Caste-System – Pointers for the social media world

A poor understanding of the caste system puts Indians on the backfoot as they fumble when the topic is brought up.

Caste-System – Pointers for the social media world

A list for those who want to counter the propaganda of the caste system in India:

  1. The word ‘caste’ is a Portuguese import. The original context was the casta of the New Christians (the Muslim and Jew converts) and the casta of the Old Christians in the Iberian Peninsula.
  2. The old and new were based on the concepts of descent by ‘purity’ and ‘impurity’ of the blood.
  3.  There is no equivalent of the word caste in any of the Indian scriptures.
  4. The only reality of Indian society is jati.
  5. There were a few to begin with in the earliest descriptions but have evolved into thousands now.
  6. Jatis are based on various characteristics like endogamy practices (marriage rules), commensality (eating or food practices), rituals, gods believed in, occupation, place of stay, and even gender.
  7. Jatis can dissolve, merge into one unit, or split into two or more. They are flexible in their rules and this evolution has increased their number across the centuries.
  8. Individual Jatis have gone up and down on the social, political, or economic scale.
  9. Varnas are only four in number. They are the normative ideal of a society or simply a description of a well-functioning society.
  10. The German philosopher Nietzsche also talked about the divisions of an ideal society in the form of philosopher-kings; warriors; merchants; and agriculturalists.
  11. The one-to-one correlation of jatis to varnas has been the most difficult, dubious, and irrational exercises starting from colonial times to the present. The colonials tried to even squeeze ‘social status’ as a criterion to enter the varna categories.
  12. The Varnas are categories, and a hierarchical ordering of the categories has been the great disruptive contribution of colonial and Indological narratives.
  13. Categories do not have a hierarchy. (black, white, yellow, orange are categories of colours; Assamese, Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati are categories of languages for those without a knowledge of even basic statistics).
  14. Cherry-picking from a huge corpus of literature allowed a selective interpretation and for a hierarchical categorisation of the varnas.
  15. There are equally valid scriptures in the corpus which show an equality of the varnas and even a reversal of hierarchy. These remain conveniently ignored.
  16. Correlating jatis to varnas when it became problematic, led to the creation of weird categories like sub-caste and sub-sub-caste.
  17. Even a huge monolith of Brahmin varna composes of hundreds of jatis with varieties of eating practices, marriage practices, and ritual practices. Some eat non-vegetarian food and many do not officiate in temples.
  18. Varnas are mainly ‘duty based’ in Indian thought. It became a ‘right-based’ division in scholarly writings.
  19. Jatis belonging to Sudra varna do not fit into the other three Varnas but have many times been the most powerful socially, politically, and economically in most parts of India. They still are.
  20.  The negative connotation of being a Sudra has been a persistent theme since colonial times and it only requires a few corrective measures in our educational, political, and legal systems to get rid of this negative connotation.
  21. Dalits or scheduled castes are a political and legal creation since the beginning of the 20th century. 1200 jatis and 65 million people merge into a single group of Dalits based on the single tenuous idea of ‘untouchability.’
  22. Scholars and scholars, including Ambedkar, could not define what exactly is untouchability. The definitions have been vague, and scholars have included any practice as untouchability to fit the data into their pre-conceived notions.
  23. Untouchability definitions and their criteria have been circular. Many practices no longer exist and untouchability as a practice is illegal, yet a huge monolith group exists where despite all positive discriminations (reservations, lower cut-off marks, legal privileges and so on), anger and hate seem to be ever-increasing.
  24. The data for Dalit exploitation is methodologically faulty, has plenty of cherry-picking, and selective interpretations. Yet, the intellectual dishonesty regarding the figures never come into question but do manage to give a massive negative image of India on national and international platforms.
  25. Much money, many agendas, many careers, both national and international, perpetuate and thrive on the continuing Dalit exploitation story in India.
  26. The political creation of castes almost daily and then classifying them as forward, backward (even sub classifying as A, B, C, D) is a sad understanding of our social systems which is continuing to divide the country.
  27. These creations have only encouraged false notions of superiority, inferiority, shame, anger, and helplessness.
  28. A system is an organized collection of parts (or subsystems) that are highly integrated to accomplish an overall goal. It is a set of organized principles, scheme, or procedures according to which there is something to achieve.
