RMF Summary of a Single Discussion on Jati - March 17, 2011

There was an interesting debate on 'Tribe' and 'Caste' in March 2011 that is worth a more detailed summary. This post covers that discussion. Here's the link to the original thread:
Fw: Tribe and caste(jati) .The discussion was initiated by Dr. Vijaya Rajiva as a response to Dr. Koenraad Elst (probably continuing from a discussion earlier in March 2011). Not surprisingly, this is by far among the most vigorously debated issues in the early life of the forum that was devoted to topics covered in the book 'Breaking India'. Topics in this summary cover caste, race, Aryan Invasion Theory (debunked), Untouchability and its origins, birth-based discrimination, etc.

" Tribe and jati are both endogamous, but the jati is
integrated with the shreni (guild) and the tribe is not.
Dear Dr. Elst,
Strictly speaking those Hindus who believe that Hinduism has nothing to do with caste or untouchability are right. There was no untouchability in the Vedic period and the Jati(caste) is related to the development of Shreni (guild), which is a post Vedic phenomenon. How the socio-economic entity the Jati (caste) is related to the later Hindu scriptures is an interesting question and worth some investigation."

This assertion was questioned by a commentator 'Rakesh':
"I think this is a convenient argument, that undermines our credibility. We embrace the post-vedic, non-vedic Bhakti and Yoga, as they are positives. But when some one talks about a negative we run back to vedic times to say we are
spotless on caste. A mature approach would be to accept that Hinduism is not perfect and so what ?"

Rajiv Malhotra noted:
"Chapter 5 of the book [BI] is on Lord Risley's work in the thriving discipline called Race Science in which Europeans were applying Dardins new theory of evolution of species to human races, and colonialists were specially interested in figuring out each of the races being ruled by them. Risley's personal hatred for Indians is well established and his very explicit work on Race Science. His was an ethnologist compiling field data to support these theories. His method consisted of measuring skulls ....

...None of this says anything about Vedic culture being perfect or otherwise. It merely says that these constructs we got used to are Eurocentric and were downloaded as Apps to colonize Indians."

K. Venkat presented a very long and detailed response on an earlier post by Dr. Elst on 'Chandalas'. Only excerpts are included here and the reader is urged to read this in its entirety in the original thread:
"On Tue, Mar 8, 2011 at 4:52 AM, Koenraad Elst wrote:
"Chandella looks like it is derived from the related tribal ethnonyms Gond/Kond/Kandh. So does, probably, Chandâla. Ptolemy mentions the Kandaloi as an Indian tribe. In Wendy Doniger's Manu Smrti translation, Chandâla is given a literal interpretation, "the 'fierce' untouchables", which may well be how Manu himself understood the term."

KV: There is a significant danger in making etymological guesses. Chandela and Chandala need not be, and are not, related in any way. The Chandella Rajputs who flourished towards the end of the first millennium would not have proudly advertised their name had it been associated with chandala. Just to give a counter example, *Chandola* is a surname often used by brahmins in the north. It would be silly to argue that this too is related to chandalas.

The Chandalas are not an untouchable jati ...
...  One must look for asprsya or teenda (Tamil) for untouchability. One does not find them until the 12th century CE.

Race, jati, and tribe are all inter-related. They are all rooted in genetics and that is why one finds unique funerary and wedding rites, culinary customs, and dialect often related with each of these constructs....

...  If you want to find a bone marrow or heart or tissue donor, your highest likelihood of success is within your own jati. All of these underscore the need for a reasonable discussion on jati unconstrained by western prejudices and ignorance... "

... Untouchability is a late entrant into Hindu society. It was the result of colonization. But the single most factor (there are others --- but later on that) that sustained untouchability is the lack of hygiene. As some jatis fell into economic despair as a result of colonial subjugation they also slowly fell into unhygienic ways. In the pre-modern world, Hindus shared common wells for bathing etc so hygiene was paramount. A jati that did not live up to the social
standards of hygiene were treated as untouchables. This ensured that India did not suffer epidemics like Europe did. So, untouchability is not some "upper caste" ploy against "lower castes." It was a natural social defense against

... Sri Narayana Guru, the Ezhava-born Hindu saint, insisted on the need for his followers to remain very hygienic. Ezhavas followed his advice.

