An Ethnographic Profile of the Tamil Settlers in a City of West Bengal, India

This article intends to explore the processes involved in the production and sustained expression of ethnic identity of the Tamil Brahman settlers at an urban locality of Howrah (a district of Indian state of West Bengal). Much of the works on ethnicity have been rooted in understanding issues like inequalities, inclusion/exclusion and negotiation within and between communities. The emergent focus on the external process defining identity as an imposition on a minority/less powerful group by the majority/ more powerful, cannot deny the consequence of internal agency of any ethnic group as a similar process. The ethnographic observations and interviews for nearly nine months of fieldwork with the author in the role of an observer as participant in the daily life of the group focus more on the internal processes than on the external ones. The production and maintenance of religiously symbolizing markers of identity are strongly internalized and negotiated for the sake of perpetuating a sense of supremacy associated with caste notions of purity and pollution among the Brahman Tamil settlers in the city. The author concludes that in addition to the religious sphere, there are other means of celebrating and reinforcing the identity to ensure a sense of belonging, cohesion and easy mutual understanding among the members of the group.