar argues that the colonial police deployed rigid notions of caste in their everyday tasks, refashioning rural identities in a process that has cast long postcolonial shadows.
Kumar draws on previously unexplored police archives to enter the dusty streets and market squares where local constables walked, following their gaze and observing their actions towards potential subversives. Station records present a textured view of ordinary interactions between police and society, showing that state coercion was not only exceptional and spectacular; it was also subtle and continuous, woven into everyday life. The colonial police categorized Indian subjects based on caste to ensure the security of agriculture and trade, and thus the smooth running of the economy. Among policemen and among the objects of their coercive gaze, caste became a particularly salient form of identity in the politics of public spaces. Police Matters demonstrates that, without doubt, modern caste politics have both been shaped by, and shaped, state policing.
Radha Kumar is Assistant Professor of History at the Maxwell School in Syracuse University. Dr. Kumar holds a PhD in History from Princeton University, where she specialized in Modern South Asian Studies. She has conducted archival research in a range of cities including Madurai, Tirunelveli, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, and London, and was supported by the History Department at Princeton University and by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.
Sohini Chatterjee is a PhD Student in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Western University, Canada. Her work has recently appeared in South Asian Popular Culture and Fat Studies.