Monthly Archives: March 2014

Caste System in India- A Critical Analysis

In the beginning of Hindu civilization there were classes (varnas) but not castes (jatis). Brahmanas, Kshtriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras were just designation. The designation for priest/teacher was Brahmin, for warriors/administrators it was Kshatriyas for traders and those involved in commerce it was Vaishyas and for artisans/cultivators/technicians it was Shudras. Normally people followed their hereditary professions. (Even today we find parents pressurizing their children to follow their (parents) profession especially when it comes to professions like doctor, lawyer or engineer). But there was no prohibition against people changing their professions. Hence we find Vishwamitra, a Kshatriya becoming a seer. In Jatakas we come across a Brahmana carpenter belonging to Bharadvaja gotra and in Panchatantra about the story of a Brahmana farmer called Haridatta. In Mahabharatha we find a butcher by name Dharmavyadha living in Mithilarajya. He is said to have instructed a Brahmin Gautama Vedadhyayi in Vedanta philosophy. This shows that just because his profession was that of a butcher it did not prevent him from philosophizing. According to Ambedkar during the Vedic period there were Shudra kings and both Brahmins and Kshatriyas saw no humiliation in serving them. He gives the example of king Sudas who had a Brahmin Vasishta officiating as a priest, followed by a Kshatriya Vishwamitra. The Shudras also worked as ministers as evidenced in the Mahabharatha which mentions a list of 37 ministers of whom four were Brahmins; eight are Kshatriyas, 21 Vaishyas, three Shudras and one Suta. The Shudras were also members of popular assemblies like Paura Janapada and were invited to be present at the coronation of kings. That the Shudras were considered as honorable members of the Vedic society is evidenced from a prayer in Yajur Veda which says-‘O Lord, provide lustre (enlightenment) to the Brahmins, lustre to the Kshatriyas, lustre to the Vaishyas and lustre to the Shudras’. (Dr.B.R.Ambedkar- Shudras and the counterrevolution, chapter 12 of Revolution and Counter Revolution in Ancient India). In Shanti Parva of Mahabharatha, sage Bhrigu says that there is no difference of castes, this world having been at first created by Brahma entirely Brahmanic, became afterwards separated into castes in consequence of works. Duties and rites of sacrifices have not been always forbidden to any of them. In Satapatha Brahmana the form of address which a Brahmin priest is supposed to say is ehi (come) in case of a Brahmin, Agahi (come hither) in case of a Vaishya, adrava (hasten hither) in case of a Kshatriya and Adhava (run hither) in case of a Shudra. This shows that the Shudras had at one time the right to sacrifice; otherwise a form of address for a Shudra sacrifice could not have found a place in the Vedic precept. If the Shudra had a right to sacrifice, they also must have had a right to study Vedas. (Dr.B.R.Ambedkar- Touchables vs Untouchables, chapter 4 of Essays on Untouchables and Untouchability)   Hence during the Vedic age there was no question of high and low and all had the same status and positions whatever the nature of functions they performed.

Proliferation of new castes

Over a period of time new castes arose as people began to take up new professions. Also marriages like anuloma (when a man of higher caste married a woman of lower caste) and pratiloma (when a woman of higher caste married a man of lower caste) gave rise to mixed castes which were included in the Shudra fold. Sometimes changes in customs and occupations and degradation from the original caste due to nonobservance of rigid caste rules led to the formation of separate castes. Similarly people of several small sovereign republics whose rule came to an end with the rise of Magadha transferred into new caste following their own profession, customs and traditions.

Beginning of Class exclusiveness

In course of time it appears that the Brahmins started preventing others from pursuing their profession. Though the cause was economic why only Brahmins showed this exclusivist tendency while other classes did not? This was because the time required for honing one’s skills to become a carpenter, blacksmith or sculptor was more than which one required to become a priest. Anyone by bye hearting a few shlokas and learning certain rituals could become a priest. Moreover while in other professions you must satisfy the customer, here even if some anomalies take place God will overlook it. If more people enter their profession there will be competition and diminish their earnings. (Auto rickshaw and Taxi drivers union frequently resort to strikes demanding the government not to issue new drivers permit as due to competitions their earnings will come down). We don’t find this type of monopolistic tendencies growing among other classes. Hence in the army people of all class were recruited and many of them become chieftains of petty kingdoms. So also in the field of trade and commerce anyone with capital and ready to take risk could do well in the field.

