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History Of Caste - Printable Version
History Of Caste - Printable Version

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History Of Caste - acharya - 07-01-2005

Castes here to stay

VG Rao

India's caste system is unique in itself. It has been associated with the Hindu society for almost 3,000 years. Such an arrangement was made to institute a social order in ancient India. Today, the system is prevalent more in rural than in urban India. Further, it is practised more in social matters like marriages than in impersonal day-to-day interactions. Being around for centuries, it is doubtful that the caste system will ever terminate.

The word 'caste' is derived from the Portuguese 'casta'. Broadly speaking, it is a rigid social system in which a social hierarchy is maintained generation after generation allowing little social manoeuverability beyond the position to which a person is born. It is perhaps as old as the Rig Veda itself. However, the hereditary basis of caste, as it prevailed in the last three hundred years - with a person born in a caste perpetuating his caste - appears a later-day improvisation.

In the Rig Veda, the oldest Hindu testament, caste represents profession. There is a hymn wherein the composer claims to be a poet despite his being born of a physician father and a corn-thrasher mother. The classification of caste into Brahmin, Kshratiya, Vaishya and Shudra, finds no mention in the Rig Veda.

According to Manu who codified Hindu laws in his magnum opus Manusrmiti, the caste of a person is determined by that of his father. That was undoubtedly a loaded proposition; for, a person born of a Brahmin or a king took on his father's caste irrespective of his mother's status in society.

But those born of wedlock between a Brahmin female and Shudra male, for example, was an outcast termed chandala. It is such discriminatory labelling that provides grist to the propaganda mill of our modern caste bailers. Manu especially comes in for a lot of flak. He is taken to be an authoritarian woman hater. Nothing could be farther from truth if things are taken in their proper perspective and context.

Castes have rightly or wrongly been blamed for the ills affecting our society. The evil practice of untouchability that segregated a man from another on the basis of his birth has been attributed to the caste system. However, at least, in the ancient period, castes served purely as functional groupings without rearing social discrimination. None of a stature less than that of Mahatma Gandhi had little reservation over the continuation of caste in the Hindu society. In fact, he warmly welcomed it.

The caste system of India has found mention in the writings of distinguished foreign travellers like Megasthenes, Lucius Flavius Arrianus, et al. The sociological problem of the origin of caste has not been resolved satisfactorily even now. Many differing viewpoints abound. The colonial scholar HH Risley confused castes with races.

Indian scholars like Mr Ramachandra Guha agreed with him to a certain extent. The current trend in sociology is to interpret caste on the basis of region and ethnicity with race taking a back seat. For instance, it is now recognised that the UP Brahmin is ethnically closer to the UP Kurmi than to a Tamil Brahmin.

Though casteist rules are observed more or less diligently by the orthodox in general, infraction of the same is no longer that uncommon. Inter-caste marriages are on the rise. Perhaps, Indian society is evolving. It is turning egalitarian and careless - at least, more sociable. But politically, caste is here to stay.

History Of Caste - shamu - 07-31-2005

I was going through the book 'The Travels of Marco Polo' and was specifically looking for the caste descrimination that we were seeing last couple of centuries. But I could not find any mention of that, while there were so many references to Brahmins, idol worship, mohammedans and christians, people going around with limited or no clothings, and descritions of wealth and other local customs.

Interesting thing I read was about pearl fishing. When people go for pearl-fishing which was done during day time, the brahmins, through their mystical powers would ensure that the fisherman were not attacked by fishes while diving. That is Brahmins were helping fishermen to do their job.

The discrimination that we saw recently must have created during British rule. Millennia of subjugation of dalits, as we hear in BBC and other leftist media, is bullcrap.

History Of Caste - Guest - 08-03-2005

I disagree w th some fundamental points in the lead article. Caste is a european word for which i have yet to find an exact equivalent in any individual Indian language. The reason is obvioous. There is no exact equivalent. The present incarnation of the Jati system is a creation of the British when they created the first census in 1871 and overnite there arose 20000 castes in the indian landscape.

The flaw in the British approach is evident when they clubbed tribes with castes and created magically the schedule of castes and tribes which the GOI follows slavishly even today.

Any discussion of caste in India has to be preceded by a definition of what we mean by caste. What we mean by community is often confused with caste. But community is not caste. A good example is the Kamma 'caste' in AP. I strongly suspect that the Kamma caste is a modern creation and that there may not be more than scant references to a kamma caste going back more than 150 years ago.

