You are on page 1of 6



School of Historical Studies

Imagining Asia(s)
Fall 2014
Book Review Assignment
This assignment requires students to read one (1) book and write a review of that book.
The books are to be selected from the list below and can be found at the library or as a
supplied PDF. In the library, the books are in the middle cabinet against the back wall,
3rd shelf down (left-hand side). Please a sk Mr. Anil Jha if you cannot locate the
As discussed, the book review should critically engage with the ideas in the book.
Reviews should address the argument and presuppositions in the book, clarity and
coherence of the author(s) argument, gaps in arguments and oversights, analytical
categories used, source materials, quality of printing, and, importantly, a final
recommendation to readers about the usefulness of the book in research and the
discipline as a whole.
Please see the example of a book review attached to this email.
The book review should be 1,500 2,000 words in length using Microsoft Word
and be submitted electronically to Dr. Kashshaf Ghani.

Your assignment should begin by providing the full reference of the work you
are reviewing (exclude doi number and price). Refer to the example attached
to this e-mail for this formatting.

The book review is due on Friday, December 12, 2014.
A late submission will result in a penalty of half a letter grade reduction per day.
For example, A to A-, B+ to B, etc.

Please address any questions about this assignment to any of the instructors of the core
Book Review List:
Alam, Muzaffar and Sanjay Subrahmanyam. Indo-Persian Travels in the Age of Discoveries
1400-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. [In Library]
Bose, Sugato. A Hundred Horizons: The Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire. Harvard
University Press, 2006. [as PDF attachment]
Chakravarti, Ranabir. Trade and Traders in Early Indian Society. New Delhi: Manohar
Publishers, 2007. [In Library]
Eaton, Richard M. A Social History of the Deccan, 1300-1761: Eight Indian Lives. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2005. [In Library]
Roy, Tirthankar. India in the World Economy: From Antiquity to the Present. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2012. [In Library].
Sen, Tansen. Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 6001400. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 2004. [In Library]

The Journal of Asian Studies
Additional services for The

Journal of Asian Studies:

Email alerts: Click here

Subscriptions: Click here
Commercial reprints: Click here
Terms of use : Click here

Document Raj: Writing and Scribes in Early Colonial

South India. By Bhavani Raman. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 2012. xii, 278 pp. \$45.00 (cloth).
Kavita Saraswathi Datla
The Journal of Asian Studies / Volume 73 / Issue 01 / February 2014, pp 274 - 276
DOI: 10.1017/S0021911813002234, Published online: 27 February 2014

Link to this article:

How to cite this article:
Kavita Saraswathi Datla (2014). The Journal of Asian Studies, 73, pp 274-276 doi:10.1017/
Request Permissions : Click here

Downloaded from, IP address: on 13 Nov 2014


The Journal of Asian Studies

understanding human gender performance. As she says (contra Butler), To some extent,
lived gender more closely resembles the less-than conscious performativity of possession
rather than the performance of drag (p. 245). Above all, she argues that possession can
help expand our conceptualization of agency. Through her analysis of possession, she
hopes to show that agency is not only about choice and consent but can and should also
be viewed as the process of making room for or accommodating and adjusting oneself
to that which is alien, disturbing, afflictive, or simply foreign (p. 255). She considers anthropology to be possibly unique among academic disciplines in that it depends on such understanding (p. 275). While these are worthwhile and engaging theoretical debates, some
would argue that these more nuanced ways of theorizing agency are not so new.
As the subtitle of the book suggests, in the first part of the book Ram shows how possession among the lower-class and lower-caste communities of Tamil Nadu provokes discomfort among middle-class intellectualsdemographers, public health planners, and
medical practitionersengaged in the management of fertility-related issues who consider possession to be counterproductive to becoming rational, modern subjects. By
the end of the book, Ram hopes to have similarly provoked the reader (and other
modern intellectuals) to de-exoticize possession and to realize that possession may
indeed provide an escape not from patriarchy but from an overly rationalistic, incomplete, and inadequate understanding of the human experience. Whether she has succeeded in this transformative agenda or not will be left to readers to decide. But along
the way she has provided compelling and dramatic insights into possession in South
India. Ram has written an extremely dense, theoretical book that would be a heavy lift
for undergraduate students but will provide much food for thought for graduate students
and scholars of anthropology, religion, gender, and South Asia.
Syracuse University

Document Raj: Writing and Scribes in Early Colonial South India. By

BHAVANI RAMAN. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. xii, 278 pp.
$45.00 (cloth).

How were the British able to rule India at such a long distance? What forms of the
modern state emerged, as a result, in the periphery? In order to assuage the concerns of
the British public and Parliament, the East India Company government in India became
especially concerned with producing documents for metropolitan oversight. In varied
government practices, from land revenue settlement and the adjudication of legal
cases to creating accountability for governance through petitioning, Document Raj
locates the sinews of colonial power in a bureaucracy that privileged continuous
writing. Employing an impressive array of multiple-language sources, Bhavani Raman
makes a compelling case that to truly understand the nature of colonial governance we
should peer inside its offices, courtrooms, and archives, attending to the micro-practices
of this documentary regime and the new forms of power it produced.
In the early colonial period (the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries), the
British encountered and depended upon previously existing, highly elaborate Indian

