INDIAN CASTE SYSTEM: HISTORICAL AND PSYCHOANALYTIC VIEWS

Abstract

This paper elucidates the historical origins and transformations of India’s caste system. Surveying the complex developments over many centuries, it points out that three positions have been taken in this regard. One suggests that the caste one is born into can be transcended within one’s lifetime by performing good deeds. The other declares caste to be immutable forever. And, the third says that one can be reborn into a higher caste if one lives a virtuous life. Moving on to the sociopolitical realm, the paper notes how these positions have been used and exploited. The paper then attempts to anchor the existence and purpose of the Hindu caste system in Freud’s ideas about group psychology and Klein’s proposals of splitting and projective identification. The paper also deploys the large group psychology concepts of Volkan and the culturally nuanced psychoanalytic anthropology of Roland and Kakar. It concludes with delineating some ameliorative strategies for this tragic problem in the otherwise robust democratic society of India.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Akhtar, S. (2014). The mental pain of minorities. British Journal of Psychotherapy, 30 (2), 36–153.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Basham, A. L. (1963). The wonder that was India. New York: Hawthorn Books.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Berkeley-Hill, O. (1921). The anal-erotic factor in the religion, philosophy and character of the Hindus. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 2 (3/4), 306–338.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bhagavd-Gita (circ. 500 B.C – 300 B.C). (2002). The holy BaghavadGita. English translation by Swami Chinmayanada, Mumbai: Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.

  5. Bouglé, C. (1971). Essays on the caste system. London: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Chattopadhyay, G. P. (2004). Unconscious transactions across boundaries: Two examples. Organisational and Social Dynamics, Journal of OPUS, Bristol, (June), 132–149.

  7. Deshpande, M. & Kerbo, H. (2010). History of the Indian caste system and its impact on India today (Unpublished senior project). San Luis Obispo: California Polytechnic State University.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Dundes, A. (1997). Two tales of crow and sparrow: A Freudian folklorist essay on caste and untouchability. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Encyclopedia of Hinduism. (2010). Caste and occupation. In K.L. Mishra, and S.K. Shukla (Eds.), S. Roa, K.L. (Chief Editor), K. Kapoor (Editor-in-chief), Social division of people according to occupation (Vol. 3, pp. 87–88). New Delhi, India: Rupa & Co.

  10. Freud, S. (1895). Project for a scientific psychology. Standard Edition, (Vol. 1, pp. 295–343). London: Hogarth.

  11. Freud, S. (1921). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. Standard Edition, (Vol. 18, pp. 65–143). London: Hogarth.

  12. Ghorpade, A. (2009). State-dependent self-representation: A culture-bound aspect of identity. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 69 (1), 72–29.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Ghurye, G. S. (1969). Caste and race in India. Bombay: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Hamilton, G. (1986). Positive projective identification. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 67 (4), 489–496.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Hoch, E. M. (1960). A pattern of neurosis in India. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 20 (1), 8–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Kakar, S. (1978). The inner world: A psychoanalytic study of childhood and society in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Kakar, S. & Kakar, K. (2007). The Indians: Portrait of a people. New Delhi: Penguin.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Kane, P. V. (1941). History of dharmashastra (Vol. 2, Pt. 1). Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Klass, M. (1987). Varna and Jati. In M. Elliade (Ed.) Encyclopedia of religions (Vol. 15, p. 188). New York: Mackmillan Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Klein, M. (1925). [1950] A contribution to the psychogenesis of tics. In E. Jones (Ed.) Contributions to Psycho-Analysis: 1921–1945. London: Hogarth.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Klein, M. (1946). Notes on some schizoid mechanisms. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 27, 99–109.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Klein, M. (Ed.) (1955). On identification. In New directions in psycho-analysis. London: Tavistock.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Kubie, L. S. (1937). The fantasy of dirt. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 6, 388–425.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Manusmrithi (circ. 200 BC-200 CE ). (1979). The Laws of Manu, The Sacred Books of the East, Volume XXV, G. Buhler (Trans.), F. Max Muller (Ed.). Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass.

