Thursday, April 21, 2011

[ZESTCaste] A blast from the past: The New Caste System

A blast from the past: The New Caste System
06.13.2005 · Posted in Economy, Public Policy

Is caste a natural reaction to overpopulation?

Parent usually want to ensure the best prospects for their children
and give them a leg up both in their social lives and their careers.
In an environment where competition for resources becomes tight due to
overpopulation or where the stakes are high, parents may naturally
want to use all possible means to ensure that their children have a
head start in the race.

My wife recently dragged me to one of the umpteen awards ceremonies
that Bollywood indulges itself in these days. Rahul Khanna, s/o Vinod
was the host. Hrithik Roshan s/o Rakesh got a prize, as did Saif Ali
Khan s/o Sharmila, as did Karan Johar s/o Yash. Vivek Oberoi s/o
Suresh and Shahid Kapoor s/o Pankaj did stage shows. Sanjay Dutt s/o
Sunil was there, as were Abhishek Bachchan s/o Amitabh, Soha Ali Khan
d/o Sharmila and Kareena Kapoor d/o Randhir. With due apologies to
Shah Rukh Khan and Shilpa Shetty, it looked like the poor folks
without big surnames had just become item numbers.

Not that many of these well-surnamed people are without talent – many
of them undoubtedly are, and several more will undoubtedly be, at our
expense. Given her parentage, Karishma d/o Randhir s/o Raj s/o
Prithviraj Kapoor s/o Vishweshwar Diwan was able to make the
transition from Prem Qaidi to Fiza. The question is whether she would
have been given the start, the support and the number of chances to
succeed if it were not for Daddy and Granddaddy and Greatgranddaddy.
Abhishek Bachchan too will be a good actor one day.

So like royals and rich industrialists, Bollywood personalities
inter-marry within their industry and produce offspring that continue
the tradition.

It is similar in politics. Dayanidhi Maran s/o Murasoli has become a
minister. Sachin Pilot s/o Rajesh, Jyotiraditya Scindia s/o Madhavrao,
Akhilesh Yadav s/o Mulayam Singh and many others have joined the most
famous son of them all Rahul Gandhi s/o Rajiv as young
parliamentarians. They may undoubtedly become good politicians, but so
can thousands of capable young men and women in their constituencies.
In India, there is an unashamed tradition of asking for votes in the
name of a famous parent, almost as a birthright. So much is this
accepted in society that it recieves scarcely any criticism in the
mainstream media (for that matter, in the Indian blogosphere). The
question is whether these young worthies could ever have ended up in
Parliament if their surnames were not political assets. Both a
blue-blooded Scindia and a not-so-blue-blooded Yadav can continue in
the family occupation.

So far, politicians have avoided the temptation to marry within the
trade – probably because their biological clocks did not allow them.
In the past, hardly any politicians were in parliament at a
reproductable age, especially women. That may yet change in the next

The third area of national life – cricket – has been more immune to
this trend. Rohan Gavaskar s/o Sunil is promising to end this
immunity. But in cricket, success or failure is instant. Repeated
failure is not easily tolerated in spite of the best efforts of the
Indian cricket board. Things may change, but mercifully this is one
area of national life where surnames do not repeat themselves like
deja vu's or repetitive nightmares.

Royals and business families are excluded from my analysis because
they are not professionals in the strict sense of the word. Businesses
are strictly private enterprises and for the shareholders to do as
they see fit. If it is a publicly listed company, public shareholders
should have a say. Even then, promoters and founders have a way of
imposing their sons and daughters on the business. Infosys and Ranbaxy
are two internationally competitive companies that have shunned this
practice. If free-market competition is allowed to prevail, more
companies will have no choice but to engage professional managers.
Still, leadership of companies is largely a matter for the company and
its shareholders.

In all these cases, parents attempt to keep the wealth or specialist
knowledge or a brand name legacy within the family, providing their
offspring with a head start in life. One can hardly fault them for
this. But taken to its eventual end, this practice ends up creating a
whole new caste system — one which keeps opportunities locked in, and
which is extremely difficult to penetrate. I sometimes wonder whether
India's original caste system came into being for precisely the same

While India is trying to shake off the pervasive inequities created by
the original caste system, is another one insidiously creeping up to
take its place?

Disclaimer: I wish to inform my wife that in spite of having these
thoughts and contrary to appearances I actually enjoyed the Bollywood


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