The creation of Homo General Category

This Politic piece on caste in America is pretty balanced. But one thing that this “Indian Americans are so casteist” discourse misses is that 85% of Indian American Hindus are “General Category”, with a few percent being Dalits or Scheduled Tribes (the remainder are OBC). There aren’t many low caste people to discriminate against, but secondarily, America is a caste shredder.

The latest surveys suggest that for Indian Americans born in the USA, 30% of their spouses are non-Indian, 30% of their spouses are US-born Indians, and 40% of their spouses are Indian-born Indians. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of the the 30% who marry other US-born Indians are marrying outside of their jati-varna. I suspect that perhaps a majority of the remaining 40% who have Indian-born Indian spouses are jati-varna endogamous because of arranged marriages, but I know a substantial number of US-born Indian Americans, men and women, who met and married Indian-born Indian immigrants, usually meeting them through work or social contexts. I am pretty sure that the majority of US-born Indians are marrying outside of their jati, often outside of their region.

You can test this proposition at the high socioeconomic status groups by looking at the NY Times Wedding Announcements.

Look under some very distinctive names, and look who they are marrying.

– Mukerhjee
– Iyer
– Sen
– Mehta
– Patel
– Arora
– Reddy
– Singh
– Deshmukh
– Kulkarni

Jatitva: When Caste Becomes a Cancer

Caste is the basic building block of Indian society and democracy. It decentralizes India and creates a fractal overlay across society enveloping every facet of life. Much can be said about its origins and heterodoxies, but today I want to explore how it influences politics and modern society. While caste’s impact on Indian society is mixed, I believe caste politics is the single most corrosive and destructive element in Indian democracy today. So many policy problems can be traced to the dizzying devilry that results from the lunacy of caste tribalism.

But why is caste so important to Indians in the first place? Caste serves multiple functions. Caste is a community. A sense of belonging and asabiyyah when times get tough. When the riots hit, it is your caste kin who will take and throw punches for you. It gives you your rituals, your traditions, your ways of worship, and so much more. Many castes have a divine origin story or a tale where their caste bravely overcame injustices from that caste. Caste is a polity. When election time comes, the candidate from your caste ensures your castemen will occupy government positions, be forgiven of crimes, and have a seat at the roundtable of power, perhaps even the throne itself. Caste is an economy. It can be a financial safety net, a business network, or a source of credit and capital. It can be the cornering of a market or government seats. Caste is all-encompassing, as real and essential as air and water for so many Indians.

So what separates run-of-the-mill 1990s Mandal-type caste politics from Jatitva? Jatitva is the political expression of Critical Caste Theory. Jatitva is Mandalism taken to its logical conclusions. It is the view that the Indian state should exist to be beholden to one’s caste. If Hindutva means a Hindu Rashtra, Jatitva means Jati Rashtras, where one’s caste must be the most powerful demographic group in their locale; if this isn’t achieved, then India must be decentralized heavily or even break. Jatitva means caste should define India. It claims one’s caste is more important than an overarching Hinduism, if not the rejection of mainstream Hinduism itself. Jatitva presents Hinduism as a societal ruse of ruin, Hindutva as a political conspiracy, and the Indian state as an economic oppressor.

Continue reading Jatitva: When Caste Becomes a Cancer

People of lower castes have bad personalities

Making the Elite: Top Jobs, Disparities, and Solutions:

How do socioeconomically unequal screening practices impact access to elite firms and what policies might reduce inequality? Using personnel data from elite U.S. and European multinational corporations recruiting from an elite Indian college, I show that caste disparities in hiring do not arise in many job search stages, including: applications, application reading, written aptitude tests, large group debates that assess socio-emotional skills, and job choices. Rather, disparities arise in the final round, comprising non-technical personal interviews that screen on family background, neighborhood, and “cultural fit.” These characteristics are plausibly weakly correlated with productivity (at the interview round) but strongly correlated with caste. Employer willingness to pay for an advantaged caste is as large as that for a full standard deviation increase in college GPA. A hiring subsidy that eliminates the caste penalty would be more cost-effective in diversifying elite hiring than equalizing the caste distribution of pre-college test scores or enforcing hiring quotas.

No big surprise.

