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This essay argues that the colonial archive provides a very heterogeneous and at times contradictory representation of Indian society that stands in contrast to its homogeneous portrayal in colonial sociology. The field of postcolonial studies has relied heavily on colonial sociology (caste and tribe surveys and the census) to produce dominant representations of Indian society and history, especially related to caste. This essay aims to modify the postcolonial understanding of the archive by arguing that it might be more productive to underline the unique strengths of district and provincial repositories in contrast to imperial archives based in the metropolitan centers of Delhi and London. Undue focus on colonial sociology has reduced the diversity of colonial archives to a single imperial monolith. Documents of local conditions, such as the land revenue surveys, often contain details that were not concerned with sustaining the objectives of all-India colonial sociology and provide strikingly contrary perspectives on caste and Dalits.

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