Book Summary: Western Foundations of the Caste System- VI
The caste picture of India has serious ramifications for the country internationally. When UK tries to legislate to make ‘caste system’ as a basis for discrimination and thus compensation, it is a time to think. Academics, intellectuals, and activists both in India and abroad constantly project the essentially immoral ‘caste system’ which makes it obligatory for persons of ‘high caste’ to abuse and discriminate against the ‘low class’ people, especially the Dalits. Despite a lack of clarity in the definition of caste, absence of lists identifying the Dalits in the UK context, absence of evidence of any mass discrimination, volumes and volumes of literature and opinions simply build up across continents. This is a cause for concern for our international reputation. And as Prakash Shah notes that surprisingly and alarmingly, both Christian bodies and secular organisations in Europe throw their weight on this issue of ‘caste’ discrimination. Why must this be happening?
In the last chapter, the editors raise some final questions on the present-day studies of the caste system. Caste in the form of jati, varna, and biradari may exist in the Indian context, but the hierarchical model with discrimination as an essential feature, is a European context. There is a need to develop our own studies for better definitions and understandings. Today, our society is severely stressed on this issue of caste and a time has come perhaps to reject all the old models and start afresh.
DISSIMULATING ON CASTE IN BRITISH LAW
There is regular projection of a horrid picture of the caste system both within India and increasingly so in Western settings where Indians have settled over the last few decades. This chapter examines one such invocation of the caste system in the context of the enactment of the Equality Act 2010 in the United Kingdom which contains the first provision on caste discrimination in the anti-discrimination legislation of any country.
Although the Hindu communities in the United Kingdom have normally been regarded as politically passive, this precedent was broken with when two Hindu organisations in the United Kingdom issued manifestoes in advance of the General Election of May 2015 which spoke of their wish to see the end of the caste legislation, a move which other organisations and prominent individuals also supported. While there is a declared antipathy for the legislation, it has not been clear to the leaders of these organisations how they can challenge it given the overwhelming weight in favour of the view that the caste system is a discriminatory institution against which it can only be correct to legislate.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the official British anti-discrimination body commissioned an academic team to make a review of existing sociolegal research on British equality law and caste and to hold two supporting events (for experts and stakeholders, respectively) to seek views on the statutory provision on caste.
This chapter demonstrates the indefensible handling of the caste discrimination question in the UK law. Legislators show a lack of awareness of the differences between legislation in India and the wider South Asian region, on the one hand, and the British Equality Act model, on the other.
This chapter supports one of the central claims of this book, which is that the normative conception of the caste system is a presupposition that also acts as the explanation of facts about Indian culture and society.
THE EQUALITY ACT 2010 AND THE COMPARIVE LEGAL CONTEXT
The United Kingdom’s Equality Act 2010 creates a potential new ground of legal action for discrimination on the ground of ‘caste’. Among other things, this will allow legal claims for damages for caste discrimination.
Indian legal provisions on caste are based upon two quite different models; one on providing for criminal sanctions under the caste atrocities legislation; and second, on preferential reservations (quotas) for groups specifically listed in legislation.
Unfortunately, there is no tested model of the kind the United Kingdom is supposed to bring into force; and the Indian case law will not help establish guidance for when an act constitutes ‘caste discrimination’. UK lawyers and judges will effectively be going alone into an area which they scarcely understand, and where the social science literature and expertise is confused.
As instantiated further below, the many ‘experts’ on caste available in India and the West will not be able to provide a coherent response to what caste is. Proponents of the legislation in the United Kingdom tend to portray the legal situation in South Asia, especially India, incorrectly or they appear not to have much grasp of it.
CAN THE INDIAN MODEL BE COMPARED TO ADDRESSED ISSUES IN UK?
