Continuous Distortions in Discourses of Indian Social Systems – II

It is extremely important to gain an insight into the traditional Indian understanding of the concepts, varna and jati. Only then we can consider in what sense this traditional thinking is relevant to theorizing society in India. If we really want to take the traditional Indian understanding seriously, a new approach to its research is necessary.

The Power of the Brahmins in Indian Society- Uninterrupted Narrative

The leaders and intellectuals of postcolonial India not only succumbed to the colonial account of the ‘caste system’, but also accepted the social divisions among the people of India created by the British legislation. It is as though they felt compelled to transform the tenuous distinctions inherent to the colonial account into existing social divisions in India. Marianne Keppensand Jakob De Roover in their recent powerful article (The Brahmin, the Aryan, and the Powers of the Priestly Class: Puzzles in the Study of Indian Religion) show how the classical account of the Brahmin priestly class and its role in Indian religion has seen remarkable continuity during the past two centuries. Christian-theological ideas concerning heathen priesthood and idolatry; racial notions of biological and cultural superiority and inferiority; and anthropological speculations about ‘primitive man’ and his ‘magical thinking’ explained the role of Brahmins in Indian society. 20th and 21st century scholarship rejected the explanations, but the core claims about Brahmanical power continue as facts.

The past centuries saw many shifts in the frameworks for the study of humanity. Most of our theories about human physiology, psychology, society, and politics have changed substantially. Hinduism now refers to a body of culturally related traditions rather than one religion; the Aryan Invasion Theory has severe deficiencies; Christian theology and biblical chronology no longer dominate the social sciences like archaeology, linguistics, or history; racial theories of superiority and inferiority stand rejected, as do evolutionary accounts tracing the development of religion from the primitive to the civilized. Yet the account of the Brahmin and his role in Indian religion stays unchanged.

The Basic Account of The Brahmins

What is this basic account which has stood like a rock across centuries? As a priesthood, the Brahmins claim to mediate between the devotees and their deities by means of sacrificial rituals. They are the creators of a four-tiered hierarchy of classes, which assigns the highest position and status to their own priestly class and the lowest to the Shudra or servant class. Traditionally, the learned Brahmin is the recipient of many privileges; in fact, he was a higher being, for lesser humans to revere. As a minority lacking military prowess and political and economic power, the Brahmins drew on their ritual status to seek a special alliance with the warrior-ruler class. They reduced the lower castes to a state of subjugation by imposing all kinds of restrictions, such as denying their members access to the Vedas and treating them as impure or untouchable, and generally sought to prevent upward mobility between castes.

Unbroken since the last few centuries till today, these claims, commonplace in Europe and India, continue prominently in introductory works, encyclopaedia entries, and other sources as elementary facts about the history of Indian culture and religion. What accounts for this?  Does it originate in the West’s inclination to represent ‘Eastern’ cultures as superstitious counterparts to its rational self; or in the colonial power leading to hegemony in knowledge production of Orientalist scholarship; or in the theological and ideological framework of European scholars? There could be some other reasons too.

Dominant Explanation for Two Centuries

Several interrelated elements came together to explain ‘The Mystery of Brahmanical Power’ in this field of study till about three decades back: Aryan Invasion; ritual homology; and the varna system. The classical account traces the power of the Brahmins to their ritual status and expertise, which  gave them apparent control over invisible forces in the natural and social world; made them indispensable to tribal leaders and warriors seeking wealth, prestige, and success in warfare; and sustained their supremacy in a varna system that expanded as the Indo-Aryan invaders subjugated the indigenous population starting 1500 BCE .

The Brahmin priest derived his authority from his access to a network of rituals and the capacity to control invisible powers, attributed to him by superstitious “magical-thinking men” who believed his rites and spells could cause events in the natural and social world. In the late Vedic era, this system evolved into a four-tiered hierarchy of Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors-rulers), Vaishyas (traders, artisans, and landowners), and Shudras (servants). The conquest of the local tribes living in India relegated them to the lowest rungs. To garner legitimacy for this social order, Brahmins claimed it was divinely ordained and rooted in a primordial sacrificial ritual.