Thisd is not to say that there is no class system in India. In this India is not unique. Even a so called egalitarian society like America is rife with class differences.

It is also true that there is much exploitation of human beings and chiildren in India but this has little to do with caste but everything to do with economics and poverty.

Blaming every ill in India on caste is a futile exercise and an excuse for inaction.

History Of Caste - Bharatvarsh - 08-03-2005

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->"A good example is the Kamma 'caste' in AP. I strongly suspect that the Kamma caste is a modern creation and that there may not be more than scant references to a kamma caste going back more than 150 years ago'<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->

I am from that community but have no clue if it's a recent creation or if it was there before.

History Of Caste - Guest - 08-03-2005

<!--QuoteBegin-Kaushal+Aug 3 2005, 08:51 AM-->QUOTE(Kaushal @ Aug 3 2005, 08:51 AM)<!--QuoteEBegin-->slavishly even today.

A good example is the Kamma 'caste' in AP. I strongly suspect that the Kamma caste  is a modern creation and that there may not be more than scant references to a kamma caste going back more than 150 years ago.


I know you are saying yoy have a suspicision but is your suspicision based on anything specific..?? (about Kamma caste in AP)

curious here..

History Of Caste - Guest - 08-04-2005

The castes (or caste system rather) became rigid after British categorized
the castes and tribes. That checked the fluidity in the castes as prior to that
castes were created or merged or recreated.

I disagree that Kamma caste was created 150 years ago. As this was Nayaka
caste that has been around since at least begininng of last millennium. Kamma,
velama, Reddy, Kapu castes were seperated and got their own identity after the
collapse of Kakatiyas. Prior to the Kakatiya empire, it is difficult to trace
who were from those castes but at least after collapse of the Kakatiyas, people
from those castes were rulers of Telugu kingdoms or small areas or towns/villages.

There is a theory that Kammas and Velamas were from same Kamma caste.
But those who supported Brahama Naidu of Palnadu became PadmaNayakas
(Velamas) and those supported Nagamma stayed Kammas. In fact, many Velamas
and Kammas share same family names and Gothras. Some Reddys as well
share the Gothra and family names. Needless to say, all these Nayaka castes still
dominate every sphere in AP.

History Of Caste - Guest - 08-04-2005

I am somewhat familiar with the history of the Nayakas (and the naidus, Velamas and Reddies), but i remain unconvinced that the word Kamma has an antiquity as old as even the middle ages and that references to the word Kamma in literature was scant during that period.By that i mean, i do not think there was a rigid caste called Kamma even as late as the 1300's.

The following seems to be a knowledgeable source"Kakatiya Dynasty (1000-1323 AD) was an indigenous power that sprang from the local people (the so-called vedic fourth class, the Sudras). Jainism was prominent during 11th century but was wiped out by Shaivism during this period. Reddy dynasty (1325-1424AD) was established by Kammas, Velamas, and Reddis, powerful non-Aryan tribes/castes. " ( I have problems with the use of the term non-aryan in this context, but that is another issue)

In any event the antiquity of the Kammas is not my main point.What is at isssue is whether these 'Jatis' were water tight with no intermarriage outside their community. I maintain that none of these communties were watertight rigid communities and that such a situation was actively fostered by the British who had everything to gain by accentuating the diversity of the country and its people. Furthermore the British confused the whole issue by trying to tie Jati to Varna (as stated in the Vedic texts) Varnaas we are aware is distinguished by behavior and as we further know , most of the r ishis (whose names form the Gothras we identify with) were not of Brahminic stock.

Finally i mean no disrespect to the Kamma community whom i greatly admire for their progressiveness in embracing the modern era.

History Of Caste - Guest - 08-04-2005

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->  Each caste has a deity and distinct social formalities<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->

This is from above website
AS per the socail formalities i think it is based on the region rather than the caste.

As per the diety it is completely wrong....

Kaushal quick google will give you that website . i did do that yesterday but was waiting for more explanation from you. As per velama and kamma's they even marry into each other but not very often. AS per reddy's in Rayalaseema there are people who's fahter is has reddy in last name but call themsleves kamma. ex: Ram bhopal Choudary (politician) from Kurnool..his father name has Reddy.There are Reddys in KN too.