Ascendancy of Brahmins

With the intention of protecting their interests the Brahmins first fought with the Kshatriyas and obtained the exclusive right to officiate at religious and public ceremonies. In ancient India the degree of power and prestige of Kings depended upon them performing sacrifices like Vajapeya and Ashwamedha and getting titles like Samrat, Svarat, etc. These sacrifices could be performed only with the help of the Brahmin priests. Since ancient times people belonging to all castes were recruited in the army and many adventurous of them became petty chiefs in the first instance and later extended their territory. Many such rulers without a Kshatriya background to win the loyalty of their subjects and get legitimacy for their rule took the help of Brahmin priests to undergo a formal coronation ceremony. In return of handsome dakshinas and land grants the Brahmins helped them devise their genealogy either from the solar or lunar dynasty. These factors led the ruling chiefs of India to keep the Brahmins in good books. For instance although Shivaji had carved out an extensive kingdom for himself and ruled over it as an independent sovereign, he was looked upon by the Sultan of Bijapur as a rebel and by hereditary Maratha families as an usurper. Hence to deal with his peers on terms of equality, to win the loyalty of his subjects and to rectify his position in the eyes of those Maratha families he took the help of a Brahmin named Gaga Bhatta of Banaras to undergo a coronation ceremony. This coronation took place on 15th June, 1674. As per the advice of a tantric priest named Nishchal Puri Goswami, Shivaji had another coronation performed on 4th October, 1674 and these two coronations cost him about 50 lakhs of rupees.

Rigidity of Caste System

As B.N.Luniya writes, ‘the priestly class gave a fantastic and supernatural explanation of their origin and interpreted the scriptures in such a way as to perpetuate the hereditary superiority of their class. In the Sutras, rules were laid down that nobody could serve as a priest who was not born a Brahmin. To keep a permanent hold upon the Hindu society, the Brahmins not only became the king-makers but also the authors of so many new doctrines and rigid superstitions with the result that the society was obliged to evolve the present unique social institution of motley groups of castes. With the lapse of time, caste distinctions become more rigid and each group began to develop its own social code and organization. (B.N.Luniya – Life and Culture in Ancient India, p.140).

The advent of Islam and the subsequent establishment of the Muslim rule in India contributed towards the rigidity of the caste-system and made it all the more stiffened. The proselytizing zeal of Islam made the Hindus become more orthodox in their outlook and practice than what they were in the past. To fortify their position against the propagation and spread of Islam, the Hindus increased to a great extent the stringency of many social taboos and caste rules and regulations. New rigid rules of conduct, diet, marriage, and religious rites and ceremonies were prescribed. The numerous social taboos and restrictions regarding caste, marriage, eating and drinking had become all the more stringent among the Hindus. They formulated a large number of rules in the Smritis works to strengthen the Hindu social body. On the positive side if there had been no such caste system in India, the whole of the Hindu race might have embraced Islam as other nations in Asia and Africa had done. (B.N.Luniya- Life and Culture in Medieval India, p.133)

Dynamics of Caste Politics during the British rule

Before the arrival of British Brahmins were employed and patronized in the courts of Indian rulers. When these rulers lost their throne to the British machination the Brahmins became unemployed. With no capital or skills, they were forced to seek employment under the new rulers, the British as petty clerks. They sent their children to government schools so that they could also find employment under the British. Hence we find large number of Brahmins enrolling in government school during the British era and naturally they were preferred by the British as employees. Non-Brahmins did not clamour for government jobs or sent their children to schools initially as unlike Brahmins they were not economically desperate. They had lands to cultivate and business to carry out and their children could rely on their traditional occupation for a livelihood. So compared to Brahmins Non Brahmins were well-off.

Later due to the destructive economic policies of the British, the social and economic status of the non-Brahmin communities engaged in agriculture, industries and commerce declined and as an alternative means of livelihood they began to seek government jobs. To seek government jobs one had to first get educated by attending the schools established by the Britishers. But as we know Brahmins were the early birds to frequent these schools and the non-Brahmins could not compete with them academically in the initial stages. As the number of Brahmins passing the examination in comparison to non-Brahmins was relatively more they also dominated in the lower bureaucracy. This led non-Brahmins to organize themselves and plead the government to give them preferential treatment in government employments. The government heeded to their request and appointed committees to identify communities which are backward so as to help them move up in the socio-economic ladder.

Criteria for identifying backwardness of a caste

The identification of the backwardness of a community was based not on their historical and financial background but on the percentage of the members of that community having enrolled in school/colleges and having employment in government services. As all Hindu communities except the Brahmins had a low percentage of their community members enrolled in school/colleges and employment in government offices, all of them were given the backward tag.

