Friday, November 03, 2017

Rationale for Caste Reservations

I heard this story when I was young. There were openings in a bank and many girls from a college appeared for the test and the interview. To the utter surprise of many, one girl not particularly considered bright or even average got the job whereas some of her smarter friends didn't. Few people in the college inquired about it. From the bank insiders they came to know that, the girl came from a Brahmin family which recently lost their lands because of land reforms and were in dire condition financially. So, some people influenced on her behalf(as bank along with most of the other sectors were dominated by Brahmins). The story ended with a sarcastic remark that some of the girls that lost out came anyway from dirt poor families and since they were traditionally poor, they wouldn't feel the pain unlike this nouveau pavre girl.

The story can't be verified. However, I wonder whether there is any truth in the impression that people observe poverty in groups that are traditionally prosperous and wealth in groups that are traditionally poor.

For many years, I keep hearing from many Malayali non-Brahmins, how Brahmins in Kerala lost out:  they didn't take up British education quickly unlike other Brahmins; they weren't smart enough to control their landholdings when they had the maximum landholding compared to any other caste etc... I've even watched a movie on their pitiable situation. There was a sexual exploitation news involving a Brahmin girl which again highlighted their sorry state of affairs in the media. All these made me wonder whether they were indeed an exception to the typical caste situation in other parts of India. But later I came across this study by K C Zachariah (Religious Denominations of Kerala, 2016).

These are the rankings from the study with regards to Hindu castes.

Working in government/semi government jobs proportionate to their population;
1. Brahmins
2. Nairs
3. OBC Hindus
4. Dalit Hindus

Educational attainment:
1. Brahmins
2. Nairs
3. OBC Hindus
4. Dalit Hindus

More importantly, ranking by prosperity(or least number of people living in poverty):
1. Brahmins
2. Nairs
3. OBC Hindus
4. Dalit Hindus

The caste hierarchy structure is still reflected in these rankings after all the social justice measures (including reservations and land reforms).

I don't think there is anything wrong in this. The idea behind social justice initiatives was that social and cultural capital would help the privileged castes and they would never go down. It has been proven correct in Kerala until now. Also, Kerala has the highest HDI, and none of the social justice measures (some of the oldest in India) seem to have adversely affected the society in general as all castes have moved up. Education and prosperity which used to be the monopoly of the privileged castes have been spread across. Even though ideal equality of the castes haven't been reached, the gap has been reduced considerably.

Now I wonder why non-Brahmin people still worry about Malayali Brahmins. In fact, they should be more bothered about their own people (most of these worrying people come from OBCs and Nair castes, so I don't think they have much consideration for Dalits). That makes me wonder whether an odd poor Brahmin invokes more sympathy not just for himself but for his whole caste because he himself was and is an anomaly. A rich Dalit getting benefits of the reservations sets tongues wagging, - even though, the caste altogether always struggle to fill their justified proportion in education or job- because a rich Dalit is an anomaly. Thus those individual cases are generalized for the whole Dalit castes.

Religious Denominations of Kerala, K C Zachariah

Monday, October 23, 2017

Tayi and Bayi

When I was going through the article on Swati Tirunal (see my previous post), what surprised me was the association of 'bai(bayi)' with the females of royal family. The term 'bai' is commonly found among Marathis. I guess the popularity or influence of the Maratha kingdom where the royal females had 'bai' attached to their name probably made this Malayali royal family to adopt the term as a honorific.

However, even though Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language, the root of 'bai' appears to be Dravidian (not a surprise as majority Marathis plausibly lapsed Dravidians). The term 'ayi' means she/mother. The masculine term is aya (Te: na+aayana -> my father). The masculine term for 'bai' is 'bua'/'bava'. I guess 'ua'/'ava' is more likely -ava/aya another Dravidian term for he/father.

In Kannada, aayi is mostly used in the formal term for mother, tayi -> tan (self) + aayi (mother). But what does the prefix 'ba' in Marathi mean? It doesn't seem Dravidian. Could it be some Indo-Aryan term meaning  self or my?

