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Dalit Assertion

A Journey From ‘Shudras’-‘Outcastes’-‘Panchamas’ to ‘Dalits’

Introduction – An alarmingly large number of people in India,  irrespective of caste or creed, continues to suffer due to poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and unbridled exploitation, even 70 years after its Independence. The efforts done by the governments, so far, have led the Indian society towards fundamentalist and separatist attitudes, conflicts, in-fights between different sections of society, instability, in-decisiveness, and rigid and irrational attitude. The whole nation has been divided into numerous water-tight political camps like pro-Hindu camp, anti-Hindu camp, secular camp,  fundamentalist camp, and caste camps into forward, backward and Dalit camps. There are regional camps too. Attempts to place a society in different camps for selfish motives is against the law of humanity/nature and threat to unity.

The political developments with an aim to empower submerged sections of Indian society, including the ‘Policy of Reservation’ and other paternalistic policies, based on caste-consideration, have not been succeeded, so far, to yield desired results. Instead, it has sowed the seeds of mutual strife and polarized the Indian society into water-tight compartments. Also it has developed a mindset amongst very ambitious persons/individuals belonging to so-called Dalits and other backward castes that they will occupy the posts of ‘PM, CMs’ through elections and of ‘DMs and GMs’ through reservation.

Entrusting power in weak hands, without making them strong enough to hold it judiciously, could never bring any positive/desired results. Instead of enabling through sound education and training system to upgrade the social-status and economic position of submerged sections of society, paternalistic policies have divided  the whole nation into numerous political camps like pro-Hindu camp, anti-Hindu camp, secular camp,  fundamentalist camp, and caste camps into forward, backward and Dalit camps. There are regional camps too, playing up federal card to woe the electorate. increased rivalries and in-fights between different groups of castes and created social disorder, making now and then, the task of governance difficult.

Correct diagnosis of the ailment –  It is said that prescription works, if diagnosis of ailment is correct. To facilitate upward mobility of the oppressed and deprived sections of society,  valid prescriptions needs to be applied to deserving persons at right time, and in right quantity and quality.

Issue – The main issue is not the political empowerment of Dalits without enabling them to hold the responsibilities, but is of their sustainable development, creating awareness through sound education and training, so that nobody could exploit them and thus enable them to lead their life peacefully with dignity and honour.

Inter and Intra-Caste rivalries – All paternalistic policies are based on caste-identity. Therefore it is necessary to understand what caste is? Caste is a conglomeration of many sub-castes and sub-sub-castes. No caste or sub-caste or sub-sub caste has given up their separate identity, while interacting with each other.

The unity of backward castes under the label of Dalits or “OBCs” is an illusion created by vested interests. Neither the term Schedule caste”, nor OBC nor Dalit makes them a homogenous class. Only for political purposes, many castes and sub-castes have come together, formed a pressure group and emerged as strong force to persuade government to accept their demands for  special measures/preferences for empowering them.

Different castes  have accepted the identical tag given to them by the government – i,e. forward castes/caste-Hindus, backwards, SCs, STs and minorities.   In the opinion of MSS Pandian, the current inter caste rivalries are part of a series of periodic revolt, whose prime object is self-assertion. (An academic with Madras Institute of Development Studies, Sunday, pp. 12-13, and 8-14, June, 1997). 

Historical background

All the social groups as vertical parallels in ancient India – In ancient India all the social groups were placed more or less as a series of vertical parallels. All of the people living in a local area, whether high or low, were bound together by economic and social ties and had a strong bond of mutual dependence. Different castes and communities living in the same area cared and supported each other in fulfilling different kind of their needs. Socially, Shudras were supposed to do all sorts of menial work and serving the upper castes of the three Varnas.

Respect not on the basis of material success or control of power – Respect to a person or group was never given on the basis of material success or control of power. There was hardly any room for any section of society to consider itself, as being placed in greater or lesser disadvantageous position with reference to another. Concept of forwards or backwards or feeling of exploitation of lower strata by upper castes was almost non-existent at that time.

Many studies have shown that Hindu system always kept masses reconciled, if not contended in the past. Hindu Dharma taught the people that instead of holding others responsible, for all their sufferings, exploitation and miseries it was their own “Adharma” (immoral behavior), “Alasya” (laziness) and Agyan (ignorance) which were to be blamed.

Opportunities to Shudras to earn respect of the society – It never prevented Shudras or others to rise in the scale of society or to earn respect of the society. In many parts of the country, people belonging to lower strata held position of power/superior status or earned respect of Hindu society. Many warrior kings of Shudra and tribal origin sought Brahmins’ help to acquire Kshatriyas status for themselves. Many Shudras were accepted and revered as philosophers or spiritual teachers.