Impact of Caste System on Hindu Society

  • According to A.L.Srivastava before the conquest of Sindh and Afghanisthan by the Arabs and Turks respectively, it was inhabited by Indo-Greeks, Indo-Parthians, Kushans and Huns, who in course of time embraced Hinduism and had become one with the native Hindu population. But the conservative elements in the rest of India considered them as barbarians and took little interest in the affairs of these people or helped or showed sympathy when they were attacked by foreigners. (The Sultanate of Delhi, p.36) This resulted in Islam to gain a foothold in India.
  • After the conquest of Sindh and other territories in India, the forcible conversion of Hindus began to take place. To stop the tide against this new development the Dharmashastra writers began to compose rules for readmitting people forcibly converted to Islam. Muslim writers themselves testify that reconversion on a mass scale used to take place in 8th and 9th century. Sulaiman says that the Gurjara Pratiharas were the greatest enemies of the Muslim religion. It is possible that the emperors of this dynasty may have actually helped the movement of reconversion by extending state help to it. But towards the beginning of 11th century while the masses were for reconversion, the orthodoxy began to frown on it on the notion of maintaining purity (The Rashtrakuta and their Times, p.304). This derogatory step prevented people forcibly converted to Islam from returning to the Hindu fold and helped increased the population of the Muslims in India.
  • According to Babasaheb Ambedkar the Hindu religion ceased to be a missionary religion when the caste system grew up among the Hindus. To find a place for the convert in the social life of the community is an important problem/question that arises when an alien is converted to Hinduism. This is because in Hinduism the law of caste confines its membership to person born in the caste.  This view of Ambedkar is also corroborated by another scholar A.L.Srivastava who has opined that had the Hindu pundits and princes been broadminded enough to accept Akbar the Mughul emperor as a member of the Hindu faith and had they made an attempt to rid Hinduism of idolatry and caste system, Akbar would probably had embraced Hinduism. (The Mughul Empire, pp: 172,173).
  • One of the worst impact of the caste system was it made the Hindu a coward and timid. According to Babasaheb Ambedkar the fearlessness of the Muslims or the Sikhs are not due to their relative superiority of physical strength, diet or drill. It is due to the strength arising out of the feeling that all Muslims will come to the rescue of a Muslim when he is in danger and that all Sikhs will rush to save a Sikh if he is attacked. The Hindu can derive no such strength because every Hindu lives in his caste. This has made a Hindu powerless, timid and coward and in a fight he either surrenders or runs away. Hence Ambedkar says that so long as caste remains, there will be no Sanghatan (unity) and so long as there is no Sanghatan the Hindu will remain weak and meek.
  • It was the caste system which helped the British to sow seeds of dissension among the Hindus so as to perpetuate their rule in India. As it was the Brahmins who were first exposed to English education and subsequently to western ideals like liberty, equality, democracy and nationalism they demanded self-government. The Christian missionaries were facing difficulties to convert Hindus and they felt that it was due to the strong influence of Brahmins over them. Hence the government and the church found the Brahmins as their common enemy and instigated the non-Brahmins against the Brahmins. The Brahmins were depicted as the oppressor of the non-Brahmins. To wean the non-Brahmins into their fold Christian missionaries also started a propaganda depicting Hinduism as a religion of Brahmins and began to call Hinduism as Brahmanism.

Grouse/allegation of Non-Brahmins against Brahmins

The non-Brahmins had several grouses against the Brahmins like the latter exhibiting arrogance about their so called superior intelligence, moral uprightness and cleanliness. It was also alleged that they look upon non-Brahmins with contempt and mock at their eating habits, their intelligence and the way they speak.  Another grouse of the Non-Brahmins was that the Brahmins denied knowledge to them by refusing to impart education to non-Brahmins. It was only after the arrival of the British that the Non-Brahmins could get access to education. The derogatory remarks made in the scripture against the Non-Brahmins and the practice of untouchability was also ascribed to the Brahmins.

Truth behind the allegation of Non-Brahmins against Brahmins

Arrogance of Brahmins

There is some truth with regards to the allegation of arrogance exhibited by the Brahmins. Even today many Brahmins hold the false notion that they are the only intelligent, hard-working, morally pure and physically clean people. It does not occur to them that the highly acclaimed scientists, philosophers and artists all over the world are not Brahmins. Just a little introspection by them will reveal that even among their community there are dullards, ignorant, simpletons, rogues and swindlers. Thought it may sound harsh Guru Nanak had asked that if a Brahmin is so special why does he not emerge from some special part of the Brahmini?

Denial of education to Non-Brahmins

With regards to the resentment by Non-Brahmins for denying them education, in ancient and medieval India there were two types of education, religious and vocational. While most Brahmins pursued religious education, non-Brahmins pursued vocational education. Due to the destructive economic policies of the British, Indian handicraft and manufacturing industries declined and hence schools imparting vocational education took a back seat. But imparting of religious education continued and it was mostly Brahmins who frequented these schools. The subjects taught in these schools were Sanskrit literature, Kavya (poetics), grammar, Chhandas (rhetoric), philosophy, astrology, Puranas, etc. By studying these subjects non-Brahmin students would had in no way benefitted as they could not had acquired any professional skills or procured a job. Hence non-Brahmins did not show any interest in joining these schools. Only in rarest of rare case did a non-Brahmin will have shown interest to learn and he would have been denied it. But this denial did him no harm as even the Brahmins who were educated in these subjects found it hard to eke out a living.

