The Vulgarity of Caste
Dalits, Sexuality, and Humanity in Modern India
Shailaja Paik





On the afternoon of July 14, 2016, we—Meena Javale, a Dalit (“Untouchable”) Tamasha woman in her early fifties; her sister Veena; their friend Rupali Jagtap; and I—were discussing the lives of women in Tamasha in Meena’s apartment in Somvar Peth-Pune (Maharashtra, a strongly nationalist state in Western India).1 Tamasha is a popular form of public theatre practiced predominantly by Dalits and is considered a traditional Dalit cultural performance art. This secular traveling public theatre that involves music and dance is often branded ashlil (vulgar) by the larger society. Fighting back tears after glancing at her housemaid, who had just entered the room and become an unfortunate point of comparison, Meena expressed a sense of desperation: “This [Tamasha] life is such a despicable one. . . . Even this kamvali [maid] has honor. [But] we [dancers in Tamasha] are looked upon with such disdain [by respectable society] that we will not be hired even as [lowly] maids.” Meena’s shame is evidence that she had internalized Indian brahmani (brahmanical, with reference to notions of high and low, pure and impure) society’s moral hierarchy of respect and decency that stigmatized Tamasha women as supposedly immoral, lowly, dishonorable, and lacking manuski (human dignity, humanity). Because their sensual and sexual stage performances and thus their labor were also performative iterations of Dalit womanhood, Meena’s participation in an economy of sexual excess confirmed her presumed ashlil quality and her status as a surplus and thus sexually available woman within what I call the sex-gender-caste complex. Her maid, while of a lower economic class, enjoyed the esteem of a supposedly moral life: asexual, respectable, and full of hard work—cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and cleaning the house. Meena’s wages, in contrast, were construed as unearned, the wages of play, of excessive sexuality, of the surplus woman. The discourse of the ashlil had prevented Meena from translating her economic and cultural successes into the symbolic capital of respectability, into manuski, and into being recognized as an assal/assli (authentic) Marathi.

Meena and Veena are second-generation Tamasha women. They followed their parents’ profession of performing with their bodies: singing (often sexually explicit lyrics), dancing, swinging, stomping, leaping, shimmying, and gesturing lewdly on stage. Historically, Tamasgirs—as those associated with Tamasha are called in Marathi, and whom I refer to as Tamasha people and Tamasha women—have disproportionately come from Dalit communities, and Meena was troubled by the centuries-old performing art that cast her, even beyond the stage, as a “dirty,” denigrated, salacious “vamp,” nothing less than a “prostitute.”2 She was the opposite of the stereotypical “good,” “respectable” caste Hindu woman, who was construed as chaste, modest, protected, and dependent on men. Tamasha was rooted in the critical labor of the sex-gender-caste complex, which, on the one hand, reduced women to their biological functions and social roles as wives and mothers to produce and reproduce the economy of caste and, on the other, assigned to women different sexual statuses according to their position in the caste hierarchy. As a result, while dominant caste and in general caste Hindu women are deemed socially respectable, Dalit women are exploited, denied respectability, and rendered sexually available. Caste violence is central to constituting Dalit women’s subjectivity. Meena had played the role of the sexually available Tamasha woman long enough and was thus considered brazen, reckless, and rebellious—a desirable and dangerous woman on the loose. Tamasha converted her and her practice of dance, song, and gestures into a sexual-desire-producing machine, and the conflation of her stage performance and her personhood offstage relegated her to the lowest rungs of hierarchies of caste, gender, and sexuality—a mere puppet in the theatre as well as in the larger social play of Tamasha.

Yet she stuck to her assigned role throughout her life. Even though, singing from the wings, she was no longer center stage in 2016, she had grown accustomed to her embodied identity as a Tamasha woman. For, as much shame as Meena felt over her complicity in her own exploitation, her performances in Tamasha—which had been recuperated by various agents within the state of Maharashtra in the second half of the twentieth century as an icon of an assli regional and global Marathi identity (see chapter 5)—and the performativity of a labor that had constituted her as a Tamasha woman had also supplied her with the means to support herself and her family. Such entangled and complex historical processes as the radical politics of manuski of anticaste activist, intellectual, and formidable leader of modern India Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (see chapters 3 and 4) and postcolonial Marathikaran (literally, becoming Marathi, but here constituting a distinctive Marathi identity; see chapter 5) produced in Tamasha women a certain ambivalence about the violence they experienced and the pleasure they provided as they performed both the legacies of caste slavery as well as their own agency as artists and women. As a result, Meena was exhausted, angry, and in pain: “What do you want to know about me, and how will it help us [Tamasha women] anyway? How will it change my life?” Meena asked me.

Meena’s comparison of herself to her maid highlights Tamasha women’s exploitation and subjection, as well as the regimes of power they have been both constituted by and implicated in. Their dual constitution-implication is at the heart of Tamasha performativity. Meena exposed the discrepancies between high and low, moral and immoral, decent and vulgar, which are central to the history and politics of caste, gender, sexuality, modernity, and morality in India. Even in the safe space of her home, Meena avoided the Marathi word ashlil to describe her immoral, peripatetic, performative, and performing life. It was difficult for Meena to express the banal equation between Tamasha and the ashlil that paradigmatically represented her life in the presence of her family—her sister, daughter, son, and ailing mother—and her friend. Rupali was, however, able to succinctly capture the “stickiness”3 of the ashlil, the way it attaches not to the task or even the art primarily but to the body of the person that performs it and thus forecloses economic opportunities beyond Tamasha: “Even if we want to seek employment as maids, nobody will employ us.” Although Ambedkar did not himself use the word ashlil, he did capture the essence of the ashlil sticking to the Untouchable when he referred to a “protective discolouration”4 that cannot be peeled off and that prevents the realization of an authentic selfhood. Untouchables could not escape their ascribed status due to the caste order.

Blind to the implications of Meena and other Tamasha women’s sociosexual labor, which stigmatized them as ashlil, and to their financial difficulties and consequently their inability to move out of Tamasha, Chetan Hivale—an eloquent male sutradhar (leading narrator in his Tamasha troupe) who belonged to the lower touchable shimpi (tailor) caste but replicated the savarna (touchable, high-caste) value system—argued vehemently against Tamasha women’s dancing: “This is all vulgar. These women can easily take up [honest and honorable menial] occupations, like working as maids, washing dishes and clothes in many homes, or maybe selling vegetables. Why engage in this vulgar dance and song?”5 Chetan was outraged by Tamasha women because of the sexualized stigma—the fetishistic image of the vulgar, disgusting, raunchy, and bawdy things they sang about and performed with their bodies on stage. He reduced Tamasha women to their bodies alone, to salacious vamps seducing men. In the process, he constructed binaries of modest, respectable, restrained non-Tamasha women and salaciously and gloriously gyrating, unhindered, untethered Tamasha women.

