Home > Critical Thinking, Current Affairs, Dystopia, Musings, Philosophy sans Sophistry, Reason, Secular Religions, Skepticism > Varna and Jati aka ‘Caste’ System Was Hugely Damaging to Indians: 7

Varna and Jati aka ‘Caste’ System Was Hugely Damaging to Indians: 7

In the previous post of this series, I wrote about how the jati or caste system as we know it today came into existence (at least in North India) sometime between the 3rd-5th century AD. I also pointed out that conventional religion-based explanations for its genesis cannot explain how Indic religions spread beyond India, but the caste system did not. The most rational explanation for this important and overlooked oddity, in my opinion, is that the jati system was imposed by the dominant regime of that time in North India, aka the Gupta dynasty. While some see the Gupta dynasty as the golden age of India, it was beginning of the end.

I was originally going to devote this post to highlighting the connection between jati system and complete lack of group cohesion among Indians. As some of you are aware, treacherous behavior with other Indians while simultaneously grovelling before non-Indians has been a consistent future of Indian history for at least 1,500 years. It then occurred to me that my explanation for this behavior, and its connection to jati, might require readers to first understand another related concept- which I had not previously discussed at length. So let us do that first and talk about why most Indians do not seem to have a concept of history or grasp of objective reality.

Let me start by asking you a somewhat odd question: Why are the most famous literary works written by Indians from before the 4th-6th century AD? Try naming a large original work of philosophy, science, art.. anything definitively authored by an Indian for at least a thousand years after 6th century AD. Or why are travelogues of ancient foreign travelers often the only available contemporary accounts for many periods in Indian history? Why is there a remarkable lack of old documents, other than some religious texts, in India? Did Indians lose the ability to write after 6th century AD? And how is this connected with an aversion to objective reality?

A few readers will correctly point out that something remarkably similar occurred in Europe after the western Roman empire collapsed in the 5th century AD. While there are certainly some similarities between two situations, there are also some important differences. For starters, there was no collapse of a centralized authority in India after 6th century AD, because it was always fairly decentralized. Similarly, there was no great technological or organisational regression in India after end of Gupta dynasty. Life just went on, as it had previously.

So what happened? Why did Indians stop writing anything new after 6th century AD ? Some of you might say that there was not much progress during those times to write about. However, as a visit to the nearest library or amazon’s website will show- most literature has nothing to do with science or technology and is usually about religious or secular mythology, popular stories and personal accounts. Perhaps it was the lack of printing press technology, then? Unlikely.. since Indians deliberately ignored the printing press for about 300 years after it was introduced by European traders and missionaries.

My point is that, the unwillingness of most Indians to care about history, let alone write it down, has little to do with availability of technology. Nearby countries such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand have far better written (and repeatedly transcribed accounts) of their history than India. But who did all that writing and re-transcribing of manuscripts in those countries? As it turns out it was Buddhist monks and priests who did it, just like their contemporary Christian and Muslim counterparts in other parts of the world. So why didn’t their Hindu equivalents do it?

The next concept is a bit hard to explain, so you have to sit through a few oddly phrased paragraphs. They are about how you believe what you believe aka Epistemology.

Why do most people living in USA agree that the 9/11 incident in NYC occurred on September 11, 2001 or the Pearl Harbor attack occurred on December 7, 1941? More importantly, why do we agree on certain objective stuff such as dates of both incidents even if we disagree on what or who (subjective stuff) caused those incidents? Also, how many of you were actually present at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 or in downtown NYC on September 11, 2001? Readers might point to the huge amount of photographic evidence for both incidents and numerous accounts by survivors. But why has this evidence not been lost by now?

Isn’t that a strange question? But ask yourself, why should people record and remember things which occurred years and decades ago? Do you remember what you had for lunch and dinner on September 11, 2001? I can.. BTW. So why do we remember certain events better than others? Emotional response to, and psychological impact of, an event has a major effect on how well we recall it. But there is a far bigger reason, namely the impact of said event on future events. But how can an event have a much larger effect than itself? The answer is that people who witnessed or came to know about said event often feel part of same group or solidarity with those involved.

In other words, events that elicit strong feelings of personal involvement and group solidarity within a large number of people (beyond those affected by said events) become part of historical record. Those that did not, usually get lost in the sands of time. But what does any of this have to do with the general lack of interest in recording, preserving or reading about history in India. Ask yourself, was group solidarity beyond one’s immediate jati possible in India once the jati system became established? And if there was no solidarity beyond one’s jati, why would most people care to remember or record events that did not affect them?

