Why isn’t the Indian caste system more protested in the United States?

by on November 9, 2017 at 12:25 am in Current Affairs, Education, Law, Political Science, Religion, Uncategorized | Permalink

About one-sixth of India is Dalits, or “Untouchables.”  And while Western criticisms of caste segregation are a long-standing observation about India, I hardly hear serious complaints over the last two decades or so.  In contrast, the apartheid system of South Africa met with demonstrations, boycotts, campus activism, frequent dialogue, and so on.  Why don’t we see some modified version of the same for the Indian caste system?  No matter how you compare its relative oppression to that of South Africa, it still seems like a massive system of unjust and opportunity-destroying segregation, and an efficiency-loser as well.  Here are a few hypotheses, not intended as endorsements but rather speculations:

1. The caste system is simply too difficult for most Americans to understand, whereas apartheid could be represented more readily in what I dare not call simple black and white terms.

2. Most of the Indians who migrate to the United States are higher caste or at least middling caste, and they sway American opinions of India in a way that South African migrants to the USA never did.

3. Libertarians don’t want to focus on the caste system because it persists without active government support being the main driver.  Democrats don’t want to focus on the caste system because Indian-Americans are often leading supporters and donors.  It doesn’t feel like a Republican issue either.  So who is there to push this one for domestic ideological reasons?

4. Talking about the caste system makes harder the (justified, I should add) program of raising the status of non-minority whites in America.

5. Talking about the caste system would focus light on caste-based discrimination in the United States, and distract attention from other domestic issues.

What else?  Overall I find this a disappointing topic to ponder.  Perhaps all politics, like envy, really is local after all.

I am indebted to Sujatha Gidla for a useful conversation on this topic.  My formal Conversation with her will be up in a bit, I still recommend her book on caste, Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India.

1 Brent November 9, 2017 at 12:39 am

Can you name any discrimination that gets any significant media attention that does not include white people?

It’s not that discrimination or racism is evil. Only white privilege is evil.

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2 chrisare November 9, 2017 at 6:15 am

Male privilege too. Gender issues get a fair bit of international play, regardless of complexion.

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3 Dick the Butcher November 9, 2017 at 7:15 am

This past weekend, I exercised male privilege in our hunt club’s Adirondack Deer Camp.

No deer was hurt in this celebration of toxic masculinity. Plus, I made the hump, in and out (six miles uphill each way), without having a heart attack/stroke or breaking a leg.

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4 msgkings November 9, 2017 at 11:39 am

You didn’t kill any deer? What were you doing out there? Also, are women not allowed to hunt?

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5 Albus_Scirocco November 9, 2017 at 8:03 am

This is the answer. If it’s not white males doing it, it isn’t Wrong. White males are Wrong. China can be completely xenophobic but that is not Wrong, because China is not white males, they are Asian males, and Asian males are not Wrong.

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6 Dan November 9, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Asian males are often Wong

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7 Tom T. November 9, 2017 at 7:47 am

It’s not that only white privilege is bad, it’s that Americans know very well that protesting against something that non-white people are doing will get them branded as racist. Also, South Africa was a way of protesting against colonialism as well, whereas protesting Indian practices risks being called out for imperialism.

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8 clockwork_prior November 9, 2017 at 12:45 am

‘Why isn’t the Indian caste system more protested in the United States?’

Because people remember Gandhi, and how a founder of modern India was opposed to ‘untouchability,’ whereas South African apartheid was explicitly based on implementing a government system that enforced racial discrimination?

‘So who is there to push this one for domestic ideological reasons?’

You do realize that there was a world wide campaign against apartheid, not merely an American domestic one, right? A fairly concrete demonstration that all politics are not local, one would have assumed..

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9 clockwork_prior_has_been_triggered November 9, 2017 at 5:16 am

so what’s your answer Clock? why isn’t the Indian caste system a concern for US activists? Something to do with Gandhi? Something to do with people outside the US protesting Apartheid? C’mon give it your best shot.

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10 Anonymous Bosch November 9, 2017 at 5:20 am

“Because people remember Gandhi, and how a founder of modern India was opposed to ‘untouchability,’ whereas South African apartheid was explicitly based on implementing a government system that enforced racial discrimination?”

Then again, during the two decades that he spent in South Africa (1893-1914), Gandhi protested loudly against anti-Indian discrimination, but held roughly the same prejudices against blacks as the whites did. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-34265882

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11 Bakulesh Doshi November 9, 2017 at 12:54 am

May be because the Indian state is actually doing a good job at integrating castes, the lower caster has significant political power, reservations in education, jobs etc. A lot of the lower castes have moved up in life, they are starting businesses, employing people etc. Unlike the apartheid the state has no explicit anti lower caste policies. In fact the two are not really comparable.

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12 Thomas Sewell November 9, 2017 at 2:48 am

Yeah, it seems obvious that when the lower castes use their population size to control the government via voting and create all sorts of government set-asides, it’s difficult to argue that there is a massive legally enforced segregation to demonstrate against. Some might argue that post-Democracy in India, the highest castes are the subject of legal discrimination, even if socially they are the opposite.

Not seeing the mystery here, but maybe Tyler can explain it to us a little better…

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13 Vic Twente November 10, 2017 at 8:26 am

Wow. You know literally nothing about the reality of caste in India.

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14 Thomas Sewell November 11, 2017 at 9:02 pm

Sorry, the most recent month I spent in India was in September. Has it changed a lot in the last 60 days?

You must live in a different part of India than the dozen people I’m literally chatting with right now. BTW, it’s early morning there as I write this.

Or perhaps you had a specific objection to what I wrote which you could mention, rather than a blanket assumption from your personal ignorance?

For example, maybe you know better what percentage of government funded jobs in India are set aside specifically for lower caste folks?

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15 Anonymous Coward November 9, 2017 at 7:59 pm

All you’ve shown is that the issue is de facto (not de jure) and that there are efforts to reduce the historic disparities. This is equally true of race relations in the US (and has been for about 50 years). It also has never been an excuse to ignore a widespread, de facto problem.

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16 Ray Lopez November 9, 2017 at 1:09 am

I don’t see any convincing arguments rebutting TC’s. I’ll simply say ‘because a caste is based on thousands of years of history, it’s at least 1500 years old, whereas apartheid was probably about 100-150 years old, if you count the time the Orange Free State was formed and when the British beat the Boers and so on’

In short, history matters.

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17 CD November 9, 2017 at 1:21 am

Apartheid dated from 1948.

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18 Ray Lopez November 9, 2017 at 1:38 am

Thanks but concentration camps segregating populations started in the Boer war from 120 years ago, which the South Africans continued afterwards with shantytowns and de facto segregation between blacks and whites probably when the British took over Dutch colonial claims in 1806, as well as before, so I was roughly close.

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19 itsallrigged November 10, 2017 at 3:07 am

crap

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20 Brent November 9, 2017 at 10:21 am

Slavery dates back to at least the construction of the Egyptian pyramids.

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21 Troll Me November 9, 2017 at 11:18 am

Slavery and apartheid are distinctly different things.

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22 Martin November 10, 2017 at 5:45 am

The Egyptian pyramids weren’t built by slaves but by paid workers.

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23 Bootsy November 9, 2017 at 1:11 am

1. Perhaps the mistaken assumption of intercaste mobility, and that discussions of India’s economic gains are fueling a version of the American Dream.

2. Rising inequality in the US makes the concept of castes less surprising. The US has distinct social classes, perhaps more observable now,

a caste system in a far away land seems less about slavery and more about rigid social classes.

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24 cliff arroyo November 9, 2017 at 2:16 am

“Rising inequality in the US makes the concept of castes less surprising”

I would change ‘less suprising’ to ‘less repulsive’.

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25 CD November 9, 2017 at 1:19 am

Surely the obvious answer is that caste is not enforced by Indian law and, indeed, India’s constitution bans caste discrimination. Apartheid was racial discrimination enforced by law and courts and police; protests against it were put down with brutality. That is what the global boycott movement responded to.

That said, if the BJP continues on its present course I would not be surprised to see organizing in the U.S. and elsewhere around lynchings of dalits and Muslims.

(I can think of no post better calculated to stir up the racists, though.)

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26 blm November 9, 2017 at 11:44 am

yes because the BLM protesters are essentially protesting about the law.

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27 David Wright November 9, 2017 at 1:24 am

The fact that it’s not government-enforced is a pretty important distinction. What, exactly, would a Westerner rail against? The general backwardness of Indian culture? That hardly seems liberal. The Indian government actually has a giant, complicated quota system of which American affirmative-action advocates could only dream. And India has historically been socialist-leaning, which is always a good way to get Western leftists to overlook your faults.

The fact that it was whites oppressing blacks in South Africa was also an important factor in galvanizing American attention. It allowed Americans to project their own history onto the conflict and then take a position that aligned with their local politics.

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28 Tyler November 9, 2017 at 5:38 am

It seems to me like it’s mostly the second point. Plus the extra nuance that apartheid was seen as a stain on whiteness – white Americans were protesting the fact that white South Africans were lowering the status of white people globally.