DId you know Naidu is kappu caste if he is from coastal andra and he is kamma if he is from nelloure or chittor districts (ex: CBN)

And in telangana there is not much distinction between kapu and reddy. In olden days if you had a bungalow (one story house which is built with concrete and cement) and 10 acres of land then they called themsleves a reddy. You can see that that way names are changed from generation to generation.In Reddy's there are subcastes in Telangana...

The whole point is all these were sudra's ( if you go by manu)or people who worked on the land and were also served local rulers in different capacities and were also rulers by themselves.
Your suspicision that kamma caste was created is 150 years ago is completely worng.I say this because there are records from elders in villages in coastal AP where they trace back land holding atleast 200 to 300 years old and the last names all the same .

What shayam is saying is close to the truth. The vepachedu website does say lot of truth like castes were localised in AP heavily but how they were localised and what were they before that or was there single group is tough to say because there are no records just like everything (or most of )else in indian history . The localisation of "castes/tribes" is true across indian Subcontinent. (Even in pak and afg with different names even though they are suppose to have them in islam.) ex: Pastun tribe has different subsects among themselves so goes various so called "tribes" in afg. In north katri is divided into so many subcastes.There are subdivisions vitually among every caste across India..

Caste will stay in some form or other in india as matter of fact in throught the world . It will be just an different form .It may not be called caste but something else like class or tribe etc.. The question is how flexible it becomes or how egilitarian it becomes will depend on how the society wants to move forward.

To the question how british exploited it let me give you an ex: say india had a chance to rule UK if i was in charge then i would divide them based on their accents. like cogni accent would be one "caste" . You take any society you can find differences if you want to. Even in greece which almost 97 othodox you can find dfifferences among different ppl based geography and they way they dress etc..

It just matter of what you want to do when have the power to do it.British just exploited the exisitng differences to their maxium benefit .

I strongly believe that there were no castes beofre say 2k years ago and even after that they were "created" just as a social order rather then existing castes which are kind a rigid. The whole indian subcontinent was just under one umbrella and when you have such a vast land you tend to have little differences.

Can you imagine what US would look like in say 2000 years from now or even 1000 years from now

History Of Caste - Guest - 08-04-2005

It was not my intention to raise a controversy over the antiquity of individal castes in Iindia.and it is clear that my choice of the kamma community was a poor one. Loose knit communities evolved over time bound by location and common cultural traits, but they were not rigid.

It is true that the British did what they had to do to perpetuate their rule in India. That does not make them necessarily evil or even bad. They did what they had to do . But that is precisely the reason why we should not accept their description of the caste system in India as embodied in Indian Law (in the shape o fthe SC/ST categorization.To come back to my original point i do not understand the word caste, since there is no exact equivalent in Indiain languages. The current incarnation of the caste system is purely an interpretation of the British and should be discarded lock stock and barrel.

Incidentally i discovered the vepachedu site quite a while ago and have quoted from it in my previous post (prior to yours)

History Of Caste - Guest - 08-04-2005

<!--QuoteBegin-Kaushal+Aug 4 2005, 09:38 PM-->QUOTE(Kaushal @ Aug 4 2005, 09:38 PM)<!--QuoteEBegin--> But that is precisely the reason why we should not accept their description of the caste system in India as embodied in Indian Law (in the shape o fthe SC/ST categorization.To come back to my original point i do not understand the word caste, since there is no exact equivalent in Indiain languages. The current incarnation of the caste system is purely an interpretation of the British and should be discarded lock stock and barrel.

Even if you change the law what about social customs like marriages etc.. It is not that easy to take away caste from the indian social scene. If you take out reservation based on caste then the party in the power can forget being in the power for looooooooongg time. IF you take out SC/ST categorizations then how can justify the reservations in Consitution. You need a make away for an alternative system without causing much damamge to social fabrication.

I know people who still hold grudge against PVN (even though he was one of the best if not the best PM india ever had) because it was when he was the CM of AP that the land reforms were passed.These ppl are not rich people who have hundrerds of acres of land.

History Of Caste - Guest - 08-06-2005

The Story of Janasruti

Pradip Gangopadhyay

History Of Caste - Guest - 09-03-2005

<b>No caste for converts
-Sandhya Jain </b>
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->The recent Supreme Court judgment discouraging additions to the list of
religious minorities and the Central Government's failure arrive at a
consensus over the Women's Reservation Bill provide an occasion to
debate the meaning of caste and religion, and their usage as instruments of
reservation benefits. 

