Caste, Freedom of Speech and Some other Issues

Blame it on Mr. Shubhendu Bhattachrya, Ms. Meena Kandasamy, the much talked about Professor Yellapragada Sudershan Rao, Voltaire, or Evelyn Beatrice Hall, I just did what I have never done on this blog: copying wholesale from another blog (see I also did what I have not been doing for over six months now: posting something without the tags “kashi/varanasi/banaras”. Why would I do so? To defend the Professor’s freedom of speech, or to fix my target before it was removed from the original blog, neither, or,maybe both.

I am not the type who gets drawn into the larger spheres of action and thought. I am easily and fully satisfied, sans any kind of intellectual adventure or warfare, with my Banaras. Still, when I saw my friend Shubhendu’s facebook post : “Share meenas sentiments”, and was led from thence to Ms. Kandasamy’s view:  “Prevention of Atrocities act must be extended in scope to throw such luminaries who praise/justify caste into jail. #Mywishfortheday“; I naturally read the Times of India article “Ancient caste system worked well, ICHR head says”.

The article mentions:

                           The newly-appointed chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) Yellapragada Sudershan Rao appears to be a votary of the caste system (bold mine). In a blog written in 2007, Rao had said that the “positive aspects of Indian culture are so deep that the merits of ancient systems would be rejuvenated.”
                          In the blog-article titled, ‘Indian Caste System: A Reappraisal’, he wrote: “The (caste) system was working well in ancient times and we do not find any complaint from any quarters against it (bold mine). It is often misinterpreted as an exploitative social system for retaining economic and social status of certain vested interests of the ruling class”

                           He added, “Indian Caste system, which has evolved to answer the requirements of civilization at a later phase of development of culture, was integrated with the Varna system as enunciated in the ancient scriptures and dharmasastras.”

On that fateful day of September 2007, the day on which Halo 3 was released that year, in the year 1639 the first printing press in America had started working and in 1956 the first trans-Atlantic cable went into service, Prof. Rao had committed his virtual suicide, unknown to himself. If the hard deterministic stance is granted space, it was his upbringing, his samskaras, that made him post his unforgivable thoughts on his blog. Had he known it then that he would become the Chairman of ICHR one day and then, his past deeds would be sniffed, dug out, scrutinised and put on public display, he would have remained totally quiet on the blogosphere. Well, he did not. So, he did what he should never have done: he made his views public and that, when his article is full of fallacies. But that does not give his critics any right to commit fallacies of their own. At least I would never join a group opposing the professor, when I know that the same group has people weak in logic and intellect. How else can one explain the claim made in the very opening statement? The writer declares his intent in the very first sentence, but he fails to adequately deliver what he promises. Thus he makes  argumentum ad hominem.

Rao makes absolutist claims with the repetition of the key word “any”. His claim is either pseudo history, or arrogance generated out of the surety that ignorance of all that has been said and done in the department of anti-caste complaints in the past engenders. Who would not see through Rao’s intellectual (?) and uncritical leanings and the designs of his school of history in his school bookish equation: “Indian religion, which is popularly known as Hinduism”, i.e. Hindu = Indian, and vice versa? And who would not find the Professor’s self-contradictions comic when he declares: “The Caste system as such is based on social classification which is a common feature of all organized civil societies round the world but not unique to India alone”? Following the statement with a couple of others to finally prefix “Indian” to “caste system”  and then declaring: “Indian Caste system, which has evolved to answer the requirements of civilization at a later phase of development of culture, was integrated with the Varna system as enunciated in the ancient scriptures and Dharmasastras.”

The topping to his cake of fallacy comes as: “The Varna classification and Caste system are not one and the same. They differ in respect of aims and functions in many ways. The caste system classifies the community while the Varna classifies the functions of an individual”. This, while his case depended on the equation of caste with varna and then showing varna positive, ergo, caste positive too.

C=V; V=P; C=P

Elementary, my dear friend.

The Times of India article on Rao has:

                The ICHR chief’s views have triggered a debate among historians. Historian D N Jha said, “Rao’s article is reflective of his primitive mentality. It is gross revivalism (bold mine). If ancient caste system is justified in modern context, why not have a brahmin PM instead of Narendra Modi. Rao has been appointed by an OBC PM.”

As far as the primitivism of Rao’s mentality is concerned, it may be a matter of debate, but when revivalism is called primitive, I must interrupt. Revivalism, the key element of the modus operandi of Fascism can never be called primitive. It’s a sophisticated and very lethal weapon. Jha’s sentence that follows does show the rogh logic of primitive kind, Rao is suave and convincing thoughout.