Interpolation in religious texts

The third allegation is about the derogatory remarks made against Non-Brahmins in various ancient texts. Yes the Brahmins kept silent when absurdities were written against non-Brahmins in texts like Manu Smriti. They also kept quiet and did nothing to prevent unscrupulous persons from depicting the Non-Brahmins in bad light by making interpolation in the sacred works like Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana. Similarly interpolations were made in other religious and sacred texts. Jnanapeeta awardee writer Masti Venkatesa Iyengar in his work The Poetry of Valmiki writes that even the orthodox schools of thought in India admit that the current versions of Ramayana contains many interpolation especially the seventh book, called Uttara Kanda, which describes the rule of Rama and the exile of Sita on the ground of slander by the people of Ayodhya. It is in the Uttara Kanda we have the story of Rama killing Shambuka a shudra ascetic. By adding this story Lord Rama was depicted in bad light. All these came to light when the western scholars translated the ancient texts of Hindus into English and the non-Brahmins read it.

 Genesis of Untouchability

In ancient India persons following unclean professions like those of butchers, hunters, fishermen and scavengers were grouped under the caste Chandalas or Antyajas. As they did not observed the rules of purity they were required to live outside the boundaries of villages and towns and denied all kinds of rights; social, religious, legal, political, etc. But untouchability was not yet a matter of heredity but depended upon occupation. On certain situations even a person belonging to a higher caste became untouchable. Also offspring’s of a Shudra father and a Brahmin mother, offspring’s of an unmarried woman, offspring’s of union with sagotra (same gotra) woman were also called Chandalas. Ambedkar had made a deep study with regards to the origin of Untouchability. He says that the Smritis mention only 12 communities as untouchables while the number of Untouchable castes enumerated during the British rule was 429. Of the 12 communities mentioned in the Smritis only that of the Chammar community is found in the list prepared during the British rule. Hence Ambedkar postulate that the castes mentioned in the Smritis were considered as impure while that mentioned by the list prepared during the British rule were untouchables. To prove his point Ambedkar refers to Kadambari, a work of Bana. In the story Kadambari, a Chandala girl wishes to present a parrot to King Shudraka and she is allowed inside the palace. Ambedkar questions if Chandalas were untouchables how could a Chandala girl could have been allowed inside a palace and how could Bana, a Brahmin and author of Kadambari describe the Chandala girl in superb terms given the contempt Brahmins had against untouchables. Hence according to Babasaheb Ambedkar the untouchable were Buddhists who did not revere the Brahmin and employed them as priests and regarded them as impure. They used to eat beef which was a sacrilege for the Brahmins who had made the cow a sacred animal. Hence the Brahmins disliked them and preached against them contempt and hatred and regarded them as untouchables. According to Ambedkar these untouchables on their own lived outside the villages from the beginning as they belonged to a tribe different from the one which the settled tribe living inside the villages belonged. So according to him there was no untouchability in the Vedic period and even during the period of the Dharmashastras. Killing of cow was made a capital offence by the Gupta kings sometime around 4th century A.D. and those communities which eat beef were declared as untouchables. But it would be a sweeping statement if we say that untouchables were ostracized by the society at large. For instance in Vijayanagar Empire, not only the untouchables were enlisted in the army but had representation in local assemblies. Similarly during the rule of Shivaji and his successors, the Mahars who belonged to the untouchable caste held the office of village watchman.

How come Non-Brahmins tolerated Manu Smriti?

In India the rulers of all dynasties except for the Sungas, Kanvas, Shatavahanas and Kadambas belonged to the Kshatriya or in majority of cases the Shudra castes. These rulers ruled over various principalities either independently or as subordinates to Mughals and the Britishers till 1947. The Manu Smriti has not only derogatory remarks against the shudras but also had imposed several social and religious restrictions upon them. Is it not surprising that the non-Brahmin rulers occupying seats of power and authority could have tolerated the absurdities written against them in Manu Smriti? First of all Manu Smriti was written in Sanskrit language which only a few could understand. Hence the content of the work was unknown to the people at large till it was translated into various Indian languages and English in the 19th and 20th century. But the most important thing to remember is that the various social and religious restrictions imposed upon shudras was confined to the poor and helpless and not the rich and powerful. For instance the ruler of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (belonging to Urs community who now claim to be a backward caste) composed an encyclopedic work in Sanskrit. This shows that these rulers had access to Sanskrit education imparted by Brahmin scholars. To give another instance the principality of Chitradurga (in Karnataka) was ruled by the Nayakas (The Nayaka community is now listed under the Schedule Tribe category) for more than 150 years. Many rulers of this principality built temples and had appointed Brahmin priests as care takers. Is it possible to think that the Brahmins working as servants under them could have imposed social and religious restriction on their masters? Even now we find that it is the poor and illiterate Dalit’s living in villages who are the victims of oppression and discrimination. But those Dalit’s occupying posts such as Chief Minister, Cabinet Minister and those working as I.A.S. and I.P.S. officers command respect and have access to privileges. Hence the decrees of Manu Smriti were followed by the Brahmins in their social and religious regulations and its commandment for regulating the lives of non-Brahmins was not taken seriously and if implemented it was on the poor and the destitute among the Shudras.

Does Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) sanction caste discrimination?

