Caste: Some Alternative Narratives

Caste: Some Alternative Narratives
Image Courtesy:

The classical conception of the so-called “caste system,” as Jalki and Pathan (2015) explicate, evolved and consolidated in colonial-missionary writings, and has remained unchanged for two centuries. The present social sciences largely reproduces the classic rendering of the his/story of “caste”. They quote the Social Science NCERT textbook for Class 10 on “Democratic Politics”:

“Caste division is special to India. All societies have some kind of social inequality and some form of division of labour. In most societies, occupations are passed on from one generation to another. Caste system is an extreme form of this. What makes it different from other societies is that in this system, hereditary occupational division was sanctioned by rituals. Members of the same caste group were supposed to form a social community that practiced the same or similar occupation, married within the caste group and did not eat with members from other caste groups. Caste system was based on exclusion of and discrimination against the ‘outcaste’ groups. They were subjected to the inhuman practice of untouchability”.  

Summarily, the caste system rests on four principles:

  • Occupational division, sanctioned by Hinduism
  • Hereditary membership
  • Endogamy
  • Exclusion of and discrimination against the ‘outcaste’ groups (which includes commensality and ‘untouchability’)

Field studies and societal practices have contradicted each of the properties theorized for the caste system. Strangely, caste scholarship presents the disjunction as a unique feature of the caste system! Caste scholarship holds on to the theory while rejecting the uncomfortable data. Is there an alternative story?

The post-independent academic narrative dominated by left/Marxist thinking did not much change the narrative as the oppressor-oppressed paradigm was found an easy fit into the narrative of the ruled and the rulers. Some post-colonial critique was more vehement but they implausibly argued that the classificatory scheme proposed by the colonials created the Indian social order. A small voice at present, but decades of serious scholarship mainly led by the Ghent School (initiated by Balagangadhara Rao), takes an entirely different approach to tackle the caste system and to understand its many phenomena like jatis. The present scholarship hardly takes the jatis into account which perhaps are the only reality of our social systems. The Ghent School takes the position that the “caste system” as such does not exist but it is an experience of the colonials of an alien culture. In trying to understand a culture they were trying to rule, they constructed a meta-narrative to explain the many phenomena under the umbrella of a “caste system”.

Oñati International Institute for the Sociology of Law is an institute established in Spain since 1988 which supports a global network of scholars working on law and social sciences. It publishes a peer-reviewed, on-line open access journal called Oñati Socio-Legal Series. In its forthcoming series (2022: OSLS First Online), there are five brilliant articles which captures the work of scholars trying to give an alternative to the standard caste story. This is a summary of those articles which we hope will inspire the reader to explore this work in greater detail. This alternative narrative does not deny the discriminatory practices in society, an oft-repeated criticism, but it has more potential than the standard story to create harmony and assuage the hurt and anger among people.

Early Muslim Writers On Brahmins

Dunkin Jalki (2022), in an important article, shows how the present central role of the “crafty and ostentatious” Brahmins in the caste system originated from early Muslim writings (8th to 11th centuries). The earliest Muslim and Jewish scholars spoke about an enigmatic Indian group of intellectuals called al-Barahima. Despite some disagreements scholarly consensus identifies them as the Brahmins of India.

Al-Barahima, first appearing in the works of late-eighth century Muslim scholars, are a group of heretical but scholarly people from India holding human reason as self-sufficient and denying the necessity of prophethood. Through an impressive analysis of the texts and writings of various scholars on these groups, Jalki shows that al-Barahima gradually came to represent a set of ideas blatantly antithetical to Islamic ideals as early as the mid-ninth century. This was both a continuation of and a small departure from even earlier references to this group.  Islamic scholars had classified the world into four divisions:  Muslims; believers in a revealed book as mentioned in the Qur’an; people who claim to believe a divine Book not mentioned in the Qur’an; and infidels.  There was some initial uncertainty, but a Muslim theologian finally placed al-Barahima in the last category as idol-worshippers.

