Caste and Indian Market

14Aug09

Freedom just another word,
For nothing left to lose,
Nothing ain’t worth nothing,
If its free

– Kris Krisolfeson

‘Seinfeld’ is one of my favorite TV serials and it was no surprise that it was one of the most popular American serials of all times. What did surprise me though was the fact that ‘SEINFELD’ fails to make it to a list of top 50 TV serials amongst African Americans. On hindsight it is not so surprising for in the end, for all its irreverence ‘Seinfeld’ was largely a ‘ whilte’ serial. There were few black characters and even the most prominent of them. ‘Jackie Chilled’,was a caricature of sorts. Indians would be  quick to point this out as yet another example of racism in the land of milk and honey. I can’t comment on that and I make the above point merely to reflect about our own TV programming and a little bit of what I think is marketing myopia.
When one looks at the numerous ‘SaasBahu’ soap operas on air there is one pattern thas visible . Invariably the casting is along caste lines. Not that the actual actors playing the roles are selected basis their caste but that the principal protagonists belong largely to the uppwercastes. A cursory listing of the surnames of the most soap opera families will reveal that while the SHarmas and the Guptas are a plenty there are few Yadavs if any. In India surnames   for long have been a dead giveaway of caste and while it is possible that this is one of those  remarkable coincidences just as fans of Seinfeld would say that too much is made about the lack of black  characters. I think that it is fairly reflective of the fact that when most of us think India we think of it largely (whether knowingly or unknowingly ) as an upper caste world.

For TV serials are not alone in exhibiting this behaviour, even the advertising and marketing community seems to have a similar biases. When one speaks to the planning or the marketing community, society in India seems to be largely delve into Hindu mythology and upper caste rituals. I have never found any allusion to the rituals, myths or semantics of the lower castes. And all this despite most marketers being on record that it is rural markets which are their focus today.
Unlike in America, where historically the black population was a small minority, in India, however, the lower castes comprises the bulk of the population. Unlike in the US where targeting the white community made greater commercial sense for most marketers. In India, one would imagine that the future (when the caste and class equation becomes more balanced) will belong to the lower castes. Currently though there exists a very high degree of co-relation between caste hierarchy and class hierarchy- that is a large part of the upper class is likely to emanate from the higher castes.

SO I wonder why?
Perhaps a possible explanation is that there is a general belief that over time there will be a certain degree of ‘ Sanskitisation’ (refer M N Srinivas, a sociologist whose works deserve to be read) and the lower castes will tend to shy away from their roots and tend towards upper caste rituals and practices. But far more likely is the fact that somewhere we are spending more time selling to ‘people like us’ and missing out on the larger audience of ‘people like them’.

Independence day
And so we will celebrate yet another Independence Day and here is how it will be branded. There will be, if my memory serves me right, an address to the nation from the Red Fort by the PM., some references to Nehru’s Tryst with Destiniy’, some VIP or the other hoisting a flag and a gaggle of school children meeting up with the President. Then there will be  patriotic songs playing on radio stations, a tricolor tucked always in the corner of the top right hand screen of the music channels and celebrities giving their take on what Independence day means to them in the papers. There will be companies (largely the public sector) issuing ads congratulating the nation , some restaurants offering ‘Independence Day’ offers and some malls screaming about a ‘Freedom’ sale. there will be TV discussions on the state of Independent India and movie channels will run some or the other so called patriotic movie. And lastly there will be large cars with the tri-color fluttering on the windshield bought from those canny street signal sales people

-By Harihar Narayanswamy from EconomicTimes



One Response to “Caste and Indian Market”

  1. 1 Ayya

    Regarding Independence Day celebrations:
    Almost all political cermonies are that way. Symbolic and lacking in real content. You can also add ambedkar jayanthi and other dalit holy days into this list. It is all same. Just hollow empty rituals.


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