California files groundbreaking suit on Cisco for caste discrimination
July 17, 2020 7:35 AM   Subscribe

"Caste prejudice and discrimination is rife within the Indian communities in the United States and other countries. Its chains are even turning the work culture within multibillion-dollar American tech companies, and beyond."

More context for how caste works in USA:

The US is not safe from caste bias: “And they went around the room with each person saying what their caste was and they skipped over me because they felt so uncomfortable to ask me that question because they just knew I was from a lower caste.”

Equality Labs Caste Survey: this extensive 2018 survey of Dalit, Shudra, Adivasi (indigenous & tribal), and other lower caste people in USA was the first of its kind and exposed the ways in which upper-caste Hindus and other South Asians have carried caste hatred into the diaspora.

In 2005, and then again in 2015, upper caste Hindu organizations have clashed with academics, Dalit activists, and other south Asian minority religious groups over the wording and content of South Asian history modules in California's state school textbooks. Upper caste Hindu organizations pushed for several "Saffronized", i.e. Hindu fundamentalist, religious-political edits on topics such as caste, the rights of women under ancient Hinduism, and Indo-Aryan migration.

Arundhati Roy on Babasaheb Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi, and Caste: "The Doctor and the Saint" is a fantastic talk (based on her essay) by Booker prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy that contrasts Gandhi's patronizing noblesse-oblige approach to caste relations with Ambedkar's manifesto of radical struggle against caste power. Previously discussed on MeFi.
posted by MiraK (39 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Ugh. One of the bigger difficulties with managing Indian employees was knowing that I was not allowed to ask their caste but that it could make a significant difference in their success in working with other Indian employees.

I'm glad California is cracking down on it, and Cisco is a good place to start. The employee handbook needs to be very clear that caste bias is on people's radars and can result in HR action.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:55 AM on July 17 [10 favorites]

A friend of mine who works in tech (outside the US) has seen this first hand. Often it is starts off seemingly benignly, to non-Indians at least, by asking: "So are you a vegetarian?"
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:01 AM on July 17 [26 favorites]

(North America also has a caste system in place, we just don't have the language we need to see it. I hope that efforts like this bring more of these social distinctions and discrimination-axes into visible relief.)
posted by mhoye at 8:16 AM on July 17 [15 favorites]

Great post, MiraK. Thank you!
posted by Bella Donna at 8:21 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]

As a moderate liberal, I have often had to deal with more-left people who say, "yes, the US is a wonderful melting pot! We are welcoming towards everybody!" But they never have an answer when I ask how to deal with people who are classist or, more often in my experience, extremely sexist.
posted by Melismata at 8:26 AM on July 17 [4 favorites]

Very interesting, thank you. I went to a mostly Indian school in Dubai and later worked at a company where I was one of very few non-Indians. I don't remember how it came up but a colleague and I were talking about this and I said that I had no idea it was still such an issue and that I'd never noticed it. He quite rightly pointed out that actually all of our colleagues (including him) were high caste Hindus except for me, one French guy, and an Indian Jain. (And while Jains reject the caste system, they are in practice treated as high caste)

Here in the UK, this has been quite a live issue as well. There was an attempt a few years ago to pass a law that would make caste discrimination explicitly illegal (my understanding is that it is sort of illegal under current law as it can be treated as racial discrimination by the courts).This law was heavily lobbied against by a number of British Hindu groups (upper caste dominated).

It also cannot be ignored in the context of ongoing discussions of racial inequity in the UK that while the Conservative party, Conservative voters, and the current Conservative cabinet are quite racially diverse if you put all non-white people into the same 'BAME' category, things are quite different once you break British Asians out by religion and by caste. Upper caste Hindus are overwhelmingly Conservative and most non-white Conservative cabinet ministers have been as well.
posted by atrazine at 8:39 AM on July 17 [18 favorites]

This is a great post, i obviously need to learn more about how the caste system in India influences career paths and work culture for the people I hire and work with there

I’m biased differently being from the US, class/caste is a distant second order kind of markedness that often falls into a dead angle of my perception. Thank you for posting this.
posted by noiseanoise at 8:41 AM on July 17

FTFirstA: "...was it someone like me, who was born and raised here, for whom caste is not relevant?

