Merchants of Virtue: Hindus, Muslims, and Untouchables in Eighteenth-Century South Asia (U California Press, 2022) explores the question of what it meant to be Hindu in precolonial South Asia. Divya Cherian presents a fine-grained study of everyday life and local politics in the kingdom of Marwar in eighteenth-century western India to uncover how merchants enforced their caste ideals of vegetarianism and bodily austerity as universal markers of Hindu identity. Using legal strategies and alliances with elites, these merchants successfully remade the category of “Hindu,” setting it in contrast to “Untouchable” in a process that also reconfigured Muslims in caste terms. In a history pertinent to understanding India today, Cherian establishes the centrality of caste to the early-modern Hindu self and to its imagination of inadmissible others. This book is the winner of the 2022 Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences.
Divya Cherian is Assistant Professor of History at Princeton University. She is a historian of early modern and pre-colonial South Asia, with interests in social, cultural, and religious history, gender and sexuality, ethics and law, and the local and the everyday. Her research focuses on western India, chiefly on the region that is today Rajasthan.
Sanjukta Poddar is Assistant Professor of Modern South Asian Studies at Leiden University. She is a cultural and social historian of modern South Asia with an interest in examining cultural contestations within colonial and postcolonial societies. Her research focuses on northern India in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, particularly, in understanding identities that are expressed and debated at the intersection of print culture and urban history in provincial cities.
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