Although our entire conversation was in Marathi, Chetan, like many fellow Maharashtrian interlocutors, used the English word vulgar to describe Tamasha. Unlike Meena, who refused to name it, Chetan (like many Dalits, touchables, and agents of both the British colonial and postcolonial Indian state) easily pinned down the vulgar using the modern and universal English language. In so doing, he vocalized his anxiety and fear about the corrupting influence of Tamasha women and also underlined the views of the larger, so-called honorable Dalit-and-touchable society regarding the elimination of vulgar Tamasha women and Dalit Tamasha women’s immoral performative profession.

Chetan could not hide his reworked bourgeois hypocrisy. He was the sutradhar of a Tamasha troupe led by a Dalit woman, Chandni, and he and his family depended upon Tamasha for their livelihood, yet he denigrated Tamasha and Tamasha women. He did not acknowledge—or perhaps recognize—the ambivalent tension Tamasha women enacted in consenting to their coercion through both their stage and iterative performances of Tamasha: Tamasha women were dangerous and powerful at the same time. Chetan was not troubled by the way Tamasha capitalized on the sexual and social labor of Dalit Tamasha women to provide a regular, decent wage to men like him and thus support their families, kin, and many members of the Tamasha troupe. He completely ignored the sociosexual labor of caste, the violence of Tamasha, and the skill, training, and virtuosity of Tamasha women. Chetan conveniently concluded that Tamasha women and, by implication, Dalit women were vulgar. The performativity of his aesthetic judgment functioned as a “gimmick,”6 conflating the use value of Tamasha and the abstract labor of Tamasha and Dalit women—supposedly nonproductive and contingent workers at the margins of the market. As a result, he underlined a strict sexual morality for all Tamasha women. Both he and Meena were complicit in adhering to social norms; they created a hierarchy of women: honorable women sell vegetables or wash dishes and clothes, and dishonorable women sell bodily performance. Neither Meena nor Chetan thought about how caste violence, the sex-gender-caste complex, and economic relations constituted and created Dalit women’s subjectivity and their vulnerability. Yet, unlike Meena, who covertly challenged the duplicity of men who both benefited from (either financially or as audience members) and stigmatized Tamasha as well as her exploitation and subjection that limited her possibilities in the context of the sexual-caste economy (that is, the sexual and economic arrangements producing the caste system), Chetan reveled in that duplicity and his denigration of Tamasha women.

The fear of ashlil performativity and performance here is overdetermined. Tamasha, through the mundane and quotidian, concretized anxieties and fears about caste transgressions, the obscene, the ashlil, sex, and sexuality in Marathi society. The repetitive, iterative performativity of women living a Tamasha life ultimately produced a “truth” about Tamasha and Tamasha women: (1) both are subject to the sex-gender-caste complex that perpetuates the sexual-caste economy; and (2) both are characterized by an ambivalence (of pleasure and violence) about their complicity with strategies of subjection. Many dominant-caste (and Dalit) men were oblivious to the deep systemic work of the sexual-caste economy, the sex-gender-caste complex, that generated both difficulties and possibilities for Dalit women. Scholarly and popular treatments of Tamasha have rarely commented on the conditions of disempowerment, poverty, and caste violence under which women performed. Indeed, some of these have reinscribed and perpetuated its reputation for sexual innuendo and moral depravity, displacing Tamasha women from the center of their commentaries and reducing Tamasha women to objects of pleasure that serve only to corrupt men and shape touchable men’s subjectivity. In these studies, Tamasha is thus a commodity through which men’s emotions and masculine fantasies are created, circulated, and regulated. In The Vulgarity of Caste, I center the lives of Tamasha women and connect them to male leaders, poets, and state patronage and regulation, which disproportionately affected Dalit women.

This book is the first full-length monograph on the social and intellectual history and the affective life of Tamasha, and it offers an argument for the critical place of sociality, of sexuality, and of humanity in the Dalit world. I focus on three moments: pre-Ambedkar, Ambedkar, and post-Ambedkar to analyze the contested cultural politics in Maharashtra (and broadly India)—the ways in which a proper brahmani-Hindu and assli nationalist Marathi modernity were constructed—and how the Dalit woman’s body became a site for affirming male heterosexual desire, male sociability, and sexual identity. In so doing, I illuminate the sexual-caste economy—that is, the caste-based social, sexual, and economic arrangements of Tamasha as both stage performance and iterative performativity. I put forward a history of Tamasha from the vantage point of the Dalit women who were most easily accused of sexual excess by the larger society. To do so, I root my examination of Tamasha in the sex-gender-caste complex and its entanglements with sociality, humanity, untouchability, and sexuality. In the process, I unpack different articulations of Dalitness and present Dalits as complete, complex, undiminished manus (human beings). I analyze how the ashlil stuck to Dalits, how the processes and politics of Tamasha extended and consolidated caste stigmatization and the subjection of Dalits, and how Tamasha people and Tamasha women nonetheless exercised a constrained agency. Although Tamasha exploited Tamasha women, women also exploited the ambivalent relationship between pleasure and violence in Tamasha to create opportunities for themselves. Although shameful, stigmatizing, and socially ostracizing, Tamasha, as their only means of earning a living, offered Tamasha people possibilities and was economically empowering. On top of this, the literal analysis of Tamasha is also set against a figurative or metaphorical (or metonymical) one, where the performativity of caste and gender are accentuated in Tamasha such that Tamasha operates as a metonym for the sex-gender-caste complex as a social performance in general.7

The Sex-Gender-Caste Complex: Surplus Women and Caste Slavery

This book is an exploration of what I call the sex-gender-caste complex—that is, the sexual and gendered arrangements of the caste system as they operated to oppress Dalit Tamasha women and from within which those women sought to constitute themselves as strong, successful, and willful artistic agents. The control of sex and female sexuality leads to the social reproduction of caste. The dialectical processes of oppression and self-definition played out on the integrated terrain of caste politics and contested patriarchies as manifested in the entertainment, pleasure, and violence of Tamasha. The mechanisms of caste created and maintained hierarchy, untouchability, and inequality and strengthened boundaries, reinforcing the benefits of the sex-gender-caste complex for touchables and the basis for the exploitation of Dalits. Dominant castes invested in classifying and elevating themselves above Dalits and dehumanizing Dalits. Dalits, however, also adopted various strategies for contesting, navigating, and surviving the structures of caste and Tamasha, wrenching agency, humanity, and respectability for themselves.

