The intellectual elite ... my ass

Caste, social networking and Orkut. What a wonderful world

Published September 27, 2006 6:01PM (EDT)

On Google's social networking service, Orkut, Indians are organizing themselves by caste. (Thanks to DesiPundit for the tip.) There are hundreds, maybe thousands of groups devoted to every caste, subcaste and sub-sub-caste that exists in India's phenomenally splintered and complex caste system. If, like a typical liberal, you are made uncomfortable by the implicit inequities of caste divisions, then scrolling through the Orkut groups can be a discouraging experience.

"We Agarwals are the people who rule the Business in India, very soon we shall rule over the world too," reads the introduction to one such group. "The whole & soul purpose of this community is to gather all the Brahmins scattered along the Globe & to provide them a common platform to make them re-emerge again as the Leaders of India. This community will help Brahmins to empower them by regaining their lost glory by providing whatever help possible," reads another.

At the same time, distressing as it may be to some, there is nothing surprising about this. It's just yet more proof that cyberspace is hardly a transformative medium. What it's really good at is duplicating, in bits and bytes and packets, exactly the divisions that cut through the offline world.

Which means, naturally, that for every Brahmin group devoted to recovering lost glory, there's a Dalit group aimed at smashing the oppressive system that keeps "untouchables" down. And scores of additional "communities" --"Against the caste system," "I hate caste," "I hate caste and religion" -- that provide gathering places for anti-caste system sentiment.

(But don't dwell too long pondering the twisted irony of a moderator of a Dalit group declaring "I will ban U" to any members of another caste that might try to join her group. Exclusion up and down the hierarchy!)

What to think of it all, besides just the sheer fascination? I'll content myself with a shout out to my favorite discovery, the community "Caste my ass," which illustrates itself with a picture of a donkey, and where one discussion thread begins with a link to a self-congratulatory Brahmin thread and adds the pithy commentary: "The intellectual elite ... my ass."

There you go: that's my caste: "The intellectual elite ... my ass." And you're all welcome to join.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Globalization How The World Works India