Challenges to the Model

Each of these elements has a severe challenge by recent changes in the study of Indian culture. There is no longer an invasion model. Either it is migration or even a reverse migration out of India based on archaeological, textual (Rig Veda), and linguistic records. How could peaceful migration and prolonged contact between groups account for the growing dominance of the Vedic religious and social order?  How did the Brahmanical elite keep its social ideology in place for hundreds or even thousands of years and spread it among substantial populations without building an institutional apparatus for sustaining, disseminating, and implementing this social ideal?

Scholars have now drawn upon the notion of ‘homology’. The priestly class spread its social ideology by encoding it into creation myths and sacred texts, thus providing the mystifications and legitimations that supported “an extremely rigid, hierarchic, and exploitative social system”. In this way, their normative hierarchy had an inscription into the natural order and presented as stable, self-evident, and beyond dispute. Such explanations are variations on a general ‘theory’, where a priestly elite promotes a social order under the guise of religion and instils false consciousness into the populace. One author, Brian Smith (1994) says that priests who wielded magical knowledge could, by means of the substitutes the varna system provided, control the natural, supernatural, and social worlds from within the confines of their ritual world. Another expert on ancient India, Johannes Bronkhorst (2016) claims Brahmins had supernatural powers by collecting powerful formulae in the Atharva-Veda.

Authors repeatedly appear to attribute extraordinary powers to the Brahmin priestly class. These magical powers protected kings and have them accede to Brahmanical supremacy; and when the Brahmins lost the support of the ruling classes, they could always fall back on their supernatural powers. Extraordinarily, this priesthood succeeded at having other groups endorse its exceptional status—even though several had far more military, political, and economic power. The status of the Brahmins thus derived from the power giving knowledge of rites and spells.

Authors also suggest that the Brahmin class was able to show that it possessed forms of power-providing knowledge. In summary, either the people living in India could not see the obvious, or the Brahmins had the capacity to deceive people into seeing and believing what was not there, or a combination of both. Contemporary scholars cannot possibly mean to ascribe supernatural powers to the Brahmin class; yet this is what their sentences do. The classical account presupposes that Brahmins must have possessed extraordinary powers.

Classical European Accounts of 16th to 18th Centuries

With new travel reports in the 16th and 17th century, the Brahmins in modern India transformed into representatives of false religion and idolatry. Like in other pagan nations, they were responsible for the sacrifices to the idols and prone to all the sins of a corrupted clergy. The influential 16th-century humanist Justus Lipsius, for instance, included the Brahmin priest in a work intended for the teaching of princes to show how the maintaining of superstition would be an irremediable error for any Christian prince. In the following centuries, more details would add to this descriptive scheme, but its core remained invariant. The classical account of the Brahmin remained stable during the past two centuries. 

In 1799, a popular Dutch periodical targeting children between six and twelve years old devoted one of its issues to the habitants of the Indian Subcontinent. It says, in summary: …The Hindus divide into tribes, which are the “castes”. Of the four main castes, that of Brahmins is the noblest and most distinguished and enjoys the highest of privileges. In the religion of the Hindus, people consider “the idle Brahmin” holy, while “the useful servant” as “scandalously impure.” There is also a fifth caste of “Parias,” which consists of the refuse of all the others; they cannot touch others, cannot enter temples and markets, and cannot even walk the streets where Brahmins live. These two tribes or castes of the Hindus, namely that of the Brahmins and that of the warriors, are supposedly pure descendants of the Caucasian lineage of the human species. The two lower castes… have a Mongolian origin or originate from the intermingling of both these main lineages of humankind

