Summary of satish deshpande’s ‘class inequalities in india today’
the 1980-90 witnessed ‘the return of the repressed’- the renewed militancy and social visibility of the lower classes. During the Nehruvian era, Caste was among the few ‘traditional’ institutions that were presented as all bad, as social evils without any redeeming features. And in 1950’s and 60’s, it seemed to have no active role in urban everyday life. After Mandal, we have realised that the sole reason for the invisibility of caste in the urban context is that it is overwhelmingly dominated by the upper castes.
This homogeneity has made caste drop below the threshold of social visibility.(ie if everyone is uppercaste the caste identity is unlikely to be an issue, just like being Indian is not an issue in india) Furthermore, it was the upper caste who supported the anti-caste view.
Drawbacks of Indian sociology in study of caste
The author comments and laments at the failure of the Indian sociologists to study the modern caste system comprehensively.
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Indian sociology has always tried to relate the caste system to ‘villages, rituals, rites’ and so on. This is a true but partial view that risks of becoming untrue as it overlooks its partiality.
We tend to think it’s a rural concept, not prevalent in urban areas- hwhich is incorrect use authors experience in Chinese restaurant. Caste is in fact alive and kicking in the urban middle-class and has had a thoroughly modern makeover.
caste as seen from sociology: what is missing?
The mandal commission report offered a rare window of insight into Indian sociology, while one would have expected the other way round: sociology to shed light on the controvery of caste. Although indian sociologists adopted unpopular stances during Mandal and were strong proponents of the Anti-Mandal position which prevailed in upper-caste perceptions, sociologists only cared to comment only on the report rather than the problem asking the questions that a sociologist was expected to ask.
They were unable to say anything that went beyond commonsense. Thus they were no diff from journalists or politicians who only concentrated on the consequences of implementing the mandal report. Failed to ask qs like is caste disc still practised in india? Has it been changing since independence? Etc It took as big a crisis as the mandal commission to alert us to the blind spot of Indian sociology.
How is the hierarchy avatar of caste diff from the inequality that was at issue in the mandal controversy? The notion of hierarchy implicated in the caste system tends to relativize inequality. You cannot have hierarchy without inequality but since almost everyone is unequal with respect to almost everyone else, being above some and below some, thus everyone is unequal and they are also in a certain sense equalised by this fact. (for eg kings are ranked below Brahmins which means even the highest secular power requires sanction from the priest, while the caste with the highest ritual rank is subject to the secular power of a lower rank)
This is reinforced by the fact that caste in anthropology is defined as a consensual system based on complementarity- all castes in a caste system recognise the same basic hierarchy and accept/acknowledge their position within it. Moreover, they are functionally differtiated and complement each other (all of this opposed to ethnic groups).
More generally, social anthropology has distanced caste from the material world and its political conflicts and placed it in the vicinity of religious ritual, ideology and belief systems. Thus dealing with caste in terms of religious texts, notions of purity and pollution, food sharing, notions of marriage. Such a conceptualisation is a far cry from the competitive caste politics in independent India, especially mandal era.
While Dumont has conveniently overlooked the political dimension of the caste problem, the rival camp of Srinivas who inspired fieldwork during the 60’s and 70’s and invented the concepts of sanskritisation, dominant caste, vote-bank etc. has its shortcomings also…. 1.
Exclusive reliance on traditional methodology of intensive fieldwork by a single scholar in a small area and subsequently generalising the observations to fit a larger area. It has precluded any significant attempts at developing a macro-perspective based converage of the field. At the same time, sociologists criticising haven’t come up with any alternatives themselves. Similarly with mandal comm. Report.
Common Sense on Caste Inequality
The prevailing heterogenous notions in the Indian urban society are as follows…. 1. Caste inequality is a social evil and used to be very bad in the past. However, the condition of the lower castes and tribes is improving steadily since independence. The link btw caste and occupation is weakening. Reservation has been successful in providing benefits but they r being monopolised by a minority.
It has become a part of vote bank politics. 2. Caste has been given a new lease of life by its encashability in politics. The upper castes are subsequently facing a very real reverse discrimination and backward status is adv. 3. There is a great variation in the economic and social status of members of every caste group. This variation makes it misleading to use caste as a criterion to decide backwardness.
