Thursday, April 17, 2014

Is a Restatement of the Caste Question Desired ?

The question of caste hierarchies, in my opinion, is strongly related to the difference in value of different types of labor, knowledge and skills, but not simply dependent on it. Perhaps neither should be seen as determining the other. I wish to make two points to join this debate, one related to this question of relative values in the market and the other about how the caste question may need to be dis-entangled from the hard problem of of Scheduled Castes.
The labor, knowledge and skills of people from the lokavidya samaj are valued relatively equally among themselves, be it in the local market or in the global market. The difference in value, and that too a very large one, lies between the activity and knowledge of the lokavidya samaj and the activity and knowledge of the professional classes. The broad division of castes greatly corresponds to this division between lokavidya samaj and the professional classes. The Reservation Policy has brought about a difference with certain numbers from the lokavidya samaj entering the world of professional classes which earlier was occupied entirely by the so called upper castes. The caste hierarchies today may not appear as aggressive as they used to be say 100 years ago. However I think there is need to steer clear of possible confusion that creeps in when we talk about caste hierarchy without distinguishing the reality related to such hierarchy in the modern period from that which may have been there before the British advent, particularly in respect of the relative importance of ritual and the material functioning of society. The new shastra of the modern period, Science and now the Computer, too have a great role to play in the continuation of the caste hierarchies and their transformation into new forms. I think that the relative values in the market for different  knowledge/skills and the different levels of legitimization of lokavidya and organized knowledge, are interlinked so intricately and substantially that, the two need to be addressed simultaneously and with equal force. However, this may not be sufficient to address the question of caste hierarchies to the extent of freeing the society from it, one will need a larger and deeper philosophical take ( दर्शन ) to sweep across civilizations, for racial hierarchies may not be in the final analysis very different from the caste hierarchies.

Scheduled Castes (SCs) have a singularly special status because of the background of 'untouchability', which still persists in various forms. So, often and rightly so, the question of SCs is separately addressed without including the other castes. But is this doable in absence of a general case of caste-hierarchy. Is the question of SCs not solvable without addressing in general the caste question and the hierarchy in it ? If  it is not, then an independent case needs to be built for such understanding. Then a fresh question arises, how does one go about understanding the caste question without mixing it with the question of SCs? Such an exercise is not easy to come by.  It has been addressed through the reservation for OBCs. It has its social impact and particularly after this has happened, the question of caste hierarchies transformed itself in some major ways. Finding a way here requires an in-depth understanding of the functioning of our society. It is not a question for scholars to address, leaders and activists who work with the people and in society, can shed light on this.

Sunil Sahasrabudhey
Vidya Ashram, Varanasi

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