Firstly, this presentation was like facts about the world. In the arranging of its material, the magazine attributed the same cognitive status to its account of “the Indians” as it did to its descriptions of metals, geographical regions, plants, and snakes. It was transmitting elementary information about the world to children aged between six and twelve. Secondly, the publication of such an account compels us to look for the sources of such knowledge. There were hardly any texts translated from Sanskrit into European languages; the information about India came from classical Greek sources, travel accounts, and reports by Christian missionaries, merchants, and officials. In this case, the author’s claims were from a  handful of works published in French and English in the decades before; second-hand descriptions and reflections by two French philosophers, a controversial work compiled by a former Jesuit, Nathaniel Halhed’s Introduction to A Code of Gentoo Laws (1776), and observations of a few European travellers.

Thirdly, the magazine clearly placed its themes within a larger framework. The editors explicitly wrote that they aimed to educate the children into “good people, citizens and righteous Christians”. The doctrines of the Brahmins “clearly show some traces of the great truths concerning the eternal and immutable existence of God, the creation of the world, and the fall of humanity from its original state of innocence and happiness”. Such observations relied upon the Christian idea that all of humanity had once upon a time been aware of the biblical God and his relation to humanity, while the more civilized nations retained fragments of this knowledge. Fourthly, the same religious framework gave shape to the author’s moral assessment of the Hindus. He asked his readers: “Should one not be astonished and filled with sadness, esteemed pupils when one sees that people who know of such elevated truths as God’s unity, eternity, immutability, and omnipresence can also believe in ridiculous stories?” Finally, in his explanation of the origin of the four castes, the author reveals racial notions of the superiority and inferiority of nations. The northern part of the globe, the author argued, is suitable for inhabitation by people by their Creator to exercise their own powers towards becoming more perfect and more susceptible to rational and moral greatness and true happiness.

More than two centuries later, we possess far more empirical information about Indian culture than the 18th century had access to; and yet, the core elements of his description of the Brahmins continue as facts about Indian culture in our times.

Demons and Idolatry

In the early Middle Ages, the “Brachmanes” were the legendary wise men. That the Brahmins traditionally constituted a priesthood or priestly class is one of the central claims of the classical account which appears as self-evidently true as it was two centuries ago. How did this transition from wise men to evil priests happen?  By the 19th century, the Brahmin was the local Indian incarnation of a larger category: that of “the heathen priest.”

Along with references to the ancient Brachmanes of lore, similar claims about the modern Brahmins populated the philosophical dictionaries, universal histories, encyclopaedias, and other popular texts of the 18th century: these priests not only claimed to be masters of magic, augury, and rites, but also posed as mediators between the people and God; they kept the secrets of religion to themselves and deceived the other pagans; from the elevated status attributed to them resulted their excessive ambition and pride.  Bringing together notions of magic, sacrifice, superstition, and idolatry into a coherent whole, this account was easily digestible to educated Europeans. In brief, the theologians argued that the worship of false gods and idols consists in trafficking with demons. That is, when the ‘magi’ or pagan priests sacrificed to idols, they were addressing demons, evil spirits, and fallen angels who had several kinds of powers and acted upon the world. These ritual experts learnt to invoke the demons by rites and incantations and thus to have them serve the desired ends.

This was the standard Christian explanation of the worship of false gods: so many attempts to invoke demons and have them effectuate desired events in the world. It explained how heathen religion could sustain and reproduce itself on an everyday basis. Why would people keep worshipping deities and revering the priests who performed the rites, if the idols were merely dead objects and the priests only impostors? The account answered this question: idolatry had the capacity to reproduce false religion and keep it in place, because its magic invoked demons who could either cause the desired effects or instill this illusion into the idolaters.

This account of idolatry was not some fanciful speculation by a handful of church fathers. For more than a millennium, it served as a standard explanation for the everyday reproduction of heathen religion in pagan societies and for the seductive power held by similar practices even in Christian societies. Along with the variations, its basics kept recurring in Western thinking well into the modern era. They became commonplaces about idol worship, the power of sorcery, and the agency of demons, which were central to several debates and practices in European history. The long-lasting concerns about witchcraft and the accompanying practices of persecution drew upon these commonplaces, as did the early modern descriptions of the Brahmin class as the priesthood of Indian heathendom.