Some of you might say.. “fair enough, this would seriously hamper the ability to write a unified historical narrative- but wouldn’t people in each jati keep writing their own history?”. You know what.. that might very well have been the case. But ask yourself, who will do a better job of archiving information- large bureaucratic organisations or small unstable groups. There is a good reason for why monks and clergy in the medieval era were very effective at preserving old literature in addition be writing down newer contemporary material. Having an organized and dedicated guild of archivists is much more effective for preserving information than isolated and unorganized efforts.

But didn’t India have Brahmins? Well.. ya, tons of them. But unlike the priests or monastic orders in monotheistic religions, there were many hundreds of mutually antagonistic jatis within the Brahmnin varna. It was quite normal to have half a dozen mutually antagonistic Brahmin jatis in medium-sized towns in ancient India. So basically each Brahmin jati was fighting constant turf wars with other Brahmin jatis in that area, with each trying to show the others that it had higher status than them. The jati system, far from reducing inter-group competition for jobs and occupation, ended up making it much worse. And guess what they were not writing..

But what does this have to do with Indians often having a rather poor grasp of objective reality? How does extreme social fragmentation, constant bickering and endless turf battles alter one’s grasp of reality? Let me explain that with another example. Do you believe that an antibiotic can cure an infection caused by a bacterial species susceptible to it? I am guessing almost every single one of you believe that- but how do you know that this explanation is correct? Most of you aren’t microbiologists or physicians, right?

One source of your belief comes from personal experience with having taken an antibiotic for some infection, another from knowing the basics of how they work, a third from ready access to a large body of experimental data from multiple sources and lastly it is also your own trust (faith) in the medical system. So how does it work in a highly fragmented society where everyone is trying to screw everyone else? Short answer.. it does not. In India, most people will take an antibiotic to treat an infection based on nothing more than blind faith. But why? Aren’t they as curious about the world around them as anybody else?

And this is where I have to open another can of worms. Have you ever noticed that adult Indians seem to have considerable difficulty with objective thinking and critical analysis of problems? Why is that so? My theory is that it has a lot to do with defective parenting and education, and yes.. that too is connected to the jati system. More about that in upcoming part of this series.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. hoipolloi
    September 20, 2018 at 10:35 pm

    “…the connection between jati system and complete lack of group cohesion among Indians.”

    One fact in support of your thesis is Indians do extremely well when transplanted to Western and even middle eastern societies, compared to others who did not.

    The situation that exists in India is often compared to a bunch of crabs in a container that can’t escape the narrow space due to mutual pulling down.

  2. September 21, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    You’ve come across a major truth here. “Smart” scholarly people are a luxury item. When everyone is in thrust into the rat race of subsistence and impressing the opposite sex, civilizational creativity utterly ceases. This process of domestication seems to take about 1000 years with humans. Beyond that time, the population is optimized for amassing harems and competition for scarce territory. China’s greatest creativity was before the birth of Christ and so was India’s.
    Mesopotamia was the cradle of civilization and hit its peak a few thousand years ago. At a certain point, anyone who spends an ounce of energy not helping their tribe outcompete other groups in the race to resources and the cradle gets weeded out. Non-essential concerns like enduring literature and art are forgotten by the idiocracy. History books don’t fill stomachs, pay the rent, get men laid, or split open the skull of the guy who’s trying to steal your wife.

    That might sound like a nice idea, but reality shows otherwise. For example, China has had many more disastrous civil wars throughout its history- but it could preserve way more of its history than India. Or take Sri Lanka, an island within 40 km of India coastline and whose major ethnic groups have Indian ancestry. They did a far better job recording their history and keeping things functional over that time than India.

    If you are talking about population density- countries such as Japan, coastal regions of European countries have (and had) higher densities than India. Also the renaissance started in the most densely populated European country at that time (Italy) and during an era of especially frequent internal civil wars. The Industrial and Scientific revolution started in the most densely populated parts of Europe.

  3. Gp
    September 22, 2018 at 8:26 am

    Your point about blind Faith is quite true. The funny thing is that most people disparage others as having blind faith

  1. September 28, 2018 at 11:44 pm

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