Race-Caste origins in Bharat–British Contribution and History
Once the eighteenth-century European scholars had invented ‘Race Science’, colonial administrators were quick to recognize the potential of this emerging field and utilize it as an effective governing tool. Employing imaginary racial categories based on vague Biblical reference points, they imposed these racist categories like signposts on top of the many distinctive regional and linguistic communities in Bharat. These imported classifications led to greater fragmentation and conflicts within the country. Max Muller’s interpretation of Vedic literature in terms of a clash between two racial groups, led him to search for physical features in the Vedas that would identify the groups physically, because all these early western scholars were fascinated with physical appearances to categorize themselves as superior, so they always tried their orthodoxically rotten biases of differentiating people based on their physical outlook onto the Bhartiya people.
Herbert Hope Risley (1851-1911) was a powerful colonial bureaucrat at the Royal Anthropological Institute and developed the Nasal Index based on Max Muller’s speculation. This Nasal Index, much like Phrenology (a process that involves observing and/or feeling the skull to determine an individual’s psychological attributes), became a tool of Race Science in an effort to classify the traits of Bhartiya communities. During the four decades of his stay in Bharat, Risley made an extensive study of Bhartiya communities, based on the Nasal Index. His goal was to separate the Aryan communities from the non-Aryan communities.
His taxonomical classification and massive documentation of Bhartiya Jatis froze the dynamic quality and mobility found in the Jatis system within the varna matrix. Various colonially inspired studies transformed Jatis into racial categories rather than identities based on occupation. The Nasal Index not only separated the Jatis into Aryan and non-Aryan, but it also classified that considered non-Aryan as distinct from mainstream Hindu society. Risley compared the black plantation workers in America with the so-called non-Aryan communities in Bharat. This foreshadows the Afro-Dalit-Dravidian projects of today, which are essentially the expansion of Risley’s project of ethnic fragmentation of Bharat
Building on Max Muller’s Work
Prior to colonialism, the Jatis-varna system in Bharat had little, if anything, to do with race, ethnicity, or genetics. It was better understood as a set of distinctions based on traditional or inherited social status derived from the work role. Jatis is a highly localized and intricately organized social structure. One of the important aspects of Jatis, which was conspicuously overlooked by western Indologists, is its dynamic nature – allowing social mobility as well as occupational diversification. These rural social structures were more horizontally organized than vertically stratified.
The colonial imposition of the hierarchical view, coupled with distortions of Jatis in order to fit their racial biases in every continent, even today we find the incidents of racial discrimination in European countries and in North America, it is still in their conscience. It is the same story repeated in the case of Dowry Deaths and Sati but in a new packet and fancy packaging. Our colonial masters grossly distorted the characteristics of Jatis and greatly amplified its negative features. Max Muller, who was largely responsible for entrenching the racial framework for studying Jatis, had his own evangelical motive.
Max Muller’s interpretation of the Rig Veda claimed that only the first three varnas are Aryan, while the fourth, Shudra, is not Aryan. However, he explicitly admitted that there was no evidence of physical differences between Aryans and non-Aryans in Sanskrit texts. He made only one incidental reference to physical differences – that noses were described differently for different tribes in the Rig Veda. Note that this was his casual observation, but his prejudice was passed on, through others who were eager to do the dirty work openly. One of the common threads throughout the West’s study of Bharat has been the manner in which subsequent scholars pick and choose from someone else’s work, often out of context, and with their own arbitrary assignment of priorities. This is what happened between Max Muller’s writing and its manipulative use by Risley years later.
The young Risley was greatly influenced by the senior and legendary figure of Max Muller. The development of racist theories between these two men was an important step in shaping the future identities of people across Bharat. Publicly, Muller was cautious and wanted to protect his image, so he criticized the use of linguistics for racial profiling. But indirectly and privately, he encouraged it in various ways. For instance, Muller gave the following input in a private letter to Risley, prior to Risley’s census of 1901.
