Monday, 30th October 2017

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 15.07.11

Dalit theology in the twenty-first century: discordant voices, discerning pathways Edited by Sathianathan Clarke and others, Oxford, Rs 745

This book is a collection of essays on various aspects of Dalit theology, especially among Christian Dalits. The uninitiated reader will immediately stumble on the phrase, ‘Christian Dalits’. The term, Dalit, has grown out of a protest movement directed at the domination of upper caste Hinduism. Many of those belonging to the lower castes, Dalits, decided to convert to other religions that do not recognize caste. Christianity is one such religion. Thus the question: having converted to Christianity, can a person be marked by a caste status? The editors write very self-consciously in the introduction, “Conscious of the fact that the Indian Christian community is predominantly Dalit and thus, historically, geographically, socially, economically, and culturally entwined with the lived reality of Dalits from other religious communities, this volume collects and promotes a Dalit-based, Dalit-focused, and Dalit-committed set of world visions that represent some features of 21st century theological optics and options.’’ This volume straddles two different identities — a caste identity as the emphasis on Dalits in the quotation above makes evident; and a religious identity based on a religion that explicitly denies caste. This is indicative of a major churning within Indian society, a process that is completely refashioning it. This volume reflects that transformation and the ways in which a faith is trying to come to terms with it. This is not an easy book to read. But it is an enriching one.

Hinduism: An alphabetical guide By Roshen Dalal, Penguin, Rs 999

It is impossible to think of a guide to Hinduism since it is not a religion of the book. There isn’t one sacred book to guide the faithful. Practices and rituals are as important as tenets. To make matters more complicated, philosophical concepts and truths are articulated through the religious idiom. Faced with these circumstances, Roshen Dalal takes an easy, but the only intelligent, way out. She uses the method of the dictionary and arranges the key concepts associated with Hinduism in alphabetical order. The problems she faces are immediately evident as one begins to turn the pages. Take the term, asura, that is featured. She correctly describes asura as “a class of beings in Hindu texts’’. They are part of Hindu myths. Are they part of Hinduism? Is it possible to unravel myths and religion within Hinduism? These are insurmountable questions. Again, the term, nirvana, which is a key concept in Buddhism. It is known in Hindu texts but its associations are more with Buddhism than with Hinduism, which prefers the term, moksha. These examples do not denigrate Dalal’s work, which is very useful, but point to the enormous challenges she faced.

The oxford India anthology of business history: Edited by Medha M. Kudaisya, Oxford, Rs 1, 295

There was a time when business history was subsumed under the category of economic history. The emergence of business schools and the use of case studies to examine the nature of entrepreneurship has spawned a new genre. This volume collects some of the major articles in this field, though it is surprising to see the absence of Amiya Bagchi’s famous analysis of the difference between eastern and western India.