I understand the need to let go western constructs on race and caste and support articulating these form the Hindu point of view. My only caution is that we do not throw science out in the process.

Karigar cautions against western 1:1 mapping of Indic categories: 
"I'd submit that the Indic categories (Jaati, Varna, kula, gotra, et al) and Western categories ( race, tribe, 'caste', 'ethnic group') may have certain strong correspondences, that may be, but it is certainly no One-on-One. Much overlaps, & even more does not. The trajectories of Indian civilization/society
have enough uniqueness to warrant this."

N.S shares some interesting empirical/statistical results from genetic studies:
" ... scanning significant chunks of the genome (not just one chromosome) has now become quite affordable and some hobbyists (who are technically well equipped) are doing selective admixture analyses. One such effort (by a hobbyist, Zack Ajmal) is http://www.harappadna.org/ and you can see the results for the first 50 participants (I am #41). Essentially every single person who is Indian (or Bangladeshi and perhaps most Pakistanis), regardless of caste weighs most on the "south-asian" component (which is presumably an amalgamation of ancient south and north indian components going back tens of thousands of years). Every single person who is clearly not Indian (eg. Iranian or Iraqi) does not load much on the southasian component. The nonIndians are easily distinguishable from the Indians (defining an Indian as one with 2 Indian parents)..."

BNA recommends a book:
"Dear SriRam - Your observation is very good.
One must read the book "Journey of Man" by Spencer Wells - A National Geographic research work. This is available in India also and in Amazon. He has studied all races around the world ..."

NS responds to one of BNA's assertions:
"... Hi Bala,
Your characterization of single male line shared by Indians is likely incorrect as are the observation re female lines and relevance of the Puranas reference; there is no reason to restrict ancestry analysis to the Y chromosome (for the male line) or mitochondrial DNA (female line). It is
very tempting to project our current belief systems onto emerging data which really don't need to have any respect for them a priori. That Puranas are a respected and important part of our traditions does not make them an all
purpose oracle.... " 

Seshadri presents a different point of view:
"I cannot understand this preoccupation with genome based identity fixing. Is it eugenics in its modern form. Or scientific Racism. The socalled research methods and sampling strategies and selectivity in assumptions and paradigms - all are intractable.... "

NS responded to Seshadri with:
"...   I do not see how knowing the facts about human evolution as best as current day science allows us is equivalent to endorsing eugenics. The genie is loose and there is no putting it back in the bottle. I think some basic forms of eugenics are universally endorsed by almost every one as when the fetus is scanned for genetic defects. I think it is safe to predict that less than 100 years from now, we'll have all sorts of medical procedures that operate via gene modifications ..."

At this point in the thread, Dr Koenraad Elst commented on the origin of the word 'Arya' leading to five responses. We will summarize this sub-thread before returning to the original topic. Here is the link to the original sub-thread:
" Someone here voiced the widespread opinion that "Arya" only means "noble". I venture to differ.

While the term had no racial ("Nordic") or linguistic ("Indo-European") meaning, it did originally have an ethnic meaning. On this, invasionist linguist JP Mallory and anti-invasionist historian Shrikant Talageri agree. At least, it has a relative ethnic meaning, not designating a particular nation, but being used by several Indo-European nations (viz. Anatolians, Iranians and Paurava Indians) in the sense of "compatriot", "one of us". This term, in India, then evolved to "one who shares the civilizational norms of the Vedic Paurava tribes", "Veda-abiding", "civilized". And thence "noble"."

Rajiv Malhotra added:
"The famous "Four Noble Truths" that define Buddhism are called the Four Arya Truths in the original Sanskrit. Clearly, Buddha did not refer to the truths of a specific race. His further description of what these truths consist of has nothing to do race at all.
Hence, I reject that Arya = race.
Many Sanskrit terms are very contextual in meaning. Hence a literal translation into one normative meaning (a common tendency among Westerners) is reductionist "

N. S. Rajaram spoke about South Indian practices:
"It [Arya] was and still is used by South Indian groups identifying oneself as 'civilized'. Most recently, 'eedigaas' a community traditionally associated with harvesting toddy from palm trees changed their designation to 'arya eedigaas'. Of course Chettiars call themselves Arya Vaishyas. "

Come added:
"Throughout the world, many people if not most have called themselves "the best" in their respective languages (.i.e the Franks, the Ewins, the Heruli in the West, the Han in China etc...) to affirm their distinctiveness and superiority over their neighbours. That can hardly be equated to race..."