An important aspect of the late-ninth and early-tenth centuries is the development of Islamic universal history, says Jalki. Scholars accorded a place to a region called Hind and Barahima with its various modifications in their writings. Gradually, the word “Hindu” came to denote everything black. From the eleventh century onward Hindus appear as highway robbers, thieves, and moneylenders. In general, the word became a synonym for “slave”.

The author then traces the most significant period (late 10th century) coinciding with the period of the prolific traveller and writer Al-Biruni who consolidated the popular discourse.  Using Indian scriptures, the historical precedents, and sociological facts of India around him, Al-Biruni linked Barahima and Brahmana to build a hybrid entity: flesh-and-blood human beings (real and imaginary), a conceptual idea of the wise person (Brahmana as a way of referring to a jnani), sociological idea of a social class (Kshatriya or Brahmana varna) and so on. At the end of Al-Biruni’s (973-1048) career, Muslim scholars began to talk about them as boastful, ignorant, crafty, and even cruel people, much like the immoral and corrupt Brahmin priests that Indologists would describe a millennium later.

Al-Biruni offered the four-fold division of Indian society with some outcaste groups. He described the spiritual and social hierarchy as a prominent aspect of Indian society. Brahmins and Kshatriyas were at the top of both spiritual hierarchy due to their access to the scriptures. The Shudras, as the menial servants, and the Antyaja group, as the lowest doing the “dirty work,” had no such access. His interpretation of the Gita finally makes him conclude a divine sanction of the hierarchy.

The Barahima thus transformed into failed-elites-cum-priests. This was the period when the Delhi Sultanate (1206–1526) had just emerged. The Muslim scholars post-thirteenth century concerned themselves with the fate of Muslim communities in the sub-continent rather than the nature of Indian religions. Yet, as the author says, in the Muslim writings of the thirteenth century, Brahmins were neither the informed rationalists nor the “perverse and wicked a set as can anywhere be found,” as Saint Francis Xavier called them about three centuries later. The author speculates as a matter for future research if the Muslim image of Brahmins had any bearing on the later Christian one.

Though the author says he does not focus on the contemporary Indian texts in the article, his own research into Shaiva texts (5th to 11th century CE) or the Kannada Lingayat texts (post-11th century) neither portray a Brahmin nor speak about “caste” the way Muslim scholars like Al-Biruni does. The contention is that irrespective of what was happening in India, the Brahmin figure that Al-Biruni is talking about is absent in Indian literature and we must look elsewhere for its origin and development. Strikingly, the contemporary story of the caste system does not seem to diverge much from its Muslim version. Jalki asks, “Why did this story not progress further? If this story never grows, shouldn’t one ask if it indeed refers to an actual phenomenon or not? If it never gets old, it can’t be real”.

Race and Caste

Martin Farek (2022), in an illuminating article “Caste, race, and slavery,” discusses the evolution of the present scholarship conflating race and caste, and how there is pressure on legislative bodies and courts in the US and UK to use caste as a cudgel to inconvenience Indians/Hindus. Farek offers three main characteristics for comparison: endogamy, which preserves purity of blood of the groups; color-consciousness or skin color of people as the discriminatory mark of both caste and race; and hierarchy of the groups in question.  

Farek demonstrates how the characterization of endogamy, which guides the complex relation between thousands of groups (jatis) in India, suffers from fallacies, assumptions, and contradictions. Similarly, color-consciousness where “fair” becomes superior or preferable suffers from vagueness and subjectiveness of the impressions without any backing from either the societal practices or the Indian texts. Considering hierarchy, scholars are yet to explain that if the races and castes are similar social organizations, how would one explain the existence of thousands of jati groupings in India, as against only two basic racial groups in the United States? How could a dual system of race where the inferior can never hope to reach the level of the superior transpose itself to a society with thousands of mobile jatis with no fixed hierarchy and variable group status across time and space?

