Race, Religion, and Caste: Anthropological and Sociological Perspectives

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Media Archive, Religion, Social Science on 2012-04-16 18:15Z by Steven

Race, Religion, and Caste: Anthropological and Sociological Perspectives

Comparative Sociology
Volume 1, Issue 2 (2002)
pages 115-126
DOI: 10.1163/156913302100418457

T. K. Oommen, Professsor Emeritus
Jawaharlal Nehru University

Although race as a biological concept has no validity, racism persists. In spite of the fact that caste is a social construct caste discrimination continues. To understand the reason for this one must trace the career of these concepts. The biological category of race subsequently came to have linguistic/philological, ethnological/cultural and political/national connotations giving birth to Nazism and fascism. Similarly, caste carried a racial connotation in that its social construction can be traced to the Hindu Doctrine of Creation as Varna implied colour. Further, both orientalist scholars and Hindu nationalists used caste and race, race and nation and even religion and race interchangeably. The divide between the fair-skinned upper caste Aryan Hindus and the dark-skinned lower caste Dravidian Hindus also implied racial differences. Therefore, the mechanical insistence on semantic purity of race and caste would adversely affect one’s comprehension of the nature of empirical reality in South Asia. While the tendency to equate caste and race in a neat and tidy vein is not sustainable, it is more difficult to eradicate caste discrimination as compared with racism not only because the two share several common characteristics, but also because caste discrimination is sanctioned by religion. Finally, it is important to remember that perceptions people hold about social reality are equally important as social fact, in successfully tackling social problems.

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