Saturday, April 11, 2009


(An Overview of Caste-ism)

Part I

(Caste and Nationalism in India)

Seshachalam Dutta. PhD

Edited and modified by Shree Vinekar

MODERN DAY CASTE DIVISION in India is a cancer that has pernicious effect on the Indian society when it is injected into politics and exploited by politicians.

Indian political scene resounds with slogans of socialism, communism, secularism and anti-communalism. Nevertheless, the only operating factor of all political parties who shout these slogans is rank caste communalism, as witnessed when Congress party and its so called “secular” allies were campaigning in Gujarat, publicly and unabashedly discussing the strategy of fielding candidates of particular castes to defeat Narendra Modi in a state election. In spite of such base tactics of the Congress party, Modi indeed resoundingly won the elections because of his impeccable character, charisma, and in no small measure due to the enlightened Gujarati population with uniquely international reach. This does not repeat often. We would like to examine here the true meaning of these slogans: “secularism,” “communalism,” and “socialism,” in principle, and also in the particular context of the Indian political scene, for these words retain only their original meaning outside the Indian context and no new meanings can be given to suit one's convenience in India, although the Indian usage of the words like "secular" and "communal" is totally incomprehensible to those outside India. These words are not at all used, for example, in the US political system. It is the opinion of the author that there is neither secularism nor socialism in India in the strict sense, but abject discriminatory communalism at caste level that is evident ubiquitously. The sloganeers of secularism falsely label “Hindu Nationalism” pejoratively as “communal” while hiding their own petty sectarian mindset. We will also explore why they resort to those tactics. The thrust of this two part article is to provide a cross sectional view of the political activities under the name of secularism and socialism as they impact the already fragmented Hindu society along the caste lines and religions practiced in India. The objective of this article is not to discuss the pros and cons of the caste system per se which was originally designed to maintain the harmonious coexistence of different groups and to effect division of labor or responsibilty, nor to examine the merit of Varna and Jatis or the principle of Varnashramadharma. The original Varnashrama Dharma postulated only four Varnas based on Gunakarma Vibhagashah (meaning according to the qualities and the occcupation.) Such classification is no longer valid in the modern day system represented by 3000 castes. This article will also explore the need for Nationalism and the form of Nationalism emerging in India with a Hindu-centric pan-Indian identity.

India is fourth in the number of Billionaires in the world and ranked 128th in the level of poverty behind Guatemala and Gabon and also ranked with the most corrupt countries in the world, while Indian politicians go round the world lecturing morality!! We, therefore, should be able to simply dismiss the claim of socialism, which was inserted by Indira Gandhi into the directing principles of the Constitution of India through an amendment while her party (including her own son) was hording the wealth of the nation. It may be recalled that when Jawaharlal Nehru became the secretary of Indian National Congress, he was dissuaded by his father from drawing a salary (as revealed in Nehru's autobiography), even though the family was utterly broke. His father was trying to sell the family furniture and other collections or return to work from his retirement! Nehru’s grandfather, Gangadhar Nehru, was not rich either; he was a low paid employee who had migrated to Agra to earn a livelihood. Maruti Motors started by Indira’s son with no capital was a testimony to the plunder of Nation’s wealth. Having thus dismissed the claim of socialism by giving above examples, only secularism remains to be discredited as the most confabulated expression in the context of Indian politics.

What is secularism? Western Nations including the U.S do not use the word “secular” to describe their Governments. The United State supports separation of Church and State, which is not the same as secularism. The U.S. currency is printed with the words “IN GOD WE TRUST,” the presidents takes oath of office on the Bible in contrast to non-Hindus walking away from parliament in India whenever Vande Mataram is recited. In following Christian tradition, alcohol is not served after midnight on Saturday! The British King attends the Mass officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. All Churches uniformly denounce secularism as “anti-spiritual.” By definition secularism is in fact anti-spiritual. The Government or the State may be allowed to be secular if the meaning of this word is to separate the Church (religion) and the State, but a civilized society cannot be anti-spiritual (meaning secular) and thereby secular. Here the word spiritual is closer to “Dharma” and secular is viewed as its antonym of Dharma when used in the Indian context. Furthermore Dharma is erroneously considered a brand name of Hindu or Sanatana Dharma and the word secular is generally understood as "anti-Hindu." Curiously there are no qualms of conscience for the secular political leaders to be openly pro-Muslim or pro-Christian but their conduct is calculated to be anti-Hindu to maintain their "secular" image.