  • Sanatana Dharma never practiced untouchability or caste discrimination. Among the various avatars of Lord Vishnu, three Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), and Varaha (boar) are in animal form, while in Narasimha avatar it is half human and half animal. Only in two, Vamana and Parashurama avatars did the Lord prefer the Brahmin form while the popular avatars of Rama and Krishna was in the Kshatriya form. Among the gods worshipped by Hindus the most famous are Ganesha and Hanuman. The former is in elephant form while the latter in monkey form. Many Hindu gods are seen with certain animals, for instance Shiva with bull and snake, Ganesha with mice, Krishna with cow, Durga with lion, etc. What this shows is that if Gods can take the form of animals and if Hinduism can allow worship of gods in animal form and also animals associated with their gods, how can it allow discrimination between human beings?
  • Shiva the most powerful and popular God of Hindus has no caste. He lives in the burial ground and is dark in colour. Sri Krishna the preacher of Bhagavad Gita was raised by a cowherd. The author of Ramayana is Valmiki who was a hunter before he turned into a sage. This shows that caste is not a factor in Hinduism.
  • The Upanishads which contain the philosophy of Sanatana Dharma says that every form (animate and inanimate) is Brahman. When everything is Brahman leave alone discrimination between man and man, even between man and flora and fauna is unthinkable.
  • Social reformers like Basaveshwara and great devotees mostly non-Brahmins like Kanakadasa, Kabir, Tukaram, Guru Ravidass, Namdev, Guru Nanak, Sri Narayana Guru, Swami Vivekananda would have turned atheists or renounced Hinduism if Hindu religion had allowed caste discrimination or Untouchability.
  • Even Acharyas like Sri Shankara and Sri Ramanuja abhorred caste discrimination and untouchability. While speaking about Sri Shankara we hear about an incident, wherein his pupils once asked a Chandala to make room for their teacher Shankara who was on his way to have a bath at the river Ganga. The Chandala asks Shankara how he might consistently teach advaitism and practice such differentiating observance. Struck by the apt question Shankara declared that one who has learned to look on phenomena in this (monistic) light is my true guru, be he a Chandala or a twice born and this is my conviction. This incident is a metaphor through which Shankara wanted his followers not just to theorize his advaita philosophy but put it into practice. Similarly Sri Ramanuja showed reverence to Kanchipurna a Shudra saint. On condition not reveal it to anyone, Ramanuja was once taught a secret mantra by his guru. But Ramanuja climbing atop the tower of a temple revealed the sacred mantra to the masses frequenting the temple. When the guru heard about this incident he admonished Ramanuja and said that he would go to hell for violating his guru’s order. To this Ramanuja replied that he will happily go to hell if the masses would be benefitted by the sacred mantra. This shows the liberal and progressive mentality of Sri Ramanuja.
  • The Vaishnava saints of south India abhorred caste discrimination. For instance once Sri Mahapurna, the guru of Sri Ramanuja performed the funeral rites of a Vaishnava devotee named Nambi. This annoyed the orthodox as Nambi belonged to a lower caste and Mahapurna had performed the funeral rites as prescribed for the upper castes. When Mahapurna was questioned, he said that in Ramayana Lord Rama performed the last rites of Jatayu, a vulture. I am certainly not of higher status than Lord Rama and our dear Nambi is in no way of lower status than Jatayu.
  • There are several instances in Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavata Purana where Lord Krishna decries making discrimination between humans and having a view that one caste is superior to the other. In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says that he has created the four classes; Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra and allocated duties to them based on their traits (Bhagavad Gita– 4.13). Nowhere has he said that these duties should be continued hereditarily or one group should consider themselves as superior to the others and discriminate them. He also says that neither he is partial to anyone nor envy/hate anyone. (Bhagavad Gita– 9.29). When the Lord himself is not partial to Brahmins or hates the Shudras, who has given the right to humans to discriminate between man and man.
  • It is said that a soul casts off worn out bodies and enters into new bodies just like a person cast off worn out clothes and puts new one (Bhagavad Gita– 2.22). It is also said that all bodies are composed of the same five gross elements, the pancha boothas. (Bhagavata Purana-11.21.6). This shows that different names and forms are all equal. Hence considering one body as superior or discriminating another body as inferior is foolishness given the fact a body without a soul is worthless and considered dead, to be burnt or buried. And with regards to the soul it is said that in each and every soul dwells the divine spirit. (Bhagavad Gita– 13.27). Hence Lord Krishna tells Uddhava that giving up the sense of high and low, man should prostrate before all things which live, whether human or beast, perceiving in all of them my presence (Bhagavata Purana– 11.29.13-14).
  • In Bhagavata Purana a fetus tells Narada that driven by karma, it has wandered through countless wombs, some human, some beasts and some plants and that it has many parents. This indicates that a person who is a Shudra in this birth would have been a Brahmin in his previous birth and still earlier a woman, a bird or an aquatic creature. As a result of successive births one becomes related to all living beings (Bhagavata Purana-6.16.4-5).

