Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 2, 2015

Caste / Color

I watch the dark-skinned girl brush her lustrous hair in a littered
corner of the roof.
Three or four minutes away from the drudgery she was birthed into.
She is the “untouchable” cleaner of toilets for the wealthy Brahmin
family that owns the large apartment across from my boarding
She and a dark-skinned, low-caste boy enter the apartment in the
AM; she cleans the toilets in the two bathrooms then recedes.
The boy cleans the rest of the flat.
They are invisible.

The caste “system” was in place before the Aryans conquered India,
reportedly between 1500-100 BCE.
According to conventional historiography, caste was further refined
by the light-skinned conquerors, much later encouraged by the
British Raj, ignored or apologized for by defenders of the faith,
combatted by the Buddhists who when they governed India
accepted many thousands of low caste and untouchables as
The Buddhists were expelled from India for reasons that included
their antipathy to caste.
Caste defenders charge other religions and cultures with a similar
As if caste and color are transcendent categories instead of cruelly

In the South, below Madras, now Chennai, the Aryans did not enter
in number.
Hence southern Indians, or Dravidians, are dark-skinned, even
Dark as they are, the caste system preceding down from Brahmin to
Kshatrya to Vaishya to Shudra to Dalit, or Untouchable, is in virtually
every instance equivalent to shades of blackness.
The less black, the higher caste.
North of Chennai where nearly everyone is lighter-skinned, the
same sequence applies.
Whiter = higher.

Aurobindo Ghose was born in Calcutta in 1872 to a high-caste
As an insurrectionist fighting the British Raj he was jailed for
sedition, and while in prison gave up his politics and became
By degree as he meditated and attained a “purer” state his skin
When Sri Aurobindo died as a renowned spiritual pandit in 1950 his
skin, initially brown, was as white as Michael Jackson.


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