Caste in Stone: The dirty little secret you ought to know

The ethnic conflict in the North and East has quite understandably drawn much attention away from many of the other social evils which perpetuate in this country. While there is still much activism against drug abuse, pedophilia and domestic violence, a field trip to Hambantota sometime back, revealed to me a stark reality which I still struggle to cope with.

The caste system of Sri Lanka is thought by many to be a bygone of the past. However, it occurred to me that the system, rather than ‘no longer existing’, is now merely ‘swept under our carpets’.

My assignment in Hambantota related to evaluating an NGO which worked with beneficiaries at the grass root level. The work, as is observed in many grass root level organizations, was admirable and sincere, and in most cases changed the lives of the beneficiaries. The anti-NGO sentiment we all consider as the general consensus amongst rural folk is in my experience almost non-existent. This sentiment is rather a product of the local administration which struggles to cope with the needs of poverty stricken families, and resents the dependency placed on these organizations. However, as the assignment took me deeper into the inner workings of this support system, I observed a tiny anomaly. There were cases of mysterious discrimination which were not on ethnic or religious lines.

Due to professional commitments, I cannot publish the details of the account. However, it was revealed to me that this discrimination was based purely on the caste to which individuals belonged. Such was the extent of this underground system, that the organizations that worked in these areas were forced to work within caste lines in order to reach their beneficiaries.

This is how it worked: the Government Agent is usually of a particular caste and has “obligations” towards assisting his own caste members. The local grass root level NGOs are usually desperate to gain access to beneficiaries and for this they need the cooperation of the local authorities. The GA then directs the NGOs to his own caste constituency, thereby ensuring the development of his own caste, a noble maneuver, no doubt. And finally, since the NGO’s mandate does not relate to the eradication of the caste system but rather deals purely with poverty alleviation, the organization reinforces the system by working through it.

Many foreign donor organizations are seemingly unaware of this system. However, the manner in which one must address this issue remains uncertain. On the one hand, we all agree that the archaic and notorious caste system is completely contrary to the concept of universal human rights. But on the other hand, we must cope with the issue of whether some good work is better than none.

Thank you for reading.


~ by Archangel on May 16, 2007.

63 Responses to “Caste in Stone: The dirty little secret you ought to know”

  1. I don’t think the caste system can ever be abolished or worked around. Of course we may substitute the word ‘caste’ with ‘class’, or ‘family background’ or ‘economic status’, but the reality that birthright determines the lot of people with limited mobility available to high achievers within that system continues even in so called egalitarian societies. There’s no way around it. One might argue that a way out is perhaps to ensure a firm legal framework whereby individual rights including second and third generation rights are protected and ensured. But wouldn’t such a system of rights merely streamline and make efficient the perpetuation of the structures that gave rise to ‘discrimination’ in the first place?

    I put it to you that it is the application of ‘caste’ based discrimination within what should be a ‘class’ based society that you find abhorrent ADD. Class based discrimination happens all the time. The Colombo National Hospital and the Colombo schools receive the kind of money that the rural authorities will never see. That’s why Royal is a good school and Rukmani Devi MMV isn’t. And it’s not just a rural-urban thing. Royal Col 7 gets millions more than Susumaramaya Borella. Is this a problem that ‘you struggle to cope with?’

  2. I didn’t know the caste system was still around.

    Niran, the difference as i see it is that class is something you belong to but you still have a chance to get out of it. Caste is completely decided by your ancestors. I still doubt it really exists in today’s day and age.
    But if what archangel says is true, there’s a big difference in giving money to schools and helping poor communities.
    The poor people in hambannthota that we are talking about are all in the same boat. So it is completely unfair that the help should go only to some poor people based on their caste.
    But someone should check on how true this story is coz i have my doubts.

  3. Sprinter, I don’t know where you are from, but a passing interest in local level or third tier politics in SL will make you realise that caste based politics dominates that level, if not regional and national politics. That being the case, I’d be surprised that aid distribution that involves local government authorities can ever avoid the factoring in of caste based discrimination. Caste is not around in certain Colombo circles. It’s flourishing elsewhere.Caste does exist today. To suggest that it does not nothing but a ‘bimboesque’ ignorance of reality.