In Kannada and Telugu, the term 'bava' means cousin(male)/brother-in-law. What does the prefix 'ba' mean in Kannada and Telugu?

Sri in Malayalam and my great-great grandmother

Sri, the honorific addressing term in Sanskrit (equivalent to Mr/Ms in English), has its own forms in different Indian languages. In Tulu and Kannada, it's 'siri' though not used as a honorific (Sri is used instead), it's used in compound terms. In Tamil, it's 'tiru'. I was wondering about the equivalent in Malayalam.

My maternal great-great grandomother's -whose mtDNA and maternal lineage I carry- name was supposedly Chirudeyi (from an official record), where 'sri' is part of the compound name. However, her descendants remember her name as Chiridevi(Skt: Sridevi).

Now if I ask the Malayalis who speak the standard dialect they claim neither chiru nor deyi is part of Malayalam. I couldn't find any references online (where most of them use Sri).

One example I could refer was the name Swati Tirunal. Now, is that 'tiru' a Tamil import or part of Malayalam? If latter is the case, how about 'chiru'? If we consider my other relatives' pronunciation, chiri, which sounds closer to Tulu term 'siri' and the other part 'deyi' which is the same as Tulu equivalent of devi (devi -> deyi) then we can conclude that Malayalam 'tiru' became 'chiru' in region closer to Tulu. But my relatives use the Sanskrit term 'devi' instead. Unfortunately, I couldn't find Malayalm equivalent of 'devi'.

Random Thoughts - Love_Lust

If you go through this article then what strikes you strongly is that many of the asexual people are heteroamoural. It further reinforces the fact the feelings of love and lust are mutually exclusive.

So the present list includes:
Heterosexual-Heteroamoural -> Anna Karenina (Fictional, Anna Karenina), Max Weber
Heterosexual-Homoamoural -> Nick Carraway (Fictional, The Great Gatsby), Tom Daley
Heterosexual-Inamoural -> Emma Bovary (Fictional, Madame Bovary)
Homosexual-Homoamoural ->  Uncle Frank (Fictional, Little Miss Sunshine)
Homosexual-Heteroamoural -> Francis Bacon, Freddie Mercury, Chirlane McCray, Brandon Ambrosino
Homosexual-Inamoural -> ?
Asexual-Heteroamoural-> Emy, a French woman, Devi, Gill, Jon and Ian from UK
Asexual-Homoamoural -> ? 
Asexual-Inamoural -> ?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Muslim appeasement and Congress

The barrage of Hindutva propaganda and the Congress’s present leaders’ political immaturity has rendered us incapable of objectively evaluating many accusations against them. One of such accusations was that the Congress appeased Muslims presumably for political gains. In fact, I too had this opinion, though I qualified that they had appeased other communities too wherever it suited them in the past. But analyzing the so-called Muslim appeasement with the existing political situations of that age and evaluating some of the words of its own ministers in the past made me wonder whether that’s indeed such a straightforward case or not.

When the Congress had appeased Sikhs or Christians, it was very state specific where Hindus were a minority. On the contrary, there was an example in Kerala, where the Congress could rely on Christian and Muslim votes, the party appeasing the majority community (which traditionally voted for the Communists overwhelmingly) in the case of Sabari Mala temple entry for women. These examples don’t exactly qualify as ‘minority appeasement’ but that tells one important factor that as a national party the leaders saw themselves as Hindus. This factor again comes into picture when Arif Mohammad Khan made a statement that Hindu Congress leaders felt they would be seen as communal if they went against the Muslim laws and supported the Supreme Court verdict on Shah Bano. We need to bear that in mind when we analyze whether any acts seen as Muslim appeasement were intended for political gains or not.

The first accusation is related to Uniform Civil Code. While Congress leaders enthusiastically reformed Hindu personal laws and set the stage for emancipation of Hindu women, they did nothing in the case of Muslims. Did they do it for political gains?