Can a prejudice as fundamental as caste be discarded in a single generation?

As an analog I think of the (many varieties of) "No Irish need apply" signs and compare it to the sight of JFK as President -- but that cultural shift spanned more than a century!

(Thank you for this post! I must say, it's never occurred to me that caste would be given more weight by immigrants than the feeling of "we're all in this together" in their new world. Something to mull...)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:42 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]

North America also has a caste system in place, we just don't have the language we need to see it.

Just a few weeks ago, there was just a discussion about if that was in fact a good way to talk about discrimination in the US. Opinions, of course, differed.
posted by great_radio at 8:46 AM on July 17 [9 favorites]

It feels like Cisco, at least, may actually be doing something. This shit needs to come home to the big four.

they never have an answer when I ask how to deal with people who are classist or, more often in my experience, extremely sexist.
Oh absolutely. Many in the US are completely blind to how classist they are, because among other pernicious myths we've been taught we're a classless society (in simpler terms, usually). No discussion of caste prejudice in South Asian communities in the US should ignore that such discrimination is also in conversation with discrimination against South Asians in the US and within the broader context of the legacy of racism/discrimination in postcolonial societies.

I work in academia, and while overt classism is uncommon, subtle classist/sexist microaggressions are extremely prevalent. Is it as extreme as caste discrimination? It might not be articulated the same way, but look at the security guards and cleaning crew vs. the paraprofessionals vs. faculty vs. provost/dean levels at any large operation and you're going to see sadly predictable breakdowns along race/class/immigration status, stemming from the US's own system of ethnic discrimination.

See also Western Europeans who think Europe doesn't have race problems.

On preview I agree that "caste" is a problematic term and should probably be avoided outside a pretty specific concept, and only with deliberation.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:48 AM on July 17 [5 favorites]

[Hi all, please be thoughtful in your comments and consider how you are contributing to the topic at hand. Ask yourself if your comment has the potential to derail the conversation and whether it de-centers the intended discussion.]
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 8:48 AM on July 17 [22 favorites]

One of the bigger difficulties with managing Indian employees was knowing that I was not allowed to ask their caste but that it could make a significant difference in their success in working with other Indian employees.

Wow, I can imagine what a minefield that is for you. I suppose this is where adding caste into all standard non-discrimination policies and including discussions of caste in anti-discrimination training/awareness for all employees would come in handy. It fosters awareness, creates shared language, and allows authorized channels of reporting to be used by employees affected by caste discrimination.

>>>FTFirstA: "...was it someone like me, who was born and raised here, for whom caste is not relevant?”

> Can a prejudice as fundamental as caste be discarded in a single generation?

Yeah, no, that was seriously suspect in my opinion. It's common for people who no longer identify with caste but who hail from upper caste families to claim that caste is no longer relevant, just like upper caste people in India do, but there is a lot of data as well as first-hand reports from lower caste people to contradict this notion. Take a look at the survey by Equality Labs, for instance, which talks about the incidence of discrimination experienced.

90% of Indian immigrants are from upper castes and only 1.5% are Dalit. The voices of Dalits are a tiny minority within the minority of South Asian immigrants in USA, and are only just now beginning to gain a wider platform. There's so much we just don't know, as Americans in general and even within South Asian communities. I am from an upper caste South Asian background, brahmin & vegetarian & lighter skinned, so please read my words accordingly.

