A Critique of the Hindu Council Report 'Caste in India' by Gail Omvedt

 Caste in India

* This article was written as a reply to a document on “Caste in India” issued by the Hindu Council of the UK, which was itself a response to Dalit organizing globally as well as nationally.  The issues it deals with are very general, and I have attempted to give a full alternative account.  Those interested in the Hindu Council’s document may download it from the Hindu Council UK's website.  I owe thanks to Michael Witzel [Wales Professor of Sanskrit Studies at Harvard - Editor] for his help  in note citing Vedic references on caste and his careful reading of an earlier version of this essay - Gail Omvedt


The author of this critique Gail Omvedt is a world famous scholar of Dalit Studies. She has also been very supportive of Dalit issues globally. [Editor].


            The essay submitted by the Hindu Council of the United Kingdom on “Caste in India” contains no surprises.   It seeks to justify and legitimate the continuation of the caste system.  It argues that in its origin the caste system was a way of maintaining a harmonious and integrated society, that it was not by birth but by “merit”, and that today it functions as something like a “club” in which likeminded people can associate freely with one another.  Caste, according to the Hindu Council,  took on its severe and birth-related qualities only during the medieval period in India, when a wave of invasions, mostly by Muslims (though the report mentions at first the Kushans), forced a retreat into a defensive form of integration.  It has not been stagnant, and is in the process of being reformed today.   The Report concludes by saying that “Historically, varnashram has enabled Hindu civilisation to survive repeated invasions.  It has made Indian society stronger….Today it has outlived its usefulness.”

Does this mean it should be destroyed?  Not according to the Hindu Council:

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