 Absurdity of calling oneself as Backward and Oppressed

Today even though it is the Non-Brahmins who dominate government services and play a major role in politics occupying posts as chief ministers, governors and cabinet ministers they still call themselves as backward. Hence in India a Harvard educated person who serves as Finance Minister for India is considered as backward because he is a non-Brahmin. A non-Brahmin lady with a law degree, who occupied the post of chief minister of a state thrice and worth 100 crores is considered poor and oppressed. An ex-chief minister and a Union Minister for Agriculture, owning sugar factories is also a backward because he is from a non-Brahmin caste. But a Brahmin whatever may be his status, a pauper or a school dropout is considered as forward.

Why do these people still want a backward class tag in spite of their political, social and financial status relatively better than the so called upper class Brahmins? The reason is simple, share in the country’s wealth. With scores of castes in competition for the limited share, using the backward/oppressed card will give the castes leverage for bargaining.

But aren’t there better ways to demand a share in the governance or government jobs. All citizens, communities including minority communities have a right to the national resources. Here national resources mean share in government jobs, subsidized education in government colleges and representation in the political system (executive, legislature and judiciary). Instead of degrading themselves by claiming backward and oppressed, they could demand the above privileges as a right. Let the share of each community be based on their population. If not one day their younger generation may question how come the physically puny, with a minuscule population, lacking political power or financial status hold a tight leash on the 95% of the population for over centuries. They may wonder if these Brahmins possessed super natural powers like Tamil superstar Rajanikanth who just by a wave of hand overthrows a dozen of musclemen.

Non-Brahmins have high stakes in the existence of Hinduism

  • More than Brahmins it is the Non-Brahmins who should take a leading role in protecting Hinduism. The Brahmins comprise a miniscule population of the country with the highest percentage being 10% in Uttar Pradesh. Compared to other communities in India the percentage of younger generation of this community who has settled abroad is more. Many in this community are highly westernized and are Hindus only in name. The majority of atheists and communists come from this caste. Just do a survey and find the percentage of Brahmins going to Shabarimalai or Pandrapura. It is the Non-Brahmins who comprise the majority of pilgrims visiting holy places, participating in Kumbh Melas or attending religious festivities. Moreover Brahmins are flexible and can get adjusted to new situations. For instance after the fall of Hindu kingdoms with the invasion of Muslim Turks, the Brahmins started to work under them. As they were known for their loyalty to their masters the Muslim rulers appointed them in high posts. Hence we find Firoze Tuglaq appointing Khan-i-Khan Maqbul as his Prime Minister. Khan-i-Khan Maqbul was originally a Brahmin attached to the court of Pratapa Rudra Deva, the ruler of Warangal. After the fall of Warangal, Khan-i-Khan Maqbul originally known as Kannu got converted to Islam and began his career under Muhammad bin Tuglaq. In modern times we have the example of Diwan Purniah who worked as finance minister to both Hyder Ali and Tipu and after their fall started working for the British and the Raja of Mysore. Tomorrow if Islam overruns India, majority of Brahmins will either embrace it or migrate abroad because they are very timid.
  • Do we burn our car if the driver whom we had appointed drives it haphazardly leading to an accident? No we dismiss him and appoint another experienced driver. People equate Hinduism with Brahmanism just because the Brahmins acted as priests. If some unscrupulous Brahmins made interpolations to our sacred texts and made uncharitable and offensive remarks against Non-Brahmins, we need not disown our own religion and philosophy but remove those interpolations. Many Non-Brahmins are unaware of the fact that the doctrine of atman was learnt by Brahmins from the Kshatriyas. To cite a few examples a Brahmana, sage Narada learnt it from King Sanat Kumara, Uddalaka Aruni from King Pravahana Jaivali, Yajnavalkya from King Janaka and a Brahmin scholar Gargya Balaki from King Ajatashatru of Kashi. The cream of Hindu philosophy, Bhagwad Gita is the teaching of Lord Krishna, a Kshatriya who grew up in a cow rearing family. On the above basis, German scholar Garbe openly declared that India owes its philosophical knowledge not to the Brahmanas but to the warriors, to the princes and to the nobles and to the wisdom of the kings.
  • Since historic times, the defenders of Hinduism were all Non-Brahmins like Prithviraj Chauhan, Ballala III, Rana Sanga, Rana Pratap, Krishnadeva Raya, Pratapa Rudra Deva, Shivaji, Chatrasal and Banda Bahadur to name a few. The person who introduced and popularized Hinduism in the west was Swami Vivekananda who was also a Non-Brahmin.

Non-Brahmins need to shed their inferiority complex.