"Truly secular" societies were communist whose Governments universally failed. It is possible to be genuinely secular and principled at individual level and there are very few such extremely enlightened persons. They structure their lives based on Humanism and atheistic existential philosophy. Historically, Karl Marx who earned a Doctorate and lived and died in poverty and Lenin who worked late hours in a single room office as the Head of Soviet Union are some of them. In India atheistic social reformer and a friend of this author, GORA, in Andhra Pradesh, who spent his entire life advocating atheism, is an example of such persons. He spent his entire life for social reform. Another Indian I knew was P. Sundaraih, secretary of Communist party of India, a great patriot who dedicated his life for his country who hailed from Andhra Pradesh. Also, Mr. A. B. Shah in Maharashtra, who was an atheist who worked hard to spread the message that Indian society had a great need to learn to become secular is now hardly remembered. The secularists believe in humanism as guiding principle to conduct their work for the welfare of the society governed by social consciousness without reference to God or religious inspiration. It is a difficult approach to life since they operate without the substratum of traditional or religious guidelines, but base their ethics and conscience on the intellectual construct of scientific humanism and existential philosophy making their own situational ethics as they go along. As Octavia Paz commented the burden of life for atheists is not any easier than that for believers. This cannot be advocated to general population.

Secularism is by definition an ethical atheistic ideology which is not espoused by the present Indian politicians, who thrive on exploiting the caste for their advancement, and are patently corrupt. They are sometimes openly and many a time covertly highly superstitious and ritualistic in their personal lives showing magical thinking, consulting astrologists, and visiting the so-called “spiritual” leaders, shrines, and places of worship to gain personal blessings as well as to capture vote banks. By denouncing the Hindu traditionalists whose inspiration is the great traditions of the motherland and its ancient over-arching religion (Sanatana Dharma) giving rise to the very roots of Indian (Hindu) culture spanning the length and breadth of India, the modern Indian politicians seem not so constrained by any moral principles (Dharma), neither do they practice ethical atheism, and therefore, are corrupt and use the slogan of secularism to exonerate their public and private corrupt conduct and political opportunism. The meaning of the word secular is distorted and watered down beyond recognition. By defining “secularism” as “Dharma-nirapeksha” rather than “Pantha-nirapeksha” in the constitution of India the Congress Party which introduced it in the constitution has misinterpreted secularism to mean “amoral” or “indifferent” to “morality and ethics” (Dharma). Nehru who used this word knew its meaning and he was ethical and non-corrupt. The Indian political leaders also by convention interpret the word “dharma” not in its generic or global meaning as human ethics but translate it erroneously as specifically limited to Hinduism and take pride in bashing it for sixty years in the public political sphere while secretly adhering to the Hindu beliefs and rituals privately. Such duplicity and hypocrisy is rampant among the Indian politicians besides taking pride in pandering to groups following other than the Hindu religion in the name of secularism. The concept of secularism has thus led to a dishonest and pseudo-identity to emulate a non-existent “ego-ideal” (an idealized image of a person to be emulated) defined by each individual to suit himself in an idiosyncratic manner. This is why the word “pseudo-secular” came into vogue. The words "secular" and "pseudo-secular" are only seen widely used in the English media in India and in the Indian political scene and those who are not familiar of the Indian meaning of these words are easily misled. Similarly the word "communal" which is not very commonly used in politics all over the world but in India is incorrectly used as a political curse word. Cleverly implied in this curse word are nuances of fanaticism, narrow-mindedness, communal hatred, political imperialism, etc., creating an instant aversive stink to the term in the minds of the readers or listeners to get a political mileage for the sloganeering politician (see "Secularism and Communalism: Most Abused Words" on above). For the purpose of discussion in this article the word "communalism" is momentarily used in this perverted sense as per the usage in Indian journalistic context and not in the true original innocuous sense.

