Caste as social capital
R Vaidyanathan / DNA
Monday, May 24, 2010 23:22
Caste is back. It is likely to be part of the 2011 census. It was part
of the decennial censuses between 1881 and 1931.
Of the 1929 castes aggregated in the 1881 census, 1126 [58%] had
population of less than 1000; 275 less than ten. A large number of
them were single member castes. The British had created a social
"hierarchy" on the basis of caste in that Census.
The alienated metropolitan rootless wonders (AMROWs) and other
assorted experts are upset since they have concluded that caste is
bad. They want to be counted in the census as "Indian".
Every Indian is expected to feel guilty, whenever caste is mentioned
and talked about. In international fora, caste is used as a stick to
beat anything connected to Indian religions, customs, and culture. In
other words, caste for Indians has been turned into what "holocaust"
is for Germans and Austrians.
We have an uncanny ability for self-flagellation. But more tragic is
our enthusiasm to convert all our strengths into weaknesses since some
white men and missionaries started denigrating Indians on the issue of
We fail to recognise that it is a valuable social capital, which
provides cushion for individuals and families in dealing with society
at large, and more particularly the State. The Anglo-Saxon model of
atomised individuals in a contract-based system and forcing him to
have a direct link with the State has had disastrous effects in the
west where families have been destroyed and communities have been
Every person is standing alone, stark naked with only rights as his
imaginary clothes to deal directly with the State.
The State also does not have the benefit of concentric circles of
cushions to deal with individuals. Caste has been made a curse by our
intellectuals based on the half-baked knowledge and acceptance of the
Euro-centric individual-based model, which is based on rights and
contracts rather than relationships and duty.
At a basic level, caste promotes heterogeneity. Heterogeneous and
distributive systems are more stable and long-lasting than homogeneous
and centralised systems. Caste is a major bulwark against
homogenisation tendencies of systems like Marxism, Maoism or
Savarkarism or the Semitic faiths. We should realise that "our
strength is our diversity" and acceptance of the "other". It is much
more than "multicultural tolerance".
It is also assumed that caste is a rigid hierarchical system which is
oppressive. But as observed by the renowned sociologist Dipankar Gupta
that "In fact, it is more realistic to say that there are probably as
many hierarchies as there are castes in India. To believe that there
is a single caste order to which every caste, from Brahman to
untouchable, acquiesce ideologically, is a gross misreading of facts
on the ground" The truth is that no caste, howsoever lowly placed it
may be, accepts the reason for its degradation"(Dipankar Gupta in
Interrogating Caste; pp1; Penguin Books 2000)
History does not support the thesis of caste discrimination. If it
were as oppressive as it is portrayed then there should have been
massive and regular caste wars in the last thousand years. There have
not been any. If it has survived thousands of years then there is some
inherent strength in it. The renowned Gandhian, Dharampal has
demonstrated that data for Madras, Punjab and Bengal Presidency for
1800 to 1830 shows that the majority enrolled in the schools were from
OBC and SC categories.
Caste has played an important role in the consolidation of business
and entrepreneurship particularly in the last fifty or so years. The
World Bank suggests that the remarkable growth of Tirupur is due to
the coordinated efforts of Gounders, many of whom not even
matriculates. "(World Development report, 2002 pp175; The World Bank).
In a financial sense caste provides the edge in being a risk taker
since failure is recognised and condoned and sometimes even encouraged
by the group.
We have the exhaustive Economic Census of 2005, conducted by the
Central Statistical Organization (CSO) which covers 41.83 million
enterprises engaged in different economic activities.The survey finds
that more than 50 per cent of the enterprises are owned by SC/ST/OBC
As MN Srinivas, doyen of sociologists, pointed out that "An important
feature of social mobility in modern India is the manner in which the
successful members of the backward castes work consistently for
improving the economic and social condition of their caste-fellows.
This is due to the sense of identification with one's own caste, and
also a realisation that caste mobility is essential for individual or
familial mobility"(Collected Essays; pp196-197, OUP2005).
Caste should be counted in 2011 census for all religions since every
religion has caste even though we pretend it does not exist. It is
required for policy planners and experts to work on a road map to
calibrate changes based upon the census. We may have to enumerate a
new caste called "Indian" consisting of the AMROWS mentioned above.
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