What is race ?
In my previous post I argued there is a need to study the possible connections among ‘caste’ , ‘race’, ‘descent’, ‘jathi’ and ‘varna’ to unearth the facts behind India’s Caste discrimination.
I am not writing from the ‘I know everything’ premise, but from I write what I know.
If you ask the people of India whether they were racially discriminated seemingly all most all will answer ‘no’ or ‘I do not know’. But if you ask whether they suffered caste discrimination a good majority would say ‘yes’. This is why I stated in my previous post that Indians know very little about ‘race’. But before I look into whether race was a discrimination factor in India let me look into the modern history of race and racism.
The modern history of racism can be traced back to around 18th century
Tzvetan Todorov defines racism as an ‘ideology originated in Western Europe in the eighteenth-century and extended to about the mid-twentieth’. According to him,” ‘race is seen as the classification of human beings into physically, biologically and genetically distinct groups. Race thus became a justification of the dominance of subject peoples to the imperialist through the binary of ‘civilised’ and ‘primitive’ “.
Colonial Britain meant the same when it claimed its people were the divinely chosen to rule India of an inferior race.
The following claims indicates how racially mad was even the scientific community of Europe in the 19th century.
“These scientists made three claims about race: first, that races are objective, naturally occurring divisions of humanity; second, that there is a strong relationship between biological races and other human phenomena (such as social behavior and culture, and by extension the relative material success of cultures); third, that race is therefore a valid scientific category that can be used to explain and predict individual and group behavior. Races were distinguished by skin color, facial type, cranial profile and size, texture and color of hair. Moreover, races were almost universally considered to reflect group differences in moral character and intelligence.”
Under such a racist European atmosphere was framed up the ‘Aryan Race superiority’ and an anthropological ‘science’. If the former was a hypothesis the latter offered the data analysis to prove it into a theory and the people of Colonial India with their long racial history offered that data .
Interestingly, 18 century European racism was very much influenced by the practices of Indian racism by its earlier colonial settlers against its natives. However, by now the humanity in general has turned down the claims of both the European and the Indians racism. The UN has played a leading role in achieving that. But the Indian racists haven’t yet awaken to this. Under the pretension of modesty they still practice racism and casteism and deny all under flimsy rhetorics. It is in this context that their claims about race and caste to be seen.
Connection between Indian caste and race.
Before going into the details of this connection, let me look into the other two ‘jathi’ and ‘varna’.
We are all conditioned to the propaganda that Caste discrimination is a product of ancient India.
Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol.13 defines Caste in India as a “theoretical construct of the Brahmin scholars to describe and categorise (Varna) the complex social arrangement of which they were themselves a part. In the absence of any other better word, Varna was translated as Caste by the Europeans, with its connotations of racial purity (see Casta).”
This is however a confusing statement to me.
In fact, Varna was the theoretical construct of Brahmin, the masters of Indian racism. True there were Brahmin scholars in the traditional India, but they were not racists. The ‘Brahmins’ (the fake Brahmins) who created ‘varna’ can best be described are colonial settlers who migrated to India during the post- Indus period. Their theoretical construct bore on their creation theory- God created humans from his body. Those created from head, torso and naval turned out superiors (savarnas) with fake Bhrahmins on top followed by Khathriya (migrant rulers) and vaishya (business class). From his feet were created the Sudras who were assigned with the job to serve the three categories above them. There was a fifth category the avarnas (having no varna) because they were not created from god’s body. India’s Dalits and the backward castes are candidates ascribed to this fifth category. This classification still continues in India. There was no ‘complex social arrangement’ or social hierarchy in India prior to the migration. Indus valley civilization bears testimony to that.
What is Jathi ?
Another misconception of ours is that Jathi means skills practiced. From Kerala’s example alone it can be disproved; not all castes there have practicing skills. Only the backward castes and the Backward castes had any practicing skills. They earned their subsistence out of their skill practicing. The rest have no skills. They subsisted on the feudal wealth expropriated out of the skilled people.
Manu, the spokes person for the racist varnas, did not leave anything for imagination when he defined Jathi. According to him Jathi is varna or race. In his book ‘Manu Samhitha’ he classified Indians mainly into five Jathis; Brahmin, kshathriya, vaisya, Shudra and the fifth ‘samkara’ or mixed Jathi that came out of the inter-jathi relations. When the fifth jathi got further mixed among themselves or with the pure jathis it resulted in the more proliferation of the jathis. The ‘impure’ jathis were assigned the most menial and dirty jobs. Manu samhitha is the manual of Indian racism. Manu’s Jathi system did not deviate from the tenets of varna. Both placed svarnas on top and avarnas at the bottom for the sole account of their birth.