Critical Caste Theory: A Dubious Discourse

As a tsunami of social justice sweeps across the world today, the roots of traditions are uprooted in an unrelenting furor. In India, the axe of modernity grinds against the caste system as caste, the primary identity of many Indians, now faces pressure from more cosmopolitan identities such as political ideology and class. While many see this as a positive development, some seek not only to entrench these age-old divisions but also enflame the trenches with the kerosene of hate. Building upon and going beyond colonial caste activists such as Ambedkar and the Phules, modern sociologists devise a theory designed to shatter Indian society and grant deliverance to the lower castes of India. While much of this theory is plagiarized from the infamous Critical Race Theory of America, caste is not race and race is not caste. You cannot tell someone’s caste by the color of their complexion or the features of their face. With the rise of Hindutva attracting a rainbow coalition of castes granting a decisive mandate to the BJP in India, the opposition seeks to break this coalition by inciting caste tensions, and it is in Critical Caste Theory that they find a prophetic message to part the saffron sea.

Critical Caste Theory does not seek the annihilation of caste no matter how much it harps on this talking point. Rather, it seeks the annihilation of Brahminism, a polemic and deceptive term for Hinduism originally used by Jesuit missionaries and colonial scholars. It is in the rigid contours of caste that CCT activists see the opportunity to exploit and shatter the cultural and religious body of India and Hinduism. Upper castes must be made aware of their ancestral penalties of the past, privilege of the present, and penance of the future. The lower castes must be made aware of the oppression of the past, discrimination of the present, and revolution of the future. The cloak of caste must smother all discourse surrounding politics, economics, and culture. And most of all – caste must be framed as a simple, homogenous concept that conquers time and space; heterogeneity is heresy.

Continue reading Critical Caste Theory: A Dubious Discourse

Caste in the Indian subcontinent: the wages of Manu

A new post on caste at my Substack. I don’t think I have much more to say on this topic on the high level; the DNA data is now what it is. More details will come in, but we have the general outline.

It is now up to social historians to make sense of it.

(also, a new phrase for Pakistanis: “Allah in the streets, Manu in the sheets”)

A vision for solving India’s caste social crises

My personal belief is that jati-varna was one of the major reasons that India did not Islamicize more than it did. These sub-elite solidities “absorbed” external shocks and mediated individual relationships with the world. Collective entities like this are common across the world, but the genetic distinctiveness of these groups is like nothing you see elsewhere (with the possible exception of endogamous isolation like premodern Ashkenazim). I also believe that the jati in particular predates the arrival of the Aryans 3,500 years ago. Varna-like concepts exist in other Indo-European societies, but only jati exists in India, and I believe that genetics will uncover jati-like stratification in the IVC over time. Jati may be one reason that the IVC seems archaeologically to be an “anarchistic” society in terms of governance and politics insofar as they can infer anything from material remains (there seem to be no grand public buildings as in Mesopatamia or Egypt).

But, today, in 2022, the jati-varna system is a problem for India. In particular, I think the reservation system is socially toxic and economically inefficient. Because I have libertarian conservative viewpoints, I have always opposed caste-based reservations, just as I oppose affirmative action in the USA. This has little to do with empirical or utilitarian calculus and everything to do with deontological principles. But, from a utilitarian perspective, I believe that reservations result in the misallocation of talent, as well as emigration.

How to fix this problem? The genetics indicates endogamy rates of 99% or less for possibly a thousand years or more. Today, the jati-varna endogamy rate is lower. Perhaps 95% is the high bound from the estimates I’ve seen. This means within several centuries jati-varna as we understand it will not be viable.  The rate of genetic/social/cultural exchange will be too high to maintain traditional solidities. This will not mean that all castes will disappear; some will likely persist, but many societies have endogamous minorities. The way India is unique is that it is a whole civilization that is built around endogamous minorities. This does not scale as well to a modern economy and unitary society, and it is cannot persist if current social trends continue.

