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Caste An European Phenomenon

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Caste An European Phenomenon
#38
Balus reponse to the above quotation.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TheHeathenIn...ss/message/2873

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Re: semantically speaking

Dear Arun,

Here are my first responses to the citation you posted on the board.

1. Hedging: the description, even while not pretending to be a
scientific study, hedges on important points. This reduces its value.
Even its status is unclear: is the claim about the `majority' of
Indians, is it about a minority in some particular area, or is it
simply a generalized statement of impressions? As examples, here are a
few hedges with my comments on their import.

1.1. "the reality is obscured by a good deal of myth and many local
complications".

(a) Given that the author says later that the `myth' about the origin
must be understood literally as a `myth', and thus not as a fact, he
suggests that the `myth' about caste, "that peculiar institution", is
not a part of "the reality" of the caste system. That is to say, he
suggests that Indian stories about caste are not a part of the
institution that caste is. It is, of course, unclear whether he wants
to say that these stories are not true (i.e., no sacrifice of the
primal man occurred and that the Brahmins were not born from the head
of this person, for instance) or whether he wants to say that stories
about `caste' (whatever they are) are not a part of the `reality' that
castes are.

(b) `local complications' are complications in "the reality". The
reality of caste must include "the many local complications":
otherwise, one says that "the reality" creates complications for
describing "the reality". A charitable interpretation of this sentence
is difficult because of how he speaks: the reality is "obscured" by
local complications and myths. If we read him literally, it is
nonsense: "the reality obscures the reality". So, the only possible
way to read him and preserve some sense is to interpret him as
follows: it is difficult, if not impossible, to build a `neat theory'
about caste because, in all probability, the reality will contradict
all such theories.

1.2. "But, simplifying enormously, one may say…"

(a) How "enormous" is this simplification? Why simplify enormously at
all? Would one not produce a caricature (i.e., produce another myth to
replace the Indian myth) as a result? If all `neat theories' are
contradicted by reality, surely, this "enormously simplified" account
cannot even hope to describe "the reality" that the institution of
caste is supposed to be. What is being described then? Is it a
description of the reality or just some myth?

(b) "One may say…": of course, one may say anything one feels like
saying. By the same token, one may also not say what one intends to
say, or one may even say the opposite. The hedge `one may say' has
some use if one shows what cognitive advantage is gained by saying it.
Otherwise, it is a license to say whatever one feels like saying: the
earlier hedge, namely, that it is an "enormous simplification", meets
any challenge.

2. Conceptual confusions: He (a) begins with an undefined word,
(b)illustrates a practice by making a comparison, © uses the
illustration later as a metaphor and (d) the metaphor ends up becoming
a semi-theory about another institution. Having done all that, (e) he
tries to stand above his own confusion by attributing the problem to
the different references of yet another word.

(a) "They would be told that at the creation of mankind, there were
four ORDERS of men…" Here, the word `order' is undefined. The context
does not suggest that four groups of men were "ordered"
hierarchically; instead, it says that each of these four groups was
"ordered" because there were "four orders". That is, there is no way
of finding out what the relationship is between these four "ordered"
groups; nor is there any way of finding out how each of these four
groups were "ordered" internally. All we can assume is that, within
each of these groups, there is an ordered relationship between its
members.

(b) "The in-marrying group - in Hindi JATI - may be compared with a
battalion; the subdivision - in Hindi GOTRA - with a company." Notice
the hedge first: one may compare jati and gotra to the subdivisions
within an army; then again, one may not. This comparison, thus,
carries no premium: it is merely a handy way of illustrating a
practice, namely, marriage, which prevailed in the "nineteenth
century" India. Here, the hedge plays a useful role as long as it
helps one (the westerner) to understand a practice. Once the practice
is understood, the illustration plays no further role in the story.

© "to continue the military metaphor, the order is a higher
formation, a grouping of battalions into an army corps." Suddenly, an
illustration of a practice has become a metaphor for an institution.
Metaphors map two domains onto each other; it is an aid to understand
one (ill-understood) domain by using the mapping relationship it has
with the other (better-understood) domain. Here, battalions, companies
and army corps are units within an institution that are defined by the
relationships between them. This domain (the army) is now mapped onto
the domain of Indian social and religious structures (cf: "…nothing in
the Indian social and religious system is simple"). Because the
relationships between units in one domain (the army) are mapped onto
the relationships in another domain (varna, jati and gotra), what we
have on our hands is a semi-theory about this, new domain ("the Indian
social and religious system"?)

(d) The "order" now becomes a "higher" formation: the "higher" refers
to the unit that is "hierarchically above". That is to say, Varna is a
hierarchical order: below it are the Jatis, and below the Jati's are
the gotras. This notion of a `higher order' is simultaneously two
things: on the one hand, it is a higher classificatory scheme that
incorporates other sets like jati and gotra. On the other hand, this
hierarchical relationship must also imply a superiority of one order
with respect to the other: it must, because he is using the
organizational structure of the army as the metaphor. (He could have
also used a human body as the metaphor – which is what the Indian
`myth' does – that would have allowed him to speak of `higher' order
without implying hierarchical superiority: molecules, cells and
organs. There is no way for us to speak of the superiority of any of
these components even though we can speak of `higher' orders in this
context.) He must also be implying that because he finds it necessary
to emphasize that "social esteem" does not coincide with "ritual
esteem". In short, without saying so explicitly (which is why it is a
semi-theory), he is saying that there is a hierarchical social and
religious system in India.

