BA History and Russian / Course details

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Caste Politics in Twentieth Century India

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST31911
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course examines the history of untouchability in India during the twentieth century. This module approaches this topic from an intellectual history perspective. This unit begins with an introduction to the history of caste and untouchability as concepts. This is followed by an analysis of the political implications of caste and untouchability from the era of British colonialism to the first years of India as an independent country. Particular attention is paid to the rise of Dalit (previously known as Untouchable) movements that sawcaste as system of oppression. The second part of the course will focus on the work of Dalit leaders such as M.C. Rajah, B.R. Ambedkar and many other individuals that sought to establish independent political organizations to challenge hierarchical structures of power.

This course will be centred around the reading of key political texts dealing with the topic of untouchability. Reading the assigned texts is essential as the teaching method revolves around peer discussion. By analysing a selection of important primary and secondary sources, the course shows the multifarious ways in which colonial and Indian intellectuals thought and transformed the concept of untouchability to pursue different political objectives. This course also evaluates the way caste and untouchability may shape and expand our understating of democracy in present-day politics, both in India and abroad.


HIST31912 is restricted to History programmes and History joint honours programmes (please check your programme regulations for further details).

This module is available only to students on History-owned programmes; Classics and Ancient History programmes; History and American Studies; and Euro Studies programmes.


  • To introduce students to the study of non-Western history, Indian history in particular, both in a colonial and a post-colonial context. 
  • Understand the main historical debates around the question of caste in the twentieth century.
  • Comment on the different political implications of caste during the struggle for India’s independence.  
  • Develop an in-depth historical argument about the connection between caste and democracy in India.
  • Analyse and comment on the primary and secondary sources they have studied.


Knowledge and understanding

  • Students should be able to analyse and comment on the primary and secondary sources they have studied.
  • Be aware of the history of low-caste political movements in India.
  • Understand the main links between colonialism and the emergence of Indian nationalism.
  • Understand the links between racial theories and caste practices in India.
  • Evaluate the links between identity politics and caste politics. 

Intellectual skills

  • Comprehension of the main theories related to the practice of caste and untouchability.
  • Identify the connection between colonialism and the emergence of caste politics.
  • Assess the rise of low-caste politics after India's independence.
  • Comprehend the debate regarding positive discrimination in India in connection to caste practices.


Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Plan and execute independent research using a variety of sources including books, journals, electronic databases, online collections, and archival collections.
  • Independently synthesize and organize primary and secondary source material.
  • Communicate findings and interpretations in oral and written formats.
  • Constructively contribute to large and small group discussions.


Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Present nuanced interpretations via advanced written and oral communication.
  • Accomplish independent research projects.
  • Work collaboratively as part of a team.
  • Critical thinking and analysis.


Employability skills

Students can expect to develop an important set of skills which will be highly valued in the workplace: - To convey complex ideas via written and verbal communication skills. - The ability to collaborate in team-work settings. - Acting autonomously and taking leadership (through independent research, seminar preparation and contribution, assessment activities). - Critical thinking and analysis. - Locating, organising and interpreting large quantities of evidence.

Assessment methods

Essay 1 History Artefact 40%
Essay 2 60%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Oral feedback on group discussion and presentations


Written feedback on coursework submissions via Turnitin, and on edam papers in hard copy


Additional one-to-one feedback (during office hour or by making an appointment)



Recommended reading

Banerjee, Ishita (ed.), Caste in History (Delhi, 2008).

Bayly, Susan.  Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age (Cambridge, 1999).

Dirks, Nicholas. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton, 2001).

Gupta, S.K. The Scheduled Castes in Modern Indian politics: Their Emergence as a Political Power (New Delhi, 1985).

Jaffrelot, Christophe, India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India (London, 2003).

Jaffrelot, Christophe. Dr. Ambedkar and Untouchability: Analysing and Fighting Caste (Delhi, 2005).

Omvedt, Gail. Understanding Caste: From Buddha to Ambedkar and Beyond (New Delhi, 2011).

Zelliot, Eleanor. Ambedkar’s World: The Making of Babasaheb and the Dalit Movement (New Delhi, 2013).  

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Jesus Chairez-Garza Unit coordinator

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