Toward a new, gender-based economic theory of the Indian caste system

by on January 23, 2015 at 12:58 am in Economics, History | Permalink

This is just published in the Journal of Development Economics, from Chris Bidner and Mukesh Eswaran, and the title is “A Gender-Based Theory of the Origin of the Caste System of India”:

We propose a theory of the origins of India’s caste system by explicitly recognizing the productivity of women in complementing their husbands’ occupation-specific skill. The theory explains the core features of the caste system: its hereditary and hierarchical nature, and its insistence on endogamy (marriage only within castes). Endogamy is embraced by a group to minimize an externality that arises when group members marry outsiders. We demonstrate why the caste system embodies gender asymmetries in punishments for violations of endogamy and tolerates hypergamy (marrying up) more than hypogamy (marrying down). Our model also speaks to other aspects of caste, such as commensality restrictions and arranged/child marriages. We suggest that India’s caste system is so unique because the Brahmins sought to preserve and orally transmit the Hindu scriptures for over a millennium with no script. We show that economic considerations were of utmost importance in the emergence of the caste system.

There are ungated versions of the paper here.  Here are earlier MR posts on the Indian caste system.  I think I am not enough of a rational choice theorist to believe in any explanation of this sort, still it is sometimes better to try and fail than never to try at all…

The pointer to this paper is from Michael Clemens.

1 Ray Lopez January 23, 2015 at 1:08 am

Dangerous shades of Gregory Clark’s eugenics based economic theories, about how, using Landes’ type ‘cultural factors’, the English got industrializing faster then the rest of the Malthusian world due to better breeding by the talented monied classes. Steve Sailor would approve.

2 Steve Sailer January 23, 2015 at 1:10 am

Is this a new theory?

3 Lorenzo from Oz January 23, 2015 at 1:19 am
4 TheNewGuy January 23, 2015 at 2:14 am

Contrary to popular perception, India has historically been a very labor scarce society. All historic Indian social institutions evolved to maintain an agricultural civilization under scarce labor- made worse by constant threats of floods & famines due to its uniquely crappy & unreliable climate (Monsoons).

5 shrikanthk January 23, 2015 at 3:25 am

There is a fair amount of ignorance about the Indian “caste” system outside India.

Some clarifications from an insider –

a) The caste system owes little or nothing at all to Hindu scriptures. The institution that dates back to 1000 BC and finds mention in scriptures is the “Varna” system – a very broad four layered classification of society. This Varna system was more of a class system (similar to what prevailed in ancient Greece where the Dorians dominated over native Ionians in several states). The 4 Varnas have nothing at all in common with the “caste” system (“Jati” in Indian lingo) that we see in India today!

b) The original 4 Varnas were most probably an attempt at racial segregation – not uncommon in most civilizations, where a relatively fair minority (arguably more civilized) dominated over a dark majority. It was not exactly strictly occupation based. It was quite common for a Brahmin to do jobs besides the priestly ones nor were all Kshatriyas rulers by any means.

c) The “caste” system that we see in India today is extremely granular with the society comprising of thousands of “jatis” each of which is strictly endogamous to a great extent (notwithstanding the Western influence). This caste system is often linked to regional peculiarities as well as occupations. And owes nothing at all to the old scriptures that talk of the broad race-based Varnas. It is a totally secular phenomenon. In fact one might argue that even the ancient Varnas were a largely secular phenomenon.

d) Caste system in India was never a very rigid thing. Nor was the Varna system. There are several “shudra” castes (the lowest Varna) that are just as prosperous as several brahmin subcastes in specific regions. It is not an institutionalized, rigid social hierarchy as is often imagined in the West.

6 So Much for Subtlety January 23, 2015 at 4:11 am

shrikanthk January 23, 2015 at 3:25 am

There is a fair amount of ignorance about the Indian “caste” system outside India.

And there is a great deal of historical revisionism within India.

a) The caste system owes little or nothing at all to Hindu scriptures.

Which is interesting because it tends to be found wherever there are Hindu scriptures. Bali for instance. The other majority Hindu polity. Not the same caste system but a similar one. If caste isn’t intimately linked to Hinduism, how do you explain it ending up in Bali?

The institution that dates back to 1000 BC and finds mention in scriptures is the “Varna” system …. The 4 Varnas have nothing at all in common with the “caste” system (“Jati” in Indian lingo) that we see in India today!

So basically they started out with a four-fold division of society and over the centuries developed this idea further and further – slicing Indian society ever finer – but this has nothing to do with the original division? An interesting point of view.

b) The original 4 Varnas were most probably an attempt at racial segregation

So not class then but racial discrimination.

It is a totally secular phenomenon. In fact one might argue that even the ancient Varnas were a largely secular phenomenon.

One might. Especially if one was interested in defending Hinduism from Western criticism. Like the Muslims who insist the Quran is scientific and doesn’t, actually, call the world flat. A totally secular phenomenon? Just one that affects Hindu societies or minorities embedded in Hindu societies. One might think it was not all that secular in fact.

d) Caste system in India was never a very rigid thing.

In practice. In theory? It looks like it was. British India simply brought the record keeping that Indians shunned – Indians never wrote their own history presumably because they knew that the powerful had been shifting caste and that was too shameful to record. That record keeping allowed the caste structure to be enforced as it was meant to be enforced – and enforced by Hindus.

There are several “shudra” castes (the lowest Varna) that are just as prosperous as several brahmin subcastes in specific regions.

Really? Can you name six of each?

It is not an institutionalized, rigid social hierarchy as is often imagined in the West.

Indians have never moved on from Katherine Mayos’ Mother India have they?

7 TheNewGuy January 23, 2015 at 4:30 am

Which is interesting because it tends to be found wherever there are Hindu scriptures. Bali for instance. The other majority Hindu polity. Not the same caste system but a similar one. If caste isn’t intimately linked to Hinduism, how do you explain it ending up in Bali?

There is a caste system in Sri Lanka among the Sinhalese who are of same ethnicity and one in South America where caste used to be designated for life at the time of baptism. Hindu scriptures aren’t to blame for that. You might also want to look up how the word itself came about.

8 So Much for Subtlety January 23, 2015 at 4:43 am

The Sinhalese speak an Indo-European language and while they are Buddhists, they are Buddhists who have come from a Hindu background. Of course you would expect to find caste among them.

