Book Review: ‘Caste Away’ by Na. Vanamamalai and Joshua Gnanselvan

Unraveling the Complexity of Caste Struggles in Tamil Nadu

Book Title: Caste Away: Perspectives on Caste-Equality Struggles in Tamil Nadu
Author: Na. Vanamamalai
Translator: Joshua Gnanselvan
Publisher: Hachette India
Number of Pages: 128
ISBN: 978-9357317320
Date Published: Mar. 18, 2024
Price: INR 231

Caste Away by Na. Vanamamalai and Joshua Gnanselvan Book Cover

Book Review

Caste Away: Perspectives on Caste-Equality Struggles in Tamil Nadu” by Na. Vanamamalai explores the complex dynamics of caste in Tamil Nadu from the Chola era to the early twentieth century. The book uses historical sources, ascetic lyrics, and court rulings to show how Chola monarchs made concessions to various caste groups, balancing advantages and exploitation. Vanamamalai argues that caste-based disputes were primarily expressions of class animosity, not aimed at creating an equitable society.

The book, translated by Joshua Gnanselvan, delves into the history and growth of Tamil Nadu’s caste system. It tracks the evolution of caste classifications and functions across time, illustrating how societal issues influenced changes in the hierarchical structure. Joshua Gnanselvan thoroughly investigated references, books, and court papers, as well as interviewed subject matter experts, and Na. Vanamamalai’s efforts provide a true and honest translation. Despite repeated efforts by social reformers, politicians, and bureaucrats to eliminate social disparities, the caste system remained, albeit with minor alterations, indicating caste’s long-standing significance in Indian culture.

Check out our Latest Book Reviews

Vanamamalai’s study also digs into Tamil Nadu’s medieval era, spanning the late 10th to 13th century, exposing a rich social fabric. The extensive collection of inscriptions from this period, preserved on temple walls and described in sources like the Epigraphia Indica and South Indian Inscriptions, provides a complex understanding of societal interactions. These inscriptions emphasize the mobility of the caste system and the importance of local politics, economic concerns, and social ambitions in constructing caste hierarchies.

Overall, “Caste Away” makes a significant contribution to our understanding of caste in Tamil Nadu. It emphasizes the need to acknowledge the historical intricacies and geographical variances in the emergence of caste. Vanamamalai’s work goes beyond simple or ideologically motivated narratives, instead providing a thorough and nuanced assessment of the social, economic, and political variables that have impacted caste relations throughout millennia. This book is a must-read for everyone interested in the diverse character of caste battles and the continuous drive for equality in India.

Get a copy now!