Low status and sufferings of ‘Shudras’ – All troubles of lower strata of society started after the downfall of Hindu Raj and old Hindus values around Seventh century onwards. Continuous invasions by Turks, Afghans and Mughals who earlier drained out the wealth of the nation to foreign lands and afterwards made India their homeland and ruled the country for centuries.

Feudalistic attitude, extravagance and luxurious life style of rulers and those at the helm of authority, increased the disparity between the rulers and the ruled. Therefore, it can be said that it was not out of malice, but the circumstances, which has pushed Shudras away from the mainstream.

Centuries old enslavement, ignorance, suppression, ostracism/low status and sufferings of Shudras or their exclusion from the mainstream had gradually stopped growth of their personality and made them completely dependent on others for their livelihood. It shook their confidence and their condition deteriorated continuously. They had to suffer inhuman treatment by the well-to- do sections of the society.

Depressed Class – During the nineteenth Century, in official circles lower castes were addressed as ‘Depressed class’ or ‘Exterior class’. British government in India regarded these people as ‘Oppressed of the oppressed and lowest of the low’. Missionaries were trying to convert this section of society into Christianity. British rulers passed many Legislative regulations and administrative orders and declared denial of access to untouchables to schools, well, roads and public places as illegal.

Till now, untouchable activities were combined with the intermediate castes’ non- Brahmin movement. But now all these developments inspired them to enter into the political arena under the name of “depressed class” and desired to a share in political power separately in India.

Harijans

The attempt of British rulers in 1911 to exclude untouchables from Hindu population and continuous decline of number of Hindus cautioned the national leaders. In order to retain their Hindu identity, Gandhiji and his followers called them Harijans meaning the “people belonging to god”. On one hand, Gandhiji tried to create compassion in the hearts of forward communities for Harijans and on the other he appealed to Harijans to observe cleaner habits, so that they could mix up freely with other sections of society. Dalit leaders did not like the word Harijan as it symbolized a meek and helpless person, at the mercy and benevolence of others, and not the proud and independent human being that they were.

During this period, the attention of humanitarians and reformers was also drawn towards the pathetic condition of untouchables. They took the path of Sankritisation to elevate them. In order to prevent alienation of untouchables from Hindu community, they drew the attention of forward communities towards inhuman condition of lower strata of society and tried to create compassion in their hearts for downtrodden.

They gave top most priority to the abolition of untouchability. They tried to clarify that Untouchability was neither an integral part of Hinduism nor an outcome of Varna/caste system, nor have any religious sanctity, but an external impurity and sinful blot on Hinduism. They laid emphasis on education, moral regeneration and philanthropic uplift. and become proud and independent human beings, that they were.

Untouchables

By 1909, the lowest strata of Indian society came to be known as untouchabes. Emergence of Dr. Ambedkar on the political scene provided the leadership and stimulus to untouchable movement. He insisted to address untouchables just as untouchables. He regarded the terms ‘Depressed classes’, ‘Dalits’, ‘Harijans’ either confusing or degrading and contemptuous. Dr. Ambedkar made it abundantly clear, ‘It was through political power that untouchables were to find their solution, not through acceptance by Hindus’. He gave untouchable movement a national character and a distinct identity during late twenties and early thirties.

Other prominent Dalit leaders like Mahatma Phule, Ambedkar or Gopal Ganesh vehemently criticized Hindu hierarchical structure and regarded untouchability as an inevitable concomitant of Varna/caste system. They taught the lower castes to get united and make eradication of caste system their major plank as it engaged them to forced labor or unsavory jobs, imposed many restrictions on them and prevented them from joining the mainstream of the society. According to them, Hindus treated lower castes as lesser human beings, meek and helpless persons, who should always remain at the mercy and benevolence of upper castes. They tried to find the solution of their problems through political power, not through acceptance by Hindus.

By 1920’s, numerous caste organizations, specially in the South and West, organized themselves into larger collectiveness by keeping contacts and alliances with their counterparts at other places; formed associations and federations at local and regional levels and emerged as a powerful political force. Together, they demanded special legal protection and share in politics and administration on the basis of caste.

In 1928, Simon Commission established their separate identity at national level, independent of intermediate castes as untouchables. It readily accepted their demands through Communal Award of 1932. Gandhiji along with other National leaders regarded it as the Unkindest cut of all”, which would create a permanent split in Hindu Society, perpetuate casteism and make impossible the assimilation of untouchables in mainstream. Dr. Rajendra Prasad said, The principle of dividing population into communal groups, which had been adopted in the Minto Morely Reforms, had been considerably extended, even beyond what had been done by Montagu Chelmsford Reforms….The electorate in 1919 was broken up into ten parts, now it is fragmented into seventeen unequal bits… Giving separate representations to Schedule Castes further weakened Hindu community… The British introduced every possible cross-division.

