Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century “caste” organizations and “caste” polemics were, to a greater extent than has been appreciated, responses to foreign definitions of Indian society. The most important stimulus toward caste-cluster consciousness released by the British presence was neither their advanced technology (which revolutionized the means of communication and transportation) nor their military prowess and administrative skill (which obliterated “the territorial limitations inherent in the pre-British political systems” and “brought a new administrative unity to India in the establishment of a centralized bureaucratic government”—both of which are commonly noted. Rather, the growth of caste-cluster consciousness was largely an unintended but direct consequence of the fact that the foreigners engaged in a continuous attempt to describe, define, interpret, and categorize the social complexity that India presented to them—a society so puzzlingly different from their own.

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