The reformation in Hindu laws was implemented immediately after independence. Even with zero percent Muslim vote there would have been no stopping of the Congress winning the parliamentary elections for the next two or three decades. So any suggestion that it didn’t reform because it thought the loss of Muslim vote meant loss of power sounds preposterous if we consider the existing situation.

Another greatest blunder or copy book Muslim appeasement appears to be in the case of Shah Bano. According to Subhashini Ali of the CPI(M), the Congress which had overwhelming majority in the parliament scared of losing power because of VP Singh’s rebellion and the Muslim protests triggered by the Shah Bano verdict. On top of it, Rajiv Gandhi’s senior figures told him they would lose the elections if they lose the Muslim votes. Since a communist has made those allegations it does sound correct about the Congress. If we dig further, however, one could observe that the supreme court verdict was overturned by passing an Act in 1986 but VP Singh’s crusade against the corrupt industrialists peaked in the late 1986 and he was shunted (or promoted) to defense ministry in 1987. So the argument that the VP Singh’s rebellion responsible for this Act appears bit shaky. Also, Arif Mohammad Khan, a strong proponent of Muslim reform and who was initially supported by Rajiv Gandhi to give a favourable speech in support of the Supreme Court verdict and left the party along with VP Singh to form their own party, didn’t consider VP Singh as one of the causes. He directly blames Hindu leaders of the Congress(along with some opportunistic Muslim members) who wanted nothing to do with the Muslim laws. Between Arif Mohammad Khan and Subhashini Ali, I would think the former would have had better idea of the situation being an insider.

Arif Mohammad Khan’s account gives consistency to the Congress policy since the independence. It’s a Hindu party and had no business interfering with the Muslims’ personal lives. Of course this is true only in the decades when it didn’t have to count on Muslim votes to win the elections. But now its quest for Muslim votes is hampered by the Hindutva narrative of Muslim appeasement harking back to an era when it was irrelevant for them to get the Muslim votes to win elections.

Nevertheless, its reluctance to interfere with the Muslim personal laws even without the consideration of Muslim votes doesn’t of course make that correct. What was the logic behind this thought process anyway? I remember reading a senior Congress figure(whose name unfortunately I have forgotten but who migrated to India from the present day Pakistan during the partition) that the Congress always expected the reformation to come within the Muslim community itself as had happened with Hindus historically (though he probably meant after the British rule). Again he probably identified himself as a reformed Hindu overcoming the bitterness of the partition.

In hindsight, that kind of thought process of all these Hindu leaders of the Congress has proved to be flawed. If we observe pure Muslim countries of the Arab lands, the reformation was forced by dictatorial or military power with varying degrees of success. In fact, even in India it was the reformed Hindu class that made these reforms possible as the average male Hindu was typically under-educated and backward thinking around that time. With no political power to make their own rules or the military might to force it, for the Muslim reformed class in India, this would have always been a non-starter.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Random Thoughts : Ayurveda, Cancer and Keralites

From Pharyngula:

According to a study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, traditional components of herbal remedies used throughout Asia are widely implicated in liver cancers there. In Taiwan, for instance, 78 percent of 98 liver tumors sampled displayed a pattern of mutations consistent with exposure to herbs containing aristolochic acids (AAs). These are carcinogenic components found in a variety of centuries-old herbal remedies said to treat everything from snakebites to gout, asthma, and pain.

Because of their toxicity, some (but not all) of the herbs and plants known to contain AAs have been banned in Taiwan and other places. These flora tend to come from the genera Aristolochia (e.g., birthwort, pipevine) and Asarum (wild gingers). The Food and Drug Administration has also issued several warnings and advisories over AA-containing remedies.
 There is already an old study similar to this which includes India too.
Herbal medicines are causing millions in India to develop kidney failure and bladder cancer.