    Also, within the caste system there existed a fair degree of social mobility. The castes within the castes facilitated this wealth or merit based mobility. As an example, within the Govi or Vellalah caste, you would find sub castes wherein people were relatively free to move around in the course of a generation or two. Also, the feudal system permitted one to get out of one’e caste through luck or by catching the eye of the elite classes. Caste was largely determined by profession and locality, so there were always those who were smart enough to find a way out of their caste. Just like there are now smart people who are smart enough to break the shackles of poverty.

  4. Do you know that one eight of the citizens of the USA ;ive under the poverty line? 37 million people in the U and SA living in poverty!

  5. The Caste system is very much a reality in Sri Lanka. It is a system which though inherently discriminatory, can only be damaging if subscribed to by persons and institutions who are powerful enough to have a significant negative/positive impact on people.

    For example, the caste system cannot be begrudged if plays a role in ‘proposed marriages’ or ‘whose shop your mother sends you to buy bread from’. However, if it results in ‘who is given a boat by Oxfam’ or ‘who gets on the samurdhi list’ then there is an obvious issue which must be addressed.

    What we often forget is that the caste system is indeed a ‘system’. Like any system it has its flaws and its strongpoints, but at the end of the day, it is a system which brought about some degree of social order.

    Democracy too is a system – and our founding fathers and their British uncles did not consider the impact of imposing one system onto the territory of another system, instead of replacing it. ie – democracy and all its institutions of ‘constitutionalism’, ‘executive power’, ‘the legislature and judiciary’, ‘discretion of public authorities’ etc was established without first doing away with the caste system.

    It is impossible to expect the two to operate parallely, withut causing substantial damage to eachother and even more damage to their subjects along the way. Consequently, the caste system has been pushed underground. the democratic system has been corrupted through caste based voting and aid giving!and the general public (as usual) have suffered the brunt of all this madness.

    whilst i see no solution to this problem, all those holding public authority and power (be they State Authorities or NGOs) must be judged solely by democratic standards. Hence our constitutionally protected right to equality as well as many public law standards (ultra vires, legitimate expectations etc) kick in to the protection of the people. the people must naturally be aware, that they do have such entitlements, and it is their right to insist on them.

    for this to happen ofcourse, many things must fall into place – education, empowerment, transprency etc. and ofcourse, we all know that none of these will… if NGOs and Governments did indeed create a perfect world, they would all become redundant and end up on Samurdhi!!! and no amount of blogging will convince even the noblest among them that thats a good place to end up in.

  6. I think you’ve hit jackpot ADD. The interplay between caste and class, caste and democracy etc is beginning to emerge on this thread. I’ve been trying to think through how the dynamics play out and it produces a veritable goldmine of issues. Very fascinating.

    Simiththi, isn’t it possible to say that since the liberal democratic political tradition together with the free and open market that we have inherited from the West creates systems and categories based on class, those then clash with the existing categories based on caste?

  7. Ok. If this is all true we have a serious problem. Not because the caste system is still present but because the people don’t know about it or don’t want to talk about it. I thought this was settled during my grandparent’s era. But looks like more than one person thinks it’s still around. Anyone has any articles or statistics on the matter? I don’t mind learning more and thinking about this before commenting again.

  8. Why is this so hard to believe. Remember caste is in our blood. People still check your caste background even when it comes to finding a suitable partner. I can tell you that happens from personal experience. But ngos are supposed to stand up for many things including justice and equality. Its disturbing to think that ngos also stick to caste rules.

  9. Hush, do you think there’s a problem with NGO’s working within class structures in modern society?

  10. ADD are you low caste? is this why you attacking?
    sumithriarachchi the british could not stop the caste system because the y could not have controlled locals properly without letting it be.
    niran this ngo help problem is unfortunate result of the caaste difference. but these are needed. are you saying you dont see difference in person from upper caste to lower?

  11. caste exists for a reason, bitches.

  12. I certainly see that you are from the upper caste milinda. or should I call you sir…

    fortunately, nature/god doesnt give a hang about caste when distributing brains. see above comment for case in point.