Where in South America has there been a caste system?

9 TheNewGuy January 23, 2015 at 4:55 am

Wow. There is a lot to say. First I’ll deal with South America.

“Casta (Spanish: [ˈkasta], Portuguese: [ˈkaʃtɐ, ˈkastɐ]) is a Spanish and Portuguese term used in 17th and 18th centuries mainly in Spanish America and Spanish Philippines…”

You might also want to check out “Purity of Blood and the Evolution of the Sistema de Castas”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casta#Purity_of_Blood_and_the_Evolution_of_the_Sistema_de_Castas

“Caste membership didn’t simply determine what occupation you could hold, but also whether you could bear arms, attend university, or even the clothes you were allowed wear.”

http://southamericana.com/2012/03/20/spain-peru-and-the-purity-of-blood/

The above is from Peru- a random pick. You could also find the same thing in Mexico, Philippines. Just search for “Caste System *South American Country*” for plenty of reading material.

Casta Paintings are also fascinating. They are used for identification of various castes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Casta_painting_all.jpg

10 TheNewGuy January 23, 2015 at 5:16 am

You say- “…..while they are Buddhists, they are Buddhists who have come from a Hindu background. Of course you would expect to find caste among them.”

Decided its easier to link these couple of papers on the Buddha, Buddhism and Caste system:

(a) http://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/jiabs/article/viewFile/8676/2583

(b) http://www.jstor.org/discover/29757366 (need registration)

11 So Much for Subtlety January 23, 2015 at 5:28 pm

TheNewGuy January 23, 2015 at 4:55 am

Wow. There is a lot to say. First I’ll deal with South America.

Is there? What? Yes, we all know caste comes from a Portuguese word. And yes we know that colonial regimes often pride themselves on their “metropolitan” origins. But racism is not caste. Spanish America saw people of mixed race at every level of society. As it did people of pure European origin. They did not have caste. They had mild-ish racism mixed with a strong tendency to marry, or at least have children, with anything that moved.

TheNewGuy January 23, 2015 at 5:16 am

Decided its easier to link these couple of papers on the Buddha, Buddhism and Caste system:

So the first article I read starts out by saying Buddha did not object to caste and Buddhism strengthened the caste system. Quite how this would disprove my point that the Sinhalese, as Northern Aryan invaders of Sri Lanka who used to be Hindu, would normally be expected to have caste escapes me. At this point I assume it is better to ask you to clarify.

12 TheNewGuy January 24, 2015 at 1:02 am

So Much for Subtlety: But racism is not caste. Spanish America saw people of mixed race at every level of society. As it did people of pure European origin. They did not have caste. They had mild-ish racism

The relevant question is whether Spanish America saw people of every caste at all levels of society. They didn’t. Caste system in South America and Phillipines was a herarchial system created by white Christian elites based on the principle that people varied according to their birth, color, race and origin of ethnic types. It had an impact on every aspect of life, including economics and taxation. Both the Spanish colonial state and the Church expected more tax and tribute payments from lower castes. The society was obsessed with lineage and evidence of lack of purity of blood- i.e if you weren’t the right caste- had consequences for marriage, eligibility for office and entrance into the priesthood. Caste system was enforced legally. Low castes such as the Negros were prohibited by law from many positions, such as entering the priesthood, and their testimony in court was valued less than others.
To take the case of Mexico specifically, its Caste system defined three main categories of humans- Peninsulares, who were Europeans, Native Indians, and African Negros. , and then further broke that down into 16 distinct racial subcategories. Peninsulares were further broken down between Gauchapines, who were European born whites and Criollos, who were born in the New World and so on. Everyone who was not a Guachapine was not only socially inferior but legally inferior as well. At baptism, one was assigned to a caste for life by the priest. Since the caste was based on race one could not “move up” to a better caste. So there was literally no way to improve one’s lot. You, and your children if you didn’t manage to marry someone of a better caste, were fated to live a very harsh life if you were Indian or Negro and an inferior life if Criollo, Mestizo, or Mulatto.
In Phillipines, the caste system was central for taxation, with indios (person of pure Austronesian ancestry) and negritos (person of pure Aeta ancestry) who lived within the colony paying a base tax, mestizos de sangley (person of mixed Chinese and Austronesian ancestry) paying double the base tax, sangleys (person of pure Chinese ancestry) paying quadruple; blancos, however, paid no tax.
In Peru, those born in Spain automatically qualified as a member of the elite. Those born in South America but with an “impure” bloodline were accorded privileged status, but of the second order, and the most influential posts were out of reach for them.

So Much for Subtlety: mixed with a strong tendency to marry, or at least have children, with anything that moved.

The option of hypergamy for lower caste women is no evidence of the absence of a caste system. The Indian version also tolerated hypergamy (marrying up) more than hypogamy (marrying down). Indian Kings and other powerful men could marry any women from lower castes (lower jAti or varna) that they fancied. These were called ‘Anuloma’ marriages. According to Hindu law books, a girl should marry in her own varna (class), failing which she may marry one in any of the higher varna. The other kind (‘Pratiloma’ or hypogamy) was less tolerated with many law books prohibiting such marriages. There were some books (like the Arthashastra) that allowed it but with several restrictions.

So Much for Subtlety: So the first article I read starts out by saying Buddha did not object to caste and Buddhism strengthened the caste system.

The doctrine of karma and rebirth popularized by Buddhism (and Jainism) provided a theological justification for herarchial caste system i.e if you were born in a lower caste it was because of the sins you committed in a previous life. There is no notion of rebirth in the ur-Hindu text of Rg-Veda for example. it does make some appearences much later in the upaniShats but didn’t gain popularity untl the spread of Buddhism and Jainism. Orthodox (Astika) schools of Hinduism such as Mimamsa, Sankhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika have no use for rebirth neither did many Bhakti (a subset of the Vedantic dvaita school) movements. Most Hindus believe in rebirth though not universally like Buddhists or Jains.
Another impact of Buddhism and Jainsism has been in instituting the notion of pollution based on food habits. The people of the Vedas ate meat including beef liberally, they drank alcohol and the somarasam. Up until the Mauryan period these traditions continued as seen in the Arthashastra. Buddhism and Jainism popularized the idea of ahimsa (non-violence) towards animals and vegetarianism as a worthy goal for humans. This notion made non-Vegetarians including most indigenous tribes outcasts since they were polluted by their consumption of meat and their animal sacrifice rituals. Vegetarianism is a central aspect of caste pollution in India even today where zealous Hindus and Jains deny apartments, marriages to meat-eaters. Not surprisingly there are untouchable outcastes wherever Buddhism spread- Sri Lanka, Burma, Japan.
So I was objecting to blaming the ‘Hindu backround’ of Sinhalese rather than Buddhism itself.

