Caste hierarchies

1. You ask whether “there is a perception of caste hierarchies among Brahmins”. My guess is that there is no such general perception, even if, regionally, multiple Brahmin jati’s fight for superiority. There is no way to establish, say, that the ‘Babburkamme’ is superior to ‘Havyaka’ in Karnataka. In fact, many from either of the two would not even know of the existence of the other. In Bangalore itself, for instance, where the former is preponderant, I did not even know of their existence until I was 15 years old. In this sense, even in areas where they might claim to ‘superiority’, it is difficult to establish hierarchies among the Brahmins in any one region. This, as I say, is my guess.

2. Further you notice that “there are more caste hierarchies among the so-called lower castes”. This is the important element. It is my hypothesis that it is primarily (almost exclusively, I would like to think) among the so-called lower castes that there is a clear sense of caste hierarchy. In fact, the so-called ‘caste hierarchy’ is present only among them, I would like to speculate. It is these groups that got converted: into Islam, into Veersaivism (the lingayats), into Christianity and so on. Through conversion, they took their ‘caste hierarchies’ into these traditions and religions. The Europeans converted these so-called lower castes into Christianity and observed ‘caste hierarchies’ among these new Christians. They also ‘knew’ the existence of other Jati’s, read verses about the purusha sukta, and also had Brahmins to assure them that they, the Brahmins, were the ‘best’ group. Thus there emerged the story about ‘the caste structure’ in India, which contained two elements: the story about the Varna system that has little or nothing to do with ‘the caste system’ and its alleged hierarchy, and the manifest ‘caste hierarchy’ among the newly inducted Christians. The varna system was a way of roughly describing the social stratification at a very high level of generality; the ‘caste system’ was an empirical description of the hierarchy that existed primarily (and, perhaps, exclusively) among the so-called lower castes. The Europeans generalized the latter as ‘the social structure’ of India but put it within the framework of the Varna system. Thus the hybrid beast of today that we call ‘the caste system’.

3. In other words, what we call ‘the caste system’ of today is a generalization of this caste hierarchy [that exists primarily (and only) among the so-called lower castes] as the dominant social structure of the Indian society. If this hypothesis can be shown to be true, then it can also be shown that ‘the caste system’ is NOT an invention of the ‘Brahmin Priests’ but the gift of the so-called Lower castes in India. That is, the ‘Scheduled Castes’ in India are the real progenitors of the ‘Indian caste system’ and not the upper castes. The Europeans, in their mixture of arrogance and ignorance, simply claimed that the Jati structure that exists mostly, if not only, among the ‘Dalits’ is identical to the ‘social structure’ in India. The Indian ‘intellectuals’ simply took over this story and repeat them endlessly.

4. This hypothesis is able to account for so many perceived facts about jati’s and Varna that I believe that it is close to being true. But it is going to take a lot of research to show that this is also the case.

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