Jeremy Corbyn is an influential labour party leader very vociferous on the issue of Dalit discrimination in the UK. He is the trustee of the Dalit Solidarity Network and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dalits. Referring to B. R. Ambedkar, one of the architects of India’s constitution, he notes:
The Ambedkar constitution is an excellent document. Dr. Ambedkar was himself a Dalit. It absolutely outlaws discrimination and has some provision for protected employment for people of the scheduled castes. It is a very effective document, but raising these matters with the Indian Government or the Indian high commission is extremely difficult; they are quite resistant to having good discussions about it.
Corbyn fails to notice the contradiction in the claim that the Indian constitution ‘absolutely outlaws discrimination’ while stating that there is ‘provision for protected employment’. Notwithstanding any benign aims behind reservation for some castes in state employment, it is obvious that any attempt to achieve them through reservations would have to discriminate against those not entitled to them. In fact, the Indian legal system regularly responds to social unrest because of resentment about exclusion from reservation by expanding the beneficiaries of such discrimination.
This indicates that parliamentary discussions ended up only misrepresenting any comparisons between South Asia and the United Kingdom without any corrections. One of the consequences of fudging the differences between the Indian and UK legislation is that it avoided having to provide an important explanation- why the UK model of equality law, premised as it is on imposing liabilities in civil law that extend to damages, should be accepted as the appropriate model for addressing any social ills that caste might produce?
WHAT IS THE TARGET OF THE LAW ON CASTE? DATA WITHOUT RESEARCH
One of the ways to substantiate the claims of the size of the discrimination problem is by citing the number of Dalits in Britain. According to this strategy, the number of Dalits is meant to point to the size of the discrimination problem. After all, the standard accounts present Dalits as self-evidently at the receiving end of discrimination at the hands of the upper castes. Thus, estimates of the Dalit population have been from anywhere between 50,000 and 200,000 (Lord Avebury), to 500,000 (Lord Harries).
In the House of Commons debate of July 2014, Jeremy Corbyn declared, ‘There are roughly 1 million Dalit people in Britain’. Quite apart from the perennial ambiguity about who exactly a Dalit is, these figures of the contended-for Dalit population are not based on any official information or reliable research. The way in which the figures come out of thin air and then inflated, points, at best, to a push for legislation without due care. At worst, it suggests a deliberate effort to invent a substantial discrimination problem in the United Kingdom without an evidence base.
WHAT DOES THE WORD DALIT MEAN TO UK? PRESUPPOSITIONS OF AN IMMORAL SYSTEM
In India, the word ‘Dalit’ tends to be used to refer to those in the lists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes but no such lists exist in the United Kingdom, while those using the term do not explain whether or not they have in mind the jatis listed in the Indian legislation, although this may be implied in the way discussions on caste discrimination have taken place.
In his foreword to the Dalit Solidarity Network’s report, No Escape: Caste Discrimination in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn describes his experience and thus provides some clues about the confusion among proponents of the legislation as to who Dalits are.
I first became truly aware of the extent of caste discrimination in India, and of the resistance to it, when I attended the World Social Forum in Mumbai in January 2004. I had been aware that there was such a system, and that it did affect many poor people, but the reality of it struck home in that experience. There were several thousand Dalits at the World Social Forum protesting about the vicious effects of the caste system in India and other countries of South Asia. Hundreds of them marched, dancing and beating their drums, objecting to being regarded as the polluted outcastes of society. I then learnt more about the problem when I met a group of Dalit activists on a second visit to Mumbai in February 2006. I was therefore horrified to realise that caste discrimination has actually been exported to the UK through the Indian Diaspora. The same attitudes of superiority, pollution and separateness appear to be present in South Asian communities now settled in the UK. This is an issue the Government and all those concerned about good community relations must address. Any discrimination, of whatever kind, is unacceptable and must be both legislated against and challenged by all appropriate means.
Clearly, Corbyn has in mind the Indian ‘caste system’ which forms the prism for his experience. Since the word Dalit means ‘the oppressed’ or ‘the broken’, perhaps proponents of the law want to refer to oppressed people in general or at least those oppressed because of their caste membership. Beyond that, the term has no clarity.