Many non-Brahmins fret and moan that in some temples caste exclusiveness is still practiced and separate facilities are provided to Brahmins during lunch hour. If this is true what prevents them from boycotting those temples? Are the Brahmins V.I.Ps so that non-Brahmins want to sit beside them during lunch and take photos or by eating along with them will non-Brahmins get a passport to heaven? There is also no need for Non-Brahmins to imitate or appease Brahmins for getting certification that they (non-Brahmins) are religious or spiritual minded. Comprising 90% of the Hindu population, the non-Brahmins in fact should set new practices in matter of worship and interpretation of Hindu philosophy. Way back in 1888 Sri Narayana Guru belonging to the Untouchable caste had set up an example by installing a Shiva Lingam in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple at Aruvippuram near Trivandrum. This was a path breaking event because so far only select Brahmin priest had the authority by convention to install idols of divinities. Similarly Swami Vivekananda emphasizes the need of re-interpret Vedanta in accordance with the demands and needs of the time. (Basant Kumar Lal-Contemporary Indian Philosophy, p.2). Swami Vivekananda gave a new interpretation to the word mithya (unreal) referred in the Vedanta as that which has no permanent value; that which is constantly changing and varying and that which is transitory and temporary. If mithya is understood in this sense all difficulties of accepting the world as unreal disappear, said Vivekananda. (Ibid, p.16) Today there is no need for any mediators to gain knowledge of Hinduism and its philosophy. If one is literate, spiritual books of Hindus including Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita are available in all Indian languages and English. These kinds of books published by inmates of Sri Ramakrishna Math explain the tenets of Hindu philosophy very clearly which even a layman can grasp.

Hinduism is not Brahmanism

Continuing the precedent started by the missionaries during the British rule over India, today we have people calling themselves progressive and intellectuals deriding Hinduism. Funded by evangelist organizations in America and Europe many of these so called intellectuals equate Hinduism with Brahmanism with an intention to wean away Non-Brahmins and Dalit’s from the Hindu fold. Interestingly these Hindu baiters are non-Dalit’s and even ridicule Dalit’s who have embraced Buddhism. They question Dalit Buddhists from practicing meditation and ask whether they have seen Ambedkar doing meditation. Meditation is an important spiritual practice followed by Buddhist and what harm is there if Dalit’s meditate? The reason behind this criticism is that the so called intellectuals want Dalit’s to embrace Christianity instead of Buddhism as for that purpose they (intellectuals) are being paid for.

Traditionally Brahmins have been working as priests in temples as care takers. That does not mean that they are repository of Hindu religion and philosophy. A person working in a library does not mean he/she has gained/digested all the knowledge contained in the books in the library. So connecting the writing of Brahmins with Hindu religion and philosophy is foolishness. Ambedkar who had analyzed the root cause for caste discrimination and practice of Untouchability had attributed it to the Dharmashastras. Discard the dharmashastras and adapt Upanishads as the basis to build the doctrines of Hinduism, he had said. Now who wrote the dharmashastras? If some unscrupulous people wrote it and if a minuscule percentage of Hindus accepted and followed it, should the majority of Hindus accept it blindly and equate these books with the sacred books of Hinduism? Non-Brahmins and Dalit’s should understand that Hinduism never professed caste discrimination or Untouchability. While the rigidity of caste system was the creation of Brahmins to protect their interests, in case of enforcing practices of Untouchability not only Brahmins but also non-Brahmins have equal role. Without the money, muscle and political power of the non-Brahmins untouchability could not have been enforced. But today the situation is completely different. We have a number of rich and powerful non-Brahmin and Dalit politicians who has the means to build temples and appoint their own people as priest. No one will prevent them from doing so. For instance the Kudroli Gokarnatha temple near Mangalore in Karnataka state has a beautiful Shiva temple maintained by the Billawa community who once upon a time were treated as Untouchables by the upper class people. The temple has priests belonging to Billawa community and recently two widows were appointed as priests. By giving access to people of all castes and religions (they don’t ask one to give in writing that he/she believes in Hinduism before allowing non-Hindus to enter this temple) in the temple, this community is showing to the whole world the progressiveness of Hinduism.

Vedic sect is one among the various Hindu religious sects

When accused of caste discrimination, Hindus frantically search for verses in the Vedas to disprove it. But there is no need for us to have the Vedas as a template for doing so as the followers of the Vedic sect are mostly the Brahmins who account for less than ten percentage of the Hindu population. The majority of Hindus are followers of various Tantric sects which unlike the Vedic sect give initiation without discrimination between gender and caste. (For instance the Lingayat sect popular in Karnataka gives Linga deeksha to one and all). Unfortunately in history books we are taught to believe that Hindu religion only means the Vedic traditions. The reason why the Vedic tradition has gained such prominence compared to Tantric traditions is due to various historical factors. First and foremost was due to the fact that the Vedic tradition was the first to be codified and put into written form whereas the Tantric tradition was orally transmitted. During the British rule the Christian missionaries so as to strategise wanted to know more about Hinduism. Their main source of information were the Brahmins who were now working under the British and well versed in English. They naturally gave information about their sect that is Vedic, which was later translated into European languages and adapted in text books and taught in schools run by missionaries and later by the government schools established by the British in India. Henceforth the view Hindu religion means Vedic religion gained ground and the shortcomings in the Vedic sect was attributed to the Hindu religion as a whole. But the fact is Vedic sect is one among the numerous religious sects all grouped under the name Hinduism.

