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Contiguous Ethnicities

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Chapter Summary

This chapter explores various aspects of Bengali viewpoints relating to neighbouring 'others', and focuses on the making and remaking of identities though a complex oscillation between inclusion and exclusion of these 'others'. As in the case of the literati's discourse on 'lower orders' within Bengal, certain key criteria intimately bound up with 'Aryan' cultural and social values, and the supposed Bengali-Hindu-Aryan equation, were the pivots around which the relationship between Bengal and her neighbours was constructed. Neighbouring ethnic groups were viewed through the lens of jati, was a unique conceptual category simultaneously meaning division/hierarchy, as well as an overarching rubric joining various sub-types. The understanding of jati as caste as a category intertraversed by ethno-cultural, occupational, and normative criteria went into the making of a comparative conceptual grid. In the deployment of samaj to forge unity among fragments, populist religious strands were accommodated and internalised into a flexible Hindu-Brahmanical framework.

Keywords: Bengali-Hindu-Aryan; ethnic identity; jati; literati; samaj



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