    Niran, I dont fully agree with your opinion that the systems we have inherited result in a clash between caste and class. caste and class are often synonimous in sri lanka (whilst on other occassions they are obviously not!) the problem i raised, which i reiterate, is that the caste system is less damaging when all it does is influence the personal lives of citizens through marriage, business partnership etc. it becomes far more dangerous when it is reflected in the actions and decisions of powerful institutions moulded in the democratic tradition (including NGOs.) this is when the interplay between democracy and caste becomes destructive and discriminatory, and no milinda, this cannot be treated as merely an ‘unfortunate result of the caaste difference.’

  13. Dear Mr. Simiththiarachchi, out of humble curiousity Disco asks whether you have conducted a survey on the caste origins of your trishaw students at the TTC in Homagama. If not, Disco thinks you should. It would be quite instructive!

    Niran, re your question to Hush: are you implying that NGOs should donate to the rich? 😛

    Disco isn’t so much perturbed by the caste system as he is by the dependency culture that permeates the lower economic strata.

  14. Is it mere coincidence that all the defenders of the caste system (on this blog) have come across as being inarticulate, simplistic,irrational, abusive and unintelligent? please someone rectify this situation?

  15. Presuming that the defenders of the caste system are exemplars of it, one must bear in mind that certain castes had a great deal of inbreeding going on…

  16. Simiththi, of course class and caste may sometimes clash, and may sometimes reinforce the other. The broader point I was making was that whereas under the caste system we has one factor upon which people were discriminated, now we have two. The caste based discriminatory system is perpetuated through cultural practices and the class based discriminatory practices are perpetuated through the liberal democratic tradition and the free market. By ‘clash’ I meant that those who subscribe to the one category of discrimination MAY find discrimination based on the other category offensive or difficult to understand.

    Disco, why would you think that I implied so ridiculous an idea that NGO’s should donate to the rich?

    In the pursuit of clarity, I think the class system is just as offensive and objectionable as the caste system. Sadly, human progress seems to be only possible when the less powerful are discriminated against? But is this genuine progress??

  17. Reading through some of the other blogs this morning, i realized when people start blogging about blogging, may be we should all look to another past time. But thankfully the present blog offers some satisfaction to the reader that his time is not wasted.
    Firstly this discrimination by NGO’s is nothing new to me. Though i have virtually no experience in this sector, i witnessed it first hand when the company i work for distributed tsunami aid with the assistance of a certain well reputed NGO. I was very disappointed to see the favouratism and corruption.
    But i have a different point to make.
    We all automatically assume that belonging to a caste is a bad thing. Caste has become a dirty word. But this is only if you believe in a hierarchical system. Caste is merely extended family. It gives you a sense of belonging which in a closely knit society such as ours, is very important. True, it can hinder social mobility, but this is only if you believe there is no dignity in lower paying jobs. Whether you are govigama, karaa, kumbal, rodhi or radhala there is dignity in what you are and where you belong. The reason people dislike the idea of a caste system is mainly because certain castes claim to be superior to other castes. This is not true always. And this is merely the way historians tell the story. All members of all castes performed a important role in society. So everyone is equal in dignity. True, some castes serve others. But there is equal dignity in serving and ruling. The reason people wanted to do away with the caste system was because they couldn’t accept it that you can be of a caste that traditionally fish for a living and still be perfectly happy. So they took away the caste system as if to say fishing is a job with a lower amount of dignity. Happiness is not measured by your wealth. I recently discovered i’m from a fisher folk background and i am new proud of this. I have equal dignity to all others. So i conclude by saying that we must not hate the caste system but rather those who misuse it to discriminate.

  18. Pradeep, thanks for your point. I don’t think the intention of this particular blog post was to criticise the caste system per se. (ADD correct me if i’m wrong) but now that you have brought this up, isn’t the fundemantal problem of the caste system, the fact that it is redundant in terms of the practical role it plays in society? Karawa’s are no longer strictly fishermen, and govigamas are no longer strictly farmers. therefore the caste based boxing of people doesnt serve the practical purpose it once did. and all that is left of the system, is the hierarchy, discrimination and social imobility.

    I do not believe in a hierarchical system – which is why caste has become a dirty word. And yes people do use it to discriminate – which is why it has become an even dirtier word. This is our reality.

    Niran, thanks for your clarification. I agree with your point, i was making a different one though, and i would appreciate your feedback on it.

    Disco – dependancy culture? lets save that for ADDs next? (if he obliges that is) and no I have not conducted a survey – i’ve been wasting all my free time blogging!!!