In 1916, Ambedkar launched a critique of brahmani patriarchy and endogamy, which he called the mechanism of caste, as it functioned to regulate the sexuality, social mobility, and economic resources of women—especially surplus (i.e., unmarried or “unmarriageable”) women—and thus safeguard brahman male power and sexual privilege by preventing those women from seeking intercaste marriages and transgressing the boundaries of the caste hierarchy. Ambedkar applied theories of economics and value to the institution of marriage and endogamy to understand the surplus woman who as an excess became a danger to brahmani patriarchy.8 In so doing, he offered foundational critiques of the gendered and sexual power of caste domination. Whereas surplus men were revered, surplus women were seen as a menace to brahmani male power, always threatening to entice men to transgress caste. Women were, insofar as their sexuality required regulation, central to the institution of caste. Endogamy restricted conjugal mixing across castes and perpetuated inequality by fusing social and sexual reproduction. I extend Ambedkar’s analysis of the irresolvable problem of the surplus woman and the construction of caste through endogamy—the sex-gender-caste complex—and apply it to the historical performativity of Tamasha and such Dalit Tamasha women as Pavalabai Tabaji Bhalerao Hivargaokarin (1870–1939; chapter 2) of Mahar caste and Mangalatai Bansode (1965–; chapter 6) of Mang caste, as well as the mobilization of the prostitute and other public women in constructions of the new Dalit woman in Ambedkar’s Dalit humanist and liberation project (chapters 3 and 4), and in defining Marathi identity either in films, film advertisements, or Tamasha education in Maharashtra (chapters 5 and 6).

Although on the one hand, performers in South Asia typically hailed from a range of lower-caste and Dalit communities,9 and on the other, all performing women were, through a generalized logic of good and bad women, viewed as tainted Dalit women performing in Tamasha and shouldered a specific burden determined by the logics of the sex-gender-caste complex. Tamasha people and Tamasha women, or “dancing girls,” were always on the move, performing in cities and villages. Their constant movement without a settled location was seen as evidence of their unstable, illicit, and uncivilized character. Tamasha women did not measure up to the moral benchmarks necessary to achieve the status of woman or even manus. Although many Tamasha women were married, had monogamous relationships, and bore children (especially sons), elites viewed them as surplus women operating outside the marriage-and-family scheme, and as such, they were characterized primarily by perceived flexible sexual arrangements with many men. Consequently, they became women on the loose or “common prostitutes”—marked by both their superfluity and sexual excess and availability—and as agents of moral and sexual contamination, they had to be contained and even eliminated. I do not aim to vilify prostitutes but rather illuminate how elite British and touchables, through the sex-gender-caste complex, cunningly amalgamated a range of dancers and singers, including Tamasha women, into the category of the prostitute. For them, the cause of her violation was her (surplus) sex and (excessive) sexuality, which naturally sought to entice and expropriate. Whereas Ambedkar observed that the surplus quality of the widow was managed through a set of iterative practices of negative control, that of the Dalit Tamasha woman, linked more closely to the prostitute as sexually charged and available, was viewed as both negative and corrosive and yet necessary in order to assert the authentic caste selfhood of the savarnas and later, in the radical politics of Ambedkar and the Ambedkarite Jalsakars, of Dalits too.

Thus the “play” of Tamasha successfully occludes “work” in the sense that the always already alienated sexual labor of the Dalit woman performer produces the surplus that keeps the sexual-caste economy in place (chapter 1).10 Tamasha and its practitioners paradigmatically represented excess, a kind of waste of the world. Tamasha was a carnivalesque and bawdy performance, a pure amusement, and the performativity of the Dalit Tamasha woman could not be put to productive use in the eyes of most elite. Caste violence remained at the root of these contestations between the colonized and colonizers, between Indians and the British, as well as among Indians themselves. Although Dalits’ life-world changed over the century, the systemic caste mechanism, steeped in sexual purity, maintained differences between Dalit and higher caste women.

When I spoke to each of them in 2016, Meena Javale and Chetan Hivale rehearsed a more than century-old debate over prostitute women and their corrupt dhanda (business, profession). Since the end of the nineteenth century, all paternalistic, masculine actors—colonial and postcolonial state agents, elite touchables, and radical Dalit men—formed a tripartite patriarchal structure, sharing a discourse of decency through which they engaged in debates over ashlil and reinforced the social power of the sex-gender-caste complex. As symbols of the ashlil and the bibhatsa (disgusting), Tamasha women were at the center of this patriarchal triangle, objectified by a common desire to police public morality in order to govern (themselves) and build a moral and modern India.

Historically, the sexual excess—that is, the immoderate and overabundant sexuality—of Dalit Tamasha women at the center of this patriarchal triangle was a consequence of the cunning mechanisms of caste slavery.11 The sex-gender-caste complex and the mechanisms of agrarian caste slavery limited Untouchables’ freedom to speak, act, think, dress, and have honor, respect, virtue, education, wealth, and resources; they were coerced to follow the dictates of the dominant castes and prescribed callings not of their own choice. Even the caste mechanism of endogamy—and the accompanying regulation of women’s sexuality, social mobility, and economic resources—and its observance among non-brahmans, Ambedkar argued, is evidence of the consolidation of brahmanism, reinforcing brahman exceptionalism and brahman ideals (chapter 3). In his speech to the Bombay Presidency Mahar Conference on May 31, 1936, Ambedkar argued that “Untouchables were worse than slaves” in the Hindu religion, and untouchability was thus more cruel than slavery: “The Untouchables can claim none of the advantages of an unfree social order and are left to bear all the disadvantages of a free social order.”12 As such, there was always a violence at play with regard to Dalit culture, artistry, and creativity in the fun-filled Tamasha. Tamasha people, like radical Dalit leaders, may not have presented any overt opposition or defiance to the mechanisms of caste, but Tamasha did produce a unique Dalitness. It signified the assigned vulgarity, vitiated being, and mutilated humanity of Dalits and at the same time also opened up opportunities for radical insurgency and covert, clandestine forms of resistance.

