Local-level debates and controversies give us insights that not only run counter to dominant understandings of Dalit history and society, but also offer possibilities for writing alternative histories of the practice of untouchability. District settlement reports of the 1880s-90s, the 1910s-20s, and the 1940s provide a wealth of detailed information about Chamars, their occupational patterns, and their relationships with agriculture and cultivation. This previously ignored descriptive and statistical material enables us to question the dominant assumptions--solidified and perpetuated through composite census reports and ethnographic generalizations--that Chamars are, by definition and by traditional occupation, leather workers. Examining local-level police reports and official inquiries show that this colonial equation of Chamars with leatherwork puzzled officials who had more firsthand experience of these communities and who recognized that Chamars were primarily agriculturalists. These voices of dissent against colonial stereotypes, though too often silenced before reaching Calcutta, Delhi, and London, are still preserved in district and provincial archives.
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