However, there is IMO an argument to be made that ending arranged marriage (in all its forms, including the semi-arranged, looser versions that predominate in diaspora) would greatly diminish the power of caste system within just a single generation. There's data on marriage within South Asian diaspora in USA - I wish I could dig up a link now, but please take my word in the meantime - which shows how caste is retained and perpetuated by the propensity of immigrant, first-gen, and even second-gen folks to marry within their own caste... or at least exclude Dalits and Shudras as potential matches. And caste is almost entirely maintained and perpetuated by the institution of marriage. Unlike race or gender, caste tends to be an invisible identity marker that is difficult to maintain without the strict segregation imposed by caste-restricted matrimony. This is one reason why arranged marriage is so strongly imposed within South Asian communities in our motherlands as well as in diaspora - the largest desi dating and matrimonial websites all require you to reveal your caste - and some have even been caught using algorithms that segregate by caste, this is why honor killings exist, this is why courts in India sanction the murder of adults by their parents or in-laws, this is why states in India have attempted to impose requirements on adults to obtain parental permission to be legally married.

Obviously nobody's going to be able to get rid of all arranged and semi-arranged marriages overnight, and even if we do, there are going to be residual effects and people self-sorting based on caste, but I just wanted to note that the end of caste *necessarily* requires ending arranged marriage in all its forms.
posted by MiraK at 9:40 AM on July 17 [45 favorites]

I watched the BBC documentary Hindus: Do we have a caste problem? (sadly, not currently available on iPlayer) last October, and that was the first time I realised that caste had real implications for British Asians. The documentary was a pretty good introduction, mainly because it didn't present any answers and the presenter was able to allow people to speak for themselves.
posted by plonkee at 9:48 AM on July 17 [4 favorites]

To put in a word for 20th Century Americanism*, one of its self-extolled virtues was that its core Assimilationism not just allowed for, but encouraged and legitimized, the Immigrant Reset.
Aka, "Caste? never heard of it, we don't do that here. Sounds like something best left back in The Old Country." Say what else you will about it, but it meant that in coming to America, your last name was no longer an intertribal ethnic slur, your tattoos didn't mark you as a criminal, etc.
At least not to other Americans; if you and the person next to you in line at Ellis Island had a blood feud, that was on you two stubborn assholes to get over, in time for when your kids or grandkids are dating theirs. Or at least on the same baseball team and you find yourselves cheering together. To hang on to that 'ancient history' stuff, to keep it alive rather than letting it fade out was Un-American and just plain stupid, not taking advantage of a sometimes rare freedom to leave a traumatic past condition behind.

That at least spared everyone the I-shudder-and-hope-not inevitable "ooh, I read a few tweets and tumblr posts about Caste, so now I am going to be Politically Conscious and Engaged by asking every brown person I meet about it, in a very 'can I touch your hair?'/ 'so have you had The Surgery yet?' kind of way". Because that's going to do so much good.

*I got bored and watched some classic Superman stuff, and have been pondering what people at the time might have meant, what they might have been patting themselves on the back for, when they used phrases like 'The American Way'.
posted by bartleby at 9:51 AM on July 17 [9 favorites]

In Japan there's a no longer official undercaste, burakumin, who are still vigorously discriminated against. Mostly in the US they attempt to escape the stigma in the Japanese immigrant community by lying about whatever they need to in order to keep their caste secret, and doing their utmost to impart that lie to their children so their children think it's true. This includes everything from changing family names, claiming to have come from different towns, prefectures, and neighborhoods, discarding all family memorabilia that could indicate their caste, and so on.

One of the Japanese American people I know had a childhood friend who was secretly burakumin, the Japanese ex-pat community they were part of ferreted out the truth and her friend and her friend's family moved to try again in a different community rather than stay in their community and face the discrimination.

And in Japan the caste system was officially and legally abolished in 1871, there's laws prohibiting discrimination based on caste, and **STILL** after a century and a half Japanese immigrants to America spend some of their time trying to figure out if any of their fellow immigrants are secret burakumin.

