Social class of Indian immigrants to US

In a recent conversation, someone asserted that pretty much all Indian immigrants are Brahmin. Any truth to it?

Anecdotally, every single Indian friend I had growing up (and there were dozens) was Brahmin. Or claimed to be. Since I am pretty ignorant of Indian culture, I suppose they could have been lying to me.

I believe most Indian immigrants to the US come on work visas, which are granted because they have important skills and are highly educated. That would certainly put a significant bias toward the higher castes.

There is a bias to the higher castes emigrating, but I couldn’t give you a factual answer. Who knows? I don’t think they ask you for your caste when you come over.

FTR, I am mixed-caste so I have already put your theory away…however, I *am *here because my mother, who is Brahmin, came over, and then went back to get married to my father, who is Vaishya (farmer caste.) So perhaps I in fact validate your theory.

I don’t ask my friends or neighbors about their caste. Caste is pretty much an item of the past in most Indian communities in America, and I’ve been really sheltered from it and barely have an idea of what it means.

Brahmins do tend to be more edumacated. Brahmin is the scholar caste after all. Is it the only caste that comes over? I highly doubt it, these days. Moving to another country is one way to escape your caste, after all.

However, caste is often deeply embedded in the soul. So lower castes often get higher, don’t get higher, and don’t feel they should be allowed to get higher. You often hear people talk about “jaat”, which is caste as well as your place in society. You are supposed to remember your “jaat” no matter where you go or how much money you make.

Personally I think it’s a load of rubbish…but thousands of years of culture don’t go away overnight.

All of the Indians I knew growing up in Northern Virginia were either Brahmins or Kshatriyas as well. When I went to college in Virginia, I ran into the same thing.

Right. I grew up in southern Maryland, just on the opposite side of the river. Same pool of immigrants.

When you think of the most common Indian last names in the US, Patel and Shah come to mind. Neither of these is a Brahmin last name. I’d guess that most Indians in the US aren’t Brahmin, but from the merchant and farmer castes.

The merchant one especially makes sense. Remind me what the name for the merchant caste is again?

I think your pool of people are self-selective. There are many, many non-Brahmins in the USA. I, for one, am not.

I’m by no means an expert on any of this, but I think that it’s a subcaste of some kind.

The wiki page on caste is enormous.

I am learnign some other stuff, too. Wiki is so addictive:

With that few Hindus, I can’t say it matters! I would have guessed higher, though.

An earlier poster mentioned emigrating to “escape your caste”. Maybe I should read the Wiki page first, but if a person was of a “lower caste”, and emigrated to the USA, is there anything that would give away the fact that they might be trying to “pass” as a higher caste? Are the communities in the USA completely “caste blind”, or is it a case of 'don’t ask, don’t tell?"

Last name gives away your caste almost instantly. And Im sure it varies from community to community. My community, the one I grew up in, was very caste-blind. I can’t speak for anywhere else, though.

It’s funny, even Hindus and Muslims get along here on the basis of common ground. In India it’s often a whole different story, unfortunately.

As a non-Indian, would it be considered rude to ask an Indian to what caste they belong? Obviously it would be out of curiosity with no intent of treating the person any differently.

As you can see, it’s not true. I’d say that starting in 1964, when the immigration laws were changed, the majority of Indians were from higher castes, but not exclusively Brahmins. When immigration started include people other than doctors, engineers, and professors, other castes started coming in. Indian Americans who run motels, convenience stores, taxi services, and news stands are not likely to be Brahmin or other higher caste.

I doubt very much they were lying to you. What castes you run into is dependent on your social and occupational circles. If you mostly move in professional circles, it’s not surprising that you’d run into a higher proportion of Brahmins.

True. But not just work visas, also student visas, which would result in the same bias.

Yes, it can be considered kind of rude to straight out ask another Indian what his or her caste is. But Indians just know. For Bengalis, it’s pretty easy, because your family name is usually a giveaway.

It is the priest class but it is a scholar caste. There are other scholar castes too.

This is something that non-Indians often get confused about Your jat is caste. They are one and the same thing. The four-colour varna system (Brahmin-Ksatriya-Vaisha-Sudra) does not apply in real life. There are scores of castes and they don’t fit into a clean, four-tier system.

Again, it depends on the social and occupational circles that you come into contact with.

The one that is most commonly known is Vaishya, but it’s not the only merchant caste.

Here’s another widespread misconception. There is no basis for separating jatis into “castes” and “sub-castes.” You belong to one jat. That’s your caste.

I believe for the most part “escaping” your caste would consist of escaping the social and economic constraints attached to your caste, not actually pretending you came from a different caste. It’s much more common for a caste group as a whole to decide they want to be higher than they are in the socio-economic system, not for them to try to pretend that they are from some other caste.

An immigrant from India will know what caste you’re from. It’s pointless to pretend. However, it’s likely that he or she won’t care. An Indian-American who didn’t grow up in India most likely will not be able to pick up on the clues to caste identity and won’t care either.

Unless it’s someone you know well, it’s risky to ask. Indians are very sensitive about discussing caste with non-Indians, because, it seems to them, every time you turn around 60 minutes or somebody is doing a story about how awful the caste system is in India. It’s almost the only thing most Americans will know about Hinduism, and so usually Indians will feel defensive and uncomfortable, and if they don’t refuse to discuss it altogether, will string together some suspect statements designed to defuse any criticism.

In my experience, though, Brahmins tend to have little hesitation in telling you that they are Brahmins. :smiley:

In other words, yes, it might be considered rude.

American media has really focused on the negative parts of India. What was that movie years ago about Calcutta. Americans saw it as this WONDERFUL doctor going over seas and helping those poor impoverished Indian people. Indians saw it as Americans pointing out how poor and terrible those Indian people are.


So, what caste would the common names noted be? (Patel, Shah)

Is it rude to ask, when I’m not (AFAIK) asking people with that last name?

I couldn’t tell you for sure. I believe “Patel” can be used by several castes, including Jats and Gujjars. (This “Jat” ends with a retroflex T; whereas “jat” meaning “caste” ends with a dental T.)

Wikipedia says that the Patel caste proper is the caste of landlord farmers – that is, the people who own the farms, but don’t work them.

“Shah” is also tricky, because it’s based on a Persian imperial title. There are a lot of Indian Muslims who have Shah as a family name.

But, I can tell you that if you meet someone named Patel or Shah, you’d do well if you bet that they are ethnically Gujarati (although the names are used by some in other ethnic groups as well).

Is it rude to ask, when I’m not (AFAIK) asking people with that last name?

Here’s the tricky part … the Indians who won’t be offended, like me and Anaamika, are the ones who will be less likely to give you comprehensive answers.