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History Of Caste
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->On Claude Arpi's 'Ten Things I hate about India'

To begin with, I generously concede you Mr. Claude Arpi (though partially) the 1st, 8th and the 9th points. It seems I am rather blind and do not have the same cognitive capabilities and can’t see the state of India that frustrates you. *This is an open intellectual challenge to you*…explain me the state that is so clear to you and not to me. Let us see how for does this discussion take us.

I urge you to explain me how does India differ from the rest of the world regarding the 4th and the 7th point. <b>Are you watching Indian cricket tour of US (I mean West Indies!!), or the football matches involving the African teams!? Watch them carefully you will understand what is racism. </b><b>What if I say, charging 250 rs more to watch Taj Mahal is not racisim, but attributing the ghora saab with the status of a rich master!! </b>And then, you still have an Everest to claim in explaining me why do the 3rd, 5th and 6th points frustrate you....why should it matter to any soul whether Indians bother about maps and photos or not. This is simply a cultural difference.
You needn’t get frustrated with it, even before you understand what is happening here. What if I say we/Indians have less regard for our past, we care more about our present?? <b>Or what if I say, that maps frustrates us because they only map the geographical world, where as we the human beings inhabit a cultural world tooooooooooooo??
And finally I will bet my last paisa on the issue of corruption. Can you explain what is corruption?

[Do you know of a concept we so often use in social sciences-- ‘stereotype’??]

And before writing back please remember that I have only partially conceded the 1st, 8th and the 9th points. If the discussion takes us far we can discuss those three points as well.

Dunkin Jalki<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
Understanding Caste System
A Survey of Popular Writings on Caste Violence

by Dunkin Jalki

The Confusions Caused by Stereotypes

It is these kinds of statements which S. N Balagangadhara calls stereotypes. A property that stereotypes share is that they are unquantified claims. They do not specify whether they are talking about all or some of the objects they are referring to. Some of the examples of the stereotypes are these kinds of statements: Blacks are lazy, Indians are immoral, Germans are industrious etc. Since, these statements do not specify how many Black people/Indians/Germans they are talking about, they fail to make any sense. As such, they are neither true nor false. Here is a list1 of the dominant stereotypes that I found in the articles and reports referred in this essay.

Dalits suffer all kinds of deprivations (they are attacked, their homes are looted and burned, their land is encroached)

Dalits are prohibited from having education (they are the least educated people in India)

Caste problem is in practice from the ancient times (the status of the Dalits has not changed for ages)

Dalit women are more marginalized

Dalits are poor (they are the low-paid workers)

Caste is a an occupation based problem

Dalits do all sorts of unclean work (scavenging, cleaning toilets, rag picking etc.)

Policy making, and politics operates along caste line

Dalits are denied basic human dignity

Dalits cannot wear nice clothes or jewelry and must take off their sandals

Dalits have to eat and drink from separate vessels in hotels

Dalits are lower in the social hierarchy

Since these statements do not specify the quantity their value as arguments gets reduced considerably. It is not clear whether these statements pick out the impression of the report writer, or refer to the data produced through the survey conducted in some specific places, say, Andhra Pradesh, or a theoretical generalization about whole of India or even Andhra Pradesh.
<b>Pre-British India
The Myth of Caste Tyranny</b>
By Meenakshi Jain

<i>The Indian Express, 26th September, 1990</i>

The Mandal Commission report is based on a stereotype image of the caste system and Hindu society that our colonial masters popularised with devastating effect in the 19th century. It is not generally known that the India of rigid social stratification and hierarchical ranking was largely a British creation and that in their attempt to comprehend, and control the Indian social order; the British set in motion forces that transformed the older system in a fundamental way.

As late as the 18th century, the hierarchical ordering of Hindu society was not an established fact over large parts of the subcontinent. As some eminent historians have pointed out, till that time alternative ideologies and styles of life were strong, indeed dominant, in much of India. Large bands of nomads, with their huge herds of cattle, for instance, roamed the North Indian countryside plundering at will (and at the same time trading with settled agriculture, carrying its goods to distant markets and meeting its requirements of milk and other protein foods. For details see ‘The New Cambridge History of India’ Vol. II by C. A. Bayly – Cambridge University Press, 1988. This mutual compatibility was characteristic of all relationships in the older set-up). Among the great nomadic groups were Gujars, Bhattis, Rangar Rajputs, all of whom remained outside the framework of Brahminical Hinduism. It seems ironic that groups which terrorised settled agriculturists for centuries should now talk of the tyranny of the Hindu social order.
British victory</b>

The strength of the pastoral communities can be further gauged from the fact that at no point before the British arrival could settled agriculturists ever be said to have gained a decisive victory over them. It was only the British determination to tame all floating populations that finally led to their amalgamation with the agrarian society. There were areas where Brahmins and Brahminical life-style remained peripheral. Till the 18th century forests competed with arable land in size and importance. The frontiers of settled agriculture were constantly fluctuating, sometimes advancing, sometimes retreating, even in the same area. Large sections of society survived on forest produce. Forests also served as havens for those in search of escape from society. Here also it was British rule that brought about far-reaching changes.

In their attempt to pacify the countryside they engaged in large-scale destruction of forests to deny rebels places of refuge. Arthur Wellesly in his campaigns against the Pyche Raja, for example, cleared the Malabar forest to a mile on either side of the road. The British, not the Brahmins, thus won the final battle against nomads, tribals, soldiers and forests, all of whom constituted important alternate life-styles in the pre-British period. Incidentally, it was this plurality of society that was a major reason for the failure of Islam to make much headway in the subcontinent. There was no one clearly identifiable enemy to defeat but several powerful, competing power centres and ways of life to cope with.

Apart from ensuring the final defeat of all alternate life-styles, the British introduced other changes that facilitated the creation of a settled agrarian society, a society that would be easier for them to control and manipulate to their purpose. Prominent among these were the spread of irrigation facilities and an increase in the cultivation of cash crops (especially cotton, indigo and sugar) for the market. Peasant society was thereby extended and consolidated and the stage set or the emergence of a more rigid and stratified system of castes.

Pastoral and tribal communities were incorporated into the agrarian society at the same time as the agriculturist castes themselves became more closed and endogamous, a process that has been well documented in the case of important caste groups like the Jats and the Rajputs. To increase their military might, many Rajput clans had, for example, maintained matrimonial relationships with lower caste armed groups like the Pasis of Awadh. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, they had all become endogamous.

It bears repetition that it was only in the 19th century with the “pacification” of large parts of the countryside that the Brahminical principles of social organisation could be said to have become operational on an all-India scale. Till then only ancient centres like Benaras could be truly regarded as Brahmin strongholds.
Legal system</b>

In their search for a uniform law code, the British turned to these centres of Brahmin learning and consequently, for the first time, a unified, supposedly Brahminical legal system began to be applied on an all-India scale. So another part of traditional India fell before the British onslaught. Laws in India had so far remained uncodified and the very process of codification destroyed the flexibility and the capacity to adapt to local customs and situations they had earlier displayed. The Manusmriti may have existed in the past but it had never been sought to be uniformly applied to society.

Certain other features of caste system, as it operated in the pre-British period, deserve to be commented upon,. Despite the commonly-held belief that hierarchy in Hindu society was clearly defined and operational, in actual practice only the position of the Brahmins at the top of the ritual scale and Harijans at the bottom was relatively stable. In between there was ambiguity about the status of several castes, an ambiguity that was acceptable to all concerned. This itself produced a large element of fluidity in the system.

The close association of caste with occupation notwithstanding, members of a caste group ever exercised exclusive monopoly over a profession. As leading sociologists have pointed out, in addition to their hereditary occupation, all castes traditionally also engaged in cultivation. There were certain other professions such as warfare which regularly drew adherents from different castes. In fact, the leadership of most armed bands was provided by non-Kshatriya peasant castes. Powerful castes with almost a monopoly over violence were as much part of the Indian scene as the ritual dominance of Brahmins in the settled areas of the country.

Many villages, in addition, did not have a hierarchy corresponding to the all-India system. There were, for instance, often only one or two families of certain artisan and service castes such as nais (barbers), telis (oil pressers), sonars (goldsmiths) and even banias (money lenders) residing within the village precincts. So there was little question of actually ranking these one or two families in the village hierarchy and then discriminating against them.

The usurious interest rates that the village baniyas are supposed to have charged also became possible only under British rule when for the first time land became a marketable commodity. Generally it was the peasant castes that were numerically preponderant and economically and politically powerful at the village level.
Economic ties

All castes living in a village or a cluster of neighbouring villages were bound together by economic and social ties. The Jajmani system tied the highest and lowest castes in a strong bond of mutual dependence. M. N. Srinivas has pointed out that in the pre-British period, land being more abundant than people, the paramount consideration of most Jajmans was “to acquire and retain their local followers”. This obliged them to be generous in matters of food, drinks and even loans when required. He adds that the tropical climate made it difficult to store foodstuffs for long and this combined with “ideas from the great tradition” further encouraged distribution of surplus.

Moreover, all rituals required the participation of several castes. This was also true of religious festivals where even Harijans had important duties to perform. Srinivas has recorded that Bhaksorin (Harijan) women helped Thakur families at the time of delivery, bhangis (sweepers) beat drums in front of Thakur homes. Brahmins cast the horoscope of new born Thakur children and the village barber spread the news and served food during the celebrations that followed. He further record a rural Mysore saying that 18 castes come together during a wedding.

Non-Brahmins and occasionally Harijans served as priests of temples devoted to certain goddesses like Sitala, Mari and Kali associated with smallpox, plague and cholera. All castes including Brahmins sent offerings to these temples. Thus non-Brahmins too fulfilled some of the religious needs of other castes.


Alongside close interaction and co-operation at the village level, castes also enjoyed a large measure of freedom in respect of their internal customs, rituals and life-styles. There was usually no outside interference in the internal affairs of a caste, all caste matters being the jurisdiction of the caste council. The village panchayat deliberated on questions concerning the larger village society.

A striking feature of the caste system in the pre-British period then, was its local character. There was no all-India horizontal organisation of castes. This being so, there was hardly any question of all-India tyranny of any caste group, especially so of the Brahmins who usually also lacked the political and armed strength to enforce their will.

British rule destroyed the local character of the caste system. It broke up the homogeneity of small groups over small areas and encouraged organisation of castes over vast stretches of land. This became a major cause of the caste tensions and rivalries India has witnessed in recent years.

Caste has become synonymous with the theory of pollution. The issue is complex enough to merit separate treatment. Here it is possible only to say that like in much else of the caste system, in this regard too we have been victims of the British propaganda machine.

Some idea of the issue involved can be had from Mary Douglas, a distinguished anthropologist. She has written, “I believe that ideas about separating, purifying, demarcating and punishing transgressions have as their main function to impose system on an inherently untidy experience. It is only by exaggerating the difference between within and without, above and below, male and female, with and against that a semblance of order is created.”

Based as the Mandal Commission report is on a totally distorted view of the past, it deserves to be rejected in toto. No amount of ‘improvement’ on its recommendations can correct its distorted perspective.

<i>(The author is a historian and professor at Delhi university.)</i>
<b>Logic behind perversion of caste</b>
Ram Sawrup

<i>(From the Indian Express, 13th September, 1996)</i>

Today casteism is rampant. It is a new phenomenon. Old India had castes but not casteism. In its present form, casteism is a construct of colonial period, a product of imperial policies and colonial scholarship. It was strengthened by the breast-beating of our own “reformers”. Today, it has acquired its own momentum and vested interests.

In the old days, the Hindu caste system was integrating principle. It provided economic security. One had a vocation as soon as one was born.- a dream for those threatened with chronic unemployment. The system combined security with freedom; it provided social space as well as closer identity; here the individual was not atomised and did not become rootless. There was also no dearth of social mobility; whole groups of people rose and fell in the social scale. Rigidity about the old Indian castes is a myth. Ziegenbbalg writing on the eve of the British advent saw that at least one-third of the people practised other than their traditional calling and that “official and political functions, such as those of teachers, councillors, governors, priests, poets and even kings were not considered the prerogative of any particular group, but are open to all”.

Nor did India ever have such a plethora of castes as became the order of the day under the British rule. Megasthenes gives us seven fold division of the Hindu society; Hsuan Tsang, the Chinese pilgrim (650 A. D.) mentions four castes. Alberuni too mentions four main castes and some more groups which did not strictly belong to the caste system.

