A reply to a stupid, ignorant, or malicious commenter

A commenter below who probably scores OK on an IQ test left a note which is worth responding to.

First, “If this was a Christian or Muslim emigrant to US who wanted to marry within religion.” In the original post I focused on marrying within subcaste for a reason. It’s generally socially acceptable to marry within religion for ideological reasons in American society. I’m not talking about within-religion marriage because that’s considerably more exogamous than what Ravi Patel was talking about. So the whole thrust of this element of the response either consciously misreads (malicious) what I’m saying, or, does not read in the first place (stupid).

Also, this is Brown Pundits. I think a tendency for Hasidic Jewish sects to in-marry is not optimal for individuals or society…but this is not a blog focused on Judaism.

Next, “Two, you link jati affiliation to hindu-muslim violence.” No I don’t. Please note that I don’t like it when readers engage in “close reading.” Because that’s usually an excuse to impute. I do think that a certain sort of jati-based endogamy is part of a cultural context where communal violence has also emerged. Left-wing Indian American commenters bring up these connections, often obnoxiously in my opinion. But this film was aimed at non-South Asians. So I just wanted to bring up what the obnoxious Indian Lefty would bring up just so that the contrast between Ravi’s liberal West LA lifestyle with a very regressive set of values even in the modern Indian middle class milieu would be more stark (it actually makes the documentary more powerful).


Finally, on Nicholas Dirks, he like others notices the standard story of jatis classifying into 4 varnas is not correct. He mentions local accounts which are very different. But this was noticed by colonial anthropologists in the 19th century itself. See quote by CF Margath on Page 39 here, https://www.academia.edu/25376339/The_Impossibility_of_Refuting_or_Confirming_the_Arguments_about_the_Caste_System ,

But instead of noticing that the current theory is wrong, and doesnt correspond to the phenomena on the ground, they come with notions like ‘Hinduism’ and ‘caste-system’ where constructed in the colonial era. The fact that many Indians repeat these ideas can be used to support that they were constructed in the 19th century. But mostly, this talk is incoherent. Most people are not able to name 4 varnas and are dimly aware of groups beyond their local region, but would repeat textbook, newspaper accounts which in turn is based on 19th century scholarship.

I read the Dirks’ book about 15 years ago. It is a good and persuasive book, and certainly many aspects are true. But the last 15 years of genetics and genomics has confirmed in fact that broadly speaking varna maps onto real patterns which are at least 2,000 years ago. That is, genetic affinities and relatedness exist on a spectrum that maps very well onto varna spectrum, beyond Brahmins and Dalits.

Priya Moorjani’s paper Genetic Evidence for Recent Population Mixture in India is probably the best single recent summary. Though please see The promise of disease gene discovery in South Asia.

Dirks’ work, and others who emphasize constructionism, capture elements of the truth (e.g., Bengali Kayastha genetic profiles [my maternal grandfather’s family background for what it’s worth] seem a lot like other non-Brahmin Bengalis I’ve seen, so the recent “elevation” of this caste is plausible). But taking it to heart totally misleads people have the depth and nature of caste and jati in the South Asian context.

If you’re not a geneticist you’ll probably not understand the papers above, which is fine. But don’t expect your ignorant comments to be posted on my threads.

Stupidity and ignorance are obviously forgivable sins. The latter is even fixable. But misreadings with the aim of bolstering a rhetorical position are really unforgivable, because they’re a waste of everyone’s time.

Note: I should add that other contributors are more liberal than I am. So I will try not to ban people, though I may just delete comments a lot if I think they fall into one of the three above categories.

3 thoughts on “A reply to a stupid, ignorant, or malicious commenter”

  1. Razib,
    On one hand you know that India is diverse enough to see stark different between the cow belt and south-of-Vindhyas folks. On the other hand, you comment that varna would approximately map to real patterns (I paraphrase) when in fact, all of that south has only three varnas, Brahmins, Dalits and others (which, of course, you are aware of).

    Also, you have extensively written about how high-philosophy of a religion is not the same as those of its practitioners. In that sense, Hinduism, as a religion, is all about what jati practises; the gods (kula devatha), the creation myths, the food restrictions, association restrictions, the culture, place of worship, practice of worship (animal sacrifice or not) and who is allowed to marry whom (cousin marriage, uncle-niece marriage, seven-generation rule). In a practical sense, then within jati marriage is in fact equivalent to within religion marriage. One jati considers “mangalsutra” is marriage, other would consider exchange of garlands, yet another with “sindoor”. I am not listing these because I think you are ignorant of these, but how would you contend then marrying within jati is dissimilar to marrying within religion even after knowing all this?

    If it is socially acceptable to marry within religion for well-defined religions, why should the same rule be forced-upon on an ill-defined religion in its strictest sense and not in its practical sense?

    I am not entirely sure what were you getting at and am curious to know.

    1. i think the context in the USA is totally different from india.

      jati doesn’t really exist here nor does indian social norms broadly. so to be clear, i don’t think it would be weird to marry within jati in india. it’s part of the landscape. but in the USA ravi did not grow up in a small south asian community where jati is relevant (in fact, even in places like guyana or trinidad with large south asian communities jati has disappeared to my knowledge as well).

      the only equivalent to jati that i know of are groups like the amish or ultra-orthodox jews. they engage in residential segregation, and don’t even speak english among themselves (some ultra-orthodox in fact never teach their children english in places like new york so they have weak command of the language).

      so the juxtaposition here is ravi’s liberal individualistic ethos as expressed in his whole life (and his choice to be an actor that lives in west los angles) and his romanticization of a lifestyle which in the american context is profoundly alien, and only analogous to that practiced by self-conscious anti-modernists.

      some indian amerians do marry within sub-caste/jati even though they live in the united states, but my experience is that these people are all trying to live an ‘indian life’ more in the united states in a self-conscious manner. in the film ravi’s cousins clearly fall into this category.

      finally, re: varna and genetics. in south india there is stratification btwn brahmins and non-brahminds. but castes which are non-brahmin but but not scheduled caste or scheduled tribe occupy a genetic position shifted somewhat toward brahmins (because they have less ASI). if you read nicholas dirks’ *castes of mind*, as i did, the extreme stratification and its clear age depth (evidence in LD decay) would be totally surprising. and it does coarsely map onto varna when you correct for region.

  2. Razib,

    Thanks for going in to more detail on this. I understand better the U.S-Indian situation with Jati.

    I also looked for a little more detail on varna-stratification mapping because I remembered seeing south indian caste mapping on ANI-ASI cline and your blog post about caste endogamy being set by ~2k -2.5k years ago. In that Reddy, Naidu etc (south upper castes) map between brahmin and mala (SC) , but are still in ‘Sudra’ under varna system although they were both warriors, leaders, kings, and landlords in feudal systems.

    Anyway, it seems we are talking about the same thing.

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