This problem will “naturally” take care of itself in both India and Pakistan (two countries where endogamous communities are ubiquitous), but, there are possible social and cultural movements that can accelerate or retard this process. The transformation of Hinduism into a more cohesive and confessional religion will probably be part of this. Like jati-varna, Hinduism’s strength was its fractious decentralization, as it absorbed and flexed in various directions to maintain its integrity in the face of proselytization. But in the world of 2022, the strategies of survival and persistence in the face of five hundred years of Muslim domination (in North India) are not appropriate; cultural involution and retreat simply invite defeat. The extremely diverse and almost contradictory nature of Hinduism allowed it to be a catchall system that integrated many jati groups with idiosyncratic beliefs and customs. The two reinforced each other as parallel institutions. Arguably, the weakness of jati will be the weakness of Hinduism unless the latter evolves and changes. One primary reason that non-Hindus never convert to the religion is that conversion still puts one outside of the jati-varna social networks of other Hindus while ostracizing oneself from one’s birth community.

Of course, some Hindus like the system the way it is. Some of these go by the term “trads,” but these types simply say out loud what the revealed preference shows is the majority viewpoint of most Hindus in India. What do they worry about? Higher-status groups do not want to become lower-status. Also, some high-caste Hindus believe they are more beautiful (lighter-skinned) and intelligent than lower-caste Hindus, and they do not want to dilute their human capital advantage. Objectively, it seems clear that many high-caste Hindus are indeed lighter-skinned and have facial features considered more beautiful than that of other Indian castes (I’m talking about Indian preferences on the whole). Additionally, whatever you may think about the heritability of intelligence, this is also certainly a possibility for differences between the groups.

But there doesn’t need to be such a great concern. Most societies have intelligent and beautiful subgroups, but they are not restricted to a particular social or political element. Restricting these traits to a particular social and political group causes problems, as you can see in India. The reality is there are beautiful/handsome and intelligent Dalits, so why not marry them if you are a Brahmin? These characteristics will persist, and the upside is that the social divisions between the jatis will diminish, and India can have a cultural matrix that’s more amenable to economic growth and individual liberty.

As someone with a conservative bent, there are natural hierarchies and status differences in any society. This is normal, and total leveling will never be possible, nor should we even aspire to it. Difference is worth appreciating. But the system of jati-varna in India as it is operationalized today is not conducive to human flourishing because it retards the development of broader social and cultural institutions that allow for national collective action. This is not abstract. China is a perfect example of a society with class status, but never has it had jati-like endogamy. Radically different dialect groups, like Hakka and Cantonese, freely intermarry with minimal conflict or controversy, so long as socioeconomic status is this. This is the future. You can delay it or ride the tiger.

The the origins of the false moral panic about caste in the USA

Caste discrimination in the US, again…Brown University bans caste discrimination throughout campus in a first for the Ivy League.

These stories are strange and silly on some level. But they are serious on another level. Multiple young brown American men have told me that they have been asked about their caste by white colleagues, usually social justice-oriented women. More recently, I was having beers with a friend who works at Google, and he mentioned offhand “I heard caste discrimination is a big problem in American tech.” Context on him: he’s American-born, his father is from China, his mother is a white New Englander, and he’s not religious, but he’s center-right politically.

Very few people in America know anything about caste. So they rely on a small group of activists to inform them. Additionally, the American elite is very worried about structural oppression, and jati-varna certainly fits that bill. So they are attracted to regulating and eliminating it.

The problems:

– Most Indian Americans don’t care about caste, and 1.5 and 2nd generation are very fuzzy on it

– Most Indian Americans who are 1.5 and 2nd generation do marry other Indian Americans, but they seem to marry outside of their caste

– Very few Indian American Hindus, about 1%, are Dalit. About 20% would be “OBC” in India, and 80% are “upper caste.” So there aren’t many “low caste” people to discriminate against

– Very few Indian Americans exist in a predominantly Indian milieu, so caste as a discriminatory framework can never operationalize

The final issue is that of course, the ancestors of Indian Americans on the whole did benefit from literal structural privilege in a broad sense, even if they came from a poor or uneducated background. Usually, on a relative scale, the people who arrived in America had resources or skills compared to the average Indian. In agreement with Greg Clark, I think this human capital persists; Indian Americans are not regressing back to a very lower socioeconomic median. Instead, they are becoming part of the American overclass.

I believe that the new salience about caste in America has less to do with caste and more to do with grappling with a dark-skinned nonwhite population that clearly has high levels of persistent and structural human capital advantage. American elites, and especially white American elites, have a very difficult time intellectually conceiving of the idea that nonwhite people can overcome discrimination and succeed because of the privilege of high endogenous human capital.

