Caste in the Hindustan

An essay on the history of caste in greater India:

The Indo-Aryans, whose culture became dominant, introduced into the region their social pyramid with three classes, or varnas: the Brahmins (priests and teachers), the Kshtriyas (warriors and rulers), and the Vaishyas (traders and merchants). They added a fourth varna after their arrival: the Shudras (laborers and artisans). All four varnas appear in the earliest known Indo-Aryan text, the Rig Veda, and were no doubt a feature of the emerging Vedic society. As the settled indigenous communities became part of the early Vedic society, they also adopted its principle of hierarchy, turning their own occupational subgroups into castes, or jatis…

Many historians have criticized Dumont’s pioneering analysis of Indian caste, accusing him of overstating the power of the Brahmins and of the ‘purity’ principle in shaping caste, which implies that Indian society was static, homogeneous, and integrated rather than what it has been: dynamic, notoriously diverse, and fragmented. They claim that norms, inter-caste relations, and social practices were always fluid, with the Brahmin not the only reference point. Today’s caste system, they argue, was heavily shaped by the social, administrative, and economic changes that began in early colonial times—until then, a lot of Indians ‘were still comparatively untouched by the norms of jati and varna as we now understand them.’ [4] Census classifications and differential state policies also hardened caste identities in modern times.

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National languages

I have always found people’s need for a “national language” quite strange. And this whole april08tlemarkparisicartoonoffthemarkcomplaining that people don’t speak “our” language. Why do people care? I know, I know, it is tied up with other factors, but still. The idea that there should be a national language is fairly new, as is, I suppose, the concept of a nation in general. But here are some excerpts from a book talking explicitly about this phenomenon, and some of the disastrous (and ridiculous) irredentist consequences of it.

We still have this problem in multilingual states. Wales sometimes seems almost as secessionist as Scotland. Quebec has the persistent Bloc Qebecuois. China has Tibetan/Uighur troubles. Belgium is being torn apart. I guess Switzerland and India are the exceptions. Any ideas on why this is? Anyway, I liked this take on the issue:

Although there is more to nationalism than just language, the idea of identifying a political state with a single language is a central idea of nationalism. When you contemplate why it is that today we expect any state to have a single language and think of Canada or Belgium as “weird” (and don’t forget Switzerland), what you’re really contemplating is why the nation-state has become dominant in the modern world.

Among those who study such things, the standard and mainstream thesis is that there is a fundamental incompatibility between a multinational state and a modern state.

But as they say, a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.