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A Guide To Understand Caste Complexities

Updated: April 16, 2011 11:14 am

Using empirical data combined with an impressive array of sources, the writer delineates the manner in which Hindu caste society maintained its cultural hegemony and structural cohesion. This was primarily achieved by reformist endeavours, by co-opting the challenges of the dalit, and by marginalising dissidence. It was through such a process of constant negotiation in the realm of popular culture, argues the author, that this oppressive social structure and its hierarchical ideology and values have survived. Starting with an examination of the relationship between caste and power, the book examines early cultural encounters between high Brahmanical tradition and the more egalitarian popular religious cults of the lower castes. Therefore, backwardness of lndia, in no small measure, can be attributed to caste. The book, which is divided into 11 chapters, maintains that some see India’s caste system as the defining feature of Indian culture and some have dismissed it as a colonial artefact. However, the British gave a rebirth to the caste divisions by codifying the srutis and smritis. Although, the demeaning and disparaging references concoited by the British in the Hindu literatures evoked heated debates fanned by the universal education provided by the British. Since then, there has been no let up in the debate. The book underlines that perhaps the only institution in the whole of the humanity that survives the millennia and still shows organic and inorganic growth is the caste.

                Immensely influenced by the discourses of the religious personalities and those who want to project a unified Hindu society, the book highlights that there is nothing in the Hindu literatures and history sanctioning the caste structure. However, while reading the Bhagavad Gita, the writer found himself in the midst of evidences which shows that the Gita does not advocate birth-centric caste. So, the book makes it clear that it does not pass strictures on any of the other theories put forth by it; It confines itself to what the Gita says in regards to Chaturvarna. Though Sanskrit is praised as a uniting force of Hindu India, it is also held, at the same time, responsible for the divisive structure of the Hindu society. The proficiency in the language is used to divide the society and to ensconce and elevate one group onto a high pedestal. Trying to arrive at a correct picture of the origin and emergence of caste to an unassailable gargantuan proportions, the book starts looking for other sources of Hindu literatures which are mostly in Sanskrit. Though the writer says he knows his rudimentary knowledge of Sanskrit will in no way help him unraveling the secret. By far most of the Indian scholars also reveal their impartial bent of mind in discussing about the passages that dwell on varna or caste in Hindu literatures. The book presents views or findings, based on writer’s derivations from Hindu books without any bias or any fear that they may offend this or that section of the society, for the book has no axe to grind with either this or that section. The book finds it astonishing that a system, which perpetuated bondage for millennia, survived the ravages of time and history and still continues to haunt our conscience, which may require another scholar to research on it. In this backdrop, the book would serve as a guide to anyone who wants to understand the intricacies of the caste system and its growth.

By Ashok Kumar

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