  19. Actually niran, i just reread your comment. If you read my previous comments carefully, you would see that my point is that it is no longer cultural practice alone which perpetuate caste based discrimination (because i feel that this is not such a large problem in our society). democratic institutions do so as well, and this is a more dangerous phenomenon. you seem to suggest a mutual exclusivity as “The caste based discriminatory system is perpetuated through cultural practices and the class based discriminatory practices are perpetuated through the liberal democratic tradition and the free market.”

    my point is that there is a more complex relation and an overlap, which must be taken into account.

  20. But don’t you understand, caste is also about your heritage. It is also about your history. If you want to do away with your caste, we can also do away with race. We must be proud of our ancestors. If you say that it is useless to talk about caste because people do different jobs now, then i say what’s the problem if remember our backgrounds? Are you ashamed to say your ancestors used to fish while you are now a accountant? I’m not ashamed. In conclusion i must say I think there is dignity in every job, whether you are a fisherman or a accountant.

  21. Point taken Pradeep. I am not for a moment suggesting that we ‘do away with our castes’. I am merely suggesting (and I am getting sick of reiterating this in different ways!) that when caste is taken into account for things that caste was never meant to be taken into account, then we have a problem.

    Unfortunately, now that there is no practical reason for taking caste into account (because from a job perspective, your future boss shouldnt really give a shit if your ancestors fished or farmed) the issue of caste often comes up in a negative light, when it becomes an invisible criteria upon which public decisions are made (as pointed out in ADDs initial post). and this violates our constitutional rights.

    we must know our history and value our heritage, but if we let it impact on anothers present or future, then there is a problem.

  22. caste is there to stop people like you and me mingling. i believe in the deep truth of caste and i believe in its cleaning effect. there are superior castes and inferior casts and no amount of whitewashing will block the deep truths. unlike money, caste differences show the real quality of peoeple. it is not only a matter of heritage and upbringing but of blue blood. and it’s not there only in ceylon but all over the world. highest caste people like my family are on the same plane as the blue bloods of europe. only trashy places like america and down under doesn’t believe in it and look at their socieities.

  23. I would like to make it clear that I do not share the above views. This the the main reason people dislike the caste system. It is because of fools like this that try to make themselves appear bigger than everyone else that our heritage is being trampled.
    Caste is not about telling who is better. It is about belonging to a family of persons and taking pride from your roots. Do not let this fool mislead you. I am for caste but not like this.

  24. Kulaveda, what is your name? Where are you from? What caste do you belong to? And can you send us you family tree so that we know that you’re not some untouchable using the anonymity of the blogosphere to masquerade as an higher caster .

  25. I think Kuladeva is right. I concede to your superior knowledge on the matter. After all, your shit is clean and your farts dont smell right? and the queen of england has dined with you and the descendants of the tsars right? I am privileged to be able to talk to you direcly like this, and am humbled by your gracing this low caste blog and intermingling with us minions.

    thank you sir. thank you for the cleaning effect you have had on us!

  26. i don’t need validation from you all to be correct in what i say. whehter you agree or not i do not care. who i am i have hinted and if you do not undrstand you only confirm my opinions about low caste people. i am here to tell you that caste is a needed system for social purity even today. you can’t say you believe in caste just becuase it tells you who your relatives were because that’s only possible if castes dont mix and that means you believe in purity. either you believe in caste or not, and even if you do not it is still there. i have come to teach you from the wisdom of my ancestors. it gives me no pleasure to be here and i will not stay here very long but i teach you out of duty.

  27. Kulaveda, what is your name? Where are you from? What caste do you belong to? And can you send us you family tree so that we know that you’re not some untouchable using the anonymity of the blogosphere to masquerade as a higher caster

  28. i do not need to answer questions of lower caste buffoons. who are you to ask me? what is YOUR name? what is YOUR caste? learn your place.

  29. I apologize for the slightly late entry into this debate.

    Simiththi, thank you for that important comment. Yes, I completely agree that while it is tolerable that people have preferences and even prejudices when it comes to issues such as marriage, we cannot tolerate the caste system spilling over into our democratic institutions and civil society. It is a contradiction in terms to permit such a system to perpetuate within mechanisms allegedly founded upon justice and equality.

