Investigations of radical political thought and action have been a major preoccupation in the field of modern South Asian history for the past several decades. The organizing question of these scholarly debates has been how and to what extent an insurgent consciousness may be produced out of the variegated conditions of domination and subordination of capitalist modernity in the non-West. The educator and social reformer Jotirao Phule encountered similar issues in his efforts to transform lower-caste consciousness in late nineteenth-century colonial Maharashtra. Phule is remembered for his establishment of several schools for lower-caste children as well as for his founding of the Satyashodhak Samaj in 1873; however, Vendell’s essay primarily addresses Phule’s intellectual contributions around the problem of subaltern consciousness in three major texts: Gulamgiri (1873), Shetkaryacha Asud (1882), and Sarvajanik Satya Dharmapustak (1891). This essay argues that Phule’s project is best understood as an attempt to produce new strategies for observing, apprehending, and making judgments about the phenomenal and social world by interrogating inherited forms of knowledge. He suggested that a critical account of the ways in which fabricated symbolic devices produce a dramatic loss of one’s grasp on the given world was a necessary precondition for the inculcation of satyashodh (truth seeking), which named a deliberate practice of inquisitive self-making without determinate end. Satyashodh was an innovative practice of mind, though one that encountered limits when it entered the field of right conduct, which had been shaped most powerfully for Phule by the example of Protestant Christianity. His long struggle to elaborate a strategy for transforming the world by transforming oneself represents a powerful example of insurgent thought within the global history of slavery and emancipation in the British imperial world.

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