Tragic truth about casteWhy even members of India’s lowest classes cling to unfair system
By Shikha Dalmia Thursday, January 19, 2012
I frequently get asked in America why India’s caste system, a pre-feudalistic division of labor that assigns one’s line of work at birth, has persisted into the 21st century. I typically answer: the need of the privileged upper castes for cheap labor. But there is an even more tragic explanation, as I discovered during a recent visit to New Delhi while talking to Maya, the dalit or untouchable — the lowest of the four castes — who has serviced my family for 35 years. Maya herself clings to her caste because it still offers her the best possible life in India.
What’s puzzling about the caste system is that it endures without legal force. Unlike slavery, where whites actively relied on authorities to maintain their slave holdings, the caste system is an informal, self-perpetuating institution.
How? Consider Maya’s story.
Maya assigned herself to our house in 1977. We had no choice. If we wanted our trash picked up, bathrooms scrubbed and yards cleaned, Maya was it. Indians find dealing with other people’s refuse not just unpleasant, but polluting. Hence only dalits are willing to do this work, something that both stigmatizes them and gives them a stranglehold on the market. And they have transformed this stranglehold into an ironclad cartel that closes all other options for their customers.
When Maya got married at 16, her father-in-law paid another dalit $20 for her wedding gift: the “rights” to service 10 houses in our neighborhood, including ours. Maya has no formal deed to these “rights,” yet they are more inviolable than holy writ. Maya’s fellow dalits, who own the “rights” to other houses, can’t work in hers, just as she can’t work in theirs.
Doing so, Maya insists, would be tantamount to theft that would invite a well-deserved beating and ostracism by the dalit community. No one would help a “poacher” or attend her family functions like births, weddings or funerals.
This arrangement has guaranteed Maya a monthly income of $100 that, along with her husband’s job as a “gofer” at a government lab, has helped her raise three children and build a modest house with a bathroom, a prized feature among India’s poor. But Maya’s monopoly doesn’t give her just money. It also hands her clout to resist the upper-caste power structure, not always for noble reasons.
None of Maya’s employers dares challenge her work. Maya takes more days off for funerals every year than there are members in her extended family. Complaining, however, is not only pointless but perilous. It would result in stinking piles of garbage outside the complainer’s home for days. Every time my mother gets into spats with Maya over her sketchy scrubbing, my mother loses. One harsh word, and Maya boycotts our house until my mother cajoles her back. Nor is Maya the only sweeper, or jamadarni, with an attitude. All of New Delhi is carved up among Maya-style sweeper cartels and it is a rare house whose jamadarni is not a “big problem.”
But the price for this clout is the loss of inter-caste acceptability. Segregation has loosened considerably among the first three castes. But dalits are allowed to socialize with other castes only if they abandon trash-related work. Otherwise, every interaction involving them becomes subject to an apartheid-like social code.
Some of Maya’s houses, for example, have separate entrances that allow her to access bathrooms without having to enter the main house. Although the families have formed a genuine bond with her and treat her generously, plying her with lavish gifts during festivals, there are limits. They give her breakfast and lunch, but in separate dishes. Sitting at their table, sharing a meal, is forbidden. Not even my mother’s driver, a higher caste, would visit Maya and accept a glass of water, even though he is poorer than she.
Maya is resigned to such discrimination, but not her oldest son, 36. He holds a government job, works as a sales representative for an Amway-style company and dreams big. He is embarrassed by his mother and lies to his customers about her work. He makes enough money to support Maya and wants her to quit, but she will have none of it. She fears destitution and poverty more, she says, than she craves social respectability.
But the choice may not be hers much longer.
Upon retirement, she had planned to either pass her “business” to her children or sell it to another dalit for about $1,000. But about six months ago, municipal authorities started dispatching vans, Western-style, to collect trash from neighborhoods, the one service that protected Maya from obsolescence in an age of sophisticated home-cleaning gadgetry.
Maya and her fellow dalits held demonstrations outside the municipal commissioner’s office to stop the vans. They finally arrived at a compromise that lets Maya and her pals collect trash from individual homes and hand it to the vans for disposal. But Maya realizes that this arrangement won’t last. “I got branded as polluted and became unfit for other jobs, for what?” she wept. “To build a business that has now turned to dust?”
Her son, however, is pleased. He believes that this will finally force his siblings to develop skills for more respectable work instead of joining their mother. But Maya shakes her head.
And she might be right. Post-liberalization, the most dogged and determined dalits are able to escape their caste-assigned destiny and get rich. But for the vast majority, as Maya says, opportunities are better within the caste system than outside it.
When that changes, the system will die, but not until then.
The suspicion is arising, as any New Ager might have suspected, that consciousness, pace neuroscience, won’t ever clarity itself. We can’t be sure of the future of research here, but the situation has not changed since the nineteenth century, when a number of critics saw the coming of reductionist nescience.
That is over a century, and not deep breakthrough on the ‘hard question’. It might helpt to adopt an ‘operational’ (qua Buddhist) approach, that is, to consider what we can do with consciousness, via the power of attention, and to see if we understand its latencies, which come to us operationally (meditation, and meditation in action, are variant statements of this, usually forgetfully clicheed yogic/buddhist mantras) as consciousness is jumpstarted to a higher octave, self-consciousness.
Even as the cult of scientism starts to attack buddhism, the collapse of the neuroscience pretense (hasn’t happened yet) looms at the ‘end of science’ (in the correct sense of that, for and by scientists).