Indeed, the publicity and debates on caste discrimination in the United Kingdom (as in India and in the United States) creates and perpetuates stereotypes. The discussions reveal how, while ‘lower castes’ or Dalits are presumed to be the victims of discrimination, the ‘higher castes’, ‘orthodox Hindus’ or Brahmins (or those following Brahmanism) are said to be the perpetrators of discrimination.
The attribution of implicit premises to Hindus to explain their practices presupposes the truth of and logically compels Hindus to defend (in this case) an oppressive caste system. Thus, Hindus have no choice but to enter the ‘dialogue’ as either supporters or opposers of an oppressive caste system.
The presupposed existence of an immoral caste system not only supports the idea of a structure designed for discrimination against only low caste people, but criticism of such claims is an insincere or delusional denial of discrimination. In this ‘dialogue’, there is a compelling of the students of Indian descent to accept the implicit attribution of the caste system as the explanation for their discriminatory attitudes. They might try to deny the existence of caste as a factor of social life but they cannot deny the truth of the caste system as explanation.
DESPERATE PUSH FOR LEGISLATION BASED ON LOW EVIDENCE
A remarkable feature of the parliamentary discussions on caste discrimination has been a perceived exemption from evidentiary requirements and the willingness to push for parliamentary legislation based on isolated, alleged instances of discrimination.
For example, in the lead up to the introduction of the provision, McManus (2009) wrote a story for the BBC as told by a shopkeeper which recounts an encounter with a Brahmin customer who reportedly asked about the former’s caste and refused to take change from her hand. There is no account from the customer and no consideration of an alternative explanation about the alleged facts. One could easily have considered and first rejected alternative explanations for the caste discrimination claim to stand: perhaps the customer did not consider it worth taking a small amount of change or preferred the change for charity. However, the impression given to readers is a story demonstrative of caste discrimination. It is more dramatic in that, even where tribunals and courts have an opportunity (and perhaps even an obligation) to test different explanations for alleged behaviour, they appear to rest only upon the caste system as the explanation.
When reading the parliamentary debates and other statements there often appears to be a conflation of ‘caste’ and ‘the caste system’. Well before the agitation on caste took hold in Britain, some scholars had begun to castigate the Hindu community in Britain for ‘caste prejudice’ considering ‘black socialism’ as the antidote for this illness. This stance reflects the kind of dilemma that faces an Indian scholar working in the contemporary academic context. He or she articulates the shame of caste and the necessity for a deracinated future of his own culture, which secular black socialism should replace.
CASTE DISCRIMINATION IN CASE LAW HOWEVER
In one case, a practice manager of a law firm in the English city of Coventry alleged that there was discrimination against him because of his inter-caste marriage. That case ran out of steam when one of the tribunal members recused herself on grounds of potential bias, which were unrelated to the claim of caste discrimination. Consequently, Judge Sigsworth thought, there was no need to wait for the implementation of the Equality Act’s clause on caste to bring an action of caste discrimination.
To those familiar with EU law, the stretched legal interpretation by which caste is now into UK law may sound somewhat unusual, if not alarming or abusive. The lack of a single definition of caste does not hold back a claim on grounds of caste discrimination if some definition links to ‘ethnic origins.’
It is far from clear what ‘an acceptable definition’ of caste would be and who would decide its acceptability. Annapurna Waughray, a strong proponent of the law on caste discrimination, says, ‘there is no agreed sociological or legal definition of caste’. In that context, who would decide what an acceptable definition is and on what grounds would one do that? Presumably it must be by some background theory or framework and the currently dominant one tells us that, indeed, India has an inherently discriminatory and immoral caste system that obliges high caste Indians to discriminate against low caste ones. The problem is that that idea indeed is a secularised version of, assessments made of Indian culture by Protestant missionaries on the basis that Hinduism is a false religion.
The scholars in UK have an anomalous take: tribals are ‘always’ outside of the village caste order, but see no problem in the claimant subjected to caste discrimination. Indian law assigns a separate category of ‘Scheduled Tribes’ besides the category reserved for ‘Scheduled Castes’. But there is no attempt in UK to distinguish the various groups likewise.