Even the list of greatly maligned Manu contained no more than 40 mixed castes, all related by blood. Even the Chandals were Brahmins on their father’s side. But under the British, Risley gave us 2,378 main castes, and 43 races! There is no count of sub-castes.

Earlier, the 1891 census had already given us 1,156 sub-castes of chamars alone. To Risley, every caste was also ideally a race and had its own language.

Caste did not strike early European writers as something specifically Indian. They knew it in their own countries and saw it that way. J. S. Mill in his Political Economy said that occupational groups in Europe were “almost equivalent to an hereditary distinction of caste”.

To these observers, the word caste did not have the connotation it has today. Gita Dharampal Frick, an orientalist and linguist tells us that the early European writers on the subject used the older Greek word Meri which means a portion, share, contribution. Sebastian Franck (1534) used the German word Rott (rotte) meaning a “social group” or “cluster”. These words suggest that socially and economically speaking they found castes closer to each other than ordo or estates in Europe.

The early writers also saw no Brahmin domination though they found much respect for them. Those like Jurgen Andersen (1669) who described castes in Gujarat found that Vaishyas and not the Brahmins were the most important people there.

<b>They also saw no sanskritisation. One caste was not trying to be another; it was satisfied with being itself. Castes were not trying to imitate the Brahmins to improve social status; </b>they were proud of being what they were. There is a Tamil poem by Kamban in praise of the plough which says that “even being born a Brahmin does by far endow one with the same excellence as when one is born into a Vellala family”.

There was sanskritisation though but of a very different kind. People tried to become not Brahmins but Brahma-vadin. Different castes produced great saints revered by all. Ravi Das, a great saint, says that though of the family of chamars who still go around Benares removing dead cattle, yet even the most revered Brahmins now hold their offspring, namely himself, in great esteem.

With the advent of Islam the Hindu society came under great pressure; it faced the problem of survival. When the political power failed, castes took over; they became defence shields and provided resistance passive and active. But in the process, the system also acquired undesirable traits like untouchability. Alberuni who came along with Mahmud Ghaznavi mentions the four castes but no untouchability. He reports that “much, however, as these classes differ from each other, they live together in the same towns and villages, mixed together in the same houses and lodgings.”

Another acquired another trait; they became rigid and lost their mobility. H. A. Rose, Superintendent of Ethnography, Punjab (1901-1906), author of A Glossary of Punjab Tribes and Castes’ says that during the Muslim period, many Rajputs were degraded and they became scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Many of them still retain the Rajput gotra of parihara and parimara. Similarly, G. W. Briggs in his The Chamars tells us that many chamars still carry the names and gotra of Rajput clans like Banaudhiya, Ujjaini, Chandhariya, Sarwariya, Kanaujiya, Chauhan, Chadel, Saksena, Sakarwar, Bhardarauiya, and Bundela, etc. Dr.K. S. Lal cites many similar instances in his recent “Growth of Scheduled Tribes and Castes in Medieval India”.

The same is true of bhangis. William Crooke of Bengal Civil Service tells us that the “rise of the present Bhangi caste seems from the names applied to the castes and its subdivisions, to date from the early period of Mohammedan rule”. Old Hindu literature mentions no bhangis of present function. In traditional Hindu rural society, he was a corn-measurer, a village policeman, a custodian of village boundaries. But scavenging came along with the Muslim and British rule. Their numbers also multiplied. According to 1901 Census, the bhangis were most numerous in the Punjab and the United Provinces which were the heartland of Muslim domination.

Then came the British who treated all Hindus equally – all as an inferior race – and fuelled their internal differences. They attacked Hinduism but cultivated the caste principle, two sides of the same coin. Hinduism had to be attacked. It gave India the principles of unity and continuity; it was also India’s definition at its deepest. It held together castes as well as the country. Take away Hinduism and the country
was easily subdued.

Caste in old India was a cooperative and cultural principle.; but it is now being turned into a principle of social conflict. In the old dispensation, castes followed dharma and its restraints; they knew how far they could go. But now a caste is a law unto itself; it knows no self-restraint except the restraint put on it by another class engaged in similar self-aggrandisement. The new self-styled social justice intellectuals and parties do not want castes without dharma. This may be profitable to some in the short run but it is suicidal for all in the long run.

In the old days, castes had leaders who represented the culture of the land, who were natural leaders of their people and were organic to them. But now a different leadership is coming to the fore; rootless, demagogic and ambitious, which uses caste slogans for self-aggrandisement.
<b>Rediscovering India by Dharampal</b>

<i>Courtesy and Copyright Society for Integrated Development of Himalayas (SIDH)</i>

Dharampalji is an accomplished researcher, writer, thinker, sociologist, historian & philosopher. It is his ability to question what looks like obvious, to delve behind it and unravel intriguing and insightful details of Indian history, society & polity that makes Dharampalji very special. A Gandhian & long time associate of Mirabehn & Jayaprakash Narayan, the Dharampal flavor is manifest in each of the articles in this collection - rich in research, delectable insight, and revelations which are spicy & invigorating.

Excerpts from the book based on a review in:

Peasants, artisans, those engaged in the manufacture of iron and steel, or in the various processes of its flourishing indigenous textile industry, or its surgeons and medical men, even many of its astronomers and astrologers belonged to this predominant section i.e. Sudras is unquestionable.

When the British began to conquer India, the majority of the rajas in different parts of India had also been from amongst such castes which have been placed in the sudra varna.

Today's backward classes or Sudras cultural and economic backwardness is post 1800 due to impact of British economic policies.

Madras Presidency 1822 survey showed sudras and castes below formed 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the total students in the Tamil speaking areas.

In 1804 according to The Edinburgh Review wages of the Indian agricultural laborer were also much more than British counter part.

Simultaneous to the stigmatizing of caste as an evil, the requirements of conquest, and perhaps also a similarity in classification, attracted the British to the Manusmriti and gave scholarly and legal support to some of its provisions, including those relating to the varnas. A major result of it was to provide validity and traditional sanction to the virtual dispossession of an overwhelming proportion of the Indian people from property or occupancy rights in hand and taking away their rights in the management of innumerable cultural and religious institutions which they had hitherto managed. Further, it also led to the erosion of the flexibility of customs which existed amongst most of the castes, and made them feel degraded to the extent they deviated from brahamanical practice. The listing of the castes in a rigid hierarchical order was another result of this latter approach. The earlier relationship and balance amoung the castes was thus wholly disrupted.

About a century later, i.e., from about the end of the nineteenth century, various factors began to attempt a reversal of what had resulted from previous British policy. In time, this has led to what today are known as backward caste movements. The manner in which their objectives are presented however, seem to suggest as if the 'backward' status they are struggling against is some ancient phenomenon. In reality their cultural and economic backwardness (as distinct from their ritualistic status on specific occasions) is post - 1800, and what basically all such movements are attempting to achieve is to restore back the position, status, and rights they had prior to 1800.

Before arriving at a conscious policy regarding education in India the British carried our certain surveys of the surviving indigenous educational system. A detailed survey was carried out in 1822-25 in the Madras Presidency (i.e. the present Tamil Nadu, the major part of the present Andhra Pradesh, and some districts of the present Karnataka, Kerala and Orissa). The survey indicated that 11,575 schools and 1,094 colleges were still then in existence in the Presidency and that the number of students in them were 1,57,195 and 5,431 respectively. The more surprising information, which this survey provided, is with regard to the broader caste composition of the students in the schools.

According to it, those belonging to the sudras and castes below formed 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the total students in the Tamil speaking areas, 62 per cent in the Oriya areas, 54 per cent in the Malayalam speaking areas, and 35 per cent to 40 per cent in the Telugu speaking areas. The Governor of Madras further estimated that over 25 per cent of the boys of school age were attending these schools and that a substantial proportion, and more so the girls, were receiving education at home. According to data from the city of Madras 26,446 boys were receiving their education at home while the number of those attending schools was 5,532.

The number of those engaged in college-level studies at home was similarly remarkable in Malabar, 1,594 as compared to a mere 75 in a college run by the family of the then impoverished Samudrin Raja. Further, again in the district of Malabar the number of Muslim girls attending school was surprisingly large, 1,122 girls as compared to 3,196 Muslim boys. Incidentally, the number of Muslim girls attending school there 62 years later in 1884-85 was just 705. The population of Malabar had about doubled during this period.

If one looks deep enough, corresponding images of other aspects of Indian life and society emerge from similar British records of the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth century. Those indicate not only a complex structure of science and technology (according to tests carried out by the British, the best steel in the world during this period was produced by relatively portable steel furnaces in India, and inoculation against small-pox was a widely-extended Indian practice) but also the sophisticated organizational structure of Indian society.

According to Mr. Alexander Read, later the originator of the Madras land revenue system, the only thing which seemed to distinguish the nobility from their servants in Hyderabad around 1780 was that the clothes of the former were more clean.
Warriors are now Backwards</b>

Integrating the Notified Tribes - The fifth report of the Bihar Backward Classes Commission 1976 (commonly known by the name of its chairman as, the Mungerilal commission) deals with the denotified groups in Bihar.

While the commission has shown much concern about the problem faced by these groups the most important part of the report seems to be its introduction. According to it, these groups are largely of such people whose ancestors were warriors and gave unceasing battle to the British till they got exhausted and succumbed to the overwhelming British power. Besides being warriors, their main occupations are said to have been of ironsmithy (Iuhar), hunting, jugglery and acrobatics, snake charming and acting. After their total subjugation, on the one hand, they were compulsorily excluded from the rest of society and put under constant police vigilance, and on the other hand, to somehow satisfy their pressing needs (and perhaps also as a symbol of rebellion) took to thieving, begging etc. Furthermore they used to be put to forced labor under statute, and in the later stages some of them put under the charge of the (British) Salvation Army .

A few comments from the Punjab census of 1881 may be reproduced here.

1. The effect of Hinduism upon the character of the followers:

"(Hinduism) can hardly be said to have an effect upon the character of its followers, for it is itself the outcome and expression of that character-. In fact the effect of Hinduism upon the character of its followers is perhaps best described as being wholly negative. It trouble their souls with no problems of conduct or belief, it stirs them to no enthusiasm either political or religious, it seeks no proselytes, it preaches no persecution, it is content to live and let live. The characteristic of the Hindu is quiet, contented thrift. He tills his lands, he feeds his Brahman, he lets his womenfolk worship their gods, and accompanies them to they yearly festival at the local shrines, and his chief ambition, is to build a brick house, and to waste more money than his neighbor at his daughter's wedding."

2. On Village Mussalmans (of Eastern Punjab)

"In the eastern portion of the Punjab the faith of Islam, in anything like its original purity, was till quite lately to be found only among the Saiyads, Pathans, Arabs and other Mussalmans of foreign origin, who are for the most part settled in towns. The so-called Mussalmans of the villages were Mussalmans in little but name. They practiced circumcision, repeated the Kalimah, or mahomadan profession of faith, and worshipped the village deities. But after the Mutiny a great revival took place. Mahomadan priests traveled far and wide through the country preaching the true faith, and calling upon believers to abandon their idolatrous practices… But the villager of the East is still a very bad Mussalman… As Mr. Channing puts it, the Mussalman of the villages ‘observes the feasts of both religions and the fasts of neither."

3. Impact of Islamic Conquest on Caste

"Indeed it seems to me exceedingly probable that where the Mussalman invasion has not, as in the Western Punjab, been so wholesale or the country of the invaders so near as to change bodily by force of example the whole tribal custom of the inhabitants, the Mahomedan conquest of northern India has tightened and strengthened rather than relaxed the bonds of caste; and it has done this by depriving the Hindu population of their natural leaders the Rajputs, and throwing them wholly into the hands of the Brahmans.

The full discussion of this question would require a far wider knowledge of Indian comparative sociology than I possess. But I will briefly indicate some considerations which appear to me to point to the probable truth of my suggestion- We know that, at least, in the earlier and middle stages of Hinduism, the contest between the Brahman and the Rajput for social leadership, of the people was prolonged and- (see Muir's Sanskrit Texts, Vol.I ). The Mahomedan invaders found in the Rajput princes political enemies whom it was their business to subdue and to divest of authority; but the power of the Brahmins threatened no danger to their rule, and that they left unimpaired."