Scheduled Castes

In accordance with the provisions of the Communal Award of 1932, instructions were issued, in July 1934, to schedule a list of the people entitled for preferential treatment in matter of special electoral representation and appointment in the Central Government jobs. This gave birth to the term Scheduled Caste in 1935. Scheduling was a legal activity having sanction of legal authorities. Therefore, no one had any objection to this term. The term continued after the independence as well, for the purpose of Reservation.

Untouchables in Independent India

After second world war emergence of the concept of ‘welfare state’ swept the whole world. Independent India, as a civilized democratic society, considered it its humanitarian obligation to uplift and empower the submerged sections of society. The overwhelming poverty of millions belonging to lower strata of society and their near absence in echelons of power at the time of Independence has led the government to of India to intervene. The Constitution of India has directed the Government to promote social justice and educational, economic and other interests of the weaker sections with special care. It instructed the Government to remove the poverty and reduce inequalities of income and wealth and provide adequate representation to the downtrodden in power echelons through Affirmative Action Program/Reservation Policy. Public facilities, which were denied to untouchables so far, should be made accessible to them. The successive governments both at national as well as provincial levels initiated various Welfare Plans and Policies for employment generation and their social, economic and political growth from time to time.

Dalits

Dalit, a Maradhi word means suppressed. The term was chosen and used proudly by Ambedkar’s followers under the banner of various factions of Republican Party of India (Formed in 1956). The Mahars of Bombay (8%), Jatavs of UP (Half of the SC Population in UP) and Nadars and Thevars of Southern TN being numerically significant, played a decisive role in taking forward Dalit movement. Maharashtra Dalit movement has a longest and richest experience.

In 1972, a distinct political party, in the name of Dalit Panther was formed in Maharashtra. It organized the lower castes under the banner of ‘Dalit’ throughout India. One of the founders of Dalit Panther, Mr. Namdeo Dhasal widened the scope of Dalit by including SC, tribes, neo-Buddhists, landless labor and economically exploited people. Its orientation was primarily militant and rebellious. Dalit Sahitya Movement legitimized and reinforced the use of the term Dalit. Since then, this term is very popular amongst the untouchables.

Earlier, a few leaders of untouchables had at least some regard for the cultural tradition of India. They did not reject Vedic literature or the foundations of Hinduism, out-rightly. Dr. Ambedkar accepted that all parts of Manusmiriti were not condemnable. Gopal Baba Walangkar had said that Vedas did not support untouchability. Kisan Fagoi, another Mahar leader of pre-Ambedkar era had joined Prarthna Samaj. But present Dalit leaders are vehemently against cultural traditions of India, which according to them, are based on inequality and exploitation. There is always a fear of upper caste or intermediate caste backlash.

In mid sixties, an aggressive Dalit movement started under the banner of Shoshit Samaj Dal in Central Bihar, which has, presently, become a major center of Naxalite movement. Dal was founded by Jagdeo Mahto, who began to mobilize the lower castes against economic repression and exploitation of women by upper caste feudal elements.

The new phase of Dalit assertion is most prominent in the most populous state of UP, where the upper caste domination has been challenged by BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) formed in 1984 under the leadership of Kanshi Ram and Mayavati. They redefined Dalit politics especially in north India. Their approach to Dalit issues was more socio-political rather than economic. BSP has started pursuing power with militancy since 1990. Of late, BSP has made significant inroads in UP, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. BSP has borrowed all their phraseology from Dalit Panthers. Most of their utterances are arrogant, revengeful and opportunistic. Political and economic vested interests of its leaders has aroused militancy among discontented youths of different castes and communities all over the nation. They care only for rights and pay scant attention to their duties. There started a cutthroat competition for scarce positions of power and prestige.

Once again, the tendency of ‘divide and rule’, as was there during British domination, has emerged in national scenario. The growing desire of Dalits to rule has made them very sure of their friends and foes. Dalit leaders, even after so many years of Independence has identified Upper Castes as their enemy and intermediate castes sometimes as their friends and sometimes as their enemies. Kanshi Ram, a BSP leader initiated a formula of DS4, meaning Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangarsh Samiti, taking into its fold untouchables, STs, Muslims and OBCs.