The most curious is the numerical puzzle. In 1921, the census in India showed that the three upper castes accounted for about 21 million people as against more than 300 million members of the lower castes, the alleged progeny of the conquered aboriginals.  In comparison, the census of 1860 in the fifteen slaveholding states of the US before the Civil War showed 8,039,000 “whites,” 3,950,000 slaves, and 251,000 “free colored persons”. Thus, while in American slavery, the ruling race numbered more than double the size of enslaved people; in India the alleged ruling castes comprised only about seven percent of the population. It is problematic to consider that the conquering Aryan race came in sufficient  numbers, established their caste system and despite all that, they became a minority! (Farek does not mention it, but on a side note, the Aryan “migration” theorizing of “trickles” of “Aryans” migrating to India is an ad hoc adjustment to these criticisms of the “Aryan invasion” scenario.)

But what was the background of the sharp division of two groups in Indian society? Jakob De Roover’s work demonstrates the legacy of the colonial caste law which brought a sharp division between “Caste Hindus” (or Touchables) versus “Depressed Classes” (or Untouchables) in the current Indian legal system. This two-fold basic division in Indian society, typically ascribed to Hinduism, justifies legal and political action today.

Two main steps emerged in the development of Western explanations concerning Indian society.  The first was development of older ideas about an ancient Aryan conquest and enslavement of the supposed aborigines by these Aryan “foreigners”. This, a purely hypothetical exercise, derived from two different sources: Enlightenment thought about the general development of all human societies, in which slavery was a “natural state” in ancient societies; and, guided inquiries into the Manava-dharmashastra and other texts available to the British lawyers and Orientalists in the 18th century which appeared to confirm these hypothetical divisions. The second step in building the “racial caste” explanation was with the development of racial thought during the 19th century. Comparative linguistics, playing its role, discovered the difference between Indo-European and Dravidian languages and this became proof of the ancient conquest by “white” Aryans of “black” Dravidians. This racial caste explanation turned their assumptions into “facts” about Indian society.

Enlightenment theories established the link between caste in India and slavery prior to the link between caste and race. Castes in India turned into the development of the old simple division between free people (Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vysyas) and slaves (Shudras). In different ways, the comparisons of slavery and caste have continued as a crucial part of scholarly and political debates till today. Dr Ambedkar not only compared the situation of low caste people in India with slavery, but thought that the former is worse than the latter.

The Brushing of Jatis Under the Carpet: The British Example

Prakash Shah (2022), in his essay, “Caste in a new light: Jati in British multiculturalism,” shows how “multiculturalism” (supporting the rights of cultural minorities and fostering nationhood) and anti-discrimination laws in Britain pose paradoxically a threat to Indian culture. It creates antagonism between groups according to illegitimate criteria, and penalizes those falsely alleged to be upholders or proponents of the “caste system”. The Equality Act 2010 in Britain pulls in “caste” as a factor for discrimination and targets the jati phenomenon, a ubiquitous, ever proliferating, and a non-understood component of Indian society.

Scholars ignore the important social reality of jatis (about 4,000 of them today) in their discussions on caste. Europeans used caste first for varna, then to both varna and jati, and even included terms like biradari or kula. It is therefore unclear what caste specifically picks out in the conceptual language of caste studies. The classical conception of the caste system presupposes that jatis are oppressive hierarchical systems which are birth-based, endogamous with exclusionary purity rules, and occupationally restricted. The source of caste is Hinduism, Hindus are its carriers, and its perpetrators are Brahmins. These ideas, clearest in the writings of Christian missionaries, are present in secularized form through the social sciences. However, regarding the “caste system,” two centuries of research has failed to determine its rules, properties, consequences, relation to social conflict, and differences from other social organizations. The author demonstrates how most social science theories attempting to pull jati into the caste system inevitably fail to describe Indian culture.

The Ghent School, initiated by Prof. Balagangadhara, gives the clearest explanation of jatis in its theory of cultural differences. It states that performative or practical learning dominates in Indian culture in contrast to the theoretical or doctrinal domination of western culture.  Jati phenomena clearly fits into the framework of the dominance of performative learning in Indian culture. Locating the theoretical or doctrinal foundations regarding the origin and proliferation of jatis is difficult. Though doctrinal criticisms of alleged anti-caste movements do exist, jatis constantly evolve as a result of criticisms and not as a result of contestations about doctrinal beliefs.