<b>On Industry and how the 'Backwards' of today came into being.</b>

The proportion of the Indian people engaged in industry as distinguished from agriculture, cattle and animal breeding, trade and commerce, cultural and religious pursuits, administration, and police and militia till about the end of the eighteenth century was probably in the range of 20 to 25 per cent. Of these a substantial proportion were occupied in the construction of houses, temples, forts and other public buildings, and in the construction of tanks and roads. The materials used in construction activity would have included stone, baked bricks, mud, various types of tiles, wood, some metal and a variety of mortars. Even a larger proportion seems to have been occupied in the various processes related to the manufacture of cloth-ginning, carding, spinning, weaving, dyeing, printing, finishing, etc. The number of weavers in India around 1800 could well have been in the range of 15-20 lakh families, and the households which would have spun the cotton, woolen or silken thread for the cloth which was woven could easily have been ten times the number of weaver families.

Besides these two, the major areas of industrial activity would have been in the mining and manufacture of metals, the conversion and shaping of metals into consumer articles, in the preparation of chemicals including the manufacture of salt as also of saltpeter; fishing in inland rivers, lakes, tanks, ponds, etc., as well as in the sea; in the collection of herbs including plants used in the making of dyes and of agents which fixed the colour as well as the manufacture of sugar, spirits, medicines, herbal delicacies, and essences, etc.; and a multiplicity of craftsmen who worked in wood, iron, silver, gold, diamonds, cropper, brass, bronze, glass, etc. besides there were the oil extractors, potters, leather workers and so on. Till the end of the eighteenth century, those engaged in industrial pursuits, especially those in the various fields of construction and those engaged in the manufacture and shaping of metals considered themselves in no way inferior to the Brahmins either in learning in ritual status, especially in south India. And even the Brahmins would concede them precedence on many occasions.

Yet it does seem that because of a alien political dominance, or because of some internal tension between those engaged in industry, on the one hand, and those engaged in agriculture, on the other, or because of a combination of these and several others factors, the status of those engaged in industry, and even in trade, commerce and banking, seems to have started to suffer by the early eighteenth century.

The 19th century sees the extensive uprooting, disruption and stagnation of all sphere of Indian industry and the large-scale conversion of those who had been historically and traditionally engaged in them, into mere laborers, and often into a destitute population.

In India the process of uprooting, disruption, etc. planned as it was by the British-run Indian State to suit the needs of England and of those of the West generally and of the newly transformed Western trade and commerce, got directed differently. Initially, the craftsmen, especially those engaged in the making of cloth, in the mining and manufacture of metals, and those engaged in construction, stone work, etc., were through fiscal and other devices reduced to a state of penury and homelessness and led into either a state of bondage or destruction. This turned most of the technological and industrial innovators, designers and craftsmen into mere laborers, and most of the remaining were reduced – because of lack of resources and lack of demand -to a state of industrial crudity and barbarism.

Mining and the manufacture of metals were either directly prohibited by administrative regulations or made economically impossible by the levy of high license fees, take-over of mining land as well as forests by the State as the property, and through the import of tariff supported British and European products into the country. The same began to happen from about 1815 in all sectors of the cloth industry from the stage of carding, spinning, dyeing, weaving, to printing and finishing. By about 1820 Indian industry was wholly on its knees and in the sort of state in which Mahatma Gandhi found it around 1915.

From about 1800 onwards the condition of those engaged in industry had become pitiful in the major industrial centers. This extended to other localities also were because of the rapid decline of Indian agriculture and of India's commerce and trade the industry suffered as well. The craftsmen and their families had enjoyed a citizenship status in the villages as well as the small towns. Most of them had rights to house-sites, back garden, and some manyam land and generally received a substantial proportion of the agricultural produce at the time of harvest. Similarly, many of them received incomes in various shapes from those engaged in commerce, banking and trade. As the localities began to deteriorate and crumble, because of British rack-renting, decline in the overall economy etc., most of the craftsmen became impoverished. Many were no longer needed for the functions they performed and through legalistic arguments even deprived of their manyams and house-sites. This continued during most of the nineteenth and early twentieth century and a large number of the craftsmen and others constituting the local infrastructure had to quit the localities.

<b>The Colours of Mind</b>
Subhash Kak

Each jati, as a microcosm of the larger society, has within it specialized professions that correspond to warrior, priest, trader, and worker.
Chinese also have their tendency to place money on the counter rather than handing directly to the recipient. this is interpreted negatively by westerners.

The British ‘caste system’ is more prevalent than the Indian
by Edward Hamala

In response to the letter by Roger Williams captioned “The Rig Veda does refer to caste” (07.07.23) I thought I might share a few points with your readers.

The Indian “caste system” that has so outraged Mr. Roger Williams, makes me wonder if he is equally outraged by the British “caste system” that is even more prevalent, although it is well hidden and “invisible” in the British and some European societies, where the nobility still exist, than it is in India today, where all noble titles have been abolished.

I would like to ask Mr. Williams when objecting to birthrights why has he failed to raise the same objection to the British Nobility and the Landed Gentry’s birthright, inheriting their title, social status while they are also guaranteed perpetual political power by inheriting a peer-ship and a seat in the British House of Lords, the highest legislative body of the land?

Few of us believe the existence of a truly egalitarian society in the west today or anywhere for that matter!When was the last time that Mr. Williams had a drink at the local pub with Lord Spencer? Or had tea with Prince Phillip?

Did you know that the English nobility are distinctly noticeable by their education and grooming in institutions such as Wetherby, Ludgrove, and Eton or the Royal Academy at Sandhurst? They even speak a different language, the King’s English, free from colloquialism and dialects distinctly separating them, and distinguishing them from ordinary commoners, as soon as they open their mouths. May I also remind you that the Indian Social Structure as it was depicted in the Vedas Millenniums ago, made it an edict to leave Tribals and Adivasis alone and not to impose Hindu religion, culture or values on them. The word “caste” my friend is an English word! The Sanskrit word for “caste” is “Varna” and it means vocation or occupation and does not mean “caste” as it does in the English interpretation or translation of the term! Likewise, “untouchable” meant not to go near them, don’t touch them, don’t intermarry with them and don’t corrupt their culture don’t try to conform them. Leave them alone!The unfortunate thing was that Mahatma Gandhi was also British educated, trained as a lawyer and had little or no knowledge about the ancient Vedic philosophy, history or culture. What little Gandhi knew about Vedic philosophy was mostly thought to him by Vinoba Bhave, an avid freedom fighter, a devoted supporter of the Mahatma who was a Hindu monk and a highly educated Brahman who among other things spoke 14 languages. It was Vinoba Bhave who connected Gandhi’s political views with Vedic values and philosophy that gained such a wide appeal and the support of the Indian masses. If Gandhi would have had a better grasp of Vedic Philosophy he would have been able to counter many of these British myths and instead of being an apologist he could have challenged and defeated the British, the most classist society, at their own game. Let me ask you, Mr. Williams, what modern country that you know of today still have primitive tribals living undisturbed, “uncivilized” and untouched by their society living around them? As they do in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India? Did you know that these islands are off limits to all Indian citizens, to protect these tribals?Is it done to discriminate against the tribals as “untouchables” or is it done to protect them? The State of Assam, was a similar tribal area until it got overran by zealous Christian Missionaries that have destroyed their social fibre and their culture.

Westerners can’t seem to resist the temptation of trying to impose their political and social values and religions on other cultures!

How many societies does Mr. Williams know, where a group of refugees arrived and sought refuge as the Jews did in Kerala, India in 70 AD and were given sanctuary and freedom to practice their religion. This community lived and prospered in India without anyone trying to convert them and many returned to their homeland when the State of Israel was created!
The same holds true for the Parsi refugees arriving from Persia when the forceful Muslim conversion was taking place there and they are still practicing their own ancient religion as Zoroastrians and no one tried to convert them.

Recently, a large number of Tibetians arrived in India along with the Dalai Lama and they were all received graciously and were given sanctuary.

I suggest Mr. Williams should ask the Australian aboriginals or the American Indians if they would prefer to be untouched by their foreign invaders or if they preferred to be forced to conform to an alien culture that was imposed on them, by forcefully removing their children to place them into Christian institutions where violence and sexual abuse was rampant.

It has destroyed their self esteem, traditions and culture. The Eastern Indian social structure was designed that different castes served each other, each with a distinct duty to perform for the benefit of the whole of society.

It was a farmer’s duty to teach his son to be a good farmer and the merchant’s to teach his son his craft, while the warrior was trained to be the protector and defender of all………..It is also noteworthy that governance was the duty of the Kshatryas not to rule by whims and despotism as it was the rulers privilege in the “civilized west” but to rule in accordance with the Vedic principles.

Yet the highest caste, above them all was not the Kings who were given the highest social position. It was the Brahmans who were the custodians of all the Vedic Sciences and knowledge and their duty was to teach and to preserve the knowledge of Vedas.

The teachers, the priests, the doctors, the scientists and philosophers the poets and the writers were all Brahmans whose duty also included giving moral guidance to the Kings! It is simplistic to believe that a farmer or a potter would be capable to teach their children nuclear science or medicine or the Vedas!

This educational system assured the proper training and apprenticeship of all with a life time of gainful employment for all the participants.

This, Mr. Williams, has established an interesting value system in India, alien to the west! The most valuable asset was not money or power as it is today in the western value system! It was knowledge and wisdom that took decades to learn and a life time to acquire! And it was the society’s duty to support the Brahmans to afford their study providing food, clothing and shelter to them.

I am sure Mr. Williams is familiar with the existence of the “unwashed” wretched underclass in Dickens’s Britain or Victor Hugo’s France as it did exist in most of Europe……… Well, such a thing did not exist in India and these facts are well documented by historians all the way back to Alexander the Great’s visit to India and was minutely recorded by Greek Historians such as Arrian, Diodorus, Plutarch and Strabo, accompanying Alexander. One thing these historians also commented on, was the absence of slavery that was an integral part of Hellenic culture!

Today, most Indians are alienated and mostly ignorant about their culture, the Vedas and their history, and few understand the Vedic philosophy or its teachings or the highly advanced science it encompasses. They know little else about Hinduism, besides the ritualistic traditions. This Vedic social structure was put in place at the time when in the rest of the world slavery was rampant and pivotal to every European Empire!

Don’t forget slavery was widely practiced in the United States until the Civil War to the 1860’s and desegregation only started in the 1960’s and the prejudices still exist until today.

So I think, Mr. Williams your indignation is somewhat ill placed and perhaps it would serve a better purpose if you dealt with more dire social issues that you may be more knowledgeable about, and better qualified to deal with. http://hinduamerica.com/index.php?option=c...id=206&Itemid=9

1) Invading the SACRED @ http://worldmonitor.wordpress.com/2007/08/...ing-the-sacred/
2) MOTIVATION of Indologists @ http://indiaview.wordpress.com/2007/12/26/...sh-13-arrested/
3) Delinking yoga from Hinduism @ http://www.christianaggression.org/item_di...CLES&id=1117822
Wow! I salute this Edward Hamala (see article above). One of the best rebuttals I have read. <!--emo&Smile--><img src='style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/smile.gif' border='0' style='vertical-align:middle' alt='smile.gif' /><!--endemo-->
That entre site seems to be a real gem. The author also suggests that Vinobha Bhave was the real power behing Gandhi, whom Gandhi with his Britisher education misinterpreted.

My personal theory is that British saw Namaste being used in India and thus was born "the system". There was also one macaulyite clown who tried to shake the hand of a Shankarachaya.
Interesting. BTW, the Xtians conveniently made the "namaste" their own (I mean the palms together sign). I cannot count how many cars I see with that folded hands sticker on them (the reference being to jeebus).
Orginal Namaste in the west was imported out of India along with sant (saint), rosary, etc, at time of christianity formation (Buddhism can be traced without resitance all across asia, but we get a blank as soon as we come to the west).

but what is interesting here is that western conservatives get agitated when they see the fashionable circles (madonna, etc) using it as a form of greeting (copied from faux interest in buddhism). westerners have an appropriation and denigration scheme which is inherently untenable and tends to break down occasionally... I came acoss this link recently..

