Here is a solution to the caste system, and it’s not what you think
Some time back, I read an article by Kushal Mehra, which got me thinking. Kushal mentions that casteism as an issue is not discussed in any right-wing forum as if it doesn’t exist!
Okay, but why should that be a problem?
Because if casteism is NOT discussed in right-wing circles, Kushal says, it will be picked up by the so-called left-liberal brigade and will then be done to death from the point of view of victimhood. And then it will be added, I suppose, to the atrocity literature against India and passed on to those busy bodies within and outside India who love anything that adds to their “break India” agenda.
Now, I don’t agree with the assertion that casteism is not discussed in right-wing fora. But I would concede that the author is right in pointing out that even when casteism is discussed, people remain clueless about the possible solutions.
So, let me in this article add my own two cents (or paisa) about this aspect. You may or may not agree, but first, let us try to understand the problem before we can start thinking of a solution.
First of all, caste and its presumably Sanskrit equivalent word varna are not interchangeable. “Caste” is a colonial term which was first used by the Portuguese and meant class, which was something they were familiar with back home in Portugal. However, the natives, i.e. us, continued with the varna system. Okay, so what’s the distinction, really?
The major distinction is that in Europe, birth always defined caste, but the varna system in India was much more fluid. Sometimes it was identified with birth, and sometimes with the profession. But by translating varna to mean caste, we were led to believe birth always determined the varna.
Okay, so what? Whether or not we identified varna with birth, didn’t the Brahmins or the higher caste guys commit horrible atrocities on the Dalits and the untouchables? That’s also true, isn’t it?
Sure. But the main issue — who is to be blamed for all this?
Since all sacred Hindu texts (including the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Shastras) mention the varna system, it is logical to assume that Hinduism itself should be the problem. Isn’t this what all your leftists, Islamists, and Christian Evangelists claim?
But what they refuse to acknowledge is that Hinduism kept on debating, reforming, and transforming itself even in the 19th and 20th centuries despite being under the colonial yoke. Can you claim that with respect to any of the Abrahamic faiths with regard to any of their horrible practices that they persist with even today?
The fact today is — if you join any ashram, you won’t find any varna discrimination anywhere. There are no varna barriers in any of the camps or ashrams of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar or Baba Ramdev’s. Ramakrishna Mission and Arya Samaj too do not believe in caste distinctions. And if you join ISKCON, everyone starts as a Shudra (i.e. by sweeping, cooking, gardening) and then graduate upwards, should they persist.
In cities, jati is gone from our day-to-day life. When I was studying in school, I wasn’t aware of who belonged to which jati. Nor did I care about the jati of my teachers. “Jha ji” was Jha ji, and I didn’t know he was a Brahmin.
It was the same in the workplace. No one cared what jati his or her co-worker belonged to. Horrible bosses were horrible regardless they belonged to the upper or the lower caste.
Jati is also gone from public transportation. When I board a train, a bus, a flight, or a metro train, I don’t know who is standing or sitting next to me, and don’t ever bother to find out.
I’m hearing jati is going away from villages as well. Yes, the process is slower, but the progress is unstoppable.
But … But … But … if you talk to politicians, they will be quick to proclaim that jati discrimination is on the rise. What’s happening here? We need more Dalit empowerment. Absolutely. But we also need Brahmin empowerment. If we need Jat empowerment, we need Maratha empowerment too. And so sorry for not including other jatis and regions, as they all need empowerment.
And there begins the problem. We blame everything from Hinduism to Indian culture to the mind-set of people to the sun, the moon, and the stars for this problem. But there is one thing missing from all this discussion.
It’s our Indian law that’s the problem. Yes, it’s NOT Hinduism but our secular laws that have cemented the jati system from birth. Our census reports, our reservation laws, everything revolves around this premise that our jati is inextricably linked with our birth.
Let me give you an example. A Brahmin, even if he cleans toilets, cannot claim he has become a Dalit because of his profession and should be entitled to reservation. Our secular laws, say that he remains a Brahmin because his parents were Brahmins. Similarly, a Dalit would continue to be Dalit even if his parents be IAS officers or billionaires. So there you go. Reforming Hinduism won’t change a thing because it’s not Hinduism or Shastras that are creating the problem, but our very own SECULAR Indian laws.
