Long long with caste be a bar? Perhaps more than three centuries!

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In the 2000s I read a fair number of books such as Nicholas Dirks’ Castes of Mind. The impression one gets from these books is that jati-varna status and stratification are protean. Much of it a recent function of jockeying during the colonial and liminal colonial era. The “uplift” of groups such as Patidars and Marathas, for example. Or the emergence of Kayasthas as literate non-Brahmin service castes for Muslim rulers.

The genetic data that emerged in the 2000s though shocked me with two facts:

– There is within region a rough correlation, imperfect, but existent, of what we now call “steppe ancestry” and caste status

– Jati groups in a given region were shockingly distinct, and many exhibited a lot of genetic drift.

Endogamy was deep, ancient, powerful, and, genetic differences of the deep past persisted, rather than mixing away.

These are not perfect generalizations. The correlation between steppe and and status breaks down in the northwest to a great extent (thought still not totally). There are groups, such as Bengali Kayasthas, who approximate Brahmin status (even still being lower), but are genetically similar to non-elite non-Brahmins. Within the data there are castes which seem composites (Khamboj in some recent data).

This is a preface to the fact that I’ve gotten into recent arguments inadvertently online about caste, and its role in the Indian future. So I decided to look at the data. Here is my short conclusion: jati-varana is way more robust than I would have thought. Outmarriage rates were 5% as of 2011, and they didn’t vary that much by social status. At current rates it could take 500 years for caste not to be a big deal in India.

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36 Replies to “Long long with caste be a bar? Perhaps more than three centuries!”

    1. @Sumit, the results vary from surveys to surveys. The NFHS-3(National Family Health Survey) data with a much higher sample size than the one razib linked puts inter-category marriage at 10% .

      Anyways, i would also like to point out that there is an ongoing change in the range of sub-jaatis that are said to constitute a single jaati/caste. Two persons who belong to once different endogamous communities/”sub-jaatis” but are now considered the same jaati due to changing socio-political dynamics, might report their marriage as “intra-caste/same caste ” marriage when in fact such marriages would have been considered “inter-caste” two or even one generation ago .
      I will try to explain with two examples.

      (i) Consider the case of two once endogamous pastoralist jaatis X & Y in north india. Now two generations ago, marriage among members of two jaatis would have been considered inter-caste but now since these jaatis have united under the banner of “Yadav” , any marriage between these two communities would be considered “same caste” as we have two “yadavs” marrying each other (example , a gwal marrying a dadhol).

      (ii) A brahmin might marry gosain/goswami or vishwakarma girl/boy in arranged marriage and can report that as “same caste” marriage. (A friend of mine from karnataka told about poor priests and archakas who are unable to find girls from their own jaati or even other brahmin sub-jaati marry girls from the next “closest” community like vishwakarma ) under arranged marriage setting.

  1. “At current rates it could take 500 years for caste not to be a big deal in India.”

    Is there some anthropological model you used for this or is it more a linear extrapolation based on 5% rate and ~25 years average generation.

  2. Notice the rate of inter-caste marriage declines with the decline in caste status while decline in caste status is also linked to lesser financial, material & social security.

    Point is Caste functions because Indian state is a weak state which does not recognize Indians as individuals instead it treats Indians as Caste/Class units so people make their demands to state via some form of social organization & it is this focus on social organization that feeds into Endogamy in modern times {Esp. caste based govt. policy incentives act as a great incentive for people to maintain caste divide via endogamy}.

    The incentives for endogamy has constantly changed through all periods but endogamy remained constant for abt. 1500 yrs. but groups even during these periods rose & fell in ‘social order’. It is this difference which i want geneticists to acknowledge & which they don’t seem to take position on either due to how Caste has been used for so long to understand social polity of Indian subcontinent or they have not studied the kind of transformations it went through historically & regional variations castes have in terms of social power.

    During Indic Kingdoms -> Formations of class & inability of kings for centralized control led to endogamic practices.

    During Islamic empires -> Local politics & central uncertainity resulted in further entrenching of practices which started during earlier kingdoms.

    During Colonial period -> Some practices continued like Endogamy while other were transforming like Jobs & in this period colonizers used all forms of social divide to increase their authority & used even regional norms {e.g. Sati & Jauhar} to paint the broad brush Orientalist picture for for whole subcontinent. It is from here from which the modern conceptions of caste identity politics started.

    In Modern India -> Modern Indian leaders instead of dismissing foreign caricatures accepted the foreign critique of Indian society & foreign conceptions of Indian society {e.g. Imagining India by Ronald B. Inden} thus in their zeal to do better than the rest of the world in terms of resource distribution had their own “Vishwaguru fallacy” which they tried to use via caste politics to change Indian society and make it a model society by ‘global standards’ & by doing this they have entrenched caste further than it has ever been {E.g. Rise of physical atrocities in the name of caste, check book – Civility of Indifference F.G. Bailey, Republic of Caste: Thinking Equality in the Time of Neoliberal Hindutva – Anand Teltumbde, Culturization of caste – Balmurli Natrajan etc.}.