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Deejay’s appeal: ‘Kill the whiteness inside’
In Brooklyn, a club following feels the irony

"That doesn't make it any less disturbing," Sekaran said. "Their attitude is, 'It's our privilege to do this because we're in our own little clique, in our own little world.' "<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->

There is no such phenomenon in India. communities are not turned into mascots in search of ___, or to prove some point, or to feel the vapid irony). to understand the west, you have to understand racial mascoting and its effect on cultural diversity. They simply do not have the tools to deal with cultural diversity, always it must be reduced to a statement, a declaration, just as muslims and christians periodically declare their religion, refuse to salute the flag, etc.

<b>What does caste system refer to?</b>

Assuming for this entire post, ‘caste’ is an English word for ‘Jati’, the first question is:

1. Are there Jati’s in India?

Yes, of course, there are. No one is denying this obvious fact.

2. Is there a system of Jati in India?

This question is ambiguous because it is unclear what ‘system’ means in this context. It could mean,

3. Is it possible to describe (or classify) all the jati’s in India as though all jati’s are related to each other?

Let us assume ‘relations’ to mean: hierarchical relationship, part-whole relationship, hetararchical relationship, relation of descent, kinship etc. In that case, once one has specified what kind of relationship one ‘wants’ between all the jati’s, then the answer can be given. My hypothesis is: No, it is not possible to describe all the jati’s in such a manner.

Or, the second question could mean:

4. Do all the Jati’s, together, form a ‘structure’ of sorts?

Again, the issue is what this structure is: mathematical structure, logical structure, or whatever else. I do not know, because no one has specified what kind of structure Jati’s (in their entirety) are supposed to exemplify.

5. Is Jati a social system or a social structure?

This question can only be answered when someone tells us what a social structure or social system is. There are many senses in which these terms are used: one speaks of democratic structures of a polity, social structure of a Feudal society, the Capitalist social system, kinship and family structures, the system of nuclear family, and so on. Given this plurality of uses, it becomes necessary to specify very clearly the sense in which the Jati’s are not only a system but also a social system.

In short, after the first question, the discussion about jati’s is mired in ambiguities, table-thumping, and flag waving. Perhaps, it is best if people begin by getting a handle on the second question before coming up with anecdotes.
<b>Has there been empirical research on the caste system?</b>

Today, all agree on the obvious all-embracing presence of the caste system--e.g. in acts of discrimination, in expressions of poverty, in the strives of power between different groups etc. Empirical research, therefore, is considered pointless.

Balagangadhara, however, in many of his writings (see The Heathen, Notes Towards the Study of the Caste System; …) contests this common sense view. In India, indeed, there are jati’s, traditions, commensality, etc. But, more insight into the structure of the Indian society is not given by clubbing all of these under the label ‘the caste system.’ Do we want to increase our understanding of Indian society, empirical research on the different kinds of groups in India, on the relationships between the groups, on the hierarchy between people, on certain practices and joint rituals etc. is very much wanted.

Under the impulse of Balagangadhara, this kind of research has been initiated a couple of years ago in Karnataka. Some of the preliminary findings of this research have been collected by the research groups at Kuvempu University (see under). In the course of the years to come, especially within the frame of the Vlir Own Initiative Project, more funds will be invested in this kind of empirical research and field work.

Preliminary Findings of the Kuvempu University Research Team on the issue of the Caste System


When Christian missionaries and travellers landed in the coastal cites of India and visited other cities and states inland each was able to see “the caste system” in India immediately. If it is that easily visible to them, it must also be visible to us, that is, to those who are alleged to live within the “caste system.” While it may not be so easily visible to us as it was to people looking at it from the outside, it does mean, however, that the “caste system” retains its visibility to us as well.

The proposed empirical research attempts an indirect answer to the following question: On the basis of which empirical, visible properties can one “see” (or conclude the existence of?) “the caste system”?

This question is extremely pertinent in India today. Almost all the discussions about the “caste system” refer to or narrate (a) horror stories about water wells; (b) physical beatings; © denial of entry into the temples; and (d) “untouchability.” (It is not clear what the latter is about though.) Interestingly enough, most early missionaries and travellers appear to have missed seeing these things. Nevertheless, they saw the “caste system.” This leads one to suspect that the travellers and missionaries saw “something else.” So, what did they see? Research on the European travel and missionary reports at the Research Centre Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap focuses on enumerating what they saw.

There is a second reason why this question is important. In discussions it is never clear whether (a) the above four aspects are the empirical properties of “the caste system”; or whether (b) they are the causal consequences of “the caste system.” If they are empirical properties, we need to ascertain whether they are the constitutive properties of the system or not. If they are constitutive properties, then the condemnation of “the caste system” based on these properties could be justified. If they are, by contrast, secondary (or not necessary) properties, then the discussion will have to take an entirely different route.

However, if they are the consequences of “the caste system,” then “the caste system” is something other than and different from these consequences, which are the themes of moral indignation. If they are the consequences, we need to know whether they are necessary consequences of “the caste system.” If it turns out that these are not the necessary consequences of “the caste system” or that other things generate these consequences severally, again, the discussion has to take a different route.

These analyses involve the present theoretical research into “the caste system,” and into its theories, pursued at the Research Centre Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap. The practical fieldwork provides data that will be invaluable in getting a handle on these questions. That is to say, some clarity will be achieved thanks to the field research.


What exactly is the focus of the field work? (a) It tries to examine the truth of one of the most fundamental assumptions about “the caste system.” (b) It tries to describe/narrate the empirical stories about “the caste system.” © It tries to see whether the conceptualisations that result from the empirical findings can be historically related to the so-called indigenous criticism of “the caste system.”


The wider the net, the more the number of villages we investigate, the more complex the picture is going to be: there will be a variety of names, a variety of stories, and a variety in the internal classifications of these castes as well as an absence of classifications (in terms of hierarchy) among the Brahmins.

These varieties will be the greatest among the so-called scheduled castes and those movements which have recruited primarily from the so-called scheduled castes.

One of the ways of reducing the diversity into a recognisable picture of “the caste system” is to make a series of assumptions. (That is to say, the empirical picture will not carry clear or uniform criteria for classification.)

From this it follows that “the caste system” is not a social structure but some ad hoc scheme of classification. If both “castes” and “sub-castes” turn out to be ad hoc categories of classification, what does it mean to ask the question, “How did the caste system come into being in India?” The Fieldwork

The ongoing field work focuses upon sets of villages in rural Karnataka. The fieldwork is conducted by local students from Kuvempu University. In addition, Kuvempu University organises a Certificate Course for elected members of the Gram Panchayats (the Rural Self Government Units) in Karnataka. In the nearby future, members of the Gram Panchayats will be actively involved in bringing the fieldwork to their respective villages.

Almost all the scholars who worked on caste system in India agree on one thing that the term caste is ambiguous. Realising such difficulties, some of the scholars of late have tried to fix the reference point of the term to the jati units. In our investigation wan e also fixed our reference point to the jati units. We interviewed the members of 21 Lingayat jatis, 13 Scheduled caste jatis, and 18 Brahmin jatis from selected areas of Karnataka state of India. Apart from this some 600 and odd village panchayat members were served questionnaires and information was collected.

I. Is the Caste System an Experiential Reality of the people of Karnataka?

(a) The myth of unified system of Caste and sub-caste units.

1. The caste system as delineated in the modern research is not an experiential reality of the respondents. The empirical reference points to the terms like ‘caste’, ‘caste system’, ‘caste hierarchy’, ‘caste restrictions’, ‘purity-impurity’, etc. as they are conceptualized by the scholars are either ambiguous or totally absent. The respondents simply do not understand our questions if we talk in terms of caste system or hierarchy. Therefore their answers are either arbitrary or learnt from the text books in the modern educational system on this issue.

2. The units called jati can not be equivalent of caste if we go by the definitions provided by the scholars on caste system. These jati units do not betray any such clear-cut characteristic features or constituent properties assigned to castes. In fact, people use many other terms like jana, paiki, pangada, olapangada, kula, nammavru, etc. in the place of jati which renders much more complexity to this category.

3. No systematic arrangement could be discerned in the way these jatis are related mutually as well as with other units like mata, pangada,(group) etc. Thus though there are different social units, they do not provide empirical reference to any kind of systematic arrangement that the caste system presupposes.

4. Scholars usually take the unit Lingayat, Brahmin, etc. as castes and the jatis within these units as the sub-castes. It was found during the field work that the members of different jatis belonging to these broader categories are largely ignorant about the broader categories excepting certain traditional practices associated with them.

(b) The caste hierarchy:

The caste hierarchy, according to the scholars, makes sense to its members within the framework of an ideology. Castes are supposed to have been organized within a hierarchy, and this hierarchy is modeled after the Varna divisions or concept of purity or impurity. How could one verify whether or not the caste hierarchy makes sense to its supposed members? At the very least, one should get a minimally consistent set of answers from those who are supposed to have a background ideology which functions as a rationale for the hierarchical ordering of the caste system.

1. The responses to the questions regarding the hierarchical arrangement of the jatis were inconsistent: a) Some of the respondents could not make sense of the question and confessed that they can not arrange the jatis in clear cut hierarchical order. b) For some others jatis, can not be understood as a hierarchical system we can only understand them as varieties. c) Majority of the respondents have a vague notion of hierarchy, but when asked failed to provide a hierarchical arrangement of the castes in their locality. d) There was no unanimity among the respondents, excepting about the lowest status of the untouchables. e) Ordering of jatis in a hierarchy by some is contested by the others, and the usual tendency is that each jati claims itself to be superior to the other. f) The claims about the higher birth are usually contested among the jatis belonging to a broader cluster like Brahmins, Lingayats and untouchables. g) Many of those who answer the questions also confess that each jati thinks itself superior, thus indicating that it is a subjective preference.

2. When we ask for the reasons for ranking a jati higher or lower, large number of respondents does not know the reasons. Some of them said that they are merely following traditions in treating other jatis as higher or lower to them. Yet others ventured to give reasons, but without any logic or consistency. The usual explanations revolve around food habits, cleanliness, profession, education, etc. The problem with this data is that people seem to provide some arbitrary answer to the inquiry about caste hierarchy. It is as though this question is unintelligible to them.

3. The basic question we have to address, then, is whether the sense of higher or lower births is related to a fixed hierarchical system or to something else. It requires further research to understand the implications of the local terms which are supposed to indicate the status of these jatis. The terms like melu(superior), kilu(inferior), Melina(upper), kelagina(lower), dodda(big), sanna(small), etc. do not seem to imply all the presuppositions made about the social status hierarchy.

© Purity and impurity as guiding principle of the hierarchy:
1. There is a problem of reference point in the local vocabulary. There are practices like shuddha, asuddha, madi, mailige, muttu chittu etc. .(all these terms are broadly taken to be indicators of purity-impurity, however these are neither exact translations, nor exact references of the words.) These practices are to be found among all the jatis in their internal transactions right from Brahmins to the Untouchables and they hold it to be a significant practice. Their connection with the hierarchy is not discernible and there seems to be no causal connection between the practices of exclusion, untouchability, etc. and madi, mailige, muttu, chittu etc. No one told that some caste is lower because it is less madi, or it is afflicted by muttu-chittu. Academic study of caste system has so far assumed certain items and practices cause impurity, like meat eating, corpse of cow, consuming liquor. Respondents also at times refer to these practices of the other castes to claim their superiority, for which the term they use is shuddha-ashuddha. Our field work suggests that such answers are provided by the respondents precisely because they feel compelled to answer our question. When pressed further they confess that they do not know and they are simply following the ancestral practice.

2. Our field work also brings out certain practices by the same people which negate their notion of shuddha-ashuddha, which shows that these people are not guided by any ideological notion of impurity with a fixed reference.

(d) Caste restrictions and the problem of constituent properties:

The same inconsistency is to be found in other data also. In the case of inter-caste marriage, commensality, or any other so-called characteristics of caste hierarchy or caste observances, people are ready to accept aberrations for a variety of reasons.

1. Quite interestingly, out of the 600 Panchayat members, majority of them did not endorse strict endogamy, commensality, untouchability. Nonetheless these respondents, did express their willingness to continue their jati tradition. This makes sense only when they think that these are not constituent properties of the jati traditions. Otherwise how can they disagree with the so called constituent properties of the jati and yet are willing to continue with their affiliation to their jati.This either indicates that none of the so-called characteristic features of the caste system are valid for these jatis or that the jati structure can include or exclude anything and still survive.