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29 CM November 9, 2017 at 9:33 am

The “stain on whiteness” framing is really weird and wrong. Virtually no one who cared about the honor or status of white people, as such, was protesting apartheid. In fact it was the reverse. People who cared about “whiteness” thought Apartheid was no big deal. Westerners who did oppose Apartheid largely did so on universal grounds – both religious (Christianity) and secular (human rights) – rather than any concern for the status of white people. And inasmuch as Apartheid opponents saw Apartheid as a stain, it was a stain on universalist groups to which those opponents belonged – the West, Christendom (White South Africans were ostensibly Christian), liberal democracies and the Anglophone world (I know Afrikaaners are not English but SA was a former British colony, a member of the commonwealth and part of the greater anglophone world).

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30 peri November 9, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Yeah, Tyler sure loves his imagined status contests. Nobody was using the word “whiteness.” Festive multiculturalism was in full swing, then, and whites were unashamedly offering up their own various ethnic foods at the potluck, while enjoying everyone else’s, oblivious that they were in fact the Big and Only Other.

My college had some sort of student-erected anti-apartheid shanty decorating the grounds.

Following the rule that popular culture calls back 2 decades, 80s students were keen on feeling they had something to protest. Perhaps that’s why “Desert Storm” generated big pop-up protests no more than hours after it began, while our “Long War” drags on, unobserved.

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31 Your Husband's Cane November 9, 2017 at 9:46 am

As far as I know, traditional practices such as clitoridectomy and infibulation, often lumped under the name “female genital mutilation” (FGM), also aren’t mandated or promoted by higher levels of government. Indeed, if Wikipedia’s to be trusted on the subject, these practices are banned in a number of the countries where they take place.

If the fact that Indian caste discrimination isn’t government-supported explains the lack of serious protest in Western countries, then shouldn’t we expect a similar outcome with FGM? This doesn’t seem to be the case: FGM seems to have received considerable attention from media and pressure groups in the US.

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32 Viking November 9, 2017 at 12:02 pm

If we really cared about FGM, we would give countries that practiced it the (pre 2016) Cuba treatment.

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33 Yancey Ward November 9, 2017 at 1:29 am

Pretty easy to explain- the upper castes aren’t white enough to draw protests.

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34 Bob November 9, 2017 at 1:34 am

Most people in the US, to the extent that they’re even aware of the caste system at all, generally just perceive it to be a stricter form of the class divisions in the US and everywhere else. That is they don’t perceive it to be significantly different qualitatively from class divisions elsewhere like Apartheid, especially since all Indians look the same to them.

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35 MattW November 9, 2017 at 1:43 am

Blacks have status in the US while Indians do not

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36 Dzhaughn November 9, 2017 at 1:48 am

Apartheid was produced by and justified by Western thinking; it is therefore fair and workable for other Westerners to engage in criticize its basis. Further, the attack on apartheid dovetailed with racial politics at home. The caste system originated outside of Western thought; Westerners do not really understand its foundations well enough to try to undermine them.

Also, Westerners less and less “hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” (There is no Creator, Rights are just a social or legal construct, and social concerns trump Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness, particularly your Liberty makes me feel unHappy.) So what are we going to say against the caste system?

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37 chuck martel November 9, 2017 at 8:17 am

Yes, the Declaration of Independence is the Democratic/Republic’s equivalent of the 23 Psalm, a secular bible verse.

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38 A Truth Seeker November 9, 2017 at 10:19 am

Evidently there was much more liberty in the 1700s/first half of the 1800s, when Blacks were slaves, or in the 1950s, when they were sitting at the back of the bus… Back then, White Americans were very concerned about human rights in India.

“Rights are just a social or legal construct”
It explains America long love affair with Wahhabism, doesn’t it?
”There is no Creator”
For what it is worth, your fascist friends in Saudi Arabia disagree, it is just a shame thousands of people paid for it in 9/11.

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39 Troll Me November 9, 2017 at 11:22 am

The specific apartheid which occurred in South Africa, yes, pretty much.

But I do not agree that apartheid or other similar form of draconian and/or oppressive political arrangements should be considered as originating from Western thinking, PER SE. For example, caste existed in India long before most of Europe was even able to write.

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40 The Lunatic November 9, 2017 at 3:28 am

What’s to explain?

“End Apartheid” was conceptually simple, obviously just, and quite actionable; you just get rid of the specific laws that discriminated on the basis of race. Very easy to explain to people, to rally them around, and to demand. And ever since it was done, there has been no significant outside pressure on South Africa to deal with any of the social issues left over, which are many and numerous.

In India, the apartheid-equivalent ended long ago; Indian law does not discriminate on the basis of caste (except for remediation purposes, like low-caste set-asides). And just like in South Africa, there has been no significant outside pressure on South Africa to deal with any of the social issues left over, which are many and numerous.

Give the world a conceptually-simple, obviously-just, easily-actionable plan to deal with the caste system, and sure, then you can complain that the world isn’t pressuring India to adopt it. But, frankly, I’d expect there’s a decent chance that India would enact it anyway.

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41 blah November 9, 2017 at 4:18 am

Beautifully explained.

Hope the morons writing gibberish on this thread would read this comment instead.

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42 Epsilon November 9, 2017 at 4:41 am

Right. This post is just Tyler being obtuse.

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43 blah November 9, 2017 at 4:44 am

Nah, he is too smart and a real genius, and while geniuses can be obtuse his is not of that kind. I wouldn’t apply Hanlon’s razor.

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44 albatross November 9, 2017 at 10:54 am

I suspect one thing driver for opposition to apartheid in the US (I don’t know so much for other countries) was that it was similar to something we had done ourselves, and we’d developed antibodies to that sort of thing. The Indian caste system, or the crappy treatment of Koreans by Japanese, or any number of other things like that may be morally just as bad, even morally worse, than apartheid. And they may be wrong for the same reasons. But they’re also different enough that we don’t have massive pre-defined reactions to them.

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45 Anonymous Coward November 9, 2017 at 8:09 pm

The issues surrounding caste are no more complex than the modern ones surrounding race in the US, and the latter has no shortage of activism. They’re both de facto (not de jure) issues, which you’ve (accurately) pointed out means no option to advocate a “conceptually-simple, obviously-just, easily-actionable plan.” But, that still doesn’t answer Tyler’s question, which is why there’s almost no activism around it at all.

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46 Black dalit November 9, 2017 at 11:18 pm

What’s interesting is while in India the government has taken the lead in tackling caste discrimination, the American focus on rewarding diversity in education and workplaces is virtually absent in India in the private sector. Companies from GM to Twitter talk about the importance of diversity and a variety of backgrounds in the workplace, while in India the private sector or private educational institutions do not even think about it. Makes you think how hard Ambedkar had to fight to even get the minimal statutory reservations for scheduled castes that he did. Of course even those are continually attacked by the Brahmin racists here.

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47 Clay November 9, 2017 at 3:44 am

Well, any number of places have some sort of problem involving systematic class based or race/ethnicity based unfairness going on, so naturally India has their version. It’s only when the unfairness sort of looks to Americans like their own problems (and then just the most obvious ones) that Americans bother to notice.

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48 Ilya Lozovsky November 9, 2017 at 3:49 am

Perhaps another thing: The caste system is viewed as cultural, which is not considered very correct to criticize. Apartheid was political.

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49 blah November 9, 2017 at 4:38 am

A few like David Wright and “The Lunatic” have explained it well, so let me just point out one instance of
Tyler’s dishonesty and bias against Indians in action from the post: “3. Libertarians don’t want to focus on the caste system because it persists without active government support being the main driver.”

By saying “without active government support being the main driver”, the implicit insinuation is that the Indian government does support the caste system quite nontrivially, though it is a bit shy of being the main contributing factor.

Far from this being the case, not only does the law not discriminate in favor of “upper” castes, but also has reserved large percentages of seats in educational institutions, scholarships, quotas for government jobs etc. for those from disadvantaged castes (well there is one minor statistically insignificant exception: the government took over many Hindu temples and allows those temples to restrict the priesthood to brahmins; but this accounts for a small part of the population. ).

Thus, this is a classic Tyler strategy to convey a lie without explicitly prevaricating, something he resorts to pretty frequently to target communities he doesn’t like very much. And (not so) surprisingly, some American conservatives commenting here about “non-whiteness” as the explanation are too happy to play along with Tyler’s dishonesty, oblivious of the fact that they are targeted by similar lies of his in other posts.

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50 blah November 9, 2017 at 4:41 am

On the other hand, on a second thought Indian Americans perhaps deserve to be ridiculed along these lines since they are mostly progressives/democrat-supporters and are quite happy with progressives applying similar dishonest tactics targetting conservatives.

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51 That Guy November 9, 2017 at 5:10 am

If you bothered to learn anything about India, you would know that state and local officials often enforce caste roles and taboos in fine disregard of the constitution and laws (for example, at the behest of village officials the police often use force against Dalits who try to “shirk” their excrement-gathering roles in order to seek other employment. Police and prosecutors routinely permit, even encourage, the rape and/or beating of low-caste people who are suspected of caste-crossing romances). Furthermore, by keeping track of caste membership, though with the ostensible goal of using the information to administer set-asides (“schedules”), the government facilitates caste-based discrimination.

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52 blah November 9, 2017 at 6:49 am

If you bothered to develop any comprehension skills, you would realize that “There exist government employees breaking the law to facilitate caste” far different from how “government drives caste” is interpreted.