    Niran, I think your point on the correlation between caste and class is a valid one. However, class is not determined by ancestry alone and though it is still unjustifiable to discriminate on the basis of class, there is still some room within competing classes for upward social mobility. Caste on the other hand has no socio-economic validity. My observations in Hambantota related to two caste falling within the same socio-economic bracket and therefore possessed the same socio-economic needs. Thus the discrimination included absolutely no reasonable classification.

    Pradeep, I find your views to be sincere. However, I must disagree with you. We do not need caste to tell us where we are from or what our dignified ancestors did. If that is all caste really means to you, then you are one in a thousand others who think otherwise. Caste for many is a tool to assert unfounded superiority. It is contrary to the notion that everyone is essentially born equal. I’m afraid Kulaveda holds the majority opinion amongst those who still prefer the caste system.

    Please consider my final question in relation to the role of NGOs:
    “On the one hand, we all agree that the archaic and notorious caste system is completely contrary to the concept of universal human rights. But on the other hand, we must cope with the issue of whether some good work is better than none.”

    Thank you for reading.

  30. Kulaveda, my name is placed under each of my comments. My suspicions are confirmed- your writing style betrays your lower stock. Can’t hide these things no? Ahaththin azhahu muhaththil theriyum.

    ADD, I think my second comment on this thread deals with the mobility that existed within the caste system. I must note however that with the advent of the class system, the caste divisions have become solidified and caste mobility has disappeared. As long as the institution of poverty and class prevails, the mobility of some outstanding individuals does nothing to make the system any better.

    Simiththi, you agree with me but still parrot out the platitudes of liberal democracy that sustains an immoral, unfair class system.

  31. superiority of castes is written in history. and if you like to know what caste your family is from then you accept this history. and you should because that was a glorius history. nothing kept up social stability like caste, only because lower castes were kept in place by there betters. when all perform there duty then the society benefits. think it is like a big farm and you will see that just as you do not get the pig to do the work of the farmer there are higher castes and lower casts. some lead and others follow and it has always been that. i come to teach you this from the wisdom of my ancestors, so learn. and if niran can not answer my arguments there is no point talking with him. ungaluku enna theriyum alagai patti?

  32. I’m sorry that all of you are so close minded. But i accept that i may be wrong. But certain things mean different things to different people. And caste is thought of in a positive light by me. Kulaveda, i think you need help. You belong in a different era. Don’t think people are beneath you. One day you might have to serve tea to a person from a lower caste. Would you like that unless you believe in your heart that there is equal dignity in all jobs? The world has changed.

  33. I read on the caste system. Now i’m convinced that there’s no need for it at all! It’s just a way of controlling people and we should fight to get rid of every last drop of it.
    I think it’s justified in th shortrun for ngos to work within the caste system coz orgs have to reach the people first to educate them against the system. The same question can be asked of humanitarian orgs that work in guerilla held territory. Access to the people is very important. So yeah, we have to compromise in certain cases.

  34. I think Kulaveda is Mervyn Silva!

    welcome aboard sir!

  35. Niran, stop trying to make this a debate about liberal democracy and class. I am not parroting out platitutes to liberal democracy, i am only too well aware of its many failings. All i am saying is that when you burden it with the caste system atop of everything else, the scope for discrimination is just greater. In my book, that is not a platitude, it is merely streamlining ones thought to focus on the issue a hand.

  36. Mervyn, hows dutugemunu doing?

  37. Kulaveda, enakku karaivanukku vida alahai patri theriyum.How was the outing last night? How big was the catch? Enough to feed the family?

    Simiththi, this is about the hypocrisy of critiquing the caste system while accepting its successor wholeheartedly.

  38. niran you surprise me. I guess we’d be guilty of the same hypocrisy if we focused our arguments on one particular blog to human rights violations by the government, without going into equal detail about LTTE violations? actually, isnt that the standard defense of our govt. whenever criticised? ‘what about the LTTE’ they say!

    i am not endorsing class based discrimination. neither am i simplistic enough to lable it the ‘successor’ of caste based discrimination. it can’t quite be the successor and operate simultaneously with caste can it? in fact, that is the crux of my point, which i have rearticulated many times above (and seemingly to no avail!)

    KulaMervyn, hows the sword? got any low-caste filth with it?