2. Those who consider the jatis as the referential points of the term caste, hold endogamy to be the most fundamental to the caste difference. However the Swamis of some of these jatis advocate for inter jati marriages for various reasons, like for survival of the jati against shortage of brides, or to unite different jatis belonging to the same cluster like Lingayat, Brahmana.. Though they have their own preferences of jatis to be accepted for inter marriage, this at least indicates that endogamy is not a constituent property of the jati units The Havyak Brahmins preferred inter-jati marriage as a means of saving their jati from the crisis of brides. In the case of Lingayat swamis, inter-jati marriage is viewed as a way to unite the Lingayats.

3. It appears, even birth is also not compulsory for a jati membership. This is evident from the presence of rituals to allow membership to others, especially in the case of inter caste marriages.

4. People accept that the food habits, dress and other social practices are influenced by climate and regions, so the practices may vary. What is prohibited in one place and context may be allowed in other places and contexts. There is no universally applicable dress code and food habit for many jatis.

5. Recently a lot of educated and employed people from the Brahmin and Lingayat jatis are consuming meat and liquor, which is not accepted by the elderly members of the families. They say that the time itself has changed; therefore they can’t but accept it, unwillingly though.

6. At present no jati is excommunicating her members for this violation of jati practices.

In the past also excepting a few of the Brahmin jatis, no other jatis appear to have such practices. We came across only two such excommunicated jatis among Brahmins, which are again being absorbed into the main jati.

II. The question of textual sources or ideological guidelines for jati practices:

Generally, the explanation almost all of the respondents provided for the practices related to jati was that they were following ancestral practices. Any explanation in terms of the varna system came from respondents who were educated in modern schools and who were informed about Indian society through textbooks.

1. To the question as to what dharma is, we get as many varieties of answers as there are respondents. No one referred to Dharmasastra texts or varnadharma, including the purohits and Sanskrit scholars. Broadly speaking, the answers refer to ‘good actions’, ‘helping others’, ‘generosity’, ‘respecting one’s elders’, ‘hospitality’, ‘doing puja’, ‘avoiding bad things’, etc. It is striking that the respondents never associate any texts or deities with dharma. It is exclusively conceived as human action, without reference to the deities. Though the modern scholars use this term to translate religion, the respondents are absolutely unaware of the English connotation of this term..

2. There is no connection between Varna concept and these jatis. Including the Brahmana jatis, people do not cite any authoritative Brahmanical texts as guide to their actions. Brahmana jatis do not even cite purushasukta as their origin story, instead they have different other accounts. Even those who have the knowledge of Dharmasastras do not think that their dail practices related to their jati are guided by them, tradition they say, is what guides their action.

3. Brahmins jatis consult the Dharmasastras in certain cases, when they face a problem in relation to a particular ritual practice. This again is done only to find out alternate ways of action. The interpretations of the sastras are made in such a way that they can go ahead with the intended act when the intended act apparently goes against the established tradition. Through a clever interpretation they can legitimise any deviation from the established practice. There are instances where a jati itself creates a text and interpolates it in some Puranas and cites it for its claim to be Brahmin jati or sanction of certain practice.
4. The non-brahmin jatis have their own origin stories which have nothing to do with the varnas, There are several stories about the origin of the lower jatis,. What is the function of these stories? Are they indicative of multiple ideologies, or of multiple notions of hierarchy? To conclude, we would like to state some basic problems: (1) the first is that not all of the non-brahmin jatis possess such stories. (2) Where such accounts are provided, they often do not make sense and cannot serve any purpose for guiding the actions of jati members. (3) People tell different stories to account for the origin of the same jati. Or the same person repeats different versions himself. Such instances are rules rather than exceptions in so far as the origin stories are concerned. (4) The majority of the members of a jati are not aware of such stories. (5) These stories, even when looked as texts, make no sense as ideologies of hierarchy because they do not claim a superior status for the jati. Thus, these stories are not truth claims.


Many anthropologists and sociologists also have come up with similar data after their field works, but they still see ‘caste system’ constituting the social structure. Our study shows that a singular system, guided by an ideological structure does not exist. Nor does the “Caste System”. The field work also reveals that jati is not the same as caste. The so called constituent properties of are equally ambiguous.

Note: The report is only ad hoc. The field work is not over yet. The purpose of posting it on the website is to invite remarks/suggestions from others.

Further readings:

-The Heathen in His Blindness
-Notes Towards the Study of the Caste System
<b>Don’t we see manifestations of the caste system in everyday life?</b>

Q: Most people understand the caste system to have something to do with marrying within a group. They also associate it with having similar food habits and there is a certain bond within the community. So when you claim that there is no caste system it begins to sound very theoretical because many people actually live along these lines, i.e., marry within a community, eat similar food and share a bond of sorts with members of the community. Or are you simply saying that the western descriptions of caste are not a true description?
(a) Short Answer

By suggesting that the caste system does not exist, one is not saying that those facts (beliefs, practices, texts, etc.) that went into the construction of the “caste system” do not exist. What one is denying is that these (taken together) constitute a phenomenon called ‘caste system’. In other words, we suggest that the West not merely described the Indian ‘caste system’ wrongly, but that, because of their specific cultural experience, the Western descriptions tied together a series of facts and made it into one distinct and unified phenomenon.

If the caste system had been described wrongly, our task would merely be to give a better description of that caste system, the facts that constitute the caste system and of how they are related to each other. However, all attempts to give a better description of the caste system have failed to answer some of the most fundamental questions, on the one hand and empirical questions on the other hand (such as: Why do Indians not know the caste laws? How can the caste system exist if no central authority exists to ensure its survival? How come no-one can empirically show the existence of a clear caste hierarchy? Etc.). Therefore, we need to develop an alternative way of understanding Indian culture and society that does not presuppose the existence of the caste system. A first important question that we need to answer then is what theoretical framework has structured this Western cultural experience.

(b) Longer answer

Does denying the existence of the caste system also deny the existence of the facts that this unity (caste) explains? Does it deny the existence of marriage customs, of food customs, of distinct groups in society or even of poverty that is handed down from generation to generation? It does not. What is being denied is that there is an organic relationship between these phenomena, explained in terms of ‘caste’. Let me try to explain this by means of an analogy:

Take the theory of gravitation: Apart from describing the fall of bodies on earth, it also tied the motion of planets and the ebb and tide in the sea to each other. This theory allowed us to predict the motion of the planets and helped us to discover a new planet in the solar system. In other words, it provided a theory that unified phenomena. Until that stage, we did not know that these three phenomena were linked together, and we had independent explanations for each of them. This is one of the things that a theory does: it identifies the phenomena that are related to each other and shows the pattern between these phenomena.

The same happened to ‘the caste system’: It brought together such a wide variety of phenomena as the manner in which people bathe, get up, walk, sit, sleep; their occupation; their marriage customs; their food habits; customs related to travelling; poverty that is handed down from generation to generation; some groups that do not take water from another group’s well; some texts that were translated in the 19th century; the answers to some census questionnaires that were distributed; some groups of people who perform some rituals for other groups, etc. However, contrary to the theory of gravitation, no scientific theory exists that explains how these different phenomena are related to each other; which one is the cause and which one the effect of the caste system; etc. ‘The caste system’ looks like an ad hoc explanation for all the evils in India. Yet, the question then becomes: What provided this explanation in terms of ‘caste system’ with such plausibility that it could become almost self-evident? (see

Let us provide an imaginary example and draw another analogy. Imagine a group of aliens coming to earth and noticing the following phenomena: grass is green, milk turns sour, birds fly, and some flowers put out a fragrant smell. He is convinced that these are organically related to each other and sees ‘hipkapi’ in them. The presence of ‘hipkapi’ not only explains the above phenomena but also how they are related to each other. To those who doubt the existence of ‘hipkapi,’ he draws their attention to its visible manifestations: the tigers eating the gazelle, dogs chasing the cats, and the massive size of the elephants. Each of these is a fact, as everyone can see it. But, of course, neither severally nor individually do they tell us anything about ‘hipkapi’. When more like him come to earth and reiterate the presence of ‘hipkapi,’ other conditions permitting, ‘hipkapi’ not only becomes a synonym for these (which?) phenomena but also turns out to be their explanation. Thereafter, to ask what ‘hipkapi’ is, or even how it explains, is an expression of one's idiocy: does not everyone see ‘hipkapi,’ this self-explanatory thing?

This is also what the Europeans did. The Laws of Manu, certain marriage customs and food habits, certain rituals of bathing, getting up, dress, poverty and starvation, Brahmins, etc. were singled out as instances of ‘the caste system’. The Brahmins and the Indian religion were thought to form the cause of the caste system; poverty, marriage customs, etc. became its results. The Europeans had a theory in place that ‘naturally’ related, priests to duplicity and deprivation of the masses, a people to a religion and its degradation, a corrupt religion to bondage to the rituals, etc. This lent a structure to how they experienced Indian culture and society. Very soon the caste system became an ‘experiential entity’.

Even today, almost every traveller and even many Indians who see specific marriage customs, food habits, who encounters a Brahmin or reads one of the many translations of the ‘Laws of Manu,’ sees in them a manifestation of the caste system. He or she will argue, just as the aliens would about their ‘hipkapi’, that one must be blind or a fool (or an oppressor, or an elitist, etc.) not to see the caste system, since “can you not see the poverty that has been handed down from generation from generation?” “Do you not see that fathers marry their daughters off into this or that group only? Etc.

Now comes the really interesting issue. Could we provide a different description of the Indian culture? Would such a description tell us what exists in India, and which of the above are related to
each other and explain how they are related to each other? To be able to formulate such an alternative description the absolute presupposition is to leave behind the current framework completely. Not only do I believe that a different description is possible but also that it will be cognitively superior to the majority view of today.
<b>Does the caste system exist or is it an experiential entity from the West?</b>

(a) What are the empirical problems with regard to the caste theories?

How can we understand the numerous empirical problems that persist in the theory of caste? For example, Indians do not know the principles that guide the reproduction of their society, they do not know the so-called religious texts that are supposed to guide their behaviour, there is no body of priests who have the power to determine the law of the country, let alone the people's behaviour, etc. Even when it comes to issues like endogamy and commensality, the notion of ‘the caste system’ fails to account for the empirical findings of the Karnataka fieldwork project at Kuvempu University. It turns out there is neither consistency nor a clear system in such practices among the different jatis. Naturally, jatis and various practices related to these jatis do exist. But it is unclear how (and unlikely that) these can in any way be related to the social structure of the Indian society.

Once one goes into the empirical realities across India, the denial of the existence of the caste system really is not that tall a claim to make. Take, for instance, all the stories about 'Brahminism', 'Brahminical hegemony', 'the Brahmins' and such like. In Karnataka, it is absolutely unclear which objects or groups these terms refer to. There exists a variety of jatis who also call themselves Brahmins: Haviyaks, Gauda Saraswatis, Sanketis, etc. Apart from a few common ritual practices and adhyatmic traditions, these groups are very different from each other. They do not possess some shared ideology, which could be hegemonic. Their relations to other jatis are not the same or even similar. Generally, the members of various jatis in Karnataka are not aware that there is supposed to be a caste system and that this supposedly governs their lives. Only a relatively small group of Indians, who have been educated in
a particular way, know about or believe in such claims. Therefore, the question does really become 'how could this group mistake the stories about the caste system for a description of the Indian society?' How can they be so blind to the flawed nature of these stories and their lack of correspondence to the social realities in India?

(b) The ‘caste system’ as an experiential entity of the West?

This is a question that needs more elaborate research. Yet, let us take a look at some of the constitutive elements of caste theories and how they could be related to a specifically Western cultural experience:

(1) The descriptions of India in terms of the caste system presuppose (i) the presence of a set of principles; (ii) the presence of (a set of) texts that contain these principles; (iii) the presence of a body of people (an authority) that preserve these principles and look after the reproduction of the social structure according to these principles.

(2) In general, the descriptions of the caste system are clear on what these are in the Indian society: (i) the set of principles are ‘the caste principles’, which determine everything in the lives of the Indians, from eating, drinking and marriage, to one’s occupation, one’s sitting and standing, one's travelling, etc. (ii) the texts that contain these principles are the ‘religious texts of the Hindus,’ and especially the ‘Law of Manu’ (some trace the earliest origins of the caste system to ‘the earliest Vedas’, others to the ‘later, more ritualistic Vedas or to the Brahmanas’). (iii) The body of people, identified as monitoring and as having invented/created all this, are the ‘Brahman priests’.