This also leads to the ‘murder of merit’ with regard to job reservations. 4. The main aspect of caste discrimination ie. untouchability has been outlawed thus nothing much to be done legislatively. Whatever prejudices remain must be condemned and people should be educated.
Limitations to the common sense (which sociologists should have identified…..) 1. While the situation might have improved, the measure of the improvement remains largely insignificant. 2. While the occupations among all caste groups have diversified, it is improper to overlook the social reality ie. the high concentration of upper caste in preferred and lower caste in menial job conditions.
Caste as a determinant of life chances in independent India
The optimism of Nehruvian era prompted scholars and administrators to take at face value the stridently declared intention of building a caste less society with a caste blind state.This has led to the absence of a systematic attempt to collect comprehensive data Since independence, the Indian census has refused to ask citizens their caste.
Hence, the only data available is that of scheduled castes and tribes to ensure the enforcement of constitutional safeguards. The active antipathy towards caste after independence was because of: 1. The nationalist movement and its campaign against caste distinction.
Criticism- its gross simplification to speak of ‘the’ nationalist mvt with a singular position on caste 2. A reaction against what was seen as a deliberate colonial policy to create and sharpen divisions among the Indian people. Criticsm: its diff to disentangle imperial invention from indigenous inheritance in the history of caste.
Thus the post independence backlash against caste was long and sustained. This ensured that one of the paradoxical lessons of modern governance- that the state must measure whatever it wishes to eradicate – would not be learnt. As a result, the data we have on caste inequality is largely inadequate.
Available data on caste inequality
The author has used the 55th round of the NSSO data conducted during 1999-00 because it provides data separately for backward classes, allowing for the first time to disaggregate the ‘other’ category. However flawed it may, its proved that caste continues to be a major faultline of economic inequality in modern india. Commonsense may tell us that lower castes are now ruling the roost, but the facts are otherwise.
In rural india, more than half of the ST population lives below poverty line. 43% sc too. Despite the major phenomenon of the rural OBC’s, caste inequality has been flourishing in rural and expecially urban areas where they constitute a healthy 34% of the below poverty line populations. This data by virtue of being from a large, national survey, cannot be dismissed as being due to inter-individual differences or statistical accidents.
The non-poor are a much smaller proportion of the lower caste and relatively much higher of the upper caste. These differences are even more stark and stable in urban. Caste inequality has thus been flourishing in rural and specially urban india.
Caste and Privilege
It is firmly established in contemporary common sense that the spirit of the times not only favours the lower castes, but is also actively opposed to the upper castes. However, this is mere oversight as most enclaves of privilege are still dominated by upper castes. Some evidence that he relies on is: 1. In a country where less than 10% of the workforce is in the ‘organised’ sector- which includes both public and private, the lower castes still tend to be overly under-represented in the government sector (6%), particularly in the upper echelons.
Furthermore, the representation of the OBC’s is even lower, under 5%. 2. In the corporate sector, a study of 1100 large companies which accounted for over 90% of the turnover showed that Brahmins were the dominant caste with a large margin. On the other hand, the Shudras at a lowly 4.2% with absolutely no representation for SC’s or ST’s. 3. In every field offering a promising career in the contemporary world, the upper castes dominate and the middle and lower castes are severely under represented.
We have to face up to the uncomfortable truth that caste inequality has been and is being reproduced in independent India.
Questions of location: Sociology and caste in post-colonial India.
Drastic and sustained differences in shares and proportions averaged across very large numbers of individuals from different social groups cannot be explained in terms of differences in individual abilities or circumstances. Just as Durkheim observed that suicide though a psychological phenomenon per se is somehow dictated by society and hence is a sociological phenomenon.
Thus, the oft-given reason of lack of merit of these castes is sociological nonsense. If genetic explanations are ruled out, the only reasonable expl for the situ is that of systematic discrimination. The neglect of caste by sociology as a discipline can be attributed to two aspects of the disciplinary positioning of Indian sociology – namely, the dominance of economics and tilt towards anthropology and its methods, both of which have dissuaded macro analysis of caste inequality.