Caste no doubt…

The first rain drops splattered across the parched lands. As the raindrops fell, they made little grooves in the mud, as if the soil was scooped by a feather light spoon. The pattern looked pretty, as far as the eyes could see the muddy terrain resembled the skin of a jackfruit, uneven, rugged with dashes of green and brown. Soon the grooves merged into one another and the moist soil bore the same hue, a dark brown hue. From the skin of a jack fruit, the terrain now began to look like chocolate fondue, soft and rich. Delectable, but impossible to relish within city limits. One needs to get away from the hustle, bustle and chaos to take in these sights. I did exactly this, a relief from the smoke, blaring horns and congested city roads of Bangalore. In Bangalore, the rains lashed down fiercely, a bit of a respite from the scorching heat and winds of 20km/hr tore down many trees last evening. The coconut trees began to pelt their booty on the road, two wheeler riders abandoned their vehicles to pick up the coconuts that the trees were hurling down, adding utter chaos and confusion to the already nightmarish traffic jams. Brave of these folks to disregard the dire consequences of getting hit on the head!

An interesting week where the caste census issue in the limelight of all major and minor news agencies. Being an Indian is not good enough and Ms Bharka Dutt uses this line to create a debate. Honestly, do we still care about what caste or sub caste we are? India is probably the only country in the world that break’s its head black and blue in bracketing its children. Not only do we segregate the population on the basis of it’s geography, religion, income levels, sex, age, profession and a myriad other things, the caste division by far is the most sensitive and most common. Yes, there is a lot of history attached to the caste system which in turn led to division of labor and division of socio economic conditions. But, how long do we continue carrying this excess baggage from our history?

When in school, it was confusing enough to understand what religion we all belonged to. None of us really cared about our surnames and what they meant. We were little brown girls who wore the same blue and white school uniform and assembled together in the same hall where we prayed to our Father for our daily bread. We went back to our respective nests and prayed to the same Father who wore a different dress and carried another accessory. The cross or the trishul or the spear or the disc or holy water or the sun or the crescent or the star, does it matter?

Would this world not be a far better place if we splashed ourselves across its diverse terrain, like the raindrops that fall out from the skies, like those grooves in its green and brown terrain, and can we all merge into one another to form one big chocolate fondue? How sweet and delectable would it be! But, is this utopia? At the moment, it is.

Caste based politics is by far responsible for a pseudo egalitarian state of affairs in our state. Mayawati has thrived on it. Our politicians falsely propagate the upliftment of a section of the society, by voicing the concern of the so called “discriminated”, demanding reservations, demanding equal opportunities. Yes, every person is deserving of the same opportunity, so why deprive one at the expense of the other? Competition is the end result of a society that is in equilibrium, a society that promotes equality, a society that partakes in equal opportunity, a society that delivers in bridging the gap between economic differences irrespective of the pedigree of the concerned.

From the days of Mandal commission to the days of the BJP, where caste has been used as a trump card for one and all, nothing has changed in this country. The BJP still depends on a large vote bank from the so called upper echelons of the Hindu community, the Congress manipulates the non Hindu populace and shuns the Hindus, the Yadavs speak for their own, the Mayawatis for the Dalits, Sonia for the Roman Catholics, Jayalalitha for women, Karunanidhi for atheism, Mamta for a rural Bengal. These folk thrive on the divide, is there one who speaks for all? I can hear none at this time who speaks for us, without worrying about our ethnic background. Will there be one who speaks for this ordinary Indian?

The race census should not be made into an issue if the census data where used for purely statistical purposes and for demographic studies. Unfortunately, the data is used to manipulate every conceivable system that operates within our social, economic and political establishments. The biggest flaw with the census would be its authenticity, more likely to be skewed than not and the second biggest flaw would be the usage of the data, a likely debacle. Besides, the data that is collected is likely to lead to more prejudice than ever before. Why are the Dutts of this world cynical if Mr. Bachchan calls himself an Indian? One uses both the black and the white keys of the piano to create perfect symphony. Caste no doubt on the intention of an Indian…

In parting, a section from John Agard’s Half Cast monologue…

‘when yu say half-caste
yu mean when picasso
mix red and green
is a half-caste canvas/’

‘when yu say half-caste
yu mean tchaikovsky
sit down at dah piano
an mix a black key
wid a white key
is a half-caste symphony/’

 

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47 Responses to “Caste no doubt…”

  1. Sorry for not adding an image, I have had problems finding the right one and chose to leave it as such..

  2. Aishwarya Says:

    Hi Sharmila!

