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Varna and Jati aka ‘Caste’ System Was Hugely Damaging to Indians: 4

September 6, 2018 12 comments

In the previous part of this series, I pointed out how the many systemic dysfunctions which have plagued Indian society for over 1,500 years can be traced back to adoption and spread of the jati system. In it, I also briefly talked about how the jati system created a highly fragmented society without he social cohesion necessary to form armies capable of effectively fighting invaders as well as hindered the adoption of newer weapon technologies in addition to causing a decay of pre-existing capabilities. It is therefore no surprise that Muslim, and later European, invaders had no trouble defeating local kings and ruling that part of the world for centuries.

While I do intend to revisit those particular issues in more detail later, let us now focus on how the varna and jati system screwed up things as fundamental as sex, marriage and dietary habits in India. Have you ever wondered why most Indians as a people seem unable to conceive of marriages that are not loveless “arranged” marriages and why they obsess about remaining vegetarian- even though doing so makes them physically weak, skinny fat, diabetic and at higher risk of heart disease? I mean.. what kind of sad idiot would willingly inflict “arranged” marriages and vegetarianism on themselves? As you will see, both are intimately linked to jati and varna.

So let us start with the issue of “arranged” marriage or what was until recently child marriage- in all but name. Have you ever wondered why this wretched custom is now almost exclusive to India (and a couple of neighboring countries)? But.. but.. some of you might say, weren’t arranged marriages common in many other societies in the past? I mean.. weren’t arranged marriages common in a previous era within societies such as diverse as Japan, Indonesia and parts of the Middle-East? Sure, they were.. but most differ from their Indian version in some very fundamental ways.

For example, the majority of arranged marriages within east-asian countries were arranged based on factors such as who was the more compatible bride or groom with the right amount of money and family connections. Contrast this to Indian arranged marriages in which (until the last 50-60 years) little children were betrothed to each other without any feedback based almost exclusively on considerations of jati. Yes.. you read that right. Betrothing children between 5-10 years old was standard practice. Sure, the marriage would be consummated after the girl entered puberty, but the betrothal happened usually when she was literally of the age when girls play with dolls.

But it gets better.. or worse, depending on you viewpoint. Not only did the girl or guy had any say whatsoever in making these decisions, the death of the guy before or shortly after marriage would make the girl who has just entered her teens a bonafide widow- with not much chance of remarriage (though that did vary somewhat from jati to jati). At best, she could marry one of the brothers of the guy she was betrothed or married. If that was not possible, she had no real status in society. There is a good reason that the British, even though they came from a class-ridden and highly unequal society, thought this practice was especially barbaric. But what does this supremely fucked up system of marriage have anything to do with caste or jati?

Well.. everything! The sole and only reason behind betrothal of young girls into that fucked up arranged marriage system before they were ten was to maintain genetic purity of whichever jati that girl and boy belonged. I do find it odd that this obsession with genetic purity seems to consistently produce.. for the lack of a better word.. some of the ugliest specimens of humanity. Some of you might counter that things have changed since then and even in villages such ugly customs are now the exception rather than the rule. And I do agree that things are not as bad as they used to be, however we cannot pretend that whatever passes for arranged marriage in urban India today is anything other than a shady financial transaction between families of two people who never liked (or will like) each other.

Which brings me to the question- how did such a wretched system of marriage ever come into existence? Most Indians, who have not much knowledge about their own history, will confidently tell you that “it has always been this way”. Except that there is a lot of historical evidence to suggest otherwise. For starters, a significant percentage of women in Indian mythology chose their own husbands- which suggests that things once used to be quite different. But that is just mythology.. right? Well, consider the Arthashastra, a multi-volume treatise on statecraft, economic policy, military strategy and laws written by Chanakya sometime in the 3rd century BC. FYI- Chanakya was the lifelong prime-minister of the first Mauryan emperor, Chandragupta.

To make a long story short, Chanakya was the prime minister of the Mauryan empire at a time when it was the most populous and likely largest empire on earth. To put it another way, he was writing about how things were being done under his leadership rather than how they ought to be done. Also, this was a bit before Qin Shi Huang united warring Chinese states into one empire- so the Mauryan empire being most populous part at that time is correct. So what is the relevance of Chanakya’s writings on law to the history of arranged marriage in India. For starters, he lists many types of marriages other arranged marriage and how the inheritance and rights of women in each type of marriage differ. He then goes to write about laws governing divorce, property rights, spousal support and many other issues that are quite contemporary.

Chanakya also wrote about laws governing remarriage and property, prosecution of physical abuse in marriage, right of widows to property and much more about issues that are also contemporary. To put it another way, The society in which Chanakya was a prime-minister was quite different from what most people In India believe today. And there is evidence, from a few roman accounts around 1st century AD, that the overall system of laws and regulations which Chanakya described in his work were still the norm. I keep coming back to my original point about major and poorly-documented cultural shifts (especially in North India) between 2nd and 5th century AD. Might go into some detail about that in later posts.

To summarize, the fucked up and almost universal arranged marriage system in India was always about preserving genetic purity of jatis and varnas (but much more of the former). It had all sorts of negative effects, many of which continue to this day. Furthermore, the arranged marriage system in India became dominant only after the jati system became well established sometime between the 2nd and 5th century AD in Northern India. In the next post of this series, I will show you how the Indian obsession with vegetarianism has everything to do with caste and nothing about preventing cruelty or pain to animals.

What do you think? Comments?