So we have couple of studies consistently showing the relationship between cancer and herbal medicines. My understanding is that the incidences of cancer are on the rise among Keralites. And Keralites probably are one  of the biggest consumers of Ayurvedic medicine in India. There should be a proper study on this and we need to bring Ayurvedic medicines under proper scientific scrutiny. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lessons from Hillary's defeat - II

From Harvey Weinstein's episode, I would think many women didn't vote for Hillary as she didn't take a stance on Bill Clinton's sexual indiscretions which he could carry out because of his power and gender. For many women she was just a symbol and not a saviour against patriarchy. In developed countries like the USA women already have freedom to do almost all things. It's not the religious, cultural or legal diktats but the sexual harassment and sexism are something that still push them back. I believe many women didn't think Hillary could be of any help in this regard. In Bill Clinton's affairs with younger women who were under his power, she might have come across as someone who would maintain the status quo for other benefits. For them the glass ceiling wasn't the presidency but the last of remaining patriarchy in the form of sexism and sexual harassment.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Rise of Patriarchal Society - notes

I was reading this blog post at Pharyngula, then the following research by Mark van Vugt caught my eye.

They also suggest that this imbalance might have evolutionary roots and point to an idea called the male-warrior hypothesis, which states that men have evolved to form strong bonds with other males in their group because in the past this enabled them to defend territory from hostile attackers.
“Men are more ready to cooperate with genetic-stranger males to form these fighting coalitions,” says Mark van Vugt, an evolutionary psychologist at the Free University of Amsterdam who first suggested the theory in 2007.
 I had proposed  in a blog post in 2006 that men bonded at community level and women didn't in our hunter-gatherer past, which was one of the reasons for the rise of patriarchy.
Men -> community; woman -> family

Well, that's what I think. The men formed community and a woman formed a family. During our hunter-gatherer past men bonded but women missed(Are all women individualistic?).
But I'm not making any is-ought fallacy here. I'm not saying women are incapable of bonding but only that it didn't happen in our past and that's one of the reasons for the rise of patriarchy.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Gorakhanatha - a blast from the past

After I wrote “Tragedy of Mangale”, coincidentally, a person connected to the Natha cult is now in this region. The Gorakhnath Math is supposedly named after Gorakhanatha, the disciple of Machchendranatha, who spread the Natha cult in coastal region. Though as an independent movement it isn’t visible (I’ve heard there are few families part of this cult live in Tulu region), it’s supposed to have influenced Hinduism in this region(Malabar + Tulu). But what also fascinated me was how many religions and cults influenced this region in the past.

Like most of the regions in India or South India in particular, the dominant native cultural and religious trait of this region was spirit worship and fertility cults. But the literate superstitions of Hinduism, Jainism, Islam and Christianity soon dominated the illiterate superstitions of the Dravidian tribes subsequently also giving them different identities.

The most dominant religion, Hinduism, assimilated and made the spirits subordinate to their superior gods. The fertility goddesses were sometimes identified with the superior goddesses and at the same time were used to spread the patriarchal propaganda of ‘finding good husbands’. The core of Hinduism was imposition of the caste system, so it never had to confront the faceless cults of the local tribes.

Islam, which is the second biggest religion, didn’t really assimilate the local worship but turned blind eye to the spirit worship practices of the converts. Probably, the rise of fundamentalist Islam has moved the Muslims away from these traditions nowadays but in earlier times many of them used to be active participants. 

Jainism basically accommodated the spirit worship. It’s said that the “atheist” Jinaism had no issue with the worship of Yaksha-s and Yakshini-s (basically spirit worship). I don’t have much idea about this. 

The Dravidian Christianity is a very recent phenomenon in Tulu and northern Malabar region, so, I do not know much about them. But generally, Christianity frowned upon illiterate superstitions of the “pagans” and preferred their own literate superstitions.

Basically, two north Indian and two west Asian religions determine the religious identity of the people of this region. I wonder if that’s always the case with the spirit worshipping regions around the world.