While Tamasha provided livelihoods for Tamasha people and granted some independence to Tamasha women, it also stigmatized them as inherently ashlil—these were the double binds of subjugation and liberation. Tamasha women especially carried the burden of being inherently indecent and ashlil, which extended to the Dalit samaj (community). Poor Dalit Tamasha women’s bodies and work (like those of maids, nannies, and nurses) associated with moral and physical taint were most stigmatized and evoked moral rhetoric. This is also an effect of the sex-gender-caste complex. The larger society considered them “dirty,” involved in doing dirty work connected with sex and body, which offended brahmani society’s moral conceptions. And to civilizing Dalits seeking self-respect, Tamasha women wounded the dignity of their samaj. They were objects to stroke men’s egos and to help them attain and enhance their manliness; Tamasha women were to serve all men and were essential to constructing male sexuality—this was the gender imbalance. Sex plays degraded the Tamasha woman but not the man. Stripped of her personal identity, she became an image and construct of a woman desired by men. She was brutalized by caste violence, the social and sexual inequalities of caste slavery, dislocated from home, her domestic marital space, domestic propriety, and was naturally pursuing her rape and was blamed and even held responsible for it. Civilized Indians, therefore, had to abandon the ashlil and become shilvan (decent, modest, virtuous). Yet, the struggle for Dalits, Dalit Tamasha people, and especially Dalit Tamasha women was to become not only shilvan but also assli in order to negotiate and survive the terrors of caste. Only by becoming shilvan and assli could Tamasha women gain legitimacy. The pursuit of legitimacy—of becoming shilvan and thus assliby Dalits and Tamasha women is a political strategy formed both in the context of and in response to caste slavery, sexual violence, and the sex-gender-caste complex. Understanding it as such is crucial to writing Dalit history.

In 2018, after I had presented a conference paper on Ambedkarite Jalse (song dramas focusing on social and political themes and their poetics-politics), a renowned male brahman scholar in his early sixties who had not attended my talk had the audacity to ask me, “But why don’t these [Dalit Tamasha] people own their art? Why don’t they own it with pride like we see with other communities?”

I answered him, “If all Dalits were so powerful as to assert themselves and their presumably degraded arts, they would not have needed a social and political revolution. We need to pay attention to the deep problems at the root of caste violence.”

This exchange reveals the historical and ongoing entanglements of the politics of caste, class, gender, respectability, vulgarity, and artistry in Tamasha. Some non-Dalit scholars and laypeople romanticize Tamasha without understanding the ongoing context of structural violence encoded in it and its ultimate social effect on Dalits. The apathetic brahman scholar, blinded by his supreme caste location, was limited in his understanding of what depictions of vulgarity meant for Dalits. He philosophized on who should be doing what and did not consider the social and sexual problems faced by Dalits, both elites and ordinary. He easily patronized and paternalized Dalit women and their arts, paying scarce attention to the numerous struggles—social, political, intellectual, psychological, and cultural—that ordinary Dalits have waged over centuries to earn their livelihoods and generate Dalit manus (human) and manuski. Only recently have some Dalits begun to proudly claim their supposedly polluted arts, such as drumming, as in the case of the Parai of Tamil Nadu.13 However, the drum is different from the body, and reclaiming the stigmatized drum is much different from extracting a valorized sensual body from the sex-gender-caste complex.

Performance and Performativity

Tamasha is both a performance and performative; its practitioners not only dance and sing on stage to entertain but also, through their bodily and embodied performances, create meaning about their caste, gender, and sexual identities. I am building on and deepening Judith Butler’s analysis of performativity here by theorizing performance and performativity together and analyzing the order, the systemic and systematic work, of the triple jeopardy of imperialism, caste, and sexism afflicting Tamasha women in twentieth-century Maharashtra. The stylized, iterative, and eroticized performativity of a Tamasha life creates the social reality of Dalit women’s labor, caste, gender, and sexuality.14 The performativity of Tamasha is not limited to a single act but to a whole range of stylized repetitions that, on the one hand, normalize and naturalize the sex-gender-caste complex and its violent effects on Tamasha women and, on the other, produce new Dalit and Marathi subjectivities.

Through the constrained “reiteration of a set of norms” that concealed, through normalization and naturalization, the conventions and power relations of the sex-gender-caste complex, Tamasha gained authority and became a nexus and discourse of power in Western India from the early twentieth century, riling both caste and sexual anxieties; caste distinctions operated to defend against certain socially endangering sexual transgressions. Embracing men (in the audience) from a range of castes who produced, reproduced, and preserved among themselves masti (intoxication, carefreeness, and a gamut of affects unleashing unruly masculine sexual energy), male homosociality, and the masculine bonding enjoyed in the libidinous space of Tamasha, Tamasha and the pleasurable effects of a Tamasha performance created an illusion of normalcy and concealed the feudal-patriarchal sexual-caste violence it was rooted in.

Dalits negotiated the caste violence, brutality, and exploitation recast as seduction and desire in Tamasha, however, struggling, on one level, to negotiate this violence-pleasure nexus for their own personal, artistic, and material gain and, on another, to transform themselves from ashlil to assli human beings (manus) in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Maharashtra. In taking the stage and, indeed, living a Tamasha life, women such as Pavalabai Tabaji Bhalerao Hivargaokarin (1870–1939; chapter 2) and Mangalatai Bansode (1965–; chapter 6) illustrate Tamasha women’s ability to capitalize on their artistry and define themselves as Dalit Tamasha women on their own terms, even as their negotiation of the ambivalent violence-pleasure nexus was always limited by the constraints of the sex-gender-caste complex. In the colonial and postcolonial periods, Dalits’ status as both shilvan and assli was significant insofar as it formed the basis for their inclusion in the regional processes of Marathikaran (chapter 5) and eventually in the Indian nation, thereby becoming good citizens of modern India.

Historically, savarna elites worked hard to construct and naturalize the idiom of the ashlil and one of its tools, Tamasha, as a symbol of Dalitness—ambivalent, contradictory, unstable and at the same time dangerous, resilient, and insurgent. Tamasha in the garb of nonsense and play became performative of the paradoxical conditions of Dalitness. It represented a complicated nexus of fear, vulgarity, anxiety, and enjoyment. Poignant social and intellectual contests over vulgarity, disgust, and extracting the labor and creativity of Tamasha women illustrate that management of gender expression, sexual behaviors, domestic arrangements, conjugality, community honor, and intimate relationships were most germane to Indians of a range of castes and classes and the colonial British and postcolonial Indian government.

The social and sexual arrangements of the ashlil uniquely illuminate the claims and counterclaims of elite touchables and subaltern Dalits, revealing both the possibilities and limits of attempts to contest the boundaries of caste and sexuality over the twentieth century. In this period, sexuality and ashlil emerged as a crucial modern conjuncture to frame the political recognition of Dalit humanity and the Dalit samaj. Tamasha was a precarious product of repetitive acts of caste, work/labor, and embodied performativity to produce untouchability, surplus women, and the caste game—that is, the reproduction of the contingent social structure of caste, domination, and humiliation that obscured the conditions of playing by securing the willing participation of Tamasha women.15

Vulgarity and sexuality, enacted through Tamasha, remained central to the social upheaval of the modern period and resulted in the creation of new differentiations of caste and distinctions of high over low. Paradoxically, although there was power in the performative to violate and breach the walls of domination, Dalits could not simply celebrate vulgarity and Tamasha because it became an essence of and, indeed, an injurious element of Dalitness and their “social death.”16 Unlike non-Dalits, Dalits, as liminal and condemned, did not have the luxury to play with or romanticize either vulgarity or their humanity. Becoming assli Marathi meant defining themselves in opposition to what was ashlil. They could establish their new status in an independent Maharashtra by condemning the ashlil in Tamasha, learning the epithets and imitating the grammar of brahmani, cultured natak (drama)/sangeet natak (song drama), and joining in on the violence in sanitizing and regulating Tamasha and themselves to prove worthy of admission to the new nation (chapters 4 and 5). The making of modern and respectable citizens was predicated upon the policing of Dalit women’s sexuality and indeed on the performance of respectability by Tamasha women.