Scholars, activists, and institutions in Britain have supported legal mechanisms to attack the caste system. The author demonstrates how both liberal and non-liberal accounts of multiculturalism in the framework of the classical conception of the caste system, as an agency to destroy caste, becomes intensely inimical to jatis. They all suffer from a poor conceptualization of culture and, where theories of culture do exist, they sustain ideas of cultural differences within western culture — as differences in the beliefs or doctrines of groups. The jati phenomenon is rarely mentioned.  One of the scholarly views demands institutionalization with rules and centralized authorities to define a “cultural status” and thus requiring protection. Such institutionalization does not exist for the jatis except for some structures for charity and legal purposes. This also becomes problematic for the jatis as the author demonstrates when such structures come under the purview of discrimination.

Caste discrimination is an extension of the policy against race discrimination based on colour implemented in the post-war years. The anti-discrimination legislation (the Equality Act 2010) proposed to add caste as “an aspect of race” alongside the other elements that had made up the idea of racial groups (color, nationality, and ethnic and national origins). After intense debates, successive British governments refrained from implementing this constitutionally. The Government accepted that there is “no universally accepted functional definition of caste” which can be relied on. However, in 2014, an individual case involving the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) established a legal precedent on the issue. The decision, though acknowledging the lack of a sociological or legal definition of caste, held that this was not a hurdle in recognizing caste as part of the provision on ethnic origin discrimination. Reliance on the case law allowed the UK Government to avoid implementing the legislative provision on caste.

The campaign for legislation and case law against caste discrimination is aimed at stigmatizing Indians as presumptive caste oppressors, says the author. The model failed Indians in Britain whose public profile moved to a relatively positive one in employment, educational performance, family stability, and less crime involvement. The author explains how, in Britain, elusive attempts at definition of caste only indexes our ignorance. Like, for example, under what conditions can a jati be a caste and a sub-caste at the same time? The confusion on the meaning of the most basic of terms in almost all caste studies remains glaring over the last two centuries.

Modern Narratives of India: Hindutva as a Brahmanical Movement

Following the wins of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014 and 2019, commentators have painted India as turning towards Hindutva — a “hyper-nationalistic, fascist, autocratic, Hindu-supremacist, and a Brahmanical force” trying to take India back to the stone ages and causing great injustice to the minorities. Garima Raghuvanshy (2022), in her essay, “On the explanatory adequacy of the Hindutva-as-Brahmanical model,” tackles the most significant anomaly facing scholars on the Hindutva movement’s popularity amongst Dalit and “Other Backward Caste” (OBC) voters. How can a Brahmanical movement be the choice of those it seeks to oppress? 

There are three central arguments to claim Hindutva as Brahmanical:

  • The movement’s leaders and ideologues have been and are Brahmins
  • The movement opposes caste-based reservation
  • It opposes proselytization

This argument rests on the premise that a predominance of Brahmins within an organization makes it Brahmanical. The author then demonstrates the fallacy of such arguments: the RSS does not maintain caste data of its members; scholars talk about “Dalit Brahmanism” and “OBC Brahmanism” too following that “Brahmanism” can exist without Brahmins. Being a description for a vast variety of individuals and organisations, even the “upper-caste” leaders supporting the “lower-castes,” the term “Brahmanical” loses its descriptive power. All three major political parties — Congress, CPI (M), and BJP – have been accused of being Brahmanical but their different political outcomes compels us to conclude that the BJP’s differentiating factor is not its Brahmanism.

Regarding opposing caste-based reservation as “casteist,” Raghuvanshy says the fundamental problem is that it is almost impossible to find a consistent stance on caste-based reservations amongst the many organisations and individuals foundational to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its many affiliates (Sangh Parivar). The BJP appears as determined as every other political party in India to increase reservations, legal protection, social welfare benefits, and political representation for Dalits and OBC communities. However, it is impossible to test the criticism that BJP does all this in bad faith.

