Sunday, April 30, 2023

Colonialism made what caste is today (Dirks, 2001).

Colonialism made what caste is today (Dirks, 2001). 

Nicholas B. Dirks is an American academic and the former Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. Dirks is the author of numerous books on South Asian history and culture, primarily concerned with the impact of British colonial rule. In June 2020, Dirks was named president and CEO of The New York Academy of Sciences. Dirks is the author of numerous books on South Asian history and culture, primarily concerned with the impact of British colonial rule. His most famous works include The Hollow Crown: Ethnohistory of an Indian Kingdom (1987), Castes of Mind (2001), and The Scandal of Empire (2006). In these works, Dirks advanced the research on how British rule shaped the culture of the Indian subcontinent and how Britain became influenced by its colonies.

Dirks suggests that caste, as we know it today, is not, in fact, some unchanged survival of ancient India, not some single system that reflects a core civilization value, not an essential expression of Indian tradition. Instead, Dirks argues the caste (again, as we know it today) is a modern phenomenon, i.e., caste is, specifically, the product of a historical encounter between India's British colonial rule. It does not imply that caste was invented by the too clever British. Now credited with so many imperial patents, a colonial critique has turned into another form of imperial adulation. However, Dirks suggests that it was under British colonialism, caste" became a single term capable of expressing, organizing, and above all "systematizing" India's diverse form of social identity, community, and organization. Such a situation was achieved through an identifiable (if contested) ideological canon resulting from a concrete encounter with colonial modernity during 200 years of British domination. In short, Dirks argues, colonialism made caste what it is today. British colonial rule produced the conditions that made possible the caste as the central symbol of Indian society.

By the time of British rule in India, starting from around the 17 century to 1947, the caste system expanded into some 3000 different castes. The caste system, although it underwent significant changes thought this period but never effectively eradicated. The first effect that the British had on the caste system was to strengthen rather than undermine it, for the British gave the Brahmans back certain special privileges which under Muslim had been withdrawn from them. On the other hand, the British legislators disagreed that the lower-caste members should receive greater punishment than members for committing the same offense.

Under British colonial rule, the untouchables and low-caste improvement of their social standings. For instance, with wealth and education, they could pass as members of higher castes from some distant area. The strict restrictions on social contacts became harder to enforce as members of different castes mingled increasing. The new educated and affluent middle class in the cities mixed socially with people based on their financial position and class, not caste. Under colonial rule, wealth and education determine a person's Social status, not caste.

British colonial period made caste organization a central mechanism of administration, In this period, Jati was the basis of caste ethnology. In the 1881 census and after that, colonial ethnographers used caste (Jati) headings to count and classify people. The 1881 census included 60 sub-groups, each subdivided into six occupational and racial categories, and the number increased in subsequent censuses. The colonial-era census caste tables ranked, standardized and cross-referenced Jati list for Indians on principles like zoology and botanical classifications, aiming to establish who was superior to whom under their supposed purity and occupational origins, and collective moral worth. The colonial officials used the census determined Jatis to decide which people were qualified for Jobs in the British Indian colonial government, and group of people Jatis were excluded as unreliable. These census caste classifications were also used by colonial officials over the late 19th and early 20th century to formulate land tax rates as well as to frequently target some social groups "criminal" castes and castes prone to"rebellion". The British colonial government in India enacted the Criminal Tribe Act (1871).  This law declared that all those who belonged to certain castes were born with criminal tendencies.

In conclusion, Nicholas B. Dirks has argued that Indian caste as we know it today is a "modern phenomenon'" as caste was fundamentally transformed by British colonial rule. Before colonial rule, caste affiliation was quite loose and fluid, but colonial rule enforced caste affiliation rigorously constructed a stricter hierarchy than existed previously, with some castes being criminalized and others being given preferential treatment.

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