Caste Based Communities on Orkut Mirror India's Splintered Society

One of the main themes of my research on digital activism is that social technologies are value-agnostic.

At each of the four levels of Content, Collaboration, Community and Collective Intelligence, social technologies can lead to both good and bad outcomes.

I have written before about Shiv Sena's militant approach towards Orkut communities critical of the party, its leader Bal Thakeray, or its Hindutva ideology. Caste-based communities on Orkut are another disturbing example of online communities mirroring the dysfunctions in Indian society.

Orkut Caste based Brahmin Community

For instance, there are more than 1000 communities for Brahmins on Orkut. There are 461 Brahmin communities listed under culture and community, 591 under religion and beliefs, 87 under activities and 117 under others.

One of the most popular Brahmin community, with 28, 726 members, randomly claims: “we r clever & hardworking .no one can fool us…” The Brahmans community with 41952 members and the Brahmins of India community with 30588 members are also very popular.

The other popular Brahmin communities are those for the various Brahmin sub-castes like Gawd Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) (12,189 members), Kokanastha Brahmin (4038 members), Deshashtha Brahmin (4083 members), Garhwali Brahmin (3067 members), Daivadnya Brahmin (2654 members) and Gaur Brahmin (2055 members). Another group, Brahmin Culture and Tradition is “dedicated to the purpose of uniting Brahmins to revive, preserve, protect and propagate the Brahmin culture to descendants without intimidation or dilution from anti-Brahminical forces.”

Interestingly, it seems that most of the threads under topics related to Brahmins have to do with defining the different types of Brahmins under various sub-castes.

There are also more than 1000 communities for Yadavs on Orkut, including gems like modern yadav girls and boys (5759 members).

Similarly, there are more than a 1000 Rajput communities on Orkut, including the Rajput the Royal Family community with 35,481 mebers, which asks people to join the group “if your soul justifies that you are Rajput both by soul and by nature.”

Dalits have about 200 mostly small communities on Orkut.

Perhaps, the low number of Dalit communities on Orkut says something about Indian society in general, and Orkut users in particular. Higher, more powerful, castes like Brahmins, Rajputs and Yadavs tend to have more money and easier access to the internet and old disparities are further accentuated by the internet.

Caste-based communities, however, aren't unique to Orkut.

Brahminsamaj.org is “a global platform for the Brahmin Community where you will learn, share and find lot of information, knowledge and fun.” Thambraas Muhurtham wants that “all Brahmins should come forward to marry breaking the sects and subsects within Brahmins, particularly Brahmins of Thamizhnadu.” It also points out that “the entire sects and subsects of South Indian brahmin population are totally vegetarians unlike certain brahmins of other parts of India.” A couple on the homepage of Marry A Brahmin claim that its “focused approach on Brahmin matches helped us find each other as true soul mates.” Brahmin Connections is “proud to present an opportunity and a platform to our young Brahmins and their parents to connect with each other across the world for the matrimonial purpose.” Brahmins Matrimony says that “it is the right place to search for your life partner!”

There are dedicated websites for sub-castes as well. Sakhdwipi aims “to provide a common forum for the Shakdwipis to know each other and interact with each other.” KeralaIyers aims “to delve into the history, trace the roots, portray the life of modern day Kerala Iyers, and chronicle the achievements of this community.” iKalyanam claims to be “the only exclusive site for Iyer matrimonials.” Shivalli Brahmins wishes “to bring together all Shivalli Brahmins residing in different parts of the world, through meaningful discussions about their traditions.” GSBMatch is a matrimonial website for the Gowd and Saraswat Brahmin community. ModhBrahmin.org and BrahmanSamaj.org claim that “history proves that the people of Modh Brahmin Samaj are very enterprising and very resourceful” and aims to “bring all brothers and sisters of Samaj close.” Jangid Brahmin Samaj is a community for Jangid Brahmins. RSBNet is “a single stop source of information regarding the origin, customs, culture, history of Rajapur Saraswath Brahmins.”

Similarly, there are dedicated websites for other castes as well.

Kayastha Matrimonial is a matrimonial website for the Kayastha community. Rajput Samaj is “presently predominately taking care of the Rajputs of Rajasthan” but in near future aims to be “taking care of the Rajputs living in India, Pakistan and abroad.JatLand, “the online home for the Jats” is especially proud of its wiki.