The anti-proselytization stance is another proof of its Brahmanism since conversion allegedly involves freeing oneself from the shackles of the caste system. This is an old idea perpetuated by Christian denominations across centuries and even by Dr Ambedkar. However, this link is tenuous. Caste apparently is a part of Indian Islam and Indian Christianity too. Pro-reservationists want to extend caste-based reservations to the “low caste” converts on precisely this claim that discrimination against them do not seem to dissolve after conversion to Islam or Christianity. Thus, the view of both parties dovetails to the same idea that the majority of religious conversions in India are not for religious belief but for economic and other reasons. The difference is only in the ethics and modus operandi of conversions.

Even if we accept that the Hindutva movement is Brahmanical, what accounts for the movement’s significant popularity amongst Dalit and OBC communities? There are again three explanations:

  • A crisis in Dalit politics
  • Economic upliftment has created a Dalit middle class amenable to the Hindutva movement
  • The movement aggressively woos Dalits and OBCs to gain popularity

The author shows problems and contradictions in these explanations.  Particularly striking is one claim which says Dalit is not a viable identity with no “shared experience” to unite the many communities considered Dalit. All of them seek hierarchy (as sub-castes, and sub-sub-castes) at their respective levels once the “exogenous pressure” which forges an artificial unity goes away. If so, what do we make of the received view on the “caste system,” which tells us that Indians have five categories of Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra and Panchama but with huge internal heterogeneity in each of the groups?

If economic betterment leads to Dalit communities supporting the Sangh Parivar, this implies that it is their economic condition or aspirations that play a decisive role in their political-ideological preferences, not their caste disadvantages or caste consciousness. This puts into question another important tenet of the received view on the caste system, namely, that economic betterment does not remove caste disadvantages because these operate according to an arbitrary birth-based caste hierarchy.  Finally, the criticism that aggressive wooing of the Dalits by helping “marginalized people to develop themselves” should not count as criticism but democracy fulfilling its purpose.

As a logical end to the arguments, the author shows that caste systems and the resultant discrimination are not intrinsically, culturally Indian, but they become a universal global phenomenon.  The description of the Hindutva movement as Brahmanism itself and explanations of success amongst Dalit and OBC communities lead to multiple fundamental questions to the received view on the caste system, which in turn is the foundation of everything from terms such as “Brahmanical,” “Brahmanism,” “upper-caste and lower-caste,” and even “Hindutva.”

Atrocity Literature: A Major Blow to India Not Sufficiently Countered

There has been a serious laxity in understanding and presenting claims based on empirical evidence for caste violence or atrocities. In an important article, “The enigma of caste atrocities: Do scheduled castes and scheduled tribes face excessive violence in India?,” Nihar Sashittal (2022) disproves the almost “given” conclusion about “widespread and disproportionate violence” against the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) people.  This widespread notion permeating all academic-political-legal-media discussions and international monitoring agencies is due to serious conceptual fallacies and distorted statistics — cherry picking, data illiteracy, floating numerators, and intuitive statistics – points out Sashittal.

As per the UN criteria, atrocity refers to three legally defined international crimes:

  • Genocide
  • Crimes against humanity
  • War crimes

Strangely, in the present Indian legal language, atrocity has had a “semantic expansion” referring to not only heinous crimes but all offenses like coercion, intimidation, trespass, harassment, cheating, forgery, insult or humiliation, disrespect to icons, and so on. A “concept creep” both “horizontally” capturing qualitatively new phenomena and “vertically” capturing quantitatively lesser phenomena increases the scope of atrocity crimes. The semantic expansion gives it a split character: a dilated definition that includes all crimes, irrespective of the motives or severity, for collecting statistics on crimes; and a constricted definition for interpretation giving the sense that these crimes refer to the most heinous and necessarily motivated by caste.

The use of the term “atrocity” was rare through the decades of the 1950s and 1960s but caught on in the 1970s. As the author notes, the mentions of “atrocity” began to increase in these yearly reports from barely any mentions in the report for 1969–70 to over 300 times a decade later in the report for 1979–80. In 1974, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) started collecting statistics of crimes against SCs or STs beginning with the four most important violent crimes — murder, grievous hurt, arson, and rape — but would soon encompass all offenses under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). By the late 1970s and early 1980s, therefore, the term “atrocity” had become an “omnibus identifier” for caste violence where the victims were specifically from a SC or a ST.

