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Varnasrama Dharma

mnms_at_postoffice.worldnet.att.net
Date: Mon Jan 13 1997 - 04:59:06 PST

Dear Members of the Mailing Group:

In continuation of the discussion (not polemics) on Caste etc., I 
would like to throw out some random thoughts.  The idea being not to 
state canonical principles but merely continue the evolutionary 
process.

My personal idea of caste - the way it is now in India is as follows;

Caste: A group of people tied together by social, cultural and 
religious ideas similar primarily among themselves and with their OWN 
appreciation of their relative social position.  No one caste is 
higher than others (as stated by a consensus cutting across many 
caste groups and believed primarily by the group in question) and all 
are different from others.

I recently met a gentleman on my travels who informed me that he was 
a Saiva Vellala. He was a strict vegetarian (no eggs) and worried 
that his father would get furious to find out that he had eaten eggs 
for a short while.  As his family had houses to rent in Madras, their 
rule of thumb was - only to saiva vellalas or perhaps to brahmins as 
they could ALSO keep up with the vegetarian cooking requirement. In 
fact, brahmins came No.2 in their mindset.  This is an example and by 
no means the only one where I have met groups that consider 
themselves to be superior with little in common with the commonly 
held caste system hierarchy.

One would expect (given the supposed hierarchy of the caste system) 
that in intercaste marriages, the lower group may not feel as 
antagonistic towards the higher group in the marriage (i mean the 
families) as the higher group would towards the lower group (dilution 
of standards etc.).  However, these days, the primary boycotts seem 
to cut across the higher/lower group distinctions.  It is "why did 
you mess up OUR group" that comes across most strongly.

Even in the so called highest caste, I have seen many many examples 
which confound the simply held views on caste.  I have seen Kashmiri 
brahmins proclaim their purity and superiority.  However, my 
grandparents would consider them to be quite low in the overall totem 
pole due to their nonvegetarian habits.  Then of course there is that 
great south indian divide - tenkalai, vadakalai, mandyam, hebbar, 
madras etc. that occurs in iyengars alone, let alone the vadama, 
vathima, brihatcharanam groupings in iyers.

Coming to the so called "casteless" societies like the UK and the US, 
I have seen caste proclaimed a lot stronger than I have seen in 
India.  For example, the caste system here is a set of several 
groupings.  An easy one is economic.  For example, do you expect that 
the wealthy new england families would like it if their children 
married into middle class families ? No Way.  How about between 
Whites and Hispanics and Blacks etc. ?  And of course in Good Ole 
England, you have the royals, the uppah class, the lower class that 
speak cockney etc.  Intermarriage among these is more common (it is a 
matter of percentages) but subject to the same societal frowns that 
intercaste marriages are subject to in india (although that is now 
changing).  

The difference between the caste system here and the one in india is 
simply that one is allowed to climb up the economic caste ladder (of 
course the ones based on birth, family etc. are closed just like the 
system in india).  So, stability for society seems to come from 
groupings - what man rebels against is an arbitrary fixed path set at 
birth without regards to the potentials lying unlocked in that child. 
 
Mukund Srinivasan