13 shrikanthk January 23, 2015 at 6:08 am

So much for Subtlety :

None of what I said is an attempt at any kind of Hindu revisionism. It is very much in line with conventional Western Indology as articulated by authorities on the subject like AL Basham. However it is contrary to some of the popular beliefs in the West about the same which are not informed by western indology.

“So basically they started out with a four-fold division of society and over the centuries developed this idea further and further – slicing Indian society ever finer”

That’s not correct based on the available evidence. There’s no evidence to suggest that Jati arose from Varna. The history of Southern India is interesting in this regard. There was never a Varna system in South except a two Varna division of society into Brahmins (essentially north indian migrants to south) and Non Brahmins. While Jatis are thousands in number and the history of many of the clan-based Jatis predate Aryan expansion to Southern India and hence predate Varna.

“A totally secular phenomenon? Just one that affects Hindu societies or minorities embedded in Hindu societies”

It also affects Muslims and Christians living in India. And the reason it exists is because of the incredible racial and cultural heterogeneity of the Indian subcontinent and not because of Hinduism per se.

“Really? Can you name six of each?”

Can’t name six. But several examples abound. Kayasths (a caste classified as shudra in British times) have outdone several brahmin communities in northern india. Similarly most South Indians would agree that shudra castes like Mudaliyar, Nair, Reddiar, Chettiar as just as prosperous (though perhaps not as anglicized) as the Brahmin castes of south like Iyer, Iyengar.

“So not class then but racial discrimination.”

Well. Class can be hereditary and linked to race.

14 TheNewGuy January 23, 2015 at 7:21 am

There was a Varna system in South India. South Indian dynsties such as Cholas and Pandyas used to consider themselves Kshatriyas belonging to traditional lunar/solar lineages. There were Vaishya clans too. All of them however didn’t make it to modernity while Brahmin immigration from the North prevented a similar fate for Brahmins.

15 shrikanthk January 23, 2015 at 7:37 am

The Cholas and Pandyas claimed Kshatriya status just to feel good about themselves and to publicize their affinity to the Indo-Aryan culture which was looked up to. But they had little/no connection whatsoever with the Vedic Indo-European Kshatriyas. They were just local Dravidian rulers who got aryanized (due to brahmin influence) over time.

16 TheNewGuy January 23, 2015 at 8:24 am

@shrikanthk Kings from South India participate in the Kurukshetra war and get invited to ‘swayamvaram’-s in the North. Not inconcievable that they had relations by marriage at the very least or had derived from the same clans as North that migrated South. And why wouldn’t Vaishyas migrate to the South like Brahmins anyway.

17 shrikanthk January 23, 2015 at 9:10 am

NewGuy : The Kurukshetra war and the Mahabharata story is basically a Punjab-Doab story of North India, that gained in popularity beyond its place of origin over several centuries.

As the South got progressively aryanized in culture, these local Dravidian kings sought connection with the Aryan north and persuaded the priests to include their names in the final forms of the epics – which took shape some time in the classical period (Gupta/post Gupta age) – some 1500 yrs after the legendary events took place in 1000 BC.

18 TheNewGuy January 23, 2015 at 12:28 pm

@shrikanthk All the three Varnas expanded by marrying from the fourth. Their rates of intermarriage varied. Buddha (or a Buddhist speaking through him) is found to have criticized at one point the tendency of Brahmins to accept other Varnas into their fold freely. On the whole I suspect Kshatriyas did this much more. There are countless pointers to this in the epics- the marriage of niShAda (a tribal Kingdom) King naLa to princess damayanti of vidarbha (proper ‘Arya’ Kshatriya Kingdom). Now their descendants wouldn’t have say, R1a Y chromosome, or something to prove they aren’t cultural Kshatriyas rather than ‘original’ ones but I would count them as real Kshatriyas. Provided they wear the yaj~nOpavita/studied Vedas. That is because I believe the Vedic religion wasn’t primarily an ethnic creed for a long period in Indian history.

19 So Much for Subtlety January 23, 2015 at 5:39 pm

shrikanthk January 23, 2015 at 6:08 am

None of what I said is an attempt at any kind of Hindu revisionism.

I have no idea what you think you are doing but there are two very clear strands of revisionism in what you said. One is the Hindutva one – caste is a horrible thing that has nothing to do with the lovely Aryans who were not, by the way, invaders from the North. The other is the standard Leftist twaddle that caste is all the fault of the British who invented to divide and rule etc etc.

The evidence for either claim is somewhat weak.

That’s not correct based on the available evidence. There’s no evidence to suggest that Jati arose from Varna.

Apart from, you know, 1 billion odd Hindus who have always said it was? And the basic similarity in concept? And the fact that the society that produced one evolved from another society that had the other?

While Jatis are thousands in number and the history of many of the clan-based Jatis predate Aryan expansion to Southern India and hence predate Varna.

How would anyone know that the Jatis predate Aryan expansion? It is not as if there are any histories to tell us.

It also affects Muslims and Christians living in India.

That would be those “minorities embedded in Hindu societies”. It does not affect anyone outside the Hindu world.

And the reason it exists is because of the incredible racial and cultural heterogeneity of the Indian subcontinent and not because of Hinduism per se.

As opposed to where precisely?

20 shrikanthk January 23, 2015 at 10:48 pm

You seem to have a problem in comprehension.

“The other is the standard Leftist twaddle that caste is all the fault of the British who invented to divide and rule etc etc ”

I didn’t mention the British in my comment.

“Apart from, you know, 1 billion odd Hindus who have always said it was? And the basic similarity in concept? And the fact that the society that produced one evolved from another society that had the other?”

