(Written in November 2003)
M V Nadkarni's recent article "Is Caste System Intrinsic to Hinduism?: Demolishing a Myth", (EPW, November 8, 2003) comes as a follow-up to his earlier article "Ethics and Relevance of Conversions: A Critical Assessment of Religious and Social Dimensions in a Gandhian Perspective" (Januay 18). Both articles show the fundamental stamp of Hindutva ideology, primary of which is shoddy methodology, selective quotation (for example, his references to my work are to a 10-year old book and selectively at that), and illogic.
The illogic in the 'Caste System' article begins with a basic, unexamined premise: that there is some entity called 'Hinduism', a religion which has lasted 4,000 years and which comprehends 'classical' as well as 'medieval' and 'modern' forms. This is the most historically unjustified premise, since the term 'Hindu' to refer to a religious belief was never used until the establishment of Muslim regimes (and then only in some parts of India; for instance, Tukaram - who Nadkarni takes as one of the 'Hindu' bhakti sants, never in all his 4,700 abhangs used this word) and it never came into generalised use throughout India until the 19th century. This has been documented by numerous scholars and I will not cite them here. The illogic is that Nadkarni assumes, and documents, changes in the caste as a socio-historical structure (which I think is correct) but does not question the supposedly unchanging character of an essential 'Hinduism'. (Incidentally, Nadkarni is silent on whether Buddhism, Jainism and the shramanic traditions should be considered as part of 'Hinduism').