In the same letter, he encouraged Risley by saying that students of ethnology have regarded ‘the skull, as the shell of the brain’ to be an indicator of ‘the spiritual essence of the person. In other words, Max Muller spoke from both sides of his mouth when it came to racial implications of cultural and linguistic factors. This ambiguity was often deliberately nuanced in codified terms, which enabled more blatantly racist men like Risley to proceed further.
Risley’s Race Science
Risley took the casual Vedic nose reference in Muller’s writings and turned it into the centerpiece of his racist ethnology of Bharat. He further distorted Muller’s interpretations of the Rig Veda. Without having any Sanskrit knowledge and relying solely upon Muller’s works, he falsely stated that the Vedas had frequent references to the noses of the people whom the Aryans found in possession of the plains. He commented that nobody who glanced at the Vedas could miss such accounts. He wrote that the Aryans ‘often spoke’ of the noses of the aborigines. This was simply not the case.
Risley became the leading authority on Bhartiya ethnology. His long and powerful tenure in the British civil service in Bharat lent strength to his ideas. His work became institutionalized within the workings of the British Empire. He was appointed the commissioner for Bharat’s census, from where he imposed his taxonomy and racial framework for the Bhartiya people. He created mutually exclusive ethnic categories and using the census assigned them legal significance. In 1910, Risley became president of the Royal Anthropological Institute. To this day, Bhartiya society’s legal framework is Risley’s creation, and his taxonomy of Bhartiya communities dominated today’s caste wars and shapes Bhartiya politics. That’s why we often see politicians, especially those who happen to belong to SCs/STs (only specific sub-castes) that they are the original inhabitants of Bharat, Brahmins came from outside. So, their thought process is coming directly from Risley’s distortion of the already flawed theories of Max Muller. It’s like charring an already charred bread.
Risley adopted the popular Race Science measurement methods used by French experts, according to which physical traits, such as the size of the nose, were a more reliable measure than skin color (note the zeal of finding race differences by all pathetic means). His 1891 ethnographic study of Bengal became the model for similar studies across Bharat. His program measured Bengali heads and noses with calipers in order to establish hierarchies based on physical body dimensions.
Risley’s Nasal Index became the standard in the science of anthropometry for the British classification of Bhartiya people, with data pouring in to compare Dravidians, Santhals, and other communities, based on nose dimensions (how hilarious it is). Risley used his clinical data to pronounce far-reaching conclusions. Besides claiming to validate his two-race theory of Aryan and non-Aryan populations in Bharat, he graded various castes according to the Nasal Index. He wrote: ‘The social position of a caste varies inversely to its Nasal Index’. Using his Nasal Index data, he went even further and classified Jatis as Hindus, and tribes as non-Hindus (beyond any logic). This is how the category of ‘tribes’ became officially institutionalized, the definition of which is still used for legal purposes in Bharat. Tribals are seen as a detached part of Hindu society according to constitutional means and other legal definitions, and the base of all this garbage is Risley’s race science theory. He claimed that different castes were biologically separate races (note the vague assumptions without any substantial proof). These classifications were enforced through the British censuses of Bharat that were carried out every ten years and required every jati to submit its data based on the official classification system of the British.
Colonial Indologists also stretched and distorted Max Muller’s interpretation of varna and used it to mean white/black races, citing the histories of the south of the United States as well as South Africa to claim that the same kind of racial north/south divide existed in Bharat as well. The mapping of Aryan/non-Aryan Bhartiya to white/black in the sense of Western racism was made explicit and decisive. If we would look into the very basic idea of their garbage theories, their genesis comes from the biases that they were practicing back home at that point in time, like the North-South divide in America, White vs Black discrimination. So they tried to extend their form of discrimination and division to Bharat but with customized modifications to make it look localized from discrimination.
