'Chasing the Ardent Spirit': Locating Caste in Medical Discourses on Alcohol in Colonial South India


  • Dr Tarangini Sriraman

    Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom

Project summary

While alcohol consumption in colonial India has been framed in discussions of race, imperial health, diet and mental illness, there is little scholarship situating it within caste-laden medical discourses. My research inquires into how these discourses stigmatized two beverages, toddy and arrack, as contaminated and two communities, the Adi-Andhras and Adi-Dravidas, as polluted agents of drink. These two communities were Telugu and Tamil-speaking Dalits, or marginalized caste groups, in the Madras Presidency. Simultaneously, I explore the formation of disparate publics, that functioned to formulate temperance concerns and assert their medical knowledge around alcohol in colonial South India. These varied publics, drawn from associations of surgeons, missionaries, nationalists and Dalit groups consolidated and contested these stigmas within a public health framework. Framed between 1860 and 1950, my study will provide scholarly and policy insights into the implications of empowering Dalit discourses, where they resignified 'upper caste' stigmas of drink.