Racism in India1

Authored by: Ania Loomba

The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Race

Print publication date:  December  2017
Online publication date:  November  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415711234
eBook ISBN: 9781315884424
Adobe ISBN:


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Race, to adapt Stuart Hall’s words about blackness, is “a narrative, a story, a history. Something constructed, told, spoken, not simply found.” 2 Upon such narration depends its visibility, its centrality to the way we understand history, philosophy, and literature, and how we conceive our present political commitments. Although recent scholarship has investigated the multiple lineages and histories of racial difference, and the different philosophies in which racial thinking was embedded, the dominant narrative about it still conceives of it as a post-Enlightenment ideology forged on the twin anvils of colonialism and Atlantic slavery, and one that hinges on pseudo-biological notions of human differentiation, especially somatic color. 3 Many histories of racial differentiation that do not fit into this narrative are neglected. In South Asia, for instance, while ideologies of difference are not exactly neglected, there is a strenuous effort made to deny that they are racial. In my understanding, ideologies are racial in effect when somatic color or other physiognomic traits, religion, ritual status, or geographic origin are perceived to be inherited, innate, or indicate some essential truth about a group of people, and when these perceptions justify the treatment of this group as intellectually or morally inferior, its systematic oppression, and the policing of the boundaries between it and the more privileged members of society. This is the understanding that will guide my discussion of key philosophies that have shaped the racial landscape of India, with occasional references to other parts of South Asia. 4 As I do so, I will also trace what has been at stake in the effort to align them with, or to exclude them from, the established narrative about race.

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