[INDOLOGY] Fwd: [pmarc] Erasing Caste: The Battle Over California Textbooks and Caste Apartheid / Huffington Post

Michael Slouber Michael.Slouber at wwu.edu
Thu May 5 23:01:32 UTC 2016

This NY Times article is helpful for actually including a photo of some of the material used in the textbook.  It is hard to evaluate this divisive issue without knowing the facts of what the textbooks say.

In the photo we see a varna-pyramid modified to include untouchables and labeled as “Early India’s Social System.”  I wonder when the authors had in mind for “early India.”  During much of the so-called "Vedic age" when the varna system held the most currency, much of the subcontinent was non-Aryan and so not under such a system.  Several subsequent empires, like the Mauryans, were mostly ruled by non-Hindus of obscure caste origins.  This fact alone makes one suspect the stock claim that the text says below this chart: “A caste dictates what job you will have, whom you can marry, and with whom you can socialize.”  In my view, this sort of introduction to the caste system is simply reproducing Brahminical views of their own superiority based on a shallow reading of a small body of orthodox Sanskrit texts.

I certainly wouldn’t approve of many of the suggested changed to these textbooks, but I sympathize with the idea that sections should be consistent in their critiques of social and gender hierarchies in various civilizations.  India had and has degrading aspects that should not be ignored, but then again so did and do various other civilizations and religions.  In my teaching, I make my students reflect on social and gender inequalities in the United States (something I find most of them are not used to doing) as we encounter such issues in our studies of India.

Michael Slouber
Assistant Professor of South Asia
Department of Liberal Studies
Western Washington University

On २०१६ मे ५, at १:१७ अपराह्न, Matthew Kapstein <mkapstei at uchicago.edu<mailto:mkapstei at uchicago.edu>> wrote:

The debate has now made it into the New York Times as well:


Matthew Kapstein
Directeur d'études,
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes

Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies,
The University of Chicago

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