Apart from your use of weasel words like “often” (two newspaper reports? five? any statistic which is not a link to an extremist website?), additional example of your dishonesty: “Furthermore, by keeping track of caste membership, though with the ostensible goal of using the information to administer set-asides (“schedules”), the government facilitates caste-based discrimination” – this information is necessary to enforce quotas for those disadvantaged sections; do you want those to stop?

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53 Albert November 9, 2017 at 10:12 am

>you would realize that “There exist government employees breaking the law to facilitate caste” far different from how “government drives caste” is interpreted.

Lol, fine hair-splitting bro. Or is it not a statist problem when government employees break the law to discriminate against conservative political groups?

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54 blah November 9, 2017 at 11:56 am

There are two vastly, vastly different kinds of issues corresponding to crimes of entirely different orders of magnitude, and you want to insist on using the same description for both so as to confuse the two in the minds of the reader? Nothing hairsplitting about objecting to obfuscation that is calculated to dishonestly defame.

55 That Guy November 9, 2017 at 5:09 pm

Just keep shrieking about “dishonesty,” Blah old bean, and people will eventually figure out why. You want to talk exclusively about the Indian government’s “declatory policy” and suppress discussion of the real policies its minions enforce. Well, students of “realpolitik” agree with victims of oppression that it matters more what the government (through its agents) actually does than what it says. The old Soviet Union sported a beautifully democratic constitution and legal code, yet it was an oligarchic despotism in reality.

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56 blah November 9, 2017 at 8:24 pm

Real policy is affirmative action type quota/social justice, and this is what almost all “minions” enforce. A small number of anecdotes from remote interiors of a third world country do not amount to “real policy” in any sense.

Indeed, I can quote enough statistics for affirmative action policy, you can’t quote one statistic supporting your claim of what “actually happens”. Yet you want others to believe you simply by force of your sentence framing.

This is precisely why I call you dishonest – you want your assumptions about reality to be *implicitly* accepted as basis for discussion, and you frame your debate accordingly. Calling it shrieking does squat to help your case.

57 Anonymous Coward November 9, 2017 at 8:42 pm

The remark on government support not being the main driver has little to do with India and everything to do with why libertarians wouldn’t find this story compelling. The libertarian message is to say, “Get government out of this situation, and things will get better.” However, in this case, government isn’t very involved in perpetuating this situation. Caste is enforced much more broadly — just less officially. If anything, government is, at least officially, trying to fight the caste system. Because that story is useless for pushing libertarian politics, libertarians aren’t interested in it. If the Indian government could be portrayed as “the main driver,” then libertarians could point to it as another example of evil flowing from government.

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58 Gabe Atthouse November 9, 2017 at 4:55 am

Because in South Africa the oppressors are white and the oppressed were brown, is this a serious question?

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59 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 5:48 am

The only enforcement of caste system by the Indian state involves reverse discrimination against upper castes as opposed to “dalit oppression”. This is not to say that dalit oppression doesn’t exist. But it is not sanctioned by the Indian state.

Caste system is different from “caste oppression”. Everyone embraces “caste system” in India including Dalits who practice endogamy within their Jaatis. Caste is viewed a man’s social club that gives him an anchor in life. What does get opposed across the political spectrum is caste oppression, which for the most part, is on the way out.

Caste in India today is mainly about Endogamy and to a far lesser extent lifestyle choices like diet. And no. Endogamy is NOT oppression.

While we are at caste, here’s what one Sydney Low said about caste and India back in 1907

‘There is no doubt that it is the main cause of the fundamental stability and contentment by which Indian society has been braced up for centuries against the shocks of politics and the cataclysms of Nature. It provides every man with his place,’ his career, his occupation, his circle of friends. It
makes him at the outset a member of a corporate body, it protects him through life from the canker of social jealousy and unfulfilled aspirations; it ensures him companionship and a sense of community with others in like case with himself. The caste organization is to the Hindu his club, his trade union, his benefit society, his philanthropic society. There are no work-houses in India and none are as yet needed.’

I find this too sanguine. And perhaps not critical enough. But worth emphasizing because it suggests how there was greater diversity of opinion on the matter of caste in the West 100 years ago than today.

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60 Tom T. November 9, 2017 at 7:55 am

I suspect that “knowing one’s place” is a more appealing concept when that place is at the top.

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61 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 8:01 am

Sure. But places need not be hierarchical either.

And having a place is often better for many people than having no place, and being totally lost in this world, like for instance the poor people in Mississippi or West Virginia. Who don’t even enjoy the warmth and support and the steadying hand of the extended family, which the Indian poor (across all castes) enjoy.

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62 chuck martel November 9, 2017 at 8:28 am

What Sidney Low said about the caste system could be also be said about the much-maligned feudal society of the European Middle Ages.

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63 Sam Haysom November 9, 2017 at 10:06 am

Or apartheid South Africa.

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64 chuck martel November 9, 2017 at 10:55 am

No.

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65 Marco November 9, 2017 at 5:58 am

“1. The caste system is simply too difficult for most Americans to understand, whereas apartheid could be represented more readily in what I dare not call simple black and white terms.”

This. Americans (including Ivy League scholars) have a hard time grasping social dynamics diverse from the USA and they tend to project US social dynamics in other countries, so they either reach comically wrong conclusions or they just decide to ignore . When there isn’t anything similar in the US to a certain aspect of a different country, they are unable to understand it so they don’t “see it” or talk about it.

You can see this when American Scholars talk about racism in Brazil, they ALWAYS project the American racial issues to Brazil. They are simply unable to really understand how racism is tied to classism in Brazil and how the mixed-race element changes the whole dynamic. Sure, they will nominally cite such things but in the end they ALWAYS conclude (even if in a implicit way) that 1) Brazilians are just using the classism argument because they want to ignore racism 2) Mixed-race people are just black people in denial.

And they do EXACTLY the same about India.

The few times you see an American talking about the Indian caste system he/she will make totally wrong assumptions about how the system is really about racism (which is not, the castes are the same race) because that’s the only social dynamic that he/she understands. You’ll read about how the Dalits are darker, etc…

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66 ohwilleke November 9, 2017 at 1:14 pm

In fairness to “most Americans”, it isn’t easy to inform yourself in a quick and dirty way with a google search or two about what caste means on a lived, daily life basis. You could read lots of academic articles and still not really get it. It probably takes 100+ hours of work to get a decent grasp of it, and that is only if someone is pointing you in the right direction.

The same can be said for what daily life as a Muslim means in various part of the world.

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67 Sanjay November 9, 2017 at 6:03 am

I think it isn’t debated because it’s damn complex and it doesn’t map well at all onto US racial issues. I’m one of the upper-caste Indian-Americans Professor Tabarrok discusses and man, I find it hard to wrap my head around. At the level of villages and cities and their supporting social structures it can cause horrific effects. But low-caste Indians are quite politically powerful and as shrikanthk above mentions there’s some crazy quota systems imposed that make some things — like higher education — weirdly hard for higher-caste Indians — there’s in fact a reason they are so many of the emigres. And then in terms on interactions with the US it becomes more folded still — Davyani Khobragade, for example, whose exploitation of a maid sparked tensions with India and drove a hard wedge between Indian immigrants and US-born Indian-Americans (like me), was of low-caste and that’s not surprising.

Because of that complexity I find it very difficult to credit that any great US agitation wouldn’t have terrible knock-on effects. I think there’s a better question of why the expat community doesn’t exert pressure better but, hell, that’s one of a few issues where I think the expat community could better exert pressure on India.

NB there are a lot of folks who seem to think there is no interest because the American commentariat is only interested in bashing whites, and that sentiment is both wrong and repulsive.

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68 blah November 9, 2017 at 6:53 am

Cowen, not Tabarrok.

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69 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 6:06 am

The Indian state has been far more proactive in taking in the excesses of caste oppression than the United States, atleast traditionally.

Dalits of 19th century definitely enjoyed more civil rights than blacks in 19th century American South.

The legal bias against blacks persisted right up to the 1960s – a point in history when there was absolutely NO discrimination against dalits mandated by the Indian state.

India has a far more expanded version of affirmative action than US. (though it is mostly an efficiency loser to use Tyler’s phrase). In some states like TN, over 70% of the population enjoys the benefits of affirmative action. Imagine a parallel system in US, where you have state mandated quotas in all institutes of higher learning for not just blacks, but hispanics, scot-irish, amish, muslims, Italians, scandinavians among others. And the only groups without a quota are WASPS, Jews and German descent Americans. That sounds like a dystopian progressive state. That’s precisely where India is, in many of its provinces.

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70 Art Deco November 9, 2017 at 8:46 am

“The legal bias against blacks persisted right up to the 1960s”

Hogwash. Only in your addled imagination.

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71 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 8:51 am

Several states did not allow inter-racial marriages even at the dawn of the 60s.

The Indian state in contrast has always allowed inter caste marriages. In fact they have happened throughout Indian history.

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72 mj November 9, 2017 at 9:32 am

“The legal bias against blacks persisted right up to the 1960s”

Hogwash. Only in your addled imagination.”

Art Deco,

\When did the legal bias against blacks end in your opinion?

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73 JWatts November 9, 2017 at 9:50 am

“Up to the 1960s”

That sounds correct.