Tamasha, Dalitness, and Ambivalence

The history of Tamasha and Tamasha women is rife with ambivalence. Dalits were implicitly involved in the mimetic enactments of identity, personhood, and entitlements. Mimicry is a production of the subject as both the same and other,17 and colonial mimicry and hybridity can be understood in terms of an ambivalence by which colonial subjects simultaneously inhabit opposing cultural (colonial and their own) perceptions and dimensions. This ambivalence—this duality that presents a split in the identity of the colonized other—creates subjects who are of both their own cultural identity and the colonizer’s. In Tamasha, the cultural location of the performance and the performers is ambivalent, marked by a tension between the cultural identity of the performers (female, Dalit, Marathi) and that imposed by the interests of others (male, touchable, high caste and hence Indian, colonial).

Tamasha itself is arguably an ambivalent performance art, inhering both repulsion (and compulsion) and attraction. On the one hand, it reproduces the violence of caste slavery and the sex-gender-caste complex by forcing sexualized bodily performances from Dalit women, and, on the other, it is a source of pleasure to both the audience, in terms of its eroticism and masti, as well as the performers, in terms of their artistry and skill. Tamasha women are also characterized by an ambivalence about their Tamasha performances and performativity. As the stories of Pavalabai (chapter 2) and Mangalatai (chapter 6) illustrate, although Tamasha exploited Tamasha women, these women also exploited the ambivalent relationship between pleasure and violence in Tamasha to create opportunities for themselves and constitute a Dalit subjectivity—abject, ravaged, pained, and resilient. This not only allowed them to profit (materially and socially) from their own exploitation, but it was also the source of great pain, as revealed by Meena Javale above.

The performativity of Tamasha—as a ritualized production of sanctioned and unsanctioned sexuality and caste transgressions under the force of prohibition—was ambivalent. The simultaneous processes of production and subjugation of Dalits in ashlil Tamasha illuminate how Tamasha both dehumanized Dalits and produced occasional spaces for them to rework the norms of caste, ashlil, and sexuality and thus reshape what it means to be Dalit. This mechanism reveals the ambivalent regimes of power at work in the ashlil, caste, and Tamasha through and in which Tamasha women were constituted and implicated. In reiterating caste, gender, sexuality, and ashlil norms, Tamasha women participated in the painful pleasures of miming norms that wield power.

Indians of various castes negotiated tradition, modernity, sexuality, and the nation by morally and materially policing the vulgar, especially Tamasha, at specific historical conjunctures. Concerns over vulgarity and Tamasha reveal a multitude of sensoriums and visceral feelings that strategically encoded caste, gender, and race. The social and sexual arrangements of vulgarity in the context of Tamasha uniquely illuminate the claims and counterclaims of dominant-caste elites and subaltern Dalits, revealing both the possibilities and limits of attempts to contest the boundaries of caste and sexuality over the twentieth century. The normativizing power of caste-based shil-ashlil-manuski-assli inscribed capacities and characteristics that made only certain people’s lives valuable and worthy of rights and protection.

Ashlil, Manuski, Assli

The ashlil, manuski, and assli are Marathi concepts coded with deep vernacular contexts in the colonial and postcolonial period that provide insights into our affective understanding of the hierarchical caste order.18 Tamasha’s politics and process of struggle are embodied by these concepts, which generated and embodied more or less force at particular conjunctures. I pay close attention to the content of concepts that nurtured and strengthened sentiments according to graded social status as well as their form as they forcefully shaped and transformed Dalits. Ashlil is a paradigmatic symbol of Tamasha and denigrated Dalitness. The turn to manus and manuski was a Dalit response to the dehumanizing politics of the ashlil. Although touchables and Dalits sought assli status during the colonial period, this pursuit sharpened during struggles over regional and linguistic authenticity in the new nation-state of Maharashtra and in India during the postcolonial period as anxious touchable elites appropriated Tamasha as a sign of assli Marathi identity. Tamasha people repurposed hegemonic norms and politics of assli, newly reinforcing Tamasha as their jativant (caste; see chapter 5) or khandani (ancestral lineage; see chapter 6) capital and asserting their traditional roots in the arts form. The ashlil has stuck to Dalits because they are Dalits, and on this basis they have been denied manuski and assli status. Touchables are not subject to the stickiness of the ashlil; even when they appropriate ashlil aspects of culture, such as Tamasha, they remain assli and retain their humanity.


The English word vulgar generally corresponds to a single Marathi and Hindi word: ashlil. Ashlil summarizes a constellation of concepts: anuchit (improper, inappropriate, or flawed), gramya (literally rural, but meaning disorderly, inappropriate, uncouth, coarse), and asabhya (indecent and not acceptable to civilized, cultured people). All these words evoke the vulgar in terms of masses, “folk,” commonality and evoke vulgarity in people’s minds. The British predominantly used the word obscene in their official record; yet the bookish, elitist word intersects and is in tension with the vernacular and colloquial term vulgar, which was used by my interlocutors. Modern colonial governmentality and Victorian values, through detailed analytical methodology, deployed bourgeois technologies of sex and sexuality and cracked down on obscenity because it depicted sex as dirty, corrupt, and a negative force.

From the end of the nineteenth century, caste became one modality by which the ashlil was ascribed. In Maharashtra, vulgarity stuck to Dalits, who were easily blamed for society’s ills and thus ideal for absorbing all that was characterized as ashlil within the Marathi, not to mention the larger Indian community. This characterization of Dalits as ashlil was also forged by both the colonial state and the independent state of Maharashtra, as well as the civil society. As such, at the turn of the twentieth century, the ashlil deployed through Tamasha accelerated the dehumanizing effects of caste for Dalits. There was a key principle at the heart of paradigmatic caste society—a deep correlation between Dalit Tamasha peoples’ social-structural abjection and ashlil status that lasted into post-independence (1947) and the early 1960s, when they began to claim their assli identity. As a result, the discourse of modernity deployed the ashlil and bibhatsa as intrinsic to the humiliation and negation of Dalits, thus accentuating their pollution, their impurity, and rendering Dalitness into a permanent, generational, and genealogical identity.