OBC leaders also know that Dalit parties now control a large vote bank. Therefore, from time to time, they try to please Dalits leaders in order to increase their own political strength. But Dalits are in no mood to play a second fiddle to other national political parties. They are aware of their growing influence and crucial role as a kink-maker in today’s highly competitive and unstable political atmosphere. All the three major national political formations – Congress’s UPA BJP’s NDA and National Front – are wooing frantically Dalit leaders and competing with each other to have a pre or post poll alliance with them. Instead of demanding a share in power structure, equity or social justice, Dalits now want to reverse the power equation and to transform the society by capturing all political power. Their aim is to get hold over the posts of PM-CM (Political Power) through electoral politics and control over administrative authority – the bureaucracy – through Reservations/Affirmative Action Program.

There is an elite section amongst Dalits, which protects its turf under the banner of Dalits at the cost of poorest of Dalits. It does not care much to bring Dalit masses into the mainstream. For some, presence and miseries of large number of dalits is a recipe for Dalit vote-bank, for others enjoying all the benefits of affirmative action programs initiated and implemented by the Government of India and other concessions given to them. Whatever might be the condition of Dalit masses, but the political power and arrogance of Dalit leaders and intellectuals are at rise. And here lies the crux of Dalit poltics.

Dalits at International platform

Dalits are not satisfied even after having growing influence in ballot-box politics and attaining enough places in the government jobs. Since 2001, these activists have been pushing the cause internationally arguing that Indian Dalits are like blacks in US till 1950. They faced problems in workplace, at school and in temples.

In 2005, some Dalit leaders belonging to All India Confederation have sought intervention USA, UN and the British and EU Parliaments on the issues of ‘untouchability’. UN recognizes religion, race, language and gender as main causes of inequality in the world. Dalt activists want caste to be included too in this category. They desire to have Global alliance, global involvement and intervention of the international community to put pressure on the government of India to address the problem Dalit marginalization. They feel that globalization and privatization has made it difficult for Dalits, tribals and OBC’s to compete on equal footing or find enough space in the job market within the country or abroad. At the behest of the Republican Congressman from New Jersey, Chris Smith, the US Congress had held a hearing on 6.10. 05 on the subject. A resolution on the issue – “ India’s unfinished Agenda: Equality and Justice for 200 million victims of the caste system” was prepared by the house committee on International Relations and US Human Rights to be tabled in the US Congress. “Despite the Indian government’s extensive affirmative action policies, which aim to open government service and education to Dalits and tribes, most have been left behind by India’s increasing prosperity…. Much much more remains to be done.” The resolution says, “It is in the interest of US to address the problem of the treatment of groups outside the caste system… in the republic of India in order to better meet our mutual economic and security goals….”

So far, intensive lobbying by Dalit groups including followers of Ravidass sect succeeded in getting passed the Equity Bill on March 24, 2010 in the house of Lords. It empowered the government to include ‘caste’ within the definition of ‘race’. In 2001, India was able in keeping caste out of the resolution adopted at 2001 Durban Conferernce.

Along with it, staunch supporters of Human Rights, some Scandinavian countris, Church organisations around the world and Lutheran World Federation have shown interest and expressed their solidarity with Dalits. Recently the comment of UN Commissioner for human rights, Navi pillay asking India that “time has come to eradicate the shameful concept of caste” and proposals of UN Human Rights Council’s or US based Human Rights Watch (HRW) to recognise caste as a form of discrimination ‘based on descent and birth’ appear not to be based on rational understanding of caste system. Their opinion about untouchability is greatly influenced by the lobbying of powerful/influential Dalit leaders and Dalit intelligentia.

No one knows where the Dalit assertion will lead the nation to? It is not the paternalistic policies, (which have failed to yield so far the desired results) that are required for the upliftment and empowerment of submerged sections of society, but there is need to educate, make them aware of their rights and duties, provide enough employment opportunities and other civic facilities like health etc at the grass root level for the sustainable growth of backward communities.

‘Shudras’, ‘Outcastes’ and ‘Panchamas’

In ancient India all the social groups were placed more or less as a series of vertical parallels. All of the people living in a local area, whether high or low, were bound together by economic and social ties and had a strong bond of mutual dependence. They cared and supported each other in fulfilling different kind of their needs. Socially, Shudras were supposed to do all sorts of menial work and serving the upper castes of the three Varnas.

Respect to a person or group was never given on the basis of material success or control of power. There was hardly any room for any section of society to consider itself, as being placed in greater or lesser disadvantageous position with reference to another. Concept of forwards or backwards or feeling of exploitation of lower strata by upper castes was almost non-existent at that time. Many studies have shown that Hindu system always kept masses reconciled, if not contended in the past. Hindu Dharma taught the people that instead of holding others responsible, for all their sufferings, exploitation and miseries it was their own “Adharma” (immoral behavior), “Alasya” (laziness) and Agyan (ignorance) which were to be blamed.