” In some states it took years to implement this decision. Generally, the remaining Jim Crow laws were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but years of action and court challenges have been needed to unravel the many means of institutional discrimination.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws

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74 msgkings November 9, 2017 at 11:57 am

How can it be correct? Art Deco assures us it’s hogwash.

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75 ohwilleke November 9, 2017 at 1:11 pm

This is probably the key point.

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76 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 6:15 am

Another point worth emphasizing is that those castes in India that are truly “liberal” and individualistic are the upper-most castes like Brahmins, Kayasths, Khatris

As you go down the supposed hierarchy, casteism is stronger. And more virulent.

This makes it problematic for the critics of caste system. Because the worst aspects of the system are epitomized not by the highest castes but by the middle and “lower-middle” castes.

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77 Anonymous November 9, 2017 at 9:46 am

There you have linked to something more general.

https://twitter.com/JBerdahl/status/927977366105681920

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78 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 6:22 am

The other western habit is to view caste as purely debilitating as opposed to empowering. And never acknowledge that notwithstanding its excesses, it is often a source of stability. In the absence of caste, in a society as diverse as India, there would be a lot more violence and ethnic cleansing. Caste serves as a bulwark against those violent tendencies. And prevents India from becoming like the Balkans.

If caste is indeed iredeemably pre-modern and incompatible with modernity, how come a country as large as India (a billion people) has managed to grow at 6-8% consistently for 20 years (a rate exceeded by just one other large country, China, in human history), despite the continued existence of caste system?

This is a question that is not often asked. Because one potential answer is – maybe the caste system (as it exists today) is not as debilitating as imagined.

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79 albatross November 9, 2017 at 11:10 am

Can you recommend any books that are likely to be accessible to an American with little familiarity with India, that could make it easier to understand the social benefits of the caste system?

There’s a lot about any caste system that seems like it’s 180 degrees out of synch with American culture and assumptions–for example, the US was formed by a huge number of different immigrant groups, and their kids assimilating and intermarrying is a big part of how we ended up as a cohesive nation. Probably blacks were the closest thing to an endogamous caste in the US historically, since there was limited intermarriage–it was banned in some states and socially unacceptable among whites in most places, but it still happened often enough.

Alternatively, does anyone know of good SF stories set in an advanced caste-based civilization? It would be interesting to see how a smart writer with real familiarity of such systems would imagine a future successful caste-based society operating. (You could imagine genetic engineering to optimize castes for different roles, culminating in something like the Moties of _The Mote in God’s Eye_.)

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80 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 4:59 pm

For history of Varna and Caste, I suggest “The History of Dharmasastras in 5 volumes” by PV Kane. A shorter treatment is in AL Basham’s one volume history of pre-Islamic India – “The Wonder that was India”.

For a less historical and more sociological treatment, MN Srinivas is usually recommended, though I haven’t read him. I think his classic work is “The Remembered Village”.

Regarding social benefits there are many. Firstly it is a source of social security and familial stability. People within a given caste, may be very removed genetically from each other, but nevertheless are tied together by very similar value systems, ideas of right and wrong, religious practices, lifestyle choices, food habits among other things. So marriages within the same caste are much much likelier to last a lifetime than inter-caste marriages. This is one reason for the remarkably low divorce rates in India (even in urban India). Low divorce rates and strong networks with extended families on both sides ensures very low rates of delinquency, strong support systems for elders, reduced need for social security. Phenomena like mental illness or depression are almost unheard of in traditional India.

Secondly caste system is a check on the vices associated with modernity and “progress” and is marked by its extreme emphasis on personal virtue. A person caught in crime loses his reputation in his family circles and is made the laughing stock in his community. The word on indiscretions spreads fast. This serves as a regulator of human behavior. Rape rates / molestations / husband desertions are very very low in India. Remarkable for such a poor country.

Thirdly caste system distributes power in society. Creates multiple interest groups. And prevents extreme forms of demagoguery and rise of dictatorships. One of the reasons India is still democratic after 70 years of independence while Pakistan is not quite democratic, is because of the caste system. Caste culture and the leg-pulling associated with it ensures no man becomes too big for his boots. People pull each other down. This has its costs. But leg pulling culture is also a source of stability.

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81 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 5:21 pm

“Alternatively, does anyone know of good SF stories set in an advanced caste-based civilization? It would be interesting to see how a smart writer with real familiarity of such systems would imagine a future successful caste-based society operating”

There is a case to be made for India as a successful caste based society. Sure India is a poor country by 21st century standards. But it was richer than most of Europe in 500CE, 1000CE and probably on par with Europe even as late as 1500CE (excepting maybe England). I am not throwing stuff randomly here, these are based on Angus Maddison’s research.

India is also one of the two continuing civilizations with little / no serious discontinuity in culture for atleast 2500 years. That can be said about China as well but no other country. This is clearly a sign of durability. It is also a civilization with very important contributions to global culture – including the Number system, several discoveries in mathematics, several systems of philosophy, Buddhism, Yoga among other things.

Sure, we missed the industrial revolution. But if you were to go back to 1500 or even 1700CE and assess India as a civilization through history, you’d rate it as a moderate well-above-average success.

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82 Dmitri Helios November 9, 2017 at 10:57 pm

“Can you recommend any books ….”

Shetkaryacha Asud or The Whipchord of the Peasant by MAHATMA J. G. PHULE.

Renowned American scholar of caste Gail Omvedt writes ” it is the most comprehensive of Phule’s work: it gives an account of the extortion by Brahmans in religious festivals throughout the year; of the Aryan defeat of the indigenous inhabitants…A word about Phule’s language: it is raw, powerful, not simply colloquial Marathi but very cutting, so much that RSS-wallas even today have called it “obscene.” But his use
of language is excellent and his vocabulary extensive. Even more, his power of description is often extremely minute…”

Gulamgiri or Slavery by MAHATMA J. G. PHULE.

Annihilation of Caste by DR. B. R. AMBEDKAR.

Castes in India DR. B. R. AMBEDKAR.

Riddle in Hinduism DR. B. R. AMBEDKAR.

Revolution and Counter-revolution in Ancient India DR. B. R. AMBEDKAR.

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83 Dmitri Helios November 9, 2017 at 11:01 pm
84 Dmitri Helios November 9, 2017 at 11:30 pm

Shetkaryacha Asud or The Whipchord of the Peasant by MAHATMA J. G. PHULE. -> https://drambedkarbooks.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/phule.pdf

Renowned American scholar of caste Gail Omvedt writes ” it is the most comprehensive of Phule’s work: it gives an account of the extortion by Brahmans in religious festivals throughout the year; of the Aryan defeat of the indigenous inhabitants…A word about Phule’s language: it is raw, powerful, not simply colloquial Marathi but very cutting, so much that RSS-wallas even today have called it “obscene.” But his use of language is excellent and his vocabulary extensive. Even more, his power of description is often extremely minute…”

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85 shrikanthk November 10, 2017 at 8:34 am

Brahmins were persecuted too in ancient buddhist india.

The books you suggest are mostly propaganda. Which is fine. The books I suggested are more scholarly.

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86 Edward II November 9, 2017 at 6:24 am

There is an explanation no one has brought up yet:

India leaned towards the USSR in the cold war & was a victim of colonization. This means that the left forgives India’s cultural sins. South Africa obviously is given no such accommodation.

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87 Joël November 9, 2017 at 11:23 am

Well, maybe… Not really sure. Israel also leaned towards the USSR up to 1967, and even long after that was a kind of model of socialist (democratic) country — criticized as such by the right and classical liberals, e.g. Milton Friedman. It never earned it a high level of sympathy among the Western left (except perhaps in the very first years, 1947-1949, but by 1950 it was over).

I would rather think, on the opposite, that there are the Christian instincts and origin of the Western left (and right) which makes them more critical of misdeeds from people that look like them (south-africans, or the alleged current misdeeds of white people in the US against Blacks, browns, etc.) than of strangers like indian upper castes. The mote and the bean, you know…

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88 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 6:31 am

Also caste is weakly correlated with Income in India, unlike in the west where racial groups have very very distinct income levels

The gap in income between Brahmins and Dalits let’s say in a North Indian state like Uttar Pradesh is far less than the gap between WASP / Jewish income and Black income in US. Ofcourse I don’t have figures to share because Indian state has stopped undertaking censuses based on caste, unlike the British Raj which religiously documented all figures by caste.

Ritual hierarchy as mandated by the Varna system is poorly correlated with Income. Many middle castes of southern india are richer and more comfortably off than several high caste groups of northern India. Eg : Reddys of AP vs Brahmins of UP.

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89 tjamesjones November 9, 2017 at 12:05 pm

you’ve posted a lot here, with lots of different points, but the underlying point motivating your posts is that you are trying to say that the reason nobody in the US objects to the Indian caste system is that there is nothing to object to. I’m not sure I believe that.

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90 shrikanthk November 10, 2017 at 8:17 am

I never said that.

I am just saying the issues are far too complex and poorly understood by people half the world away. Moreover, Americans have no business commenting on an Indian social institution that they barely begin to understand.

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91 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 6:39 am

Also the most obvious point that nobody has yet made on this thread –

“1/6th of India is NOT untouchable”

Nobody is untouchable in India anymore. There is dalit oppression, yes. But untouchability for the most part belongs to the very distant past.