(e) In the end, he appears to bemoan the fact that, among other
things, `caste' refers both to "the order" and to "the whole
institution". Which is "the whole institution"? The army (i.e., the
"Indian society"?) or the army corps? If `order' is the `varna' and it
is an army corps, which is "the whole institution", if it is not
`varna'? Whether he wants to or not, using the metaphor he does use,
he has to say that the Indian society is ordered "hierarchically' with
some groups occupying the summit of the hierarchy (which groups?), and
some others absolutely at the bottom. In so far as this discussion
occurs in the context of talking about caste, he is suggesting that
this situation is something generated by the caste system.
(Presumably, because of the absence of this peculiar institution in
the West, the suggestion is that this `kind' of hierarchy is absent
there.) Again, he says explicitly that jati's are neither static nor
immutable; yet, he implies the opposite when he suggests that `some
groups' are at the top and some others at the bottom of the social
hierarchy because of their membership in such groups. In this sense,
even in his haste to correct the `wrong' impressions of people from
the West, he merely reproduces (in a vaguer and less transparent way)
what the West has been saying about us during the last few centuries.

3. Selective portrayal: without any kind of apparent justification,
some facts are highlighted, while some others are neglected. This
suggests the operation of a background theory that distributes weights
to these respective facts.

On the one hand, he says: "Men from the higher groups must eat and
smoke only with those of their own group and must not accept food or
water from the lower - though there are almost always exceptions and
some kinds of food are less subject to pollution than others." Here,
note that `higher order' clearly means a socially (politically,
culturally, economically, ritually?) privileged position when compared
to those from `the lower order'. (It is obvious because the suggestion
is not that someone belonging to some gotra – a `lower order' entity
within the Jati – should not eat or smoke with someone from another
gotra.) Secondly, note too that there are "almost always exceptions".
That is, there are people from the `higher order' who do eat and smoke
with those from the `lower order'.

On the other hand, speaking of those who do this, he also says
(amongst other things): "He will be shunned by everyone; he is an
outcast, excommunicated."

We have two facts then: some smoke and eat with those from the `lower
order' with impunity; yet others are punished for the same act. Why
emphasize one fact and not the other? I know of no surveys and/or
nation-wide (or even state-wide) facts about either of the two
incidents. Consequently, we cannot speak of the relative frequency of
one set of facts as against the other. As a result, we do not have an
explanation of any sort (except for the story we are told about `the
Indian caste system') for either of these two facts. Why take one kind
of fact and amplify on it (which is what the author does), and mention
the other merely in passing, unless one considers one fact as some
kind of a necessary consequence of `the caste system' and the other as
a mere `exception'? The only possible reason is that the author too
assumes the western story about the caste system (and its moral
consequences) as true.

4. False assumptions: "The group to which a man belongs affects the
whole of his outward life; there are elaborate rules about eating,
drinking, smoking and washing." And, he warns of dire consequences
"(i)f these rules are broken". Really! In all my life, I have yet to
come across these "elaborate rules about eating, drinking, smoking and
washing". No anthropologist, or sociologist, or Sanskritist, or
Indologist has ever discovered what these rules are, who enunciated
them, the source of their authority, and the nature of the entity that
enforces these rules and punishes their transgression. The author is
not speaking about conventions and etiquettes that come and go: he is
speaking about `elaborate rules', violations of which involve
excommunication for some. He could not be talking about the
Dharmashastra literatures because (a) most Indians have neither read
nor follow any of the treatises in this genre; (b) most of the extant
manuscripts are untranslated and preserved in a few institutions (many
of them outside India). I cannot imagine how these treatises could
have `elaborate rules' for "smoking"! Or even "washing". (Actually, it
would be nice to know what "elaborate rules" exist for washing or
drinking, where they exist, who follows them, who transmits them, and
who enforces them.) Then, of course, there is the imprecision: "the
group to which a man belongs". Which `group' is this? Varna, Jati, or
Gotra, or all three? Consequently, from what is he excommunicated? Is
a man excommunicated from his Jati, or from his varna or from his
gotra or from all the three? And then, there is the problem about
excommunication. Assuming that one is born into a varna and a jati and
thus inherits a gotra, how is excommunication possible from any of the
three? One can be excommunicated from a community or a group if and
only if there is a proviso, which allows voluntary membership into
that community or group. No matter what I do, I cannot be
excommunicated from the species (homo sapiens sapiens) or from the
class of biological organisms because I am born into this group. But I
can be excommunicated from my group of friends, or from having social
contacts with my group of relatives. In the latter case, I still
remain their relative. In short, I suggest that this author is making
false assumptions about rules and excommunication.

What is `right' in his story? Something we all know. There are jatis
and gotras in India. [Though there are indefinitely many gotras in
India, they arise due to a permutation of seven gotra founders: one
has either one, or three, or five (as far as I know, none with two and
four) of these founders at their origin. Indeed, there was (and, to
some extent, there still is) a `rule' about marriages: one should not
marry into the same gotra (at least two in the case of those with
three founders, three in the case of those with five founders).] There
is some kind of `untouchability', even though it is not clear whether
it is inter-personal or only social (i.e., applicable only to
inter-jati relationships). In some areas, some jatis do not eat in the
house of other jatis. The jatis do not have the same names in the
length and breadth of India. In other words, what is true about his
account are these kinds of trivial facts.

Perhaps, one could say more than I have said. If so, I leave it to the
interested others to do that.

Friendly greetings

Balu
<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
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