Oh have they? By the way there is no similarity in concept. Varna is hierarchical and refers to very broad hereditary classes. Jati is very localised with no scriptural basis. And it is not hierarchical, but a mere endogamous classification of society. Ofcourse we are not discussing here whether Varna or for that matter Jati is a good or bad thing. Those are value judgments which I am not venturing into. This is a value-free discussion.

“It is not as if there are any histories to tell us.”

It is mainstream scholarly opinion that Varna and Jati are not closely related to each other. You are free to believe otherwise. Here’s Basham –
“The caste system (jati) may well be the natural response of the many small and primitive peoples who were forced to come to terms with a more advanced economic and social system. It did nt develop out of the four Aryan varnas, and the two systems have never been thoroughly harmonised”

“As opposed to where precisely?”

As opposed to most other Eurasian nations. This is a country that has been a multiracial melting pot for close to 3000 years if not more. With two completely unrelated group of languages (Indo-European and Dravidian) cohabiting in the same land.

21 Rahul January 24, 2015 at 5:12 am

For all the talk of Brahmin domination of India, I find it interesting that Brahmin representatives (MP’s) were less than 10% of the elected federal government.

* circa 2007 data.

22 TheNewGuy January 23, 2015 at 4:17 am

(a) “Varnas” have something to do with caste. There aren’t untouchable castes within the first three “Varnas”.

(b) Three-fold division of society into a priestly class, a warrior class and the rest (commoners) is common in Indo-European cultures. Zoroastrians have a similar setup. This has nothing to do with race. The fourth class (“varna”) among Indo-Aryans was initially a designation for enemies- Iranians at first and later non-Indo-Aryan Indic peoples.

(c) “Varna” system has backing in Hindu scriptures which have also been interpreted to justify caste system.

(d) It had varying rigidity across time.

23 shrikanthk January 23, 2015 at 7:35 am

a) FIrstly the fourth Varna – “shudra” doesn’t mean untouchable. A very very huge proportion of Indian population (well in excess of 50% in some regions) is “shudra”. The “untouchables” didn’t exist in ancient times. But they represent groups totally outside the social pale as defined by four varnas. And they came about during late-classical/medieval periods (post Gupta). “Jatis” (caste) unlike Varna (class) are not hierarchical. There are thousands of “shudra” castes that don’t intermarry to this day (despite proclaiming a common “varna”) and these are just endogamous groups (no hierarchical grading of these castes exist, though each caste may claim superiority over the other)

b) It has a lot to do with race. The “fourth class” represented the outsiders – in other words the indigenous tribes that were not culturally as well as racially close ot the Indo-Aryan peoples. However I agree that the “racial purity” as desired by the varna system was not preserved for long as the Indo-Aryan people mingled with the local populace notwithstanding the varna system.

c) They have the backing only because the scriptures aren’t written in an ivory tower cut off from the world but they represent hard social realities. Scriptures don’t make the society. Its the society that makes the scriptures.

d) Varying rigidity over time. Yes. But never completely rigid. Castes have gone up and down the social scale over centuries thanks to a number of factors. As I said, the “Jatis” were never hierarchical but just mutually sparring, endogamous groups, whose fortunes have fluctuated over millennia.

24 TheNewGuy January 23, 2015 at 8:10 am

@shrikanthk Untouchables existed before the Gupta period. There are references to chaNDALA-s in the Arthashastra. Shudras were ritually impure & kept away from Vedic sacrifices which was the right of only the first three Varnas. Shudra Nairs in Kerala were untouchable to Namboothiri Brahmins and had to stay 16 feet away from them.

25 shrikanthk January 23, 2015 at 9:15 am

Arthashastra’s historicity itself is often questioned. And many scholars are not yet convinced if it is a classical Gupta document or goes back to Mauryan times (as is claimed by the tradition and Kautilyan legend). In any case untouchability in classical India was not as widespread and malevolent as it turned out in late medieval India (just prior to British conquest).

Kerala is an exceptional case. The region where the varna system was particularly severe. But Kerala is not representative of India. In a lot of other parts of the country, shudras often did quite well. Even ruled over large tracts of land. Even the great Mauryan empire is of part-shudra origin.

It is interesting that several great Indian empires weren’t kshatriya empires.
Mauryan empire – shudra origin (later buddhist)
Nanda empire – shudra origin
Gupta empire – vaishya origin
Sunga empire – Brahmin origin
Harsavardhana – Buddhist
Cholas/Pandyas – local dravidian shudras

26 TheNewGuy January 23, 2015 at 11:54 am

@shrikanthk Arthashastra operates in a pre-Gupta moral universe. nAstikA-s were feared and respected. Widow remarriage was allowed. Brahmins could eat meat, drink alcohol and take up arms. And chaNDALA-s existed. Punishments were prescribed for them that came in contact with Brahmins and they lived outsider the limits of the city. And I agree on caste oppression being the worst just before the British arrived. Islamic imperialism worsened untouchability.

Kerala wasn’t exceptional for Vedic Brahminism. As a class of people that didn’t wear the yaj~nOpavita, Shudras were untouchable in the Vedic Brahminical scheme of things. Yes, Brahmins in the rest of the country varied in their adherence to Vedic Brahminism. Nevertheless, in large parts of India, Brahmins stayed away from Shudras and maintained customs to prevent pollution. This doesn’t mean the Shudras were powerless or poor. In fact they were rulers for the most part in South India. As were the Nairs. Ritual impurity doesn’t always or, in the case of Shudras, even mostly mean material poverty. Conversely, Brahmins even though they mostly enjoyed high ritual status were hardly the richest or the second richest class in society.

27 shrikanthk January 23, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Fair enough.

I am not sticking my neck out on Arthashastra being Mauryan or Guptan or somewhere in between the two.

The main point was that untouchability as we understand it from late medieval times most likely did not exist in as severe a form in classical India. Also the other point was that “Jati” just meant strictly endogamous groups – with thousands of jatis within each varna. These Jatis weren’t hierarchical in the same sense as Varna. And there’s no reason to believe that Varna evolved into finer Jatis. These could be two different social curiosities.

And as you rightly pointed out neither Varna-based discrimination nor Jati-based discrimination necessarily meant economic hardship and material poverty for the people discriminated against. Yes, there were poor people. But they existed across varnas, though racial/cultural differences meant that some castes/races lagged more than the rest (but that cannot necessarily be attributed to discrimination).

