Sunday, October 05, 2008

Caste and Class

I used to get rather irritated by some of the Europeans' (okay, only one) annoying habit of conflating the caste with the class. Of course, none of the attributes of the elite class and the working class could be applied to the caste system in the past. There were levels of shame and pride associated with the caste system in such a way that people of equal economic standings were still divided by the caste rules.

I was going through Louis Dumont's 'Homo Hierarchicus'. Though I don't agree with him completely, as I have more data in the form of genetics compared to him, some of his observations are sublime.

He discusses about European view of the caste system under the section, "Caste as the limiting case of known institutions", whether it's a religious or simply 'social' phenomenon in the eye of Europeans(stereotypical Westerners). His one observation around 40 years ago still finds echo in at least one European's naive view of the caste system that I have come across.

"...nowadays Hindus often assert to Westerners that caste is a social and not a religious matter. It is clear that the motivation here is quite different: it is mainly a question of finding some justification for the institutions from a Western point of view, the point of view usually accepted by the educated Hindu."[Emphasis mine]

Of course, the European that I know has made up his mind based on some Hindus' explanation on this phenomenon.


Jhangora said...

Interesting post.However the aim should be to have a meritocratic society.What difference does it make if 1 or a million Europeans think that caste is a social construct.Even if caste is a social construct not a religious one.What difference does it make?

Manjunat said...

However the aim should be to have a meritocratic society.

If one believes in caste identity then it is blasphemous to look for a meritocratic society (whatever you mean by that). The philosophy behind the caste system can only live in a non-meritocratic society. As far as I can see India is still a caste society or caste identities have not been made illegal.

In such a situation, you can't superimpose one ideology with another ideology. Instead one should work within that ideology or destroy it completely for another ideology. I think that's what Homo Hierarchicus tries to convey.

What difference does it make if 1 or a million Europeans think that caste is a social construct.

I just talk for myself. I said it irritates me.

Even if caste is a social construct not a religious one.What difference does it make?

As I have mentioned, the attributes of the class system can't be applied to the caste system. And I have seen people trying to do that.

Jhangora said...

OK & what are the alternatives to the present caste system.

Manjunat said...

I haven't read Homo Hierarchicus completely. But I don't think it offers any alternatives since in the beginning Dumont says it's not intended for solutions(or something similar...I don't remember the exact words).

Jhangora said...

If there is an issue we should look for a solution manju.
I think communism won't succeed in India & even religions which don't believe in the caste system show lot's of inequality in India.

Dalit politicians don't really offer any drastic change.They are happy to climb up the ladder & remain there with their cronies.

Manjunat said...

I'm afraid I'm not good at finding the solutions. And the situation of this magnitude is completely beyond me.