Book ReviewsSouth Asia


writing cultures. Raman analyzes these scribal and pedagogic cultures, in the process
drawing our attention to the different forms and genres that would have characterized
this period. And yet, this is not just a story about how local actors and the British encountered one another, or how local scholars resisted or alternatively collaborated in the logic
of British governance (pp. 2425). Raman significantly reframes sometimes-vociferous
debates about the production of colonial archives, knowledge, and their relationship to
governance. Rather than focus on the epistemological underpinnings of colonial and
modern disciplinary knowledge to assess the contribution of different players, Raman
draws our attention to the transformations in textual practice that accompanied early
colonial rule and the new forms of expertise and authenticity that underwrote the projects of the modern state. For example, certain forms, like the signature or the petition,
had existed in India before, but now they were deliberately reoriented within a regime of
papereality, or the exclusive reliance on official written documents to represent the
world (p. 3). This regime, Raman artfully demonstrates, entailed peculiar ideas and
demanded particular dispositions from the writing subject, from pedagogy, language,
and even from writing itselfeven as it rendered previous modes of writing and remembering suspect.
The language of transparency and impartiality that bureaucracy speaks about itself is
here subjected to a withering critique. In Document Raj, utilitarianism and bureaucratic
reform (the idea, for example, that public and private business need to be separated) are
shown to have allowed the colonial state to expand territorially and subordinate native
collaborators in a racialized hierarchy. In the process, the local was itself produced. So,
to take one important theme threaded throughout the whole book, Raman argues that
caste was reinvigorated and hardened through the practices of the colonial state: it
took on renewed importance in the recruitment strategies of the East India Company,
even as the functions of caste groups shifted. Upper-caste clerks, for example, were overrepresented in the offices of colonial Madras, where they could no longer legitimately
partake of the wider relationships of exchange and had their upward mobility restricted
within the cutcherry (p. 49). As a result, they ultimately came to place an even greater
emphasis on their own caste- and language-based affiliations, to secure and maintain their
privileged occupations (p. 50).
In one of its most forceful arguments, Document Raj details how the early colonial
regime produced corruption. Even as it demanded and tried to create a continuous
paper trail for metropolitan oversight, the colonial state also resorted to selective documentation (p. 139) at the local level, and especially for the sake of expanding its policing
powers. The undermining of older regimes of verification and truth-telling resulted in a
diminished ability of inhabitants to tell a credible story (p. 201). It is this process that led
to a twinning of bureaucratic expansion with discretionary authority in the workings of
governmenttracks that have been mistakenly understood to be separate and conflicting. Police, judges, rural officers, and village headmen wielded a great deal of (sometimes
violent) discretionary power, determining facts rather than simply administering the law.
The product was a novel form of modern rule, unlike anything that had obtained before
this encounterin pre-colonial India or back home in the metropole.
An immensely valuable and original contribution to the study of colonialism and
modern governance, Document Raj is especially significant for the novel and productive
questions it provokes: Is the regime produced in India a perversion of an ideal type, or
characteristic of modern bureaucracy more generally? What is the relationship
between the documentary regime of the East India Company and religion, for
example? Is this a form of secular governance that necessarily disqualifies older forms
of truth-telling? And finally, given Ramans argument about the emergence of a


The Journal of Asian Studies

specifically colonial form of power, how should we think about the relationship between
this period of early colonial rule and the period that is commonly taken as the model for
theories of colonialism (the late nineteenth century)?
Mount Holyoke College

The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India. By ANUPAMA RAO.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009. xxi, 392 pp. $31.95 (paper).

In recent times, there has been a burgeoning of studies on Dalits in India, primarily
in response to their arrival on the Indian political landscape to redefine the contours of
social science scholarship within South Asian studies. It has forced social scientists to
reconsider the relevance of the caste category and untouchability as tools of analysis to
understand the social and historical transformations of modern India. Scholarly interventions by Ramnarayan Singh Rawat, Badri Narayan, and Gopal Guru have brought to the
fore vital historical information and have contributed new theoretical insights to the field.
They help us to contextualize Dalit lives and their struggles during colonial and postcolonial times. Moreover, these new studies, through their critical reflections on the multiple dimensions of social, economic, cultural, and ideological contestations, reevaluate
the making of the modern Indian society and its political avatarliberal democracy.
Anupama Raos The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India feeds
into this stream of contemporary scholarship and adds another layer of theoretical sophistication to the field of Dalit studies. It coalesces the colonial and postcolonial predicament of Dalits as one historical process to show the indispensable link of the Dalits to
the project of modernity in India. The book traces the roots of anti-caste (antiBrahmanism) and Dalit consciousness to colonial modernity and its institutional structures. It demonstrates the critical role of the spread of modern education, employment
opportunities, and ideas among untouchables in contesting injustice and devising tools of
emancipation based on the ethos of liberal humanism and democratic egalitarianism.
The strength of the book lies in its massive historical archival research backed up by
meticulous anthropological fieldwork. Since the book covers a long period of history from
the early nineteenth century to the 1990s, it skilfully uses multiple theoretical insights in
retrieving Dalits from visible and invisible forms of violence, oppression, and domination.
At one level, while placing the Dalit as central to the narrative of the book, it weaves the
complicated relationship of Dalits with Hinduism and its institutional structures that
reinforce inhuman oppression and justify inequality as sanctioned by religion. On the
other hand, the book also brings out the contradictory role of the colonial and postcolonial state policies intended to protect Dalits from the social stigma of caste and its oppression, which ironically made them more vulnerable to violence and violation by caste
In the caste-ridden Hindu society, Dalit existence as an untouchable subject is predicated on multiple deprivations, from basic economic necessities to social, cultural, and
physical exclusion. The book investigates the activism of educated Dalits from the early
nineteenth century to help their brethren to avail themselves of multiple avenues to