28 Ray Lopez January 23, 2015 at 4:19 am

@shrikanthk – good analysis, also it should be pointed out that other cultures had castes, including medieval Europe, ancient Egyptians, Ottoman empire, Marmalukes, Inca/Maya/Aztecs, and probably, if you count social castes or ruler/warrior/peasant divides as castes, the ancient Chinese and feudal Japanese at some point. Only the ancient Greeks were free, pace the Spartans. Greek exceptionalism, again.

29 TheNewGuy January 23, 2015 at 4:33 am

India didn’t have chattel slavery like Greeks or Romans.

30 Adrian Ratnapala January 23, 2015 at 6:28 am

I think to get something similar to an a jati, you would need a medieval guilds that also strictly enforced marrying-in, and not just the loose, mostly voluntary endogamy that you will get in any tight social group.

31 Rahul January 24, 2015 at 6:51 am

Why medieval? Marrying-in was pretty strictly enforced in most of America till the middle of the last century, wasn’t it? At least across the two major groups.

32 Adrian Ratnapala January 25, 2015 at 5:02 am

Because I am talking about occupation-based guilds, and not the large classes that might go by names such as “race”, or “varna”. My point was that medieval European guilds were less closed off than Indian jatis. Modern guilds are even less closed off than their medieval predecessors.

33 Adrian Ratnapala January 23, 2015 at 6:23 am

When did a Jati system recognisably similar to the modern one first evolve? My impression was that that system too, is very ancient, even if particular casts come and go.

34 TheNewGuy January 23, 2015 at 7:06 am

After ‘castes’ won over ‘sects’ in India. Completion by the Gupta period.

35 Rahul January 24, 2015 at 12:29 am

What I’m wondering is why do the exact details of origins of the system matter? Does it make much of a difference to the optimal policy for today?

A lot of this seems like asking how many angels can dance on the point of a pin. Whether caste was Hindu specific, or religion linked or other cultures had anything similar seems entirely irrelevant from a pragmatic viewpoint,.

36 Steve Sailer January 24, 2015 at 1:12 am

Hindus make up, what, 1/8th of humanity?, so caste is intrinsically important and interesting.

Moreover, understanding why something evolved generally makes it easier to understand its current functions and possible futures.

37 Rahul January 24, 2015 at 6:46 am

@Sailer:

For arguments sake, can you outline any two grossly different policy responses, contingent on two different plausible theories of the origins of caste?

I still don’t see how the exact nature of 2000 year old caste systems should shape our response today, to any significant extent.

To me this whole caste-origins debate sounds like one of those many topics that irrelevant humanities departments obsess over but with close to zero rational relationship with practical policy-making.

38 TheNewGuy January 24, 2015 at 1:21 am

@Rahul

It is relevant for a lot of reasons. There are people who argue India cannot escape caste system without Hinduism ceasing to exist. You can refer books from the ‘Navayana’ stable for more details. If caste system is inseparable from Hinduism (or is Hindu-specific) then the conversion of Hindus to Christianity and Islam should be encouraged as a means of alleviating misery in the world. If other cultures had something similar, India could look towards them to find solutions for its own troubles. Origin matters from a pragmatic viewpoint because it helps in dismantling the caste system.

39 shrikanthk January 24, 2015 at 2:20 am

Well caste system could be India specific. But not necessarily intrinsically linked to Hinduism. Correlation doesn’t imply causation. Castes exist in India on account of the immense heterogeneity of the population going back to 1000 BC.

Last 200 years have seen the loosening of caste system to a great great extent. One can argue caste system today is at its weakest since pre-Gupta times at least. And yet this hasn’t been accompanied by a weakening of Hinduism. Hindu religion remains as popular as ever before. The popular epics (which constitute the core of devotional hinduism) are more well known today than they probably ever were in Indian history.

And its also possible that people preserve caste system in some form (as endogamy enables them to preserve lifestyles/habits/cultural choices) without necessarily engaging in state-sponsored discrimination. For e.g. – A Brahmin may think twice before marrying a non-Brahmin simply because he is averse to the idea of having a meat eater as a partner. This preserves caste endogamy in some form. But it aint a wicked thing as there is no discrimination/oppression here. These are personal choices dictated by lifestyles/value systems.

40 TheNewGuy January 24, 2015 at 5:08 am

shrikanthk: Hindu religion remains as popular as ever before. The popular epics (which constitute the core of devotional hinduism) are more well known today than they probably ever were in Indian history.

Hinduism got cleansed from one-third of its homeland during the partition of India. Cleansing was complete in the West Pakistan while its ongoing at a good pace in the east. Hindus in Kashmir have also been thrown out. These disprove ‘remains as popular as ever before’ assertion. It was more widespread and popular 70 years ago than it is today.

Within India Hinduism has lost some 71 million people to Christianity ( http://www.christianaid.org/blog/2013/BlogPost20131122.aspx ). Billions of dollars are poured into India every year from U.S, Germany, Scandinavian countries for Christian proselytism. In Mizoram (90%), Nagaland(90%) and Meghalaya(70%) Christians are in majority with fast increasing numbers in the rest of the North-East, coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and in tribal belts of Central and Eastern India.

On the other hand , Hinduism is hamstrung by sectarian laws against it that mandates state control of most of its Temples and their revenue. Hindus are also prohibited from freely setting up their own educational institutes and being subject to government takeover (effective nationalization) of their existing schools.

Hinduism still lacks a institutional setup for proselytism and whatever little it does manage to do is severely reprimanded as anti-minority.

As for caste, priests in most temples are still those who are born Brahmins even though all Hindus mostly attend the same temples. Caste oppression is rampant in rural areas particularly in the North.

41 Rahul January 24, 2015 at 5:19 am

@TheNewGuy

I actually don’t mind the Billions of dollars of proselytization dollars much. At least the Christian ones.

Most of the money goes into grassroots efforts e.g. hospitals, schools, food etc. Often people accuse the missionaries of conversion with the bait of money. But I think that’s ok. I’d rather see a poor tribal live a better life as a Christian than die poor as an obscure, forgotten Hindu that the Indian state anyways manages to forget.