The multiplicity of these questions is to be entirely expected, given that consciousness is, as Chalmers puts it,
an extraordinary and multifaceted phenomenon whose character can be approached from many different directions. It has a phenomenological and a neurobiological character. It has a metaphysical and an epistemological character. It has a perceptual and a cognitive character. It has a unified and a differentiated character.
And that’s just for starters. The mystery of consciousness is a network of mysteries, touching on the mystery of ourselves, the mystery of the intrinsic nature (if any) of the non-conscious world, and the mystery of our knowledge of ourselves, the natural world, and the human world atop it. If there is such a thing as a First Philosophy, the philosophy of the conscious mind is it. It is the ground in which every other branch of philosophy takes root.
Considering the profound importance of these questions, Chalmers’s latest book, The Character of Consciousness, ultimately turns out to be a disappointing sequel, especially given his track record of taking on the conventional wisdom that the answers to these questions are likely to defy. But it is worth considering this book at some length; for given David Chalmers’s distinctive sobriety and thoughtfulness among a field of philosophers committed to reducing its chosen subject nearly out of existence, it is striking how much his work still falls prey to the same fundamental errors. The book will thus serve as an instructive case study not only in how befuddling are questions about the mind, but in how stuck is the philosophical rudder of the prominent thinkers who study it, and how adrift they have floated.
The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion by Hugh
Empirical study led L. Ron Hubbard to the principles on which Scientology is based. He never claimed to have had a revelation. He spelled the principles out in 1950 in Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, the bestselling self-help treatise in which he presents rationality as our birthright. The human mind, he wrote, is a perfect computer corrupted by ‘incorrect data’. He urged readers to reflect on their lives and ask themselves: ‘Where is the error?’ With the help of a lay therapist, called an ‘auditor’, they could uncover early traumas – mothers who wanted to abort them, or slept with too many men – and become less irrational: ‘Many of the things which Freud thought might exist,’ he wrote, ‘such as “life in the womb”, “birth trauma”, we in Dianetics have … confirmed.’
Hubbard insisted that the principles of Dianetics had nothing to do with ‘any mumbo-jumbo of mysticism or spiritualism or religion’. He assured readers that ‘Dianetics is a science; as such, it has no opinion about religion, for sciences are based on natural laws.’ Throughout the United States, people formed Dianetics clubs and helped each other to become ‘clear’: in this state, they would be free of all compulsions, neuroses and delusions, see colours vividly for the first time, appreciate melody, perform complex mathematical calculations and recall every moment of their lives. Hubbard was so confident of the merits of his electro-psychometer, a device used to detect hidden trauma by measuring galvanic skin response, that he asked the American Medical Association to investigate his new tool. The medical establishment showed no interest. In a review in the Nation, the kindest thing the psychiatrist Milton Sapirstein could say about Dianetics was that ‘the author seems honestly to believe what he has written.’
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BDSM: Inside the World of Kink
A look at San Francisco’s kink community with an assistant anthropologist and author of “Techniques of Pleasure.”
An old commentator, MBFM, commented on the guru game and bdsm here. I think his points were important, but somewhat off the mark. But he sensed that there was a problem.
I think that the current culture is beginning to go astray here in any case. But then again there is a lot of dissenting opinion.
My point, related to MBFM, but quite different, is to issue a warning of the occult basis of bdsm, or, at least, its occult exploitation as an otherwise marginal neurotic nexus of long standing.
The occult basis of bdsm should be obvious from the class context of its dominance/submission routines, and it is this that, before the dispersal into flotsam of the whole metaphor, was an occult tactic of reactionaries. Like Gurdjieff, and shark sufis who want to find masochists because they offer a royal road to explotiation (‘they asked for it’).
So these cavalier articles are a bit naive, although here skepticism is balanced with the obvious temptation to tolerate all this in the name of sexual liberation.
In any case, the occult basis of bdsm makes it highly dangerous as a symbolic form of ‘practical magic’ or magic in reverse, and some grining sufi sharks are waiting, licking their chops, that willing victims are plentiful and will unwitting applaud their own dominatin and destruction.
The New Age movement is in danger of complicating the critique of Darwinism with their own confusions. The idea of ‘spi
The illusion of Darwinian evolution takes some getting used to, and that requires a handle on something that shows real ‘evolution’ in action. It is hard to get used to the idea that ‘evolution’ can be present in history, but the reality is that even the latest most advanced stages of human emergence are still evolutionary. We can see the two braided together (we suspect with the evidence we have) as ‘history’ emerges from ‘evolution’ (so to speak).
The irony is that the Darwinian obsession with science ends up defending a pseudo-science.
A riddle resolved
Natural selection, theories, and social darwinism
A new model of history
From Life’s Origin To The Dawn of Human Culture
Slavery, Abolition, And Eonic Sequence
An Age of Enlightenment
A post from Darwiniana which woule be useful here: study the question of ‘evolution’ in the sense given by the eonic effect, or the ‘macro effect’, to get past the confusions of false theories like Andrew Cohen’s. I don’t use the term ‘spiritual’ evolution, but, for all intents and purposes, that is what we are describing. A better approach is the Kantian distinction of phenomenon and noumenon.
The question of human evolution has been flubbed by Darwinists, but New Age confusions are going to be equally bad.
It is fun to run through WHEE by reading one section per chapter, getting a rough outline of the book.
For ‘eonic effect’, substitute the term ‘macro effect’ as in ‘macroevolution: World History and the evidence of macroevolution…
In Search of History
The Legacy of Darwinism
Climbing Mt. Improbable
A Short History of The World
The Axial Age
From Reformation to Revolution/a>
A Paradox Resolved