The Fate of a Text
András Höfer’s Study of the Muluki Ain and the Limitations of South Asian Area Studies
The ethnography of Nepal has much to contribute to discussions concerning the relationship of caste systems to the state and to kingship, but this material is almost entirely absent from the discussion as it has taken place in Indian ethnography. Yet the Nepal material — in particular the legal code known as the Muluki Ain of 1854 — not only throws light on dominant caste conceptions of the relations among castes and their relations to the state or to kingship, but also on the supposed distinction between caste and tribe, which appears to have had as little utility in nineteenth century Nepal as it did elsewhere on the sub-continent. This paper argues that although the study of the British Empire in India has been replaced by the area concept of South Asia, in the intellectual practice of American anthropologists (and perhaps other scholars) working in India, the modern Indian state is treated in effect as being synonymous with the concept of South Asia, and their scholarship shows little engagement with studies carried out in the other countries of the region. This approach is encouraged by the architecture of South Asian area studies, which is organized on the basis of national political boundaries.
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