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Is ‘Caste’ different from social stratification? Does data support the ‘caste violence’ narrative?

Is caste different from Social Stratification?

The book ‘Western Foundations of the Caste System,’ by S.N. Balagangadhara seeks to answer the question:

“How is caste different from other forms of social stratification? Are there any societies in the world where there is no social conflict?”

A four-part summary of this book, delineates that the ‘caste system’ could not have arisen at the same time all across the Indic region 3500 years ago. Similarly, it is impossible for it to have originated at different places and converged to take one uniform form. It could however have emerged at some place at some time, but then how did it spread to all nooks and corners?

At the time it is supposed to have spread, 4000 years ago, the distances across the region would be considered vast and different languages were in use across different parts. For it to be uniformly practised across the length and breadth of the region would mean that there was a central political or administrative system which would impose it all over. It is known that this was not the case, which disproves what ‘caste scholars’ assert.

Properties ascribed to the caste system, the book states, such as hierarchy, purity-pollution, endogamy, occupational communities and such properties are common to ‘several human social systems across the globe and continue to be produced in multiple social settings (even within India itself), that do not seem to have anything to do with the caste system.’

Also, one cannot assert that there is a relationship between the caste system and social conflict, ‘when no consensus exists in relation to the properties of the caste system, to say whether conflict is a property or a consequence of the caste system, let alone examine which property of the caste system leads to the consequence of social conflict.’

All across the globe other societies and cultures have had their own forms of segmentation and stratification systems which will be described in detail in another part of this series.

 ‘Caste atrocities’ and ‘caste violence’ data compilation and analysis issues

The book summary also highlights how the manner in which data is generated and analyzed to prove caste oppression is replete with lacunae and fallacies:

  • Caste scholars use data of government bodies like the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which publishes annual reports on crime that contain separate chapters on caste atrocities. Since 1995, this agency publishes a separate table on the ‘Incidence, Rate and percentage contribution to All India of crimes committed against SCs. While the NCRB collects data under 10 categories, the cases registered under special acts are those committed by a non-SC person against an SC person. “It is disconcerting that scholars and ‘social activists’ ignore basic rules of statistical analysis to fit the data into their theories. For instance, the data about general crime against SCs/Schedule Tribes (STs) does not document the caste of the perpetrator.
  • Caste studies also make it a point to club together various categories of crimes against SCs, perhaps in an attempt to present an exaggerated picture. “Caste studies now include the total crime against SCs as well as those lodged under the so-called Special Laws: Protection of Civil Rights Act (PCR) and Prevention of Atrocities Act (PoA) as caste atrocities, without much scholarly justification for such a move. But one may minimally infer from this strategy that these scholars consider all kinds of crime against a specific ‘lower caste’ group as a valid indicator of ‘caste atrocities’ against that group.”
  • The NCRB data is based on complaints or ‘first information reports’ (FIRs) prepared by the police when they receive information about a ‘cognisable offence’ from either the victim or by someone representing the victim. Thus, the NCRB data for the total crimes against SCs, save the ones recorded under special laws, does not decide whether an offence is a ‘caste offence’ or not. It is simply a record of a crime committed against an SC person.  In the whole majority of the ‘crime against SCs’, excluding those recorded under PoA, therefore, the perpetrator could well be a lower caste person. Yet, there is sweeping away of this fundamental consideration in puffing up the figures.
  • For 2011 data, even when the figures clubbed together (as described above) were used for comparison with non-SC groups, it was found that SCs face a lower incidence of crime as compared to the rest of the caste groups:

“According to the NCRB annual crime reports, the total number of ‘Incidence against Scheduled Castes [SCs]’ in India during 2011 was 33,719. … To get another perspective, one may juxtapose the 33,719 cases with the two other figures provided by the NCRB:

There were 6,252,729 cognisable crimes reported in total for the year 2011 in India. This implies that the total number of reported crimes against the SCs in 2011 was about 0.53% of the total reported crimes in India in 2011.

In 2011, the SCs comprise about 16.6% of the total population of India. If 16.6% of the population faces 0.53% of the total criminal incidents in India, the remaining 83.4% faces 99.47% of the rest of the criminal incidence. Hence, on average, every percentage of non-SC population faces roughly 1.19% of the incidence of crime, while every percentage of the SC population faces about 0.04% of the crime. If measuring crime against a group is a reliable measure for atrocities against the group, then can we not conclude that SCs face fewer atrocities than the rest of the population?”

  • Analysis done even after assuming under-reporting of crimes against SCs and therefore increasing figures for these crimes 1.5 fold of those reported, still reveals that SCs face fewer crimes than the rest of the caste groups.

“Even if we accept one scholar’s statement that ‘the number of unregistered cases of atrocities might range between one and one and a half times that of the registered cases’, the total number of crimes against the SCs, say, in 2011 would not be more than 1.32% (0.53 × 2.5 = 1.32),  of the total incidence of crime. This would still not put the rate of crimes against SCs at anywhere close to what the rest of the population faces. To bring the 0.04% (percentage of crime per percentage of SC population) closer to the figure 1.19% (percentage of crime per percentage of non-SC population), we must increase it by about 30 times.”

  • Analysis of data also does not support the postulation that crimes against so-called lower castes are constantly increasing:

“In 2013, 39408 cases of cognizable crimes committed against SCs in India equates to a crime rate of 19.57 incidences per one lakh of SC population. Though the number of crimes has increased from 32996 in 1995 to 33501 in 2001 and to 39408 in 2013, the rate has substantially declined – from 23.24 in 1995 to 20.14 in 2001 and further to 19.57 in 2013. “

  • For comparison of ‘caste violence’ across castes, data on different caste groups is required but is not available

“One also needs to show that crime against other castes or communities is significantly less than that faced by the SCs. Yet, there is no data available today for this. The NCRB reports provide separate data only about the SC and ST communities and no other caste communities. Given this scenario, they simply cannot tell us anything that is statistically significant about ‘caste violence’. “

  • The conclusion that can be drawn is:

“These crimes, though not statistically significant, may be harmful and heinous, meriting serious attention. Without looking at the numbers, scholars and NGOs surprisingly claim with unanimity that caste violence is extremely widespread and that the lower castes face greater violence in Indian society than any other groups. Where is the data that shows this to be the case?”

(First part of this series deconstructing ‘caste’ can be read here)

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