Casteism

This forum is the place to have more serious discussions about politics and religion, and your opinions thereof. Be courteous!

Moderators: Global Moderators, Forum Administrators

Forum rules
When a registered user insults another person (user or not), nation, political group or religious group, s/he will be deprived of her/his permission to post in the forum. That user has the right to re-register one week after s/he has lost the permission. Further violations will result in longer prohibitions.

By default, you are automatically registered to post in this forum. However, users cannot post in the politics forum during the first week after registration. Users can also not make their very first post in the politics forum.
vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 16800
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Austin
Country: US United States (United States)

Casteism

Postby vijayjohn » 2014-12-30, 20:10

If we can have a topic on classism...then, well, we can have one on casteism, too, can't we? :) Of course, I think of casteism as a fairly Indian-specific thing, but that doesn't mean we can't talk about it, too.

So there's this movie I posted once on the "which movie(s) have you watched lately" thread :P I think it's a good collection of examples showing how Dalits are discriminated against all over India. Unfortunately, it might also be kind of confusing for people who aren't too familiar with Indian languages, because it skips around a lot from one region/language to another, often without specifying (for example, the part upto 2:47 takes place in a village somewhere in Bihar and everybody is talking in some Bihari language, but then the part just after that is in Varanasi and all in Hindi):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgDGmYdhZvU#t=2481

User avatar
linguoboy
Posts: 20256
Joined: 2009-08-25, 15:11
Real Name: Da
Location: Chicago
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby linguoboy » 2014-12-30, 20:57

Depends whether you'd consider the discrimination against other historically "untouchable" groups (e.g. Eta in Japan, Baekjeong in Korean, Tanka in southern China) a form of "casteism" or not.
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons

User avatar
Johanna
Forum Administrator
Posts: 6285
Joined: 2006-09-17, 18:05
Real Name: Johanna
Gender: female
Location: Lidköping, Westrogothia
Country: SE Sweden (Sverige)

Re: Casteism

Postby Johanna » 2014-12-30, 22:39

In Western society we have similar sentiments still, sure, you may not be born "untouchable", but if someone finds out you are or have been a prostitute or that you've been in prison?

I can kind of understand the prison thing, even though I think it's really sad that it should be like that no matter how much the person in question wants to change, and of course it's much better for society as a whole if we actually let people who have made mistakes (even really serious and criminal ones) prove themselves before we judge them out of hand.

But the attitude about prostitution really shocks me... You like sex and see there's a demand for such services, what's the problem with that? Or you're not that enthusiastic but see no other way? Or you're even forced into it by other people? Which of these scenarios warrant being treated as pariah?

I'm sorry if this seems as a Western "kidnapping" of the topic, if so, I apologise. I didn't mean anything of the sort, only to give a kind of baseline for Westerners to relate to, to show that only because we don't have this caste system based on birth, we're not much better in reality. Not that this is news to most of our active members, but in case there's a few new ones reading this :)
Swedish (sv) native; English (en) good; Norwegian (no) read fluently, understand well, speak badly; Danish (dk) read fluently, understand badly, can't speak; Faroese (fo) read some, understand a bit, speak a few sentences; German (de) French (fr) Spanish (es) forgetting; heritage language, want to understand and speak but can't.

vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 16800
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Austin
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby vijayjohn » 2014-12-31, 2:47

linguoboy wrote:Depends whether you'd consider the discrimination against other historically "untouchable" groups (e.g. Eta in Japan, Baekjeong in Korean, Tanka in southern China) a form of "casteism" or not.

Maybe. I'm just not sure whether to or not.
Johanna wrote:In Western society we have similar sentiments still, sure, you may not be born "untouchable", but if someone finds out you are or have been a prostitute or that you've been in prison?

Well, even if you're a prostitute or you've been in prison in the West, would anyone put restrictions on where you can get water from, systematically prevent you and your family from getting an education, destroy your house just because they feel like it (and they can, even without any legal justification whatsoever, and there's nothing you can do about it), etc.? I mean, isn't casteism (in India) way more extreme than that, or is it really that much worse in the West than I'm thinking?