Moving Across the Centuries- Demons Dissolve and Aryans Appear

In early modern scholarship, however, the demons gradually ceased to play the role of existing agents whose actions had effects in the world. Consequently, the causal forces became a variable or placeholder that needed some other explanations.  The invisible spirits no longer counted as a genuine connection between rites and events in the world. Rather, pre-modern ‘primitive pagan’ humans lived under the delusion that such causal forces operate in the world because of their magical and pre-scientific thinking. During 19th century, this explanatory scheme also entered scholarship about ancient India and its Brahmanical religion.

The idea that the performance of rituals provided this class with exceptional powers was closely related to the growth of the Aryan invasion theory during the 19th century. Today, it is widely known that biblical ethnology fed this ‘theory’ and attempted to trace the descent of human nations and languages from the sons of Noah. Authors after authors, Max Mueller included, built detailed discourses based on speculations and minimal evidence on the invading Aryans subduing an indigenous dark population and driving them South.  Shudras were the original inhabitants of India, whom the superior Aryans enslaved too and made them an inferior or external caste.

In this context, the Brahmin priesthood acquired its prominent position by monopolizing the knowledge needed for performing rituals, pleasing the military powers, and keeping the original inhabitants as Shudras. The story about the Brahmin’s arrogation of a supreme, or even divine, status soon spread across Europe. While some details differed, its core elements remained the same. One presented the Aryans as a civilized family of tribes, possessing the expansive vitality of the Japhetic races (descendants of Japhet, one of the three sons of Noah), who had encountered the black aboriginal peoples of India, probably Chamites (descendants of Cham).  Even the early Encyclopaedia Britannica subscribedto the story of Brahminical sacrificial power laying claim to supreme authority in regulating and controlling the religious and social life of the people.

In these 19th-century accounts, the Christian belief that the heathen priesthood manipulated invisible forces through its rites and incantations transformed into a ‘meta-level’ explanation: the Brahmins claimed that they possessed this power and the superstitious people believed in this delusion. The earlier religious account of the functioning of idolatry took on a new form in these ‘scientific’ studies; it was now the belief system of the ancient Indians

Protestant and Enlightenment Themes

This was generally a reflection and a repetition of the anticlericalism that pervaded the 18th- and 19th-century intellectual world in Europe, especially its Protestant and philosophical circles. This was a general critique of priesthood, which ascribed a similar degenerated status to the Roman-Catholic clergy and the ritual experts of non-Western religions. Hence, the Brahmins were cunning priests, posing as privileged mediators between man and god, who had used their monopoly on ritual knowledge to arrogate a position of supreme authority over the people’s religious and social life. The second conceptual scheme at the heart of the 19th-century accounts was the discourse about the biological and cultural superiority and inferiority of races, which was so popular in this era. The conquering of an ‘inferior’, ‘dark-skinned’ race by another ‘superior’ one with a lighter skin; “the vitality of the Japhetic races”; the low cultural level of the indigenous population and its subjugation as the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy; the attempt of one race to avoid contact with another out of fear of the corruption of its faith … : each of these explanatory factors derived from this framework and would fail to make sense in its absence.