    Missed you. Hope you are feeling better now…

  3. Sharmila,

    It is impossible to place 2000 years of historical caste-based organisation in a short comment on a blog. But I will try to be as brief as I can.

    There is no mention of castes in the Vedic period. It appears first in an Avestan (Zoroastrian) document of Atharvan during the treatment of patients.

    in Hinduism Caste is not a Yoni or a Gana. Caste is a Kul.

    ‘Kul’ is the history of a person’s ancestral trail. A ‘Yoni’ is a person individual attitudinal conditioning. A ‘gana’ is a broad classification of a his/her personality.

    Caste is not mentioned in the Briha Aranyaka, the oldest of the Upanishads. It appears in some of the Brahmanas in the later Upanishads compiled in 2-4 AD.

    When the rulers wanted to organise the society they allocated themselves a caste. They called themselves ‘Kshatriyas’ (Warriors) which literally means conquerers of the three – The three Guna (Satva, Rajasik, Tamasik), The three states of the body (Childhood, Adulthood, Old Age), The Three Times (Kaal) and The Three Powers (Shakti).

    If you notice the trends in the Mythologies, Gods are non-Brahmins, Demons are Brahmins. Ram was a Kshatriya, Krishna was a Yadav (Cowherd), Shiva was a Adivasi. The evil doers were brahmins (Ravana is a Brahmin, Bali killed by Vishnu was a Brahmin).

    Caste or the Kul is described in the Upanishads as ‘Dharma’.

    The common people never had a say in establishing the system. It was designed for administration and governance.

    Any new system that is introduced has to prove its usefulness for the old system to be completely removed. Otherwise there occurs what Arjun calls, ‘Kulakshaya’ in the second chapter of the Gita. If dharma is lost, the kul is lost and women will breed at random, eventually the social structure will be destroyed. (Ofcourse, Krishna convinces him that Dharma finds its way back. Just go ahead and kill your brothers.)

    If our new organisation as per the new constitution does not succeed, people will revert to the old regime. They need something to stick together as a clan.

    I am not sure why you referred to Barkha Dutt here, perhapos I hav missed something. But calling myself an Indian or a Brahmin doesn’t seem any different to me.

    If I were to quote Krishna from the Gita, I’d say, I am a Human and have been so from time immemorial. There is no other dharma (caste) that I need to preserve.

    In the Vishnu Purana, chapters 3 and 4, they pinda kriya (rituals to be done after death or for ancestors) are described. Interestingly, there is no mention of caste in that. The ritual applies equally to any person of any caste, any yoni or any gana.

    I think that is ‘human’.

    • Reader – Wonderful information as always. Thank you for always adding more than my cursory observations here on any subject. You are a great source of information. Agree with the “human” view, but I do have issues in divison of society. I understand it has been in practice for thousands of years, but has it improved our society or improves it today? How? The Brahmins fight wars like the Kshatriyas, and I wish not to add any more due to sensitivity of the topic. One more thing, why do we call all the greatest epics and other hindu works myths / mythology? Is this all not real? Re Dutt, She is cynical about the Indian terminology for her own reasons.

      • I call them myths because they were written by poets in the Samaveda rhymes. Poets use this ornamental metaphors which don’t always say things as they are.

        Not always,

  4. I think, if the new constitution can prove that it is more human and less exploitative than the old cultural system then the old one will be disowned happily by the caste gurus.

    There is also a no-religion communist regime that threatens an invasion from the fringes.

  5. I don’t know if it makes any difference by changing names from Sanskrit to English.

    Dividing a society by functions is not so bad.

    Lets call a Brahmin – a Professor

    A kshatriya – A soldier

    A Vaisya – A merchant

    A Sudra – An employee

    Thats what the caste system is.

    The wings of different religious doctrines are called Panth in Sanskrit.

    Like Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism etc are Pantha of Hinduism. Like Seven day adventists, methodists, protestants, Ansaris, Wahebis, Sunni, Shia etc.