The research that is being done at the Research Centre Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap shows that from the early travel accounts of the 15th – 16th century onwards, the Europeans used a limited conceptual framework (the concepts and the relations between them) to understand Indian culture and society. This conceptual framework gradually crystallised into the theories and descriptions of India and thus determined the theories about the caste system: The duplicity of the priests who tried to oppress the masses; the finding of the original religion in the Vedic texts; the degeneration of this Vedic religion into Brahmanism; etc. This conceptual framework shows very significant similarities with the Christian theological framework: its ideas about the nature of human beings, how principles (beliefs, norms) guide human behaviour, about the universality of religion and the role of religion in the world, etc. Moreover, a large part of this framework also seems to be thoroughly determined by the Protestant criticisms of Catholicism and the Catholic Church, especially about a greedy priesthood, who try to function as intermediaries between man and his God and who force their false upon the people, thus preventing them from being able to practice the true religion; etc.

Thus the consensus in the first fully-fledged theories about the development of the caste system took the following form: In a distant past, the Aryan Brahmins formed one group, who immigrated into India and brought with them their Vedic religion. Confronted with the indigenous peoples and their religions, they tried to preserve their religion and group identity by imposing a caste system upon the whole of society and placing themselves at the top. Over time, their religion became contaminated with indigenous influences and their group lost coherence. Yet, the caste system was kept in place to preserve the unity and powerful position of their group. This account still determines our understanding of Indian society today: ‘the Brahminical domination,’ the true Vedic religion, the ritualised popular religion versus the pure textual religion, etc.

Further research needs to try and understand the descriptions of the caste system as a specific cultural experience, namely that of the West. Therefore it needs to show the relation between the Christian theological framework and the theories about the caste system and how Christian theological beliefs about the world became part of our common sense and scholarly understanding of the Indian culture.
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Caste with etiquette
Sandhya Jain (Pioneer)

Caste is once again the main menu on the professional middle class table, with the Supreme Court clearing 27 per cent quota for OBCs in education. There is heartburning over whether educational backwardness ends at the graduate or post-graduate level. This time, however, caste identities and animosities are definitely muted, with the rise of a tacit consensus to affirm the legitimacy of merit without casting stones at reservationists. This is a positive development.

In this backdrop, Mr Buta Singh's decision to take up the issue of Mr Mahendra Singh Tikait's casteist slur against Ms Mayawati triggers emotional ambivalence. As chairman, National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Mr Singh is duty-bound to uphold his constitutional mandate; he made dogged efforts to secure a copy of the FIR filed by a police inspector who allegedly witnessed the event. Ironically, this has displeased the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, who had decided to heed the advice of BJP president Rajnath Singh and Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh to defuse a possible caste confrontation in the State.

Certainly Mr Tikait should have conducted himself with decorum, and not used language tolerated only in an era in which Scheduled Castes were denied the right to cast their votes. Mr TN Seshan's spectacular leadership of the Election Commission ended this menace, and after two short coalitions, Ms Mayawati is Chief Minister in her own right. As one who has risen from the bottom to break the proverbial glass ceiling, the BSP leader has no patience with the humility and gentility that characterised far more intelligent and capable SC leaders like Babu Jagjivan Ram. She is a warrior-politician, and one who may have acquainted herself with the Arthasastra during her stint in the wilderness.

Hence, when Mr Tikait's loose tongue raised hackles in Ms Mayawati's core constituency, she responded with a studied show of force married to unusual restraint. A 7,000-strong armed police force, including commandos, arrived at Sisauli village, but held the peace for three days to allow the Jat leader to surrender in court, where he promptly secured bail. Ms Mayawati ensured no untoward incident occurred in this period, and made a subdued statement that had the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act been implemented properly all these years, no one would have dared to use undignified language against a person holding the office of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister. This astonishing maturity is in sharp contrast to her last tenure as Chief Minister, when all Jat Superintendents of Police in western Uttar Pradesh were removed after one Jat SP allegedly misbehaved with her father!

The show of force chastened Mr Tikait, who apologised for his 'slip of the tongue' and said the BSP leader was "like a daughter" to him. This is the Hindu way of resolving conflict -- to accept someone as a member of one's family, fully deserving of the love and affection mistakenly denied so far. This sense of speeding reconciliation among groups, rather than promoting strife, prompted Mr Rajnath Singh to risk springing to the Kisan leader's defence by urging a policy of forgive and forget. Ms Mayawati conceded this to avoid eroding her new 'sarvajan' constituency, and fobbed off the NCSC request for a copy of the FIR. So when the NCSC succeeded in getting a politically ignorant SP to fax a copy of the FIR, the latter was promptly removed the same day and replaced by an officer from the Jat community!

Such deft manoeuvres will take Ms Mayawati far. Mr Tikait, however, must learn moderation. I was at the Shamli power station in the mid-1980s when Mr Tikait first burst into the limelight demanding power and irrigation for farmers; he then called Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi "dilli mein driver" (an allusion to his previous profession as an airline pilot). Possibly the Kerala MP recently in the news was unconsciously inspired by this when he called an airline pilot a "glorified driver". In Hindu tradition, Ved Vyas recruited Ganesh as stenographer to transcribe the Vedas; as a nation we must overcome the tendency to use legitimate professions as terms of abuse.

Mr Tikait later called Ms Mayawati "Chengis Khan" and blasted the Government's indifference to farmers' interests. This was probably no more than "saving face", and hence rightly ignored, while articulating the legitimate concerns of farmers. The BJP intervention also serves the farmer constituency it embraced in a very timely manner with the Vidarbha padyatra. Farmers span myriad lower, middle and upper castes, and offer a constituency to counter Ms Mayawati when disillusionment with her rule sets in. With Congress in disarray and the Samajwadi Party leaning towards it, the BJP needed a distinct identity; Mr Tikait's iconic status as a farmer leader can help.

But the BJP must understand that, unlike secular parties, it cannot disown <b>the institutions of jati, kula and varna, which are the millennia-old ordering and organising principles of Hindu society. These were lumped together as 'caste' by colonial officials who gave caste a bad name when they realised it was the bulwark against evangelical success. For Hindus, however, kula and jati are intimately linked to familial and social identity in a hoary past, and are intrinsic to self-respect. </b>The Purush Sukta (Rig Ved) accords simultaneous divine origin to all varnas; it does not even remotely allude to untouchability or lowliness in any being. <b>When jati and kula were fitted into the varnas as an organising principle of society, the varnas alluded to a hierarchy of values. This ensured that intellectual-religious, military-political, commercial, and other wealth-generating orders were not monopolised by any family or social group, a far more egalitarian and just system than that prevailing in Western countries. </b>

While jati, kula and varna are linked to Hindu dharma, untouchability is a social invention to punish transgressors. It has no dharmic sanction, particularly as practiced from the medieval era onwards, when non-Hindu groups entered the land and came into conflict with an otherwise homogeneous society. Today, it is high time we ended social disabilities associated with jati and varna. Interestingly, Ms Mayawati blames Mahatma Gandhi for fostering social divisions by coining the term "Harijan", thus freezing Scheduled Castes in a distinct and inferior ranking. Mr Buta Singh rightly directed the States to stop using the term 'Harijan' as only the term 'Scheduled Caste' has constitutional validity.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
Was caste a decisive factor in India’s defeat?
By M.S.N. Menon

No, I do not think so, Why? Because the caste system was not so oppressive as is being made out. Let us see what A.L. Basham has to say on the matter.

He says: “In no other part of the world were the relations of man and man and of a man and the state as fair and humane” as in India. (The wonder that was India). He was perhaps comparing the lot of the Scheduled Castes in India with the lot of the slaves in Greece and Rome.

It is, therefore, wrong to say that the caste system was responsible for the defeat of the Hindus at the hands of the Muslim invaders. There is no evidence that the Scheduled Castes were ready to join hands with the invaders against their so-called “tormentors”.

It is also wrong to say that Vaishyas and Shudras did not take part in battles. They did. Vastupala, the great warrior under the Chalukya king Lavanaprasada, declares with great pride: “It is a delusion to think that the Kshatriyas alone can fight and not vaniks (merchants). Did not Ambada, a vanik kill Mallikarjuna, the warrior, in battle? I, a vanik, am as well known in the shops as in the battlefield.” (Art of War in Ancient India by Prof. P.C. Chakravarty)

The Kashmiri and Hoyasala (Mysore) kings recruited Shudras for their armies. Shudras could attain imperial positions under the Rajput rulers. The ruler of Sind during the visit of Juan Chwang, the Chinese pilgrim, was a Shudra. The Nandas were Shudras.

And in order to protect Hinduism and the Hindu society, Shankara created ten Saiva acetic orders, made up largely of Shudra recruits. He also freed these para-military forces from the caste system.

What can we infer from all these? We can infer that the Vaishyas and Shudras had not accepted the caste system, that they were as good fighters as the Kshatriyas, that the kings had no objection to the recruitment of Shudras as soldiers, that Shankara did not believe in the caste system, that the orders he created had no caste.

Not only these. The lower orders of Hindu society could hold high positions in the state. Thus, Kumarapala, the Chalukya king, appointed Sajjana as governor of Chittor, He was a potter. It is such recognition of their worth that kept the Shudras within the Hindu fold. Jawaharlal Nehru said that the caste system was flexible before the Muslim advent, which is why it was bearable.

There is an impression that the caste system was deeply entrenched all over India. Not true. It was prevalent only in some parts of the country. Thus, it had no deep roots in the South, in Sind, Magadha and Anga. In Kerala, the entire army was made up of the so-called Shudras. The Himalayan territory was mlecha region.

The ultimate damage of the caste system, says Nehru, was what it did to the self -respect of the lower orders of Hindu society. It degraded a mass of human beings and gave them no opportunity to get out of their predicament. This feeling of degradation might have warped their outlook and their willingness to fight for their country. But we can only speculate on these matters.

It is time to ask the question: did caste cause our defeat? I believe caste was only a marginal factor. It was not for want of brave men that the Hindus got defeated. It was not even because the Muslims were superior. It was because, for the first time, the Hindus, a highly civilised people were facing a barbarous enemy who had no rules of war and were prepared to take to unheard of brutalities.

Thus, we have Haajaj, the governor of Iraq, exhorting bin Qasim to follow the injunction of Allah in the Quran (47.4) that is to strike off the head of any infidel. No wonder, when Debal, capital of Sind, fell to bin Qasim, he ordered the massacre of the entire population. The killing went on for three full days. And the loot went on for even longer.

Serge Trifkovic writes (The Sword of the Prophet): “The massacres perpetrated by Muslims in India are without parallel in history.” This is confirmed by Ziyauddin Burani, a contemporary of Khusrau. He says that “wars against Hindus were not ordinary wars. They were massacres of extermination.” There are many such instances.

Amir Khusrau writes: Had not the Shariah granted exemption from death by payment of the poll tax (Jaziya), “the very name of Hind, root and brach, would have been extinguished.”

And Al-Biruni himself writes that the invasions of Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country. “The Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions.” The invaders singled out the Rajputs and their families for massacre. This must have demoralised the Rajputs.

Remember, dear Reader, during the Second World War, the Japanese, surrendered to the Allies, although they were far more superior to the American men. Why did they do it? Because the ruthless Americans were ready to exterminate the Japanese.

The Hindus were in a similar plight. They were face to face with an enemy who observed no rules of war, who were determined to exterminate the Hindus. Resistance would have brought extermination.

I think it was this dilemma which forced the collapse of the Hindu resistance. Not because of caste factors. (But I am not making any “final statement”)
In search of new idioms

<i>We need to develop indigenous frameworks to study the various religions of India, says Prof. S.N. Balagangadhara, who will be heading the first international conference on the religions of India in January 2008.</i>

<i>Finally, what are your thoughts on the caste system in India, and its links with Hinduism? </i>

I don’t really know if there ever was a “caste system”, or a caste hierarchy in India. There are castes or jatis, but was there ever a system? We have no evidence of a clear-cut demarcation of jobs. Though the Brahmins are said to have been the only ones with access to learning, less than 10 per cent of them constituted the literate class when the British came.

And then again, what hierarchy can you talk about with regard to castes today? The so-called caste system therefore is something that the Westerner developed in order to explain the so-called “degeneration” in Indian culture.
(See Dhu's post above.)

