Sometime in the middle of last year, I had written a controversial blog post on Caste and the Gentleman Class. I had written that post after I had read Gregory Clark’s “A Farewell to Alms”. In that post, I had argued that that the reason India failed to develop a large “gentleman class” was due to our caste system – that given the link between caste and profession, competition for survival happened within castes. To quote myself:
On the same lines, one wonders why this kind of development didnt happen in India, and the answer lies in the caste system. Given the rigid caste system here, it wasn’t possible for people to ‘downshif’t’. Given its tight linkage with profession, what the caste system did was to freeze the proportion of various castes in the total workforce.
Hence, even if the upper caste/class people managed to produce more surviving offspring, these offspring weren’t able to migrate to other ‘lesser’ professions. In other words, the survival of the fittest happened within castes. It was not until much after the industrial revolution and urbanization and the development of modern medicine, that people of different castes started professionallly competing with each other.
In this post, I hope to build upon this earlier theory, and in the process perhaps make it more controversial. The basic idea here is that in the middle ages and perhaps earlier, and definitely later, it was okay in India for a man belonging to a higher class to procreate with a woman belonging to a lower class (ok more controversy here – i am using class and caste interchangably since in those days they were tightly linked) (and the opposite was not permitted. a man could not procreate with a woman belonging to a higher caste).
However, it doesn’t seem likely that the upper class man and the lower class woman would be living together. The upper class man would have a wife of the same class with whom he would live with, while the lower class woman would live in what was called in Tamil Nadu as “chinna veedu” (small house).
Given this kind of arrangement, it is likely that the results of such unions would be brought up by their (lower class) mothers, while they themselves would end up belonging to their father’s class (remember that Indian society has been mostly patriarchal). Culture is not something that you are born with. You pick it up from people with whom you grow up. And thus, these kids of the “chinna veedus” would end up picking the culture and habits of their lower-class mothers.
So what effectively happened in India is a reversal of what happened in Europe. In Europe, since there were no class barriers when it came to competition in professions, people from higher class backgrounds would proliferate in society, thus creating a “gentlemanly” society. In India it was the reverse. It was the case of lower class values percolating into the higher classes. Given the process by which this happened (which I’ve described here), we can call it the Bastardization of Indian Society.