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May 15, 2003

India on fire

Suman Palit bemoans the Indianization of America via multiculturalism and its handmaid affirmative action. As Suman points out the Indian government has been attempting to erase the social and historical reality of caste by government fiat for three generations. It has done this with blatant affirmative action that has slowly been devalued as more castes attempt to qualify as "backward." India's anti-caste policies in fact have almost certainly crystallized the socio-cultural structure of 1947 as now there is an incentive for the lower-castes to cling to that status while higher caste groups develop a resentment and no doubt emphasize their own purity to compensate for perceived slights at the hands of the government [1].

But one needs to extend this further and apply Amy Chua's thesis in World On Fire-a globalized India will need affirmative action to maintain some level of social stability. Groups like the Marwaris, Parsis and Banias will take advantage of the world capital markets and leverage their international connections in the Diaspora to attain even higher levels of entrepenurial success. Additionally, other groups, like the Brahmins of southern India, will achieve success by the novel mode of professional advancement through the offshore service sector (from highly paid programmers to more modest jobs such as customer service). To redress the market induced imbalance the Indian government will almost certainly have to placate the lower caste groups with even more government jobs & programs. In the long term one could imagine mobile groups like the Marwaris and Brahmins migrating from Mother India to the West or more pliable Third World nations, sapping South Asia of the productive economic classes that have long given it a modicum of civilization despite its ubiquitous squalor.

Finally there is another option to ease tension between the castes-find a scapegoat. The killings of Muslims in Gujarat are perhaps a prelude to this-for on that issue, all Hindu castes might agree, for though the Dalit is a wretched of the earth, he is still not a Muslim. A close analogy would be the intense racism that the working and lower classes of whites in the American South projected toward the blacks.

[1] The elite is of course always has overseas university slots for its children, those who take the brunt of affirmative action programs are the traditionally less well connected and suffering "middle classes," though these now form the heart of BJP electorate.

Posted by razib at 11:02 PM

With the globalization of capital and labor, the interactions of nationality and class will become tricky. Some nations approach total middle-class status, but they still need some unskilled labor. Others approach total sub-proletarian status, but still need middle-class managers and so on. Within each nation, various relations will be appropriate to the local mix. Seemingly welfare-state and unionization type programs, protecting local labor from the market, would be workable in the mostly-middle-class nations but not the others. What godless was saying, I think). The subproletarian nations would presumably be repressive. Places like India and China would polarize intensely. A lot of this has already happened.

But then, some nations would start slipping into lower brackets while others were surging up, and the turmoil would be pretty intense. Argentina is supposedly a case where this has already happened once (since about 1940). The way people talk, Europe, the US, and Japan are all more fragile than people think. So hold onto your hats. (And incidentally, as my international Jewish buddy tells me -- try to have two passports, and if not that, permanent residency in a second nation.

Posted by: zizka at May 16, 2003 06:21 PM

Ethic strife is very dangerous in biethnic states. Is it that dangerous in a multiethnic state? In multiethnic states, coalitions are unlikely to last long enough to do much damage and middle-income groups will be reluctant to support income redistribution.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at May 18, 2003 12:40 AM