How to end Caste System and Untouchability

  • Identifying persons with a caste is stupidity of high order. Just ponder over this. One can have a national identity (Indian, Chinese, French, etc.), a religious identity (Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.) and a linguistic identity (Kannadiga, Tamilian, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, etc.) But what is the basis of identifying oneself with a caste. According to Manu a dvija (Brahmin), who not having studied the Vedas, tries to acquire other forms of learning (engineering, law, medicine, etc.) is degraded to the status of Shudra with all his progeny, even in his life. (Manu Smriti, chapter two, verse 168). Today 99 percent the people who identify themselves as Brahmins have not read the Vedas but still call themselves as Brahmins. Similarly is the case of people who identify themselves on castes based on occupation like shepherds, cow grazers, potters, agriculturists and so on. Identifying oneself with a caste is like a person claiming to be a doctor not because he has studied medicine but just because his father or grandfather was a doctor. We can just pity that man.
  • Identify and remove all verses professing inequality, offensive in nature and containing derogatory remarks against non-Brahmins from all our sacred texts and the epics. Because these types of statements goes against the tenets of Vedanta which considers all forms of life as one.
  • Degrading non-Brahmins and women by Manu means insulting great devotees of god like Valmiki, Kanakadasa, Purandaradasa, Kabir, Meerabai, Guru Nanak, Sri Narayana Guru and the Vaishnava and Shaiva saints, Alwars and Nayanmar who came from all castes. Only a person who is mentally unsound and perverted can write all sorts of rubbish which we find in a book called Manu Smriti. This anti Vedanta book should be condemned and disowned by Brahmins so as to reassure the non-Brahmins that they do not subscribe to the view of Manu.
  • All the temples in our country should be nationalized and people from all castes interested in becoming priests should be appointed. Acting as priest should not be a monopoly for a particular caste. The worship of gods in the temples should be modeled on that which is carried out in the temples at various Ramakrishna Mutts across the country. Here they just light a lamp and incense sticks in front of the photos of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Sharada Devi. No abhisheka, chanting of mantras, aartis and distribution of prasada. The whole atmosphere will be peaceful and serene. Only spiritual talks by eminent personalities and singing of bhajans should be carried out.
  • Inter-caste marriages should be encouraged with cash prize, government jobs and promotions.
  • Discourage people from keeping surnames indicating their castes like Reddy, Sharma, Banerjee, Yadav, etc.
  • According to Ambedkar the Hindus observe caste not because they are inhuman or wrongheaded but because they are deeply religious. It is their shastras which teach them this religion of caste. Now who wrote these shastras? It was composed by the Brahmins to safeguard their profession and these shastras has nothing to do with Hinduism. The real remedy is to destroy the belief in the sanctity of the shastras, to discard and deny their authority. For instance we could delete the Purusha Sukta verse found in the tenth mandala of Rig-Veda and also verses which degrades non-Brahmins and women like that found in verse 32, chapter 9 of the Bhagavad Gita.
  • To rejuvenate Hinduism the most important step to be undertaken is to create awareness and popularize the Upanishadic mode of worship which is contemplation and meditation. Vedanta which respects all forms of beings and believes in oneness of life is the real philosophy of Hinduism and this philosophy should be imparted in schools and colleges.
  • In all religious mutts established by different Hindu communities up to 60% of the members of their executive committees should be from other communities. Gradually the community tag of the mutt be erased and made into an all-community incorporating Hindu mutt. Similarly at least 50% of the executive committee members of all caste organizations should be of people belonging to other communities and gradually these caste organizations should be converted into cultural organizations by deleting their caste tag.
  • At present there are reserved constituencies where only people belonging to Schedule Castes/Tribes are eligible to contents. This is because those constituencies are mainly populated by people belonging Schedule Caste and Tribes. To create social cohesion and develop good will among different castes a new system of representation should be arranged. Accordingly only members of a community who are in minority in a particular constituency should be eligible for contesting in that constituency. This means for example a Brahmin representing a constituency where SC/STs are in majority and a Dalit representing a constituency where Brahmins are in majority. This step will make the candidate of the minority community to keep in good books with the majority community so as to get their votes and also the majority community will reciprocate as it is the member of the minority community who will be representing them and to whom they have to go to get their grievances solved.
  • A movement should be launched to bring people of other religious faiths into the Hindu fold not only in India but also abroad. The Vedanta philosophy should be popularized abroad by holding free lectures on the topic and selling books on Upanishads at cheap rates. Like the Bible the Upanishads should be translated in all the living languages of the world.

In search of jobs and to provide education to their children more and more Hindus are moving to urban areas. With progress in education and intermingling among people, caste consciousness among the people are in wane especially so among the younger generation. Inter-caste marriages are happening in great numbers and so also inter-caste dining, a common factor in marriages and social functions. With the ban on the practice of Untouchability getting a constitutional guarantee and reservations in services, assemblies and parliament for the underprivileged sections of the Hindu society, the day is not far off when Hindus become a cohesive and homogeneous group. If Hinduism adapts the Vedanta philosophy as its core, Sri Narayana Guru’s goal of One Caste, One Religion and One God for the whole mankind can be easily achieved in our lifetime.

Also read