Caste and Census in Precolonial and Colonial India

Rebecca Jean Emigh, UCLA
Patricia Ahmed, South Dakota State University
Dylan Riley, University of California at Berkeley

The colonial census, despite logistical hurdles, was a relatively successful, albeit controversial endeavor. Most work on this topic, informed by Michel Foucault and/or Edward Said, portrays enumeration as a state-driven enterprise, used to enforce colonial rule, by deploying and quantifying dubious, obscure, and/or fictious categories, such as caste, to divide subject populations (e.g., Appadurai 1996; Cohn 1976; Ludden 1993; Inden 1992, etc.). Other research argues that the above works afford the state too much power and denies Indian subjects' agency in terms of ordering their social world (de Swart 2000). Furthermore, a state’s ability to effectively reorganize, a complex, intricate society according to obscure/novel categories, defies probability (de Swart 2000). Alternatively, other scholars assert that caste existed and was enumerated prior to the arrival of the British (de Swart 2000; Guha 2007; Peabody 2011). Following Emigh et al. (2016) we propose a more nuanced explanation: that the colonial census and the categories used therein was a product of state-society interaction (see also Bayly 1999). In doing thus, we focus on the historical development of the state in India; the historical development and uses of caste; the emergence of key groups, such as scribes, whose interests aligned with the state, and how interactions between these variables culminated in the earliest colonial counts formulated and fielded by East India Company administrators and their Native advisors and clerks. The results show an intensification of state-societal interactions overtime, coinciding with a an increasingly instrumental colonial census.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 168. State Power and State Development: Bureaucracy and Political Violence