42 TheNewGuy January 24, 2015 at 5:43 am

@Rahul- Yes, Hindus should spend money on their own poor. Sectarian laws against Hindus should be abolished, Hindu Temples and their revenue freed from state control and Hindu proselytism freely allowed. I would also add state support for Hindu proselytism since many European countries do the same for Christian missionaries. There would be a level field then.

All of the above of course in addition to general poverty alleviating measures.

43 shrikanthk January 24, 2015 at 6:01 am

HInduism is a fundamentally “right wing” religion while Christianity and Islam are fundamentally “left wing”.

In the Abrahamic world view – “There is an absolute truth. People are all created equal. Everyone is equal in the eyes of god. People who don’t subscribe to this ideal of equality are to be despised and if necessary eliminated”

While in the HIndu world view – “All men are not the same. Truth is relative. There is no free lunch. People are different. Good actions may not necessarily yield good results always. Life is random. One has to put up with one’s fate sometimes”

There is no tradition of alms giving in Hinduism. Because alms giving and feeding poor is not really central to Hindu conservative thought. In Hinduism, people are supposed to fend for themselves in this cruel world instead of seeking the mirage of equality. Hinduism is less obsessed with equality. But more obsessed with responsibility and rectitude. Thomas Sowell would like Hinduism a lot. It is a conservative religion, through and through.

44 TheNewGuy January 24, 2015 at 6:20 am

shrikanthk: In the Abrahamic world view – “There is an absolute truth. People are all created equal. Everyone is equal in the eyes of god.

Not women. They aren’t created equal to men in Abrahamic worldview. So that is 50% of humanity right there. (h/t Hitchens). Also, both Islam and Christianity condone slavery. This in addition to believer and kuffar/heathen distinction.

shrikanthk: There is no tradition of alms giving in Hinduism.

There are countless instances of Kings giving alms in the epics. “dAna” is an essential activity for Kings as well as lay gr^ihastA-s (householders). Plenty of scriptural exhortations to be charitable can be found here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C4%81na

Bhagavad Gita, Rg-Veda, various upaniShats all mandate charity.

In every Hindu festival, an annadAnam (donating food) and vastradAnam (donating clothes) are part of the activities that are done.

Many Hindu Sadhus (wandering monks) as a vow only subsist on the donated food they receive from Hindus. There are tens of thousands of them in India even today.

45 Rahul January 24, 2015 at 6:42 am

@TheNewGuy:

India in 1950 had 2% Christians. Today that has become 2.4%. Hardly any cataclysmic change. Frankly, if you want to worry about demographics you should rather focus on the Muslims.

State support of Hindu-missionaries would be pretty inane & regressive. No need to match whatever stupidity European nations are doing, if any. They might have the luxury of frivolous budgets. We don’t. Anyways, having the EU devote their budgets to subsidizing Indian development sounds like a free lunch to me.

About getting the Govt. out of the business of administering temples, I totally agree. But the motive there was mostly greed of corrupt bureaucrats rather than some deep anti-Hindu conspiracy.

PS. Which are the “sectarian laws against Hindus”? Just curious.

46 TheNewGuy January 24, 2015 at 8:21 am

@Rahul- Joshua project estimates Christian population as around 7% of India- a couple of percentage points higher than the Christian Aid estimate of 71 million. Muslim percentage likewise is a massive undercount. Probably 20% of total. Those who self-identify as Hindus account for some 65% at best, likely lower. Rest of the “Hindus” follow ethnic religions.

For sectarian laws against Hindus, the Right to Education Act is a good start. http://www.niticentral.com/2014/11/09/sonia-gandhis-rte-act-anti-hindu-244210.html

There is also Discrimination against Hindus in Indian Public discourse. http://swarajyamag.com/politics/discrimination-against-hindus-in-indian-public-discourse/

47 Rahul January 25, 2015 at 7:57 am

@TheNewGuy:

I looked up the Joshua Project’s website & I’m getting 2.2% as percent Christian adherent, not 7%.

I cite 4 credible sources below that report in the same ballpark. Can you provide a source for your phenomenally high 7% estimate? What gives? http://joshuaproject.net/countries/IN

Wikipedia says 2.4% http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_India

The official Indian Census says 2.3% http://censusindia.gov.in/Census_And_You/religion.aspx

The CIA World Factbook says 2.3% https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html

48 TheNewGuy January 26, 2015 at 1:45 am

@Rahul-

You might also be interested in this ‘storify’ http://storify.com/krishnakerala/christian-proselytism-in-in-schools

If you are on twitter, you can also follow @sighbaboo and @trackevangelism for 100x the kind of instances shown above.

49 TheNewGuy January 26, 2015 at 1:47 am

@Rahul- My response is stuck in moderation. So the above comment was supposed to be a post script to that. Cheers.

50 TheNewGuy January 26, 2015 at 5:45 am

@Rahul- Even in Andhra Pradesh, Wikipedia gives 1.51% of Christians while Global Christianity gives 9% http://twitter.com/csgc/status/327452489249087489

51 Rahul January 26, 2015 at 1:06 pm

@TheNewGuy:

Who would you trust? Wikipedia + Indian census + CIA + Joshua Project all saying 2.3% Christians doesn’t convince you?

You will still stick to your 7% Christians estimate?

52 TheNewGuy January 26, 2015 at 10:33 pm

@Rahul- My comment had an explanation for that. Still isn’t published- probably due to the length of hyperlinks. Hopefully it will get through soon or maybe I’ll post a version without the links later.

53 TheNewGuy January 26, 2015 at 10:44 pm

@Rahul- *the number of hyperlinks.

54 TheNewGuy January 26, 2015 at 10:47 pm

@Rahul-
Joshua Project

The Joshua Project clssifies ‘people groups’ into ‘unreached’ and the rest. Unreached people is a term meant to denote any ethnic group without enough Christians (that is, missionaries) to evangelize the rest of the non-Christian population of any non-Christian nation. All ‘reached’ people groups have a minimum 5% of their population as professing Christians. In India they categorize around 10% of the ‘people groups’ as having that distinction. I am not sure how this translates into percentage of the total population- from the site, the unreached population in India is 95%. But I have seen it mentioned as 93.3% in other places like here: “The Joshua Project lists the percentage of unreached in India as 93.3%”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/suhag-a-shukla-esq/harvesting-souls-yields-c_b_817793.html?ir=India

Of course, I confused ‘unreached peoples’ with non-Christians

Money

The total money received by Christian evangelical organizations in India from abroad in one year (2011-2012) was Rs. 3274 Crore (more than $530 million). This is also a lower limit because many prominent Christian organizations such as World Vision India and Operation Mobilization India don’t always register as belonging to any specific religious denomination or being religious at all. Other religions get some 5% of this.http://sighbaboo.blogspot.in/2014/08/fund-magnitudes-where-religious.html

There is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’.