    I don’t see connection between caste and creed.

    • Caste has created the creed, you have clearly highlighted the division in your answer. The problem arises when the employee cannot be or interact with the Doctor.

      • That is a change that we live with.

        If we apply the definitions and codes of the past, Doctors, Engineers, Architects and all professions and disciplines fall in the class of Sudras. So, if a milkman’s son becomes a doctor, it doesn’t change the society. Every working person remains a Sudra.

        Merchants, Traders and Industrialists are still the people who use the money from the banks to circulate and re-distribute the value of the goods.

        Only the law makers are not soldiers anymore. They are brokers. Which is a new caste/ class of people.

        The brahmins were always a minority of 1% or 2% of the populace. They still remain inconspicuous and heard rather than seen.

  6. Aishwarya Says:

    My daughter first came to know of religions when she studied “Festivals of India’ in I STD. Her only observation was “Jesus is as cute as Krishna, isnt He, amma? I agreed wholeheartedly. I hope the caste system will be abolished soon – I doubt the remark will be ‘cute’!

    I wonder how the governance benefited by breaking up the society. Perhaps making sure that a king’s progeny continue to be in power and a blacksmith’s generation blacksmiths. In today’s world, where a kshatriya can choose to become a chef and a dalit can rule, I fail to understand how this old system can be applied.

    The system makes no sense – politically or otherwise.

    • Perhaps the government in that era benefitted the society. Perhaps not. Who knows…

      But the questions that the Khap Panchayats have raised is relevant and the present elected law makers are avoiding the issues.

      Can the Hindu Marriage Act or Civil Court Marriage protect human rights? Is there one example of the acts preventing a divorce? The police can only reach a scene of crime after the woman is dead or the husband has shot himself.

      For example, one of the spouses may want that his/her partner belong to himself/herself but at the same time he/she wants the freedom to belong to the rest of the world. A ritual marriage might prevent that under peer pressure. Can the police (enforcement) do that? Contradictions don’t exist, check the premises.

      A constitution that is not designed for preserving the culture is working against its own people. It cannot be enforced without tyranny.

      Social reforms, in a country of our size, cannot be forced at the point of a gun. For that to happen, one group will have to break up the nation into 27 autonomous states, like the USSR, then each one can have its own Khap Panchayat or Taleban.

      Sure, today, a soldier can become a laundry-man and vice versa because today’s soldier is not a ruler.

      The education system today can accommodate more than 90% of the population. The upper crust of rich and ruling elite go to public schools and overseas business schools. We are no more a society of land owners and landless labour. We have the world’s largest population of middle-class.

      I feel, we need a constitution that is culturally relevant.

      The old caste and creed systems are indeed outdated. But where is a new one to replace it?

      Rootlessness is for immigrants not local citizens.

      • Aishwarya Says:

        Thank you, R.

        Our roots are in the Indian soil.

        Why not just abolish the outdated systems and not replace it with any at all?

        Honour killing, a result of our caste system and the Khap’s tunnel vision, should be strictly condemned.

      • It is condemned. Period.

        How does an elected government ‘abolish’ a culture?

      • Aishwarya Says:

        A tall order. By not giving it undue importance and including it in the national census for a start perhaps…

        Chocolate fondue anyone?:)

    • Aish – well said. Your daughter is the most astute one here..

  7. Anand Khare Says:

    Madam,

    The whole debate is about whether we must have count of people belonging to different castes along with their income levels and living conditions or not. The census data will be used for formulating further plans and policies of India.

    I feel it is a must. When so much of tax payers money is being channeled to so called deprived and exploited castes in different forms of social upliftment programmes, it is a must to know who are the real deprived people. Are they limited to some castes or uniformly distributed in all castes? Can there be a better reservation system than a caste based system?

    It is not the time to argue that the data would be unauthentic or unreliable etc. The census is once in a ten year exercise.At least some data should be collected, analysed and put to proper use instead of using age old data of 1872.

    AB’s views about the caste systems are futuristic.But we have some urgencies to handle now.However, as Reader puts it the caste ‘human’ is more realistic than caste’Indian’.

