Are Brahmins the Whites of India, and Dalits the Blacks of India? Is Caste Same as Race?

Snakes in the Ganga by Rajiv Malhotra and Vijaya Viswanathan combats 'misconceptions' about caste.

By special arrangement
By special arrangement

Black Lives Matter has become a global movement, and for good reason, because it expresses anger against the historical injustices suffered by the Blacks in America. It has echoed in India in a different way, as the solidarity between Dalits and American Blacks, something I couldn’t fully comprehend. Then I came across this really interesting book called Snakes In the Ganga by Rajiv Malhotra and Vijaya Viswanathan.

The book gives a detailed account of how India’s Dalits got pulled into the vortex of the Black/White debate on global racism. Those familiar with Malhotra’s famous book Breaking India may remember that it referred to the Afro-Dalit movement. Back then (12 years ago), it was described as a ‘US-operated and financed project’ framing ‘inter-jati/varna interactions and the Dalit movement using American cultural and historical lenses’.

It talked about Dalits being referred to as the Blacks of India and non-Dalits as India’s Whites. The implications of this false equivalence were not understood at the time. And this point in the old book was dismissed trivially rather than being taken seriously. As a result, Indians lost a decade of opportunity to build bridges with American Blacks and try to explain our heritage, and perhaps help them resurrect theirs. Meanwhile, the Breaking India forces worked hard to turn Blacks against India and its civilization.

The Afro-Dalit solidarity movement has now acquired a powerful life of its own, with a very
charismatic, well-known Black author called Isabel Wilkerson adding her voice through her book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Her book has succeeded in ‘fabricating a new identity’ that unifies Dalits and Africans and projects them ‘as the epicenter of victimhood’.
There were previous attempts to equate caste with race. But these were different because
caste was considered one of many types of racism found in the world. Wilkerson’s approach is entirely different. She blames all racism worldwide on caste. According to her, caste, which she attributes to ancient Vedic sources, is not independent of racism, but the source of all racism. According to her account, the British picked it up from India and took it to America and that resulted in racism against Blacks. The influence also spread to Germany and inspired the Nazis to do their holocaust of the Jews.

In other words, Wilkerson asserts that casteism is the framework or architecture on which all the world’s racism is built. More on the new book by Malhotra and Viswanathan is available at

The authors of Snakes in the Ganga disagree. They show how her premises are flawed and give a detailed point-by-point rebuttal. The following quote from Wilkerson shows the extent of her misconceptions:

‘Caste is the infrastructure of our divisions. It is the architecture of human
hierarchy, the subconscious code of instructions for maintaining, in our
[American] case, a 400-year-old social order. Looking at caste is like holding a
country’s x-ray up to the light. A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed
and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one
group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry
and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but
ascribe life and death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose
forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to
keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned

Malhotra and Viswanathan express sympathy for the plight of Dalits and indeed all those facing injustices. But they reject the use of American racism as the lens for interpreting Indian society. Indian social history is far more complex, diverse and cannot be easily fit into the American framework of racism.

Wilkerson’s thesis is taught as established fact at Harvard and counter-arguments are not
entertained. Many corporations use this work in their diversity training initiatives. Wilkerson’s book has gained significant mileage in American media, being promoted by the New York Times and Oprah Winfrey through her book club. The Black Lives Matter movement also gave it a boost because Suraj Yengde, hoisted by Harvard as a fellow of the prestigious Kennedy School, jumped into the fray. He has been championing the Afro-Dalit identity, taking Wilkerson’s book into the mainstream. He leaves no stone unturned to project all injustices against Blacks onto the Dalits of India. He has also written books that provide ammunition to the movement. His message is to blame Hinduism for all of the world’s social evils.This new interpretation of caste as racism is a major reason the entire social justice movement has started targeting Hinduism. The genesis of all oppression is attributed to India.

Snakes in the Ganga is the first serious rebuttal to Wilkerson’s thesis. Most Indians are not even conscious of this serious debate. Malhotra and Viswanathan have stood up against an entire ecosystem that is bent on dismantling India.

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