The article criticising Rao also mentions:

                 Rao also argued that questionable social customs in India pointed out by the English educated Indian intellectuals did not exist from ancient times (bold mine) but “could be traced to this period of Muslim rule in north India spanning over seven centuries.” He said,

               “Misunderstandings of the system may be ascribed to misreading of the texts of Dharmasastras and the impact of the modern ‘democratic’ and electoral politics. Ancient system of caste organization has been turned into casteism, which negates the very purpose of the system.”

Rao’s post has some sense in it too, especially when it mentions: “According to the Dharmasastras all individuals are born as Shudra and they acquire the Varna through Samskaaras or training or tapas”. It’s the simple division of labour argument, wearing the Sanskritised garb. Rao is in company of the likes of Adam Smith and Durkheim when he legitimizes the division of labour. The problem arises when he claims, oh so ironically that the “The modern and Western intellectuals have not properly understood and [have] misinterpreted the Varna and the Caste as one and the same”, when he himself first praises the varna, then superimposes caste upon it in order to legitimize it.

Historiographically and rhetorically speaking, the Professor does not present a convincing case. An article, even if it’s on someone’s blog, ought to maintain at least the acceptable minimum level of coherence and unity. Moreover, when it comes from someone in the academia, it ought to maintain its level, the level that separates the scholarly papers from non-scholarly ones. The kind of writing whose samples litter Prof. Rao’s blog, bad prose and weak history, in no way appear to be written by a person suitable to hold the position of the Chairperson of ICHR. In comparison to Prof. Rao, the person who wrote the piece on him has definitely made lesser and less dangerous mistakes. After looking at the arguments made on both the sides, it can be said that fallacy is the fundamental state of the process of human argumentation. Left to his own, man will invent fallacies to suit his taste and cause and be happy in his blissful state of ignorance.



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2 thoughts on “Caste, Freedom of Speech and Some other Issues

  1. Interesting analysis of Prof.Rao’s post which was posted 7years ago on his blog. You quoted Prof. Rao, ” Indian religion, popularly known as Hinduism ” and critiscised that he equated ‘Hinduism’ to ‘Indian’ and vice versa. But one should bear in mind that the timeframe he was dealing with in this context was Ancient India that is Before Chirst and before Islam. It was the timeframe when only Hinduism was practised in India. It is interesting how you understood that Prof Rao said c=v v=p and then p=c. Prof Rao clearly says that “intellectuals have not properly understood and misinterpreted the Varna and the Caste as one and the same. The caste system finds no sanctity from the ancient scriptures”.He points out that although Caste gets its “basic framework based on the varna system” it differs from Varna. Prof.Rao examined how the caste system has changed over a period of time and how it has become much more rigid than it started.(One can read books by Historians like Susan Bayly(caste,society and politics in India), Ursula Sharma’s Caste,Nicholas B Dirks, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the making of modern India to name few which shows how caste we have now is much more rigid than in ancient times) He explains caste was initially based on a person’s profession and nowadays it is acquired by birth, whereas varna in ancient times was based on a person’s qualities and virtues – samskaras. He concludes his post by saying that the social evils in the system have not been in the ancient india and “can be traced from the historical period” and it “would help the society to lose what was thrust on it in the recent past” to “benefit indian society” I sincerely think you need to review your analysis again.

    • Here is the review in the light of the reader’s comment:
      1. Prof. Rao’s complete sentence used in the quote is, “With the changes in the political structure from at least medieval times, Indian religion, which is popularly known as Hinduism, was threatened of its very existence during the Muslim invasions at the wake of the second millennium”. Indicators of time appear twice in that sentence as “is” and “was”. The Professor makes it very clear that he is referring to the country that “is”, and not “was” a millennium ago.

      2. Prof. Rao further writes: “Indian Caste system, which has evolved to answer the requirements of civilization at a later phase of development of culture, was integrated with the Varna system as enunciated in the ancient scriptures and Dharmasastras…Indian caste system, which is more connected to the social and material life of people, will undergo change on the peripherals while retaining the basic framework based on the Varna system”.
      Thus he is lending the aura of the hallowed varna to caste system and washing off most of its blackness in an off-hand manner.
      In fact, I do agree with the TOI article and say, rather, I quote, “Yellapragada Sudershan Rao appears to be a votary of the caste system”.

      3. I am no historian. Nor have I made any pretensions of that nature in my post. I have only pointed out rhetorical loopholes, and that I have also done on the article against the Professor’s post. Prof. Rao, with decades in his historian pouch although, does have to answer many questions when his work is sloppy and he hastens to make it available on blogosphere.

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