From the time of the British Raj, caste has been used to berate Hindu
society and has acquired negative connotations in public discourse.
Though political parties canvass mass support through caste affiliations,
political discourse labels it illegitimate. Even constitutional
affirmative action for underprivileged castes is used to put upper caste Hindu
society in the dock, though efforts are on to extend the use of caste
for political ends. At present, organized religious minorities have
launched a virtual crusade for the benefits of caste-based reservations. We
need to examine to merits of this quest in terms of the genesis of
caste and its applicability to those who have seceded from the Hindu fold.

Caste, the Portuguese name for the Hindu jati and gotra, is simply the
organizing principle of ancient Indian society. It was the means by
which diverse groups in society were integrated and mutual conflicts
resolved, on the matrix of an evolving dharma. Both caste and dharma
emphasized heredity because ancestry (gotra) was imperative as the spirits of
the ancestors had to be invoked in all social sacraments (samskara) to
establish the individual's worthiness to receive the sacrament.

Though apparently restrictive, all groups accepted the heredity
principle and "created" ancestries and fabled origins as they progressed in
life. The Mundas of Chotanagpur, who were originally organized into
exogamous septs called Kilis, changed their Kilis into Gotras. Thus Sandi
Kili became Sandil Gotra and Nom Tuti Kili evolved into Bhoj-Raj-Gotra.
The Koch tribes of Assam metamorphosed into Bhanga-Kshatriya or
Rajbansi, and claimed affinity with Rajputs.

Caste or jati is rooted in the tribal concept of gotra. Sociologists
have traced the origins of the Barabhum royal family in eastern India to
the Bhumij of the ancient Gulgu clan. The early forts of the Barabhum
rajas were at Pabanpur (near Bhula, burial ground of the clan) and
Bhuni, where the royal (tribal) goddess Koteshwari had her sacred grove. But
when the Bhumij chiefs claimed Rajput status, they shed their tribal
affiliations by renouncing the clan ossuary at Bhula. A similar process
was discerned among the tribal Bhumij of Baghmundi and the Manbhum
Bhumij. The Bhumij are organized in patrilineal exogamous clans (gotras)
affiliated to ancestral villages where the clan ossuaries are located.
Gotra is thus the organizing principle of tribal societies and the key
constituent of Hindu social identity.

Given this reality, the question arises whether individuals and groups
who have renounced their Hindu identity should get the benefits of a
caste identity. Today, amidst mounting evidence that SC/ST reservations
in educational institutions are being surreptitiously cornered by
non-Hindus, some are asking why individuals who reject their Hindu identity
should retain their caste names and thus mislead society.

It is well known that both Christianity and Islam systematically wiped
out the traditional religion and culture in the lands where they
spread. Christianity humbled Europe through untold brutality, and the Pope's
talk of Europe's "Christian roots" cannot disguise the truth that the
religion is a cruel imposition of only 2000 years. As for the genocides
against the native peoples of North and South America, Australia, and
the enslavement of Africa, the less said the better. Islam, similarly,
triumphed by wiping out traditional communities (including Christian)
where it became dominant.

My point is that both these religions have shown zero tolerance for
even vestiges of the old religions in regions where they came to have
sway. Both have periodically launched movements against "heretics" and
resisted the liberalization of dogma. While Islam today has the tabligh
movement to cleanse Muslim adherents of old practices of their former
faith traditions, Christian clergy are engaged in battle with the modern
god called "secularism."

Tolerance of, or co-existence with, old faith identities is therefore
ruled out in both religions. In India, they do not even respect the
right of the Hindu community to remain the majority community, and persist
with aggressive attempts at conversions, vitiating the atmosphere all
over the country. It therefore makes little sense to permit so-called
Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims to garner reservation benefits
intended to overcome social disabilities of Hindu society. If erstwhile Dalits
find that Christianity and Islam mistreat them, they must approach
appropriate judicial forums for redressal of their grievances or come back
to the Hindu fold.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court has rendered a sterling service by
discouraging the trend towards listing distinct religious groups as "minority
communities." Indeed, as Swami Dayanand Saraswati pointed out in his
reaction to the judgment, there are sound reasons why we should reject the
classification of minorities on religious grounds. What is happening is
that in India transnational religions with enormous numerical, economic
and political clout are claiming privileges as minorities.

