The Department of Sociology, UGC SAP (Special Assistance Programme) conducted a panel discussion on Caste and Modernity in India on Monday, July 27, at the C.V.Raman auditorium with speakers Prof. Satish Deshpande from the University of Delhi and Prof. Surinder Singh Jodhka, from the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Professor Sasheej Hegde from the Department of Sociology introduced the speakers Satish Deshpande and Surinder Jodhka who have been engaged with researching Caste in India. Professor Hegde stressed on the penetrability of caste in various other dimensions of social life. In his introductory remarks, he spoke about India’s demographic structure which favours the upper caste and class, i.e. non-SC, non-ST, non-OBC groups in terms of the higher educational status, higher level in employment and consequential higher income that they get. Pointing caste as the bedrock of Indian politics, he stated the significant role played by OBCs in caste agitations and caste politics initially which was later taken up by Dalits. The important task that he laid down as the central focus of the talk is to systematically study caste outside the realm of politics in relation to modernity. The sociality of caste and the way it structures the opportunities in the distinctive dimensions external to politics are the areas that sociologists should pay serious attention to in conceptualising topics on caste. Handing over the session to both renowned sociologists, Professor Hegde called upon Satish Deshpande to share his views on the topic at first.
Satish Deshpande started with positioning caste not as a remnant of past, but a contemporary issue. The debate that in face of modernisation or capitalism caste would wither away has been laid to rest. The contemporary understanding marks difference from the previous understanding of caste as a hangover from the past. Relationship between modernity and caste differs according to different caste identities, and it is asymmetrically placed. Hence, expressions of caste from upper and lower castes indicate their differential position vis-à-vis modernity. According to Deshpande, both the expressions of caste in different ways are in contrast to modernity. Both are linked to phenomenon of caste and product of modernity. However, upper caste’s relation with modernity differs from that of lower caste. Due to historical privilege, upper castes are in better position to take advantage of changes that modernity is bringing about and thus pose to give an anti-caste view. Lower caste’s relation with modernity is full of predicament. Modernity on one hand promises to liberate them from caste bondage, but the other reality is that it is a Trojan horse occupied by upper caste. Thus, the complexity of contemporary caste situation lies in the understanding of the two distinctive relations that the upper caste and lower caste have with caste in modernity. The upper caste’s language of modernity is in other way a result out of caste benefits that they historically held. While lower caste in other ways are entrenched in modernity deploying particularistic caste identity which seems contradictory to universalistic ideals of modernity.
Surinder Singh Jodhka focused on caste as a conceptual ideal type to understand inequality and hierarchy in non-Hindi and non-Indian communities. He highlighted the problem with the scholarship on caste, which largely regard caste being specific to Hindu religion. For instance, such has been the impact that after partition caste in scholarships has been specific to India, while the truth is that it is very much their on the other side of border. Caste is to be found within the Sikh, Muslim and Christian communities as well. Using caste as an ideal type could help us unravel historical inequality present and practiced in West. He relied on his extensive empirical research on dalits in North India, particularly Punjab to substantiate the arguments.
Several questions from the audience led to a vibrant debate and discussion flagging off a good start to the new academic year.