Statistics of only crimes against SCs and STs by non-SCs and non-STs respectively, and not of any other populations, created an impression that these crimes exist only against SCs and STs or that they exist against them in excessive proportions. As ad hoc adjustments in defining crime, since 2016, the records started excluding from the records crimes against SCs where STs are perpetrators and against STs where SCs are perpetrators. The Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 (POA Act) defined a range of new offenses which did not require establishing caste as a motive. The NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) started publishing these records from 1994. Gradually, “atrocity” became arbitrarily conflated with “hate crimes”. One scholar shows that the alleged offenders of these crimes do not just belong to any one particular religion, yet the popular discourse pins the blame on the “Hindu caste system”.

The author shows that less than 40 percent of the total cases of IPC crimes against SCs and STs and less than 30 percent of the total cases of crimes against them under all the three laws combined (IPC, POA of 1989, and Protection of Civil Liberties, 1995) are “violent” as listed by the National Crime Rrecords Bureau (NCRB). A significant proportion of lesser offenses are not necessarily violent but are more susceptible to variations in reporting levels. This makes using them as proxies for the levels of violence is fraught with inaccuracies. Apart from these, misrepresentation of the data due to laxity and politicization, mostly driven by advocacy groups, raise serious questions about the ethical use of crime statistics. Though “underreporting” has been a criticism of many studies, there is an equal possibility of overreporting as the author demonstrates from the actual conviction rates.

The author draws the statistical data of six major crimes (murder, rape, arson, kidnapping and abduction, dacoity, and robbery) and “hurt” as the seventh for the period between the mid-1970s and 2019 for crimes against SCs and STs. For each of the violent crimes, the rates for crimes against SCs and STs are significantly lower than the average rates of these crimes in the overall population in India. Significantly, the pendency times in courts have been lower too in major crimes where the SCs/STs are victims.

“Atrocity” is a strong word which raises a sense of outrage and deep implications for the fabric of society. Without denying the existence of discriminations and crimes in society, it is thus important to rigorously examine the claims about atrocity for rational policy implementations.


Three phenomena have intertwined in the present understanding of the caste system. First is the continuing colonial story of the “caste-system” which almost made it morally obligatory for Indians to become immoral; the institutionalized hierarchy (Forward Castes, Backward Castes, Scheduled Castes, and so on) created by successive governments in its desire to achieve social justice without trying to understand what varnas and jatis actually mean; and finally, the lived experiences and actual societal practices where jati makes the most sense and yet least focussed upon by caste scholarship. There are lot of contradictions, fallacies, ambiguities, and confusion when the three mix to generate newer narratives with mainly conflict as its essence.

SN Balagangadhara (2012) says that the “caste system” is an example of “solid knowledge” which the West has about India. It is the origin of all evils. But looking from another perspective, it is an antique system which survived Buddhism, Bhakti movements, colonization, Indian independence, world capitalism, and even globalization. Thus, it must be a stable social organization. In the absence of a centralized authority for enforcing the caste system, it appears to be an autonomous and decentralized organization. The proliferating jatis show that it is a dynamic, self-reproducing, social structure. Since it exists in all religions, it adapts itself to any new environments it finds itself in. Since it has survived under all political regimes, it must be neutral to political ideologies too.

Balagangadhara asks and says, “Would not such an autonomous, decentralized, stable, adaptive, dynamic, self-reproducing social organization, also neutral to all political, economic, and religious doctrines and environments be the most ideal system if one really existed as such? This most ideal caste system derives only from the present descriptions of the caste system and does not require any additional theories or assumptions. Hence, European narratives about the evil caste system may not amount to much.”

