Public health messaging during the Covid-19 pandemic has emphasized protecting oneself and family members by avoiding, isolating, and distancing. Among forward castes in India, such messaging has offered a veneer of modern reasoning for historical discrimination premised on “touch avoidance” caste practices—directed this time towards the Muslim. Prejudice against the Muslim and the anxiety about touch have been studied, but rarely together. By framing the pandemic against the ascendance of the Hindu Right, our project will explore if the two phenomena have always been co-constitutive or if their coupling is the product of this historical moment. Focusing on the unfolding of these processes within two forward castes—Brahmins and Lingayats in Karnataka—the project will explore sensorial practices through which members express their caste-Hindu specificity, and whether the communities’ self-identification as Hindu depends on positing Muslims as hostile to Hindu ways of life.
Ramesh Bairy T.S.
Associate Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay
Faculty Member, Samvada Baduku Community College