Making the connection
Belu J. Maheshwari

Readings in Indian Government and Politics: Class, Caste, Gender
edited by Manoranjan Mohanty.
Sage Publications, New Delhi.
Pages 439. Rs 395.

Readings in Indian Government and Politics: Class, Caste, GenderThis book is fifth in the series titled Readings in Indian Government and Politics edited by the prominent social scientist. What first catches the attention when you pick up the book is the list of contributors.

A galaxy of the most distinguished and eminent scholars have contributed the research papers. Most of these scholars have pioneered research in their respective fields and contributed significantly to the understanding of social and political changes in contemporary India.

B. R. Ambedkar, Amartya Sen, M. N. Srinivas, Uma Chakravarti, Neera Desai, Manoranjan Mohanty, to name just a few, provide the reader with an insight into the functioning of contemporary India. The book is a compilation of papers, broadly divided into three major themes on class structures in society, caste formations and gender inequality. All three themes are studied in terms of the social change taking place after Independence.

Most of the essays are located within wider debates on politics, society, economy and culture. The book treats the question of the interface of social forces in the context of the changing grammar of Indian politics. The contributors have managed to strike a balance between empirical observation and theoretical analysis of political processes.

The papers, though steeped in contemporary political milieu, draw from historical research and have an analytical perspective. The analysis in most cases is interlinked, e.g., the understanding of poverty is incomplete without seeing the interface of caste, class and gender. Or the analysis: the most significant source of power is no doubt related to class or to the control over means of production such as land and industry.

The focus is on inter-connection, caste is not treated as a separate issue or for that matter gender inequalities are not only related to the status of women. Research brings out that caste order and patriarchy embodied values and beliefs operate in our social and economic structures and are linked. They are also not dealt with only in ideological terms, which can be transformed with a change in consciousness. The study goes deeper, but the social roots of institutions are not ignored.

Another point of emphasis in most of the papers is the dynamics of the changing political context and the course of struggle for social equality. In this context, Anand Chakravartiís analysis that agrarian reform is a potent instrument in principle for breaching the close connection between caste and land control seems so relevant when you realise how Biharís land-reform programme has failed dismally and the agrarian class relations in the state are embedded in caste.

Studies on women go beyond their status; instead, a deeper understanding is sought by analysing the structural framework of gender relations, i.e. to the nature and basis of the subordination of women and its extent and specific form in early Indian society. The extent and form of women subordination, which has been conditioned by the social and cultural environment, is placed in perspective.

The seminal essays are very relevant for scholars and students alike. The processes of caste, class and gender stratification, the three "elements in the establishment of the social order in India", are shaping the polity of modern India. Therefore, the discussion is centred on organisation of power. Ideas, institutions and practices are subjected to analysis on their own and also as reaction to one another. The book makes a contribution to our understanding of social struggles from the Leftist perspective.