Looking at Indian economy from the caste angle…

A hard hitting interview of Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd who has faced serious criticism and threats recently.

In mid September, members of the Arya Vysya community in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh began holding protests against the work of the academic and writer Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd. The community, which is also referred to as Kommatis, and is understood to be an upper-caste Vaishya group, had taken grave offence to the contents of a short Telugu-language book, Samajika Smugglerlu: Kommatullu, or “Social Smugglers: Kommatis.” The Telugu book is an adapted extract from Shepherd’s book Post-Hindu India, which was published in 2009. Samijika Smugglerlu argues that the Baniya community—often referred to as Vaishya, the term from which the Arya Vysyas derive their name—has maintained a monopoly over business in India, and excluded Shudra, Dalit and Bahujan groups from the benefits of capital growth in the country.

In the introduction to Post-Hindu India, Shepherd writes that the book covers “Dalit-Bahujan cultural, scientific and economic knowledge systems, analyses their overall relationships with each other and also with the Hindu religion as a spiritual system.” In addition to the chapter on the Vaishya community, the book contains individual chapters on various communities residing in India, and, based on their traditional occupations and knowledge system, analyses the development of the Indian economic system. It theorises that the Hindu religion’s failure to reckon with the evils of caste oppression will lead to its demise. (An extract can be read here.)

The protests against Shepherd’s writings were vigourous—in one instance, nearly 200 demonstrators from the Arya Vysya community reportedly ambushed the professor’s car while he was on his way to Hyderabad from Telangana, and threw stones and chappals at it. Others burnt effigies of him; distributed his pictures to be used as doormats; and called for a ban on his book. Shepherd subsequently lodged a complaint with the Osmania University police station in Hyderabad, alleging that he had received threatening calls from members of Arya Vysya organisations.

On 18 September, TG Venkatesh, a member of parliament from the Telegu Desam Party, held a press conference. Venkatesh, an Arya Vysya himself, said that Shepherd was a “traitor” who deserved to be “hanged.” In an interview to the news channel TV9, Venkatesh added that “people who comment like Ilaiah should be hanged by making changes to law.

In the interview he makes the same case of Brahmin-Baniya nexus which he had made in the past as well.

This lens of economic analysis in India is something one is clueless about but wants to understand deeply. The caste and community cleavages remain deep despite years of reforms and development. It still continues to simmer but most of us just ignore these while studying mainstream economics…


3 Responses to “Looking at Indian economy from the caste angle…”

  1. Prabhu Guptara Says:

    Thanks for this post.

    It seems to me that we have “capitalist economists” in India, we have “socialist economists”, and we have “Marxist economists”.

    However, we have very few Indian economists. That is, those who try to understand the Indian economy in terms of Indian realities.

    Ilaiah is one of those few.

    His concept of “social smuggling” is key to understanding the history of Indian economics.

    Also the current status of the Indian economy.

    All economists (whether capitalist, socialist or Marxist) will do well to take the concept seriously and integrate that into their respective views of economic analysis.

    And actually not only in relation to India.

    • Amol Agrawal Says:

      I am glad you liked the post. Yes these aspects of Indian economy are not taught anywhere but key to figuring. The modes of production and distribution have been in hands of few for ages now and they seem to be running the show even until today. You are right this is not just in India. The western world suffers from it too but does not talk about it as well..

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    Looking at Indian economy from the caste angle… | Mostly Economics

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