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Are Hindu scriptures inherently casteist?

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Social systems resembling divisions among the multitude based on profession and/or status were historically prevalent throughout Europe. Caste, often argued to be one such European innovation, today is an inherent part of Indian society. Hinduism, although one of the more liberal and tolerant religions, is polluted by the divisions of caste. 

In the cauldron of today’s caste-driven Indian politics, criticizing this divide would be equivalent to condemning the very structure of ancient Hindu scriptures namely the Manusmriti and the Rigveda. Numerously have these Hindu scriptures propagated a divide on the lines of caste and gone even to the extent of dehumanizing women: 

“For the welfare of humanity, the supreme creator Brahma, gave birth to the Brahmins from his mouth, the Kshatriyas from his shoulders, the Vaishyas from the thighs and Sudras from his feet.”- Manu’s code – I-31 

“She who disrespects to (a husband) who is addicted to (some evil) passion, is a drunkard, or diseased, shall be deserted for three months (and be) deprived of her ornaments and furniture.”- Manu 9:78 

Description of caste as in the Manusmriti.

As opposed to the contribution of the Aryan invasion theory or the Elamo-Dravidian hypothesis to the question of who Indians are or what their contribution to Hinduism is, one thing can be ascertained about Hindu practices in the subcontinent is that Hinduism has largely been polytheistic. This is one strong parallel that can be traced back to European origin and deduced to be dominantly an Indo Aryan narrative. We can thus also conclude that The Aryans refined old hymns, composed new hymns that eventually were compiled to form Hindu scriptures like the Manusmriti. 

Only recently, Chandra Shekhar, a prominent leader of the Rashtriya Janta Dal in Bihar called out the ‘double standards’ of medieval Hindu texts like the Ramcharitmanas written by Tulsidas. He went on to say it has sowed hatred in the hearts of Hindus by making them more divided on the lines of caste and hierarchy. He substantiated his claim by quoting a verse from the Ramcharitmanas itself: “अधम जाति में विद्या पाए, भयहु यथा अहि दूध पिलाए।” — Educating someone from a lower caste is like giving milk to a snake. 

Notable mythologist Devdutt Patnaik in his article on the emergence of caste in India writes “The idea of purity is what established casteism in India. Purity has been manipulated by many Hindus to create a draconian hierarchy, despite opposition by other Hindus, especially the poet-sages. Academician-activists tend to focus on the former as “real” Hindus and ignore the latter. They ignore the idea that purity pervades all of human society in various forms from taboos in ancient tribes to fascism in modern times.”  

Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar pointed a contradiction in the Vedas as to how caste originated with 11 incompatible versions in sacred Hindu scriptures at the minimum. As a result of consistent oppression at the hands of Brahminincal conduct, a mass number of Mahars following Ambedkar took to Neo Buddhism. A religion that varies relatively in principle but fosters equality of its members without any divide. It was made to reject hegemony of the Brahmins and the intrinsic structural divide established by ancient Hindu Scriptures. 

The oppression of the ‘lower caste’ peaked in British India and paved way for canonical figures like Ambedkar and EV Ramaswamy to stand up against it. The latter, reverently called ‘Periyar’, is a figure of pivotal importance in Tamil Nadu if not all of South India. Periyar gained widespread popularity for his demand of Dravida Nadu or a State for the Dravidian people, free from the shackles of the Indo-Aryan hierarchical system of caste. Such was the extent the differences between different sectors of Hinduism that it ultimately drove some to demand a separate State in principle, different from traditional Hindu culture. 

Reducing the image of figures like Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar to merely a torchbearer of reservations in India is rather preposterous.  It’s about time Hindus acknowledged the intrinsic divides in sacred texts that lead to the formation of entire religions and reformist movements like the Brahmo Samaj.

Addressing inadequacies is the cornerstone of evolution be it religious or political and only then will the country slowly but surely break away from the shackles of caste and until then policies like the uniform civil code will always be a far-cry. And If Hindus themselves don’t recognize and accordingly address these deeply rooted divisions, who will? 

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