    For reference – Upcoming paper regarding evolution of caste in ancient India.

    academia.edu/43761012/Caste_and_Kingship_pre_publication_version_for_JUles_Naudet_and_Surinder_S_Jodhka_The_Oxford_Handbook_of_Caste_To_be_published_end_2020

  3. – Jati groups in a given region were shockingly distinct, and many exhibited a lot of genetic drift.
    Well, even modern-day Indians are quite comfortable with the idea of strict familial and marital segregation while mixing openly otherwise (commerce, professions). The deeply entrenched arranged marriage culture enables this. So perhaps this is not as shocking as it would be in a different culture.

  4. India needs to change its Reservation/Quota system to one of Ultra-Heavy Incentives on inter-caste marriage unions and children of those unions. That is the only way this situation will get resolved quicker or else it will take anywhere from multiple centuries as Razib rightly lists.

    Even socio-economic elite in India across the board by heavy average don’t like their sons or daughters marring out of their own caste. But the macro objective of the State isn’t 1 group, we want the average to mellow out and that won’t happen if there is no Incentive to do inter-caste unions. Currently the incentives are reverse, as in one could end up anywhere from ostracized to plain dead for engaging in such unions.

    But this suggestion is unlikely to be implemented because the Govt does not want to even try it, let alone wanting to try it but can’t for some reason. And Govt doesn’t want to do this because people don’t want to, overwhelmingly. India operates on Dogma and hence will always remain behind its global peers for as long as that situation exists. Its another matter when in a different era everyone believes in silly dogmas but when some societies don’t and some do, that difference will begin to show itself in global competition, i.e. Religiosity & Superstition in practice reduces/limits/drags Progress & Development.

    1. “India needs to change its Reservation/Quota system to one of Ultra-Heavy Incentives on inter-caste marriage unions and children of those unions.”

      Seems an unnecessary social engineer project to give into the fad of ‘progress’.

      In any case, an easier way for the state to achieve this would be to incentivize mass conversion to Christianity/Buddhism/Islam 🙂

      1. “an easier way for the state to achieve this would be to incentivize mass conversion to Christianity/Buddhism/Islam ” —- I don’t think it will change much. There is also endogamy based on biradri among muslims (at least in cow belt ) as well where the so-called ashrafs rarely intermarry with the “pashmandas”. There would have been no pashmanda movement if what you say were true 🙂 .
        Similarly , conversion to what you are calling “buddhism” won’t affect the social norms much .
        I am also ambivalent about christianity because from what i have read, syrian christians didn’t allow christian converts from depressed castes in kerala and just last year, i came across a news of honor killing of a “dalit christian” man by relatives of a christian girl in kerala. With that being said, christian missionaries have done a commendable job in the tribal belt by providing education to the tribals and to me education and health care are more important than in- and out- marriage

  5. Could persistent endogamy a be a feature of borderlands between phenotypically contrasting races (particulary north-south encounters with extreme skin color contrast)? A lot of caste hierarchy is enforced by pollution rules and the disgust instinct. Not to go all critical race theory, but is caste a type of anti-blackness if indic people are biracial in a way that other people are not?

    1. “Could persistent endogamy a be a feature of borderlands between phenotypically contrasting races (particulary north-south encounters with extreme skin color contrast)?”

      Are there examples of other such regions (Maghreb, Burma/Laos/Vietnam?) where strict endogamy is observed?

      1. Prats, one place to consider is the horn of africa /sudan area. I know many ethiopians don’t consider themselves black, would be interesting to know what kind of taboos are used to enforce endogamy there. Then the classic iberian/indio encounter in latin america. What are the racial stereotypes of rohingya among burmese? I know from Mizo acquaintances that lowland brown people are viewed with a tinge of disgust, and intermarriage with an assamese/bengali largely means you are not part of the tribe. I realize that some of this may be perceived as pure tribalism, and the racial angles need many more controls to test.

    2. // A lot of caste hierarchy is enforced by pollution rules and the disgust instinct. //

      You really should check these Books – {As above claim originates from Orientalist claims & there are way more nuance to People’s behavior.}

      Practicing Caste: On Touching and Not Touching by Aniket Jaaware

      Interrogating caste by Dipankar Gupta

      Beyond Caste by Sumit Guha

      The Great Agrarian Conquest The Colonial Reshaping of a Rural World by Neeladri Bhattacharya

      Dynamics of Caste and Law Dalits, Oppression and Constitutional Democracy in India
      https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/dynamics-of-caste-and-law/1580D7FD2DC6A9837EFA11D6EC28724E

      From Hierarchy to Ethnicity The Politics of Caste in Twentieth-Century India
      https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/from-hierarchy-to-ethnicity/5BF4B9E44261B7BCD7BAD63387098F17

      —————————————————————————————————-

      Regarding religious politics –

      Identifying and Regulating Religion in India Law, History and the Place of Worship
      https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/identifying-and-regulating-religion-in-india/6909DC0BBEEDD9812A3F2285078E19FD

    1. Dear Razib,

      I had a question about something you stated earlier regarding genetic distance and caste. You mentioned that even within a particular village/region in India, neighboring castes can be as different from each other as Sicillians vs. Finnish people. You also stated that drift and other issues inflate this statistic. Once you account for such variables, is the distance still considerably high?