This is what is at the core of identity politics that we find mushrooming all around us. So, we find Patels wanting reservation, along with Marathas and Jats and Gujjars. Their logic: if rich Dalits can get reservation, why not rich Patels, Marathas, or Gujjars? What have they done wrong? As a result, we now have political parties that specifically cater to such parochial interests thereby leading to further fragmentation of our society.
And on top of that, we now have Christian evangelist inspired race theories about the jati system where Dalits, hold your breath, are classified as “Black Africans” and Brahmins as “White Europeans” who led an invading army of Aryans to chase away the Dravidians from North India. To add variety, they also superimpose the South African style Apartheid regime on to us, and make us as guilty as the slave owners of Southern America in Lincoln’s days! You may want to refer to Breaking India, by Rajiv Malhotra if you want to understand this “point of view” in greater detail.
But … But … But … aren’t the Dalits most oppressed? Now, that depends on who you call Dalits. Would you call Brahmins as the new Dalits, because around 50 Sulabh Shauchalayas are now looked after and cleaned by Brahmins? Or, because now you find Brahmin coolies at the New Delhi railway station, and Brahmin gardeners, cooks, and security guards all around you?
Okay … But what about a Brahmin cop beating a poor Dalit? Yes, that poor Dalit deserves justice. But would that same Brahmin cop dare touch a Mayawati or a BSP MLA? In fact, he may try to curry favours with them. The reason that poor Dalit was targeted was not because he was a Dalit but because he was poor and vulnerable. The reverse is also true — we’ve also had instances of Dalit cops beating poor Brahmins. In both cases, the victims were targeted not because of their jati but because they were poor and defenceless. So, the issue may be not jati but poverty.
But … what about historical retribution? Shouldn’t we make Brahmins pay for what they did? Isn’t that their karma? Well, I’m afraid going this route will not solve our caste system. Because then why poor Kashmiri Pandits living in miserable conditions in camps in Jammu for the last 20 years deserve our sympathy or even attention?
Our goal should, therefore, be justice and not revenge. I see this as the only step forward. Isn’t it ironical that the ones who are the most anti-caste, including our left-liberal-Islamist friends, encourage casteism very differently?
This is the problem in a nutshell: A poor is a poor is a poor. He could be a Dalit or a Brahmin. Or she could be a Patel or a Jat or a Gujjar.
By the way, before you accuse me of being a Brahmin supremacist, let me tell you that by birth, I’m not even a Brahmin.
Okay, so now that we have identified the problem, let us come to the solution.
Some time back, the Narendra Modi administration passed the landmark Constitutional Amendment Bill to provide ten percent reservation for the economically weak in the general category. This experiment needs to be carried forward and I really hope the next time he comes back to power, he does away with caste-based reservation altogether and replaces it with 30% reservation based on your economic status.
The second step should be to abolish jati based census. It serves no other purpose than to become a tool to encourage identity politics.
The third should be to abolish/amend all those columns from all government forms that require you to fill in your caste.
The fourth should be to name and shame such members of our fourth state who perpetuate the birth-based caste system in their articles or TV coverages. If a movie scene showing a Brahmin asking a devotee to disclose his “jaat” before entering a temple infuriates you, so should counting caste of martyred soldiers. Or, when reams are written on who should be the preferred PM candidate for Dalits, SC/ST and Muslims.
This is the only solution I see for this problem.
Let me know what you think of this.
Note: Some have suggested banning same caste marriages, which I don’t agree with, because that only encourages casteism of a different kind. Just imagine two lovers who want to get married but cannot because they belong to the same caste!
An author who has written nine novels, six of which centre around Kashmir — You Can’t Kill My Love: A Kashmir Holocaust Love Story, Still Missing…, Kashmir is Free and Kashmir Thinks It’s Free (co-authored with his father Dr. Arun Kumar (IAS) Retd.), the Outsider’s Tales and a non-fiction memoir Unmasking Kashmir/The Outsider’s Curse (co-authored with his mother Sonali Kumar (IAS) Retd.)