Given the much more open nature of caste in India I strongly suspect the option of pretending not to be dalit or what have you simply isn't open to many/most Indian low caste immigrants.

I'm not even slightly surprised that Indian American immigrants discriminate based on caste, the system wasn't even formally abolished in India until 1948, there's still people alive who remember back when it was legal.

Where the UK failed, the US needs to step up. While a legal ban on caste discrimination is far from a cure all, it's at least a step in the right direction.
posted by sotonohito at 10:07 AM on July 17 [16 favorites]

One clarification on the naming conventions - your surname, if your community uses them, or your naming convention, is a clear indicator of a number of factors that situate you in the complex hierarchy and stratification of Indian society. So nobody actually needs to ask caste per se tbh unless you're diving into the specific sub clan or region where the Gupta is from. And that only to see in case you're related ;p

And yes, many lower caste people will drop the caste marker - imposed by the British as a manpower classification and divide&rule system - of their clan names and 'surnames' and go with the generic Kumar (young man) or Devi (lady) or random first name as a second name.

But as sotonohito points out, its impossible for them to escape the distaste of the brahmins, especially from the more conservative cultures (eg. south india) who can spot them a mile off or will dig to uncover hidden caste, sub caste, gotra and jati indicators to put them in their rightful place.

I once had a mother in law like that. Otoh that reminds me that caste and class are not the same thing in India and the intersectionality creates even more subtly nuanced hierarchies ;p so she might have been an Iyengar and I a bania but by the class factor they were nobodies whereas I had cousins with 100 year old brand names for a surname.

So it goes. Another era, another time.
posted by infini at 10:37 AM on July 17 [21 favorites]

For those interested, look up "twice born" in the Hindu sense.

MiraK is right, arranged marriages are no more than bloodline indicators for alliances and genetic traits - here, 'lower class (a gas station attendant's son); lower caste (just look at that colour!*) has acquired the whitest* bride he can find for his son as way to raise the future generations fairness quotient and thus external caste/class markers beyond the now recognizable surname. This is a status indicator.* Though from the class perspective, the Ambanis will never be able to become a Tata or Birla until they've kept their business in operations for at least a 100 years. So they might be able to buy out some of them 100x over but it'll take another generation or two before they're marrying industrial brands.

All this stuff has its own nonsense of khandaan ki izzat and whatnot, and there's no freedom. That cousin of mine with 100 year old brandname for a surname? She can't divorce her loser husband for fear of disrupting the inheritance structure of the entire multinational, and lives a hidden life of the ultimate trophy wife.

*dear mod, don't have a fit, that's the only way I know how to describe what is happening in that photo - please convert it to proper americanism if its offensive but I have no idea how to fix it for your needs, but I have a cousin on the darker side who is rich enough to have his marriage arranged with a fair skinned green eyed girl. And that was the status symbol part of it.
posted by infini at 11:05 AM on July 17 [18 favorites]

"In a new book, The Truth About Us: The Politics of Information from Manu to Modi, I show how the social categories of religion and caste as they are perceived in modern-day India were developed during the British colonial rule, at a time when information was scarce and the coloniser's power over information was absolute."

WR Cornish, who supervised census operations in the Madras Presidency in 1871, wrote that "… regarding the origin of caste we can place no reliance upon the statements made in the Hindu sacred writings. Whether there was ever a period in which the Hindus were composed of four classes is exceedingly doubtful".
posted by infini at 11:12 AM on July 17 [9 favorites]

Thanks for this post. This is something I am almost entirely clueless about in the American context. The comment above about what seems innocuous to the non Indian, "are you vegetarian?," reminded me of this article "There is no Dalit cuisine":
He speculates that “the one who belongs to the lower caste has an inferiority complex about their food.”

Hiraben Solanki, a Dalit social worker from Bhavnagar, Gujarat, echoes these sentiments. In Gujarat, vegetarianism is associated with the stronghold of political power. “I used to eat beef, but I don’t anymore because I have to answer to everyone. Expressing a fondness for meat as anyone else is okay, but as a Dalit, it can have consequences.”