      Also, I was wondering if you could perhaps tell me how large the distance is between NW tribes like Rors/Hindu Jatts vs. the Irula for instance. What would a comparable distance be, when looking at populations outside the subcontinent? Thanks a bunch.

      1. Once you account for such variables, is the distance still considerably high?

        inbreeding corrected fst lower.

        i can compute it, but not now. (your second question)

  6. the american racial situation is different in lots of ways from caste.

    one of my points is to communicate this to both indians and americans. they’re different in deep ways

  7. I was wondering if endogamy is being inferred on caste basis due to consanguinity. It may not be strict caste endogamy but continuous marriage between extended cousins and uncle-niece marriage may make Fst to be farther than it ought to be?

    Note that 2000 year differentiation between castes comes from Andhra Pradesh data where uncle-niece marriages are common.

    One way to check would be the comparison of endogamy measures (fst scores) between upper caste North and South Indians.
    Helps to know if drastic contrast in consanguinity of North and South shows up.

  8. Razib, I remember a post where you confirmed the presence of Indian ancestry in Burmese (25%), Cambodia, Malay, Thai, Indonesian groups.

    1) Which Indian caste is closest to them (I’m guessing South Indian Brahmin groups, Bengali for Burmese)?

    2) Because of the significant overlap between Bengali and Burmese, how close fst wise are the two groups?

    1. Which Indian caste is closest to them (I’m guessing South Indian Brahmin groups

      I would think Sinhalese/Sri Lankans would be more likely. Long ties with Burma because of Buddhism.

      One of the earliest references to Buddhism in Myanmar is in the Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa where mention is made of the two missionaries, Sona and Uttara sent by Emperor Asoka to Suvannabhumi at the same time Arahat Mahinda came to Sri Lanka. Suvannabhumi has been identified as Lower Burma. According to both Sinhalese and Burmese historical records, however, direct religious and cultural relations between Sri Lanka and Myanmar began in the 11th century.

      http://www.lotuscomm.org/lotus-academy/buddhist-history/552-sri-lanka-myanmar-historical-relations

      https://www.jstor.org/stable/23731097?read-now=1&seq=2#page_scan_tab_contents

    2. Not sure of the distribution, but quite a number of Tamil/Telugu mercantile class lived in Burma in the 19th and 20th Century. Some of them still do live there.

  9. ” There is within region a rough correlation, imperfect, but existent, of what we now call “steppe ancestry” and caste status ” —- My understanding of this (based on what i have observed) is that the “status” of a jaati in most rural areas is directly proportional to the land ownership and population of that jaati in that area. Under this setting, i can’t imagine a a bania or brahmin playing or showing off “status” in an Ahir or Kurmi dominated village in cow belt.
    The case is similar in north-west india in jats, gujjar dominated village.

  10. @td
    “Under this setting, i can’t imagine a a bania or brahmin playing or showing off “status” in an Ahir or Kurmi dominated village in cow belt.”
    I guess your thinking about some brahmins in general are wrong. How much land are talking about? 100acres in current time scenario or 10,000 acres(mountains with forts) in British times(individual person not group). If they are competing in these numbers than I agree with that statement.

    Caste correlation with steppe ancestry has no relevance

    1. “I guess your thinking about some brahmins in general are wrong” — @Roma I was neither talking about urban brahmin elites nor about brahmins living in their jaati dominated villages in purvanchal area where they have the strength of their numbers. I was talking about few brahmin families living in Ahir , kurmi , jat or gujjar dominated villages where most of the farming land belong to these groups and an average brahmin here barely has 1-2 bighas of land .

  11. @Razib
    I would not throw khamboja word loosely because they are different people/identites.
    Ancient kamboja/camboja is Manidas/menidas/ pre Iranian population.
    Kamboza/oza are Indo-Parthian people/iranian clans
    Bhoja/Kubja are Indic clans.
    Later groups entered to Indian subcontinent

    1. On the side note.
      The Ancient Kambojas are really confusing piece of culture. From Janapadas to MahaBharara. They’re always there and there about but never fully there like the Gandharas.

    2. “Within the data there are castes which seem composites” — @Razib, i am pretty sure that you will find more composite castes like the so-called “yadavs” of north india (different pastoralist groups/jaati uniting under a single name during the early 20th century ).

      I have seen massive phenotypic differences(i know it’s not always reliable and i shouldn’t correlate it with steppe+iran_N ancestry but still … ) among the yadavs in bihar and UP with some very Jat(or north-western Ahir) looking and some very central indian tribal looking.
      I found some yadav samples from Uttar Pradesh in Narsimhan’s paper and they were Rajput tier but i haven’t come across a single bihari yadav sample .
      @Razib, Have you come across any bihari yadav samples ? Any idea how much Steppe, InPe and AASI they have ?

  12. I used to think CKP and Marathi Brahmin marriages were inter caste marriages but in light of Razib’s PCA of Maharashtrians the two are basically the same. Go figure. It would explain why I knew some KoBra couple was super relieved their son found a CKP woman to marry and they were born and raised in the USA. Caste is very strong.

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