Untouchable Pasts

Religion, Identity, and Power among a Central Indian Community, 1780-1950

By Saurabh Dube

Subjects: India And South Asian Studies
Series: SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Paperback : 9780791436882, 308 pages, March 1998
Hardcover : 9780791436875, 308 pages, April 1998

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Table of contents


List of Abbreviations

Chapter One

Chapter Two
The Making of Satnampanth, 1780–1850

Chapter Three
Malguzars, Gurus, and Missionaries, 1850–1900

Chapter Four
Satnamis in Village Life, 1900–1950

Chapter Five
A Contested Past: The Myths of Satnampanth

Chapter Six
Reform and Authority: The Satnami Mahasabha, 1925–1950

Chapter Seven
Contending Histories: Old Stories and New Pasts

Chapter Eight

Appendix 1:
Genealogy of Satnami Gurus, Four Generations

Appendix 2:
Population of Satnamis, 1901–1931





Constructs a history of an untouchable and heretical community, the Satnamis of Central India.


Untouchable Pasts constructs a history of an untouchable and heretical community over the last two hundred years. The Satnamis of Central India have combined the features of a caste and a sect to question and challenge the tenor of ritual power that variously defines Hinduism. At the same time, within the community, schemes of meaning and power, particularly those centering on gender, have been imbued with ambiguity and a reproduction of forms of inequality.

The book presents an interpretive account of Satnami endeavors, encounters, and experiences by combining history and anthropology, archival and field work. It addresses a clutch of theoretical questions and a range of key and inextricably bound analytical relationships in an accessible manner. Issues of caste and untouchability, sect and kinship, myths and pasts are rendered here as part of a wider dynamic between religion and power, gender and community, writing and the constitution of traditions, ritual and the making of modernities, and orality and the construction of histories.

Indeed, Untouchable Pasts brings together the perspectives and possibilities defined by three overlapping but distinct theoretical developments that have been elaborated in recent years: first, novel renderings of anthropologies and enthnographies of the historical imagination; second, critically engaged constructions of histories from below, particularly by the collective Subaltern Studies endeavor; and, finally, a conceptual emphasis on the 'everyday' as an arena for the production, negotiation, transaction, and contestations of meanings within wider networks and relationships of power.

By casting these analytical tendencies in a critical dialogue with one another, Untouchable Pasts works toward questioning some of those overarching oppositions—for example, between ritual and rationality, myth and history, tradition and modernity, and community and state—that have formed the conceptual core of several inherited traditions of social and political theory within the academy in both Western and non-Western contexts.

Saurabh Dube is Visiting Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at El Colegio de Mexico.


"This is cutting edge scholarship, and the words are not arbitrarily chosen. Untouchable Pasts will be considered classic both for its use of this methodology and its indispensable findings. " — Cynthia Ann Humes, Claremont McKenna College