Caste and Race: UNHRC’s hidden agenda
by Saurav Basu on 03 Oct 2009 7 Comments

The move by the UNHRC to treat caste-based discrimination as a human rights violation is an irresponsible act of subverting Indian democratic and cultural institutions. The UNHRC’s obsession to equate caste as a ‘racist’ institution smacks of Christian and Leftist influence, and attempts to undermine India’s Hindu heritage. Marxists hate caste as it prevents the formation of class. In Marxist soteriology, antagonism of classes necessitates revolutionary violence, culminating in a new utopia-laden ‘egalitarian’ world order. Accentuation of the idea of discrimination benefits Christian evangelists who promote strife between different ethnic groups, while gaining footholds and fresh converts in hostile terrain.

The internalization of the ‘caste problem’ is mutually beneficial for both these groups. Leftists-Marxists in academia will benefit from increased research grants. Analysts of the UN process said these little inclusions in official documents make a big difference in the field - in terms of funding to social activist organizations with a strong caste bias (Times of India, 18.4.2009).

Evangelists will multiply their revenue generation to take Jesus’ message to the ‘wretched’ and ‘oppressed’ Hindu populations subject to the tyranny of ‘satanic’ beliefs like Karma. Already, writers like David Keane are promoting the perverse argument that caste-based discrimination is not race-based discrimination only because the former has a powerful justification in religion (Caste-based discrimination in international human right laws, Ashgate, 2007)

This is a false parallel. Koenraad Elst in Saffron Swastika reminds us that elements of racial discrimination and slavery can be found both in Islamic and Christian theology and their derivative civilizations, which practiced profound systems of trans-continental slave trade, although he rejects the idea that those beliefs anticipated the modern machinery of racial discrimination in US and elsewhere.

Western Indologists have grappled with the idea of caste, but failed to understand the notion of caste for what it is, then what it is not! Class divide, colour divide, Aryan-non Aryan (race) and even occupation divides, which are known historical modes of Semitic and Western discrimination, have all miserably failed in the case of relevance and applicability to caste.

Under such circumstances, it was no surprise that the word caste does not appear in any international human rights treaty. Dalit separatists and their allies have appealed for including caste discrimination as a form of racial discrimination vide Article 1(1) of  the International  Convention on the Elimination of  All Forms of  Racial Discrimination 1965 (ICERD). However, we don’t find any parallels between race and caste.

Genomic studies have dismissed the notion of Aryan immigration [Y chromosomal analysis Sahoo S et al 2006, Mt-Dna analysis by Kivisild et al 1999]. A path-breaking study by Harvard and indigenous researchers on ancestral Indian populations says there is a genetic relationship between all Indians (Times of India, 25.9.2009). No wonder Andre Beteille, a leading sociologist, condemns this attitude of treating caste as a form of race (to be) politically mischievous; what is worse, it is scientifically nonsensical!

The association of the Vedic varna with skin colour, a 19th century fantastic racist interpretation of the Veda by Western Indologists, is today obsolete. Max Muller was the creator of the theory of the Aryan race who had invaded the native barbarians of India. In later years he deeply regretted the theory of race science, and instead suggested a schism between philology and ethnology. It was too late before he realized that language does not determine racial kinship.

Historian David Lorenzen, after a meticulous study of the Rig Veda, concluded, “I can find no evidence of this modern racist view in Vedic literature. There is no evidence that the Rg Vedic Aryas regarded the Dasas and Dasyus as either biologically distinct or as innately inferior in terms of intellect or strength or as divinely cursed to become slaves. The Vedic evidence does suggest, however, that the Aryas sometimes regarded the moral behaviour and character of the Dasas as inferior and certainly Dasa religion as inferior to their own (Who invented Hinduism, p.151, Yoda Press, 2006)

Trautmann in ‘Aryan and British India’ revisits the original theories and is astounded to discover the manner in which the dark skinned savage is extracted from a very recalcitrant Vedic text - the image is drawn from all but two passages referring to dark skin, and another referring to a flat nose [anasah] All these images, Trautmann identifies having been derived from a consistent degree of text-torturing both substantive and adjectival in character.

Finally, modern anthropological evidence overwhelmingly shows that caste divisions are not based on skin colour (p.62, David Keane, op.cit). This goes against the prime racial determinant of phenotypic appearance. In other words, it is impossible to determine caste by appearance.

Unfortunately, historians like Stanley Wolpert persist in perpetuating such egregious colonial historiography, while deliberately misreading the Indus archaeological evidence, to make the astounding claim that “the ruins of Harappa reveal the extensive history of oppression in India” (New History of India).

Castes are also determined by notions of purity and pollution, which is an idea alien to racial segregation. In fact, Scheduled Castes themselves are sub-divided into more than 300 sub-castes. That the idea of hierarchy is not alien to Scheduled Castes or tribals has been persuasively argued by Dipankar Gupta in ‘Interrogating Caste.’ Gupta also observes that caste identities get stronger as the unit of attachment gets more and more localized. Caste identities can be lost on inter-marriage, taking sanyasa or failing to observe daily rituals. However, racial identities are permanent and children of mixed marriages occupy intermediate positions in the race hierarchy.