  39. Disco has been very busy of late and hasn’t had time to give deep thought to this, so he apologises in advance if some of what he says reiterates what has gone before…

    Niran, do you truly believe that the present class system is not much better than the caste system? Disco doesn’t want to sound like a parroter of liberal democratic values (after all, anarchy is close to his heart), but class seems a far better arrangement than caste, though still flawed.

    Liberal democracy and a free economy give rise to a system of classes. But a strong social framework within such a system enables the poverty stricken masses to access the basic tools they need in order to better their lot. Social mobility is far, far higher in the present class system than it ever was under the caste system, and that is its saving grace. The real question is, can you posit anything better?

    Furthermore, Disco feels it is not enough to look at the caste system in purely economic terms. Kulaveda is a perfect example of the greater social issues that caste creates, and Disco feels that one should stamp out the system root and branch, rather than cast a benign eye on its seemingly acceptable aspects.

    Pradeeps ‘dignity’ defence has been an age old justification of the caste system, and like most facile justifications, it has helped prop up iniquity. The untouchable temple sweeper and the Brahmin priest may have been considered equal in dignity in a spaced out spiritual sense, but in practical terms the amount the former suffered in a caste-ridden society is impossible to equate with the latter.

  40. Don’t be a naughty chap Simiththi. This is not the same as apportioning the blame to parties in a complex ethnic conflict. In any case the LTTE have not signed any HR treaties last time I checked and receive no aid from foreign governments because they sign on to every possible HR treaty the world manages to draw up.

    Class can be the successor to caste even though there is significant overlap. Come on Simiththi, you’re debating now. Who’s being simplistic? These are social mores, not sovereign rulers. The predecessor doesn’t go into exile as soon as the successor emerges.

  41. Dear ADD,everyone,

    If you had a choice, would you rather be of a lower caste, or of a higher caste?

    Be honest, and no politically correct bull please.

  42. Also, to answer Archangel’s last question: Disco thinks that NGOs working within caste lines will only exacerbate the problems the people in those areas face. Unless it is a matter of urgent necessity, as in the aftermath of the tsunami, NGOs should steer clear from perpetuating these divisions. It will teach the people a good lesson about modernity, and, in a perfect world, it may even teach them to be less dependent on handouts. Of course, in a perfect world, there would be no need for NGOs to begin with.

  43. Sinhalese castes are merely sub-ethnic groups that are not hierarchically arranged as is the case in India. All castes think they are superior. There aren’t any low castes or outcast groups. I don’t see any reason why it should be viewed in a negative light.

    Angel, what made you think that these poor rural peasants would have any anti-NGO sentiments amongst them. These miserable beggars live on NGOs and Samurdhi. They are not interested in politics outside the sphere of their immediate concerns. NGO bashing is limited to the suburban middle classes that are not even remotely dependent on NGOs or state welfare.

  44. Disco, I don’t think the class system is a better arrangement than the caste system. Contrary to popular perception, there was a great deal of social mobility within the caste, at least when it was operational and was predicated on profession and locality. But let me assume without conceding that the individual has more mobility within the class system. The point would be that it perpetuates structures that depend on people being at the bottom rung. Even if individuals can move around relatively freely, the bottom rung still has to be chock a block. Does it really matter that individuals can escape, when the reality of what they escape from remains untouched for others.

    JM, I don’t know what the caste system is like in the land of Oz mate, but around here, the caste system, amongst Tamils and Singhalese is a nice little hierarchical arrangement. In 1911, the higher caste Sinhalese voted in the Vellalah Pon Ramanathan to the Legislative Council over the lower caste Sinhala candidate because they preferred a high caste Tamil to a low caste Sinhala. Little wonder given that the upper castes on the hill country Sinhalese were in fact Tamils and even signed their names as late as 1815 in the Tamil language. The point is that the Tamil caste system and the Sinhala caste system are pretty much the same.

  45. Ranil, if the caste system were in place today in Disco’s circles, he’d want to be a high caste bugger. No one willingly wants to be crapped on, unless they’re really kinky in a scatalogical way. The higher up the tree you are, the less chance of that happening.

    Niran, Disco was hoping you would articulate the point that you just did, because it begs the question whether you could have any system, bar socialism, that doesn’t have a bottom rung. And we all know that socialism has a tendency to fail spectacularly. Can society ever exist as anything but a pyramid?

