In a response piece in The New York Review of Books Karnad says
I wonder if Mr. Griffin isn’t confusing the caste system with untouchability, which certainly could be described as “the greatest single evil in the modern world.” The two are distantly related but not identical, which tends to mislead many Westerners unfamiliar with India.
Since Mr. Griffin is interested in today’s India, he might like to know that it has been argued that, given that 88 percent of India is Hindu, the internal diversity resulting from the caste system may be our main defense against a Hindu fascist state controlled by the traditionally advantaged classes.
NYRB, Volume 47, Number 10 · June 15, 2000.
I for one didn’t understand this distinction, nor the rationality behind making such a distinction. I know that caste system is something far beyond untouchability, which is one of its sins. As a system it has pernicious customary differentiations within the so called ‘touchable’ castes.
Yet, Karnad puzzles me.What is the benefit of suggesting that ‘untouchability’ and caste system are ‘distantly related’? Can we say it is not intimately maintained by caste system? What is more shocking is his statement that caste system has the benefit of defending against a fascist rule. He seems to ignore completely that caste system is equally evil as (if not more evil than) fascist rule. Defending caste system on the ground of the possible Hindu fascist rule is a very very strange idea. Caste system has been encouraging fascist practices for ages. Now to defend it as a defense against a danger being perceived in today’s society is weird.
But his plays visit caste issues interestingly. While his Fire and the Rain is one such play dealing with the issue of caste system directly, Taledanda, obliquely, there are other plays that deal with it symbolically.
Some of Karnad’s plays have the theme of metamorphosed beings. For example: Hayavadana (Horseheaded Man); Nagamandala (Snake-circle). These plays are seen as presenting the motif of shape-shifting, metamorphoses. I wonder if we could also see these mixed-species beings symbolically and relate these to the concept of ‘varna-sankara’ or caste-mixing. ‘Sankara’ within the brahmin protocols is the mixing of caste through certain kind of ‘touches’. In Karnad, the shape-shifted beings could be telling a story ‘between the lines’.
Any thoughts on the symbolic connection between Karnad’s metamorphosed figures and caste system? Share with me.