Hira Singh, Recasting Caste: From the Sacred to the Profane

Anisha Datta
2015 Canadian journal of sociology  
Singh, Hira, Recasting Caste: From the Sacred to the Profane. New Delhi: Sage, 2014. 287 pp., $49.95 hardcover (9788132113461) Hira Singh's monograph Recasting Caste, is an important contribution to the field of sociology of caste, which uses a nuanced Marxist perspective to conclude that "sociologists of caste have invoked religion, cognition, cosmology...to find the secret of the genesis, growth, and survival of caste and the caste system. In the process, they have missed the real secret of
more » ... he real secret of caste and the caste system, which lies in the intersection of political economy and ideology" (16). Singh demonstrates how the economic infrastructure intersects with the cultural superstructure to (re)produce the practice and hegemony of caste based inequalities. Singh intervenes in an area, which has been dominated by the orientalist and colonial view of caste. The orientalist-colonial sociology of caste (e.g., Weber and Dumont) helped to introduce first a discourse of backwardness, and secondly a discourse of differentiation in the study of South Asia (Bandyopadhyay 2004: 11). Recasting Caste not only revives the Marxist analysis (Kumar 1965; Mencher 1974) of caste, but it also takes it further by introducing a transnational analysis of caste to the Marxist framework. The book is divided into seven chapters, the first three of which are Singh's critique of the orientalist-colonial sociology of caste. Singh argues that caste is a system of inequality, which is based on unequal access to the material conditions (e.g., land) of existence. Drawing on archival evidence, Singh also shows that the legitimation of the profane kingship was in its essence a political rather than a religious phenomenon as theorized by Dumont. The decisive factor in legitimizing kingship was the legitimation of the authority of the prince by his peers -the fraternity of landlords, members of his own caste and kin group, who were different and distant from the "sacred" priestly caste. After having established, that the Weberian and Dumontian sociological theories of caste mystify caste by masking the material foundation of caste inequality i.e. the inequality of land relations and the corresponding inequalities of access to political and cultural resources (63-105), Singh moves on to critically examine the scholarship on caste produced by the Subaltern Studies group. This examination is a solid
doi:10.29173/cjs24275 fatcat:lbh2mqhlrvaxtiyqos4dtr3hv4