Racial discriminated groups attempt to pass off as members of the dominant group. This was vividly depicted in ‘The Human Stain’ by Philip Roth. In contrast, people don’t hide their caste.

The claim to historical persecution of lower castes is considerably exaggerated. KM Panikkar wondered how, ever since Mahapadma Nanda from the fifth century, every known royal family has come from a non-Ksatriya, mostly lowly origin.

Shashi S Sharma in “Imagined Manuvad: the dharmasastras and their commentators” (Rupa  2005), proves through some brilliant arguments supported by copious references that the Shudras were not a servile community in ancient India and the dharmasastra texts do not attach any worthwhile disability in their socio-political and economic role in society. There is no clear sanction for what we know as the practice of ‘social untouchability’ in any of the sastras. The known untouchability of medieval India may possibly have been a form of insurance against violence and genocide, especially when the customs and way of living of one group was not acceptable to another.

The erosion of caste in modern urban India can be understood if we view its cosmopolitan nature where cultures conflate. Medieval Islamic and Christian Civilizations which lacked the idea of untouchability invariably committed genocide against recalcitrant minorities or defeated populations who refused to comply with the dominant ideology of the victor.  Even the modern West can be remarkably hostile to minority traditions, like in the instance of UK high courts denying practicing Hindus the right to be cremated in open air crematoriums.

British caste surveyors admitted a profound change in the Indian social scene and that was the blurring of the boundaries of caste: “The institution [of caste] is undergoing considerable modification. There is a tendency for limitations of caste to be loosened and for rigid caste distinctions to be broken down” (Census of India, 1931, Volume I-India Part I, Report, Manager of Publications Page 430-2).

Clearly, the institution was in a flux, if not disarray, and the commissioner considered its mere enumeration unlikely to revive it. But the British politicized caste to boost their divide and rule policy (See Castes of Mind, Nicholas Dirks). As Vaasanthi, a leading Tamil journalist notes, “Before the onset of the British rule, there was considerable fluidity in social status in Tamil Nadu. But legalization of the caste system during colonial rule categorizing all those caste communities that were locally ranked just below Brahmins as low caste sudras… prevented such fluidity… and created considerable social tensions, and resulted in the emergence of the Dravidian movement” (Cut-outs, caste and cine stars, Penguin 2006).

Finally, the Indian state has taken extreme steps for securing equality of all its citizens through caste-based reservation. This unscientific practice has been exploited and abused by a creamy layer, and multiple generations of SC-ST families, promoting inefficiency and incompetence in its wake. National Commissions for SCs and STs have become uninvited spokespersons of Scheduled Caste judges facing serious corruption charges.

This is ample reason why India must develop new and unique strategies for eradicating caste-based discrimination where it exists, instead of pursing the path etched out by the colonial rulers. Some economists like Dipak Basu have suggested intense mechanization in taboo professions like leather and sewage disposal to eradicate the stigma associated with them.

The UNHRC has a dubious track record. It has not contested the exporting of dangerously divisive Church propaganda and pseudo-science to old colonial outposts in the third world. Peter Gill in ‘The Politics of AIDS’ has shown how millions of lives which could have been saved were sacrificed at the altar of the Church’s anti-condom propaganda. Teaching of creationist myths which hampers development of scientific temperament is on the rise in church-based schools. Histories are being re-written to whitewash the criminal history of Christianity, a term coined by German researcher Karlheinz Deschner, who has written nine mammoth volumes on the subject without any official funding or grant. 

The Protestant religion, whose founder Martin Luther engineered the anti-Semitic arguments which would become central to Hitler’s war, is today fraudulently invoked as the harbinger of human rights. Cultural genocide in the Americas has been conveniently explained as an ecological disaster. The UNHRC has declined to intervene in Islamic practices which go against the UN declaration of human rights. The American ally, Saudi Arabia practices a most dangerous form of religious apartheid.

The Wall Street Journal dated April 9, 2002 states that in Saudi Arabia while killing of a Muslim man is punishable to the extent of 100,000 riyals, for a Hindu woman it is as low as 3,333 riyals. In Pakistan, schoolbooks openly preach hatred for kafirs and promote radicalization of young children by exalting ideas of martyrdom since class IV [See The subtle Subversion: A report on Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan]. The Islamic doctrine and practice of Dhimmism which reduces non-Muslims in Muslim-dominated countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and those of the Middle East to second and a third class subjects with virtually no citizen rights and whose women and children face constant threat, has also not received any attention from human rights activists, except occasionally when the victims were influential Christians.

UNHRC also failed to intervene when communists committed genocides and mass murders, whether it was Russia, Cambodia, or now modern China. Some critics contend that thanks to the “holocaust industry”, Israel has remained immune from being answerable for its actions.

UNHRC has always been subject to “might is right.” This has allowed totalitarian world orders to go unchallenged. Against the soft Indian state, it has better chances of success.

The author is an independent researcher 

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