Browncast with J Sai Deepak

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

The podcast was a good experience – a free flowing discussion without much structure. Retrospectively I felt I could have intervened more on some points or countered some of the answers, but I am overall happy with the discussion.

I hope I have this opportunity again to discuss a few more things with Sai.


Caste and California: the lawsuits are in!

Cal State banned caste discrimination. Two Hindu professors sued:

Two Hindu professors are suing the head of their university system to oppose the addition of caste to an anti-discrimination policy amid a broader battle over whether colleges should explicitly call out caste-based bias.

The California State University System professors argue that naming caste as a protected characteristic unfairly targets Hindus and wrongly suggests that oppression and discrimination are among Hinduism’s core tenets. Sunil Kumar and Praveen Sinha contend in the complaint, filed Monday, that Hinduism is about compassion and equanimity — principles directly opposed to a discriminatory caste system.

Here are some things I believe

– This law is impractical and wrongheaded. There are very few Dalits in the US, so there is by definition very little discrimination against Dalits (even if you grant that individual Dalits experience pervasive discrimination, which I honestly do not grant). Additionally, most Americans cannot tell different types of brown people apart, so its impact is not religious-cultural but racial.

– Hinduism has a strong connection with the caste system because Hinduism, as it exists today, developed out of the indigenous religious systems of the Indian subcontinent, and those religious systems are inextricably connected to Indian culture, which is riven with caste.

– Caste consciousness also seems pretty pervasive among many Christians and Muslims in the subcontinent.

– If you view religion as a bundle of characteristics that change over time, there’s nothing fundamental to Hinduism, or any other religion. This is my personal belief. For most of its history, Islam and slavery were closely connected because slavery is addressed in the sharia. That ended in the 20th century for historically contingent reasons. Though some level of varna awareness seems to exist in Bali and among the Chams of Vietnam, the elaborate jati system does not. Probably because here Hinduism is unmoored from its Indian matrix.

Some interesting quotes…

 But Sundaram said many younger Hindus have formed alliances with other affinity groups, such as Black Lives Matter, and are more inclined to call out caste discrimination.

Young American Hindus are the least likely to care, or even know, much about caste. But they are the ones worried about it and engaging in activism. This is performative because they are progressives searching for a problem that is fading and diminishing before their eyes.

Most importantly, she said, she disagrees with the Hindu American Foundation’s argument that caste is not foundational to Hinduism.

“You absolutely can acknowledge this as part of the tradition and fight back against it, but to argue that it doesn’t exist in the tradition, it’s just false,” Sundaram said. “There’s just no way to really make that case.”

Foundational and traditional are distinct. Is the reporter engaging in manipulation, or did the activist professor consciously misunderstand?

Varna is Indo-European and jati is Indian

A casual comment…most Indo-European societies seem to have originally had some sort of occupational caste system. I’m talking here of Dumezil’s trifunctional hypothesis, warrior, priest and commoner. But only the Indian subcontinent has jati.

I was thinking about it when reflecting on work to come out soon from David Reich’s lab on ancient Pontic steppe ancestry in Bronze Age Greece. There is no stratification by class when it comes to steppe ancestry. From the talk:

In the Balkans, we reveal a patchwork of Bronze Age populations with diverse proportions of steppe ancestry in the aftermath of the ~3000 BCE Yamnaya migrations, paralleling the linguistic diversity of Paleo-Balkan speakers. We provide insights into the Mycenaean period of the Aegean by documenting variation in the proportion of steppe ancestry (including some individuals who lack it altogether), and finding no evidence for systematic differences in steppe ancestry among social strata, such as those of the elite buried at the Palace of Nestor in Pylos.

So why is India so different? One hypothesis that some make is that the Indo-Aryans were racially so different from the indigenous people. But I do not that that is the issue. Instead of bringing strict endogamy to the subcontinent, the Indo-Aryans adopted indigenous forms. There’s genetic differences indicating strong endogamy across South India among non-Brahmin groups. There is also a ‘mystery’ in terms of how the IVC was organized sociopolitically. I think I have a possibility: jati obviated the need for central political authority.

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