Hence, the warning to Indians in the UK legal system facing charges of caste discrimination will be as if they are presumptive discriminators. If biased Indian academics come to provide expert evidence, it will not rescue them as many regard Indian upper castes in the same way.
CASTE AND THE UNIVERSALISATION OF CHRISTIANITY
One conundrum facing those analysing the legislation on caste in the United Kingdom its link to Christianity and the Christian churches. The caste legislation is part of a wider project of proselytism orchestrated by various church organisations across the world, which see as their immediate goal the targeting of the caste reservations system in India.
Christians are not generally afforded access to caste reservations in India (nor as it happens to initiate criminal charges under the caste atrocities legislation). Although Christians, as minorities, have other privileges under the Indian legal system, the lack of general access to caste-based reservations acts as a constraint to proselytism. Conversions would mean losing privileges.
We know through nineteenth-century missionary records from India that caste was as an obstacle to conversion. Additionally, since caste belonging continued after conversion and because it was a repository of heathenism, it was unwanted in the church. Even a contemporary evangelising organisation, Christar, says on its leaflet:
The caste system is one of the biggest obstacles preventing the gospel from moving freely from person to person in Hindu culture, as members of different castes generally do not interact with one another concerning spiritual and religious matters. (Christar 2012)
The debates on caste in the United Kingdom show that there are spokespersons and organisations who come from explicitly Christian religious backgrounds or speak as holders of a Christian religious office. There is a strong Christian hand in the promotion of the caste provision in legislation and litigation. In a document prepared as a response to the UK government’s consultation on whether caste should have an inclusion in legislation, a report by the Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB) (2008, 25) noted:
HFB has found that there are strong links between MPs who have interns paid by CARE [Christian Action, Research and Education] and the Dalit lobby in the House of Commons. Several of the MPs who have CARE interns are also the most passionate advocates of Dalit Rights in Parliament and elsewhere. Some of them are also active members of Christian organisations like the Christian Solidarity Worldwide which advocate a strong case for Dalit Rights.
Lord Harries, a former Anglican Bishop of Oxford, led the charge to include caste in the 2010 Act and to move the 2013 amendment. A debate in November 2014 on caste and poverty in India, during the issue of the non-implementation of UK caste legislation, also featured avowedly leading Christian members of the House of Lords including Lord Harries (Anglican), Lord Alton (Catholic) and Lord Griffiths (Methodist).
Dalit organisations asking for the anti-discrimination legislation to cover caste have an overwhelmingly Christian background. The proponents of the legislation invariably cite their reports, purporting to document the discrimination suffered by Dalits. The legislative move in Britain would thus boost an internationally orchestrated campaign within UN organs and the EU to have caste discrimination recognised in some form.
Copenhagen-based International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) spearheads the efforts for lobbying in the EU. The funding for this mostly comes from different churches in European countries or from governments of different European countries including Denmark and the Netherlands. International bodies and those arguing for the UK legislation routinely cite the IDSN to support action against caste discrimination.
SECULARS JUMPING INTO THE FRAY
Many secular-minded people in Western countries who do not necessarily subscribe to Christianity might regard caste as an abominable institution destined for the rubbish bin of history. Some members of the British upper house of parliament, especially those of Indian origin, have tried to convey the immorality of the caste system by appealing to history.
The National Secular Society actively joined the campaign in favour of the caste clause in the Equality Act and has kept up pressure its implementation. They are also at the forefront of sponsoring resolutions in the European Parliament to include caste discrimination as a conditionality in the EU’s relations with third countries.
The National Secular Society subscribes to the principle of secularism, one of whose components is ‘the strict separation of the state from religious institutions’. It would stretch the limits of credulity to suggest that they are promoting a Christian interest such as a push for proselytism both in India and in the diaspora when at the same time they campaign, for example, against church involvement and religious dogma in the UK’s education system.
