Jagdish, son of Ahmad: notes on the death of pluralism
Joel Lee (Williams College)
Paper short abstract:
Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this paper considers both the erosion and the persistence of plural religious practice among the Dalit castes that supply the city’s sanitation labor.
Paper long abstract:
As Sandria Freitag, Mushirul Hasan and others have demonstrated, the religiously composite culture for which Lucknow was once widely known was dramatically eroded, if not lost altogether, by the political ruptures and interreligious violence of the twentieth century. A tradition of deep participation in both Hindu and Muslim practices perdures, however, among those Dalit castes that supply the city's municipal and private sanitation labor: Balmikis, Lal Begis, Dhanuks and Jallads. This is not a matter merely of observing both Hindu and Muslim public holidays, but of plural naming practices, marriage and death rites; of a religiously composite caste habitus that destabilizes sociological commonsense and pervades everyday life. This paper, based on ethnographic fieldwork among sanitation workers and their families, considers the ramifications of living plurally in an age of religious singularity: of getting admitted to university when you are Jagdish, son of Ahmad, of going to work when you are Saliman, daughter of Ram. Despite the valorization, in the public sphere, of the ideal of composite culture and of Lucknow's unique claim to it, those who continue to bear the intimate signs of such a culture frequently experience this heritage as a burden that only compounds the stigma of untouchability.
Contemporary Lucknow: life with "too much history"