It never prevented Shudras or others to rise in the scale of society or to earn respect of the society. In many parts of the country, people belonging to lower strata held position of power/superior status or earned respect of Hindu society. Many warrior kings of Shudra and tribal origin sought Brahmins’ help to acquire Kshatriyas status for themselves. Many Shudras were accepted and revered as philosophers or spiritual teachers.

All troubles of lower strata of society started after the downfall of Hindu Raj and old Hindus values. Continuous invasions by Turks, Afghans and Mughals who earlier drained out the wealth of the nation to foreign lands and afterwards made India their homeland and ruled the country for centuries. Feudalistic attitude, extravagance and luxurious life style of rulers and those at the helm of authority, increased the disparity between the rulers and the ruled. Therefore, it can be said that it was not out of malice, but the circumstances, which has pushed Shudras away from the mainstream.

The low status and sufferings of Shudras or their exclusion from the mainstream for centuries has gradually stopped growth of their personality and made them completely dependent on others for their livelihood. Centuries old enslavement, ignorance, suppression and ostracism shook their confidence, deteriorated severely their condition and made them to suffer inhuman treatment by other sections of the society.

Depressed Class

During the nineteenth Century, in official circles lower castes were addressed as ‘Depressed class’ or ‘Exterior class’. British government in India regarded these people as ‘Oppressed of the oppressed and lowest of the low’. Missionaries were trying to convert this section of society into Christianity. British rulers passed many Legislative regulations and administrative orders and declared denial of access to untouchables to schools, well, roads and public places as illegal.

Till now, untouchable activities were combined with the intermediate castes’ non- Brahmin movement. But now all these developments inspired them to enter into the political arena under the name of “depressed class” and desired to a share in political power separately in India.

Harijans

The attempt of British rulers in 1911 to exclude untouchables from Hindu population and continuous decline of number of Hindus cautioned the national leaders. In order to retain their Hindu identity, Gandhiji and his followers called them Harijans meaning the “people belonging to god”. On one hand, Gandhiji tried to create compassion in the hearts of forward communities for Harijans and on the other he appealed to Harijans to observe cleaner habits, so that they could mix up freely with other sections of society. Dalit leaders did not like the word Harijan as it symbolized a meek and helpless person, at the mercy and benevolence of others, and not the proud and independent human being that they were.

During this period, the attention of humanitarians and reformers was also drawn towards the pathetic condition of untouchables. They took the path of Sankritisation to elevate them. In order to prevent alienation of untouchables from Hindu community, they drew the attention of forward communities towards inhuman condition of lower strata of society and tried to create compassion in their hearts for downtrodden.

They gave top most priority to the abolition of untouchability. They tried to clarify that Untouchability was neither an integral part of Hinduism nor an outcome of Varna/caste system, nor have any religious sanctity, but an external impurity and sinful blot on Hinduism. They laid emphasis on education, moral regeneration and philanthropic uplift. and become proud and independent human beings, that they were.

Untouchables

By 1909, the lowest strata of Indian society came to be known as untouchabes. Emergence of Dr. Ambedkar on the political scene provided the leadership and stimulus to untouchable movement. He insisted to address untouchables just as untouchables. He regarded the terms ‘Depressed classes’, ‘Dalits’, ‘Harijans’ either confusing or degrading and contemptuous. Dr. Ambedkar made it abundantly clear, ‘It was through political power that untouchables were to find their solution, not through acceptance by Hindus’. He gave untouchable movement a national character and a distinct identity during late twenties and early thirties.

Other prominent Dalit leaders like Mahatma Phule, Ambedkar or Gopal Ganesh vehemently criticized Hindu hierarchical structure and regarded untouchability as an inevitable concomitant of Varna/caste system. They taught the lower castes to get united and make eradication of caste system their major plank as it engaged them to forced labor or unsavory jobs, imposed many restrictions on them and prevented them from joining the mainstream of the society. According to them, Hindus treated lower castes as lesser human beings, meek and helpless persons, who should always remain at the mercy and benevolence of upper castes. They tried to find the solution of their problems through political power, not through acceptance by Hindus.

By 1920’s, numerous caste organizations, specially in the South and West, organized themselves into larger collectiveness by keeping contacts and alliances with their counterparts at other places; formed associations and federations at local and regional levels and emerged as a powerful political force. Together, they demanded special legal protection and share in politics and administration on the basis of caste.

In 1928, Simon Commission established their separate identity at national level, independent of intermediate castes as untouchables. It readily accepted their demands through Communal Award of 1932. Gandhiji along with other National leaders regarded it as the Unkindest cut of all”, which would create a permanent split in Hindu Society, perpetuate casteism and make impossible the assimilation of untouchables in mainstream. Dr. Rajendra Prasad said, The principle of dividing population into communal groups, which had been adopted in the Minto Morely Reforms, had been considerably extended, even beyond what had been done by Montagu Chelmsford Reforms….The electorate in 1919 was broken up into ten parts, now it is fragmented into seventeen unequal bits… Giving separate representations to Schedule Castes further weakened Hindu community… The British introduced every possible cross-division.