No one said it yet. So I will.
Post 125:
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->May I also remind you that the Indian Social Structure as it was depicted in the Vedas Millenniums ago, made it an edict to leave Tribals and Adivasis alone and not to impose Hindu religion, culture or values on them. The word “caste” my friend is an English word! The Sanskrit word for “caste” is “Varna” and it means vocation or occupation and does not mean “caste” as it does in the English interpretation or translation of the term!
Let me ask you, Mr. Williams, what modern country that you know of today still have primitive tribals living undisturbed, “uncivilized” and untouched by their society living around them? As they do in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India? Did you know that these islands are off limits to all Indian citizens, to protect these tribals?Is it done to discriminate against the tribals as “untouchables” or is it done to protect them? The State of Assam, was a similar tribal area until it got overran by zealous Christian Missionaries that have destroyed their social fibre and their culture.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->I appreciate other parts of the response made by Edward Hamala, but I don't think this bit was right.

Hindu religion is the religion of 'tribals'. The Gods of the "tribals" tend to be 'our' Gods (I hate differentiating between Hindu people as if there are two groups; there are perhaps thousands, there is certainly only one). Many of 'them' were 'our' Rishis and writers. From Valmiki to Vyasa, from the Rama bhaktas living in remote regions of India who come in the Ramayanam, to the woman of a fisherman community who was ancestor to the dynasty of Pandavas and Kauravas. The so-called tribals regularly came into centre stage of Hindu history, and to think that they were not Hindus beggars belief. I can't even begin to understand this wholly alien idea.

Since I'm Hindoo, my opinion may not count. Therefore I'm pulling in stuff from Elst's page on Are Hindu Tribals Hindus. Do these people seem like they have a different tradition:
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Pre-Harappan cave dwellings contain cultic elements which are still found in Hinduism today, e.g. in a Palaeolithic site in the Siddhi district of Madhya Pradesh (10,000 to 8,000 BC), a Mother Goddess shrine was found which contains the same symbols which Shaktic cults use till today,-squares, circles, swastikas and esp. triangles which are part of the iconography of Durga even in urban Hinduism.25 <b>A Flemish expert on tribal culture told me of a similar finding in the Bastar area; when the painted triangular stone was dug up, the tribal (Gond) guide at once started to do puja before it.</b>26 But the point is that the very same cultic object would fit in a Hindu temple in Varanasi just as well: living Hinduism continues many practices from hoary tribal antiquity.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->The sacred triangle is the - how can I not recall what its proper name is :blink - Sri Yantram I think. In any case, it is very very very Sacred. Its shape is also used in building the inner sanctified chamber of the Devi in Kovils - all over Bharatam I think (and also has to do with the Chakras in Yoga).
Hence the Gonds know their Mother when they see her auspicious sacred form manifest. Hindus have made an art of presenting it in drawings and sculptures. If you look in Hindu homes (leastways, in my state, and I think it's fair to say the same about elsewhere in India) you will see these 'Triangles' (sometimes lotus-shaped) in pictures and in Puja Room mandapams, just like it is always there in Kovils. And us oddball tribalistic animystical Hindooooos always touch it to our eyes and do Namaskarams to it. (The "triangles" is in fact the central item of puja for Devi, just as the ShivaLingam is for Shiva and items like Vishnu Padam and the Five items of preservation are for Mahavishnu.) How can anyone tell the difference between this 'Gond' tradition and 'our' tradition? I can't.

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->After citing some similar cases, Jain proposes to ?clinch the issue? with a very telling example: ?The Lingaraja temple in Bhubaneswar, built in the eleventh century, has two classes of priests: Brahmins and a class called Badus who are ranked as Sudras and are said to be of tribal origin. Not only are Badus priests of this important temple; they also remain in the most intimate contact with the deity whose personal attendants they are. Only they are allowed to bathe the Lingaraja and adorn him and at festival time (?) only Badus may carry this movable image (?) the deity was originally under a mango tree (?) The Badus are described by the legend as tribals (sabaras) who originally inhabited the place and worshipped the linga under the tree.?103
Linga worship is, of course, a hoary tradition carried from very ancient cultures into the centre of Hinduism. It is slightly absurd to accuse the linga-worshipping Hindus of demolishing the shrines of linga-worshipping tribals to replace them with temples for linga worship.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->Oh, so now Lingam worship is "their" tradition? Who is "they" anyway? It is certainly 'our' tradition. It is certainly 'their' tradition. Or: as we so clearly worship the same Gods, we are simply all Hindus. Yes, mathematical reduction solves all such problems easily I find, and the annoying, artificially-introduced, 'mystery' duplicate variable finally goes away. No more paradox.
And think of Puri Jagannath - only the most aesthetically pleasing ultra-cuteness version of Krishna, Balarama and Subhadra I've ever seen. (Makes me want to plant my flag near it and proclaim It's Mine All Mine.)

More catalysts of Hindu Dharma in Bharatam:
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin--><b>for the tribals have developed their own religious reform movements since more than a century</b>, such as the Bhili Bhagats, Tana Bhagats, Sapta Hors and Haribaba. ... their reforms can best be understood by comparison with the Arya Samaj, e.g. Jatra, the Oraon founder of the so-called Tana Bhagat movement (ca. 1920), <b>told his followers to abstain from meat and alcohol, and enlisted his movement in the national freedom struggle.?107</b>
<b>Birsa Munda</b>, whose Munda rebellion started with attacks on mission posts in 1899, claimed to have visions after the mode of the Biblical prophets, but <b>told his flock to give up animal sacrifice, witchcraft and intoxication and to wear the sacred thread, all amounting to a kind of self-sanskritization.108</b><!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->To me, this sounds pretty much like more modern Hindu teachers self-realizing their way and paving the path for their communities. Rather like Valmiki, or how Adi Shankaracharya also changed a lot of local practises. Save us! It's a conspiracy! They're all 'going' Hindoooo like Bharatam always went Hindoooo! Or maybe, it is in us all along. This Sanatana Dharma, I mean. It is there for us to make our way back to it, like a Mother patiently waiting for her child to return. That explains this spontaneous conscious Hinduization of what are actually already-Hindu people. (This, by the way, is the difference between Natural Traditions, which is already in its people, and the artificially made-up terrorist ideologies that have to foist themselves on others with their jihads, crusades and evangelical missionizing salesmen/brainwashing tours.)

This "don't harry the so-called Tribals" that Hamala refers to is not a matter of converting "tribals" to Hinduism or "us" converting to "their" religion. We're all already part of the same religion, hence we don't have a reason for converting each other. (It's a different thing that Hinduism shows respect for the existence of community identities; Hinduism does not enforce assimilation. Hence Hinduism preserved the identity of NE Nagas - whereas, within a couple of decades, christoterrorism has endangered the real, Dharmic Nagas. The still-Nagas don't recognise the christoconverts as such but see that the christos have forsaken their identity upon conversion, while the converts predictably still cling to the name as if it were a mere genealogical word.)

But this notion of "Not involving 'ourselves' with the 'tribals'" does not make sense. Such a foreign idea only manifests when people imitate the christoBritish teachings and start thinking of Girijan or other Hindu communities as being separate from the few that are still allowed to be called 'the Hindu fold'. I can't remember that Valmiki or Vyasa avoided teaching the rest of the Hindu population what they knew. Why are others not supposed to return the favour? Hindu Girijan had regularly made brave stands for Dharma against islamis and the christobritish. And for all their efforts, all they get in return is this modern alienation - from what is after all *their* religion as much as it is mine?

From the page Ashoka Kumar pointed out - the Atharva Veda "Prithvi Suktam":
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->For the sake of the country and its people, may we speak charitably of the councils (of learned men) responsible for the upliftment of the rural people and the forest-dwelling tribal people, as well as the councils constituted during the time of war for the defence of the country and in times of emergency.
May we at all times be concerned with the development of the country.
12.1.57<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->I don't know about the accuracy of the translation. But from how it reads, I can't tell from the above that they entertained the notion that Girijan or rural people (does that mean village, by the way?) were of a 'different' religion. All that is apparent from it is that good things like prosperity and spiritual gains when realised must be shared back amongst all Hindus, even when remote. Moreover, in a parallel statement, the army (plus any local militia) is also similarly mentioned. Surely defence forces and meets are not considered a different religion either?

Hindus would do the same for me - in fact, thanks to many Hindus Bharatam-over having stuck up for Hindu Dharma, I am here and safe today, and not languishing in the spiritual prison of islam or singing Rule Britannia, for instance. The very very least I can do is recognise them for what they are (Hindus). I would be a total ingrate if I did not respect various Hindus' contribution to my Dharma or to the defense of my Bharatam. I am unable to identify with any Hindu who will not recognise that other Hindus (such as those still called "tribals" today) are Hindus.
Sure, christoislamics, communistics and their foreign puppeteers are all only too eager to declare that Hindu communities are separate peoples or separate traditions. But that's the problem with listening to their lies: one may start believing it. Or, one could let them lie away until they turn blue in their face, while we continue to be what we always were.

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->The logo of the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram shows a tribal with bow and arrow, which is indeed reminiscent of Rama, Drona and other heroes of the Vedic Age. Vedic and Puranic Hinduism started as a form of tribal animism, and have never repudiated these roots altogether.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->I'd say.
The Rishis brought the knowledge of Sanatana Dharma for all the Hindus/Dharmics of India to share, and our teachers of RK Math, Arya Samaj and other Mathas continue this work. It would be ungrateful to forget that Hindus are one - same as our ancestors have always been - and instead regurgitate the sinister christoBritish fables as if we were good little illiterate students in their Dickensian Dotheboys horror-schools.
Caste Discrimination: Hinduism, Buddhism or Liberalism?

also see pdf file available at link.
In intercaste marriages, the progeny acquire the caste of the mother or father?

Misrepresenting caste and race
back to issue

ON 26 February 2007, the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in charge of the International Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, held a meeting with a delegation from the Government of India (GOI). India had signed and ratified the convention in 1969 but has not yet given accession and succession. According to Article 1 of the Convention, the term ‘racial discrimination’ meant ‘any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.’ The stand of the GOI has been that while it is committed to eliminating discrimination in all forms, it did not consider caste as part of ‘racial discrimination’. Two key claims of the GOI are that, ‘caste is not race’, and that ‘caste is not based on descent’.

The GOI delegation included the Solicitor General of India, the Permanent Representative of India to the UN, and anthropologist Dipankar Gupta of Jawaharlal Nehru University who argued against viewing caste as race. By framing the discussion as ‘caste is not race’, the GOI constructs a straw argument since no one in CERD claimed that ‘caste is race’, or even that the caste system was racial in origin. The real question is ‘How similar are the discriminations based upon caste and race?’ In reiterating the straw argument, Professor Gupta makes four claims that misrepresent race and caste, and falsely imbues the GOI position with a scholarly basis.

First, Dipankar Gupta argues that caste cannot be equated with race since ‘there is no phenotypical resemblance between members of the same castes.’ Such a view misrecognizes ‘race’ since it assumes that members of the same ‘race’ share phenotypical resemblance. However, it is now established among professional anthropologists and biologists that there is no concordance among human ‘races’, which implies that there is no single phenotypical trait that distinguishes all members of a so-called ‘race’ from members of another ‘race’. Members of any ‘race’ do not share either skin colour, or eye colour, or hair texture, or facial structure. Scientists agree that there is no abrupt change from one skin colour to another, and instead use the notion of ‘clines’ as opposed to ‘race’ to capture human variation. As Professor Alan Goodman, a biological anthropologist says, ‘Race is not based on biology, but race is rather an idea that we ascribe to biology.’ This is why the term ‘race’ is within quotes to signify that it is a socially constructed category, instituted by law and socially reproduced by popular prejudices. Professor Gupta’s position seems hopelessly outdated.