  29.  In sociology, a social system is the patterned network of relationships constituting a coherent whole that exists between individuals, groups, and institutions.
  30.  In terms of rules, inputs, outputs, goals, organization, causes, and consequences there is no such social system in the country.
  31. There are no rules which makes it a moral obligation to be immoral.
  32. No citizen is aware of caste rules and regulations.
  33. Social evils exist, evil discriminations exist, bad practices exist. There is no denial of the elements which go into the construction of the system.
  34. But an overarching system, to explain all these evils does not exist. Such discriminations and oppressions occur in all countries and cultures.
  35. Exploitation and oppression existed in slavery, colonialism, communist countries, religious imperialisms, capitalistic societies, European and Indian feudalisms.
  36. Seeing a caste system as an explanation of Indian evils but none whatsoever for other cultures is an intellectual misunderstanding loaded with dishonesty.
  37. The political, legal, and academic perpetuation of the caste-system is destroying the country. We need fresher narratives.
  38.  We can simply go back to the jatis as the bedrock of Indian society living peacefully. The normative ideal of the four varnas can become simply a categorisation of the society based on duties with no hierarchical structuring.
  39.  False semantics and false understandings have trapped us.
  40. Annihilate the word caste. Dissolve the caste-system which does not exist. It was only an experience of the colonials who put a meta-narrative to their experience of jatis in India.
  41. Three colonial ideas gave a structure to their experience of Indian social systems.
  42. One was the word casta; the second was the racial Aryan- Dravidian theory, and the third was the Protestant criticism of the priesthood of the Catholics and Jews.
  43. Caste and sub-caste emerged within European thinking about society, whereas varna and jati originated in Indian thinking. We should consider the possibility that respective terms refer to different realities in two different cultures.
  44. The identification of Aryans was with the first three Varnas and Dravidians as the Sudras and untouchables.
  45. The general critique of priesthood started with the Protestants. Enlightenment simply continued the theme.
  46. This narrative superimposed on India to make the Brahmins villains in the oppressive caste system.
  47. There was the acknowledgement of Brahmins as the biggest obstacle to mass conversion and hence were a subject of even more ridicule by the missionaries.
  48. Post-independence, the Communist and Marxist thought got a hegemonic hold over academic discourses and political ideology.
  49. Instead of questioning older narratives, despite being supposedly anti-colonial, they continued this story of Aryans, of evil Brahmins, of exploitation in tune with their exploiter-explored paradigms.
  50. Colonial consciousness is a permanent altering of the Indian intellectual framework resulting in us simply accepting and internalizing the colonial experiences of Indian social systems as true.
  51. Today, most Indian citizens are victims of colonial consciousness and would even refuse to believe that there can be an alternative story about themselves.
  52. We need fresh narratives on Varna and Jatis based on concepts like guna, karma, swadharma, and swabhava; for this our social sciences and humanities need to be decolonised first.
  53. Many of the jatis in the so-called forward caste group and almost all the so-called backward castes and scheduled castes simply belong to the Sudra category.
  54. Jatis are the bedrock of the Indian civilisational structure and have been able to prevent the country from disintegrating despite serious and repeated threats to its integrity.
  55. Let us unite to break the caste and the so-called caste system.
  56. We are all one. Let India come together to fight the divisive superimposed narratives.

Source and Further Reading:

  • Western Foundations of the Caste System – Edited by Martin Farek, Prakash Shah, Dunkin Jalki, and Sufiya Pathan

About Author: Pingali Gopal

Dr Pingali Gopal is a Neonatal and Paediatric Surgeon practising in Warangal for the last twenty years. He graduated from medical school and later post-graduated in surgery from Ahmedabad. He further specialised in Paediatric Surgery from Mumbai. After his studies, he spent a couple of years at Birmingham Children's Hospital, UK and returned to India after obtaining his FRCS. He started his practice in Warangal where he hopes to stay for the rest of his life. He loves books and his subjects of passion are Indian culture, Physics, Vedanta, Evolution, and Paediatric Surgery- in descending order. After years of ignorance in a flawed education system, he has rediscovered his roots, paths, and goals and is extremely proud of Sanatana Dharma, which he believes belongs to all Indians irrespective of religion, region, and language. Dr. Gopal is a huge admirer of all the present and past stalwarts of India and abroad correcting past discourses and putting India back on the pedestal which it so truly deserves.

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