Scheduled Castes

In accordance with the provisions of the Communal Award of 1932, instructions were issued, in July 1934, to schedule a list of the people entitled for preferential treatment in matter of special electoral representation and appointment in the Central Government jobs. This gave birth to the term Scheduled Caste in 1935. Scheduling was a legal activity having sanction of legal authorities. Therefore, no one had any objection to this term. The term continued after the independence as well, for the purpose of Reservation.

Untouchables in Independent India

After second world war emergence of the concept of ‘welfare state’ swept the whole world. Independent India, as a civilized democratic society, considered it its humanitarian obligation to uplift and empower the submerged sections of society. The overwhelming poverty of millions belonging to lower strata of society and their near absence in echelons of power at the time of Independence has led the government to of India to intervene. The Constitution of India has directed the Government to promote social justice and educational, economic and other interests of the weaker sections with special care. It instructed the Government to remove the poverty and reduce inequalities of income and wealth and provide adequate representation to the downtrodden in power echelons through Affirmative Action Program/Reservation Policy. Public facilities, which were denied to untouchables so far, should be made accessible to them. The successive governments both at national as well as provincial levels initiated various Welfare Plans and Policies for employment generation and their social, economic and political growth from time to time.

Dalits

Dalit, a Maradhi word means suppressed. The term was chosen and used proudly by Ambedkar’s followers under the banner of various factions of Republican Party of India (Formed in 1956). The Mahars of Bombay (8%), Jatavs of UP (Half of the SC Population in UP) and Nadars and Thevars of Southern TN being numerically significant, played a decisive role in taking forward Dalit movement. Maharashtra Dalit movement has a longest and richest experience.

In 1972, a distinct political party, in the name of Dalit Panther was formed in Maharashtra. It organized the lower castes under the banner of ‘Dalit’ throughout India. One of the founders of Dalit Panther, Mr. Namdeo Dhasal widened the scope of Dalit by including SC, tribes, neo-Buddhists, landless labor and economically exploited people. Its orientation was primarily militant and rebellious. Dalit Sahitya Movement legitimized and reinforced the use of the term Dalit. Since then, this term is very popular amongst the untouchables.

Earlier, a few leaders of untouchables had at least some regard for the cultural tradition of India. They did not reject Vedic literature or the foundations of Hinduism, out-rightly. Dr. Ambedkar accepted that all parts of Manusmiriti were not condemnable. Gopal Baba Walangkar had said that Vedas did not support untouchability. Kisan Fagoi, another Mahar leader of pre-Ambedkar era had joined Prarthna Samaj. But present Dalit leaders are vehemently against cultural traditions of India, which according to them, are based on inequality and exploitation. There is always a fear of upper caste or intermediate caste backlash.

In mid sixties, an aggressive Dalit movement started under the banner of Shoshit Samaj Dal in Central Bihar, which has, presently, become a major center of Naxalite movement. Dal was founded by Jagdeo Mahto, who began to mobilize the lower castes against economic repression and exploitation of women by upper caste feudal elements.

The new phase of Dalit assertion is most prominent in the most populous state of UP, where the upper caste domination has been challenged by BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) formed in 1984 under the leadership of Kanshi Ram and Mayavati. They redefined Dalit politics especially in north India. Their approach to Dalit issues was more socio-political rather than economic. BSP has started pursuing power with militancy since 1990. Of late, BSP has made significant inroads in UP, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. BSP has borrowed all their phraseology from Dalit Panthers. Most of their utterances are arrogant, revengeful and opportunistic. Political and economic vested interests of its leaders has aroused militancy among discontented youths of different castes and communities all over the nation. They care only for rights and pay scant attention to their duties. There started a cutthroat competition for scarce positions of power and prestige.

Once again, the tendency of ‘divide and rule’, as was there during British domination, has emerged in national scenario. The growing desire of Dalits to rule has made them very sure of their friends and foes. Dalit leaders, even after so many years of Independence has identified Upper Castes as their enemy and intermediate castes sometimes as their friends and sometimes as their enemies. Kanshi Ram, a BSP leader initiated a formula of DS4, meaning Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangarsh Samiti, taking into its fold untouchables, STs, Muslims and OBCs.