Touchables used the normativizing power undergirding the ashlil, caste, and culture hierarchies in Tamasha to marginalize, exclude, and dehumanize Dalits, denying them certain rights. Being ashlil intensified the idea that Dalits were inferior and backward in a caste hierarchy ruled by dominant castes. It degraded them further; being characterized as ashlil became evidence of Dalit identity and inferiority and, concomitantly, abstinence from ashlil became proof of touchable, especially savarna caste superiority and power. Caste was thus constantly altered and updated through shilvan-ashlil-assli to fit the requirements of dominant elites. Caste mutated to keep its systemic structure and hierarchy intact and protect its beneficiaries. As I show throughout this book, it operated through the ashlil, assli, and Tamasha.

Ashlil functioned on a ladder of honor and denigration. To Ambedkar, “Castes form a graded system of sovereignties, high and low, which are jealous of their status and which know that if a general dissolution came, some of them stand to lose more of their prestige and power than others do.”19 The mechanism of caste was a peculiar system of “graded inequality,” ranking human beings and assigning them value—“the higher the grade of a caste, the greater the number of these [social and religious] rights”20 and also the greater amount of decency its members supposedly possessed. Conversely, the lower the grade of a caste, the fewer the rights and the more likely its members were to be indecent and hence contemptible.21 The exploitation of Dalits and the dispossession of their social and cultural capital and decency worked according to a scale that marked Dalits as wild, primitive, uncouth, animallike, childlike and hence ashlil. The worst features of the caste system and untouchability were its antisocial spirit, isolation, and exclusion, which produced Dalits as inferior humans and led to a social psychology of contempt and hatred toward them. Yet each caste was oppressor and oppressed—Dalits were oppressed by touchables, and Dalits stigmatized and oppressed those of their own caste, especially Tamasha women. As a result, ashlil deployed through the caste system thrived on dissension and inequality, thus maintaining the hierarchy.

The complex and mutual constitution of the ashlil and caste necessitates rethinking the concept of labor, especially by centering a particular Dalit: the Tamasha woman. Tamasha normatively sharpened the constitution of Dalits as ashlil and derived its power through recurrent sedimentation or materiality of Dalits’ labor, mutilated humanity, and abjection embedded in the caste system. By analyzing the material conditions of Tamasha as a form of labor susceptible to exploitation like other forms of labor and at the same time recognizing Tamasha women’s resistance, refusal, resilience, manipulation, and negotiation, we can develop a nuanced understanding and new knowledge about Tamasha women’s experiences.

The ashlil stuck to Dalit Tamasha and, at moments, to the Dalit community as a whole. While all Dalits are considered polluted, particular Dalits—Tamasha women, for instance—were seen to be more ashlil than others and hence unapproachable and unseeable. The ashlil also encoded sexism in its conceptual structure: ashlilta (vulgarity) sticks to Tamasha women but not to men, even men who attend Tamasha. As a result, to radical Dalits, ashlil disrupted their march to modernity and manuski. The ashlil, in every minute form, prevented Dalits from becoming fully human. Thus, for Dalits, the stickiness of vulgarity compounded caste pollution. The ashlil, characterized by its tendency to stick, accumulate over time, and not easily be altered, stuck to Dalits and compounded Dalit subalternity, stigmatizing and subjecting them even further. Ashlil legitimized Dalits’ difference and untouchability. Ashlil meant different things even for Dalits, who variously inhabited, disputed, resisted, and reclaimed it.


Dalits used vernacular concepts and categories to recuperate their manuski and connect with and even expand who was included in a universal, global humanity. The most vital of these concepts, manuski, was introduced by Ambedkar in the 1920s and represented the fundamental Dalit response to their designation as ashlil. Ambedkar wrote profoundly and prolifically about manuski, theorizing it from the position of self-in-community of Dalits who were not recognized as humans. Manuski was a praxis to achieve excellence and virtues in the context of caste inequality, violence, and untouchability, and it propelled Dalit worldmaking on their terms.

Ambedkar inaugurated an ideological revolution by deploying the moral economy of manuski to unstick Dalits from the ashlil and accelerate the reconstruction of Dalits as manus. I pay close attention to contingent forces, ideas, and complicated historical processes of Dalit humanism, respectability, and anticaste liberation, what Ambedkar and his followers, including Ambedkarite Jalsakars (makers of song-drama), called manuski, examining how it functioned under social and political constraints in the face of multilayered power relations (chapters 3 and 4). To Ambedkar and Ambedkarite Jalsakars, Dalits should conform to the moral economy of manuski-ijjat (respect) and focus their efforts on resisting stigmatization, annihilating caste, achieving liberty, and avoiding the empty pleasures that thwart oppositional consciousness. During the interwar period, when Ambedkar and the Jalsakars were at the forefront of an emerging radical Dalit politics of identity and collective agency, they did not approve of either alternative Dalit sociality or different ways of being Dalit. Each chapter focuses on the ways Dalits created new modes of humanness and opened up new claims in the category of manus and procedures adopted to connect to a global humanity.

Ambedkar deployed manuski to enable a far wider conception and politics of the good, self-mastery, and recognition—embracing practical reason and a broad range of emotions. To Ambedkar, “to be manus is to not be [or behave like] a slave.” Most importantly, he declared, “ours is a fight to achieve manuski.” Manuski brought together moral and material claims about fundamental equality and possessed a potential to connect with others across caste, class, political, and religious divisions. Despite some ambiguity and differences of opinion over what defined morality, Dalits resolutely agreed that manuski required decency for the samaj as a whole. The new political Dalit was contingently constructed as samaj, and family became a site of resistance and solidarity against caste violence in the context of specific histories of double colonization—British and brahmani. Ambedkar critically analyzed the connection between caste and the position of women and how Dalit Tamasha women suffered more deprivation, social exclusion, and harassment from touchables because of caste violence and untouchability. He and other Dalit radicals recognized how brahmani touchables depicted Dalit women as prostitutes and all Shudras (and Ati-shudras) as Chandals (bastards and sons of prostitutes, scum) because of their caste status and reminded them and Dalit men of the latter’s degraded caste status and put them in line. As a result, Dalits wanted to stop the sexual exploitation of Dalit women as well as uplift them and the community to new standards of respectability. The primary focus on the struggle against caste slavery, however, complicated Dalit women’s relationship with their samaj. Dalit humanity here is not the self-constituting human subject of liberalism. Indeed, the discourse of humanism and liberalism has focused on selective recognition of humanity and excluded Dalits. As a result, Dalit radicals, especially Ambedkar, made Dalits the subject of human freedom.

