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O'Hanlon, Rosalind (1983) Low Caste Protest and the Creation of a Political Identity: Mahatma Jotirao Phule and the Origins of Non-Brahman Ideology in Maharashtra 1855-1890. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This study examines the ideas of Mahatma Jotirao Phule, the first leader and most influential theoretician of the movement of political and religious protest that emerged amongst the peasant cultivators and urban lower castes of Maharashtra in the late nineteenth century. It looks first at the origins of his ideas and the intellectual and social milieu in which he worked. Phule's demand for a greater share of local political power and social leadership for the lower castes had antecedents in the ideological disputes between Brahmans and Maratha families in Southern Maharashtra immediately after the establishment of British rule. His opposition to contemporary religious institutions is situated within a general crisis in the public legitimacy of Hindu culture and religion in the mid-nineteenth century. Phule's detailed critique of Hindu religion also owed much to the traditions of rational criticism of religion that emerged in Europe in the late eighteenth century and which were reflected in the work of Orientalist scholars. His ideas about the individual in society, and about the nature of God, are argued to owe more to European and American traditions of natural rights thought, and to the arguments of protestant Christian missionaries, than to indigenous devotional and mono-theistic traditions. The study then describes how Phule traced the subjection of the lower castes to the Aryan invasions of ancient India, when the prosperous kingdoms of peasant cultivators and warriors had been subjected to Brahman rule and religion. He supported this idea of a mythic past through the reinterpretation of a wide variety of symbols, institutions and social processes that were already an integral part of popular culture. He hoped thus to take up traditional popular identities and loyalties centred on an identification with the land and the old warrior traditions of Maharashtra, and to use these in an overtly political way, as the ideological basis for a political movement of the lower castes. A detailed understanding of Phule's ideas provides materials for the development of our understanding of the ideological dimension of political and social conflict in nineteenth century Maharashtra, a dimension which has been neglected in favour of the analysis of political institutions and party rivalries.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 17:19

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