So Jathi does not imply skill but a system of classification using birth. By the virtue of being born into a certain jathi / varna one became superior or inferior; no matter what values he or she followed. Also if the fifth category were assigned the menial jobs, consequently all those who did menial jobs or earned subsistence out of skill automatically became lower jathi.
The fifth jathi/varna comprised of India’s indigenous population was not allowed to live among the rest. They were chased into the outskirts of the cities and forests. This was according to the Manu’s Law that seeing as well as touching or associating with them would affect the racial purity of the high borne. They would neither appear along the routes demarcated for the pure/upper varnas. If they did so it would possibly cost them their lives because that was equivalent to violating the laws of gods. Killing them was considered honour killings. Honour killings of the Dalits are practiced in many part of India.
More about the creators of ‘varna’.
The post Indus migrants seemingly never assimilated with the Indian population and wanted to exercise authority and control over them for economic reasons. But since the indigenous population was far advanced and the colonists few in numbers they never succeeded in it. This could have made them resort to framing stories of racial purity and of mythological fabrication such as the Creation story.
Historically, it took more than a millennium for the migrants to institutionalize their racial theories into workable strategies. Long before Christianity found its feet in the Western world, in the East, traditional India was disintegrated when it entered what is called the Dynasty’ era. Dynasties in general were the outcomes of a trail of foreign migrations and invasions that happened after the Indus Valley era. The time beckoned at all evils. In their new authoritative roles as patronizers and advisers to kings and emperors, the varna Brahmins became the impossible evil of India. Through creating, destroying and resurrecting empires and Dynasties at their sheer will and fancy they kept India’s emperors and rulers at their feet. As mediums of Gods they created terror and fear among everybody. Indian politics slid into their hands as a mouse before a cat.
Mnau’s laws were presumably the product of that time. It is said that the kshathriya-the rulers the second category among the varna system also has no Indian roots.
The savarna’s discriminative authority went on almost unhindered till the tyrannical Muslim invasion in the 12th century CE in the North.
Racism by colonial Britain
British colonialism was the last leg of Indian colonism started with the racist Brahminsm followed by the tyrannical Muslim invasion. Britain could have redeemed the Indian masses from the hands of those oppressors.
Instead, it joined rank with the oppressors to full fill its own colonial ambitions through forging a mutually beneficial socio-racist-political order to further discriminate the local Indians. About the racial atmosphere of the 19th century Europe I had already mentioned.
Applications of Britain’s racial ’science’ on India was more crucial than anybody would think, for its ultimate purpose was to define India and its ancient civilization in terms of its own national, religious and economic interest by making India dispossessed of its history, ethnicity and tradition. Yet ordinary Indians still believe that Britain civilized India. Such was the power of the British tactics. It did nothing haphazardly, but, only at the right moment, making the entire world to think that if Britain hadn’t done that, India would have sank into anarchy and more importantly it would never have redeemed itself from the clutches of its primitive and oppressive traditions. True by that time there existed no Indian tradition but the savarna tradition, which they claim was foreign to India. The most majority of the Indians never became inquisitive to know the truth behind this mystery.
Britain’s role in the creation of Indian castes
In 1860, three years after the Great Indian Struggle, toned down by Britain as ‘Sepoy mutiny’, it embarked on its first anthropological Census of the Indians.
Census is usually done to enumerate people. But Britain’s anthropological census was to classify or to grade Indians in to racial or ethnological categories.
P, Padmanabha, Registrar general of India, in his Preface to the Xth International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences points out:
In 1891, Plowden took up “the monumental task of indexing and classifying castes, races, and ethnic groups etc., under sixty major groups, like military and agricultural castes, and land-holders, cattle breeders and grazers, agricultural labourers, genealogists, singers and dancers, traders, silver and goldsmiths, barbers, blacksmiths, carpenters and masons, tailors, wavers and dyers.washermen, fishermen and palki-bearers, forest tribes, along with their population and territorial distribution of each.”
“In 1901, Risely went a step further and ranked the jathis in the local hierarchy and ‘varna’ affiliation of each.
I had already mentioned how Manu had defined Jathis and the British were ardent believers in Manu. Caste was taken as the English equivalent to jathis. But Manu did not do any enumeration to know how many of what jathi lived in a certain geographical area. British Raj went further ahead to index and classify people and put the details in the enumeration record.