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92 blah November 9, 2017 at 6:52 am

That is the standard dirty trick of using words which have two different senses: they can fall back on saying “Untouchable refers to the jatis which were traditionally subject to untouchability”, but the hope is that they won’t have to say it, and unsuspecting readers will interpret it in the literal, wrong sense.

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93 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 6:55 am

Yes, and even in traditional India some 200 years ago, not all Dalits were ever “untouchable” in a literal sense. Only some were.

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94 ohwilleke November 9, 2017 at 1:10 pm

The term “untouchable” was rarely used in a “literal sense”. It was a label that meant roughly what the government means when it says “Scheduled Castes”. In the same way, lots of African-Americans are not literally “black” despite the label for the group.

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95 blah November 9, 2017 at 8:30 pm

The objection with the term “untouchable” – at least mine – was not whether the author meant it in a literal sense; I certainly know that Tyler is far too knowledgeable to do that. But how does it get interpreted by a person who is not familiar with this sense?

In my view, honesty is not merely about whether a statement is technically correct; one should also take care to not cause misunderstanding.

96 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 9:37 pm

Tyler sure is intelligent. But I am not sure about his knowledge of castes. Maybe he does indeed think we all run away panting upon sighting a dalit on the street.

97 Raj November 9, 2017 at 6:56 am

52% of Brahmins still practice untouchability according to this survey.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/1160722/jsp/frontpage/story_98053.jsp

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98 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 7:02 am

Well, first of all, not letting everyone into your kitchen is not untouchability practice. One is perfectly justified in determining who enters one’s kitchen and who doesn’t. This is personal liberty here being exercised.

And secondly that 52% figure is plain wrong. And even responders are mistaken here and don’t know what they are talking about. Most hired maids in most houses are arguably from low castes and often Dalit. Nobody ever checks the caste of the maid before letting them in.

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99 ohwilleke November 9, 2017 at 1:07 pm

Caste derives from almost everyone exercising their personal liberty in a socially prescribed way. The fact that something is legal doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

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100 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 7:42 pm

The only solution to the “Caste problem” lies in encouraging Hindu nationalism and rapid sanskritization of Indian society.

It is a process that began in 19th century, with Hindu reform movements. And needs to be encouraged. Unfortunately there isn’t enough enthusiasm for it.

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101 Noah Carl November 9, 2017 at 7:03 am

Possibly because in Apartheid-era South Africa white people were the ones doing the oppressing, whereas in India it’s just Indians oppressing other Indians?

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102 clockwork_prior November 9, 2017 at 7:15 am

Actually, you seem to have ignored the fact that the apartheid system also disadvantaged Indians and other ‘coloureds.’

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103 JWatts November 9, 2017 at 9:52 am

He didn’t ignore it. Your reading comprehension is just terrible.

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104 clockwork_prior November 9, 2017 at 11:09 am

Well, you are right. Whites in South Africa actually did oppress everyone else by taking away their rights, and it seems he was not actually defending that reality, though without pointing that the Indian system goes back centuries, along with not acknowledging that caste has slowly been lessening in importance since independence.

I just thought he was another one of those people who like to say that whites are uniquely picked on for how they treat their property … no wait that was America and a number of other European slave owning nations. In South Africa, it just involved taking away the rights of non-white fellow citizens.

In India, at roughly the same time South Africa was implementing apartheid, the Indian government was taking measures to reduce the importance of the caste system.

I guess I missed him explaining that, as the difference in how South African and India can be viewed is explained by how each government was moving in a different direction in terms of rights, without bringing the skin color of those in the government into the discussion at all.

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105 Raj November 9, 2017 at 7:09 am

In 1962 this is how Brahmins lived and practiced untouchability:

“These territorial divisions are of great importance because social values are attached to them. The agraharam is where all the Brahmin houses are located. It is the centre of their social life. A Non-Brahmin does not ordinarily enter the agraharam except on some particular business. Although it is situated between the metalled road and the Non-Brahmin streets one can enter these streets from the metalled road without passing through the agraharam. The social exclusiveness of the agraharam is related to its being physically sealed from the rest of the village. I am told that this exclusiveness was much more pronounced 25 years ago.”

http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/1962_14/4-5-6/sripuram_a_village_in_tanjore_district.pdf

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106 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 7:21 am

What makes you think Sripuram was representative of India in 1962? Or worse, representative of India today?

And how is Sripuram ghetto different from the ghettoed existence of Jews in Lower East side in early 20th century.

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107 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 7:35 am

And as Beteille points out, Sripuram was a brahmin ghetto. And it is natural the land there will be owned by brahmins. In most villages, land ownership rests with the dominant non-brahmin castes, many of which to this day enjoy affirmative action. Brahmins are just too few to be major land owners in other parts of Tamil Nadu, where their numbers are too low.

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108 blah November 9, 2017 at 9:18 am

“A Non-Brahmin does not ordinarily enter the agraharam except on some particular business.”

Why would you enter someone else’s house except on some particular business?

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109 rayward November 9, 2017 at 7:19 am

While not limited to Hindus, caste has its roots in Hinduism, reinforced by the British during the colonial era. Defenders believe it promotes order and stability. In America, we have no formal caste system but an informal one, the white nationalist movement fomented by Trump being an example of one group, whites (specifically white males), asserting their place in the social and economic structure above the “others”. Caste in America is reflected in one’s education and occupation but also and in speech/accent, dress, recreational activities, even one’s way of walking. Anyone visiting a large airport terminal in America who hasn’t noticed caste isn’t paying attention. Americans, especially American conservatives, attribute social dysfunction to lack of ambition and bad habits, but implicit is that those traits are inherited: why else is social dysfunction so geographically concentrated. My southern community was settled ages ago by Scots (Highlanders to be specific), Irish, and African Americans. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to identify their descendants today. This being the Bible Belt, one identifies by the church one attends: Scots are Presbyterian, Irish are Catholic, and African Americans are Baptist. Episcopaleans? Heretics!

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110 A Truth Seeker November 9, 2017 at 7:40 am

The American regime is cahoots witht the Indian oppressors.

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111 Joe Diddly November 9, 2017 at 7:43 am

White progressives will never criticize dark skinned peoples no matter how justified the criticism might be (cf. Islam). The anti-racism religion they practice requires an all consuming obsession with race that leads to the ‘it’s impossible for non-whites to be racist’ argument one frequently hears from progressives.

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112 Amit Hajra November 9, 2017 at 7:51 am

Simple answer: it’s because the caste system can’t be blamed on white people. Same reason that no one cares about black-vs-black discrimination in Africa. Only exception to this that I’ve seen is the outcry about the Rohinga discrimination in Myanmar and maybe that’s because Muslims are the victims in that case?

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113 albatross November 9, 2017 at 11:19 am

This is oversimplified, but it can be steelmanned into something sensible:

Decrying the caste system in India doesn’t help win any political battles in the US. The system is just too different and too poorly-understood among Americans to be useful. There’s no point trying to bash, say, religious conservative Christians in Alabama with the behavior of religious conservative Hindus in India, or out-of-touch elites in the US with the behavior of out-of-touch elites in India. So it’s not a very interesting political discussion to have here.

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114 Ram November 9, 2017 at 7:59 am

Why Indians in India don’t protest more against caste in India may be the more important to question to ask. If we did we could have gone a long way in”ending caste”. Whatever the correspondents here say, the scourge of caste remains with us in India. Untouchability will go only when caste goes. Sujatha Gidla’s book is an eye opener, to put it mildly, of the scourge, cancer, oppressiveness, whatever you want to call it

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115 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 8:04 am

Untouchability has already gone.

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116 ohwilleke November 9, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Based on personal accounts of daily life in India I’ve read about in the last few years, I would disagree with this assertion. It may be muted but it is undeniably there in ways that the participants themselves are often barely aware of.

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117 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 1:22 pm

Then it behooves those who claim its existence to accurately define it.

What is untouchability?
1. Suppose I exercise a personal preference to rent out my house to only vegetarians (which will naturally exclude certain castes / communities), is that untouchability?
2. Suppose I have caste preferences in my matrimony site profile, so as to ensure lifestyle compatibility, is that untouchability?

3. And yes, there are extreme cases, like not letting dalits draw water from wells in certain villages – I would label that as untouchability. But there is a major difference between Examples 1/2 and Example 3.

I don’t think 1 and 2 are even regarded as particularly bad or evil in India. Even Dalits may not want to marry outside their caste in 90% of the cases.

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118 Brad November 9, 2017 at 8:03 am

A variation on 3:

Because the caste system operates without significant govt support it’s hard to identify public policy solutions. Particularly that can be explained to people with low levels of information.

Caste system issues also run into Hindu-Muslim issues, since Dalits, for obvious reasons, are easy to convert. There is a lot in that conversation that is difficult to wrap your head around.

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119 D November 9, 2017 at 8:57 am

“Dalits, for obvious reasons, are easy to convert.”

Perhaps it underscores the complexity of caste that this isn’t true. One would expect this to be true for obvious reasons, of course. But the easiest to convert have always been the Tribal groups (not the same as Dalits unless one defines the term literally as encompassing all of the ‘oppressed’, which some do and others find objectionable. I don’t know what’s your take on that) and it’s not Islam but evangelical Christianity that is the biggest player in this field.

As hard it is to wrap one’s head around (though there are obvious reasons for this), converts to Islam in India are largely the upper castes and the middle castes. This has been true historically as well.