    Anand

    • Anand – Thank you for your comments. If the data is accurate, I shall be the first to shout a big hip hip hurrah for the team! The point is about what it will be used for, as I had stated, if it were to be used for social studies and understanding our demographics, no one has any issue. But, it never is the reason why the census happens in the first place. And how will the census verify income? Five of the ten respondents will state a tenth of their income, is this not skewed?

  8. Aishwarya Says:

    Shashi Tharoor to get engaged to Sunanda Pushkar on June 27.
    Caste no bar. 🙂

  9. S.M.Vyas Says:

    Sharmilaji,

    A good post ! And on a subject,we need to sit down & do something constructively. Cast based system had come into existance because of certain socio-economic reasons prevailing at that time.And was exploited to the hilt by so called Dharma Gurus (of all the Panth/Religion/Sect/Community etc.) to their own narrow advantage. And now also – and apart from Dhama Gurus,Netas hv joined them in making further mess of it. Here,we have really moved backward-like in case of decreasing moral principles & values.

    The inclusion of column for Caste in the current census is out of political compulsions. For making representations,polioies etc. it is essential that such data is available – for use & more prominantly – misuse.But the fact remains that inputs on Caste /Religion/Nationality will remain the requirement – even in decades to come. Let us accept the fact. When we call of “Human” concept,can we hv the same feeling when we think about the “Humans” in Pakistan & China as that of in our own Religion/Sect/Country etc ? We hv boundaries of Various Religions/States/ Countries etc. That has to go first before anything else can be thought of. Or is it other way round ? I am not sure. Frankly speaking.We are on the verge of more divisions !Theory may spk anything.It is easy.Practical Soln is very complex.Let me gv one small example – Why we still hv reservation policy based on caste ? It should be purely on merit. Certain criterias like physically challnged/economically backward etc. make some sense. Even after recruitmenmt,we hv policy of Promoting certain segment based on their Caste.I fully endorse the view that downtrodden should be protected from exploitations. But killing the chances of meritorous students/employees based on Caste is NO solutn. Alas, the temporary protection gvn in the constitution is still continuing. Even in many professional degrres & that too concerning human life like MBBS etc.this policy is applied.With due respect to all Human beings,I feel benefits & considerations based on economic conditions should be the criteria that too in form of Funding & restricted to initial stages till one is on ones own feet.No longer or through out the life.But as long as politicians are provided with & hv this weapon to fight the war against opponent for their own narrow & selfish goals,this will continue.

    I am not against & for any caste in particular.But as long as ur Caste matters to the Govt/Society at large,it is impossible to DELETE this column.However I would really LOVE to hv column of;at the most;of NATIONAITY. And not the Caste/Religion/State/Domicile etc. !

    Not very sure how consistant or rational I sound here. But expreseed feelings as it comes. Sometime one is confused or suffering from dilemma.Or too many divergent thoughts try to enter through through one source & at one gvn point of time ! Pls guide me for better thought process !

    Regards,

    S.M.Vyas

    Regards,

    • Vyasji – Your thoughts are always profound. You are the one who guides us here. You have raised some very valid points, The Pak / China reference makes us rethink about the human factor. Reader – Would humanity be the only way to mend fences? I think it would..

      • On the same note, do we let the Maoists run amuck in the name of compassion?

      • I am a bit old fashioned about this. I love the days of my childhood. The way the society was in those days. I know how to live in that one. So, I don’t mind if we just turn the cloock back to 1971.

        Frankly, I didn’t know what is humanity in 1971. I am not sure what it is even today.

        Mending the fence is a good idea. I would it mend it myself with my own hands. I couldn’t risk calling anyone for help.

  10. Dear Sharmila,

    Well written post indeed. Good to see that you haven’t lost your voice. I do agree that caste system should be abolished, as it serves no purpose other than providing our politicians with ample scope for creating vote banks that can then be exploited forever. History is witness that caste and religion has always been a highly potent minefield waiting to explode dangerously on the slightest provocation. But one must appreciate that long practiced traditions and fixed mindsets cannot be changed overnight. So lets live in the hope that things would change someday.

    Melwyn

    • Melwyn – Thanks for getting back to this space..I have not lost the voice entirely as yet i think! I am a bit squeaky..I agree, difficult to change this caste set up overnight, but we must in a slow and steady manner,

  11. Caste system…..some even in my family believe in it.And I always have a point to argue over it.Mostly,it is considered while arranging marriages…..it pathetic to say the least.