Indian Government itself is extremely “communal” indeed in that it panders to the extreme Muslim elements financing Haj pilgrimage for the Muslims to visit the foreign land and Mecca and Medina; by making a constitutional amendment exempting the Muslims from the common civil code for example by allowing the Muslim women to be deprived of alimony and enabling their men to have four wives. With all the doting of Muslims for sixty years, the secularists could not get mere forty acres of land owned by the Government for Amarnath Pilgrimage for the Hindu travelers from Kashmiri Muslims who vociferously protested! During the heat of this conflict Farooq Abdullah, the Chief Minister of Kashmir, uttered the words which were no less threatening or inflammatory than the recent words of Varun Gandhi. In fact, Abdullah’s words were more inflammatory with a potential to trigger communal riots which they did instigate in Kashmir. He said, “If 45 acres of land is given to the Hindu pilgrims, there will be a blood bath all over India.” These words were publicized in all the world media. However, the Government of India let alone not arrest him not even reprimanded him, but it was quick to jump its gun at Varun Gandhi’s non-specific remarks in defense of aggression against Hindus by non-Hindus. Under the present absurd political egalitarianism the Christians too will demand Government funds to visit their holy land or Vatican for pilgrimage but they do not have enough votes to influence the secular politicians yet.

The author of "Argumentative Indian," Amartya Sen (Nobel Laureate in Economics and a strong supporter of the present Congress government), who claims secular credentials, supports this constitutional amendment legitimizing the separate Muslim Civil Code as if it is not violating Secularism and his justification for it is : “Since it is only unfair to Muslims (meaning to ladies like Bhanu Begum.)” Hindus, he says, should not make a point of it- as though fairness has to be a sectarian judgment! The Nobel scholar forgets that “equality before the law” is the foundation of modern democracy and he forgets too that the equality before the law cannot be a subordinated value even in the so-called Secular State. Hindus should have the right to voice their opinion about the unfairness in the Civil Laws of their own country even though it may perpetrate injustice only on Muslim women. Besides, very few people outside India know that the religious assets of Hindus in India are totally controlled by the "secular" government retaining the notorious antiquated Hindu Endowment Act, promulgated by the British. The exercise of non-religious control of Hindu endowments is so pitiful that for the fear of Government seizing their assets, Ramakrishna Mission, founded by one of the greatest Hindu monks, Swami Vivekananda declared that theirs is not a Hindu organization! With all fervor for Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, even the BJP did not think it fit to scrap this antiquated British vestige of Hindu law inequitably applicable only to the Hindu religious institutions and not for others. Swami Dayanada is currently leading the movement to prevent the Government from spending Hindu temple income generated from donations received from Hindus to subsidize Haj for Muslim pilgrims to visit Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. The Hindu Endowment act is in itself unconstitutional, if the Constitution were to be “secular.” In the name of secularism, on the other hand, the appeasement of Muslims is carried to the extreme as illustrated here by allowing an Indian Muslim artist to depict Sita, a sacred symbol of chastity for Hindus, in nudity for which he was honored by the Government of India; on the other hand a universally acclaimed work of "The Satanic Verses" of Salman Rushdie is banned outright, although it has no pornographic content, on the flimsy pretext that it offends the Muslim sentiments. It is okay to trample over the Hindu sentiments in Secular India where the Hindus are in majority but everyone has to be politically correct and walk on the egg shells when it comes to the sentiments of the “minority” religion that have learned to bully the politicians and the majority. The minority has over the years through vote-bank politics gained leverage over the Congress party. However, these practices are communal regardless which ruling party endorses these. So the Indian “Governments” are not only not secular, they do not even subscribe to “separation of Church and State” principle like the U.S and other Western countries do. It should be abundantly clear from the above examples that the Government of India is not guided by the principle of Secularism just like it is also not guided by the principle of socialism. That only leaves crass Caste-communalism as the operating factor of the so called secularists and thus “secularism” is an apology for caste-ism, the only form of communalism prevalent in India. It is indeed absurd that Hindu Nationalism being concerned with the safety, security, integrity and unity of the 80 percent majority population of India is considered “communal” by the secularists who appease and seek favors from the communal minorities by defining them in various ways promoting truly communal and caste biases to win the vote banks and defeat the interests of the majority. Protecting the interest of 80% majority population should not have be termed “communalism” in the eyes of the politicians while they have only small-minded communalism as their operating principle.