Second, Professor Gupta makes the startling claim that ‘caste is not about descent’ and hence cannot fall under Article 1. According to him, ‘descent means genealogical demonstrable characteristics,’ and ‘in the caste order people came of multiple descents. In fact, in the caste system people had to marry outside their lineage within the caste.’ The term ‘descent’ is at the core of anthropological studies of kinship, and is not restricted to ‘lineage’. A lineage is only one kind of descent group (the smallest) in which ancestry can be demonstrable since it spans living memory of a few generations. However, descent also includes other larger groups such as ‘clans’ (gotras in India) and ‘phratries’ in which a claim to a common ancestry is made but cannot be demonstrated. Marrying outside of one’s own lineage and clan are common practices in India and elsewhere, but caste is really about marrying within a group, as Gupta admits above. Ambedkar famously wrote in 1916 that the ‘superimposition of endogamy on exogamy produces caste.’ Castes are simply ‘large-scale descent groups’ as many anthropologists have pointed out. Castes are larger than clans and hence are very much based on ‘claimed’ ancestry, usually a mythical ancestor appearing in origin stories. Indeed, Gupta’s own work (Interrogating Caste) demonstrates this widespread existence of castes claiming a remote ancestor. Professor Gupta’s position is not substantiated logically, conceptually or empirically in scholarship.

Third, Professor Gupta cavalierly claims that ‘each caste equally discriminated against other castes.’ While this still leaves one to wonder how this distinguishes caste from race, Gupta’s position neglects decades of scholarship that has distinguished between institutional casteism or racism based upon power and individual or group prejudice. While it is quite feasible to argue that in a casteist (or racist) society, everyone can be prejudiced, it is simply not true that everyone’s prejudice has equal impact. Would Professor Gupta equate the daily humiliations, lynching, and rapes of dalits by all castes who wield power over them, with the presumed prejudice that dalits might hold against other castes? Discrimination requires attention to institutions, and not only subjective notions which Professor Gupta focuses on in his testimony. Thus, his evidence that ‘no caste accepted the notion that they were inferior’ is quite irrelevant since there are too many castes who not only think they are ‘superior’, but actually have the power to act upon their prejudice in systematic and violent ways. In a casteist society that stigmatizes particular castes and privileges others, the latter are raised to think that the resources of the country belong to them as a birthright and are willing to act violently to protect it.

Finally, Professor Gupta empties caste of all power (and discrimination) by portraying caste as a matter of cultural traditions claiming that ‘people in the caste system were proud of who they were and their traditions and position in the country.’ It is almost as if he is being far too accommodative of those ‘upper castes’ whose ‘caste pride’ and ‘position in the country’ is based on the humiliation of other castes. His position that ‘caste members did not want to escape their caste’ also makes a mockery of historical attempts by individuals from stigmatized castes who prefer to ‘hide their caste origins’ in the face of contempt of so-called ‘upper’ castes. It also mocks groups who have claimed new identities over time by leaving Hinduism altogether (for example, neo-Buddhists, Christians, and others). For all those who Professor Gupta sees as revelling in ‘caste pride’, there are many more who are weary of caste identities, and resist its inscription upon their bodies. In denying this, he also denies the patriarchal nature of caste.

Balmurli Natrajan

Why caste discrimination is not racial discrimination

IN my view the allegation that caste is a form of racial discrimination is not just an academic misjudgment but has unfortunate policy consequences as well. It is for that reason that I felt it was important to set the record straight even though there is a kind of seductive charm in finding easy parallels between caste and race. But unless we can see beyond these superficialities, the cause of combating caste can be prejudiced, and the clock turned back on the advances made so far.*

To begin with, both caste and race are social constructs. That there is something physically demonstrable, even phenotypically, has long been disproved. Even the myth of the fair skin Aryans charging down the mountains in waves to crush the dark Dravidians is now in disrepute. For a long time many scholars were votaries of this Aryan invasion view even though the evidence for it was always scanty and dubious.

However, the similarities between segregation under racial apartheid and untouchability in Hindu India prompted many certified specialists to wonder whether casteism could be seen as another form of racial prejudice. In my earlier work on this subject I had shown that caste identities and prejudices are manifested differently from racial ones, and I will go over the ground once again very quickly.

Caste identities get stronger the more local one gets. In other words, nobody is a Brahman or a Kshatriya or a Vaishya. They are either Kanyakubj Brahmans, or Rarhi Brahmans, or Rajputs, or Jats, or Agarwals or Guptas or Soods. These too are pretty broad categories. Identities that operate on the ground usually have a very limited range, sometimes no more that 200 miles. I have recently come across an instance when Koeris in Jaunpur district of East UP did not know about the existence of the Kurmi caste who were in large numbers barely 60 kilometres away.

Race identities, on the other hand, do best when the sweep is a wide one. It does not matter in apartheid societies whether a ‘white’ person comes from Holland, England or Germany. Such an individual would be accorded a superior status against those considered to be ‘black’, regardless of which part of the world they come from.

Further, even in antebellum America a black could be a nanny or a cook. In a traditional Hindu setting it would be unthinkable for a person of a supposedly ‘low caste’ occupying such a position in the home of a privileged person. In fact, commensal restrictions were so strict in the past that many castes refused to take food even from Brahmans. I have documented all of these instances in my book Interrogating Caste (Penguin: Delhi, 2000). In fact, most of these facts are not new and have been known for some time, except that few paid them the attention they deserve.

Racial prejudice does not make exceptions for those who are children of mixed marriages. In the United States, till as late as the early 1960s, the one-drop rule prevailed in the designation of a person as ‘black’. According to this principle, even 1/64th black blood would disqualify individuals from being considered as ‘whites’. This prompted Gene Lees to ask in the Jazz Newsletter if black blood was so strong that it could neutralize generations of white breeding. In inter-caste marriages the child does not carry the parents’ caste identity in equal proportions, but belongs to a totally different category – the outcaste. In fact, Yagnavalkyasmriti justifies the abhorrence it advocates against untouchables by claiming that they are children of mixed caste unions.

Members of so-called low caste communities do not share these upper caste textual views at all. In my work again, I have elaborated the origin tales of low castes and shown how every one of them claims an exalted status that is equal to, if not better than, the best. This is how it is everywhere in the world. There is no community that admits that it is essentially ‘bad’ or ‘impure’. The belief that low caste people participate in their own subjugation and acquiesce to their reviled status is a position that only certain Brahmanical texts recommend but stands refuted on the ground.

The question then is: why do certain castes function under such degrading and humiliating circumstances? The answer is a simple one, but it eluded us as the exotic aspects of caste so overwhelmed our senses. Caste hierarchies were maintained not because those in the Hindu fold agreed unanimously on the hierarchy, but largely because the stratification on the ground was upheld by the power and wealth of village oligarchs who functioned best in a closed natural economy. Once this rural economy began to crumble, castes that were hitherto seen as ‘low’, or even ‘defiling’, stood up and claimed a higher status, but without giving up caste.

This is where ‘caste patriotism’ comes in. Look at the matrimonial columns of any leading Indian daily. Marriage preferences are listed caste wise and this is true for scheduled castes as well. There need be no puzzlement on this especially if we keep in mind the fact that while others may consider a caste to be low, members of that community never bought into that view.

An appreciation of this fact brings into view another significant difference between caste and race. In race societies there is the widely acknowledged phenomenon of ‘passing’. This might seem reprehensible to many black intellectuals, but it has been written about in great detail by a large number of American scholars. Blacks would on occasions strive to ‘pass off’ as whites. It is also true that light skinned black people get a better deal even in contemporary western societies than dark skinned black people. In India, on the other hand, we have come across tragic instances, in recent times, when families conspired to kill their own children who dared to marry outside their caste. This outrage is not limited to so-called ‘upper castes’ but has occurred among the scheduled castes too.

This is why in caste societies, no matter how low a particular community may have been considered once, the fight today is not to deny one’s background, or to ‘pass off’ and merge with a dominant group, but to claim that this background had always been misunderstood, misjudged and misrecognized. Those who were traditional tanners or leather workers, for example, are not aspiring to marry into Brahman families but are pressing for a group elevation of their status. Many claim to be Brahmans of a certain kind, but not of the kind that are around and do not want to merge with them. Several artisan castes, like the Lohar, Patharwat, or Brazier believe they are Vishwakarma Brahmans but will not marry a Saraswat, Chitpawan or Gaud Brahman. This resistance against merging and losing one’s identity in a larger, and more established, formation is equally true of those who claim, or aspire, to be Kshatriya or Vaishya as well. I have already mentioned how scheduled caste people search specifically for matches from similar caste backgrounds, as can be easily gleaned from matrimonial columns in national dailies. Predictably, nobody wants to be a Sudra, and given what we have said so far, there should be nothing surprising about that!

All of this should alert us to any easy equation between caste and race, or between caste discrimination and racial discrimination, or even between caste identity and race identity. Descent and race may have some connection as the child supposedly partakes equally of the racial traits of both parents. The situation changes when we turn to mixed caste marriages as the child belongs to the caste of neither parent. Yet in terms of descent, the person is still a descendant of both parents. Thus while the child may, as in this case, have no caste, yet s/he remains a member of the descent group and, probably, also of the corporate group. This truth should not be lost sight of.

I should at this point make clear that descent is not the same as clan, or gotra. Descent kicks in only when the genealogical ties are demonstrable. The relationship between members of the same clan cannot be genealogically demonstrated. They are putative but not real ties. Hence jati origin tales cannot demonstrably link people to the same ancestor and, for the same reason, the Hindu gotra does not become a descent group. To take the point further, may I also remind my readers that no caste, including the subaltern castes, would accept a marriage within the same gotra. In fact, some of the most heinous instances of killing one’s own kind have happened because the young couple belonged to the same gotra and this could not be tolerated by families on both sides.

As was mentioned earlier, caste identities are fine-grained, multi-faceted, and extremely local in their realization. This is what prompted a famous scholar to comment that in caste there is an obsession with ‘minor differences’. It is not as if Brahmans or Kshatriyas, howsoever loosely conceived, are on one side and the lower castes on the other. This kind of divide would mimic a racial division. Caste intolerance and prejudice goes down the line. The better off and the more powerful one is the greater is the possibility of actually exercising this prejudice socially. The so-called ‘backwards’ have been some of the worst perpetrators of caste atrocities. Swami Achyutanand importuned the British authorities in the late 1920s to protect the ‘untouchables’ from these backward classes, who were often worse than the Brahmans. Thevar caste prejudice is feared in Tamilnadu as much as Gujar or Kurmi arrogance is in Uttar Pradesh. Further, as I.P. Desai had once noted, there was ‘untouchability among untouchables’ as well.

The fight against casteism should then be conducted in a fashion that is different from the way the struggle against racism is waged. This is why from the very beginning, under the stewardship of Dr. Ambedkar, the policy of independent India was to extirpate casteism, and it was felt that ‘reservation’ would aid this process. Dominant forms of ‘affirmative action’ in America, on the other hand, seek primarily to represent different races and colours but not to wipe out race. In India we thought on a much bigger scale and our reservation programme was set to eradicate caste and not stop short in terms of representation. Unfortunately, there are many today who value representation highly, without realizing how far they are moving away from the vision of Dr. Ambedkar.

Our struggle against caste prejudices and discrimination is far from over. Let us not muddy the waters further and make our job infinitely more difficult by making facile linkages between caste and race. As I have tried to show, any lowering of our intellectual and political guard on this issue will not only obfuscate matters but might encourage inappropriate policy interventions.

Finally, I would like to end with a quote from J.B.S. Haldane whose reflections on race are very instructive to all those who seek to extend the scope of racism. According to Haldane:

‘As for the word race, it has so many different meanings, as to be useless in scientific discussion, to very useful for getting members of the same nation to hate one another (emphasis added).’

Dipankar Gupta

* This is a summary of my speech at the CERD conference in Geneva on 26/2/07 as the proceedings were recorded. For more details contact UN Human Rights Commission, Geneva.

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->The Asymmetric Dialog of Civilizations
Rajiv Malhotra


Colonizers heavily sponsored scholars to research and represent their colonized subjects. For instance, the British Census of India was one such process to represent India in British categories, while superficially pretending to use Indian categories. This became the basis for re-engineering India's society to fit into rigid 'castes', a representation that has continued after independence and has become the center of India's politics today. The 'essentializing' of caste in the representation means that it is deemed an inherent and unchangeable quality that Hindus are frozen into forever. <b>(Traditionally, jatis and varnas were independent of one another, and had mobility.) </b>The more flexible language of describing certain communities as socially underprivileged, and implementing affirmative action programs strictly based on economic means, would have de-essentialized the jati, and over a period of time reduced its significance. 'Dalit' as a category by birth is self-perpetuating, unproductive and divisive, and the consequence of adopting a colonial representation system.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->

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