  12. Done with all your posts!Alhamdulillah………did you ever think I would after such a long gap.I also noticed a slight change on your About page.Thanks for considering my suggestion 🙂 .

  13. Sharmila,

    You had trouble finding the right image. This is a video that shows the ground conflict of both the traditional and modern systems… although its presented in an escapist way…

  14. Aishwarya Says:

    I like the concept of a family name, as is seen in most countries and ours too. A sense of belonging, tracing our family tree and knowing our ancestors.

    The brahmins have always been the intellectual elite of our society -extremely intelligent and learned, ambitious, have a great sense of humor, are good orators, and usually a good friend, philosopher, and guide. I think they have been advisors to the rulers all along. Maybe they should have just ruled…:) Just a personal opinion.

    What needs to be removed perhaps are terminologies like backward caste and forward caste and sideways caste and whatnot caste! Why not move forward with times. Nourish our roots and spread our wings.:)

    • Personally, I think we are moving in a rather slow but certain way.

      Sanskrit is not the national language anymore. Hindi is slowly being replaced by English. Most of the transactions in the parliament are in English. Watch the speaker saying “The ayes have it, the ayes have it, the ayes have it”. Practically all the central government ministries record stuff in English.

      So we are changing slowly. I can’t say why English, why not Spanish or Chinese or Russian or Arabic.

      In English we shall have the caste system as follows:

      Intellectuals (NVQ Level 9); Executives (NVQ Level 7); Support Services (NVQ Level 3-6); Technicicans (Level 1 and 2).

      It will be deemed immoral for a NVQ Level 7 & above to consider themselves morally superior to NVQ 1 to 6. No one shall be called backward, forward, above or buried.

      In due course, after the next nuclear war we shall shift to Russian socialism or Chiness Communism. That will take a 100 years for our children to adapt. We will learn Russian or Chinese and believe in the morality decided by the politburo.

      See what I mean.

      My own handicapped child is more precious than a well-endowed culural invader.

      • Betterment as opposed to elimination is a brave choice.

        Mahatma Gandhi walked the burning streets of Naukhali without any protection and neither Muslims nor Hindus dared to kill a 5′ 5″ short, naked, black man who was folding his hands and begging them to stop.

        They stopped eventually when he went on a suicidal hunger strike.

        We live in a different world today. There is no leader who can walk into the deserted villages of Chattisgarh and talk to the militants. Because of a fundamental guilty secret.

        They are trying to gain access to the mineral rich land and sell it to companies like De Beers as ore. Same as you see Dempo, Salgaonkar and Chowgules doing in Goa – they dig the earth and send it as it is to Japan.

        A guilty leader with hidden agendas can never achieve reform. Calling your natives ‘terrorists’ may justify an arms race with the militants – not a race to achieve peace.

        Casteism is a curse. The alternative is racism as practiced covertly in UK and openly in US and Australia. So the alternatives are not a blessings either.

        Lets improve our lot. And block all those who try to break into our houses with synthetic philosophies.

      • Clarification on the line about the handicapped child.

        I don’t have a handicapped child, and there is no cultural invasion on my territory.

      • Reader – Very interesting to try to see through the difference between racism and casteism. I see them to be one and the same. A caste is a set of homogeneous task force, prefer bonding with one another and shunning those who di not fit in the set. Very much like a race? Dont you think? BTW, you have not clarified my doubt why do we call the greatest hindu texts as mythology?

      • Sharmila,

        Casteism differentiates by virtues, profession and trade. Racism differentiates by color and genetic roots. Casteism is a defense. Racism is assault.

        Thats my opinion.

        I replied to the perception of myths. Its lost in the stratosphere above! 😦

      • Sorry, will hunt for the myths bit now..Thanks again

      • I had warned you about this. I can never express myself at one shot in one comment!

        🙂

      • Correction:

        Not warned, alerted.

        Sorry.

        🙂

    • I love your take on the classes Aish..

  15. Sharmila,

    Following is an example of how deeply the caste is embedded in the culture… This one is a non-escapist version… Note the second verse at … the use of ‘kul’ as an evidence of credibility…

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