Karigar noted:
" As the book clearly sees, & shows it's readers, the "aryan" issue currently is a swampy one where discussions can just get bogged down, as some discussions here are..."

This concludes the summary on the "Arya" subthread and return to the main topic on Tribe/Jati/Caste.
Koenraad Est commented on Israeli genetic studies:
"The one country and community way ahead of everyone else is Israel and the Jews. Genetic data have been used to prove that Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Oriental Jews are biologically much closer related to one another than to
their respective Central/East-European, West-Mediterranean and Arab neighbours. Less conveniently, these also show that the Palestinians are likewise close relatives, and the closest are the Kurds, ...

... In evolutionary psychology, we see the beginnings of a comeback of genetic explanations of caste coupled with IQ. Richard Lynn & Tatu Vanhanen in *IQ and the Wealth of Nations*, Michael H. Hart in *Understanding Human History* and Steve Sailer in his blog have claimed that the average IQ of Indians is quite low, like that of Arabs, higher than Africans but lower than Europeans and much lower than the IQ champions, Ashkenazi Jews and Northeast-Asians(Hitler disliked IQ tests because Jews came out too smart) ..

Chitra responded to Elst:
" Dr. Elst, I do enjoy your posts, even on the occasions when I disagree.  In this case it appears you are describing a line of thinking , not saying that you necessarily buy into it.  Still, this frog would like to briefly share the view from her personal lily-pad.

As the parent of a now young adult daughter with autism, my personal experience confirms the following :
1. Yes, IQ means something. It ranks people on their ability to perform certain tests.  But it is no more an assurance of what people can do with it than having two arms and all one's fingers intact is a guarantee of becoming a future concert pianist.  The human is the most variable variable on the planet -- and each human is affected in turn by the humans surrounding him/her.  Natural endowments can be shaped for the better or worse by values, circumstances, economic hardship, emotional setbacks... " 

Aravindan Neelakandan added:
"'Breaking India', in its Appendix-A, has a comprehensive overview of how consistently attempts were made to fabricate a scientific authenticity to the racial framework that colonial milieu has evolved. It was interesting to see that the Western scholars often with limited data would come out with the
conclusion that the foreign Aryans model has been upheld. But a larger and more detailed study of the population by Indian scholars proved the initial study wrong. But the scientific rebuttal by Indian scholars did not get the same media lime light that the initial limited unscientific study by western scholars...

....Jatis were dynamically moving in and out of the Varna space due to various socio-political, economic reasons...

...The book makes it clear that it is for social justice and affirmative action for the betterment of the marginalized sections of society. It points that the quicker we ease out the faultlines in our society with justice and through democratic means the better.... "

Rina Mukherji comments on the origins of caste-based discrimination (in areas north of South India):
"I do not know much about the dalits of southern India. But there are several experts who believe that discrimination along caste lines arose when Hindus who had converted to Buddhism came back into the Hindu fold. In eastern and northern India, Brahmins who returned back into Hinduism were put to work on funerary rites; and to this day, other Brahmins generally do not intermarry with them..."

Venkat provides some stunning statistics:
"1. The per capita crime rate against the Harijans is one fifteenth the per capita crime rate against non-Harijans. Contrast this with the apartheid prevalent against the blacks in America's churches or with the fact that one in nine black men in the age group of 25-35 is incarcerated

... Elst gave a good example of how genetic data has been used to almost eliminate Tay-Sachs among the Jews... 

.... Aravindan is correct that each jati arose from the original tribal organization but the inference is that this makes jatis biological constructs. His other statement, drawing upon anthropological data, that some of the Harijans may have been priestly jatis who might have fallen due to real or imagined transgressions is well supported by traditions from these own jatis...

... Now to the controversy. It is true that nurture is as important as nature, but it is undeniable that genetics predisposes you with certain aptitudes...

.... Yes, genetic data debunks Aryan invasion circa 1500-1900 BCE. But does it negate or support the possibility of Aryan invasion in an earlier period say 3000 BCE?" 