Dalit-Muslim alliance is the holy grail of Indian politics. A lot of people wish it were true and want it to be true. Though right now that is largely not the case, it may well happen in the future.

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120 Brad November 9, 2017 at 12:10 pm

My understanding was that historically that was true, but I admit I just heard this from some person, so you’re probably right. But yeah, it’s complicated.

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121 rec1man November 10, 2017 at 10:59 am

Most converts to islam were from certain specific non-dalit castes
1) Rajputs who converted to save their lands from jihad
2) lower – middle caste urban artisans , who converted to save themselves from urban power muslim invaders

Islam also has untouchability
Ashraf = Upper caste converts
Ajlaf = Lower caste converts
Razil = Dalit untouchable converts

Most Hindu-Muslim riots in India are actually Dalit vs Muslim riots

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122 ohwilleke November 9, 2017 at 1:03 pm

Dalits tend to become Christian converts, not Muslim ones.

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123 The Anti-Gnostic November 9, 2017 at 8:10 am

Because we have our own problems? Because it’s none of our bloody business?

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124 A Truth Seeker November 9, 2017 at 11:52 am

As opposed to Nicaragua, Afeghanistan, Iraq, Iran, South Africa, Chile pre-1973, Cuba, Soviet Union, etc.?

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125 The Anti-Gnostic November 9, 2017 at 12:38 pm

We fight them over there, because we invite them over here, because we fight them over there. Don’t get squishy on me, bro. Think globally.

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126 A Truth Seeker November 9, 2017 at 2:04 pm

So that is what America has become: a 21th Century inviting and invading the world, selling citizenship and crushing dissent.

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127 A Truth Seeker November 9, 2017 at 2:05 pm

a 21th Century Rome

128 DJ November 9, 2017 at 8:13 am

One reason perhaps is that the large majority of the ‘untouchables’ accept their status. It’s reinforced by the Hindu belief system and the notion of rebirth.
Another is that it’s a fading concept and practiced less widely and severely than the surveys suggest

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129 Sam Haysom November 9, 2017 at 10:09 am

See when this kind of logic is used in the United States to explain black behavior it’s as an excuse to justify even more governmental activism and evoke an even more comprehensive if almost entirely spectral notion of white supremacy.

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130 Anonymous November 9, 2017 at 10:47 am
131 Becky Hargrove November 9, 2017 at 8:29 am

One of my concerns about the continuation of a fiat monetary system that has no chance to benefit from production reform (rights to produce basic and useful product): Fiscal means to “force” growth would mostly encourage more knowledge use in a dependent and authoritarian context. This would harden the already existing castes among various skill levels, and is also why I consider representative taxation a “luxury” for lower skill/income levels.
http://monetaryequivalence.blogspot.com/2017/11/what-do-we-want-taxes-to-accomplish.html

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132 D November 9, 2017 at 8:31 am

Caste has always been an obsessive focus of Indology. It was admired in the colonial age and following its end quickly became the root of all evil. The latest consensus in Indology, I believe, is that Nazism was directly inspired by Brahmins.

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133 collin November 9, 2017 at 8:33 am

I think Number One is probably the most true with a simple mix we are generally allies with India. There are far more concerning nations we are not Allies and it is not our interest to pursue the issue too hard in India. (I suspect as they develop and lower birth rates this will diminish TBH.)

And all societies including the US has a form of a class system so it would hard to justify any real action on our part.

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134 collin November 9, 2017 at 9:21 am

3. Libertarians don’t want to focus on the caste system because it persists without active government support being the main driver.

No a caste system is Bryan Caplan DREAM…Libertarians love nothing more than poor people accepting their low position in life.

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135 Sam Haysom November 9, 2017 at 10:10 am

As opposed to South Africa which didn’t lift a damn finger to help out in the Cold War?

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136 ohwilleke November 9, 2017 at 1:01 pm

“we are generally allies with India.”

I participate in a politics forum in which many participants vigorously disagree with this point.

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137 chuck martel November 9, 2017 at 8:50 am

Why should Americans, progressive or otherwise, worry about social issues on the opposite side of the planet? Especially when they’re given an hourly treatment in the tremendous injustice that blacks are receiving? Everyone has just so much energy for social justice. In fact, the obsession that Americans have with black inequality trumps the inconsequential concern they exhibit for native Americans, unrepresented in government, industry, education and entertainment, except for rodeo, when not all that long ago they owned the entire continent. But, maybe that’s the reason.

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138 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 8:59 am

The incredible obsession with social justice that we have seen grow in the past 50 years has been accompanied by a greatly reduced obsession with personal virtue.

Virtue is secondary. Social justice is primary. That’s the progressive credo. Personal virtue and personal introspection has taken a backseat. Collective rabble rousing and angst has taken the frontseat.

Should we have progress at the expense of virtue? I say no.

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139 Anonymous November 9, 2017 at 9:11 am

Ideally we would arrive at justice by way of virtue.

But then that is an old idea, especially in civil rights.

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140 Niroscience November 9, 2017 at 9:29 am

When virtue and personal introspection means knowing your place, I’m not surprised that people perhaps care far more about change than virtue.

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141 A Truth Seeker November 9, 2017 at 10:23 am

Apparently, you think “personal virtue” has nothing to do with how people treat their neighbours. Well, I doubt Blacks in the South cared about the “personal virtue” about their tormentors.

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142 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 5:28 pm

There is nothing in the caste system that suggests that one should ill treat one’s neighbors regardless of their caste.

Indians are far more hospitable to strangers as a rule than Americans. You only need to visit an Indian village to figure that out.

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143 A Truth Seeker November 9, 2017 at 6:22 pm

“You only need to visit an Indian village to figure that out.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/29/opinion/rape-in-india.html

Thanks, but no, thanks.

144 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 7:36 pm

Not interested in your anecdotal links!

Show me some figures to prove me wrong.

145 A Truth Seeker November 9, 2017 at 8:05 pm

Anecdotal as opposed to “hospitable to strangers”?

146 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 8:44 pm

That’s all you could muster after an hour of googling I presume, when you failed to disprove the obvious fact that rape rates, and most metrics of gender violence are a small fraction of the US levels in India.

147 A Truth Seeker November 9, 2017 at 11:02 pm

Relly? I spent one hour googling, instead of sending the first news showing how hospitable Indians are? You know my internet habits better than I do?

148 Anonymous November 9, 2017 at 8:55 am

This page has a few worse, but many better than average comments.

Thank you all who took the time.

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149 Gabriel November 9, 2017 at 9:12 am

Most Americans have no idea what the caste system is. Many couldn’t find India in a map.

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150 Sam Haysom November 9, 2017 at 10:12 am

Applies to South Africa as well.

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151 clockwork_prior November 9, 2017 at 10:44 am

No, apartheid was quite recognizable to many Americans, as both the Boers and the Americans tended to quote the same parts of the Bible to opposing treating all citizens equally. And that a large group of South Africans were also not actually legally South African citizens due to the color of their skin is also something most Americans are fully aware of, and can understand, from their own history.

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152 Niroscience November 9, 2017 at 9:22 am

Compared to caste, apartheid solved a lot of coordination and information problems:

1) The desired outcome was a simple one-shot outcome that was easy to focus on, both resources and information.
2) The Anti-apartheid movement was organized internally as it was internationally.
3) Americans had experience with a similar set of policy changes regarding civil rights for African Americans – not to mention active and historical social capital among African American (and many white) intellectuals, religious leaders (Its far easier to shame co-religious people) and civil rights activists.
4) SA geostrategically was (and is) probably more a taker than giver than India.

A former Canadian diplomat who was assigned on anti-apartheid stuff also noted that SA officials and elites had huge status anxiety related to being part of the “white/western” club of nations so boycotts and shaming also worked quite well on them.

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153 Niroscience November 9, 2017 at 9:26 am

Also, I have a feeling that Tyler has some Straussian thing going on with this post and the one on war dissolving social customs.

He also asked Gladwell about the role of the military for African Americans’ civil rights. Also name dropped the Great Leveller in the latest podcast.

I’m onto you, Tyler and your new found interest in bellicose Rousseauism to shake complancey.

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154 Alt.Straight November 9, 2017 at 10:00 am

The Patels in Gujarat are agitating to be included in the low caste “scheduled class” list due to the higher privileges of being a lower caste person today. This is in Gujarat – the PM’s state.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/11967837/The-Patels-of-Gujarat-campaign-for-downward-mobility.html

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155 B.B. November 9, 2017 at 10:25 am

Domestic politics rules.

If whites and blacks in the US are in unresolved tension, arguing about white-black conflict in South Africa is a proxy war for domestic conflict. Let’s argue about their racial tensions.

If there is no domestic payoff, domestic politics doesn’t care. Fighting about the Indian caste system is not a proxy war for white-black tensions in the US, so no one in the US really cares.

Same with ethnic cleansing in Burma. No one cares in the US because it doesn’t feed into domestic politics. Same with China crushing Tibet. Same with the massive decades-long war in central Africa; if it is just blacks killing blacks, there is no issue for racial conflict in the US.

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156 Massimo Heitor November 10, 2017 at 12:06 pm

+1. Domestic political value is the key to driving these stories.