And serious ones. In May of 2017, the government banned the slaughter of cows throughout India, making selling and eating cow meat a punishable offence. The ban was reversed a matter of weeks later, as it gave legal cover to the demonization of meat-eating in Hindu society. Since 2010, 28 Indians, mostly from Dalit and Muslim communities, have been killed by mobs of right-wing Hindu vigilantes who call themselves “gau-rakshaks,” or protectors of the cow.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:30 AM on July 17 [8 favorites]

Read this earlier and am happy about it. I wouldn't hastily compare caste to discrimination in the US. It's not the same. You can progress theoretically to a different class and thereby be treated differently. But caste is unescapable except by conversion, and even then, not always (Muslims and Christans often still carry a caste tag).

The government has been officially anti-caste for ages, but the post-independence reforms that were meant to give property to lower castes weren't as effective as intended. The Brahmin land owners found ways to hold on to their property. Personally, I think this failure had long lasting repercussions because acquiring land is a big factor for social mobility. Today, despite anti-caste laws, caste distinctions are still present on the ground, not to mention they are exploited by parties during election time. Meanwhile Brahmins are resentful because of the affirmative action type policies for universities and government jobs. Things are way better than in 1948 but there's a long way to go.

Gandhi worked lifelong to defeat untouchability but felt that other forms of caste discrimination could be dealt with by integration and respect. Ambedkar wanted the lower castes to convert to Buddhism. So Gandhi wasn't as cynical (realistic?), nor perhaps as much of a visionary as Ambedkar. But they admired each other. Yes, it is undeniable that Gandhi had racist views when he was young and Arundhati Roy has latched on to this. But after serving as a medic during the Boer war in South Africa, Gandhi reformed totally. His dedication to his cause arose after the experience. He eventually worked with the ANC for South African independence. In a speech in 1908 he says:

“South Africa would probably be a howling wilderness without the Africans…”

“If we look into the future, is it not a heritage we have to leave to posterity that all the different races commingle and produce a civilisation that perhaps the world has not yet seen.”

1937: “… as there has been an awakening in India, even so there will be an awakening in South Africa with its vastly richer resources – natural, mineral and human. The mighty English look quite pygmies before the mighty races of Africa. They are noble savages after all, you will say. They are certainly noble, but no savages and in the course of a few years the Western nations may cease to find in Africa a dumping ground for their wares.”

More about his relationship to Africa here.
posted by kolendra at 11:36 AM on July 17 [4 favorites]

In terms of banning arranged marriages, is that something people aim to achieve through social pressure or are people actually looking into legislation? It's hard to imagine what that looks like in an American context.
posted by great_radio at 11:48 AM on July 17

Sujatha Gidla who works as a conductor in the New York Train system, wrote a book Ants among Elephants detailing the plight of the Dalit community, especially in Andhra.

She had a wonderful Conversations with Tyler podcast, which introduced me to this author. She talks about how the caste divisions in India are carried over to the US, and how she has seen it manifest first hand. In her conversations she says:

"GIDLA: Very much. I had bad experiences when I first came here because I knew nobody else but Indians. Once I was able to make friends with Americans, I never, never went back to Indian networks, it’s a very rabid system.
All these immigrant associations—ostensibly, they are there to celebrate Indian culture and festivals, but they’re actually the caste groups. Some hide behind culture, but some others openly say that this is Brahmin American Association, and if you want to join the Facebook page, you have to tell their shibboleths like what’s your gotra, what’s your this, what’s your horoscope, this, that. We’re not able to tell them because we don’t know what . . ."

I did not know this as I am no longer active in the Indian community. But looking at how my family that is here interacts with the community; I can see that the caste divisions are being perpetuated here, albeit under the guise of 'culture'.
posted by indianbadger1 at 12:45 PM on July 17 [12 favorites]

Caste is still enough of an issue that it caused the current Canadian NDP leader to change his name.