    As for individuals escaping: it matters a hell of a lot, because without that hope, the foundations of society may shake. You say that America has 37 million poor. The reason we hear so little about them, and the reason they don’t embrace destructive socialist tendencies, is because of the American Dream. As hackneyed as the phrase is, it points to an essential social carrot: work hard, and you have a chance to be better. Even if this is an illusion, it is a necessary one.

    On a related point, economists have found that despite a four-fold increase in real income through the generations, people are rarely happier than their great-grandparents. Economic happiness seems to come more easily to those who succeed in moving away from the social strata they were born in, and in almost all cases, wealth-linked happiness is comparative. If the entire society becomes richer by the same amount, you’ll feel no happier. But if you become richer than the next bugger, whoop de doo. Sad, and cynical, but true.

  46. Disco, I’m not advocating an alternative. We may have to put up with discrimination. I acknowledged as much in my earlier comments.

    Also, the argument that the chance of escaping the lowest rung matters may make the class system more sustainable. However, this does not provide a defense in the light of the fact that the challenge is with regards to the equity of the system, not its sustainability. If we want a system of discrimination that can dupe the people in to believing its all good for everybody, we may have reached the final solution.

  47. Niran, that may be true for 1911 but not anymore. The lower castes and Radala have disappeared into obscurity, leaving Govigama, Karawa, Durawa and a few others behind. None of these castes think they are lower than the others. The reason that the hierarchical caste system still exists in India is because it’s a part of their religion and culture. Not so among the Sinhalese, all of them being Buddhists and Christians. The negative aspects of the Indian caste system are not applicable to modern Sri Lanka. Castes here are nothing but broad sub-ethnic groups within the Sinhalese and should be treated as such. The Tamil caste system is still similar to the Indian one though.

  48. The caste system among Tamils is just as unimportant or important as it is to Sinhalese. It’s brought up for marriage and such things but social and economic life is largely arranged on class. In rural Tamil villages, just like in rural Sinhala villages that have seen less modernity, caste plays a relatively more important role. The systems are the same, the degree of importance attached to the system depends on a variety of factors, but race is not one of them.

  49. Niran – I never drew a parallel to apportioning the blame in the ethnic conflict. In my mind (HR treaties or not) both the LTTE and Govt. must take that blame squarely on their shoulders… and we should shoulder a bit of it for not making a big enough racket.

    I merely used an example of how it is useful (and necessary) to be able to stick within the framework of your argument – and any issues you fail to touch on as a result, do not make you hypocrytical.

    I am not a defender of the class system by any stretch of the imagination.

    Disco – whilst social structure must be pyramidical, the pyramid must be as broad and short as possible. democratic institutions and social welfare attempt (in theory at least) to lessen the steepness of the social pyramid. that is why we have labour laws, constitutional rights and social welfare (be it free education and health or economic assistance). the success/development of a society is judged not by its economic prowess, but by how shallow the pyramid is. this is why common consensus is that scandinavia is a better place to live in than the USA. (I hope you appreciate that there are many other factors, which i am not touching upon as they are not relavant – so niran, my not mentioning crime and happiness doesnt make me a hypocryt.)

    Ranil – What’s your point? would you have rather been a black or white in apartheid south africa? would your answer reflect in anyway your personal opinion on the justness of the system?

    KulaMervyn – I miss you… please grace us with a few more hallowed comments?

  50. Simiththi, you’re being a tad too simplistic. The LTTE-GoSL blame game analogy does not apply because in that case you can’t judge the two parties by the same yardstick. They have widely differing human rights obligations. with the caste class problem, since you’re comparing two systems that regulate social and political conduct, you have to apply the same yardstick.

  51. I hope you realize that you are debating on what to debate about. Kinda like blogging about blogging…or is that a poor analogy…?

  52. Niran, i’m dumbfounded! are you really this thick???!!!! ok may be the ethnic conflict touches too touchy a nerve… let me pose you another analogy.

    so we are talking about air pollution. we do not discuss water pollution, not because it is less of a problem, or because we are hypocrits who have vested interests in water pollutants and therefore ignore the subject. we are simply intelligent enough to set the boundaries of our conversation and stick to them.

