Understanding Difference Blindness: Minimization of Casteism in the Sikh Community

30 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 14 Aug 2011

Date Written: 2011


This paper focuses on the discourse of difference by examining how casteism, caste-based inequality, and caste relations get defined by Sikhs in everyday life. Based on semi-structured, in- depth interviews conducted in Punjab, India, I examine the way in which people talk about caste, their caste vocabularies, their caste-based narratives, and their definitions of casteism. At the center of this discussion is the question of how definition - the power to name - determines perception, and ultimately, prescription. Examining the constitution of casteism through discourses of difference, specifically difference-blind discourse, enables one to make sense of the simultaneous acknowledgement and denial of caste difference among Sikhs. Respondents define casteism in a narrow way predicated on ritual purity and pollution associated with untouchability, which enables them to recognize specific forms of discrimination while obscuring other forms. Narrowing the concept of casteism to the practice of untouchability is highly advantageous for general-caste Sikhs because it locates casteism as a problem of the past, renders most Sikhs innocent, blocks governmental efforts to reduce caste inequality, and naturalizes caste relations. What is at stake in this paper is the very definition of casteism—how one determines what “counts” as discriminatory.

Keywords: caste, difference blindness, and discrimination

Suggested Citation

Behl, Natasha, Understanding Difference Blindness: Minimization of Casteism in the Sikh Community (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1902291

Natasha Behl (Contact Author)

Occidental College ( email )

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