India's religious minorities have access to the enormous resource base
of their global co-religionists, yet seek benefits that should go to
more needy and deprived sections. The Vatican in Rome caters to the
interests of Catholics, while the World Council of Churches in Geneva looks
after Protestants. The 2.1 billion-strong Christian community
constitutes one-third of the world population, and its clout and reach extends
beyond national boundaries, as does that of Islam. Adherents of these
transnational faiths, therefore, cannot legitimately be designated as

The Supreme Court rightly feels that classification of groups as
minorities is "a serious jolt to the secular structure of constitutional
democracy." Not only would it generate "feelings of multi-nationalism in
various sections of the people," but it would hinder national
integration. The judgment should serve as a stepping stone in the direction of
abolishing the category of minority in the constitution. The educational
and cultural rights of all groups can be protected by equal laws for all
educational and cultural institutions - it is time to level the playing



History Of Caste - Guest - 12-30-2005

The following articleby Kevin Hobson, probably a Canadian
should be read in toto . It describes how the British using the census fashioned the castesystem asit exists today in India,withall its connotations of heirarchy and its association of physical attrributues to the various castes, intoan instrument that suited their needs and beliefs
The Indian Caste System and the British.

Here are some excerpts

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->The freebooters of the 18th century were giving way to the bureaucrats of the 19th century. Ironically, it is highly debateable which of the two, freebooters or bureaucrats, were the most dangerous to the people of India. Treasure can be replaced. Cultures, once tampered with, are nearly impossible to reclaim.

Victorious in the Napoleonic wars and with an empire growing at an unprecedented rate, the British became ever more confident that their destiny was to lead the way to civilization and raise up the lesser races. The British Empire was believed to be the natural heir to the classical Roman Empire. From this mix of belief in their superiority and fascination with methods of social management and improvement, came a variety of so called sciences. These included such things as phrenology and eugenics but at the heart of any of the movements to study either man or society was statistics.

One of the main tools used in the British attempt to understand the Indian population was the census. Attempts were made as early as the beginning of the 19th century to estimate populations in various regions of the country but these, as earlier noted, were methodologically flawed and led to grossly erroneous conclusions. It was not until 1872 that a planned comprehensive census was attempted. This was done under the direction of Henry Beverely, Inspector General of Registration in Bengal. The primary purpose given for the taking of the census, that of governmental preparedness to deal with disaster situations, was both laudable and logical. However, the census went well beyond counting heads or even enquiring into sex ratios or general living conditions. Among the many questions were enquiries regarding nationality, race, tribe, religion and caste

Obviously there had to be some purpose to the gathering of this data since due to the size of both the population and the territory to be covered, extraneous questions would not have been included due to time factors. Therefore, there must have been a reason of some sort for their inclusion. That reason was, quite simply, the British belief that caste was the key to understanding the people of India. Caste was seen as the essence of Indian society, the system through which it was possible to classify all of the various groups of indigenous people according to their ability, as reflected by caste, to be of service to the British.

Caste was seen as an indicator of occupation, social standing, and intellectual ability. It was, therefore necessary to include it in the census if the census was to serve the purpose of giving the government the information it needed in order to make optimum use of the people under its administration. Moreover, it becomes obvious that British conceptions of racial purity were interwoven with these judgements of people based on caste when reactions to censuses are examined. Beverly concluded that a group of Muslims were in fact converted low caste Hindus. This raised howls of protest from representatives of the group as late as 1895 since it was felt that this was a slander and a lie.H. H. Risely, Commissioner of the 1901 census, also showed British beliefs in an 1886 publication which stated that race sentiment, far from being:

<span style='color:red'>a figment of the intolerant pride of the Brahman, rests upon a foundation of fact which scientific methods confirm, that it has shaped the intricate grouping of the caste system, and has preserved the Aryan type in comparative purity throughout Northern India

The word caste is not a word that is indigenous to India. It originates in the Portuguese word casta which means race,breed, race or lineage. However, during the 19th century, the term caste increasingly took on the connotations of the word race. Thus, from the very beginning of western contact with the subcontinent European constructions have been imposed on Indian systems and institutions. To fully appreciate the caste system one must step away from the definitions imposed by Europeans and look at the system as a whole, including the religious beliefs that are an integral part of it. To the British, viewing the caste system from the outside and on a very superficial level, it appeared to be a static system of social ordering that allowed the ruling class or Brahmins, to maintain their power over the other classes. What the British failed to realize was that Hindus existed in a different cosmological frame than did the British.