When Singh was seven, his family moved to Windsor, Ontario, where he grew up. There, he used his given name, Jagmeet. Concerned about bullying, his father sent him to the private Detroit Country Day School in the United States, across the river from Windsor, where he excelled in academics and athletics. As is the egalitarian Sikh custom — to diminish the influence of the caste system of social class distinction — he uses the last name Singh rather than Dhaliwal.
posted by sardonyx at 1:19 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]

This is such a good post, thank you. I work (in tech, but an academic setting) with a lot of people who were born in India, including my boss. I have a good relationship with all of them, especially my boss -- and i'd love to discuss this piece with them but I'm not sure if it would be really weird or nosy to ask. Def going to educate myself a lot more about this.
posted by capnsue at 2:33 PM on July 17

Thank you for posting this. A first-gen Indian woman I worked with was disowned by her family for marrying someone of a lower caste. At the time I thought that her family's views just happened to be especially outdated--I didn't know the power of the system was still so widespread.
posted by schroedinger at 2:52 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]

I was able to come out as Dalit because after moving to New York and avoiding Indian-only communities, for the first time, I was not scared of someone finding out my caste.

The author of the first piece was so brave.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:53 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]

It occurs to me now why a coworker from India has no legal last name.
posted by pwnguin at 3:51 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]

All these immigrant associations—ostensibly, they are there to celebrate Indian culture and festivals, but they’re actually the caste groups.

This is extremely true, and is a whole strange treacherous minefield. Back in Chicago people referred to these sorts as "Texas Brahmins" -- implication being that they were loudly (excessively loudly) Brahmin, but only for the purpose of feeling superior, not out of any actual sense of tradition. The kind of person who'd remind you at least twice in any conversation that they were Brahmin.

(imagine my sense of disjunction when I discovered "Brahmin" is actually a luxury product store in parts of Texas)
posted by aramaic at 7:08 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]

Just picking up on MiraK's comment regarding the role of marriage in perpetuating problems
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 9:51 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]

[One deleted. "I'm not from this cultural background, but I have noticed some people in my workplace and developed my own prejudices / stereotypes" (paraphrased) is not a good way to interact with this topic, even if you feel like you are being supportive of the post thesis.]
posted by taz (staff) at 11:58 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]

Wow, I had no idea this form of prejudice was being carried over here, though in retrospect it feels silly to think it wouldn’t be. Thanks for this post.
posted by eirias at 4:56 AM on July 18

Kenya is recognizing the price paid for trusting different behaviour between home and abroad.
posted by infini at 7:37 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]

It occurs to me now why a coworker from India has no legal last name.

Hmm, there can be other reasons why some Indians have no legal last name. It's the norm in South India that your first name or given name is the only name by which you are known, as in Ms. [FirstName] or Dr. [FirstName]. Last names are abbreviated to initials - so everyone would know me as Mira K. Nobody elaborates what the K stands for unless asked and nobody asks except for, like, legal reasons. I grew up not knowing what the last name initials of my own classmates and best friends stood for! (Makes it nigh impossible to find people on Facebook, let me tell you.)

In addition, a common practice in south India is a child gets their father's first name as their last name, technically, but that's not considered a family name or a surname. Many of these people would say they have no last name, if asked, and what they mean is they have no last name per the asker's definition of it.

(Then there are communities where an entire clan or even everyone of the same gender shares a last name, but there, in many cases, that is a practice born specifically in defiance of the caste system so it shouldn't count on my list.)
posted by MiraK at 7:50 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]

"In a new book, The Truth About Us: The Politics of Information from Manu to Modi, I show how the social categories of religion and caste as they are perceived in modern-day India were developed during the British colonial rule, at a time when information was scarce and the coloniser's power over information was absolute."

infini, have you read the book? I'm curious whether he's saying that the imposition of a strict national-level categorisation into four distinct Varna is a colonial era thing or that the idea of Jati hierarchy itself is?

