Friday, June 13, 2008

Caste system - a Colonial conception

The following sent by an anonymous reader

as a comment on my blog

“Is OBC reservation needed for IITs?”


is posted here.

This post on the role of colonial forces in mis-interpreting caste system

can be read along with the study on the same done by

Dr Raj Pandit Sharma of Hindu Council UK.

His work was earlier posted in my blog.

The present day impasse is a complicated one,

that reservation is not the solution to it and

caste-differences will never be allowed to die by the politicians.

They have started inventing down-trodden castes

in other religions too

that generally refuse to accept any castes within them.

There are 5 backward castes in Christianity and

7 among Muslims in Tamilnadu

qualifying for reservation in professional colleges

as per the notification issued by Anna University.

I wonder what the colonial interpreters of caste oppression of Hindus ( now in their graves)

would be saying for the "caste"igation of Christianity

by their counter-parts -

the champions of down-trodden

among the present day Indian politicians.

I don't know which upper caste of Christians oppressed

the Latin Catholics (in kanya kumari and Shenkotta taluk)

who are in the BC list for reservation for Christians.

What is that Latin in their caste name?

Is Latin a caste?

The other groups entitled to reservation are

converts to Christianity from Scheduled castes,

C.S.I, formerly S.I.U.C,

Christian Nadars, Christian Shanar and Christian Gramani

and converts to Christianity from Hindu BC, MBC and denotified communities.

Among Muslims,

the backward ones qualifying for reservation are


Dekkani muslims,


Labbais including Rowthar and Marakayar (whether their spoken language is Tamil or Urdu),



and Syed

We can expect more to join this list in the coming years,

thanks to the uncanny ability of our politicians

to make people backward than forward!!



Jakob De Roover -

Recently, the European Parliament hosted a meeting on "caste
discrimination in South Asia". At the meeting, participants stated
that "India is being ruled by castes not by laws" and that they
demanded justice, because there "is one incredible India and one
untouchable India". The EU was urged to come out with a policy
statement on the subject. One member of parliament, referring to the
caste system, said that "this barbarism has to end".

This is not the first time. The US also has networks and
lobbies working for the plight of the downtrodden in India. However,
before the EU or the US decide to publish policy statements on caste
discrimination in India, they would do well to reflect on some simple

First, the dominant conception of the caste system has emerged from
the accounts by Christian missionaries, travelers and colonial
administrators. Rather than being neutral, these accounts were shaped
by a Christian framework. That is, the religion of the western
visitors to India had informed them beforehand that they would find
false religion and devil worship there, and that false religion
always manifested itself in social evils. Especially the Protestants
rebuked the "evil priests" of Hinduism for imposing the laws of caste
in the name of religion. They told the Indians that conversion to
Protestantism was a conversion to equality. Thus, Indian souls were
to be saved from damnation and caste discrimination.

Second, this Christian account of "the Hindu religion" and its "caste
system" informed colonial policies in British India. Building on the
theological framework, scholars now wrote "scientific" treatises on
Hindu superstition and caste discrimination. The Christian mission
found its secular counterpart in the idea of the civilizing mission,
which told the West that it had to rescue the natives from the
clutches of superstition and caste. One no longer promoted religious
conversion, but the colonial educational system harped on "the
horrors of Hindu society".

Third, the colonial educational project had a deep impact on the
Indian intelligentsia. Hindu reform and anti caste movements came
into being, which reproduced the Protestant accounts of Hinduism and
caste as true descriptions of India. Their advocates did not adopt
these descriptions as passive recipients, but actively deployed them
to pursue socio-economic and political interests. Political parties
and caste associations were created to safeguard the interests of
the "lower castes". The elites of these groups united in associations
and received financial and moral support from the missionaries and
other progressive colonials.

Fourth, the "Dalit" movement of today is the product of these
colonial movements. The notion of "Dalits" makes sense only within
the colonial account of India, which had postulated the existence of
one single group of "outcastes" or "untouchables" that was supposedly
exploited by the upper castes. In reality, it concerns a variety of
caste groups, with no criteria to unite them besides the claim that
they are all "downtrodden". Indeed, many of these groups are poor and
discriminated against by other caste groups. However, their socio-
economic interests have been hijacked by some of their western-
educated elite members. In the name of the downtrodden, these elites
establish NGOs and then travel from conference to conference and
country to country in order to reveal the plight of the "Dalits" to
eager western audiences.

Fifth, when present-day westerners rebuke Indian society for
the "barbarism" of caste discrimination, they are reproducing the old
stanzas of the civilizing mission. Such a stance of superiority
perhaps worked in the context of colonialism. But today, at a time
when Indians buy some of the European industrial giants and give
financial injections to save the Hollywood film industry from
bankruptcy, it is ill-advised to continue this type of civilizational

In fact, such propaganda derives its plausibility from a series of
assumptions that no one would be willing to defend explicitly. It
attributes all socio-economic wrongs of the Indian society to its
structure and civilization. The implication is that there is only one
way to get rid of socio-economic wrongs here: one has to eradicate
both the social structure and the Hindu civilization. It is as though
one would blame the racism, binge-drinking, pedophilia, poverty,
homelessness and domestic violence in the contemporary West on its
age-old social and civilizational structure.

The times have changed. As westerners, we need to reflect on our deep-
rooted sense of superiority and how this informs our moralizing
discourse on human rights in other parts of the world. To appreciate
the impression we give to Indians with our statements on caste
discrimination, just imagine a possible world in which the Indian
government regularly castigates the US for its racism against African-
Americans and the disproportionate death penalties, and the EU for
the treatment of South Asians in England, Turks in Germany, women in
Romania, the Basque movement in Spain, gypsies in Italy,... Just
imagine Indian members of parliament consistently blaming the very
structure of western societies as the cause of all these wrongs.

The West needs to wake up fast. The time of colonialism is over. If
we do not change our attitudes, the irritation towards Europe and
America will grow in countries like India and China. So will the
unwillingness to collaborate with the EU and the US. In the fast-
changing world of the early twenty-first century, neither Europe nor
America can afford this.

1 comment:

ramabadran said...

The caste-based reservation has become a very convenient tool in the hands of politicians to manipulate and divide gullible votebank.The case of Gujjars is really amazing that by demanding ST status they expect to solve the social-economic status of the whole community.This caste-based
resevation policy has evolved into
reservation-based caste system,thanks to our ingenious
politicians.T his cancer has grown into such dangerous proportions that if GOD himself were to come down to our holy land and contest election HE had to promise more reservation to more castes.
Another dangerous trend in the country is the growing tendency in
squandering the public money and both public and private land without any qualm.