User avatar
Johanna
Forum Administrator
Posts: 6285
Joined: 2006-09-17, 18:05
Real Name: Johanna
Gender: female
Location: Lidköping, Westrogothia
Country: SE Sweden (Sverige)

Re: Casteism

Postby Johanna » 2014-12-31, 4:58

vijayjohn wrote:
Johanna wrote:In Western society we have similar sentiments still, sure, you may not be born "untouchable", but if someone finds out you are or have been a prostitute or that you've been in prison?

Well, even if you're a prostitute or you've been in prison in the West, would anyone put restrictions on where you can get water from, systematically prevent you and your family from getting an education, destroy your house just because they feel like it (and they can, even without any legal justification whatsoever, and there's nothing you can do about it), etc.? I mean, isn't casteism (in India) way more extreme than that, or is it really that much worse in the West than I'm thinking?

It's definitely way worse in India, but I think that back in the day you could be prevented from getting water from the town well, not to mention that few would sell food to a known prostitute or criminal. Not that that matters in today's Sweden, where all homes have running water and legal protection, and no one at the supermarket knows your profession. I was merely thinking of how these people are viewed as "untouchables" even in this so-called modern society.
Swedish (sv) native; English (en) good; Norwegian (no) read fluently, understand well, speak badly; Danish (dk) read fluently, understand badly, can't speak; Faroese (fo) read some, understand a bit, speak a few sentences; German (de) French (fr) Spanish (es) forgetting; heritage language, want to understand and speak but can't.

vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 16800
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Austin
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby vijayjohn » 2014-12-31, 20:21

Yeah, but what I'm saying is that casteism, at least in India, is a means of systematically disenfranchising a huge chunk of the national population, so it's not really comparable to people who have a bad reputation. India has that issue, too, but it's a separate issue from casteism AFAICT (even though lower-caste people are also, probably more often than not, forced into situations that would give them a bad reputation). If it's comparable to anything in a Western context, it's probably closer to racism.

User avatar
linguoboy
Posts: 20256
Joined: 2009-08-25, 15:11
Real Name: Da
Location: Chicago
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby linguoboy » 2014-12-31, 22:45

vijayjohn wrote:Yeah, but what I'm saying is that casteism, at least in India, is a means of systematically disenfranchising a huge chunk of the national population, so it's not really comparable to people who have a bad reputation.

In the USA, convicted felons are forbidden from voting--for life in the states of Kentucky, Virginia, and Florida (which together account for 10% of the US population). That's the very definition of "disenfrachisement".
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons

vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 16800
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Austin
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby vijayjohn » 2014-12-31, 23:10

I just learned about the Cagots of western France and northern Spain, who were regarded as an inferior caste.

User avatar
Lazar Taxon
Posts: 1570
Joined: 2007-10-07, 8:00
Gender: male
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby Lazar Taxon » 2015-01-01, 1:10

That's weird. There seems to be no agreement on what their origins were, what their name meant, what, if anything, distinguished them from other people, or why everyone hated them. :?
Native: [flag=]en-us[/flag] Good: [flag=]es[/flag] [flag=]fr[/flag] Okay: [flag=]de[/flag] [flag=]la[/flag] Beginning: [flag=]it[/flag] Interested in: [flag=]he[/flag] [flag=]hi[/flag] [flag=]ru[/flag]

Today we are cats in the apocalypse!

vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 16800
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Austin
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby vijayjohn » 2015-01-01, 1:29

Lazar Taxon wrote:That's weird. There seems to be no agreement on what their origins were, what their name meant, what, if anything, distinguished them from other people, or why everyone hated them. :?

Well, Robb (cited in that article, see the end of p. 46 of the book preview on Google Books) claims that "they do appear to have had a strong collective identity," which must have distinguished them from other people. We just don't know what the nature of their culture was since there's almost no recorded information about it.

vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 16800
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Austin
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby vijayjohn » 2015-01-12, 0:10

I think it's about time I made a confession, if nobody minds me doing that here.