Dalits would have to continuously and consistently work hard to push against becoming ashlil both in their own eyes as well as in the eyes of others. Their critiques of democracy, differentiated citizenship, internal colonialism, and ordinary human rights transformed debates and the trajectory of Dalit emancipation and larger Indian politics.


In the context of mobilizations in the formation of linguistic states, and after the creation of the new state of Maharashtra in 1960, Tamasha was reconceived as assli regional Maharashtrian identity providing new grounds for the valuing of Dalit women’s cultural production. Chapter 5 illuminates the contests, collusions, and contradictions between elites and Tamasha people over constituting an assli Marathi identity. For elite Marathis, Marathikaran (making Marathiness) was about creating a robust masculine Marathi identity, an assli marathamola (genuine maratha identity) for a new Maharashtra state. This was quite distinct from Ambedkar’s conception of manuski. For Ambedkar, manuski was a process and politics, a path toward becoming assli for Dalits. Yet this path was less relevant than the process of Marathikaran or assli marathamola to Tamasha performers. Ambedkar left no space in his idea of manuski for Tamasha women, who would have to abandon their ashlil business in its pursuit; Marathikaran and assli marathamola, however, did leave some space for Tamasha women. But to be recognized as manus and assli in postcolonial Maharashtra, they had to operate according to the terms of the elites who regulated, disciplined, and shaped a new Tamasha for the new state. On the surface, Tamasha people conformed with these terms, but underneath, they manipulated the art to give up things that made them ashlil to conform to assli.

The construction of Marathi identity in the specific political conjuncture of the formation of the state of Maharashtra was a hierarchical and tenuous process. Dalits responded to the formation of the state of Maharashtra and creation of assli Marathi identity by imitating the epithets and grammar of elitist rhetoric, reinforcing state and elites’ efforts to sanitize and standardize Tamasha, and by reforming themselves and their art to become assli. Though stigmatized as ashlil, Dalits continuously threatened the monopoly of dominant castes over decency, first by exposing the spuriousness of their exclusive claim and second by consistently performing on stage as singers and dancers, reinforcing their assli status. The specter of ashlil-assli haunted Dalits. Even after these struggles, recognition of Dalits’ manus, manuski, and assli status remained elusive for Tamasha people.

All three patriarchies—the British colonial and postcolonial Maharashtra state, the elite touchables, and the Dalits—agreed on the importance of authenticity, and yet there were differences in what legitimacy meant to them and their goals for achieving it. The British sought legitimacy as a modern colonial authority; the dominant castes sought legitimacy with the brahmani order; and the Dalits struggled to be recognized as respectable and legitimate humans. But being shilvan and possessing manuski would prove to be insufficient for Dalit inclusion in postcolonial Marathi society, though as part of the process of annihilating caste and unsticking the stigma of ashlil from Dalits, these would propel them toward claiming assli status in modern India. The challenge for Dalits post-1960 was to erase the disgust of the past, the darkness of history, and to carry the decent conditions of the present forward into the future where these conditions would not exist, thus reinforcing their assli status and worthiness as citizens of the new state of Maharashtra (and larger Indian nation) in the 1960s.


1. Tamasha literally means “spectacle.” I have conducted ethnographic fieldwork with Dalit and touchable Tamasha, Lavani, and Sangeet Bari performers in Maharashtra since 2003. I also spent summers and extended time in 2016–2017 interviewing artists in cities and rural areas. I am using pseudonyms for artists, unless otherwise noted. Also see Shailaja Paik, “Mangalatai Bansode and the Social Life of Tamasha,” Biography 40, no. 1 (Winter 2017): 170–98.

2. The terms in quote marks appear in the historical record and I use quote marks here, on their first appearance, to call into question their usage and construction in historical time and space. Hereafter, I use them without quote marks.

3. I am grateful to Projit Mukharji for his insight on stickiness. For details, see Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion (New York: Routledge, 2015) on “sticky signs.” Stickiness, as conceived by Ahmed, is “an effect of the histories of contact between bodies, objects, and signs” (90, emphasis in original); it is the outcome of repeated impressions, an effect that emerges from “histories of contact.” The meaning of that emotion emerges from cultural and personal exchanges; as those exchanges repeat, meaning and resonance collect, and what results is an “accumulation of affective value” (92): this is “stickiness.”

4. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, “Away from the Hindus,” in Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches [hereafter BAWS] vol. 5, ed. Vasant Moon (Bombay: Maharashtra Government, 1989), 419. I thank V. Geetha for this insight.

5. Interview with author, Pune, July 7, 2016.

6. Sianne Ngai, Theory of the Gimmick: Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020).

7. I thank Christian Lee Novetzke for these discussions.

8. Feminist scholars only recently have dealt with Ambedkar’s exposé of surplus woman and endogamy. See Durba Mitra, “‘Surplus Woman’: Female Sexuality and the Concept of Endogamy,” Journal of Asian Studies 80, no. 1 (February 2021): 3–26; V. Geetha, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and the Question of Socialism in India (Palgrave Macmilan: 2021), 171.

9. Brahmaprakash Singh’s recent work has also borne this out. Singh, Cultural Labour: Conceptualizing the ‘Folk Performance’ in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2019).

10. For “sexual economy” see Nair and John, The Question of Silence: The Sexual Economies of Modern India (New Delhi, Kali for Women, 2000). I build on and deepen their work by centering the violence of caste.

11. I am building on Ambedkar’s theorization of caste. See Ambedkar, “Castes in India,” BAWS, vol. 1 (Bombay: Maharashtra Government, 1979), 5–22; “Untouchables or the Children of India’s Ghetto,” BAWS, vol. 5; “What Path to Freedom?,” speech, May 31, 1936, in BAWS, vol. 17, 113–47, and so on in Ambedkar, BAWS, vols. 1–5, 17. Also, for details on the sexual-caste economy, see Paik, “Ambedkar and the ‘Prostitute’: Caste, Sexuality, and Humanity in Modern India,” Gender & History, August 16, 2021,

12. Ambedkar, “Away from the Hindus,” in BAWS, vol. 5, 18.

13. See Balmurli Natrajan “Cultural Identity and Beef Festivals: Toward a ‘Multiculturalism against Caste,’Contemporary South Asia 26, no. 3 (2018): 287–304, doi:10.1080/09584935.2018.1504000, for a review of scholarly discussions about the politics of reclaiming Dalit arts and culture.

