Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Caste system- economics or religion

The Indian caste system- economics or religion?
As a responsible Hindu I feel im my religious duty to add to the nonsense written about the caste system by making a couple of points, not I believe, highlighted elsewhere-

1) India was a mixed regime economy with a metropolitan cash nexus parallel to a system of non-monetized specialisation & division of labour where agicultural land and surpluses were periodically redistributed according to some ill-defined communal collective bargaining which more often than not meant whole sub-castes (endogamous occupational groups called jatis) voting with their feet. During exogenous monetary shocks/ natural disasters the unmonetized jati system of specialisation and exchange was the default value. It kept things ticking over and allowed the clearing of new land and rural settlement with low capital investment but the full complement of services. Theoretically, endogamy was supposed to facillitate the diffusion of new techniques of production and thus raise productivity. Religion tends to say what IS is right. God wants it that way. Vedic Hindu religion was particularly suitable for this because it emphasised the equality of all paths to the deity- i.e. the notion that utterly opposite codes of behaviour (customary morality) were equally valid. This lead to the notion that every occupational jati was engaged in an imitatio dei- i.e. the potter feels God is a potter & hence derives a psychic satisfaction from making pots, the thief reckons God is the ultimate thief etc. Hence each jati reckons it alone is supreme because it is wholly engaged in God's quintessential activity. Thus each jati develops its own spirituality and (the inevitable corrollary) coercive system.
2) The metropolitan cash nexus, when supported by State power used for extraction of surpluses, does not in its expansion dissolve the default system, but leeches resources off it causing it to crash. This is because the initial rise in productivity incident on monetisation is ultimately swamped by ecological degradation, fiscal incentive incompatability, and Social Capital failure arising from collapse of public good provision. The metropolitan cash nexus esperiences a tulip bust and learns fear of a more fundamental collapse affecting every aspect of Socialisation. Fear of the crash means the metropolitan cash nexus ultimately resurrects jati as varna (legitimating ideology for social stratification).
3) Only if the State becomes effective in provision of public goods at the village level can the crashing default system be expunged from the directory. However, if the State is dependent on its survival on the crisis of the default system- i.e. it is a protest against what it perpetuates- this aint gonna happen.
4) Though jati type caste appears to be, under ideal conditions, a co-operative solution that would dominate competitive solutions- giving rise to dreams of 'Ramrajya'. Gandhian village swaraj, Buddhist Socialism, Vandana Siva styleEco-Feminism etc- this is just a pipe dream. It is not productivity that rises but the amount of time people spend in 'consciousness raising' and other such magical practices. Sure, this may attract outside funding- but it aint sustainable as a universal panacea unless they like hit upon a better class of recreational drug or find a way to intensify orgasm or something.
5) Caste in present day India is about people from larger jatis taking power by claiming to speak for smaller jatis that have, arbitrarily, been adjudged to be of equally low status. It represents a redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest in these arbitrarily defined 'castes'. This is not done in a Pareto efficient way. Rather there is a huge and growing deadweight cost to the whole economy. The rich can escape this, because, in India, increased life chances equals increased elasticity of supply and demand (i.e. the rich can always get what they want by circumventing the system. Not just a Black Economy, India has always had (infinitely many!) Anti-States, Anti-Commons, Anti-Relgions (as well as Anti-Anti-States etc) simoultaneous memberships of which is the path to thrive.
5) Some social customs can (only if everyone is very good in the first place) internalise externalities, improve Schelling focal point choices, turn prisoner dillemmas into positive sum games etc, etc. But why bring caste into it? The English word caste dervies from the Portugese and Spanish notion that degree of miscegenation determines 'nature' and hence ought to determine social status. Does anyone believe that sort of racial nonsense anymore?
6) One good point about jati-dharma (caste based religion) is that it recognises that from the moral point of view there is a huge range of choices which are equally acceptable. However,some modern Hindus believe that their own vegetarian jati-dharma is the universal morality and seek to convert everybody to an irrational and socially very costly (and potentially environmentally disasterous) code of conduct. But the same point applies to Islam, missionary Christianity, Eco-feminism, Marxism, Hitler worship etc.
Caste is crap. However economic analysis of its causes and consequences should continue so as to prevent history books from spouting silly conspiracy theories- the Brahmins did it! No, it was the British. Actually, you're both wrong- it was the lizard people from Planet X.
nuff said


  1. How about, it was a form of genocide. The upper caste girls dont marry a lower caste boy but vice versa is allowed 'only if' the upper caste boy cannot find a girl from his own caste!