Risley Freezes the Castes to strengthen Race Theory
Based on his self-proclamatory research, Bhartiya was classified into seven major races located on a linear scale, with Aryans and Dravidians as the two opposite poles. He also organized ‘social types’ into seven groups. To protect himself, he wrote numerous disclaimers against blatant racism, and against taking things too far. Yet that was precisely what he did and wanted others to do. He claimed that according to his data, ‘the correspondence between the two sets of groupings’, namely, the seven races and the seven social types, was sufficiently close. He thereby concluded that Bhartiya tribes had turned into castes. He described the various tribal types in order of their primitiveness, positioning the Dravidians as the lowest, assigning manual labor as their ‘birth-right’, along with human sacrifices to a goddess. Those tribes that had developed professional specialization became castes, while those that had remained in a limited geographic territory were still classified as tribes. Look how today’s socio-political problems in today’s Bharat link to earlier fancy theories of these colonial Britishers.
In Bharat, the once-glorious Aryans had become contaminated by intermixing with the inferior Dravidians, leading to the caste system. Risley wrote: ‘In Bharat alone were the Aryans brought into close contact with an unequivocally black race’. The conquering ‘men of the dominant race’ have intercourse with the women whom they have captured. But it is ‘out of question’ that the men whom they have conquered should be allowed equal rights in the matter of marriage. So, it is white men having sex with women of color that produces the various inferior offspring races of half-breeds. The motive, in Risley’s perception, was, ‘the antipathy of the higher race for the lower, of the fair-skinned Aryan for the black Dravidian’, which he claimed was actually based verbatim on the Vedas. His caste theory on Bharat helped him clinch the knighthood award from Britain.
As the commissioner of the 1901 census of Bharat. Risley wrote the section on caste, which was published in the highly influential Imperial Gazetteer of India, and became the template for academicians and colonial administrators to do their studies. He decided that Bhartiya’s consisted of 2,378 main castes and tribes (with sub-castes), and 43 races (Races in Bharat? Seriously!). To implement his hierarchy of castes, he decided not to list them in alphabetical order in the census forms, but rather in order of what he considered ‘social preference’ based on his evaluation of ‘native public opinion’(Just like Dharam Chand Bedi’s story to propound a theory of female infanticide by Britishers). Thus, a hierarchy was constructed and made official.
Once his structure got established in the colonial bureaucracy, Risley wanted to distance himself from the racial implications he had set in motion and to blame the whole thing on the peculiarities of the Bhartiya mind. Having created a ridiculously complex and administratively unworkable system, he blamed the Bhartiya for lacking the intellect to apply it. For example, he claimed that India’s negative condition had been the reason for not understanding themselves and implementing corrective measures.
Risley translated the dharma of various Jatis as ‘race sentiments’ (you will find race most often in their theories all the time) and made it his ambition to scientifically prove that a comparatively pure ‘Aryan type’ existed in Northern India. His obsession with noses caught on with other colonial administrators. It is interesting to note that Risley used American slavery as his frame to project the interaction of Aryan invaders with the native Dravidians, calling it ‘the same way some planters in America behaved to the African slaves, whom they imported’. He explained that this racial interaction ‘formed the ultimate basis of caste’. Same logic they tried to extend here as well. First by creating a divide and then widening it with their false and self-imagined theories based on some false understanding or fiction. That’s why other than Hindus, anything that happens to any group of people, western media, and their mouthpieces here, start whining about discrimination that has been blatant in Bharat for centuries and all. They love when something happen to Dalits and Minorities but not the other-way round
Such fancy cartoons start to flood social media and newspapers around any incident, to show the cooked despicable situation of Minorities and Dalits at the hands of Brahmin controlled system with a Hindu baniya exploiting them.
Ambedkar Demolishes Nasal Index Racism
Dr. Ambedkar (1891-1956), a Dalit leader who was also the architect of the Bhartiya Constitution, was a historian and scholar of ancient Bhartiya society. After studying the voluminous Nasal Index data of various castes across Bharat that had been published by anthropologists, he came to a striking conclusion using Risley’s data to disprove his thesis:
The measurements establish that the Brahmin and the Untouchables belong to the same race. From this, it follows that if Brahmins are Aryans, the Untouchables are also Aryans. If the Brahmins are Dravidians the Untouchables are also Dravidians. If the Brahmins are Nagas, the Untouchables are also Nagas. Such being the facts, the theory must be said to be based on false foundations.