THE PROCESS OF SECULARIZING A CHRISTIAN THEME
De Roover and others have shown how the Western discourse on caste developed as set of Protestant theological and normative claims about the falsity of Indian religion (Brahmanism or Hinduism).
Orientalist discourse absorbed Indian culture into the normative dynamic that propelled both post-Reformation Christendom and liberal secularism. Like the earlier critiques of Catholicism and Judaism, the discourse about Hinduism and caste revolved around their alleged negation of the norms of Christian freedom and equality, either in explicitly theological or in secularized form. Consequently, Hinduism became the embodiment of tyranny and hierarchy.
A society based on religiously sanctioned caste stratification was inimical to core Protestant ideas about equality of status. The Aryan invasion theory came in to explain caste as a religiously ordained racial order. These theologically driven accounts, together with their normative structure absorbed into the portraits of India written by Orientalists and Anglicists alike.
The normative framing of Indian culture and society was also refined and absorbed into social science accounts and Indian political thought, which took as ‘facts’ the originally theological claims about India. In this sense, the view of the caste system as the negation of the norms of Christian freedom and of secular liberal equality is unproven but rather presupposed.
The acceptance of the account of the caste system as a social-scientific description of Indian society thus emerged in a framework of secularised Christian theology. Therefore, both advocates of Christian proselytism and advocates of secularism can accept the account and act on it, regardless of their religious beliefs or philosophical preferences. These and other insights presented in this book should compel one to consider the possibility that even the ‘secular’ theorising of the caste system and its correlative postulation of the corruption of Indian culture and society is dependent on Christian theological propositions about Indian religion and its caste system.
STEREOTYPES AND REPETITIONS- THE ROLE OF INDIAN ACADEMICS
British tribunals and courts share the general assumption embedded in Western culture that India has a corrupt, oppressive, and immoral caste system. Indian academics would tend to reinforce such assumptions. No evidence needs proffering to substantiate the claim of the existence of the caste system nor its transplantation to the Indian diaspora. It is simply an assumption.
One barrister says, ‘the Vedic caste system is a South Asian concept which, in so far as it has spread beyond the region, has been transplanted by the diaspora community.’ Scholars, lawyers, and authorities make such outrageous claims about caste as if they are plausible; and plausibility need measured according to the prevalent stereotypes to make out that a set of facts constitutes caste discrimination.
One Indian scholar, called Dalwai, demonstrates the tendency all too well in the way her account links caste to a multitude of different phenomena. Thus she refers to the ‘caste system’, ‘caste oppression’, ‘caste relations’, ‘caste practices’, ‘caste pyramid’, ‘caste discourse’, ‘caste positionality’, ‘caste economics’, ‘caste hierarchy’, ‘caste situation’, ‘caste lens’, ‘caste norms’, ‘caste subjectivity’, ‘caste privilege’, ‘caste violence’, and ‘caste discrimination’.
For her, caste is a sign of the moral degeneracy of the upper castes in India and now also the Indian diaspora in the West to whose shores they have imported their caste norms, alongside their dal and masala. According to her we should understand caste as a ‘function of social malpractice and a cultural ethos of discrimination’. Given her generous use of caste as a qualifier, we are not wrong for thinking that it characterises every component of Indian life, and so could just as easily be synonymous with ‘Indian’. In other words, caste is nothing but a morally bad thing of which Indians should be ashamed; and legal force should act against them whenever their attitudes betray its influence. Caste seems to be lurking everywhere and in everything Indians might do- so inherent is it to their lives.
Dalwai’s thinking is in line with, if not slightly more robust in the choice of language than, those of other academicians in the United Kingdom, who also support the Equality Act and the case law against caste discrimination. All presuppose the existence of the Indian caste system as so thoroughly immoral. Its eradication, by legal means if needed, is the ideal thing to do.
MARTIN FÁREK, DUNKIN JALKI, SUFIYA PATHAN AND PRAKASH SHAH
It should trouble us immensely that we are not able to answer any number of very pressing questions such as the following:
- What are jatis? What is the nature of relations between jatis?
