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August 16, 2010


This is a good read. Thanks.

Consider the fact that castes are fighting for SCST status to gain reservation privileges. They are willing to sacrifice caste standing for economic opportunity. Where to their priorities lie? The caste system is, historically, a product of asymmetries in the provision of goods and services-- it developed as subgroups within early south asian societies managed to monopolize human and physical capital (and subsequently social, political and military capital as well). You do not address this "class" element in your discussion, and leave open the question of whether caste inequality is merely a veiled form of class inequality. If this is so, then some of your arguments may be invalid (income based reservation will do more benefit than caste based reservations, for example).


The inequities of class and caste are linked and reinforce each other, but we need to be clear that they are two distinct vectors of injustice, and cannot be combated with a single approach (i.e., income-based reservations). You wouldn’t try to tackle gender discrimination with only an income-based approach, right? Likewise, for caste discrimination. Jayati Ghosh’s article that I linked to above examines the pros and cons of various approaches.

I’m therefore going to push back at your analysis. Everyone seems to cite that one example we all have heard about ad infinitum – of the Gujjars of Rajasthan, a fairly low caste group of cattle herders, agitating to be classified lower still – as some sort of broad trend that is taking the country by storm. I’ll take your argument more seriously the day I see a few (poor) Brahmin groups agitating for SC/ST status in order to secure the advantages of reservations. (A funny image crossed my mind: Brahmins camped out at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, refusing to give up their hunger strike until they are classified as the caste equals of bhangis and chamars. That would be the day. :-)

We need causes to write articles.
The Great Cast Divide in India is one of the contemporary ones. The article starts with a quote by Macaulay - presumably only known to the well read and historians, but fails to start with the beginning of the seminal divide.
There is always a cause and effcet - even in the creation of Universe.
It is not the question of what is good or bad, but it's relevance in today's world. The identity of caste politics is an event after independence.
Pre-independence there was not that much of a flurry about caste systems - people were not coerced to believe in the system, neither did the British tacitly supported it. They played more on lines of religion as they knew what would be more disquiting.
When we talk of caste system we limit ourselves to the boundaries of the perceivable knowledge of demography - what one can say as 'accessible' demography. Beyond that lies a great percentage of population for whom neither caste nor creed matters, we chose to ignore them at our own bliss.
Our idea of caste is deep rooted to a specific religion - it is hard to believe any religion bereft of caste - but ignorance is bliss.
I do not sanctify "cast-ism" but I have a contrary view on this subject. If it was all so bad about any practice in the world, why does it persist for thousands of year - either there is a lack of will on both parties or there are advantages that both parties tacitly enjoy. The status-quo does not sanctify debates of gigantic proportions.
If poverty can lead the deprived tribal to lean towards extreme left, what prevents the lower castes?
What are the benefits is a state ruled by a lower cast leader - one can hardly justify of wrap it under the excesses of Brahminical tyranny.
It has become a fashion to bring in Narendra Modi in all aspects of debate, just to score brownie points or to emphasis on the unbridled passion for "secularism".
No one talks of division of labour, about equality of work and pay because it is amiss to write something on absurdity.

"It doesn’t occur to them that the beneficiaries of reservation have to pass the same coursework and training as all others."- I too have often made this argument. The fact is, we have little faith in education "as a process" in this country, or education as an equalizer. The fair conduct of entrance exams is all we trust the government with. Which is not to say of course that casteism doesn't exist.

A recent advertisement for a child insurance plan brings out the caste-class-race (as it exists in our minds) very well. A fair kid says "my daddy has taken care of my future" and a dark kid next to him says "and mine too" (they later tell you that some amount from every policy goes to support a poor kid). The ease with which the mind accepted that "fair=rich" and "black=poor" (with the respective caste connotations) was scary. The well trenched mental association is probably why change is so slow.

Karma, and consequently much of mainstream Hindu thought is deterministic; events in your life are a chain of cause and effect and you alone are responsible for your plight. While government propaganda and social reform might have managed to dull the effect of caste alone in making a judgement; karma along a strong belief in hierarchy tells us "this man is poor and wretched because he deserves to be, his condition is a result of his actions alone(millenia old discrimination having played no part), and his poverty will pollute me if I have samosas with him". Class has replaced caste in the mind, though maybe not in society. Caste or class, an immensely unfair hierarchy continues to be perpetuated. To put an end to caste (and class), maybe karma and some of the tenets of the faith itself must be attacked, instead of a cowardly "Hinduism is basically very good and true but there are some aberrations like caste which we must fight."

"If it was all so bad about any practice in the world, why does it persist for thousands of year?." by BIPLAB PAUL

Well if it has so much support then don't be surprised if it lasts for thousands more.
and if those who try to change the "status quo" are accused of disturbing the "harmony" existing in caste atrocity based society then of course it will last a few thousand more

I'm surrounded by such Indians, the upper caste IIT-types, and find it painful to dialogue with them on this matter. I myself am ofcourse a Privileged Brahmin. Their blindness to caste atrocity cannot be dialogued with.

@Vinod. Same issue with upper caste IIT-types here also; I always recite this quote to myself in this moments :-

“It is usual to hear all those who feel moved by the deplorable condition of the Untouchables unburden themselves by uttering the cry “We must do something for the Untouchables”. One seldom hears any of the persons interested in the problem saying ‘Let us do something to change the Touchable Hindu.’ ”

Hi Namit Sir,

Go through this census (not public opinion) for the issue of untouchability in India. This is really good report documenting caste and even subcaste discrimination in detail.


UNDERSTANDING UNTOUCHABILITY: A Comprehensive Study of Practices and Conditions in 1589 Villages [PDF file]--- Navsarjan is one of the leading organizations working for advancement of Dalit rights. Based in the western Indian state of Gujarat,Navsarjan currently organizes more than 3,084 villages to fight the practice of "untouchability” and to improve the economic conditions of Dalits.

Himanshu, thanks for the pointer to the report on untouchability in Gujarat. It seems to me quite well done.

A person also pointed me to an interesting new report produced by the Hindu American Foundation (read an overview). It attempts to honestly acknowledge the long and widespread presence of caste discrimination in India and contains "Statements Against Caste-Based Discrimination By Today's Leading Hindu Religious And Spiritual Leaders And Organizations". It's large at 165 pages and I haven't read it fully yet (and I'd quibble with some ideas in what I have read thus far), but it strikes me as a welcome step by a mainstream Hindu organization towards greater introspection among the Hindu elites, and towards calling casteist practices for what they usually are: human rights abuses.

Of course, one could also count on the frequently rebarbative and self-appointed spokesperson for Hinduism, Rajiv Malhotra, to criticize this report in characteristically alarmist and hyperbolic terms. He recoils at this airing of our dirty laundry in public and complains of "the severe damage that has already been inflicted or will likely result as a consequence of the distribution of the report. The report threatens to undo significant progress achieved by the Hindu community in correcting derogatory misrepresentations of Hinduism in the US educational system, provides valuable ammunition to anti-Hindu groups that will seriously undermine Hindu interests worldwide, and has serious geopolitical ramifications that threaten the interference of Western bodies into internal Indian/Hindu matters." Really? Malhotra here comes across as remarkably insecure, defensive, and chauvinistic.

Nice essay. Enjoyed reading it, you are right in saying that there is no reservation in Armed forces but I do not agree with your view that Muslims have been kept out. The selection process is fair, if at all there are less % then reasons might be that not many of them volunteer to join the forces.

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