Oprah Winfrey is known for her book club. So, when Oprah sent out a new book to 100 American CEOs and 400 leaders soon after the transformative #BlackLivesMatters protest and called it the most important book club selection ever, the world had to pay attention. When that book mentions ‘India’ 136 times, it becomes mandatory reading for us. And yet ‘Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent’ by Pulitzer Prize-winning African-American author Isabel Wilkerson, is not stirring up Indian public debate or hitting our bookshelves.
Wilkerson is not the first Western scholar to focus on India’s caste system. She is the latest entrant in the list of Célestin Bouglé, Max Weber, Louis Dumont, Émile Senart, McKim Marriott, Nicholas Dirk, Gail Omvedt, Rosalind O’Hanlon, Susan Bayly, Joan P. Mencher, the Rudolfs and many more. But what sets Wilkerson apart is that she brings her lived Black identity to the understanding of caste as a pathology.
It’s strange that other than Mumbai Mirror, Swarajya, and The Print, no Indian media platform has reviewed or published excerpts from the book yet. Similarly, no TV channel has discussed it yet. Let’s hope that this epistemic gap will be fulfilled sooner or later. Especially because the word ‘caste’, which is an Indian construct, finds as many as 1,469 mentions in Wilkerson’s book, including in the title. Our very own Manu, the famous or infamous author of Manusmriti, has been mentioned six times in the book. The book also mentions Jyotirao Phule, B.R. Ambedkar, M.K. Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and so on. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent notes how Martin Luther King Jr. was introduced to the students of a Kerala school as ‘fellow untouchables’ from the US.
You can read more about the book here.