Caste and its influence on Hindu polity have a devastating effect and if not confronted head long the Hindu society and India will implode. Nehru writes (Discovery of India), “Without caste structure there is nothing Hindu.” But, he had no vision of seriousness of the problem it would present after the independence. When Mahatma Gandhi was campaigning against untouchability, Nehru writes from the Jail that Gandhi was wasting his time on such issues, leaving politics aside. For him, as a politician, the numbers mattered and the Untouchable were not of significant number to influence the politics, he thought; it is better he thought to pander to the Muslims (approximately 10% of the population of India then in 1946-47 which is now nearly at 17% or 150 million in strength making India the second largest Muslim country in the World next to Indonesia) who ultimately rejected him and his fellow politicians anyway when it was time to divide the country. He did not realize, at political level, that Dalit leader Jogendra Nath Mandal was courted by Jinnah (President of the Indian Muslim League) to join him to vote for partition. No one knows how much effect Mandal had in narrow margins of plebiscite in the states of Punjab and Bengal. Gandhi took to the heart the long standing injustice to Dalits and led a movement to eliminate untouchability and called the untouchables Harijans (Favorite people of God) Gandhi did not realize the global problem of caste in Hindu society as he limited the campaign to the extreme case of Harijans who later defined themselves as “Dalits” instigated by the Christist Missionary elements who have their own political agenda and ambitions in India. There were many religious leaders, however, beginning with Buddha and Mahavir in ancient times and later Ramanujacharya, Nanak, Kabir, Chaitanya, Jnyaneshwar, Ekanath, Nam Dev,Tukaram,Vivekananda, RamMohan Roy, Avaiyar, Narayan Guru and lately Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh founder Hedgewar who tried to eliminate caste discrimination and to instill an attitude of equality for all castes as well the casteless Hindu Society including the outcastes and untouchables, and all of them failed. The RSS advocated proactively “Don’t ask don’t tell policy for 70 years” with out success. Therefore, one needs to raise the question, “Why is caste so resilient to reform?”

Caste has been resilient to reform, because it quickly leads to socioeconomic class stratification. Because of closed system of familial bonds, wealth is retained in the same group, commonly supported by large dowries in wealthy castes by marrying within the caste which is an unspoken mandate to the eligible youth and further support by consanguineous marriages such as marrying one’s niece. While rich stay rich, the poor stay poor by the same process of inbreeding, for movements across the castes upwards is not traditionally possible. Furthermore, natural selection favors the richer castes by Darwinian principle of selection of healthy handsome men and beautiful women confined to the same group of genetic pool. In a democracy, as we shall see, this can lead to inevitable conflict, as indeed to conflict it did lead at several levels. The socioeconomic inequalities and discrimination manifested in the present caste system with 3000 castes, and not the caste system itself, that has caused the uproar. The caste system is now fortified by the political reservations following the principle of affirmative action and electoral alliances, creating permanent victims and permanent beneficiaries. The proselytizing religions too are taking full advantage of this situation.