Aravidan Neelakandan specifically responds to K. Venkat's important question on AIT in an earlier time period:
"Yes. very definitely it does debunk 'Aryan Invasion' hypothesis even if its placed at 3000 or even 5000 BCE. Again I refer to Appendix-A of the book The study I am referring to for this was done in 2009 (published in Nature:)
At the outset the paper seems to support Aryan Invasion model. And in fact a report in Times of India declared that this study supported racial basis of caste and linked it to 2009 session of the UN Human Rights Council at Geneva. However when the authors contacted one of the scientists involved in the project and sought details we were surprised. The ANI (Ancient North Indian) and ASI (Asian South Indian) genetic differences belong to what anthropologists call deep time... "

... Let me quote the words of one of the author of the 'Nature' paper here in full:
"Our paper basically discards Aryan theory...." "

Chitra goes to Venkat's post and questions him on his statement of Hygiene of certain Jatis:
".. Just curious -- is this something you came up with or is there some basis for this line of thinking?  How does one make a sweeping conclusion that a jati AS A WHOLE lacks a sense of hygiene and is therefore justifiably marginalized?
 I ask because I know a fair amount of slobs both female and male who belong to my "caste" and scrupulous neatniks who do not..."

Venkat responds to Chitra with two types of evidence to support his statement:
" There are clear and unmistakeable references on which I made my inference. But one need not even go into literature and epigraphy and instead make observations on the ground. For example, ...

... Now to a few textual references that support my argument:
[references include Manickavasakar, Abbe Dubois, Pawar, and Ziegenbalg]

... I did not say untouchability is justified today. But I would urge every member to look into the causative factors instead of emotionally blaming the so called upper castes. In the past, everyone shared public bathing places etc so hygiene was important. If a jati was not adhering to hygienic standards, its members posed a significant danger to spreading germs and epidemics to others. So, they were avoided.
But I never said lack of hygiene was the only factor. There are clearly other factors that led to the ostracizing of an entire jati...


... <Chitra's followup question> Is it conceivable that a jati that was marginalized for whatever reason and denied full participation in the mainstream would fall into economic difficulties that made the same level of hygiene difficult?

V: Very much yes. For example, the level of hygiene in refugee camps is appalling even though the same jatis had led a very hygienic existence earlier ...
 ... [In response to Chitra summoning Oscar Wilde]
Oscar Wilde summed up the human condition thus:
"All men are born equal -- but some are more equal than others."
V: Oscar Wilde can sometimes be witty but he is plain wrong and ignorant in this case. Bluntly put, all men are not born equal. This is a phony claim. We are all born with varying capabilities. Hinduism teaches that regardless of such differences everyone deserves to be treated with dignity....

... Since we are discussing untouchability here, please show me that it existed in the pre-Islamic period in Hindu society. We cannot sustain pet theories that have no basis in facts. If you look at inscriptions, the Paraiyah jati is a very dominant jati until the 13th century yet subsequently they fall into untouchability under colonial rule. This is why I will expect that those who claim that Hindu society is guilty of discriminating adduce proof for their beliefs... "

Aravindan Neelakandan commented on one of K.Venkat's references:
"I am afraid KV has misinterpreted the statement of Manichavasakar. This is a self-depreciating poetic statement which can not be taken as a proof of a 'report' of 'the head of the Pulaiya being infested with lice. Here is my informal translation of the statement in its context: .."

Aravindan Neelakandan also mentioned:
"Untouchable is a social space. Any community relegated to that space due to socio-political dynamics will naturally become unhygienic. So to argue untouchability is a result of hygienic factors (or even to argue that hygiene is one of the factors leading to untouchability) is a circular argument.

During the course of the research for this book we came across many genuine Dalit leaders who toil for their community. They are well aware of how forces from the West lure their leadership. They have seen their counterparts given air flights and international forums when they become willing partners in the game. Yet they have kept themselves away. But even these Dalit leaders have a strong grievance and doubt against us. To gain their confidence we had to have many sessions of heart to heart talks. We need to look at history and their notions of why they became untouchables from their point of view. We have attempted that in this book [Breaking India] ..."