The former seems almost obviously true just because European colonial powers did that kind of outsider systematisation everywhere as a matter of habit and bureaucratic drive to control. (The organised map is always handier for the outsider than the insider). The latter would be a bit more surprising, just because I'd wonder where they got the idea to do that from since their own hierarchical culture worked rather differently.
posted by atrazine at 11:06 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]

The brahmin elites cooperated with the Brits to promote themselves and impose a dominant hierarchy in a more rigid form. Wendy Doniger said the earlier histories show more fluidity between roles and occupations and castes and htus more social mobility

The notion of a fourfold caste hierarchy founded in Hindu religion faces a number of conceptual and empirical problems. Empirically, a huge variety of jatis (groups determined by birth) co-exist in Indian society and many are characterized by practices of endogamy and commensality. By convention, one could perhaps call such groups ‘castes’. However, empirically, the structure of Indian society does not reflect a fixed caste hierarchy.

In fact, British colonial officials came to this conclusion long ago when they launched a caste census aimed at classifying these groups along the lines of the castehierarchy. Generally, this exercise ended in failure. For most groups, it turned out to be impossible to attribute a stable location in the hierarchy. Even worse, it was often impossible to find out to what ‘caste’ Indians belonged.

When asked the question “What is your caste?” – so colonial officials complained – some Hindus would mention one of the four varnas, others would say they belonged to some “endogamous sub-caste,” yet others would mention some “caste-title” or add “vague and indefinite” entries. In short, the Hindus seemed to be ignorant of their own caste system (Blunt 1931; Dirks 2002: 202-212; Nesfield 1885).

The claim that Brahmin priests invented the caste system and imposed it onto Indian society is as problematic (Dirks 2002; Inden 1990). Any attempt to transform a society along the lines of such a model would require a particular type of institution or centralized authority, which inculcates the rules and monitors compliance. But no historical evidence is available indicating such attempts to create a centralized religious authority or legal system. The variegated groups of Brahmins across India do not constitute a Hindu priesthood, let alone a central institution of religious authority. In short, there is no credible theoretical ground for connecting caste and religion (Guha 2013; Nadkarni 2006; Sen 2005). Colonial consciousness and the caste system in 20th-century India. A study of the intellectual and institutional impact of orientalist discourse
posted by infini at 12:24 PM on July 18 [7 favorites]

Lecture 4: Colonial societies, state formation and comparative development (India, China, Japan) Slide 12

Inequality Regimes: A Global History

Thomas Piketty
NYU, Spring 2020

posted by infini at 12:26 PM on July 18

Thanks. Sounds I should check out Doniger's book as well.
posted by atrazine at 2:50 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]

I was surprised when, in grad school, two exchange students from India were hostile, like at a "we re all in grad school and have no life, let's tall try to hang out so we don't go nuts' social put on by the school .

The kid with smooth hands taunted the kid with rough hands. First it was just taunting.
I felt like a dumb American, not knowing how to interrupt, like, I should interrupt this rough joking, right? I thought it was something like this, I also didn't know what to do. I ended up buying the kid with the rough hands beer, lunch sometimes. Casual.

Later I heard that there was a fistfight. I had graduated by then, but I regret not saying something, even though I'm sure nothing smart would have come out of my mouth
posted by eustatic at 7:36 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]

I just read "Conceptualizing Casteism: Cause and Effect" by Dr. Balmurli Natrajan. I particularly found the section "Casteism increasingly justifies itself as cultural differentiation" interesting, as well as the point "all caste associations will come together – to demand in the US diaspora – that they be treated as part of the great American cultural diversity or multicultural caravan."

Via this talk I found out about Ambedkar King Study Circle which, among other things, gathers testimonies of the experience of caste in the USA.
posted by brainwane at 6:57 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]

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