Sacerdotal Violence and the Caste System: The Long Shadow of Christian-Orientalism
27 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2019
Date Written: January 18, 2019
The caste system is one of the most prominent global images of Indian culture and society. However, given multiple accounts and ideas of the nature of the caste system it seems there is no coherent theory of caste out there. And yet the picture of the caste system is regularly projected both within India and abroad. The reiteration of the caste system reinforces the impression that there is some stability to the idea. This article examines one such invocation of the caste system in the context of the enactment of the Equality Act 2010 in the United Kingdom, which contains the first provision on caste discrimination in the legislation of any Western country. It argues that the caste legislation instantiates a much larger Christian-Orientalist episteme that exercises its disciplinary power against which every academic work on caste must measure up. After an examination of the debates with respect to caste during the passage of the Equality Act 2010, the article explores just how it is that, even though we appear to lack a coherent idea of the nature of the Indian caste system, we can continue to talk about its existence. It is proposed that behind the descriptions of the caste system lies the idea of sacerdotal or priestly violence as a constitutive force, and that this background idea, which finds its source in Christian theological reflections on Indian culture and society, continues to inform and lend stability to accounts of the caste system. As such, the caste system fails to provide a ‘true’ description of Indian culture and society. Seen on a broader canvass, this article contributes to the discussion on how problems of Orientalism and colonial consciousness continue to affect discussion and law-making in the contemporary world.
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