Both conceptual schemes—the theological and the racial—were crucial to the speculations about the Vedic people and the rise of its Brahmin priesthood. If we were to remove them, little would remain but a handful of just-so stories about the ancient history and tribal warfare of India. There were scholars who disbelieved the story completely like Lieutenant-Colonel Low (1849).  The story was quite implausible to them. As Colonel Low says, ‘…if indeed that even would be sufficient, that the then occupants of India were a savage, unlettered, and unreligionized race or races, ready to view the strangers as demigods, and to bend their necks to their civil and spiritual domination—and to yield up their native freedom to the unmitigated thraldom of caste…’

The idea of Brahmanical ritual power travelled from the 19th to the 20th century, transmitted by key authors such as Hermann Oldenberg. His account of ancient India was a familiar story about the evolution of religion through different stages starting from the savage stage where magicians manipulate the many spirits that populate the world and animate its objects. Later, the spirits give way to divinities, personifications of natural forces, from whom favours materialised by means of sacrifice and prayer. Vedic religion is still a barbaric one, Oldenberg wrote, since it had not yet taken the step of incomparable importance in the evolution of religion—the association of the ideas of God and good.  The art of properly performing these sacrifices and prayers is the main theme about which the whole spiritual life of the poets of the Rig-Veda revolves according to Oldenberg.

Within this larger framework emerged the idea that the Brahmins had created a “pre-scientific science” of correlations or homologies (Oldenberg 1919). That is, these priests postulated a web of hidden interrelations connecting the ritual realm to the cosmic and human realms; drawing on their privileged access to this esoteric system, they claimed the power to perform rituals that obtained the desired effects. This ritual science, according to Michael Witzel (2003), based itself upon the strictly logical application of the rule of cause and effect, even though its initial propositions (e.g., ‘the sun is gold’) are something that are unacceptable.  This idea reproduces in more recent accounts of ancient Indian religion and ritual homology.

Background Cognitive Cluster of Ideas

The above help to identify the background cognitive conditions under which Brahmanical power could appear sensible and plausible. The cluster of ideas were : the Aryan conquest of a racially and culturally inferior people and the latter’s subordination as the lower class(es); the priest’s capacity to manipulate deities and spirits by means of sacrifice and prayer; his arrogation of social supremacy through a monopoly on ritual knowledge; the evolution of religion from a primitive belief in invisible forces to a more elevated spiritual faith in God; and so on. Christian doctrine, biblical ethnology, and racial theories today have no place in the scientific study of religion, yet the classical account of the Brahmin largely survives, even though it originally depended on concepts drawn from these frameworks.

The mystery of Brahmanical power seems to emerge from the discarding of these concepts: neither “heathen priesthood” and “superstition” nor “Aryan conquest” and “magical thinking” can account for the Brahmin’s extraordinary status, since both sets of notions have been rejected by 20th- and 21st-century scholarship. To fill in the missing link, scholars have a compelling need to introduce an alternative force that accounts for the connection between the priesthood’s ritual role and the success of its social ideology. This is where “ritual power” and “homological thought” arrive. The scholars are in a double bind: the explanatory structure of their accounts requires attributing supernatural powers to the Brahmin class, but, in our day and age, they cannot do so in explicit terms; hence, there is ambiguity in explaining Brahmanical power and status.

Some Explanations for this Continuity

How can we explain their remarkable continuity and stability, given the collapse of the cognitive conditions under which they survived and flourished from the 17th to the 20th century? One type of explanation would be continuity at the level of factual observation (first order facts) goes together with discontinuity at the level of theory formation (second order explanations). This route however clashes with the consensus which emerged from philosophical and historical studies of science during the past 75 years. Today, we know that scientific research does not produce a collection of theory-independent facts, which competing theories then explain; instead, our observations take the form of descriptions already structured by theoretical schemes. Words such as ‘religion’, ‘priest’, ‘mediators’, ‘sacred’, ‘worshipper’, ‘caste’, and ‘ideology’ are not theory-neutral observational terms, but theoretical terms embedded in larger clusters. Hence, the resulting descriptions of ‘facts’ concerning Indian culture must be structured by such larger theoretical schemes.

In this route, the work of Imre Lakatos, a major 20th-century philosopher of science, could help us to find an alternative theory for this remarkable continuation of Brahmanical supremacy idea. Lakatos characterized scientific progress in terms of competition between research programs: larger frameworks forming the basic units of science, within which a succession of theories come about. Every research program consists of three elements: a “hard core” of basic theses and assumptions; a “protective belt” of auxiliary hypotheses that surrounds this core; and a “heuristic” or problem-solving machinery consisting of sophisticated techniques.