The only lived reality of people in the Indian social system are the jatis. Thousands of these exist based on occupation, language, ethnicity, customs, traditions, and even gender, with their own rules of marriage, food, clothing, belief in gods, and so on. They have proliferated, dissolved, merged, split, and migrated up and down across time and geography on the social-political-economic scale. On the other hand, varnas, always four in number, have remained constant across centuries. Varna categories has been on ideas like guna (nature), swadharma (duty), and karma (quality of work). Our huge body of scriptures, focusing more on duties rather than rights, has been inconsistent in placing them in the hierarchical order but none deny to any the attaining of moksha — the ultimate purpose of human life. One of the most complicated, dubious, and confusing discourses on social structuring in India has been to correlate the jatis to the varnas.

As the Ghent School shows (“Western Foundations of the Caste System”), three important colonial ideas played an important role in consolidating the narrative of a “caste-system” in India: the Portuguese origin of the word “casta”; the Protestant criticism of Jewish and Catholic priesthood as the background of the colonial criticism of the Brahmanical priests; and the Aryan theory with its racial connotations.  The word caste, most surprisingly, does not have an equivalent in any of the Indian scriptures. It is a Portuguese import applicable to their world when they landed on the shores of Goa. In the Iberian Peninsula, with the domination of the Christian rulers, Jews and Muslims either converted or emigrated. “Casta” based on the purity of blood ideas divided the population into the New Christians – the recent converts — and the Old Christians – the older ones with pure blood. Caste grew in the western contexts; varna and jati grew in the Indian context. It is a possibility that they might refer to different phenomena and one culture studied another using its own framework.

Thus, as these scholars claim, there is no unity in the sets of phenomena, clubbed together, and described as either component parts, causes, or effects of the Indian “caste system”. The dominant western story about “the caste system” is false if taken as an explanation of Indian society. The only hope for understanding our culture and reclaim our harmony has to be finally the ideas of the Ghent School. The rest only add to the confusion and the increasing creation of fissures in society.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy of any information in this article.

References and Further Readings
  1. “Evolution of the figure of the Brahmin in early Muslim writings,” (2022), Dunkin Jalki, Oñati Socio-Legal Series,
  2. “Caste, race, and slavery: On comparisons between race in the United States and caste in India, and to forgotten assumptions behind the legal categories ,” (2022), Martin Farek, Oñati Socio-Legal Series,
  3. “Caste in a New Light: Jati in British Multiculturalism,” (2022), Prakash Shah, Oñati Socio-Legal Series,
  4. “On the explanatory adequacy of the Hindutva-as-Brahmanical model,” (2022), Garima Raghuvanshy, Oñati Socio-Legal Series,
  5. “The enigma of caste atrocities: Do scheduled castes and scheduled tribes face excessive violence in India?” (2022), Nihar Sashittal, Oñati Socio-Legal Series,
  6. “The Impossibility of Refuting or Confirming the Arguments about the Caste System,” (2015). Sufiya Pathan, Dunkin Jalki,,
  7. “Violence Against SCs: How Absence of Reliable Data Leads to Disaster,” (2018), Sufiya Pathan,
  8. “The Brahmin, the Aryan, and the Powers of the Priestly Class: Puzzles in the Study of Indian Religion,” (2020), Marianne Keppens & Jakob De Roover,,
  9. “Scheduled Castes vs. Caste Hindus: About a Colonial Distinction and Its Legal Impact,” Jakob De Roover,,
  10. “Western Foundations of the Caste System,” (2017), edited by Martin Fárek, Dunkin Jalki, Sufiya Pathan, & Prakash Shah, Springer Link.
  11. “Cultures Differ Differently: Selected Essays of S.N. Balagangadhara” (Critical Humanities Across Cultures) (2021). Jakob De Roover, Sarika Rao, & S. N. Balagangadhara, Routledge India.
  12. “Reconceptualizing India Studies” (2012), S. N. Balagangadhara, Oxford University Press.

Dr Pingali Gopal

Dr Pingali Gopal is a Paediatric and Neonatal Surgeon practising in Warangal, Telangana. He has a keen interest in Indian culture and does his little bit to correct the many wrong narratives which hurt India at many levels. Opening his eyes rather late to the wonder called India, it is now a continuous journey for him to sip bits from the oceanic nectar of Indic Knowledge Systems.