Official census figures

On Christianity in China, Wikipedia gives figures between 2 and 4% based on official surveys. The CIA World fact book (and Pew) gives 5.1% while the Joshua Project gives 7.8%. Official repression of Christianity is rampant in China which has resulted in a massive underground church movement. So these are likely to be an underestimate.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10776023/China-on-course-to-become-worlds-most-Christian-nation-within-15-years.html

I mention China because it is very much comparable to India as a society that hasn’t yet been dominated by either of the monotheist religions. So it can give clues to the future of religion in India too provided we also keep in mind the severe state suppression of Christianity and Islam in China which is absent in India.

In India, there is no government data available for illegal immigration -making Muslim census figures useless..http://twitter.com/Retributions/status/520041096496177152 – and religious conversions- doing the same for Christianity. Hindus converting to Christianity in many states may not always change their official names or religious identification for fear of losing caste privileges. Most often the ‘Christian variant’ of the caste isn’t eligible for state patronage. This is not some pro-Hindu measure but reflects the reality that the official machinery hasn’t kept up with conversions to Christianity from more and more new castes.

In many states like Karnataka the option of identifying by your caste and Christianity without any disadvantage is becoming available while in others like Andhra Pradesh, state patronage to Christianity has made this a non-issue- “The YSR government also created a special allowance for Christians to visit Bethlehem, on the lines of the Haj subsidy provided for Muslims, besides doling out taxpayer funds to Christian organizations for the refurbishment and construction of churches. YSR’s son-in-law, Christian evangelist Anil Kumar, held large-scale evangelism programmes with assistance from the state government.”http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/NjnmAZDTjUMUyZjhETSzIL/Saving-secularism-from-the-secularists.html?utm_source=copy

So the 5.67% (71 million) estimate of Christian Aid isn’t phenomenally high at all…http://www.christianaid.org/blog/2013/BlogPost20131122.aspx

55 Rahul January 27, 2015 at 12:50 am

@TheNewGuy:

I still don’t get that.

Why the complicated extrapolations from reached & unreached peoples when the link I showed you from the Joshua Project site (your choice of source) clearly puts the aggregate national Christian % as 2.3%?

http://joshuaproject.net/countries/IN

Why not take that at face value?

Similarly, since you believe the CIA data & Wikipedia data on China why not rely upon the same sources about India? Clearly everyone says 2.3% of India is Christian.

I find no support for your 7% assertion. Give me one, any one, authoritative source to back 7%.

56 TheNewGuy January 27, 2015 at 2:55 am

Official census figures for both China and India are an underestimate. I try to explain the reasons for that and why Christian proselytism in India is more pervasive than China. These should be factored in when estimating the Christian %.

I explain what Joshua Project means when they classify some 7% of Indians as ‘unreached’.

I don’t think 5-6% estimate of Christian population of India is phenomenally high.

57 TheNewGuy January 27, 2015 at 3:12 am

@Rahul- Here is another estimate from “The Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC)”- a demographic research center located on the campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, MA USA”

Religious demographics of India- 72% Hindu, 15% Muslim, 5% Christian, 4% ethnoreligionist, 2% Sikh, 2% agnostic https://twitter.com/CSGC/status/551018674698878978

58 TheNewGuy January 27, 2015 at 3:20 am

@Rahul- “I explain what Joshua Project means when they classify some 7% of Indians as ‘unreached’.”

Sorry that should be “93% of Indians as ‘unreached’.”

59 TheNewGuy January 27, 2015 at 8:34 am
60 shrikanthk January 24, 2015 at 2:23 am

And if you talk to young educated Indians who insist on marrying within caste or varna today, its largely because they want to preserve their lifestyle/culture/values in some form for another generation. Not because they believe the other castes / varnas to be inferior or degenerate.

It’s like a Republican in US being averse to the idea of marrying a Michael Moore fan. Thats perfectly understandable.

61 shrikanthk January 24, 2015 at 2:32 am

“the conversion of Hindus to Christianity and Islam should be encouraged as a means of alleviating misery in the world”

Its interesting that people hold this view. A lot of the misery in this world over the past 2000 years is a direct result of the Abrahamic insistence on the idea that “all men are created equal”. A dangerous, evil notion that destroyed the Roman empire, rendered it effeminate and ushered dark ages.

The European revival in the past 500 years and the ushering in of the modern world happened because of a humanistic revival of old conservative Greco/Roman classical ideas and the shedding of deleterious egalitarian, plebeian culture encouraged by those two middle eastern desert religions

62 Steve Sailer January 24, 2015 at 6:43 am

Interesting.

63 Rahul January 24, 2015 at 6:47 am

Where does the French revolution fit into this narrative?

64 shrikanthk January 24, 2015 at 7:13 am

French revolution was an outcome of modernisation and growth. Not a cause of it.

The cultural revival of Europe dates to the late middle ages when there was a revolt against traditional Christianity and a revival of classical ideas and points of view. I don’t see the French revolution as particularly necessary in the process of European revival, which predates the revolution by several centuries.

At any rate, both Christianity and Islam have a pretty poor record when it comes to alleviating misery. The Crusades, the Thirty years War, the Inquisitions, the world wide Jehad over the past 1500 years, mass vandalism encouraged by Islam in many parts of the world including India.

This isn’t a great record. I find Indian history (especially pre-Islamic history) very very non violent and peaceful in contrast. Though I am no great fan of the varna/caste system and the inegalitarian nature of Hindu society, I will take that anyday over the misery inflicted on large parts of the world by those two “egalitarian” religions.

65 josh January 25, 2015 at 8:35 pm

Good points. Poor people should be debt slaves and productive labor should be viewed with derision. The world need to return to the masculine state of Rome under Elagabalus.