You say that stories about blacks killing blacks or Buddhist-Muslim feuds in Burma aren’t politically useful. I’d go further and say they are politically destructive to the left as they confuse or even counter their most profitable narratives that feature white villains and non-white victims.

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157 clockw_prior November 9, 2017 at 10:41 am

‘Same with China crushing Tibet.’

Poor example – a bunch of anti-communist Americans (think of the ‘who lost China?’ crowd) were quite opposed to what they saw as just another domino being knocked down in the game of global communist domination.

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158 JC November 9, 2017 at 11:01 am

If I were trying to fix India, I’d start with open defecation. Just sayin.

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159 jdgalt November 9, 2017 at 11:59 am

1. Identity politics in the US is not directly related, but certainly our “social justice” left would see any US intervention or even comment as “colonialism” and therefore evil. So I suppose the Dalits are hosed until Soros notices them.

2. Raising the status of minority and poor people in the US is happening already, but it requires them to want to change behaviors which are holding most of them back (because those behaviors are their own, not whites’). Fight-picking movements such as BLM discourage and hold back that process. Re-legalizing discrimination would help (because pretty much every non-white who plays the race card is just making excuses for his own failings, whether or not he realizes that blaming racism is bogus).

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160 Viking November 9, 2017 at 12:49 pm

Very dangerous territory there!

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161 Anonymous November 9, 2017 at 12:54 pm

Dude. You just wrote that minorities have behaviors.

Get outside, meet some people.

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162 Viking November 9, 2017 at 1:03 pm

@Anonymous:
What does that mean?

Do you think a wide interaction with all radial groups would change Mr. Galt’s conclusion?

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163 Anonymous November 9, 2017 at 3:03 pm

You tell me, how many sub-cultures are there in America to start with, and how uniform are people within them?

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164 Aaron November 9, 2017 at 12:53 pm

“Libertarians don’t want to focus on the caste system because it persists without active government support being the main driver.” I don’t think it’s a libertarian thing, just a matter where the government is on the right side, so there’s nobody to issue demands to or impose sanctions on, or any symbol or definition of victory to rally around. It’s not a matter of anyone’s ideological commitment to actively not focus on the caste system, just a case where the circumstances aren’t there for an intense effort directed against it.

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165 ohwilleke November 9, 2017 at 12:59 pm

It is criticized, but not very actively, because there are active efforts that have been underway, more or less continuously since independence, by the Indian government, to end caste discrimination and particularly discrimination against Scheduled Castes and Tribes. It is hard to criticize a state for not dealing with an issue that it is earnestly trying to address, even if it isn’t fully successful in dismantling 2000 years of strict practice in half a century.

Conservatives who address the issue at all often point to criticism within India of those measures as a way to challenge similar steps taken in U.S. Civil rights law.

South Africa, in contrast, maintained and protected distinctions with the power of the state, instead of trying to break them down.

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166 Sigivald November 9, 2017 at 1:02 pm

7) (Ref. 3) – Precisely because it’s mostly propped up by individual and group attitudes rather than The State, unlike Apartheid, protest in America is going to be ineffective.

Americans could push the American Government, or private companies, to sanction or divest from South Africa, punishing the South African State and giving it incentive to change (and to help enroll allies in that).

Americans can’t easily “pressure Indian non-Dalits to dismantle the caste system’s traditions from within”; if anything “foreigners telling us how to live” is a powerful almost-universal force towards “screw those guys, we’re doubling down!”

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167 rayward November 9, 2017 at 1:14 pm

Okay, I will write the comment nobody else seems willing to write. I suspect Cowen is referring to the caste system in America, including the cast system (with the casting couch) that exists in Hollywood. Where are you in the power structure, low, high, or in the middle. I find the recent explosion in the revelations of past harassment (some 30-40 years ago) an exercise in objection to the caste system in America. Who is going to defend the system? Conservatives might, since the caste system has provided order and stability, not to mention prosperity. I mean, what’s going to happen if one’s place isn’t determined by one’s place in the pecking order. Will order and stability collapse? Are we on the road to revolution? If nobody knows her place, who will remind her?

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168 Harun November 9, 2017 at 1:25 pm

I’m 46, so maybe an older person will know, but I distinctly remember the caste system DID get some attention in the 70’s and maybe 80’s.

Maybe I’m just hazy or was a child then. Anyone else have this recollection?

It sort of dropped out of sight in my mind later on, possibly due to the rise of cultural relativity and ethnocentrism as concepts. “Don’t judge other people’s cultures”

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169 Manish November 9, 2017 at 2:10 pm

Like most Westerners, you have really no clue what you’re talking about. Your understanding of caste itself is questionable so further comparison with American domestic politics over racial divide will lead to wrong conclusions. Many have already pointed out the constitutional provision and deepening democracy is moving discourse and real change on the ground in the right direction. By comparing it racial tension of America and South Africa, you just exposed your ignorance and lack of comprehension of issues of two different world. By raising India’s domestic issue in the US, you’re also showing the same superpower attitude of not only your country but also academia which understands little but talk big. You guys have not been able to solve racial tension despite being roughly 300 years old country and shows the audacity to compare with India which is civilizational country for more than 5000 years. India, China, Iran etc. fall in the same category whose destiny non of your theories can stop from achieving commanding heights in near future. Will submit a more detailed point wise comments soon. Thanks.

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170 A Truth Seeker November 9, 2017 at 5:13 pm

“You guys have not been able to solve racial tension despite being roughly 300 years old country and shows the audacity to compare with India which is civilizational country for more than 5000 years.”
I doubt the English cared about it.

“India, China, Iran etc. fall in the same category whose destiny non of your theories can stop from achieving commanding heights in near future. Will submit a more detailed point wise comments soon.”
Ha, ha, ha. Will the Barbarians invade Rome again?

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171 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 5:30 pm

The English did care.

They were far more meticulous in their study of Indian culture than modern day social justice warriors.

British Indology went to great lengths to understand the sheer complexity of Indian life, in a manner that few academics bother today.

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172 A Truth Seeker November 9, 2017 at 6:18 pm

The English studied India enough to know Indians were savages: https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Charles_James_Napier

“Remember, Roman, that by your lawful power you rule the world: these are your skills: to crown peace with justice, to spare the vanquished and to crush the proud.” Such is the West’s mission.

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173 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 6:25 pm

Napier was being rhetorical there.

Widow burning is not a grand Indian custom, but practiced voluntarily by SOME widows in some parts of the country. Ironically this practice boomed during the years of the East India Company. Company rule was the boom period for the Sati practice.

And even at the height of its prevalence (1820s), the number of Sati cases all across the country were 600 per year. Yes. 600 pear year. That’s the highest it ever was in India. And most cases were voluntary.

174 A Truth Seeker November 9, 2017 at 6:58 pm

Yeah, rhetorical…

The English themselves didn’t seem so sure about non-compulsion: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sati_(practice)#Compulsion

“the number of Sati cases all across the country were 600 per year. Yes. 600 pear year.”

The Jews’ neighbours were said (by the Jews) to have engaged in children sacrifice. Supposing it is true, I wonder if they sacrificed more of fewer than 600 babies a year. Does it matter?
Also, the real number is at least twice as bigger: https://books.google.com.br/books?id=GsMPAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA130&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

“Widow burning is not a grand Indian custom, but practiced voluntarily by SOME widows in some parts of the country.”
I wonder if the culture that gives rise to such a custom is better or worse than one that doesn’t.

175 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 7:04 pm

Widow burning was no more abominable than Witch hunting – a practice that claimed more lives in Europe than Suttee did in India between 14th and 18th centuries.

176 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 7:10 pm

You didn’t read your link properly.

In all of India, the number of Suttee cases per year between 1815 and 1824 was in the vicinity of 600-700. This is from your own missionary literature link. A publication with every incentive to exaggerate the numbers. The greater the number, the stronger the case to harvest souls! Haha.

If anything the “real number” is likely to be much lower than that.

Also this is from the period of Sati boom (1815-1824). In earlier periods, Sati by all accounts was practised less, as it was also generally encouraged less. During Company rule, East India company officials were often chief guests at Suttee ceremonies.

And Sati eventually got banned due to Hindu reform voices. Not the likes of Napier. The greatest opponents of Suttee were Ram Mohun Roy, a brahmin from Bengal, and Swaminarayan Sahajanand, another orthodox brahmin saint from Gujarat.

177 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 7:19 pm

And you didn’t read your other wiki link properly either. Where it is categorically stated that Suttee for the most part was voluntary.

Sure, there were cases of compulsion. But those were a small minority of Suttee cases.

Widow-burning is an inaccurate translation of Suttee. It is more accurate to call it Widow self-immolation.

Nevertheless I support Bentinck’s decision to ban it (in response to Hindu reform voices that were just as strong if not stronger than missionary voices).

178 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 7:30 pm

And your reference to Jews is so misplaced while trying to put that number of 600 in context.

Jews are / were a tiny community. India in contrast numbered atleast 200 MM people in 1820. Let’s assume 100MM males, 50-60 MM adult males, and rate of widowhood of roughly a million (2%) per year. That means 600 out of 1MM new widows in a year burnt themselves (mostly voluntarily). That’s less than 0.1%.

