gail omvedt

for no particular reason, excerpts from some essays by gail omvedt that i had always liked:
However, one of the most important sociologists on caste, Louis Dumont, comes out of the Durkheimian school with its emphasis on the role of religion and values as binding and defining forces in society. Dumont's major work, Homo Hierarchus, takes caste in India as a unique system, intimately connected with Hinduism. He views it as the supreme example in the world of the recognition of hierarchy as a fact of social life, and in its shifting levels and logics of purity/pollution, encompassing/encompassed, the extreme purity of the Brahmans at the top requires as its antithesis the extreme pollution of the Untouchable at the bottom. In insisting on this core role of Hinduism in defining caste, Dumont in fact has much in common with Ambedkar.

It also has to be noted that in spite of his insistence on the uniqueness of caste in India, in spite of his refutations of those sociologists who attempted to analyse ``caste'' and ``race'' as inherently similar stratification systems, Durkheim does have much to say on their comparability, and as a sociologist he accepts comparison as a crucial goal. ``Racism represents a contradictory resurgence in egalitarian society of what finds direct expression as hierarchy in caste society,'' he writes (Homo Hierarchus, p. 214). In other words, caste is justified by the inherent values of Indian society; racial discrimination, in contrast, is against modern values of equality of all human beings and so is justified by assuming the oppressed are not quite human. It is an important insight, shared by almost all sociologists. Even anthropologists such as Gerald Berreman, who analyse caste and racial systems as similar, mention this point of legitimation as a distinguishing feature.
from Caste, race and sociologists- 1.
However, Indians may well ask: what is after all the relevance of these studies of caste in pre-British or ``traditional'' India? Hasn't it changed significantly today? Weber, Marx, Dumont also, of course, believed that caste was changing, with Marx taking the strongest position that it would crumble under the impact of industrialisation. Dumont, however, also emphasised change and even gave a theorisation of it: in modern India, caste was becoming ``substantialised'', that is, caste groups were organising as large blocs - for instance, all the Yadavas in a given State, or an even wider territory - mobilising to confront other large caste blocs. Dumont argued that such a transformation of caste into ethnic- like groups represented a fundamental shift from hierarchy, a change in the system itself.

But how fundamental is it? The idea of the innumerable jatis in hierarchies being transformed into ethnic-like blocs seems to fit much experience (the caste-based ``voting blocs'' of politics), but are these really competing on a non-hierarchical basis? Have these larger caste blocs (Yadavas as a group, Brahmans as a group, Pariahs as a group, etc.) really changed their places in a hierarchy, or moved into a position sufficient to say that a hierarchy no longer exists? Or is there still a broad correlation between economic position and caste status? Is inter-marriage occurring at a significant enough rate to really transform the system? Have the equalitarian policies of the Indian state - as Srinivas and Beteille argued over 30 years ago for the prestigious journal Scientific American - joined with the forces of industrialisation wrought a fundamental change in caste traditions? Or are Dalits right in claiming that their oppression and exploitation is as bitter as ever?
from Caste, race and sociologists- 2.
The purpose here is certainly not to celebrate capitalism, and the new forms of wage slavery replacing the old. But nor is it to demonise them or suggest that the process can or should be avoided. It is to recognise what was new and transformative in capitalist relations of production. Marx's view of capitalism was not so simple as that propagated by some of his followers in India. He never saw it as an unmitigated evil, to be resisted at all costs. Indeed, if it came to a choice between capitalism and feudalism, or between advanced and backward capitalism, there is no question where he stood. Marx was a proponent not of maintaining old forms of production, whether idealised feudal villages or ``subsistence'' production; he was unalterably an Enlightenment proponent of that much-scorned word, ``progress'' - or what we today call ``development''. He saw it with open eyes, as costly, often destructive, but he hailed the creativeness in this destruction.

Behind this lay his view of the human being as a creature of tremendous potential development, a creator of productive forces and intellectual achievements. History itself, with all its tumult, unevenness, exploitation and even misery, was basically a process of increasing these capacities. The famous ``growth of the productive forces'' which to him lay at the basis of change, was in fact the growth of the forces of human beings itself; technology represented human capacities. Capitalism was the final stage of class society and laid the basis for socialism in two ways - first by creating the productive forces, the technology that could produce a truly wealthy existence, and second by creating the human beings, the ``proletariat'', who could manage this technology. The very term ``destructive'' in Marx often carries a revolutionary connotation, destructive of the confining, narrow, stagnation of backwardness. Capitalism was thus a necessary stage through which humanity must pass, to be undertaken as rapidly as possible and with as little cost as possible.
from Marx and globalisation.
In reality, the choice between mindless developmentalism and eco- romanticism is a false one. The alternatives are meaningless by themselves. The government-promoted irrigation projects are highly centralised not only in production but also in distribution: they tend to concentrate the water provided in privileged areas that would become green islands of development in an ongoing sea of drought. The rainwater harvesting schemes, on the other hand, in spite of their value, are insufficient by themselves in areas of really low rainfall - and there is also the danger that effective water-harvesting in areas of higher elevation can cut off water to rivers which might otherwise carry it to lower areas. Both extremes take apparently opposite attitudes towards the state, yet there is a commonality - one would simply let the state go on building irrigation projects as its experts have decided, and the other would have the state do nothing at all and give all responsibility to the localities. Neither involves a project of people joining together from diverse backgrounds and over a wide area to try to influence state policy, formulating and struggling for an alternative plan.

Such an effort, though, is being made in the Krishna basin districts of southern Maharashtra. Here, using experience from such struggles as that for the Bali Raja dam and the Takari scheme, and building as well on movements of dam evictees, a new alternative which seeks to provide a ``walk on two legs'' solution to drought is coming up.
from Drought-proofing.
Ravidas had written:

"The regal realm with the sorrowless name
they call it Queen City, a place with no pain,
no taxes or cares, none owns property there,
no wrongdoing, worry, terror, or torture.
Oh my brother, I've come to take it as my own,
my distant home, where everything is right.
They do this or that, they walk where they wish,
they stroll through fabled palaces unchallenged.
Oh, says Ravidas, a tanner now set free,
those who walk beside me are my friends."

This expressed both "class" and "caste" utopias — no taxes or property, and the right of even the lowest toilers to walk freely everywhere, so important for those classified as Untouchables and relegated to live and work away from the main areas of a city. Within the context of a Brahman-dominated medieval order, this was a dream. The coming of a new industrial society and the rise of science and technology should have made possible a life of prosperity for allsuch bold dreams could have shaped a new national society in India. But this did not happen. Industrialism, science and rationality came to India as an appendage to colonial rule. By the end of the 19th century, the early openness of the British became closed, and racist ideologies began to pervade their rule.

The discovery of a relationship between Sanskrit and European languages led to the formation of the "Aryan theory" — which expressed on the one hand a racial kinship between Europeans and high-caste Indians, and on the other hand defined the Shudras, Dalits and Adivasis as descendents of more primitive, dark-skinned indigenous peoples. The Indian elite accepted this racist interpretation readily enough: they were Aryans, the noble ones, possessors of ancient religious scriptures and high philosophical knowledge. Theirs was a spiritual heritage; the low castes could be seen as subordinate parts of this, incorporated within a hierarchy of "Hinduism" which possessed a unique social system that could incorporate inferior elements without destroying them. Varnashrama dharma was thus given a new justification. All the elite "reform" organisations of the 19th century — the Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj — proclaimed this acceptance of Vedic-Brahman hegemony within Hinduism in their very names.
from What went wrong?

No comments:

Add to Technorati Favorites