66 Rahul January 24, 2015 at 3:24 am

Even if so, is there any modern precedent of a getting systematically rid of a religion just to get rid of an associated evil? Do we try encouraging Mormon missionaries to convert Syrians / Arabs to LDS to extirpate terrorism?

What if we convert Hindus to Moslems & swap caste for jihad?

The solution seems decidedly worse than the problem.

67 TheNewGuy January 24, 2015 at 4:39 am

@Rahul- For arguments sake, there can be other solutions than systematic extermination. Indonesia, for instance, didn’t recognize Hinduism officially until the 1960s which made many Hindus identify as Muslims for accessing Government services. At present, Indonesia mandates that all religions believe in a single all-powerful God (monotheism). Overt polytheism among many Hindus thus became illegal. Similarly it may be insisted that Hindus stop using Brahmin priests in their temples to abolish caste system or stop idol worship which intellectuals like Kancha Illiah considers the root of caste system.

Rahul: What if we convert Hindus to Moslems & swap caste for jihad?

It’s game over for the Hindus that are left but if caste is just a Hindu problem then I have to say India would be better off.

68 Rahul January 24, 2015 at 5:03 am

@TheNewGuy:

India would be better off by an introduction of terrorism, fatwas, sharia etc. in lieu of caste? I find that tradeoff crazy but I guess everyone can judge for themselves.

Has proscribing religion by decree ever worked positively in recent history. The Russians & Chinese tried to systematically kill Christianity and look what happened.

I think any attempts to social engineer on this scale are doomed & dangerous. Caste is dying a natural death, albeit slowly. Any observer of India who has witnessed the massive changes over the last 100 years can see that.

The solution is literacy, education, prosperity, & anti-harassment / anti-discrimination laws. Not some ambitious plan of massive religious transformation predicated upon some shaky, speculative theory of caste-system origin.

69 shrikanthk January 24, 2015 at 5:27 am

I sense a tendency here to mix up Indian society and HIndu religion.

As HInduism isn’t an organised religion like Christianity or Islam it gets a bit hard sometimes to distinguish between general Indian culture (an outcome of numerous historical factors) and HIndu theology / religion.

The question “Is caste just a HIndu problem” is a pointless question. If you answer “Yes”, then you will probably need to wipe off 1/8th of humanity. Because caste is a secular, social phenomenon rooted in Indian life and Indian realities not HIndu theology as is often imagined! If you convert 800MM hindus to say Islam or Christianity, these converted peoples will continue to form castes/hierarchies due to the nature of Indian social fabric. This has nothing to do with the religion per se. You can get rid of caste only by getting rid of Indians (not by changing their religion).

70 TheNewGuy January 24, 2015 at 5:27 am

I think you are right. You can escape caste by moving to cities in India. No such escape would be possible for a hypothetical scenario of jihad.

71 asdf January 23, 2015 at 9:24 am

According to Clark the caste system has been strong enough to counteract reversion to the mean, that’s pretty strong.

72 John Durant January 23, 2015 at 12:15 pm

A better theory would take into account the role of the Untouchables (dirty jobs), the massive individual and social benefit of pathogen avoidance, the prevalence of “Untouchable” castes at the bottom of caste systems around the world, the lack of scientific understanding of hygiene during the period in which caste systems have formed, and the genetic differences among the castes with are often found in genes related to immune function.

73 Lorenzo from Oz January 24, 2015 at 10:39 pm

I fail to see how the above features are incompatible with their paper. On the contrary, it would increase the cost of exogamy, which the central point of their theory.

74 Tom January 23, 2015 at 12:40 pm

well it’s better than the dumbass “relic of aryan conquest theory” anyway

75 dearieme January 23, 2015 at 4:22 pm

“so unique because the Brahmins sought to preserve and orally transmit the Hindu scriptures for over a millennium with no script”: “so unique” – spit! Anyway, didn’t Caesar say that the Druids were in the game of preserving and transmitting their stuff without writing it down? But he and later writers made no mention of a caste system among the Ancient Britons or the Gauls.

76 ohwilleke January 23, 2015 at 7:49 pm

For reasons that I explain at some length in a blog post of my own, http://dispatchesfromturtleisland.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-economics-of-caste-formation-and.html, the historical description of the origins of the caste system in the introduction to the paper are deeply flawed and deny the overwhelmingly evidence indicating that the arrival of Indo-Aryan outsiders had a profound influence on modern Hindu Indian ethnogenesis.

This flawed historical position isn’t deeply important to an economic analysis of caste in India, but isn’t irrelevant either and undermines the credibility of their analysis overall.

77 Rahul January 24, 2015 at 12:22 am

Why is the origin, important to current analysis? Can you explain?

78 Lorenzo from Oz January 24, 2015 at 10:38 pm

Origin elements in the cited paper, not in Anthony’s book, which I found very persuasive.

79 Lorenzo from Oz January 24, 2015 at 10:37 pm

As an enthusiast for David Anthony’s “The Horse, the Wheel and Language” I enjoyed your post. I also found the origin elements doubtful, given that Sanskrit is clearly an Indo-European language and the archaeological evidence for Vedic style rituals in the steppes. Not to mention the very Vedic elements in the chariot-noble culture of Mitanni in the Levant.

80 Rahul January 24, 2015 at 5:13 am

For all the talk of Brahmin domination of India, I find it interesting that Brahmin representatives (MP’s) were less than 10% of the elected federal government.
* circa 2007 data.

81 shrikanthk January 24, 2015 at 5:37 am

Also this “Brahmin” bugbear means nothing to people who are actually familiar with this varna.

Brahmins come in staggering variety. We have the meat eating brahmins of Kashmir and Bengal. We have the orthodox, and yet rather anglicised, brahmins of Southern India. We have the rather backward, agrarian brahmins of the Hindi belt. Its a bewildering range. Just as every other varna in this country is bewildering in its variety.

Its pointless to talk of “brahmin” hegemony when this varna is so very diverse economically, lingually, racially as well as culturally. There’s nothing in common between a Tamil Brahmin studying at IIT and a UP brahmin working as a taxi driver in Bombay. There really is no bond holding these very diverse brahmin communities together, except perhaps some vague familiarity with scriptures and vegetarianism to a lesser extent.

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