Most of my reading about India had been about the Raj and Hinduism, so I thought the concept of caste and race were effectively identical: people are born and die in the caste their culture assigns them, and no matter how much their class might change, the prejudice against their birth category remains.
But it may be that when the British accepted the pseudo-science of race in the late 1700s, their concept influenced Indian thought. From Caste system in India:
Some scholars believe that the relative ranking of other castes was fluid or differed from one place to another prior to the arrival of the British.
Whether they're right about the past, the ranking is not fluid now. Some writers desperately claim that modern casteism is not racism. From Caste system in India:
...Andre Béteille, who writes that treating caste as a form of racism is "politically mischievous" and worse, "scientifically nonsense" since there is no discernible difference in the racial characteristics between Brahmins and Scheduled Castes. He writes that "Every social group cannot be regarded as a race simply because we want to protect it against prejudice and discrimination".
What people like Béteille cannot grasp is there is no significant genetic difference among the commonly accepted racial groups either. If "caste" allowed for change the way "tribe" does, if you could change your caste by adoption or marriage, the caste system would not be racist. But so long as "caste" is seen as an inherent human quality, the caste system will be a form of racism.
• what is upper class "in India" (2/24/9)
In the recent LJ brouhaha between old school opponents of racism and younger upper and middle class antiracists, the question of upper class "in India" came up.
A few weeks ago, my knowledge of India was relatively superficial. I knew it was a growing economic power, and I'd seen articles like last year's Richest Man In India Builds $1 Billion House:
What would you do if your net worth were $22 billion? If you were Indian businessman Mukesh Ambani, you might build yourself the world's most expensive home.
And I knew a bit about caste injustice from articles like Untouchable @ National Geographic Magazine:
Discrimination against India's lowest Hindu castes is technically illegal. But try telling that to the 160 million Untouchables, who face violent reprisals if they forget their place.
More recently, I saw this in Too Much weekly:
You won’t find a shopping mall any more lavish than the six-month-old Emporio in India’s New Delhi. Gold-plated ceilings. Atriums with crystal chandeliers. Boutiques offering every top luxury brand on the planet. You probably won’t find a mall any more exclusive either. The Emporio carries an entrance fee that equals, the Birmingham Post noted last week, “about one week’s salary for 80 percent of India’s billion-plus population.” Guards everywhere make sure that no one tries to sneak in without paying up for the $5 entrance ticket. With hundreds of millions of Indians living on less than a dollar a day, sociologist Satish Deshpande points out, India is “tending more and more towards a kind of apartheid, a kind of separation” now “sharply visible in our cities.”
Today, I saw Informed Comment: They aren't Dogs, in those Slums:
Within India's more than one billion population, there is a middle-class country of 80 million, the size of Germany--with satellite televisions, nice cars, well-appointed homes, and white collar jobs hooked into the world economy
Which included a link to mall talk: Arundhati slams Slumdog:
"English writers in India come from a particular class, but if they do not make an effort to come out of it, they are bound to be superficial.”
Obviously, I love the last quote. But the question remains: what's the border between middle and upper class in India? If Juan Cole's vague definition of India's middle class is accurate, it's quite comparable to the US's. Which would suggest that India's upper class is like the US's also. I've thought that the world's upper class is effectively international, coming from different cultures but sharing similar privileges. Am I wrong? If so, I welcome the chance to learn the truth.
ETA: Gandhi said, "All amassing of wealth or hoarding of wealth above and beyond one’s legitimate needs is theft." However you define India's upper class, Gandhi defined them as thieves.
• when googling "upper class in India"(2/25/9)
The three-day siege of Mumbai, which ended a week ago, was a watershed for India’s prosperous classes. It prompted many of those who live in their own private Indias, largely insulated from the country’s dysfunction, to demand a vital public service: safety.
The bombers, it turned out, systematically targeted first-class men's compartments, poking a poisoned finger in the eye of the city's well-heeled white- collar establishment. The victims were overwhelmingly male; judging by the lists of dead and injured posted at city hospitals, they were mostly of working age; judging by the testimony of their friends and relatives, most of them were habitual first-class passengers.
in 1990, only a handful of students with very rich parents went abroad for undergraduate degrees. Now over 10,000, with indubitably middle class parents, do.
India's notorious social distinctions based on caste and class have spilled into the blood donation sector. Even reputable blood banks now advertise blood that is guaranteed not to come from the dregs of society.
When I tried to talk to Mangabhai about his financial planning for the time he can no longer work, he looked at me with glazed eyes. He had absolutely no idea. “The poor don’t have the luxury of looking into the future,” Bhavnaben said to me.From here:
In India, over 40 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. Ten million of those poor would have to work over 60 years each to match the combined fortune of India’s 100 richest. This Indian top 100, Forbes related last week, now together hold $276 billion in assets, “over $100 billion more than the $170 billion total net worth of their Chinese counterparts.”• Why I love Gandhi
MEANWHILE : Gandhi, for one, would have found it funny - The New York Times
When a reporter asked him what he thought of Western civilization, he famously replied: "I think it would be a good idea." He did not spare journalists either, saying: "I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers."Gandhi believed his life was his message, and, as such, he lived simply, usually traveling by the cheapest form of transportation — the third class of Indian Railways. To a reporter's question as to why he did this, Gandhi said, "Because there is no fourth class."
Even the mightiest were not spared. In order to identify with India's poorest, Gandhi used to wear a homespun loincloth all the time. Winston Churchill bristled at the thought of a "half-naked fakir" going to meet the British king thus attired.
But that's exactly what Gandhi did at the Round Table Conference in London called to discuss India's future in the 1930's. He went in his loincloth to Buckingham Palace and met the king. Later, when somebody asked him if he felt that was proper, Gandhi replied: "The king had enough for both of us."