‘Statue Desecrations, Caste conflict, and state responses in Contemporary Tamil Nadu’ by Dhivya Janarthanan

Dhivya Janarthanan presented his research entitled ‘Statue Desecrations, Caste conflict, and state responses in Contemporary Tamil Nadu’ at the Sociological Research Colloquium.

When: Friday, 28th April 2017 at 3:00 p.m.

Where: Seminar Room (First Floor), Department of Sociology, University of Delhi 


Violent caste conflicts in post-1990s Tamil Nadu have frequently found expression in the form of statue desecrations. In southern Tamil Nadu, the statues most often subject to acts of desecration were those of Bhimrao R. Ambedkar and U. Muthuramalinga Thevar – icons of Dalit and Mukkulathor groups. The turn of the century saw a series of peculiar responses from the state government to these conflicts. Rules and procedures were formulated – and unevenly implemented – with an ‘intention’ to curb new installations of caste icons’ statues. Drawing from ethnographic research in Madurai since 2007, media and government documents, and case law, this talk shall track the consequences of rules that discourage statue installations, prescribe the material of new statues, and reframe statue protection as the task of caste groups rather than the state. I utilize statue desecrations, caste conflicts, and state responses to reflect on the inflections of contemporary notions of personhood and honour. These reflections emerge not only in the light of standard South Asian ethnographic frames which disclose the close proximity of the divine, the human, and the object in the region, but also by attending to the refractions of rights, dignity, and humiliation in moments of desecration and their aftermath. Finally, the site of statues and acts of desecration will be mobilized towards a conversation on space and social relations in contemporary south India.  

About the Speaker

Dhivya Janarthanan is currently Assistant Professor (ad hoc) at the Department of Sociology, University of Delhi. Her recently submitted doctoral thesis was an anthropological exploration of social space and dominance in Tamil Nadu. Her current research interests include the history and anthropology of infrastructures, and the anthropology of personhood and psychiatric practice in South Asia.

Other Research Colloquiums