    Or maybe racism, the lower caste are always darker skinned than the upper caste in the same region.

  2. Hmm... really? Heard about "corruption" in India? and the dowry system "ethically corrupt might be started as a shagun turned into doom 'gesture'"?
    And "violence" by religious fundamentalists towards dalits and other religions.

    The only truth is that the dark skinned lowest caste women alone 'cannot' determine their marriage partner (try one to marry one off to upper caste male!!). and the vice versa is true! Upper caste male can easily do so. (This is as per scripture, ur stating exceptions to the rule!! can happen, when hinduism has blurred out over a thousand years)

    Even Gandhi was concerned on these 2 things. (Should give some weight to the argument) Women and lower caste are 2 things he was concerned about in India. Combine the two and you have a... "Where this condition is not fulfilled, you know you have a very bad, violent,or ethically corrupt perspective of life in India..."

    Dont compare this with a london ki gori 'scene'. (again an exceptional case )Thats a whole different ball game... The same parents also want their bahus/betis to fast a every vrats ...for good husband, long life of the husband, prosperity of the family...blah blah...Ever heard of a fast 'customised for the man' ...Again there may be exceptions...but what is visible is also widespread. I am not talking of exceptional cases here.

    You can delete this reply. I do not want it to mess your nice little post. Thanks for the reply.

  3. There is nothing unreasonable in what you say. Such matters are a cause for shame and soul-searching. However, as Hindus we can never accept that Shruti (as opposed to Smriti), or true spirituality, can distinguish between gender, occupation, skin color or so on. Yet these evils have, in a sense, grown alongside economic development and the building up of the Nation state. Top politicians as well as officials from elite cadres have shown scant regard for Govt. policy with respect to dowry, women's rights and caste discrimination. Certainly, this is the fruit of mindless materialism and corruption. The excuse for bribe taking is 'poor fellow- he has a daughter to marry off- what can he do?'
    Similarly, we see panchayats illegally punishing young people who choose their partner for themselves- the excuse is 'if we don't take action- we won't be able to marry off our daughters at a reasonable dowry. You rich people can let your daughters behave as shamelessly as they like because you can always buy yourself a submissive son-in-law from a poor family. Furthermore, since you people from forward communities have educated a lot of your young men, you can afford to educate your daughters. If they are matriculates they can marry a B.A pass. Or if they are B.A. pass there are still plenty of M.A pass grooms to choose from. In our community, our young men are farmers. Which men will tolerate a wife more educated than himself? Even if he accepts it, what of his mother, his sisters, the other daughters-in-law?"

    In other words, just on this one excuse of marrying off daughters all socially constructive programs must be abandoned and corruption and violence should be condoned!
    The point you make reflects the reality we grew up with. In good conscience, I can't fault you on that.
    This problem is not confined to India.
    Indeed, N.R.Is- in the 80's and 90's-have actually added to the problem. It is they who were more fanatical that brides should conform to some medieval type. Films made for the N.R.I market pandered to this fantasy of the submissive bahu.

    However, Indian women- including Dalit women like Mayawati- are changing attitudes. Or are they just creating new personality cults and/or political dynasties?
    Are women really being empowered, are caste inequalities really big redressed, or is it just some big tamasha?
    Tamil Nadu is considered a progressive state. Yet we see politicians keeping second or even third wives- the 'chinna veedu' syndrome. The gangster politician behaves like a feudal lord. His sons rape who they wish but his daughter's boy friend will be shot- even if he comes from a good family.
    These are dispiriting thoughts that cloud the mind. Perhaps, the Saints were correct. One must give up this worldly life to seek salvation. The only problem is that now even reputed monastic orders are shown to be like mafia operations!
    What, then, is the solution?

  4. You should of mention that Babasaheb Ambedkar married Brahmin woman. But it is old tradition. Rich and powerful can gain wife of young years and beauty from any caste- because poverty is endemic in all sections of society.
    Ghalib saw how the descendants of Emperors were reduced to selling themselves.
    Also you may be aware, in Hyderabad the wealthy Hindu Minister's family were keeping Muslim brides as well as of their own caste. Such, things are very usual for aristocracy. Poor people have no choice but to accept their whims and caprices.
    But who is aristocrat? The one with power and wealth.
    All you are talking of jati and shruti- it is a delusion they put on you. What is called your self-respect and honour- it is nothing but that you should guard the virginity of your daughter or sister till the rich man calls for her.
    Religion first makes you eunuch to be a more reliable pimp of your womenfolk.
    This is the real Economics.