Vineet Rathee

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

McGill U.

Grant number

Gr. 9270

Approve Date

April 11, 2016

Project Title

Rathee, Vineet, McGill U., Montreal, Canada - To aid research on 'Caste Panchayats of India: A Contemporary Study of Caste, Gender and the State in Rural India,' supervised by Dr. Katherine Lemons

Preliminary abstract: My project will study the role of extra-legal village caste councils (known as caste panchayats) in the formation of inter-caste and gender relations in Haryana, northern India. Typically controlled by powerful, territorially segmented, agrarian castes e.g. the Jats, Rajputs, and Ahirs, caste panchayats have recently come under intense scrutiny for orchestrating ‘crimes of honor’ and violence against low-caste members. Simplistically perceived as mere vestiges of ‘traditional’ caste sociality, caste panchayats are frequently characterized as products of hermetically closed-off, unchanging, endogenous caste forms. In contrast, I will study panchayats as modern socio-political organizations by situating them in the wider rural context of contemporary India, a context constituted by radical transformations of conditions of rural life, which have in turn profoundly reconfigured caste and gender relations. I inquire how caste panchayats have responded to such transformations of rural life and how these transformations affect their caste power and authority. In this regard, I aim to bring into sharp relief an expanding field of practices where caste panchayats’ strategies of domination are being regularly challenged by low-caste groups. Further, by drawing upon the anthropological claim, which regards regulation of female sexuality and marriage as critical to reproduction of caste privilege, I will study how panchayats’ violent enforcement of caste marriage norms–resulting in ‘crimes of honor’–is an instance of performance of their caste authority over low-caste groups.