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Varna and Jati aka ‘Caste’ System Was Hugely Damaging to Indians: 5

September 8, 2018 7 comments

In the previous part of this series, I showed you how and why the arranged marriage system in India is not ancient or about anything beyond maintaining the “genetic purity” of each jati or caste. I also pointed out that endogamy among a continuously fragmenting bunch of jatis has produced some of more uglier and defective specimens of humanity- not to mention that the custom of arranged marriage in India has historically been a euphemism for child marriage. But sex and marriage is far from the only thing which the jati system has screwed up. Let us talk about vegetarianism, Indian style, arose in first place and why it persists.

Some readers might remember that I once written a short post about why Indians are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome with its attendant sequelae of Type II diabetes and heart disease. I have also written another post about how this problem is largely self-inflicted. As some might also know, the vast majority of allegedly “educated” Indians like to blame it on “genetic predisposition” because blaming a shortcoming on something which cannot be fixed is a standard Indian way to avoid action (which is also an unfortunate consequence of belief in the jati system). The rabbit hole of problems caused by the jati system is pretty deep, isn’t it?

But wait.. there is another type of bullshit explanation which typical Indians like to use when faced with their self-inflicted shortcomings. To such losers, Indians obsess about vegetarianism because they are “wise” enough to see it is an “ecologically sustainable” lifestyle. Alternatively, they want others to believe that the Indian obsession with vegetarianism is due to their belief in “ahimsa” or interest in “animal welfare”. There are many other bullshit explanations which I have comes across, but we don’t have time to indulge such idiocies. So let us focus on historical records, specifically those written by non-Indians who visited India over the centuries.

And isn’t it sad that we have to rely on the writings of outsiders to understand Indian history because most Indians were unwilling to write down or (more likely) keep transcribing and preserving their own history! Anyway, getting back to historical accounts of India written by outsiders- specifically greco-roman sources around 1st century AD. While I am not going to go into a detailed analysis of each account, there are some overall trends. For example, all accounts agree that Indian kingdoms were large, well populated, quite affluent for their era and involved in extensive trade with the Mediterranean world.

They do talk about a few social classes in Indian society which are not that different from those described in Chanakya’s Arthashastra written a couple of centuries before that time. So far, so good. Now here is the real kicker. Nowhere do they say that Indians ate a diet which was more vegetarian than what contemporary Greeks or Romans ate. And that is not all.. the Arthashastra specifically talks about need for government inspectors and managers for abattoirs in addition to other enterprises such as excise collection, running brothels and building boats. FYI- the two dominant faiths at that time were Buddhism and Hinduism 1.0

The first instance of Vegetarianism being favored in India (at least in the north) can be found in the writings of Chinese monks who traveled to India between 4th and 6th century AD. Faxian in 4th century AD does talk about a general trend towards meat-eating being seen as spiritually unclean while travelling through the early Gupta dynasty era kingdom in North India. It is important to note that the Gupta dynasty was the first major Hindu dynasty in North India since 3rd century BC. But Faxian also describes a peculiar feature of this emergent vegetarianism which would escape most non-indians, including himself. He mentions that people also avoid eating aromatic tubers and roots such as garlic and onions.

In other words, he is talking about a form of Hinduism which borrows very heavily from that other wretched Indian religion aka Jainism. So what is Jainism anyway? Think of it like this.. Jainism is the dogmatic sludge left behind when you remove all the positive and modernistic attributes of Buddhism. Some of you might think that this is an oversimplification and, to some extent, that is true. But there is a very good reason that Buddhism could spread far beyond India and Jainism could not. And yes, I believe that the Hinduism of kings in the Gupta dynasty was very heavily influenced by Jain dogmatism.

But what does any of this have to do with the caste aka jati system. Well.. as it turns out, Faxian and Xuanzang are the first visitors to India to document the existence of untouchable jatis. Not only that, they also document that untouchability was associated with “spiritually unclean” jobs such as processing animals for meat and leather. Now consider that Arthashastra (from an earlier era) treated animal butchery and leather tanning as normal jobs. So how did we get from certain jobs being normal to being considered extra-low status? The conventional answer is that it had something to do with Buddhism. But is that really the case?

How come no other nation or country outside India which adopted Buddhism, or was influenced by it, became vegetarian? Erstwhile Tibet did not, Myanmar did not, Sri Lanka did not, Thailand did not, China did not and Japan did not. Nor did Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia. Buddhism also spread to parts of west-central Asia, but it did not change their dietary habits. So how can we blame it for rise of vegetarianism in India? Clearly something else was at play. Also, based on historical accounts, Indian style vegetarianism arose in North India first and at around same time as beginning of Gupta dynasty. Could it be that their religion was a shitty amalgam of Hinduism 1.0 and Jainism or what we today recognize as Hinduism?

But what does any of this have to do with caste or jati?

A whole fucking lot! For starters, contact with or consumption of meat became associated with lower jatis during this period. Coincidentally, that occurred at about the same time as skilled manual labor became associated with lower jatis. But what became associated with higher jatis? Short answer.. sitting on you ass all day, eating lots of carbohydrates and swindling other people while pretending to pious also known as becoming a bania or brahmin. That is why technological innovation in India pretty much died after the 5th-7th century AD. And that is why, even today, skilled manual labor in India is poorly paid and looked down upon.

But what does any of this have to do with Indians going vegetarian? and why couldn’t it spread past India?

The answer to the first part of that question is as follows: Lacking a unified religion which preached at least nominal equality (like Islam or Christianity), status jockeying among jatis lead the “lower” ones to adopt the habits of the ones “above” them. And guess what.. vegetarianism was one of the major habits of the “upper” jatis. But why couldn’t it spread past the borders of India? In my opinon, the most likely reason for that comes down to two inter-related factors. Buddhism was an equalist religion unlike Hinduism and it never lost patronage outside India. Furthermore the trade network of Jainism-influenced banias and influence of neo-puritan brahmins did not extend beyond India.

Well.. that was a bit longer than I expected. In the next part, I will try to show you how the poor social status of skilled craftsmen and the rigidity of jati system made it almost impossible for India to adopt new technologies and innovations, let alone develop them. I will also try to explain you why the jati system was so resilient In India, even though it was totally incapable of spreading beyond its borders.

What do you think? Comments?