- How do we understand the conflicts India has witnessed over the past few decades dubbed as ‘caste violence’?
- Are jatis a part of a ‘social system’ and in what sense may we use the term social system?
IS THERE A CASTE SYSTEM IN INDIA?
Over the past century at the very least, it is an accepted fact among social scientists that ‘the caste system’ exists and it is an immoral and corrupt system. Even recent post-colonial scholars, willing to concede that the caste system had a construction sometime since the colonial era, make this claim with the proviso that this construction is a reality today. The only task left for a researcher, then, is to describe it accurately.
The authors of this book are saying that there is no unity in the sets of phenomena, clubbed together and described as either component parts or causes or effects of the Indian ‘caste system’. More starkly put, the caste system does not exist.
The term ‘caste system’, or any of its cognates like ‘casteism’ and ‘caste problem’, as they are used today, refers to a score of discrete phenomena: rituals, the roles taken up by different groups during a ritual, festivals, institutions and their mores in relation to diverse groups, modes of wearing dress, food habits, economic and other problems, land relations, instances of exploitation, stereotypes, stories and so on. These discrete entities came together to make a construct in the way Europeans (the West) experienced India.
Of course, the West did not provide intentionally false and misleading descriptions of the social and cultural reality in India. Rather, the unity they created by bringing together the diverse ‘facts’ they observed is a unity for the West; that is, it is a unity in their experience of Indian culture. Yet, the unity posited between different phenomena, brought together under the rubric of the ‘caste system’, has had serious consequences for India. This unity has gained the false status of a scientific theory that serves as the basic framework within which to understand Indian society.
This ‘system’ merely lends stability to ‘experience’ by stringing some phenomena together. It is merely a name for a collection of phenomena; and these ‘acquire’ a common structure merely because they group together and thus have an identity.
DOES THE CLAIM THAT THERE IS NO CASTE SYSTEM INVOLVE A DENIAL OF ANY EVENT/PHENOMENON IN INDIA?
As Balagangadhara explains, there is absolutely no denial of any horror stories, stories of oppression, different types of jati practices, and any other practices. These are issues for further empirical and theoretical investigation. But strong is the claim that the dominant western story about ‘the caste system’ is false, if taken as an explanation of the Indian society.
The caste system, the entity constructed by the West, is an experiential entity only to the West and not to Indians. In this sense, the caste system is not a part of the Indian culture. It has no existence outside of the Western experience of India. The so-called caste-system, in this sense, does not exist.
WHY DID THE WEST SEE THE CASTE SYSTEM?
Why did Western travellers, missionaries and administrators create such an entity, one may ask? They could only understand India in terms of the categories they had inherited. Therefore, we need not investigate their intentions or purported goals; we need not worry much about the ‘agency’ of the colonial or the native in producing this structure. This kind of research is the kind that seeks to understand Western culture.
We need our scholarship to focus on the received accounts about the caste system, how these accounts developed and how they consolidated. For instance, De Roover’s proposition that the ambiguity around a moral assessment of the caste system had a replacement by a conviction of its immorality with the consolidation of the Protestant Reformation.
WHY DO INDIANS SEE THE CASTE SYSTEM?
That is, if the ‘caste system’ is a unit in the Western experience of India, why do so many Indians talk about it as though it describes their own experience?
This is because of a colonial consciousness pervading our intelligentsia according to SN Balagangadhara. He says:
It has practically become common-sense to say that colonialism is not simply a matter of political subjugation or taking over lands and extracting revenues or even capturing the imagination of the colonised by making them aspire to become like the West in clothes and habit. Colonialism runs much deeper. This is, after all, the insight that has generated the field of study called post-colonialism. To understand how colonialism continues to work in a post-colonial era, it is imperative to understand the nature of colonialism as an educational project.