OBC leaders also know that Dalit parties now control a large vote bank. Therefore, from time to time, they try to please Dalits leaders in order to increase their own political strength. But Dalits are in no mood to play a second fiddle to other national political parties. They are aware of their growing influence and crucial role as a kink-maker in today’s highly competitive and unstable political atmosphere. All the three major national political formations – Congress’s UPA BJP’s NDA and National Front – are wooing frantically Dalit leaders and competing with each other to have a pre or post poll alliance with them. Instead of demanding a share in power structure, equity or social justice, Dalits now want to reverse the power equation and to transform the society by capturing all political power. Their aim is to get hold over the posts of PM-CM (Political Power) through electoral politics and control over administrative authority – the bureaucracy – through Reservations/Affirmative Action Program.

There is an elite section amongst Dalits, which protects its turf under the banner of Dalits at the cost of poorest of Dalits. It does not care much to bring Dalit masses into the mainstream. For some, presence and miseries of large number of dalits is a recipe for Dalit vote-bank, for others enjoying all the benefits of affirmative action programs initiated and implemented by the Government of India and other concessions given to them. Whatever might be the condition of Dalit masses, but the political power and arrogance of Dalit leaders and intellectuals are at rise. And here lies the crux of Dalit poltics.

Dalits at International platform

Dalits are not satisfied even after having growing influence in ballot-box politics and attaining enough places in the government jobs. Since 2001, these activists have been pushing the cause internationally arguing that Indian Dalits are like blacks in US till 1950. They faced problems in workplace, at school and in temples.

In 2005, some Dalit leaders belonging to All India Confederation have sought intervention USA, UN and the British and EU Parliaments on the issues of ‘untouchability’. UN recognizes religion, race, language and gender as main causes of inequality in the world. Dalt activists want caste to be included too in this category. They desire to have Global alliance, global involvement and intervention of the international community to put pressure on the government of India to address the problem Dalit marginalization. They feel that globalization and privatization has made it difficult for Dalits, tribals and OBC’s to compete on equal footing or find enough space in the job market within the country or abroad. At the behest of the Republican Congressman from New Jersey, Chris Smith, the US Congress had held a hearing on 6.10. 05 on the subject. A resolution on the issue – “ India’s unfinished Agenda: Equality and Justice for 200 million victims of the caste system” was prepared by the house committee on International Relations and US Human Rights to be tabled in the US Congress. “Despite the Indian government’s extensive affirmative action policies, which aim to open government service and education to Dalits and tribes, most have been left behind by India’s increasing prosperity…. Much much more remains to be done.” The resolution says, “It is in the interest of US to address the problem of the treatment of groups outside the caste system… in the republic of India in order to better meet our mutual economic and security goals….”

So far, intensive lobbying by Dalit groups including followers of Ravidass sect succeeded in getting passed the Equity Bill on March 24, 2010 in the house of Lords. It empowered the government to include ‘caste’ within the definition of ‘race’. In 2001, India was able in keeping caste out of the resolution adopted at 2001 Durban Conferernce.

Along with it, staunch supporters of Human Rights, some Scandinavian countris, Church organisations around the world and Lutheran World Federation have shown interest and expressed their solidarity with Dalits. Recently the comment of UN Commissioner for human rights, Navi pillay asking India that “time has come to eradicate the shameful concept of caste” and proposals of UN Human Rights Council’s or US based Human Rights Watch (HRW) to recognise caste as a form of discrimination ‘based on descent and birth’ appear not to be based on rational understanding of caste system. Their opinion about untouchability is greatly influenced by the lobbying of powerful/influential Dalit leaders and Dalit intelligentia.

No one knows where the Dalit assertion will lead the nation to? It is not the paternalistic policies, (which have failed to yield so far the desired results) that are required for the upliftment and empowerment of submerged sections of society, but there is need to educate, make them aware of their rights and duties, provide enough employment opportunities and other civic facilities like health etc at the grass root level for the sustainable growth of backward communities.

April 19, 2017 Posted by | Social and political values and systems | | Leave a comment

Labels ‘Shudra’ or a ‘Brahmin’?

  “In the modern understanding of caste system, the element of caste is predominant and the element of system is less.”

Basic Question

Usually doubts arise in people’s minds-‘Why Shudra is a Shudra and a brahmin a brahmin? Can not a shudra become a brahmin and earn the respect of whole of the Hindu society?’

Need For Stratification

Usually it is believed that general similarities of taste, likes, dislikes, vocations, social status and such other factors make individuals agreeable to each other. They prefer company of people having common callings/occupations, common problems, and common solutions. Eventually it leads them to form their own social group.i

Such persons develop closeness within that group, due to a feeling of common bond underlying their activities and minds. Their mutual cooperation tends them to accomplish more skill, specialization, success and happiness in life.