The Dalit community is fairly active on the internet, even though it's miniiscule on Orkut. The International Dalit Solidarity Network, which has the most sophisticated of all these websites, “works on a global level for the elimination of caste discrimination.” Dalit Solidarity Network “brings together organizations and individuals in the UK who are concerned with caste-based discrimination.” Dalit India has “papers on various specific issues of the Dalits of India living in India and abroad.” Dalit Freedom Network “partners with the Dalits in their quest for religious freedom, social justice, and human rights by mobilizing human, informational, and financial resources.” Dalit Solidarity is “committed to the principles of justice and equality for all Indians, regardless of caste, race, gender or religion.” Dalit Voice claims that India is “the original home of racism” as Dalits and Tribals, who “constitute the core of India's original inhabitants”, are kept enslaved by “alien Aryans”. Dalit Education aims to “transform lives and communities through the Christian message.” Indian Dalit Muslims Voice is a platform to discuss issues concerning Indian Dalit Muslims. Rohit Chopra has written about the tension between the elite Hindu nationalists and the disadvantaged Dalits on the internet.

In terms of content, the majority of these websites are focused on matrimonial match-making, but several of them seek to build international communities based on caste affiliations and offer tools like directories, bulletin boards and forums to their members. I have also noticed a tendency to establish a rather embellished history of the caste, with detailed biographies of the important personalities belonging to the caste. Ashok Kumar at Express India has a great description of the common features on these caste based websites.

Not surprisingly, Facebook has only 46 small Brahmin groups, 60 small Yadav groups, 126 smal Rajput groups and 41 small Dalit groups. The absence of caste based groups from Facebook is in line with its cosmopolitan user base. Orkut, on the other hand, should be a little concerned about its tendency to attract loonies of all types.

In the end, however, the cosmopolitanism of Facebook is an anomaly, and Orkut's crude caste communities merely mirror India's splintered society.

Cross-posted at Gauravonomics, my blog on social media and social change.

9 comments

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  • pm

    You are using a naive and confused approach to analyzing jati in indian society. BTW, there is no such concept as caste in any indian language – maybe varna comes close but what you are describing is jati.

    Discrimination based upon jati in the public domain is wrong, but at the same time jati provides a form of social and communal identity and there is nothing wrong in referencing this. So I suggest you attempt a deeper look at indian culture before coming to any more “conclusions”

  • @PM: Caste basically translates to jati, which is related to varna. I would argue that the idea of caste-based identity itself is flawed, perhaps even pernicious, even in its most benign forms (marrying within the same caste etc). It is also obvious to even the most sympathetic observer that discussions around caste in India are far from benign. Discrimination and exclusion is an issue; the mobilization of caste based identities as political vote banks is another. Just because something bad, even evil, is embedded inside Indian culture doesn’t mean that we automatically accept it, even praise it.

  • Not A Witty Nick

    Are you ignorant about the various other castes in India other than the ones quoted above?

    I have been similarly intrigued about the presence of these “communities” on orkut but I have also found as many communities for various so called Backward, Other Backward, Scheduled Castes and Tribes which easily outnumber these Brahmin ones.

    This is not counting the many Muslim and Christian castes’ communities on Orkut.

  • Rohit

    Discriminating some one based on his Caste, Creed, Race, Colour or Religion is an inhuman act. If there is any comunity on orkut which is doing the above mentioned things, then such kind of community should be deleted and banned for ever.

    However, if a Community has been created with an intention to get a group of people together who belong to the same community, then there is nothing wrong in doing so.

    Castes have been existing in India since ever. It has now become a part of India which cannot be eradicated. Perhaps, there is no need to eradicate it unless it is involved in the above mentioned discrimination. If a Bhramin wants to get closer to other bhramins, then he is not doing anything wrong as he his not humiliating people from other castes. Similarly with other forward castes like Rajputs or backward or scheduled castes. Orkut has become a medium of contact and if some one wants to use it to keep in contact with people from his community, then there is nothing wrong in it.

    Regarding dalits being poor & people from forward castes being backward, I do not buy this funda. Gone are the olden days. In present India, Dalits have become more advanced, well settled and rich compared to forward castes. One reason for this is the Reservations they get. In the Govt sector, most of the jobs are filled by Dalits & other backward catses as they have got reservation. A forward caste student does not get an admission even if he secures 60% to 70% but a dalit does get an admission even if he gets 40%. I am not against reservation of Dalits or Backward castes. I am just trying to explain that today, being rich or poor does not depend on the caste to which you belong.

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  • Pranav

    Instead of just noting the numbers, please have a read through the topics discussed in the community. Most things talked about are not caste based or biased.

    We call us Indians, and try staying together..this does not mean we conspire against other nations.

    Small groups are needed to feel in company, and such tribal affection is necessary.

  • bhaskar

    hi im from the state the state which provide highest no of reservations nearly 97% of enjoying the benefit now this poison is spreaded upto IIT& IIM
    tomoro it moves to private sector than what about FCs future?just think we need to unite first to get our own % of share in central (36-39%)All FCs should join hand as a single .try to learn from sc/st and obc all are having an assosiation for FCs we dont have such assosiation.we have seperate assosiation like for brahmins,reddys,chaudris and some FCs.try make single assosiation we should all together to get our share

  • m

    ok! then why dalits are against only brahmins????? why not also against yadavs also who are under OBC category….

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