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Phantom India: A Look at Castes

Lunch Matters

Wednesday, October 1, 2014
2:00 PM–3:30 PM

Free for Members
$10 Student tickets will be available at the box office with a valid school ID

1969, India, Louis Malle, 51 min.
Post-screening discussion with Rachel McDermott.
This fifth episode explores the rigid Indian caste system. Malle details the various levels of caste that actually – as he reminds his audience – break down into thousands of smaller subdivisions. The film visits women assigned different functions at the communal well, based on their respective castes, and also the social outcasts known as the Harijans (or untouchables) and a lower-rung caste of village washermen known as dhobis.
As Malle details the history of the caste system on the soundtrack, he travels with his crew to the Red Fort fabric factory in Delhi, and then to a Bombay shantytown, where a group of mourners celebrate a death with choruses of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” The episode wraps with a depiction of a local village sport and a trip to the Panchayat.

About the Speaker

Rachel Fell McDermott is Professor and Chair of the Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures Department and specializes in South Asia, especially India. She received her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1981, her M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School in 1984, and her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1993. Her research interests focus on Bengal, in eastern India, and the Hindu-goddess-centered religious traditions from that part of the subcontinent. She is also committed to the study of comparative religion, and teaches comparative courses in which important religious themes are traced across cultures.
Professor McDermott’s research focuses on the Hindu-goddess-centered religious traditions of the Bengal region of India. Her forthcoming book Of Fortunes and Festivals: Money, Power, and the Goddesses of Bengal, focuses on the Durga, Kali, and Jagaddhatra Pujas and the relation between economics, politics, and religion as seen through the lens of these 300-year-old public festivals.