My great-grandfather owned Dalit slaves. My dad remembers seeing this for himself, and there is plenty of documented evidence that our family owned slaves as well. In that documentary I posted at the beginning of this thread, about an hour and 21 minutes in, a Malayalee Dalit Christian talks about how his parents were enslaved in a Christian household and discriminated against solely on the basis of their caste. I see no reason to believe that our family treated them otherwise.

User avatar
linguoboy
Posts: 20256
Joined: 2009-08-25, 15:11
Real Name: Da
Location: Chicago
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby linguoboy » 2015-01-12, 0:58

vijayjohn wrote:My great-grandfather owned Dalit slaves. My dad remembers seeing this for himself, and there is plenty of documented evidence that our family owned slaves as well.
Wow, does your father have any idea what happened to them after they were freed?
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons

vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 16800
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Austin
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby vijayjohn » 2015-01-12, 2:11

linguoboy wrote:
vijayjohn wrote:My great-grandfather owned Dalit slaves. My dad remembers seeing this for himself, and there is plenty of documented evidence that our family owned slaves as well.
Wow, does your father have any idea what happened to them after they were freed?

I'm not sure. In fact, I don't know whether he even knew any of them by name.

User avatar
loqu
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 11835
Joined: 2007-08-15, 21:12
Real Name: Daniel
Gender: male
Location: Sevilla [seˈβiʝa] (Andalucía), born in Cádiz [ˈkaði]

Re: Casteism

Postby loqu » 2015-01-14, 16:07

vijayjohn wrote:I just learned about the Cagots of western France and northern Spain, who were regarded as an inferior caste.

:? I had never ever heard about such people, until today. It's not a thing anymore in the collective mind.

The only similar thing that I can think of is the Mercheros tribe, but it isn't talked about anymore except maybe in some Northern remote rural towns. (The only information in English I've found is this one).

I would consider discrimination against Roma as a form of casteism instead of racism, at least here in Andalusia, where you often can't identify them based on their physical appearance (the only way is self-identification). But since it is a world-widespread phenomenon I guess it is better classified as racism, idk.
Dir la veritat sempre és revolucionari.

User avatar
linguoboy
Posts: 20256
Joined: 2009-08-25, 15:11
Real Name: Da
Location: Chicago
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby linguoboy » 2015-01-14, 16:20

loqu wrote:The only similar thing that I can think of is the Mercheros tribe, but it isn't talked about anymore except maybe in some Northern remote rural towns. (The only information in English I've found is this one).
Hmm, reminds me of Irish Travellers, who are widely considered non-Roma despite having preserved an itinerant lifestyle.

There are parallels here to outcast groups elsewhere, such as Buda of Ethiopia and environs. They are also metalworkers and the dominant population ascribes supernatural powers to them, such as the ability to take the form of hyenas. They are discriminated against, but at the same time they also have a role in religious rituals among some cultural groups.
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons

vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 16800
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Austin
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby vijayjohn » 2015-01-14, 22:46

linguoboy wrote:Hmm, reminds me of Irish Travellers, who are widely considered non-Roma despite having preserved an itinerant lifestyle.

I'm pretty sure they don't consider themselves to be Roma, either, although they're also often confused with Roma precisely because of their lifestyle.
There are parallels here to outcast groups elsewhere, such as Buda of Ethiopia and environs. They are also metalworkers and the dominant population ascribes supernatural powers to them, such as the ability to take the form of hyenas. They are discriminated against, but at the same time they also have a role in religious rituals among some cultural groups.

Hmm, this reminds me of certain Indian movies about people who are popularly presumed to have some measure of control over life and death.

vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 16800
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Austin
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby vijayjohn » 2015-04-07, 20:48

Last night, I finally asked my dad what happened to the slaves my great-grandfather (my dad's mom's dad) owned. This is my understanding of his reply: The slaves were never freed per se because there was no need for laws forbidding them from leaving in the first place. In the US, for example, slaves had a clear motive to escape partly because in certain states, slavery was illegal; that's why laws were put in place to prevent them from escaping. But in India, where would a Dalit go? The entire country (if not the whole subcontinent) is casteist to this day. During the colonial period or even shortly after independence, who would give them food, let alone safety? So Dalit slaves had no motivation to leave at first.