Venkat further noted:
"... I want to make a clear distinction between jatis that fell into untouchability and jatis that faced the hostility of the rest of Hindu society. Only a very few jatis among the SC have ever been untouchable. Some of the most powerful jatis such as the Mahar were not untouchable but were seen by Hindu society with hostile eyes. One should ask why..."  

The thread ends with a commentator looking for textual references to Venkat's statement on Mahars.


  1. Adding a link to Dr. Koenraad Elst's CRI article that summarizes the 2012 AAR conference in Chicago that addresses related themes (with feedbck from Dr. Aravindan Neelakandan).


  2. More points in direction of Blog

    Aryan-Dravidian Theory of Aryan Invasion and Tamil Separatism is basically flawed and totally bogus

    1. The whole concept is based on Language foundations that Tamil and Sanskrit did not Coexist. Those who spoke Sanskrit were Aryans and Dravidians spoke Tamil in what was called Kumari Kandam or Lemuria

    2. Facts even present today totally deny this basis.

    Agasthiyar is considered father to Tamil language is the author of most revered Mantra Aditya Hridayam

    Agam in Tamil means Inside and Puram means Outside. IN Sanskrit Aham is I and Puram has very close connection to the word "Purana". Read Roots are same

    Agathiyar means in tamil agathiyai iyumbubavan or one who awakens the Inside for Self realisation

    Skanda Guru Kavacham says at 19:41

    அகத்தியர்க்கு தந்து ஆட்கொண்டாய் தமிழகத்தை
    "Skanda took hold of Tamilnadu through Granting of Light and grace to Agasthiyar" , note Skanda according to pure Tamil does nt exist , its a Sanskrit word who is Tamil God.


    2. ViswaMitra , Patanjali , Brihu , Sukar BrammaRishi all these are considered Sanskrit oriented rishis who are classically considered Aryans. Viswamitras Gayathiri mantra finds place in Vedas

    If any one goes to Tamilnadu for Nadi Astrology one can all these Rishis nadis in Tamil, proof that same Patanjali who wrote Yoga Sutras in Sanskrit wrote in his life time Nadis in Tamil.Its same with each of MahaRishis

    His Samadhi is in Rameshwaram. Infact his Yogi Rishi Friend Vyakramapaadhar is together in famous Rameshwaram temple which is supposedly Tamil Saivaite (Read Dravidian)

    Thirumular who is a revered MahaYogi whose best Treatise in tamil is thirumanthiram speaks in detail about the 8 Students including himself and Patanjali about how they received yogic instruction. Thirumanthiram speaks about Gayathri mantra too.Such is the interwining of Tamil and Sankrit.

    ஆரியமும் தமிழும் தந்தான் நந்தி
    Nadhidevar is the Guru of both Patanjali and Thirumular who says Tamil And Sanskrit is given by Nandhi (Siva in the form of a Satguru) - Thirumanthiram
    More info : check http://yogakudil.blogspot.de/p/blog-page_8.html

    Not only that DakshinaMurthis 4 disciples Sanagar , Sanadhanar, Sanathkumarar , Sandhanar who feature in Vedic Upanishads (Read Aryans) are classmates of Patanjali and Thirumular

    Bhogars 7000 speaks about Terms RISHI ரிஷி where Tamil purists considered "Shi" not Tamil at all. This was in the days of Vatta Tamil , rounded tamil centuries before.

    Modern day analysis makes out if one knows Tamil they cannot know Sanskrit and vice versa ie Tamil n Sanskrit being mutually exclusively in the past is totally Wrong.

    It is sad that modern day Sankrit and Tamil scholars have resorted to Which came first and whats divine ? Infact can Sankrit deny that Tamil cme from OM and vice versa ? Thats a debate in a separate thread

    >> We embrace the post-vedic, non-vedic Bhakti and
    >> Yoga, as they are positives. But when some one talks >> about a negative we run back to vedic times to say >> we are spotless on caste. A mature approach would be >> to accept that Hinduism is not perfect and so what ?"

    Vedas is nothing but experience revealed to Yogic practioners. Whole concept of Bhakthi Yoga Gnana Vedas as separate ,post vedic, non vedic is not in line with spirit of Vedas. Degeneration of Vedas as purely grammatical repetetions mechanically is only a form of Mantra Yoga. Nada Brammam Dimension. But there are many dimensions.