Morton Klass’s book is perhaps the most important analysis of the Indian caste system to come out of western scholarship in the last thirty years. It comes at an opportune time – when the economic and social crisis of Indian society has reached the point where caste divisions among the labouring masses have become a major weapon of the ruling classes and ‘atrocities against Harijans’ have leaped into the front pages of all daily papers. From brutal landlord attacks and gun battles in the more feudal areas of Bihar (Belchi, Pipra) to kulak-engineered mass campaigns in the more capitalist areas (Kanjhawala), from mass pogroms against dalits in western India’s ‘land of saints’ (Marathwada) to the land of Gandhi where riots have recently broken out over the issue of reservations, no part of India is immune from the poison of casteism. Klass, as an academic anthropologist safely ensconced in the comfort of an American University, is perhaps little concerned about such events. But the fact is that they have forced the Indian Left which is deeply entrenched among the masses affected by caste divisions and caste oppression—to rethink the issue.
May-June 1981, volume 5, No 5/6