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India’s Caste System, Social Inequality and Demonetization

Friday, January 13, 2017 4:35
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by Satya Sagar, Global Research:

For over a millennium one of the recurring debates among Indian philosophers was whether this world was real or a mere dream. To be more precise, the claim was, we are all part of Maha Vishnu’s dream as He sleeps peacefully on a giant serpent, with a lotus blooming from His navel.

Paradoxically, those who preached most passionately that our senses mislead us and everything around was Maya or an illusion, went on to corner the largest chunk of material reality.

Behind the smokescreen of clever mythology, it was they, who grabbed the lion’s share of everything tangible over the centuries – from land, water, natural resources to hard political and social power. Worse still, using a mix of brute force and religious mumbo-jumbo, they consolidated the exploitation of those who work by those who merely cook up tall stories, through the nightmare of the caste system.

Today the politics of Maya is well and truly back in play with Narendra Modi’s ‘Mahayagna’ a.k.a. demonetisation promising a digital Moksha through the tapasya of a ‘war on black money’. Once again, as in India’s sordid past, the biggest losers of this devious push for a cashless economy are going to be those right at the bottom of the Indian caste hierarchy.

From all evidence so far it is clear, that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, who make up a bulk of those surviving off India’s vast informal economy, are the worst affected by the sudden disappearance of cash from the economy. Labour in agriculture, construction, fishing, textiles, micro-enterprises, the urban and rural poor – mostly from these marginalized castes – have been pushed to the brink of starvation or worse due to loss of jobs and income.

The other sections hit hard, are small and medium sized farmers, who are overwhelmingly from the different Backward Castes and artisans, mostly from poorer Muslim communities. It is true that demonetisation has also hit the economically and caste-wise better off trading communities, but they seem to have been sacrificed in the quest for complete domination by global and national corporations – who pay our politicians to run the country on their behalf.

The most apt way to describe what is happening in India today is perhaps through a completely new term – dwijitalisation. Under the new rules of the dwijital economy only the dwij – or twice born as the Hindu caste elite call themselves – will climb still higher up the social and economic hierarchy, while kicking the ladder down to ensure no one can follow.

Dwijital India will thus continue the rigid division of ‘duties’ along caste lines that has been used for centuries to enable the free transfer of energy and resources from those below to the ones at the top in various ways. The Purusha Sukta, a hymn from the ancient Rig Veda, used the analogy of the human body to describe the social hierarchy clearly.

The Brahmin priest/philosopher is the mouth, the Kshatriya or warrior the arms, the Vaishya or businessman the thighs and the Shudra or worker is right below as the feet. Those who have to deal with human or animal wastes are much worse off, relegated outside the pale of the caste system itself and rendered ‘untouchable’.

At its core the idea, which forms the theoretical basis for the Indian caste system, is that the mind and its creations are noble and permanent while the body is impure and ephemeral. Mental work (software) is superior and hence deserves a regular ‘transaction fee’ (think Paytm or Jio Money) from those who perform physical work (hardware), that is inferior.

In more recent times and through the colonial period, traditional caste privileges and inherited wealth were combined with access to modern education, to create the Indian ruling elite – family-run industrial empires, big landholders and a bureaucrat/politician nexus that today have a complete stranglehold on state power. There is also a sizeable Indian middle class serving the system, that claims its prosperity is due to a mix of merit (ability to pass exams), hard work (long hours in the office)  and honesty (taxes deducted at source).

Together, all these sections of Indian society, have made best use of new opportunities thrown up by globalization, to establish a society which is easily among the most unequal ones in the entire world. Just 1% of the richest Indians control over 58.4% of the country’s wealth  while the top 10% account for 80.7%. The bottom 50% of the population fights for its share of a mere 2.1%.

The Modi regime’s current campaign against corruption does not even begin to address the structural bias of the social and economic system in favour of those who have been long-term beneficiaries of illegality and immorality in different forms. Instead, it uses racist tropes to describe ill-gotten money, equating white with ‘good’ and black with ‘evil’. One Modi cabinet minister even called the anti-corruption campaign a war on ‘asuras’ – the dark skinned indigenous people who were conquered by upper caste migrant populations in ancient India and commonly figure in Hindu mythology as ‘demons’.

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