14. See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London: Routledge, 1990); and Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (London: Routledge, 1993). I am deploying Butler’s analysis of performativity to analyze both the performance and performativity of Tamasha. Butler is influenced by Lacanian psychoanalysis, phenomenology, structural anthropology, and speech-act theory in her understanding of the “performativity” of identity. To her, gender is a “stylized repetition of acts.” Butler argues that social reality is not a given but is continually created “through language, gesture, and all manner of symbolic social sign.” In the act of performing the conventions of reality, by embodying those fictions in our actions, we make those artificial conventions appear to be natural and necessary. In Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004), Butler revises her earlier argument: “Performativity is not just about speech acts, but also about bodily acts. . . . Significations of the body exceed the intention of the subject” (198–99).

15. I am building on Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of game. He explains his idea of “homo ludens”: that “human beings are constituted by the games they play giving rise to a notion of social structures as rules that guide individual strategy.” For details, see Michael Buroway, “The Roots of Domination: Beyond Bourdieu and Gramsci,” Sociology 46, no.2 (2012): 187–206.

16. On social death, see Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press, 1982).

17. Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 2004).

18. On affect and untouchability see numerous works in Dalit literature as well as theoretical discussions in G. Guru, ed., Humiliation: Claims and Context (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009); Joel Lee, “Disgust and Untouchability: Towards an Affective Theory of Caste,” South Asian History and Culture 12, no. 2–3 (2021): 310327, doi:10.1080/19472498.2021.1878784.

19. Ambedkar, “The Annihilation of Caste,” BAWS, vol. 1, 25–80.

20. Ambedkar, “The Annihilation of Caste.”

21. For details, see Ambedkar’s analysis of caste in “The Annihilation of Caste.”

22. For details, see Shailaja Paik, Dalit Women’s Education in Modern India: Double Discrimination (London: Routledge, 2014).

23. On brahmans, see Shefali Chandra, The Sexual Life of English: Languages of Caste and Desire in Colonial India (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012); Anna Schultz, Singing a Hindu Nation: Marathi Devotional Performance and Nationalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). On Dalits, see Anupama Rao, The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India (California: University of California Press, 2009); Sharmila Rege, Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonials (New Delhi: Zuban, 2006), Paik, Dalit Women’s Education; Clarinda Still, Dalit Women: Honor and Patriarchy in South India (New Delhi: Social Science Press, 2014); Lucinda Ramberg, Given to the Goddess: South Indian Devadasis and the Sexuality of Religion (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).

24. Madhukar Dhond, Marathi Lavani (Pune: Mauj, 1988); V. K. Joshi, Loknatyachi Parampara (Pune: Thokal Prakashan, 1961); Gangadhar Moraje, Marathi Lavani Vangmay (Pune: Moghe Prakashan, 1974); Namdeo Vhatkar, Maharashtrache Loknatya Tamasha Kala ani Sahitya (Kolhapur: Yashashree Prakashan, no date); and Tevia Abrams, “Tamasha: People’s Theatre of Maharashtra” (PhD diss., Michigan State University, 1974). Some have even focused on select leading men lavanikars (Lavani performers), such as Honaji Bala, Saganbhau, Patthe Bapurao, and Ram Joshi, and Lavanya or Tamasha women, such as Vithabai Narayangaokar, and recorded their lives. Many writers have confined themselves to the detailed literary modes and instruments used in Tamasha and thus objectified Tamasha artists. Some writers have stuck to the textual realm and rarely stepped outside their middle-class apartments to interact or travel with Tamasha artists to examine their ideas, experiences, and lives. A few scholars have worked well, combining history and ethnographic methods. Nevertheless, a significant problem is that most writers do not provide detailed information on or analysis of the Marathi sources they procured. Their failure to examine the social life and the sexual economy of caste has hindered their analysis. Some journalists, like Sandesh Bhandare and Shirish Shetye, have traveled to open and enclosed Tamasha theatres to produce photographic books on the everyday life of Tamasha artists. Sandesh Bhandare, Tamasha: Ek Rangadi Gammat (Mumbai: Lokvangmay gruha, 2006).

25. Sharmila Rege, “The Hegemonic Appropriation of Sexuality: The Case of Lavani Performers in Maharashtra,” Contributions to Indian Sociology 29, no. 1–2 (1995): 24–38.

26. Susan Seizer, Stigmas of the Tamil Stage: An Ethnography of Special Drama Artists in South India (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005); Ramberg, Given to the Goddess; Davesh Soneji, Unfinished Gestures: Devadasi, Memory, and Modernity in South India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); Priyadarshini Vijaisri, Dangerous Marginality: Rethinking Impurity and Power (New Delhi: Indian Council of Historical Research, 2016); Kunal Parker, “A Corporation of Superior Prostitutes: Anglo-Indian Legal Conceptions of Temple Dancing Girls,” Modern Asian Studies 32, no. 3 (1998): 559–633; Janaki Nair, “The Devadasi, Dharma, and the State,” Economic and Political Weekly, December 10, 1994, 3157–67; Leslie Orr, Donors, Devotees, and Daughters of God (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Amrit Srinivasan, “Temple ‘Prostitution’ and Community Reform: An Examination of the Ethnographic, Historical and Textual Context of the Devadasi of Tamil Nadu,” PhD diss., Cambridge University, 1984.

27. I thank Prathama Banerjee and V. Geetha for these discussions.

28. V. Geetha, Ambedkar, 214.

29. Rao, The Caste Question, 67.

30. Rao, The Caste Question, 61.

31. See Rao, The Caste Question; and following her, Ramberg, Given to the Goddess; and Charu Gupta, The Gender of Caste (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014).

32. Gupta, The Gender of Caste, 142.

33. Gupta, The Gender of Caste, 163.

34. Gupta, The Gender of Caste, 165.

35. For details, see book review, Shailaja Paik, “The Gender of Caste: Representing Dalits in Print, by Charu Gupta,” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 2017, doi:10.1080/00856401.2017.1379230.

36. Linda Gordon, “Internal Colonialism and Gender,” in Haunted by Empire: Geographies of Intimacy in North American History, ed. Ann Laura Stoler (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 441.

37. Ramberg, Given to the Goddess.

38. Rita Rozario, Broken Lives: Dalit Women in Prostitution (Karnataka: Ambedkar Resource Center, 2000); Rege, Writing Caste/Writing Gender; and Sharmila Rege, Against the Madness of Manu: B. R. Ambedkar’s Writings on Brahmanical Patriarchy (New Delhi: Navayana, 2013).

39. Rege, Against the Madness of Manu, 148.

40. Rege, Against the Madness of Manu, 148–49.

41. J. Lorand Matory, Stigma and Culture: Last-Place Anxiety in Black America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 333.

42. On agrarian caste slavery in South India, see Sanal Mohan, Modernity of Slavery: Struggles against Caste Inequality in Colonial Kerala (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015); Rupa Viswanath, The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).