India set for a 'bleeding revolution', says caste expert

New Delhi, Sep 22 - Indian political parties might be falling over each other and tripping across ideological lines to woo different castes for their votes, but caste configurations are undergoing such dramatic changes that tested political ploys might not work any more.

M.N. Srinivas, renowned Indian sociologist and an authority on castes, said the country will see a "bleeding revolution," not a bloody revolution like in France and Russia, as the empowered castes assert their rights gradually, step by step.

>He termed the ongoing caste conflicts in many states as "creative bloodshed" out of which new hierarchical orders will emerge. It will be a step-by-step revolution because universal adult franchise has given lower castes the right which they have used to assert their clout.

Government affirmative action, which is a continuation of various social and religious reforms and anti-hierarchy movements that started way back in 1850 or even earlier, laid the foundation for the overhaul of the system, Srinivas, who has done pioneering work in caste structures, said in a lecture here.

"Caste as a system is dead, but paradoxically caste combinations or individual castes are thriving," Srinivas, who is also visiting orofessor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore, said.

"The entire architecture of Indian villages will have to be drastically changed or rebuilt keeping in mind the de-empowerment of the lower castes and the overall changing caste equations," Srinivas said.

The archictecture of Indian villages is based on hierarchical structures and traditional occupations -- castes were initially determined on the basis of occupation -- which no longer hold good as the link between such jobs and castes have been snapped. Hence about 600,000 villages have to be rebuilt, according to Srinivas.

The onset of the modern system has upset the traditional jobs that village craftsmen were involved in. As an example Srinivas pointed out that even village washermen were now forced to start using detergents and soaps, changing the very way they worked.

The whole lot of traditional occupations in villages will crumble as a result of rising prosperity in villages, Srinivas said. The new class of entrepreneurs will emerge and even the number of cattle owners will be reduced considerably, he said.

The renowned author said the Green Revolution in agriculture in the 1960s, which changed the entire face of rural India, also destroyed traditional modes of occupation in "one stroke". Suicides by farmers, which has increased of late, is one of the negative aspects of the Green Revolution, he said.


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