Coalition of Hindus of North America


the origins of her comparisons

Wilkerson’s book ‘Caste: The origins of our discontent’ tries to link the origin of racism in the USA with the issue of ‘caste’ in India. This is where the book takes it’s first conceptual misstep. The complicated social structure of precolonial Indian society (the Varna and Jati system) was not only different from the institution of slavery that existed in the USA at the time, where people were mercilessly torn apart from their culture and land, it was also different from  ‘caste’ as we understand it today.

‘Caste’ itself is an essentially white European colonial term for this ancient system that they barely understood.

One of the many disservices done to Indian history during this period was a rewriting of its origin, the infamous Aryan invasion/migration theory, an unholy and totally unsubstantiated attempt to connect India’s native culture and social structure to the light skinned ‘Aryan race’ of the Caucasian mountains which also introduced and cemented ‘caste’ as a byproduct of this racist theory. Albeit done to different people on different continents, it’s ironic that the author juxtaposes one painful episode over the other without a deeper examination of its authenticity. Thus enabling those common perpetrators to divert blame, doing both communities a disservice.



Suggested Resources

Caste Does Not Explain Race – Boston Review

The celebration of Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste reflects the continued priority of elite preferences over the needs..


Comparing Race to Caste Is an Interesting Idea, But There Are Crucial Differences Between Both

Isabel Wilkerson's book 'Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents' uses anecdotes..


Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste” Book- Is it beyond examination?

Several scholars have pointed out the flaws in Isabel Wilkerson’s much acclaimed book around “Caste”.


The Invention of Caste: Civil Society in Colonial India

Nicholas B Dirks, 1998 Working Paper, University of Michigan


Is Caste System Intrinsic to Hinduism? Demolishing a Myth

M.V. Nadkarni, Economic and Political Weekly, 38(45), 4783-4793, 2003 JSTOR


Orientalist Constructions of India

Ronald Inden, Modern Asian Studies Vol. 20, No. 3 (1986), pp. 401-446, JSTOR


The Indian Caste System and The British

Ethnographic Mapping and the Construction of the British Census in India – Kevin Hobson,


Is a Theory of Caste still Possible?

Declan Quigley, Social Evolution & History, Vol. 1 No. 1, July 2002 140–170, ‘Uchitel’ Publishing House


Caste(s): Through the Archetypal ‘Orientalist’ Predicament of Sociology on India

Bula Bhadra, University of Calcutta, Indian Sociological Society


Census in Colonial India and the Birth of Caste

Padmanabh Samarendra, Economic and Political Weekly, xlvi:33, August 13, 2011, pp. 51-58.


‘Untouchable’: What is in a Name?

Simon Charsley, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1996), pp. 1-23, JSTOR


Breaking down the Carnegie Endowment’s 2020 Indian American Survey

Pushpita Prasad and Nikunj Trivedi, June 15, 2021


Kerala Dalit priests: ‘Any Hindu can be a Brahmin’

Shaju Philip, The Indian Express, June 26, 2018


Dalits, Kinnars find rightful place at Kumbh Mela

A follower has just entered the tent of Juna Akhara’s first..


Constructing “Caste” in California

Vijendra Aggarwal, India Currents April 5, 2022


Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India

Nicholas B. Dirks, Princeton University Press, 2001


Imagining India

Ronald Inden, Indiana University Press, 5th Edition, 2001


The Interpretation of Caste

Declan Quigley, Oxford University Press, 1999


Breaking India: Western Interventions In Dravidian And Dalit Faultlines

Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan Amaryllis, 2012


Western Foundations of the Caste System

Martin Fárek, Dunkin Jalki, Sufiya Pathan, Prakash Shah. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017