The first step in the way that colonialism developed was that it projected the descriptions it generated about other cultures as scientific knowledge about the world. Not only were these descriptions not ‘scientific’, they also deeply embedded within the framework of the civilisational superiority of the West. However, as a crucial second step, the coloniser also explicitly undertook to ‘educate’ the colonised in this ‘scientific knowledge’ about the native culture. Learning the so-called ‘scientific knowledge’ about the native culture of the colonised necessarily involves imbibing the framework of the cultural and civilisational superiority of the West. It is this process that creates and sustains ‘colonial consciousness’.
The descriptions generated by colonialism are not scientific at all, and above that, they project a specific cultural experience as the truth about the world. When the colonised learn to see themselves in the way the coloniser describes them, they too lose access to their earlier experience of their culture. Their native culture has a severe distortion, but most crucially, it is necessarily an immoral culture within these descriptions. Colonialism denies the colonised peoples and cultures their own experiences, by actively preventing descriptions of their own experiences except in terms defined by the colonisers. The colonised people thus become aliens to themselves.
Thus, lay Indians, researchers, academics are all subject to the education they have received over centuries. This is not an easy legacy to shake. However, it is the primary challenge facing any serious researcher working on the caste system today. What we see among the recent works on the caste system, instead, is their apologetic defence of a lack of clarity about the problem and the domain that the term ‘caste system’ refers to, coupled with the adamant insistence on ‘fighting it’.
They begin with the assumption that ‘casteism’, even though they can give no coherent account of what it refers to, is immoral and barbaric, and therefore it should end. This is a basic feature of colonial consciousness as Balagangadhara describes it: the conviction that the native culture is immoral, coupled with the inability to provide a scientific description of the phenomena one is engaged in studying.
IDEOLOGY WORKING MORE THAN SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE
Scholars suggest that much of the influential work in the social sciences is ideological. There is ample evidence that studies on the caste system and governmental policies (such as reservation), ‘prevention strategies’ and anti-caste activism are based on ideology rather than on scientific evidence. The message they give is more political than scientific.
The domain of caste studies, to use a contemporary analogy, is much like an instance of location-based augmented reality games, like Pokémon Go. Once one starts playing the game, it is both rational and profitable to take the scenario created by the game ‘seriously’. In technical terms, such a scenario is mediated reality, where technology modifies one’s current perception of reality. The modification may take any route (diminishing or augmenting one’s perception of the reality) provided the content of the modified reality overlays on the real world.
In this context, it is important to note that the Indian ‘caste system’ does more than Pokémon Go: to those who chant these holy syllables of ‘caste’, it is the purveyor of political, economic, social, and intellectual gifts. This mantra, the Indian ‘caste system’, has generated a whole series of other equally holy syllables that perform miracles, like for example, those that generate the caste-based reservation system.
Our faulty theories of the caste system stand to increase unrest in society. The dilemma of the time is rather disturbing. On the one hand, sound social sciences, which work in the Indian context, are yet to come. On the other hand, until such a time we cannot also make do with the current social science approaches to the so-called caste problems.
Doing so has a heavy cost of letting those faulty theories remain as the bases for all kinds of practical decisions. What should one do in such a situation? The solutions are: being constructively critical of our theories, policies, and all that we employ in understanding and solving our problems. Our criticism of the current theories of the caste system need an understanding in this light. Furthermore, it is from within such constructive criticisms of existing approaches that a science of caste will emerge.
The main hypothesis is that the dominant descriptions we have today are results of originally Christian themes and questions; they reflect European historical experiences and European thinking about society much more than the real state of society and its domestic understanding in India.
TO CONCLUDE BRIEFLY
‘Caste consciousness’ has generally pervaded into every Indian today; and not only that, each jati has its own feelings of persecutions and discriminations; and demand political, economic, and social ‘justice.’ Something has gone seriously wrong with the way politicians and ideologically motivated academicians handled the issue of caste in the country. There is still hope for a united India; but only if we look at other paradigms. Again, these summaries are not meant to replace the wonderful book. Every English-knowing Indian must read the original book in full to understand the distortions we have all received over a lifetime. There is an urgent need to translate the book in all Indian languages too.
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