As time went by, however, Dalits began to gain some rights and some economic opportunities. As a result, my great-grandfather's slaves and their families gradually decided to leave and get jobs elsewhere. My dad told me about one of these people in particular who pursued various jobs one after the other, at one point growing his hair and working as a (street?) singer, but presumably never earned much. Apparently, various people tried to get him to go to school and get an education. He never did, but his children probably did and managed to find jobs.

User avatar
Varislintu
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 15297
Joined: 2004-02-09, 13:32
Real Name: M.
Gender: female
Location: Helsinki
Country: FI Finland (Suomi)

Re: Casteism

Postby Varislintu » 2015-04-10, 14:04

vijayjohn wrote:But in India, where would a Dalit go? The entire country (if not the whole subcontinent) is casteist to this day.


Can I ask a stupid question that I've always wondered about? How come Indians of the lowest castes don't just fake being higher caste? How come Dalits didn't just go to another city, pretend to be some other caste, and start making a living?

In the USA, your skin colour marked you as a slave. If you were "white looking enough" in the 50s/60s, in my understanding you could "fake it" and get "white" written on your ID, and escape all the discrimination by simply pretending to be fully white.

Why is this not possible with caste?
Det finns ingen
tröst. Därför
behöver du den inte
(Gösta Ågren)

User avatar
linguoboy
Posts: 20256
Joined: 2009-08-25, 15:11
Real Name: Da
Location: Chicago
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby linguoboy » 2015-04-10, 16:19

Varislintu wrote:
vijayjohn wrote:But in India, where would a Dalit go? The entire country (if not the whole subcontinent) is casteist to this day.

Can I ask a stupid question that I've always wondered about? How come Indians of the lowest castes don't just fake being higher caste? How come Dalits didn't just go to another city, pretend to be some other caste, and start making a living?

Many have, in fact, particularly in the diaspora. (Google "caste passing" for some citations.) But it's harder than it sounds. Caste affects everything in India--dress, occupation, etiquette, speech patterns, even your name. You would have to change all of these at once in order not to get found out. Moreover, you would need to sever all ties with your earlier life, lest they give you away. How hard would you find it to move to a new city and give up all contact with your family and friends (or contact them only clandestinely)?

All of this really comes to a head when a caste-passer tries to marry into a high-caste family. In Japan, families used to regularly hire private detectives to make sure a potential suitor wasn't burakumin (the former untouchable caste in Japanese society). I would be surprised to find that well-off families in India and the diaspora don't do the same. At the very least, they'll make inquiries, and what are the chances of no one knowing the truth?
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons

vijayjohn
Language Forum Moderator
Posts: 16800
Joined: 2013-01-10, 8:49
Real Name: Vijay John
Gender: male
Location: Austin
Country: US United States (United States)

Re: Casteism

Postby vijayjohn » 2015-04-10, 21:22

I'd think that was a large part of the job of a matchmaker or marriage broker in India.

Sometimes, low-caste Indians would manage to get somewhere by hiding their caste status, but it didn't necessarily work for long. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the principal architect of the Constitution of India, was a Dalit and probably India's best-known advocate of Dalit rights. At one point, he worked for the government of Baroda State (in what is now Gujarat), but when he arrived in Baroda, no one received him at the railway station, and no hotels would take him in because they knew what caste he was. The fact that he also had university degrees in economics and political science from both Bombay University and Columbia University made no difference. He stayed at a guest house instead because the people who ran it did not know about his caste, but they threw him out when they finally found out.

Also, it's not always clear what the caste status of a particular group of people is in historical terms (and one label could be assigned to, or used by, people who in fact did not originate from the same community). For example, there's some controversy as to where Jats fit in the caste hierarchy, where exactly Rajputs come from (my understanding is that they gained honorary Kshatriya status), or even whether Nairs are a coherent entity (especially wrt the caste hierarchy). And on top of it all, people also rewrite their histories.

So I'd say it's a lot more complicated than it seems at first glance, which reminds me that even the Mahabharata criticizes the very idea of the caste system in no uncertain terms. Sometimes I wonder whether anyone remembers that.


Return to “Politics and Religion”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest