Caste in Modern India: A Postal History (1905−2024)

Curated by Vikas Kumar, the exhibition brings together correspondence and publications of several caste-based community organisations and individuals from across India and the philatelic output of the post-colonial state.

Railways and postal services were introduced in colonial India in the early 1850s. In due course, these new technologies made long-distance travel and communication widely accessible and affordable. In a parallel development, the introduction of limited representation in legislatures in the 1890s added urgency to tap the potential trans-local identities enumerated in the decennial censuses beginning in 1871 – 72.

In view of these developments, local communities, in particular, castes, tapped new technologies to connect with kindred groups across the country and combine to form pan-Indian communities. Post offices allowed members of these aggregate groupings to correspond with each other, while railways enabled them to meet periodically and devise strategies to capture a share in legislatures, educational institutions and public employment proportionate to their census population. Drawing upon philatelic material covering a century, the exhibition highlights the role of the postal system in this new politics.

The exhibition is divided into two broad parts that bring together correspondence and publications of several caste-based community organisations and individuals from across the country and the philatelic output of the post-colonial state. The exhibition has been curated by Vikas Kumar, who teaches economics at Azim Premji University. 

Gopal Guru will inaugurate the exhibition and deliver the inaugural address on 31 May, 6:45 PM. He will comment on the exhibition and locate its images in the larger politics of visual culture.

A panel discussion with Satish Deshpande, a social scientist who has made seminal contributions to our understanding of caste in independent India, Vaishna Roy, Editor-in-Chief, Frontline magazine and Vikas Kumar, Curator of the exhibit, will take place on 2 June, 11:30 AM.

Exhibition Opening: Friday, 31 May
Timings: 11 AM – 8 PM
Exhibition is on show until Sunday, 2 June

Walkthroughs:
Friday, 31 May | 6:00 pm
Saturday, 1 June | 11:30 am & 5:30 pm
Sunday, 2 June | 10:45 am

Conversations:
Inaugural Address – Friday, 31 May | 6:45 pm
Panel Discussion – Sunday, 2 June | 11:30 am

Contact: bic@​bangaloreinternationalcentre.​org

This is organised by Bangalore International Centre, in collaboration with Azim Premji University, Bengaluru.

About the Speakers

Gopal Guru

Gopal Guru was a professor of political science at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He was also a visiting professor at Columbia University, Princeton University, Oxford University and University of Pennsylvania. He served as the editor of the Economic and Political Weekly between 2018 and 2023.

Gopal Guru received the Malcolm Adiseshiah Award for Distinguished Contributions to Development Studies in 2013. He is the author of The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory (with Sunder Sarukkai, Oxford University Press, 2012) and the editor of Atrophy in Dalit Politics (Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, 2005), Humiliation: Claims and Context (Oxford University Press, 2009) and Experience, Caste, and the Everyday Social (with Sunder Sarukkai, Oxford University Press, 2019).

Satish Deshpande

Satish Deshpande was Professor at the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. Previously, he was at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, the Institute of Economic Growth, and the University of Hyderabad. Most recently, he was Prof. M.N. Srinivas Chair Professor at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru (2023−24). He received the Malcolm Adiseshiah Award for Distinguished Contributions to Development Studies in 2012.

He is the author of Contemporary India: A Sociological View (2003) and co-author of Untouchability in Rural India (with Ghanshyam Shah, Harsh Mander, Sukhadeo Thorat and Amita Baviskar, 2006). He has edited The Problem of Caste (2014), and co-edited Anthropology in the East: Founders of Indian Sociology and Anthropology (2007, with Patricia Uberoi and Nandini Sundar), Beyond Inclusion: The Practice of Equal Access in Indian Higher Education (2013, with Usha Zacharias) and Sectarian Violence in India: Hindu-Muslim Conflict, 1966 – 2015 (2019, with Sanjay Palshikar).

Vaishna Roy

Vaishna Roy has been a journalist for over three decades. She is presently Editor-in-Chief of Frontline magazine. She was earlier Editor of The Hindu’s Sunday Magazine & Literary Review sections as well as a regular columnist and op-ed writer for the newspaper. Her features have covered a diverse range of topics such as culture, society, women, art, literature, social affairs, and politics.

Vikas Kumar

Vikas Kumar is a faculty member at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. His research explores the interfaces between politics and statistics, economics and religion and Kauṭilya’s Arthasastra and other pre-modern texts. He is the author of Numbers as Political Allies: The Census in Jammu and Kashmir (Cambridge University Press, 2023) and Waiting for a Christmas Gift: Essays on Politics, Elections and Media in Nagaland (Heritage Publishing House, 2023) and the co-author of Numbers in India’s Periphery: The Political Economy of Government Statistics (with Ankush Agrawal, Cambridge University Press, 2020).

He curated the exhibitions Counting and Controlling Population: Postal Services, Census & Family Planning in Post-colonial India (1951 – 2011) (Bangalore International Centre, January 2023) and Baba Saheb: An Extraordinary Philatelic Journey (1966−2022) (India International Centre, New Delhi, June 2022).