Scientists regularly encounter observations that conflict with a theory’s predictions and other types of problems. However, there is no discarding of a research program simply because it faces some set of anomalies; instead, its protective belt allows the scientists to cope with these problems by immunizing its hard core against falsification and generating new auxiliary hypotheses.  Giving up this core of fundamental assumptions would result in the disintegration of the entire research program, which has generated or promises to generate a succession of theories. There is revision of the more flexible set of ideas forming the protective belt.

We can begin to make sense of its peculiar combination of continuities and discontinuities. The basic assumptions about the religion of the Brahmin are part of this program’s hard core, whereas the claims concerning the Aryan invasion, racial superiority, magical thinking, and the varna ideology are part of its protective belt. The latter ideas form a more flexible set of auxiliary hypotheses, which scholars can modify and revise in the face of anomalies, to protect the research program from refutation. Indeed, this has happened regularly, not only during the past decades, but also in the centuries before. Between the 17th and the 21st centuries, in the face of empirical and conceptual problems, the auxiliary hypotheses moved from theological notions of heathen idolatry to anthropological concepts of magical thinking and to the current claims about homology and ideology; or they could shift from the idea of an Aryan invasion and conquest to peaceful migration and contact. But the hard core of assumptions concerning the religion and priesthood of ancient India needed immunity against falsification; if scholars failed to do so, their entire research program would break down (and this in the absence of any promising alternative).

This, of course, generates new questions for further research. How did its hard core come into being and wherefrom did it derive its basic assumptions about Indian religion and the Brahmin class? Are we dealing with two (or more) competing research programs or with a succession of theories sharing the same hard core? Do the internal problems that plague recent scholarship show that the program’s protective belt has exhausted its heuristic potential and is losing its capacity to generate new hypotheses in the face of accumulating anomalies?

Concluding Thoughts

Whenever our intellectuals, today or past, accept Europe’s conceptualisations, they are not criticising their cultural inheritance at all. They are just repeating Christianity’s critique against the pagan ‘priests’ without Christianity being fundamental to the construction of the Indian culture. They keep repeating the west in endless mantras of anti-Brahmanism which is tragic and puzzling. This ‘colonial consciousness’- continuing intellectual violence after colonials have left, makes them assess Indian culture through western lenses.

Where have we gone wrong in dealing with Indian society? The colonials had a purpose to break our society, but why did our own humanities or political and social sciences fail us after independence? The colonials inflicted a far more damage to our consciousness which Dr SN Balagangadhara calls ‘colonial consciousness’. This is continuing violence of colonization at an intellectual level but in a different time-frame by permanently altering even the way we think. The stories of Brahmin supremacy, the creation of untouchability and Dalit caste, and many such are continuing colonial stories. They reflect more of legal and political realities rather than any social reality. Hugely false semantics and descriptions trap India and we have internalised these falsities as true pictures of ourselves.

It is sad that despite reservations and protectionism, Dalit anger is on the rise. The so-called forward-castes and the Brahmins are still the brunt of deep anger from the Dalit side, which is simply a creation of political-legal systems. The Brahmins are the object of ridicule and hate with a special virulence. Ironically, corrective measures have increased angers considerably on both sides over the decades following independence. By creating categories like Forward caste, Backward castes (with further sub-categories like A, B, C, D), Scheduled Castes, the successive governments have happily promoted the racial categories we detest so much. The inherent feelings of superiority and inferiority are the necessary outcomes of such a hierarchical division of the different categories. The fault lines in the country run deep because of these divisions created by the politicians and encouraged by academics with a dominant ideology running in their veins. Our natural sciences declare boldly that all humans share 99.99% of genes; any slightest notions of race, or inherent superiority or inferiority of a group of people are completely wrong. Yet, our political and legal machineries have been precisely doing that so long and so emphatically. They are instilling false notions of superiority, inferiority, guilt, anger, and shame in various proportions in the society while paradoxically wanting to create an equal society.