    In this instance, i admit that the discussion has taken a natural turn to include class as well, which is why my subsequent comments reflected that. but at the time of our initial contention, this was not so.

    even right now, we simply talk about class and caste based discrimination. are we hypocrits for not making any mention of ethnic, religious or political discrimination?

    come on niran. you can do better…

  53. Hey Simiththi, take the three wheeler out, go to the neighbourhood pharmacy and get yourself a chill pill. Let me post the comment I made that got your panties in a tangle,

    “Simiththi, this is about the hypocrisy of critiquing the caste system while accepting its successor wholeheartedly.”

    If you don’t accept the class system wholeheartedly, the hypocrite tag does not apply. Oh, have a glass of cool water after you swallow the pill.

  54. i’ve missed so much haven’t i?!? sorry. been busy lately. oooo…caste system…how evil! hahahahahaha
    i think i’m “govi” or sumthing. who cares nymo??? well i think sum ppl seem to! nyway, i found it terrible that ngo’s r usin this system to giv out aid. but i think u shud try to understand why that is. may b they hav no choice…if wut ADD is saying is not exaggerated (btw, i think he has a tendency… 😉 ) …then may be the government officials pretty much say “my way or the highway” to the ngo guys.. so they hav to work wt them. its not the ngo’s fault but the gov dude who isnt being fair by the ppl.
    nyway, guys quit arguing abt stupid stuff and get wt the program already…
    can’t we just talk abt caste 1st and then the class thing later?? huh, niran? sheesh…why’d u go hav 2 change the topic? u always seem 2 change things a bit 2 suit arguin abt wut u know more abt. nyway…i’m not criticizing…just that i noticed…and i might be wrong. nyway i agree wt ares.

  55. The case for the caste system in the current context, at first blush, seems grossly misconceived. However, a deeper insight would definitively reveal, such system as an outgrowth of the instinctive inclination to categorize. Whatever vantage point used to scrutinize the system, in turn we seek to mount another category to do so.In your instance, the enlightened city folk over the heathen

  56. my my, niran gets personal… and abusive!!! naughty naughty!

    actually your comment which initially got me going was:

    “Simiththi, you agree with me but still parrot out the platitudes of liberal democracy that sustains an immoral, unfair class system.”

    for starters, my agreement with you was a qualified one – you failed to appreciate that! actually, come to think of it, you fail to appreciate many of the subtelties of this argument. Kulaveda rubbing off on you? (please take the time to reread our respective posts ok? and then take more time to absorb them.)

    talking about hypocrisy though… i must say that you’ve let yourself down in your tangent agaisnt me – whats with the classist threewheeler references niran? (and dont say they weren’t) i find them amusing, especially coming from you – self proclaimed defender of the lower classes!

  57. Simiththi, due apologies for the panties in a tangle reference and the chill pill reference if they had the effect of hurting your feelings. I hurt with you.

    I’m happy you have no problem with actual reference to hypocrisy, given that you seek not to engage it. The point remains that you agreed largely with my critique of the class system, and then went on to support the very structures that sustains it. Yours sir, is not a problem of hypocrisy, it is a problem of inconsistency.

    I was just referring to what I though would be your chose mode of transport. Given that that car I have access to is languishing in the garage, and bus is my chosen mode of transport, I feel quite envious of you actually. 🙂

  58. My dear Niran,

    I see this turning into a battle of the egos’. so I concede, as you clearly have the larger one.

    one final point though, I never supported any structure that sustains the class system. I just chose not to critique it from a ‘class’ perspective, since I was focusing on caste. you clearly have a problem of making assumptions and conclusions regarding the arguments of others, based on how best you feel you can counter them. do not be delusional sir!

    there is a bus which travels to Narahenpitiya via Polhengoda. So I invite you to take it and join me for a drink at the Government Servants Club. Perhaps we could bring some closure to our debate there.

    ADD, I think its time for a new post.

  59. Battle of egos? Chill simiththi. Not everyone takes these blog arguments so seriously…

  60. seriously enough to want the last word though… come on then, go ahead and have it!

  61. 🙂

  62. i am not mervyn silva whoever that is. anyway i am not going to be here any longer. i have dirtied myself enough by talking to inferiors. caste is caste and that is it. you can all suck on eggs. enta nerathai weenudika vendaam.

  63. Karavas aren’t Sinhalese. Un okkoma maranava.

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