Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

August 3, 2020

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

Filed under: Caste — Razib Khan @ 4:32 pm

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.

July 30, 2020

Caste – bred to the bone!

Filed under: Caste — Razib Khan @ 10:15 am

Kushal Mehra and I had a discussion on the Brown Pundits podcast about caste. I will post for Patrons today and push it live tomorrow. I want to review a few things from my perspective on this issue related to what we talked about.

– The paper The promise of disease gene discovery in South Asia highlights a fact: jati has a very strong genetic reality. The stylized fact is that caste endogamy has been strong across southern Asia for 1,500 years. Genetically you can have two castes in the same village in Andhra Pradesh who are as distinct as people from Finland and Sicily.

Additionally, jati is not arbitrary. Brahmins across India may not be closely related, but they tend to have more “Ancestral North Indian” than their non-Brahmin neighbors, on average (true everywhere except for the Northwest of the subcontinent).

– Kushal asked if jati varna was an ESS. I have suggested that caste fragmentation made it harder for non-Indians to take over and assimilate Indian society. But, it is not the only ESS.

– The main contrast I give is to China. People who can read classical Chinese (which was the norm in the early 20th century) can still read oracle bones from the Shang dynasty 3,400 years ago. This is a civilization with continuity and integrity.

The Chinese are a population that has managed to absorb other groups and do it without caste endogamy. Rather, like Europeans, Chinese genetic variation is a function of geography, not class/caste. In fact, the Chinese never developed a blood nobility like Europe. The basis of Chinese civilization has unapologetically been the peasantry.

– In The WEIRDest People in the World Harvard’s Joe Henrich makes the argument that the Western Christian Church’s destruction of extended family networks led to the rise of the West. I won’t recapitulate the argument which I’ve outlined elsewhere. But the idea is rather persuasive.

It seems that the hostility and skepticism toward caste from some on the “Hindu Right” really has to do with Indian nationalism. Jati varna was a reasonable institution in a pre-modern context, but it doesn’t take a genius to understand that national cohesion is reduced when people view themselves as members of a “community” first and foremost, and not a nation-state.

From the traditionalist side, the idea that jati varna is a great functional system is really not the point. Let’s be frank: people are invested in their particular traditions and their purity. The rest is commentary.

July 15, 2020

Dalit in Silicon Valley

Filed under: Caste — Razib Khan @ 9:36 pm
Indian American food

Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s in the United States as brown was different than now. The Indian Americans I knew were a heterodox bunch who, like me, grew up around white people, and habituated themselves to American culture. Though most were Hindu, a fair number enjoyed beef hamburgers, just like other kids.

This is why the story of caste discrimination in Silicon Valley is so striking to me. Most of you know already about what is happening with Cisco, but The New York Times covers it well in The Specter of Caste in Silicon Valley. The author of Coming out Dalit, she is herself a Dalit Indian American, and so has a unique perspective.

There is one number which is reported in the piece and aligns with everything I’ve ever seen in the United States of America: 90% of Indian Americans are not lower caste. Of those who are lower caste, whatever that means, I doubt much more than 1% are Dalit. I know this partly because I have a sampling of 300 Indian American genotypes from one of the DTC firms (four parents born in India), and the genetic variation aligns pretty much with the above distribution.

Therefore, I am skeptical of the idea of pervasive caste discrimination because there are just not that many Dalits, period. The last data I have seen shows that 25% of Indian Americans are Brahmin.

That being said since the late 1990s a massive wave of immigrants from India have arrived to work in tech and recreated their home country in the US. When I was in graduate school I met a young woman who was a master’s student with a very mild Indian accent. I asked her when she had arrived from India, and she said that she was born in Cupertino! So it would not surprise me if some people did bring the habits and views of the old country, and without assimilation into diverse workplaces, things such as caste discrimination may occur (I have heard from people that networks of people from the same region and caste are a thing, though not pervasive).

But, I don’t think this will ever be huge in the United States for a simple reason: the number of Indian Americans of 1.5 and 2nd generation who marry within caste/jati is not that high. The last data from the 2010s indicate 35-40% of those born or raised here marry non-Indians. Of the remainder, many of them marry people from other backgrounds than that of their parents. In fact, the majority.

Caste is about pedigree. That is just not maintained in the USA.

July 5, 2020

American caste! (?)

Filed under: Caste — Razib Khan @ 11:53 pm

On August 4th a new book is coming out, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. The author is a journalist who has published a substantial extract of the book at The New York Times Magazine, America’s Enduring Caste System: Our founding ideals promise liberty and equality for all. Our reality is an enduring racial hierarchy that has persisted for centuries:

Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The lingering, millenniums-long caste system of India. The tragically accelerated, chilling and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States. Each version relied on stigmatizing those deemed inferior to justify the dehumanization necessary to keep the lowest-ranked people at the bottom and to rationalize the protocols of enforcement. A caste system endures because it is often justified as divine will, originating from sacred text or the presumed laws of nature, reinforced throughout the culture and passed down through the generations.

When shared on Twitter even Left-Indians, normally sympathetic to Left-American journalists and their Weltanschauung, recoiled. My main comment is simple: write what you know. From the extract, the author does not seem to know enough about the Indian social system and history to make informative and illuminating comparisons to the United States.

Also, though I personally am not positively disposed toward caste, comparing it to Nazi Germany seems needlessly inflammatory.

I will note a few things

– The latest surveys suggest intercase marriages in India are now at 10%

– In America, 20% of the marriage partners of black Americans are not black

In 300 years about 20% of the ancestry of black Americans is now of European origin. In contrast, there are villages in Andhra Pradesh where people of different castes (jati) are genetically more distinct than Scandinavians are from Italians. David Reich’s group has an estimated < 1% intermarriage rate between the groups, with a rough crystallization of caste boundaries 1,500 years ago.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents probably had its conclusion prewritten. The argument is something added on later.

September 19, 2019

Modernization leading toward confessionalization

Filed under: Caste,Hindu Nationalism — Razib Khan @ 9:10 am

From the comments:

I think what’s underappreciated is that hindu nationalism is partly caused by the collapse of the caste system. I know that may not intuitively make sense at first, but compared to when I was a boy the caste system has significantly weakened. People are finally starting to look at each other as hindus rather than by caste – and this has never been the case in the past. Obviously caste is still here and we all have a long way to go but it is substantially weakened and weaker than its ever been. I believe this is the major cause for the rise of hindu nationalism.

One of the strange things that surprises many people is that modernization often produces stronger and more robust confessional identities. In Eric Kaufmann’s Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century he talks about the fact that urbanization and increased access to educational opportunities for the rural middle-class in Muslim countries resulted in gains in power to Islamist movements. The reasons are manifold, but one issue is that local power blocs centered around customary and traditional relationships and patronage networks were disrupted by development. In a flatter and more deracinated landscape simple and universal Islamist messages were appealing.

You see the same process happening in Indonesia. Traditional Islam among the Javanese is syncretistic. But its power and strength are in the solidities of the rural cultural order which has deep local roots. Development and migration to urban areas result in a shift toward more world-normative (santri) Islam which is not contingent on local cultural and social frameworks.

In this model then the economic liberalization ushered in by the Congress Party in the early 1990s sowed the seeds for the emergence of a broad-based Hindu nationalism, as economic dynamism and urbanization begins to erode the older caste-based solidities.

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