First caste conflicts came in Madras Presidency, the State so called before division into Andhra and Tamil Nadu. The Brahmin population in the Madras State was estimated at 3% in 1920 and they were alleged to hold 70% of Government posts as well as most teaching positions in colleges and high schools. Aided by British Governor, guided by the well-known British policy of divide and rule, a Non-Brahmin party called Justice Party was formed with the leadership of Raja of Panagal (a Naidu Feudal Lord - Jamindar). The Congress, which then was predominantly Brahmin, withdrew and an offshoot of Congress named Swarajya Party won the elections against the Justice Party but it was not ratified by the British Governor. There was no universal suffrage and only Jamindars and high tax paying qualified voters were to vote. "Congress" never directly came to power for 17 years. The demise of the purely pro-British Justice Party in later years was attributed to lack of leadership. The party again re-surged like phoenix as DK in 1944 under the leadership of Periyar and later DMK and its progeny Anna DMK, with the ideology of anti-Brahmanism expanding its theme to being anti-Hindi, anti-Aryan, and anti-Hindu. Though a proclaimed atheist, Periyar did not have the courage to attack the Christian theism or the Muslim mosques but as an iconoclast attacked Hindu temples publicly in broad day light, physically destroying Hindu "idols," attacking Hindus and Brahmins who he considered were the soft targets. Brahmins, according to their analysis are Aryan with fair skin (although Periyar himself was of fair complexion) and were subjected to extreme reverse discrimination and DK-DMK claiming to be atheists would rather seek the alliance with Christians and Muslims than befriend Brahmins during the DK-DMK infancy! These groups have not been defeated by Congress either in recent decades. Anti-Brahmin movement did not succeed in Andhra, however, because the Brahmin community in Andhra was never as influential or dominating as in Tamil Nadu. Non-Brahmin movement also did not spread to North India at that time, until much later when Bhumihari Brahmins in Bihar and in U.P lost their dominance with caste awareness of other forward castes and fights were undertaken by the political leaders of higher “forward” castes who claimed “secular” credentials. Bhumiharis held 19 out of 54 parliamentary seats in Bihar. Dalits in Bihar who were left out in these developments turned to Communism and Maoist Naxalism to take up armed struggle against all “forward castes.” A vigilante organization, well funded by forward castes, called Ranavir Sena engaged in massacre of the Dalits. It may be recalled that Phoolam Devi, the legendary dacoit, who later became a member of Indian parliament, was the product in response to the atrocities of the Ranvir Sena. Left to themselves Dalits do not have significant advantage of numbers and, therefore, are not a political factor.

Recent caste violence was witnessed in Law College at Chennai where the police were silent spectators. The house of a Vice-Chancellor who supported a reasonable sounding 50% limit on reservations in Tamilnad was attacked for insisting on 50% seats to be offered on merit. There were riots in Meerut and Muzaffar Nagar. The man who brought a law suit before Supreme Court of India challenging the reservation policy was attacked and maimed right on the premises of the Supreme Court. In Andhra Pradesh, eve teasing Christian Dalits who mocked the Hindu women carrying water from public wells were beaten and their houses were burnt down. The then Chief Minister of Andhra, “N.T.R.,” (N. T. Rama Rao), compensated them by paying reparations. In Chundur, a town in Andhra Pradesh when a young man from the Dalit community set his feet on an empty seat in a cinema hall, the forward community youth in the front seat picked up a fight which subsequently resulted in days of rioting organized by the surpunch (community village leader) who belonged to the Congress Party. Scores of fleeing dalits were caught, hacked to death, bagged and were thrown in a canal. This riot was so widely publicized that it attracted the attention of the Human Rights groups and subsequent trials led to several lengthy sentences.

Who are the “forward classes,” leaving aside Brahmins and merchant castes (Baniyas)? To understand this one has to view the history of the Indian feudal system. To mention a few, in Tamilnadu the Mudaliars, Nadars, Nayaks and in Andhra Pradesh Reddys, Naidus, Rajus, Velamas constitute the feudal lords. In ancient India each kingdom, whether Pandyans, Cholas in Tamilnadu or early Satavahanas and later Kakatiyas brought recruits from other states who became later Reddys, Velamas and Rajus hailing from wide range of areas as far as Bihar and Maharashtra to boost their armies. Similar phenomenon occurred during Vijay Nagar Empire’s occupation of Andhra. Earlier Chalukyas had followed the similar recruitment of warrior groups. Economies of these kingdoms were so primitive, lacking monetization; they therefore granted villages to the generals as rewards for their services making them the feudal lords (Jamindars). Except Vijyanagar Empire, most of the kingdoms did not maintain standing armies and as a result were soundly defeated by Muslims who had such armies. Later, Muslims also adopted these methods, giving Jagirs (land and villages) to the generals. Thus the non-Brahmin forward classes were formed. In Bihar, UP, and Bengal Brahmins also joined the fighting forces and they became landowners acquiring the caste title of Bhumihari Brahmins. The Brahmins who did not perform rituals but functioned as advisors to kings in Andhra became Niyogis; a few of them had large land holdings or villages under them. They carry the caste title Rao which means like Rai, Raju meaning king; Rao is a common title in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which has been widely used by other communities in recent years in non-descriptive way losing their caste specificity. To give a synopsis of forward castes: in Karnataka, there are the Goudas and Lingayats and in Punjab, the Jats, Khatris and the same castes in U.P and Bihar are prevalent. In Kerala, Nayars and Ezvas come under this group. In Gujarat there are Jains, Patels and Shahs, in Tamilnadu, Nayaks, Nadars, Mudaliars, Vellalar castes (Pillai, Nairs)) come under this group. In Maharashtra Naiks, Shindes (Sindhias), Patils, Choudharies, Dhurandhars, Ranes, and the non-Brahmin Deshpandes, etc., may also be regarded to belong to this category. Needless to say that the forward castes have been wealthier than the backward castes who rarely owned land and property but worked for the forward castes as share-croppers. The nobles of India were the Khatriyas and their adviser Brahmins who wielded the power, being the upper castes but some of their ilk fell into the forward castes losing their status of Nobility.