  25. Mendelsohn, O. & Vicziany, M. (1998). The untouchables: Subordination, poverty and the state in modern India. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Patel, R. (1959). The Indian dowry system: A clinical study. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 19 (2), 216–219.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Rigveda (circ 1500 B.C-1000 B.C). (1890). The Hymns of the Rigveda, Translated by Ralph T.H. Griffith (Trans.), 2nd edition. Kotagiri (Nilgiri), India: Benares, E.J. Lazarus and Co.

  28. Roland, A. (1989). In Search of self in India and Japan (Vol. 51, No. 1) Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Roland, A. (1991). Psychoanalysis in India and Japan: Toward a comparative psychoanalysis. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 5 (1), 1–10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Segal, H. (1957). Notes on symbol formation. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 38 (6), 391–397, Reprinted in Jason Aronson, Inc. (1981) The work of Hanna Segal: A Kleinian approach to clinical practice. (pp. 49–65). Maresfield: Free Association Books.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Segal, H. (1964). Introduction to the work of Melanie Klein. London: Heinemann.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Sekhon, J. (2000). Modern India. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Sharma, B. K. (1999). The origin of caste system in Hinduism and its relevance in the present context. Delhi: Samdan.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Speziale, A. (1987). The ethical and religious values of ancient India: 3000 B.C. – 650 A.D. Calcutta: Sujan.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Spratt, P. (1966). Hindu culture and personality: A psycho-analytic study. Bombay: Manaktalas.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Sripada, B. (1982). Narcissism and the Hindu psyche. An unpublished manuscript presented at Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, Chicago Illinois, January.

  37. Steiner, J. (1988). The interplay between pathological organizations and the paranoid-schizoid and ‘depressive’ positions. In E. B. Spillius (Ed.) Melanie Klein Today (Vol. 1, pp. 324–342). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Swami Dayananda Sarswati. (1975). Om: The light of Truth [English Translation of Satyarth Prakash], C.Bhardwaja (Trans.). New Delhi-Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha.

  39. The Mahabharata(circ. 500 B.C to 300 B.C). Vyasa, K. (n.d.)., English Translation by K.M.Ganguli. Retrieved from http://www.aryabharati.org/mahabharat/mahabharen.asp.

  40. The Ramayan (circ. 300 B.C–200 B.C). (1895). Válmíki, English Translation by, R. Griffith, Retrieved from https://ia802700.us.archive.org/35/items/ramayanofvlm00valmrich/ramayanofvlm00valmrich.pdf, Benares, E.J. Lazarus and co.; London, Luzac and co.

  41. The Upanishads (circ. 800 B.C – 500 B.C). (1957). English translation by Swami Prabhavanada & Manchester, F., Breath of The Eternal, published by The New American Library, Inc.,1301 Avenue of Americas, New York, New York -10019.

  42. Volkan, V. D. (2013). Enemies on the couch: A psychopolitical journey through war and peace. (pp. 82–83), Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Volkan, V. D. (2014). Psychoanalysis, international relations, and diplomacy: A sourcebook on large-group psychology. London: Karnac, 25.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Young, R. M. (1994). The psychoanalysis of sectarianism. British psychological society, psychotherapy section. Newsletter, 15, 2–15.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Madhusudana Rao Vallabhaneni.

Additional information

1Madhusudana Rao Vallabhaneni, M.D., F.R.C.P.C. is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, University of Toronto; a Staff Psychiatrist, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto; Faculty Member, Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis; and Chair, Curriculum Committee, Advanced Training Program in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Vallabhaneni, M. INDIAN CASTE SYSTEM: HISTORICAL AND PSYCHOANALYTIC VIEWS. Am J Psychoanal 75, 361–381 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/ajp.2015.42

Download citation

Keywords

  • Indian caste sytem
  • splitting
  • projective identification
  • sociopolitical
  • large group psychology