Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2025995
The Caste Question
Caste has occupied the most important position within the Indian Sociological endeavours.The caste question has gained ‘sacred’ dimension so that any one deviating the receivedwisdom of caste analysis will soon be out-casted from serious academics. Given theemotional character of the subject, hardly any serious methodological criticism isforthcoming to address the caste question.Caste within the religious and socio-political order is considered to be an essentializedtotality. This is because people do not choose caste, they are born into it. Birth into one oranother caste pre-determines one’s mobility in acquiring social, cultural, symbolic capitalsand subsequent economic capital. Caste segregations and discriminations are part of theinherited tradition of the subcontinent, especially among Hindus. Even a casual explorationinto mythologies, laws and conventions that existed in this part of the world reveals thesubversive character of caste dynamics.All these together contributed to essentialized and totalized description of caste. Even theresearchers who otherwise denounce essentialism or totalized explanations keep the castequestion as an exception. For instance, the idea of Dalit for this reason represents distinctbiological person inherited the Dalit character from their parents irrespective of their socio-economic-political-educational status. From this hyper-essentialized perspective, Dalit isnothing other than anyone inherited a Dalit body from Dalit parents. For the holders of suchperspective, the idea of Dalit is no longer a condition of deprivation, but a matter of biological inheritance. Such an essentialized categorization is not just handy in identifyingwho is a Dalit, it categorizes everyone else according to their biological inheritance. Theidea of caste is so much essentialized, it has become official to count heads according totheir caste categorization in Indian practice of India’s census survey.Essentializing caste does not stop here. A serious of analytical dichotomy or trichotomybecomes inevitable to proceed ahead in this line. It generates unquestionable dichotomiesof tradition vs modernity, East vs West, Hinduism vs Christianity/Buddhism/.., Dalits vsBrahmins, lower castes vs upper castes within the analytical realm. One side of thedichotomy is taken as wholly good while denouncing the other. As a consequence thedichotomies themselves are essentialized, totalized and forgotten that many of them aremerely analytical constructs or historical assemblages. The game does not stop there; theessentialized dichotomies let analysts take side, stir emotions, hatred and even personalslurs. The emotional aura surrounding the field prevents it from being objectivelyunderstood.