This long standing deterministic fatalism was, therefore, the same as that expressed by both phrenologists and statisticians. This attitude was legislatively expressed in India by the passing of the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, the same year as the first full Indian census was being planned. In explanation of the Act it was stated that: <!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd--> <!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->In and of themselves, the physical taking of the censuses did not greatly affect Indian society. The census takers received slighter higher status and prestige within their own communities because of their employment and new found position of authority, but most, if not all of these individuals would have had high status before the censuses in any case. However, the analysis of Indian society that the censuses made possible did have a very strong affect. Without the basic information contained within the censuses the British would not have been able to justify their concepts of Indian society. This would have handicapped their ability to rationalize their presence within India once simple economic reasoning had ceased to suffice. For the Indian people, the censuses acted as a catalyst for an increased consciousness of caste as caste status became an increasingly significant factor in attaining material status. While the original intent may have been to gather data to assist governments in dealing with natural disaster and famine relief, the effect of the analysis of that data went far beyond these goals. Ultimately, the census provided data that allowed the British to have a much deeper effect on Indian society than might otherwise have been possible.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->


History Of Caste - Guest - 12-30-2005

Ironically many in india praise the brits even today for the comprehensive nature of the census instead of being wary about the attendant intrusion on ones privacy.But in a land ruled by an Imperial power and in a milieu where there was no question of any individual rights, it became a moot point to even think of protesting sucha intrusion.

History Of Caste - acharya - 01-13-2006

Today the status of the Shudras, Untouchables, and other "scheduled castes," and the preferential policies that the Indian government has designed for their advancement ever since Independence, are sources of serious conflict, including suicides, murders, and riots, in Indian society. Meanwhile, however, especially since economic liberalization began in 1991, the social mobility of a modern economy and urban life has begun to disrupt traditional professions, and oppressions, even of Untouchables. Village life and economic stasis were the greatest allies of the caste system, but both are slowly retreating before modernity in an India that finally gave up the Soviet paradigm of economic planning.

History Of Caste - Guest - 08-02-2006

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->The long shadow
Tuesday, August 01, 2006  21:06 IST
André Béteille

Caste has become an obsession with the media.  They turn their eyes in every direction for signs of caste bias.  Where it does exist, caste
bias is largely a matter of the mind, and when more and more people
become convinced about its open or hidden operation, it begins to rear
its head even where it did not exist.  Today caste bias in our public
institutions is on its way to becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The prevalent view among educated Indians in the early years of
independence was that caste was in decline:  it had its importance in
India's past but it would have little importance in its future.  This
was the general opinion in Calcutta where I was a student in the
mid-fifties and among economists, historians and political scientists
in Delhi where I came to teach in 1959.  The only academics who took
caste seriously were the sociologists, and since I was one myself, I
became the target of much light-hearted banter from the economists in
the Delhi School of Economics.

When N Srinivas pointed out in his address to the archaeology and
anthropology section of the Indian Science Congress in January 1957
that caste was acquiring a new lease of life in independent India, The
Times of India commented that he was exaggerating its importance.  Now
newspaper writers are falling over each other to show how important
caste is in contemporary India.  Their newfound zeal and enthusiasm
leaves serious students of the subject nonplussed.

What actually is happening to caste today?  A sober assessment of the
evidence will show that, while caste has probably become more
important in certain domains, it has also become less important in
many others.  In the prevailing circumstances it becomes difficult to
determine whether caste as a whole is becoming stronger or weaker.
But those benign optimists who had hoped at the time of independence
that caste would disappear by the end of the century have been proved

If we turn back to discussions of caste in the 50 years prior to
Independence, we will find that those who wrote about it pointed to
three different kinds of factors as being fundamental to its
persistence. One set of authors stressed the ritual basis of caste
with its roots in the opposition of purity and pollution.  They
pointed to the innumerable restrictions on the acceptance of food and
water, and the elaborate procedures devised for the maintenance of
purity.  These rules and restrictions have steadily declined in
strength, with several becoming obsolete.

A second set of authors maintained that caste constituted the social
basis of the economic division of labour in India.  While the lowest
castes are still concentrated in ill-paid manual occupations and the
upper castes are more prominent in better paid non-manual ones, the
association between caste and occupation has definitely weakened.
Many traditional occupations have become obsolete and they have been
replaced by new 'caste-free' occupations.  With rapid changes in the
occupational system, the association between caste and occupation will
weaken further.

