Common sense ideas about the caste system

I

1. When I took the caste-system as an example, what am I doing? I am showing that turning the standard story on its head is a child’s play: caste has been said to be an antiquated, rigid,  dogmatic, etc social structure, which is “very difficult” to eradicate. If this is true, most of the rantings  seem to subscribe to this text book story, then this can be put on its head very easily. A word of warning, therefore, to those who ramble on about the ‘immoral’ caste system: take heed! You do not know what you are talking about.

The issue is not about whether there is poverty and injustice in India. Instead, it is about wanting to correlate these with the caste system. To do this, all one has to show is that poverty and injustice in India is the causal result of the caste system in India, whereas, in other countries of the world, they are the results of ‘something else’. No one in the world has been able to show this; if some among you have proof to the contrary, kindly demonstrate. Indulging in shouting matches is easier than arguing reasonably.

I am aware of the Indian reality. That is the reason why I wrote this piece. A silly anti-brahmanism, which still rules the day, no matter how popular it is, does not explain anything. So, a mind-numbing litany of the stories about the so-called ‘caste discrimination by the upper castes’ is not a substitute for a scientific analysis of the Indian society and culture. The existence of discrimination is not a proof for the existence of caste system in India; it merely shows that there is discrimination in India. More intellectual work is required to demonstrate this than rantings on a website. Reading the article with some care would have made this point clear.

2. My question is: what has India to offer to the world in the twenty-first century? This cannot be answered by speaking about the discovery of ‘zero’ or any such example from the past. Even less can it be answered by speaking about what the Indians are doing today. If you do so, then you are suggesting that, as far as the future is concerned, India has ‘nothing’ to contribute. You are, of course, free to entertain the thought that the past of India is the only contribution of India to the history of humankind. In which case, please say so. But keep to the question without bringing up irrelevant considerations.

3. The piece could as well have been written as a response to the some of the rantings on this board. A monotonous reproduction of accumulated prejudices, whether about the caste system or the Buddha, does not constitute anything but a monotonous reproduction of accumulated prejudices. The article suggests that critically examining such prejudices is the task of the future generations of Indian intellectuals. In this sense, many on the board confirm an implied message in the article: in the past, all that the Indians have done is to reproduce the nonsense that the western culture generated. Indeed so.

II

1. Assume that caste system “restricts free movement of labour for efficient resource allocation” (Shiva’s claim). From this it does not follow that wherever such “restrictions” occur, poverty should exist. All the European economies “restrict” free movement of labour. what kind of poverty are we talking about in the West?

2. Caste cannot ‘restrict’ any such ‘free’ movement because there is no organization to impose and enforce any such restrictions. When you apply for a job in industries, they do not appoint you to positions in function of your ‘caste’. When people buy products, they do not buy them in function of the ‘caste’ of either the owner or the workers.

3. If “feeding the parasitic class” (Shiva, again) is ‘injustice’ then, all the countries in the world are ‘unjust’ and, one supposes, they do not have the caste system. Therefore, the point if meant as a critique of the ‘caste system’ fails.

4. “The ability of the system to defend itself against external threats”. (Shiva, once more.) You would do well to read the article before criticizing. If the caste system survives as a system today, it proves that it has defended “itself” very well against threats, both internal and external.

Such off-the-cuff remarks (without reading the article carefully and writing unthinkingly) do not carry the discussion forward.

III

1. To compare Europe with India, you say, is like comparing apples to oranges. Strange, coming from someone who cited arguments from economic theories: apples and oranges are both fruits and as such one can compare them as fruits; not only can they be compared but one also chooses between them when the resources are scarce! So, what point is being made by you? To say that ‘these rigidities are breaking down’ or suggest that one needs to deal with the ‘qualitative and quantitative dimensions’ is to say nothing with respect to the question at hand: you suggested that ‘the caste system’ was causally responsible for poverty in India. Apples and oranges hardly support your argument about this issue. Speaking about ‘devising the metrics’ might sound impressive; but it is empty in this context.

2. I have neither spoken of ‘free choice’ nor of any ‘open organizational structure’. Why bring up irrelevant issues into the discussion? You say: “Society has functioned for millennia as an ORGANIZATION that has imposed its rules and restrictions on social mobility, based on birth.” Ah, you see, that is what you have to prove. Simple declarations do not suffice in scientific discussions. Show that the Indian society has functioned the way you claim it has. Let me tell you what you have to do to prove this: lay the mechanisms of such a distribution bare. Until such time, you are simply repeating banalities, which are false, but which many assume to be true.

3. Again, you sidestep the question. By telling me that you think that ‘capitalism’ is breaking down the ‘caste structure’ to replace it with ‘social classes’, you have told me nothing that the Marxists in India have been proclaiming for a century. Surely, this is no argument!

IV

Let me begin by complimenting you on your sharpness: yes, I do not offer an alternative story (though I intend doing it); yes, too, to your observation that my argument requires more than the mere existence of poverty and discrimination to ‘prove’ the presence of the caste system. However, despite this acuity, I am surprised to see you succumb all too easily to silly labeling: I am a post-colonial writer! I am not: I find post-colonial thinking pernicious, puerile and damaging. I do not say anywhere in my article that the British ‘created’ the caste system in India, do I? Perhaps, your hastiness has to do with the fact that you read Nicholas Dirks as superficially (a commendable attitude, as far as I am concerned, because he is a pompous windbag) as you read my article (not at all commendable, if you ask me).

I do not argue, in the confines of this article, what the West has done or has not. I merely suggest it. If you want arguments, you need to read my scientific writings and measure their value. To jump up and down about a talk, which this article is, lasting 15 minutes is to miss the forest for the trees and the trees for the leaves and the leaves for…

I do agree that one should leave a child’s play to children. But then, what should I do when the person who advises me about this does not even know what games I am playing as an adult?

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