India and Casteism
“We are racists”, concluded Dr. Amith (name changed), MD Pharmacology post graduate student in Raichur, Karnataka. There was pin drop silence in the hall. Some were agreeing with him, some had lowered their heads out of shame. Some were left with the confusion and thinking ‘are we’?.
It was a meeting of “Vivekananda Milan” a medical students organisation. We used to have regular weekly meeting and had done many charity works. It was September 01, Saturday 2012, there were rumors regarding some northeast Indians mobbed near Raichur Bus stand. It was in between a month of few incidents of such attacks on NE Indians in Bangalore after the violence broke out in Rohingya, Myanmar. In between that one such rumor of attack in Raichur made them more insecure. Milan group emergency meeting was called to deal with the scenario arrived. Dr Amith was one of our invitees, spoke in length about how intolerant our society is and concluded saying “we are racists”.
There was quiescent silence among the gathering. We could only hear the sounds of vehicles passing by the road next to hall. It was already 9 pm. I had to conclude the meeting. I got up with a sigh and said “Yes Dr Amith was right and we are racists”. If we go through most of the news papers, Op-eds, articles, books, same thing has been said repeatedly, but when we cross check those with facts, we get to know how much biased and narrow visioned these articles are!
India is always blamed for casteism and racism. Yes, true it has definitely harmed our society. But question is, is caste factor found only in India? If so, there would have been no bloody war in Syria, Libya, Iraq and other Arab countries. No racial fights in USA by now at least. Supremacy wouldn’t have kept North & South Korea divided. No white Supremacy, no slavery would have been done by European countries since scores of centuries1. There wouldn’t have been a Albhigensian Crusade2, 3and other sectarian violence within thousands of denominations 4. 1967 wouldn’t have been a year to consider Aboriginals of Australia as humans5. It wouldn’t have taken so long to end “Aparthied’ in South Africa till 19946.
Untouchability is/was there all over the world. From France (Cagots) to Japan (Burakumin), from Korea (Beakjeong) to Europe (Romani), from Tibet (Ragyabpa) to Dalit (India) & many more 7. Even slavery was worldwide phenomenon since ages with contrast difference between India and the world, where in the former it was less compared to rest of the world. 8,9
India is no immune to casteism and racism. Similar to rest of the world casteism, racism, slavery was there and it has presence in modern times. But definitely above data indicates intensity was less compared to rest of the world. In India Sikhs become ‘Sardar’, South Indians become ‘Madrasi’, northeast people become ‘Chinki’ & in north east rest of Indians become Hindi, even targeted by a few terrorist organizations etc. Even now there is a difference of opinion between castes, sects, states.
Racism and casteism is there in the blood of humans because of the animal instinct10. Every living being wants to preserve and pass their genes. So we the humans too. Generally we will be attracted or feel defensive towards our genes or genes which resembles that of ours (race/community). But we being intelligent animals, we need to overcome our animal instincts, so to have humanity and to be called as human beings. 11
If we ‘google’ for massacre in India, we will get all massacres happened onwards of 1000 AD from invaders and Timur top the list 12. But within Indian culture there were no major massacres except few small scale local violence or Skirmishes between castes/sects 13. All Jauhar happened due to barbarism of invading cultures14 . But if we consider foreign countries we get to find long lasting lists of ethnic cleansing massacres within the same culture or invaders 15. What prevented Indians from doing so?
Answer is Indian Culture. Indian philosophy gives ample of evidences, examples of how god resides in every life. plants to animals, humans to non living things, from Brahmin to Shudras.
Shiva himself is a god who lives in forests of Himalaya along with all animal gods, from predator to prey together harmoniously. Nandi to tiger/ lion of Parvati. Snake of Shiva to mouse of Ganesha and peacock of Murugan. Lord Shiva is an epitome of simplicity, bare footed, being devoid of all sort of luxuries which is basic tribal representation.
Vishnu’s dashavathar (depiction of evolution) Shows god from Aquatics – Amphibion – Mammal – human- Destruction16. Lord Krishna was himself a ‘dark’skinned Gopalaka (used to take care of cows).
Ratnakar was a tribal warrior turned to be a dacoit and later he became Rishi Valmiki and wrote Ramayana. Rishi Vyasa, who didn’t have good look was son of a fisher woman and wrote Mahabharath.
Drona & Kuchela were also poor men. Minister Vidura was son of a Dasi. Vishwamitra was a Kshatriya by birth, Rishi Satyakama Jabala was son of a prostitute, Lord Shiva appeared to Shankaracharya in ‘Chandala’ (Shudra) form, Shiva appeared and blesses tribal Kannappa Nayanar who offered his hunted flesh to god out of pure, innocent devotion. Ravana was a Brahmin but became Asura. Asura king Bali attained Moksha due to his good deeds. In modern times Budha, Mahavir, Adi Shankaracharya, Purandara Dasa, Kanaka Dasa, Basavanna, Kabira, Shirdi Sai, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and many other reformers sporadically made this clear that God is omnipresent.
In Bhagavadgita, Chapter 4, Shloka 13, part 1 Lord Krishna says,
“CHATUR VARNAM MAYAA SHISHTAM
GUNA KARMA VIBHAGASHAHA, TASYA KARTARAM,
API MAAM VIDDI AKARTARAM AVYAYAM”.
Which means ‘Guna’, the qualities and ‘karma’ the action decide which verna (caste) one belongs to. So the caste is changeable according to the differentiation of qualities and action.
Vedic verse says
“JANMANA JAYATHE SUDHRAH
SAMSKARAD BHAVED DVIJAH,
VEDA PATHAD VIPRA,
BRAMHA JANTITI BRAHMANAH-”
Which says, by birth one is shudra (lower caste), by refinement becomes Dvijah (Knowledgeable, higher caste), by attaining knowledge/cognizance one becomes Vipra (much higher caste) and ultimately who attains knowledge of god is Brahman (supreme caste).
In spite of these reiteration, there are always misinterpretors: Dhobi (laundry man) from Ramayana times to present days some communists & western minded historians. From rulers like Dhana Nanda, Jayachandra to present day vote bank politics and some elite lutyenes, who have always misguided the society by wrong interpretations and made society to believe falsehood as truth. Since the ages some elites have selectively taken few verses, stories, Puranas according to their narrative which suits their political, socioeconomical aspirations. Added to it loss of centralized universities like Nalanda by invaders lead to a loss of centres for exchange of ideas. These are a few among other major factors which lead to caste based discrimination.
We have lost the sense of faith on real meaning behind Puranas, moral stories, traits of the great saints and we have opted to live a shallow and benighted life. Indian history was never a bloody history, until the encroachment of invaders. It’s because our great saints who always reminded the society about true meaning of life from Budha to Vivekananda and Dr. Ambedkar. These greats from time to time instead of bringing change by violence or blood thirsty revolutions, opted to bring change within the system and along with existing culture. They made sure that religious, ethnical, cultural democracy was kept alive17. That’s the reason our Indian culture binds us to form unity in diversity which makes us proud to be Indian and part of the tolerant society. Lets learn from the various truthful messages of Indian Philosophy, rather than following the ostensible observations, blind rituals and worships. Let’s move towards ‘Varna’ designations based on our work rather than following the caste system based on birth. Let the world follow the actual messages given by Lord Krishna, Buddha, Mahaveera, Jesus Christ, Guru Govind and many other glorified souls.
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery ( Note the history of slavery in India in the same link)