Caste and Capitalism (Understanding India 5)

27 06 2007


As this column argued last week, caste has been the historically specific form for expressing class division in the social formation of pre-modern, feudal South Asia. In its form of Jati, it developed parallel to the establishment of the specifically South Asian form of feudalism and received a detailed legal and ideological foundation in the Manusmriti texts compiled about a millennium and half ago.

Each caste was composed of people who were confined to a clearly defined work or occupation and each caste was placed either superior to or in subordination to other castes. Since each caste was linked to a particular work or occupation, it was not possible for social life to continue without the economic cooperation of all castes with each other, even though there were fairly severe restrictions on their social interaction. This reduced the ability of the direct producers – Shudras and the outcastes – to combine in large numbers to oppose oppression or persecution. Therefore, as was mentioned last week, one of the typical forms of lower class revolt in South Asia in pre-modern times has been migration. Read the rest of this entry »

Coming to Terms with Nature (Socialist Register 2007)

23 06 2007


Review of Socialist Register 2007, titled Coming to Terms with Nature; edited by Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, The Merlin Press, London, 2006; published in India by Leftword Books, New Delhi, 2007, pp. xv+363, Rs. 250. This review was published in Down To Earth, 15 June 2007.


The Socialist Register has come to acquire a special place, globally, as an annual document bringing together state-of-the-art thinking within the left. Therefore it is both a welcome step, and one somewhat surprising, that finally in its 43rd edition the Social Register focuses exclusively on issues relating to the environment and the human – nature relation. Read the rest of this entry »

Caste (Understanding India 4)

20 06 2007


Caste is perhaps the social institution so uniquely associated with South Asia for the past millennium and more. Caste is the English word, derived from the Portuguese, to denote social hierarchy in South Asia. It refers to both Varna and Jati, as these are known in local languages. The Varna system became universal in South Asia approximately 2,500 years ago, while the Jatis were given official sanction only with the legal code of Manu about a thousand and more years after the Varna system had become entrenched. Read the rest of this entry »

The Importance of Class in Understanding India (3)

16 06 2007


Just as geography is a visible yet unobserved presence in the story of our past and present, we cannot live a moment without class – the social expression of economic relations of production – impinging on our reality. Yet, more often than not, it is either ignored or denied its rightful role in historical explanations. Read the rest of this entry »

The Geography of our History (Understanding India 2)

6 06 2007


The geographical region known historically as India and now by the more politically correct ‘South Asia’, is often referred to as a sub-continent. While it is not really very large in area compared to other continental countries, with its range of climates, topographies and physical insulation, South Asia has an exceptional geography. Surprisingly though, geography has been as ignored in the writing of Indian history as it has been in the understanding of its present. Read the rest of this entry »

Soap Opera View of History (Understanding India 1)

1 06 2007


One of the greatest impediments to peace in our region is the skewed understanding of history that we generally carry in our heads. Popular understanding seems preponderantly skewed in favour of understanding India’s history in terms of individual rulers and leaders or in categories of Hindu and Muslim. We perceive our past in terms of either great deeds done by equally great men (and notice that these are always men, usually great, but also often its opposite, evil) or in terms of the Hindus and the Muslims playing out a historical soap opera of epic proportions. Read the rest of this entry »