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Mapping Color and Caste Discrimination in Indian Society

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The Melanin Millennium


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The belief in Aryan racial supremacy dominates social hierarchy practices in India. Upper caste members claim a superior lineage by tracing their “genes” to Aryans, connoting a “natural superiority” over “Shudra” and “ex-untouchables.” (The term “ex-untouchables” refers to Scheduled Castes, also known as Avarna (outside four Varna), Outcastes, Panchama, Antyaja, etc.) This chapter uses terms such as Dalits, ex-untouchables interchangeably, to refer to this population, though the socio-legal term defined to this population is Scheduled Castes—deemed as non-Aryans. Aryans textually are described as a pure, noble, and superior race: physically tall, with sharp noses and lighter skin color. Dasyus or Dasas, on the contrary, are considered of lowly origin and racially inferior due to their dark skin. Such stratification based on skin color is perhaps one of the oldest forms of discrimination and domination in human society. India has a 3,000-year-old social hierarchal system rooted in the “varna-jāti” structure. Jāti, or caste system, is a socioreligious organization prescribing restricted commensality, endogamy, practices of untouchability, and other regressive practices. This ancient hierarchy affects, in particular, the rules of dining, endogamy, and caste commensality. Social life is marked by hierarchal practices and other dogmatic beliefs operated through exercising strict control over women and her sexuality. In addition, the cultural complex of beauty, femininity, chastity, and social status is based on skin color and caste location. Lighter skin is considered superior, whereas dark-skinned is rendered as disability, ugly, and inferior. Skin color in thus many ways is marker of social status, inferiority intrinsic to dark skin color, and superiority associated with whiteness/lighter skin shades. This chapter attempts to map historical and contemporary form of color-based discrimination, history of racial discourse, and the role of multinational corporations (MNCs) in promoting and perpetuating color and caste-based discrimination.

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    These advertisements can be viewed at, and in addition, Amitabh Kant’s book Branding India: Incredible Story marks the process of Incredible India and marketing strategies.

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    Darker skinned indigenous people.

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    Arian and Aryan is one and the same, only written differently; here, the connotation was Aryan as a biological race and not as cultural/language group.

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    Originally from Müller, Max (1847). On the relation of Bengali to the Aryan and Aboriginal Languages of India, In Report of British Association. P. 339.

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    Sanatan—“in Sanskrit, ‘eternal, timeless,’ the phrase sanatan dharm is often used for what are claimed to be ageless religious practices going back to the Vedas.” (

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    Gandhi and Ambedkar had conflict over the addressing the problem of caste; Gandhi believed in maintaining caste order and destroying untouchability; Dr. Ambedkar believed that such a proposition is highly impossible in realizing demolition of caste order; Dr. Ambedkar said, “sanctity of caste and varna can be destroyed only by discarding the divine authority of the Shastras.” This is elaborated in classic essay on “Annihilation of Caste with Reply to ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi” (Ambedkar 1979a).

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    14th survey on marriage trends in India was conducted by The respondent base was 150 thousand Indians between the ages 18–45 years with an annual income in the range of Rupees 50,000 and above. The survey was conducted across 300 Indian cities, towns, as well as NRIs living in the USA, the UK, Canada, Middle East, South East Asia, New Zealand, and Australia.


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We are thankful and acknowledge inputs and guidance from Dr. Ronald E. Hall, Professor of Social Work at Michigan State University, Prof. Kevin Brown, Richard S. Melvin Professor of Law at Indiana University, Ms. Vijayalakshmi Raaj.

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Correspondence to Lalit Khandare .

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© 2013 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht

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Ayyar, V., Khandare, L. (2013). Mapping Color and Caste Discrimination in Indian Society. In: Hall, R. (eds) The Melanin Millennium. Springer, Dordrecht.

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