Caste-system does not exist; it is a colonial creation. Let it dissolve, the sooner the better. There are only the constant four varnas and thousands of jatis. The only reality of Indian social systems are the jatis, the thousands of them arising, gaining prominence, falling, dissolving, or evolving continuously into newer forms by admixture.  Let the jatis have their social rules, flexible or otherwise, concerning profession, marriage, food, eating, customs, pujas, devas, devis, and so on. Each jati has an independence and confirms to the basic philosophy of Indian system-an indifference to the differences. Varnas happen to be a larger meta-structure, perhaps a normative ideal, which is difficult to correlate with the jatis. In the classical varna scheme, where does one fit the ‘Reddys’, the ‘Patels’, the ‘Kammas’? One struggles, but these inconsistencies have never bothered our academics, scholars, intellectuals, and politicians.

It is an amazing aspect of Indic civilization that even religions like Christianity, Islam, Judaism took the form of traditions and evolved richly interacting with others. Till the colonials came with their theories and baggage of solutions to deal with the internal problems of Christianity in Europe. The post-independent Indian political leaders looked at the material prosperity of the West and firmly decided that all solutions in India must come from Europe. There was a strong heritage of the past which told a different story about varna, jatis, religion, and so on. The strong left-influenced academia firmly rejected our past too who superficially appeared to counter the colonial narratives. The result is that over seven decades, our systems have managed to anger just about everyone.  

Dr Martin Farek, a scholar at the University of Pardubice in the Czech Republic, and associated with Dr SN Balagangadhara’s Ghent school, says that we should aim to develop a new theory of the phenomena described by the Indian terms varna and jati. It is extremely important to gain an insight into the traditional Indian understanding of these concepts. Only then we can consider in what sense this traditional thinking is relevant to theorizing society in India. If we really want to take the traditional Indian understanding seriously, a new approach to its research is necessary. It will focus on theorizing the domestic Indian framework within which ideas such as guna (mode of nature), adhikara (eligibility or qualification) and svabhava (natural inclination) make sense. This kind of research will create new hypotheses, which should enable us to answer important questions such as: What is the Indian framework of understanding of varna, jati and biradari? How do Indians decide about the status of different people? Our ancient scriptures and dharma were always about duties and not rights. The modern societies with a focus on rights might be just misinterpreting the notions of varna and jati in our social systems.

The society and its political, legal, academic, and intellectual machineries should be batting for equality of opportunities. The playing field should become equal for all. That should be our top priority in the decades to come. Group reservations cause group injustice and social fissuring. Reservations and other forms of positive discrimination should be at an individual level. The criteria could be any, like economic backwardness for example. Anything except ‘backwardness’ or the ‘untouchability’ status of an entire group. Despite tolerance and acceptance being our biggest strengths, absorbing and assimilating every culture across thousands of years, it is ironical the country stands in the dock allowing a rhetoric of Brahminical supremacy and Dalit exploitation. We need a great revival and a great unity. It is time for us to dissipate the angers and start fresher narratives. Will our humanities take the challenge?    

Further Readings

  1. The Brahmin, the Aryan, and the Powers of the Priestly Class: Puzzles in the Study of Indian Religion:  Marianne Keppens and Jakob De Roover.
  2. Scheduled Castes vs. Caste Hindus: About a Colonial Distinction and Its Legal Impact: Jakob De Roover.
  3. Reconceptualizing India Studies: S. N. Balagangadhara.
  4. The Poverty of Indian Political Theory: Bhikhu Parekh
  5. Were Shramana And Bhakti Movements Against the Caste System? Martin Fárek in Western Foundations of The Caste System: Edited by Martin Fárek, Dunkin Jalki, Sufiya Pathan And Prakash Shah 

Featured Image: Ancient Origins

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