I’ve read mostly about other Asian countries. It appears spirit worship in Mongolia, China and Japan lived along with Buddhism. However, in China the spirit worship tradition could become a literate superstition in the form of Taoism. Basically, Taoism includes the illiterate traditions along with philosophies. It looks like Chinese became literate and developed a philosophical tradition without any outside influence and that is reflected in their religious tradition too. 

Considering all four religions didn’t have to use force (though the caste system was imposition but the tribal chieftains/kings had typically invited the Brahmins), I wonder if there had been a literate tradition of the spirit worship whether there would have been a population with an independent identity like Taoists. Also, in spirit worship the priest/ess isn’t special or his/her position isn’t exalted. He/She’s just a medium for the spirit to communicate. This is unlike the position of the priests in literate religions. As literate followers, I wonder, how this idea of a commoner priest would have affected society in general.

Anyway, now north India’s literacy advantage is no longer there. So, any kind of overawe that the Dravidian tribes of the yesteryears felt is no longer the case. In fact, in literacy rate, the spirit worshipping and fertility cult regions of Tuluvas and Malayalis fare far better than the North. However, there are many ways to influence people. I wonder Adityanath’s chances in leaving a lasting impression here like the legendary Machchendra and Gorakha even though for entirely different reasons.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Tragedy of Mangale

As with most of the Hindu festivals, the celebration of Navaratri and Vijayadashami varies from place to place. While this is not a surprising feature as each region had their own unique traditions and ethos which were subsumed in the caste system, the interesting part is how the stories/myths are interpreted at later time. Today is supposedly Mangala Devi’s day (the city of Mangaluru was named after this goddess).

The legend of Mangale (or Pingale) that I know is as follows. Mangale was a queen of some Malayali kingdom in Malabar(northern Kerala). The kingdom was described as ‘Pramila Rajya’ (ruled exclusively by women). She fell in love with a disciple of Machchendranatha, exponent of the Natha cult. As these were ascetics, she renounced her kingdom, followed them to Tulu region as a common woman. In due time, she gave birth to two children. One day, when Machchendranatha was doing penance, he was disturbed by the loud noise of the children playing. He asked his disciple to calm them down so he could concentrate. The disciple felt that the children were a nuisance to his guru and so he murdered them by smashing their heads against a boulder. Mangale, when she came to know the death of her children, was broken-hearted and died. She was deified by the local people.

The story of Mangale was basically a tragedy. By present day standards, one could fault her for falling for a patriarchal man even though she was from a matrilineal/matriarchal group. But it all depends on between sacrifice for love or sacrifice for identity, which, one views as a nobler cause. The deification of such tragedy figures was generally a defining feature of underprivileged castes who recognized tragedy more than they could recognize triumph. Generally, the popularity of such local divine figures ensured their entry into the caste Hinduism. But as usual even this also got reinterpreted according to Brahmanical ethos.

You can read the Brahmanical version here. Apart from the mandatory Parashurama entry, one can observe that there is hardly anything about the deity itself. Then there is a patriarchal bit about finding 'good husbands'. When I read about the description of this goddess in a forwarded message recently, I felt the write up was commissioned by Jewelry shop owners.  It describes how resplendent she is with all the decorations, wearing a crown, full jewelry and a pink sari in those ten days of the festival. Mangale, in the above legend where she did have a back story, had renounced everything to be with her love.

The Natha cult, I suppose, wasn't part of the Vedic tradition. So the story I heard would be most likely the version they created. The bare bones story could be an unknown woman losing her children violently and dying in sorrow. Such tragic figures are deified in the local traditions. I wonder whether the purity of their pain makes them special. But this is not the story the descendants of those local people of bygone era would like to know.

I suppose Max Weber, pioneer in Sociology, observed that the descendants of the privileged people view the past with nostalgia whereas descendants of the oppressed people look to the future with sehnsucht. But when I read the forwards sent by the underprivileged castes, brainwashed by Hindutva, I don’t see sehnsucht but the nostalgia of the privileged castes. The tragedy of Mangale continues.