Over the last two to three months, Caste struggle leading to humiliation and abuse of Dalits has surfaced frequently in our news feeds. 2019 was a year that saw a shocking spike in sexual assault cases to 87 a day. From 2015 to 2018, honour killings proliferated with over 300 cases. This was accompanied by an increase of 75% in mob lynching too. The last half-a-decade is a stark example, perhaps not the only one, of how India breeds social conflicts and tribal warfare. 73 years into independence with a constitution founded on moral values and humanism, the average Indian has not evolved beyond his ego toward peace and tolerance.
Our social wars, be it religious or political, delve deep into lust for the inhumane. We’re far from developing sensibilities of brotherhood, let alone tolerance to multiplying rage. Since independence, the Indian person’s opportunity to dissociate from ancient roots of discriminative society is continually refused. We have burnt our bridges to our constitutional values which was the path to a finally advanced and liberated living.
Religious society and its inspiration for sectarian tendencies
India is a crucible of diverse people and geographies. Perhaps, conflicting allegiances to religion still inspire us into our ancient tendencies of factionalism, leaving us wondering why this won’t end. An answer may be with Lord Brahma who rotates on a lotus with heads and arms four each. He created the four Vedas, continually recited by the mouths of each head. One arm holds the sacred texts of the Vedas and another one counts rosaries signifying the running of time. The third-hand holds a ladle to keep a sacrificial fire fed. The fourth hand holds a utensil with water from which emanates our universe. Consider Brahma as the universe machine producing our lives ingrained with Vedic laws and sacrifices. Are we created as hierarchical classes by the supreme laws?
Having started with these roots, sectional concepts for the Indian population stemmed out in numerous ways across centuries making a multi-cultural entrenchment in the country’s society. The contemporary composition of the population in many parts of India continues to be a sprinkling of the Indian Medieval emergence of Hindu clans. During the centuries of 800-1200 AD, Medieval India, social order transformed. In Europe, West Asia and other parts of the world, this period saw the maturing of Feudalism, that is, kingship by a noble class holding vassal states and chiefs with land assignments. In Europe, the social order had a manor of the King, his family and his ministers’ complex, who held the land assignments with themselves or the vassals. This order essentially had nobles of high power and wealth, standing upon vast sections of indentured peasant labourers.
In India though, features of vassals and manors weren’t present as with Europe, but Feudalism adapted itself into the caste society. This was marked by the empowerment of the Brahmin class with land grants, the reduction in the ruling clan population (Kshatriya) by wars, the downgrading of Vaishyas or merchants to the level of Shudras (labour). This saw the rise of the Rajput clans in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Rajputs have their origin tracing back to many ancient ruling clans, that lead to the Lunar and Solar dynasties of Mahabharata.
It is said that sage Vashishth has produced four Rajput clans from a sacrificial fire. These were the Gujara Pratiharas, Paramaras or Pawars, Chalukyas and the Chauhans or Chahamans. Pratiharas belong to the Gurjar stock, which descended from Lakshmana. Pratihara meant “doorkeeper”, to Rama. While Gurjars ruled Gujarat, the Paramaras took the throne in Maharashtra and parts of Madhya Pradesh and the Chalukyas in Karnataka and Southern Maharashtra. While these four fought within themselves for the rule of India, they spread the Indian version of the Landed Feudalism called localism, with the lower caste peasants and slaves as the machinery.
This situation has helped the Jats arise as the newly emancipated lower caste to agrarian and warrior class too. Jats traditionally occupied Sindh and Punjab and from being primitive pastoralists, they became agrarian powers themselves, equalling the Rajputs politically. These new Jats marked the gradual rise of the anciently depressed Shudra clans in Medieval India. In the meanwhile, the human labour of the feudal order began to be composed of the Chandalas or Antyajas, now called Untouchables, along with the other slaves of Kings.
Contemporary opportunities can pacify the social spirits of the land
It appears to be out of human control that Indians grow into convoluted clan networks, all driven by any religious truth. Having said that, contemporary culture also advances humanity beyond rigid and unjustified social beliefs, to acculture ourselves with liberal ways of life in work, faith and expression. It’s equally natural therefore to choose not conducting ourselves by divine rules and act on what the human mind sees. We’re made of the same biological content and potential to advance in terms of wealth, health, peace and happiness as we desire. That said, we’re overshadowed by deep fears of maintaining the divine social order which often transforms into despotic intentions. Abuse, assault, lynching and honour killing abstractly allude to how religion with despotism is a tool to assimilate social power, showing a corrupted faith.
The Constitution steps in here providing us with a moral compass. Once independent, our mandate was to promote brotherhood and root out sectarian tendencies. The rule of law propounded by British Jurist A.V. Dicey, says that a constitution is the result of an individual’s rights. But our constitution is made by its writers as the supreme document to prevent us going overboard with undefined rights. For instance, if we lose our Indian citizenship, we are not secured with a right to life by our constitution.
The Preamble of the constitution declares that we practice values of evolved life. Its objectives are to secure to all of us Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity for a life of unity and dignity. The Preamble was never finalised until the last page was, to let it grow and feed the rest of the constitution with these values. While Brahma’s four heads emanate the laws of life in Hinduism, the Preamble does so for India. The constitution helps us develop materially, intellectually, morally and spiritually, which were a far cry to the erstwhile rulers. Furthermore, the Fundamental Rights of the constitution bestow upon us the rights to equality, freedom, religion, and protection against discrimination.
Article 15 declares that no person shall be discriminated on grounds of religion, race, sex, caste and place of birth. Article 17 prohibits untouchability in India in all forms anyone violating it will be sentenced. India also possesses Distributive Justice, which is a hybrid of economic and social fairness. It advocates no social distinction based on birth, colour and religion. It calls for eliminating the glaring inequalities in terms of wealth amongst people.
The ideal of Liberty focuses on the removal of social constraints on an individual. While it’s not a license to do anything one likes, we have the right to think, express, shape our own beliefs and faith. Any special privileges on one section of the population are also removed by providing the same on socially and economically backward classes.
The indestructible force of religious laws never fails to propagate factions. But applying constitutional values to them will encourage peaceful co-existence. It’s the constitution that directs how religion should be subscribed to in India.
According to article 51A, the Fundamental Duties, “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India:
…to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities and to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women; to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform…”
By burning our bridges to the constitutional values, have we failed to live up to who we claimed we are to our past invaders?
Constitution of India by Legislative Department of Ministry of Law and justice
M Laxmikanth, Indian Polity, McGraw-Hill
Satish Chandra, History of Medieval Indian History, Orient Blackswan Private Limited.