SOAS University of London

Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

Caste and its diasporic avatar : findings from fieldwork among Sikhs in the UK

Christine Moliner (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, France)

Date: 14 November 2013Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 14 November 2013Time: 8:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 116

Type of Event: Seminar

Note: Internal event not open to external attendees.

The study of caste in contemporary India on the one hand and in the diaspora on the other have largely remained insulated from each other. Based on fieldwork among Sikhs in the UK, this presentation will seek to expose how a view from the periphery can contribute to our current understanding of caste and of its transformative dimension. We will first discuss some of the methodological aspects of the ethnographic investigation of caste among the Sikhs, a community who defines itself as egalitarian and who discursively rejects caste as a marker of the « Other », the Hindus. What are the consequences of this normative discourse on fieldwork pratices ? What is the use of conventionnal anthropological methods, such as interviews and participant observation, in a context where asking and talking about caste is seen as entirely illegitimate ? We will also analyse the different sites of investigation, from where caste practices among Diasporic Sikhs have been studied : family setting, places of worship, cultural productions, community media and crucially, the internet. We will then present some of the salient aspects of our research on caste among Sikhs in the UK. It is well-known that the rise of caste-based identities and of caste chauvinism in the UK is related to the specific migration history of the Sikhs and to their institutionalisation process (particularly the creation of places of worship and community centres along caste lines). How is caste reproduced in the diaspora ? And how has it become, for high caste, as well as low caste Sikhs, an important source of new identity formations and of transnational mobilisation? Finally, we will address the ongoing anti-caste mobilisation among British Panjabi Dalits, who strongly object at the re-legitimation of caste by the British ideological and political framework. Their current campaign to outlaw caste discrimination raises important questions for the contemporary understanding of caste, giving in particular a fresh insight on its intersection with class, ethnicity and citizenship.

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