Finally, there are those who argued that the real strength of caste
lay in the rules of marriage prescribed by it.  These rules were rigid
and elaborate, and, among the Hindus, they enjoyed the sanctions of
both shastric and customary law.  While caste endogamy, or marriage
within the caste, is still the general practice particularly in the
rural areas, departures from it are taking place with increasing
frequency.  Particularly in the growing educated middle class.

There is one domain in which the slow but unmistakable decline of
caste is contradicted, and that is in politics.  When Srinivas argued
that caste was acquiring a new lease of life, all the evidence that he
marshalled in support of his argument came from the domain of
politics.  In the decades since then politicians of all shades and
complexions have learned to make increasing use of caste for the
mobilisation of electoral support.  No doubt there are regional
variations in this, and, hopefully, not irreversible.  But if caste
has acquired an increasing hold on the public imagination, we have
mainly our politicians to thank.

All political parties promote caste consciousness by putting forward
claims in the name of caste pretending to safeguard social justice.
Even the left parties have become champions of caste quotas, using the
disingenuous argument that in India caste is the form taken by class,
a theoretical innovation that must make Marx and Engels turn in their

The writer is a sociologist.


History Of Caste - Guest - 08-03-2006

One aspect of caste bias in India is in the surnames, particularly in north and east India, to lesser extent in west and south India. Although the surnames presecribed by Shastras for 4 varnas are - Sharma, Varma, Gupta and Das - but dont know when and howcome these many caste-based surnames have sprung up.

Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati wanted indian people to shed their caste-showing surnames and adopt more detached surnames - like Bharati, Arya, Saraswati, Jain, Tirth etc, on place names like Mumbaikar, or on names of Rishis/gotras. Many people had done that too. To fight the caste bias, even Guru Gobind Singh ji gave a common surname to all Khalsas - Singh. What do forum members think about Surnames?

History Of Caste - Guest - 08-03-2006

My father gave up his surname but we started again as in school or to fill any form we have to identify our caste and surname.

History Of Caste - Guest - 08-04-2006

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->What do forum members think about Surnames?<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->Surnames are important, so that future generations remember their ancestors. It's a sense of identity and a connection with the past. Imagine if your name was Reddy - why in the world would you want to give it up? They were kshatriyas who fought the Islamic tyrants!
Or Vivekandanda's and Aurobindo's surnames, if they had any. Or Valmiki, imagine being a descendant of the Rishi who gave us the Ramayanam. Or Shahi(ya) - kshatriyas again. I want to read history books about all these names and I want to be able to meet someone who has that surname and then look at their faces to trace the heroism or capabilities that still lie there. History books should make people feel inspired and proud of who they are.

Not everyone is deserving of their Hindu surname, of course: Y Samuel Reddy is a disgrace to his, and so is Laloo Prasad Yadav.

To know the greatness behind one's name will make one want to emulate that. Look at how Sikhs have the surname Singh, which makes them feel brave and bold like the Simha (which was, after all, the intended effect of making that a Sikh surname). And if one doesn't know of any heroic ancestors with the same surname, then become one yourself. It will bring fame and just pride to one's descendants, to one's community and to Bharatavarsha. There are no lowly Hindu surnames. There might be ones that aren't famous yet.

The important thing is not to let others take your name away. I don't like how the government forces some people to change their surnames, whilst others sign in under a different community name. Their hands are being forced. To sign one's name away is to lose a bit of one's own identity, because it divorces us from our past.

Having said all that, I have no idea what my real surname is <!--emo&:unsure:--><img src='style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/unsure.gif' border='0' style='vertical-align:middle' alt='unsure.gif' /><!--endemo--> In Tamil Nadu one's surname is often the father's first name, so that lasts all about one generation. But then there's the community name as well, though not everyone uses that as their surname, and there's also the family name. It's all rather confusing.

History Of Caste - Bharatvarsh - 08-04-2006

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->In Tamil Nadu one's surname is often the father's first name, so that lasts all about one generation. <!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
That is interesting, is it the same among Srilankan Tamils as well because I know one Srilankan Christian Tamil who uses his fathers first name (Jayarajah) as his last name, before I thought it was his own peculiarity because they don't do that in Andhra.