179 A Truth Seeker November 9, 2017 at 8:30 pm

I was not talking about the Jews, but their neighbours, whole nations. Does it matter if they restrained themselves to 600 babies a year? Thinking about it, how many victims Muslim terrorists succeed to make in enemy (for them) India?
“Sure, there were cases of compulsion. But those were a small minority of Suttee cases.”
There is little reason to say “a small minority”. A minority, maybe, and, in most cases, there was no independent confirmation. Again, by the way, what to say about a culture that gives rise to widow immolation?
“Nevertheless I support Bentinck’s decision to ban it (in response to Hindu reform voices that were just as strong if not stronger than missionary voices).”
Good, it took only how many centuries and domination by callous foreigners.

“The term sati was originally interpreted as “chaste woman”. Sati appears in Hindi and Sanskrit texts, where it is synonymous with “good wife” the term suttee was commonly used by Anglo-Indian English writers. Sati designates therefore originally the woman, rather than the rite; the rite itself having technical names such as sahagamana (“going with”) or sahamarana (“dying with”). Anvarohana (“ascension” to the pyre) is occasionally met, as well as satidaha as terms to designate the process.”

“A publication with every incentive to exaggerate the numbers. The greater the number, the stronger the case to harvest souls! ”
I expect devouts Christians (or Muslims or whatever), readers of The Missionary Herald, don’t require too much plodding to desire to harvest souls.Thanks Shiva Indians have no reason to understimate the number… Also the numbers are at the same ballpark as Bentinck’s for Bengal.

180 shrikanthk November 9, 2017 at 8:41 pm

“the numbers are at the same ballpark as Bentinck’s for Bengal”

Bengal was the hotbed of Sati. And accounted for a very large majority of Suttee cases. As per missionary estimates, Bengal toll was close to 600 per year and another 60 per year from Bombay and Madras persidencies… That makes it close to 700 across India. In most other parts of India Sati was rare and nowhere close to being as frequent as it became in Bengal during Company rule.

In earlier periods there was no need for an explicit legislation as the cases were too few and almost entirely voluntary. British rule ironically was witness to the popularization of this practice.

181 A Truth Seeker November 9, 2017 at 9:24 pm

“In earlier periods there was no need for an explicit legislation as the cases were too few and almost entirely voluntary.”
Again, no confirmation but the murders’.

” British rule ironically was witness to the popularization of this practice.”
I knew it was the English. That is why they still burn widows in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

182 Massimo Heitor November 10, 2017 at 12:07 am

It’s unfair to compare the age of the US as a nation to the age of Indian Civilization. You can compare Indian Civilization to Western Civilization, or nation to nation. But comparing the age of a single nation to the age of a broad civilization is an apples to oranges comparison. Also, no one has solved racial and tribal tensions.

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183 Manish November 10, 2017 at 5:30 am

1. Americans, and for that matter, most of Europeans have no idea about the caste system in India. Their attempt to understand and define it has mostly failed to comprehend the ground realities forget the historicity. It’s not about color but the tied with occupation and work performed by family. Over the period, different castes in various part of India have kept moving up and down the social hierarchy of caste. There is lack of stagnation, therefore opportunities are more and it benefits entire caste. Many a places it is synonymous with tribe’s name. In Pre-industrialization period when most of the world economy was agricultural, it was a transactional system created where different castes worked according to caste affiliation which was exchanged with other castes’ output. You may call it self-sufficient small unit of governance which existed across villages in India. This cannot be compared with black-white issue which is strictly colour based discrimination.
2. This is fairly true. But, you’ll find way more intellectuals of Indian origin especially in Humanities and Social Sciences criticizing it across their work and speeches. There is no doubt that privileges coming with caste affiliation is too difficult to renounce for majority of them. But, what people like you don’t get is that these things are changing. It may look very slow from outside but given its historicity of more than 2000 years, it’s waning faster than expected. The major argument has already been listed by many here is that govt officially does not discriminate. Not only that, there are programs such as reservation (not American affirmative action) in public sector jobs to integrate them faster into the mainstream. Recently, one state CM (Bihar, one of the poorest state for the matter of fact) has advocated for similar provision in private sector. As far as swaying is concerned, Indian American intellectuals are mostly fall under either left or liberal category and they have been writing against the caste system from there more vociferously than you can imagine. Your hypothesis is out rightly wrong and based on some misinformation.
3. You have no clue about Indian politics. It seems your sources are so urbane and out of touch with Indian reality that you need to spend some considerable time first to begin with. Indian democracy has empowered caste especially lower castes more than you can imagine. Many states’ CM are from reserved category, This has helped them in their accelerated integration into mainstream. Over the period the reach of welfare programs meant for them has improved significantly by substantially reducing the leakage. Not a single day goes by without some discussion on caste issues in Indian polity at least somewhere India. There is no cure for your ignorance, only more reading materials.
4. You are not able to overcome Black-White issue despite being a nascent nation stae and trying to understand a complex cultural society like India. Quoting Yaneer Bar-Yam, “Complexities overwhelm you when you do not understand them.” Focus on what you know rather than trying to understand everything under the sun.
5. American domestic issues are numerous and you accepted that politics is more local than you think. Get your local American issues sorted out first stop behaving as world’s caretaker or guardian. Apparently, too many Hollywood movies have destroyed your ability to differentiate between fiction and non-fiction.

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184 Antonios November 9, 2017 at 5:44 pm

Because it’s old and considered “part of the culture” of India.

Goes against the taboo of interfering with other people’s beliefs.

With South African apartheid, the Western world shared the same framework, so they could be attacked.

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185 Anon November 9, 2017 at 10:49 pm

1. Most Americans know next to nothing about India’s caste system. It’s not really a topic that even crosses our minds.

For those that do know about it:

2. If white, refrain from criticizing for fear of being called racist.

2a. A subset of whites might actually believe explanations for the caste system justify it (similar to left-wingers convincing themselves that Islam is a “religion of peace” which is above reproach).

3. If not white, refrain from drawing attention to it because it might give Indians more grievance points.

4. If Indian, don’t criticize because it’s just a fact of life. Self-criticism is for white people.

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186 Dmitri Helios November 9, 2017 at 11:02 pm

Good books to read about caste for non-Indian readers:

Shetkaryacha Asud or The Whipchord of the Peasant by MAHATMA J. G. PHULE.

Renowned American scholar of caste Gail Omvedt writes ” it is the most comprehensive of Phule’s work: it gives an account of the extortion by Brahmans in religious festivals throughout the year; of the Aryan defeat of the indigenous inhabitants…A word about Phule’s language: it is raw, powerful, not simply colloquial Marathi but very cutting, so much that RSS-wallas even today have called it “obscene.” But his use of language is excellent and his vocabulary extensive. Even more, his power of description is often extremely minute…”

Gulamgiri or Slavery by MAHATMA J. G. PHULE.

Annihilation of Caste by DR. B. R. AMBEDKAR.

Castes in India DR. B. R. AMBEDKAR.

Riddle in Hinduism DR. B. R. AMBEDKAR.

Revolution and Counter-revolution in Ancient India DR. B. R. AMBEDKAR.

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187 Jim Henderson November 9, 2017 at 11:05 pm
188 Massimo Heitor November 10, 2017 at 12:01 am

The political left that has control over these narratives would be hurt by this Indian caste system narrative for reasons #3 and #4.

I presume #4 was a typo and meant to say, “Talking about the caste system makes harder the (justified, I should add) program of raising the status of non-white minorities in America”. The left drives narrative featuring white villains and telling this story featuring a racially non-white villain would confuse people.

It’s not just the Indian caste story that is ignored or downplayed. All such stories of evil or injustice that feature a non-white villain are aggressively downplayed by the left. The more glaring examples involve Islam. This massive moral and logical inconsistency frustrates some observers, but if you understand that non-white villain narratives hurt the political ambitions of the global left, it makes perfect sense.

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189 Massimo Heitor November 10, 2017 at 12:17 pm

I already posted, but I would like to see Tyler explain why he supports the political “program of raising the status of [non-white minorities] in America.” Obviously, status is zero-sum, raising status of non-whites, generally requires lowering status of whites.

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190 William Wody November 10, 2017 at 12:39 pm

My theory: because it’s not well known in the United States, and because the Indian caste system at least in part cultural–and Americans are uncomfortable criticizing foreign cultures. (We seem quite happy criticizing our own culture, and we seem okay with criticizing some aspects of European culture. But cultures elsewhere around the world we seem to avoid.)

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191 Christopher Smith November 11, 2017 at 12:11 am

Anyone who thinks there should be more focus on India’s caste system, including Tyler Cowen, can start pushing that any time. No need to wait for liberals/ progressives, which this post implies are the only ones who can lead these things. Others can take the lead.

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192 Aleksander November 12, 2017 at 3:34 am

I would assume that one major reason is that the Indian caste system is deeply embedded in a non-Western culture. If we do it, we need to get rid of medieval attitudes; if they do it, they are keeping traditions alive. Arguably, they even should keep the system alive until their society has adapted enough to get rid of it smoothly (assuming most people actually want to get rid of it).

Another important reason is probably that the Indian government is actually trying rather actively to get rid of the caste system, and has from the start. The caste system is surviving specifically in the parts of the country where the government has the least reach. The government is also clearly winning, so it’s only a matter of time before the caste system is a thing of the past (in the same way that slavery is a thing of the past in the US, even though black people are still statistically worse off than whites).

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