With my research, I hope to contribute to the history of the institution of caste in Bengal during the British Raj (1757–1947). I have chosen to begin my study in 1793, when the Permanent Settlement Act is voted for the Bengal Presidency. This decision inaugurates a durable transformation in Bengali society, by indefinitely conferring land ownership upon an elite (the zamindars), for a fixed rent. I chose to end my study in 1912, the date which marks the end of the annulment of the first partition of Bengal (decreed in 1905). This partition (1905–1912) is a turning point in the conception of Bengali society because, from that point on, the religious denominations take a front-line position in the way the relations between Bengali society and the agents of the British government are articulated. It is therefore by studying these relations as part of the institution of caste between 1793 and 1912 that I believe I can pinpoint the dynamism of this institution. This idea would make of the institution of caste a co-construction, resulting from negotiations between Bengali society and the British government. To my mind, the study of these relations goes to the essence of the field of history: the study of change.

The history I intend to write is therefore a relational history, and its aim is to consider the contribution of each of the actors of this story: Bengali society, the agents of the British government and the intermediaries. The role of the intermediaries is paramount from the perspective of writing a history of negotiations, because they alone are capable of asserting a negotiated conception of the object in relation to the two sides of the negotiation (the British government and Bengali society in this case). During the colonial period, a group of intermediaries that is specific to Bengal emerges, and manages to durably integrate into Bengali society from 1793 onward: the bhadraloks. The prestige acquired by the bhadraloks, more or less thought of as traditional, allows them to become the privileged intermediaries between the British Raj and Bengali society. This situation allows the bhadralok intelligentsia to negotiate a vision of society with the British government and Bengali society, in which their status is recognized. The institution of caste was the main vector of this status, the prism through which Bengali society perceived itself and was perceived. That is why I believe that it was the particular focus of negotiations, as it was the means for the bhadralok intelligentsia to integrate into the society. However, even if a certain number of criteria made it possible to define (or not) belonging to the bhadralok group, the question of their identity remains an issue linked to the institution of caste that they attempt to negotiate. This question of identity is strongly linked to the recognition of their status by Bengali society. Writing a relational history would then allow me to grant pride of place to Bengali society in the history of the institution of caste, thus making it more intelligible.

You may also like...