The confusion ‘castes’ caused in the 1901 census is outlined in the following comment.
“Caste became an important element of Indian politics after the British used the entirely theoretical construct of Varna, now Caste, as the basis of classifying the Indian population, especially the Hindus, in the Population Censuses of late 19th Century. This became more specific in the 1901 Census, because the Indian population, not being aware of what the Brahmins thought of them, by and large did not understand what was meant by “Caste” and gave their occupation, religion, education etc as their “Caste” . In the 1901 Census, the people were asked to slot themselves, or were slotted by enumerators, as members of the specific castes of Brahmin, Khsthriya, Vaishya ,Shudra etc .”
That was Britain’s biggest contribution to the racism of India. The skilled class of India were the creators of traditional India. It was in their hard work, sweat and urge to engage in constant encounter with nature that India was born and developed into one of the able economy and civilization of the traditional time. Each time they resolved a problem in their encouter with nature a new knowledge was constructed. But because they worked in the open field in hot climate they had birth features different from those who lived in temperate climate.
But according to Britain aquiline nose, white skin and straight hair were the marks of civilisation, intelligence and culture. Such a ‘theory’ was in remarkable coincidence with the manu’s theological varna theory which was intended to discredit the indigenous people of India who were also not of shinning skin, aquiline nose.
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
It appears India’s Scheduled Castes and Tribes are the direct contributions of Britain’s’ anthropological Census. Being an ancient culture, the subcontinent India was a place where people of various ethnicity and individual identity survived together. They had their own means of subsistence, maintenance and survival. They were neither antisocial, barbaric, mercenaries, killers or pirates. They were people of pride, patriotism and strong ethnic and national sense. For example the Nagas. Yet colonial Brittan together with its brahmin accomplice classified them as Scheduled and primitive on the basis of their biological factors; skin colour, nose, hair, language etc.
That is why Padmanabha commented “Risley’s decision to present data on caste ranking, no doubt, evoked some controversy. How much of the troublesome legacy he left by his action and whether he did ’sow the dragon’s tooth of depressed and Scheduled Castes by his action’ as claimed by some of his successors like Hutton, (1993), is debatable”.
Caste and varna in the democratic India
India became independent in 1947. That was when colonial Britain formally left India. After independence a debate to the level suggested by Hutton should have taken place in the free India.
Instead, the leadership of free India shied away from the real racial issues behind India’s jathi/caste segregation. Instead “In pursuance of the national government’s policy to discourage community distinctions based on caste, race, etc., the 1951 Census gave up the questions on these aspects, which were earlier given priority. The only relevant questions on this aspect incorporated in the 1951 Census schedule confined itself to ‘Special groups’, viz., whether a person belonged to a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe or a Backward Class of the Anglo-Indian community, so to meet the requirements of the Constitution for the weaker sections of the society”.
That is by the stroke of a pen on a paper the Indian government resolved the jathi=caste=varna racism which subjugated its indigenous population into inhuman status in their own country for millenia.
Even sixty years after independence, jathi /caste/varna segregation never undergo any evaporation. By not addressing the jathi/caste/varna classification in the importance it deserved, Indian governments reneaged itself on its responsibility to define its apartheid in the right and honest manner, to identify its culprits and to find a humanistic solution to it. Apparently they are not willing to do it even now.
Coming to the Indian position in the report to CERD ” ‘caste’ cannot be equated with ‘race’ or covered under ‘descent’, on the basis of all evidences that I have come across, jathi and caste are certainly race based. Since the race issues were not addressed, those who were once classified as impure jathi/ caste/race are still considered so and the practice still continues. Hence caste/jathi and varna is well covered under ‘descent’.
When humanity reached in the twilight of the nineteenth century a true scientific rationality dawned on to it. The madness of race had to succumb before it though not fully. Europes’ anthropological ’science’ and ‘race’ went through various face lifts. Under United Nations Orgnisation’s initiative, a new definition for human ‘race’ was formulated.
“All human beings belong to a single species and share a common origin. They are born equal in dignity and rights and all form and integral part of humanity. All peoples of the world possesses equal faculties for attaining the highest level in intellectual, technical, social, economic, cultural and political development. The difference between the achievements of the different people are entirely attributable to geographical, historical, political, economic, social and cultural factors. Such differences can in no case serve as a pretext for any rank ordered classification of nations or peoples. (from the ‘Declaration on race and Racial Prejudices’ adopted by the General Conference of the UNESCO, Article 1.)