Since status of Caste underlines the class, as the castes become poorer in some regions they transition into backward castes or form sub-castes. Many sub-castes in Andhra Pradesh are poorer than the others within the same castes. A forward caste in one region can be backward in another, further complicating the problem. Thus Jats in Rajasthan are backward whereas in Punjab they become very forward. In Bihar Patels and Jats are backward castes. Several sub-castes of Naidus and Reddys in Andhra are poorer in one area and richer in other. So the poorer sub-castes insist on being classified as backward Castes sacrificing their pride for economic or reservation gains. Such a demand would not have existed except for benefits in reservations. Monetary benefits thus can help overcome the traditional pride.

Who are the backward castes? All the castes other than Dalits and the classified forward classes were classified as Backward (B.C) by the British. The 1931 census put them at 54 % of the Hindu population consisting of 3000 castes and about 400 in Andhra Pradesh alone, thus they form a majority of population of India. This classification acts as the "land mine" in solving the caste discrimination and caste inequity problem for an egalitarian "socialistic" government. However, it can also be the "gold mine" for the corrupt vote seeking politicians. Margaret Alva, the Secretary of the Congress Party was forced to resign for exposing and questioning the "selling" of the seats (nominations) for the congress candidates desiring to win the election to become the legislators or member of the Parliament. Many a selections of such candidates are on the basis of their caste identity if their caste had the local majority.

With 54% of Hindus claiming the backward caste status and the Brahmins at one end and Dalits at the other end as permanent minority, what is the fate of Hindu society in terms of future conflics? Is there any solution to escape from this state for the directly discriminated groups or for those discriminated in the reverse? Will they seek emigration, conversion, or some complex political alliances for economic survival and political security over the next few decades? When will the caste communalism end in India? Will the external threats and anticipated wars bring the Indians in general and Hindus in particular together as "one people" and consolidate their pan-Indian identity just like the history of the United States indicates? The consolidation of American national identity was facilitated by the two World Wars and subsequent military challenges. However, luckily for the U.S. its enemies were far away and the citizens pledged loyalty and allegiance to the US and its flag which was a duty expected of all citizens regardless of their ethnic background or national origins. Such is not the case in India. There were relatively few traitors and few supporters of the external enemies on the US territory with a solid informal homeland security. The readers should have a proper perspective on the Indian society as it currently operates and not draw a conclusion that these extremes are all anticipated in the very near future. The threat of uniting the backward castes, other backward castes, Dalits, and the discriminated or disenfranchised Brahmins identifying themsleves with lower castes to form a majority to win the elections against the Congress party and assume political power may beome a reality as witnessed by the success of BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) Mayavathi of UP which is aspiring to be an all India political power. We shall examine these issues in the second part of the article.

See Part II for more intricacies as well as attempted and suggested solutions.

Comments to

1 comment:

  1. European history indicates that the concept of 'secularism' was brought in and advocated on behalf of monarchy first and later the political State independence from the 'Church' which was trying to claim supreme religious authority even in matters of the State.More pointedly the authority of Pope was not accepted as the supreme arbiter in monarchical disputes and State feuds.In a sense the present Papal State is a questionable hangover from those days.
    It is Jawaharlal's narrow mind and and innate anti-Hinduism in his thinking that created the bogey of a very different 'secularism'. The religious and cultural majority and the civilizational identity of Hindus were dubbed as 'communalism'. Hindu society and religious ledership did not denounce this connotation forthwith. The result is for all to see. Muslims and Christian missionaries posing as 'secular. in Indian politics!!