A feeling, being different from other groups on account of differences in callings, problems and difficulties, leads a society to stratification. It decentralizes authority and resources. It makes management within each unit effective. Also it organizes human and social behavior in tune with the objectives of the society. Therefore, some sort of classification or stratification is natural and necessary for every society, be it ancient or modern.i

i

Being so, Hindu different social groups came into existence inphilosophy also believes that all persons are not identical. They differ from one another on the grounds of natural endowments, intelligence, skills, attitude, aptitude and other innate characteristics. Such differences give rise to the formations of different social groups.

The whole world of activities is a result of complex intermixing of three basic qualities of human nature – goodness (Satva) associated with purity, peace and knowledge; Passion (Rajas)with comfort and action; and dullness (Tamas) with ignorance, sloth, sleep and carelessness.

These qualities determines physical strength, mental capacity, aspirations, likes and dislikes, inclinations, expectations, tendencies, potentialities, limitations, traits and character of individuals. It gives them direction for action.

Accordingly, Hinduism has also stratified society into four social groups known as Varna – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudra.

Test of Time

The whole system has survived vicissitudes of time, saved itself by erosion from within and assault from outside because of its adaptability. It has also acted as a shield by not allowing Mughal rulers or British missionaries to sweep out this established society off its roots. Had it not been so, India would have been a society totally different than what it is now.The whole system has survived vicissitudes of time, saved itself by erosion from within and assault from outside because of its adaptability. It has also acted as a shield by not allowing Mughal rulers or British missionaries to sweep out this established society off its roots. Had it not been so, India would have been a society totally different than what it is now.

In the present scenario also, caste system in india appears to most of Indians a very dear, natural, valid and useful social institution. Had it become obsolete for the modern society, it would have given way to some other system long back. Its very survival is the proof of its usefulness to our modern Indian society. The system has given to India a solid social structure with a system of thought, a way of life and sense of direction, which still covers its entire social fabric. It has withstood the test of time.

Adjusted to Changes

The caste system adapted itself to the slow changes time brought in. Once changed, it did not go back to its original form. Its shades have been different during periods of industrialization and modernization.

It has neither repulsed any trend vehemently, nor allowed others to sweep off its own established culture from its roots. It presents one of the oldest social institution and a continuous and uninterrupted living culture still existing in the whole world.

The Hindu Philosophy

According to Hindu philosophy, all persons are not identical. They differ from one another on grounds of natural endowment, intelligence, skills, attitude, aptitude and other innate qualities.

Further, all activities on the earth are the result of complex intermixing of three basic qualities of human nature – goodness (Satva) associated with purity, peace and knowledge; passion (Rajas) coupled with comfort and action; and finally, dullness (Tamas) that is accompanied by ignorance, sloth, sleep and carelessness.

These qualities determine physical strength, mental capacity, aspirations, likes and dislikes, inclinations, expectations, tendencies, potentialities, limitations, traits and character of individuals and gave them direction for action.

The Varna/caste System

On the above grounds, Hindu’s Varna system, has classified Hindu society into four Varnas embracing numerous castes and sub-castes within its fold. It has assigned different duties to various groups according to their natural instincts, attitude, aptitude and qualifications. These are shown as follows–

  1. Brahmins – Those possessing intellectual and spiritual qualities and having a flair for learning were assigned the task of pursuing the path of knowledge and, more importantly, using that knowledge to set norms for the common man so that whole society could benefit.
  2. Khshtriyas – Those having combating skills and, men of action who could rule and set tenets to defend the community, were put in this group. Their duty was to protect the people from internal disorders and defend them from external aggressions.
  3. Vaishyas – Persons having a flair for commerce were included in this group. They were to carry on trade and be engaged in production and industry.
  4. Shudras – People unable to take the above three responsibilities or, captives ???(the conquered) were placed in this category. They were advised to do menial jobs and work under the guidance of any of the above three Varnas.Like any other organic body, society is also supposed to behave, function or develop. It needs the services of all its constituents, each part doing a particular function and each part being equally important and indispensible for the whole body. All its parts need equal attention and care for balanced growth of the whole body. Co-ordinated functioning of all parts together keeps the whole system fit and alive.

People, who fell totally outside the caste system, were anti-social elements, adivasis living in far off places and, foreigners. They did not subscribe to rules and values of the caste system and therefore could not be part of the same.

According to Hindu Shastras, it was not the birth but the deeds, attitude and nature of a persn, that determined, to which group a person belonged. As the number of different social groups increased due to assimilation of different groups at different points of time, different social groups came to be known as castes.

Emergence of Caste System

As several castes and sub-castes rose within each Varna, in order to save the society from confusion, the caste of a person came to be known by birth. Convenience and role of family background in developing the knowledge and personality of a person were the main reasons behind this change. Lower-castes could seek to elevate status of their caste by attempting to emulate the practices of higher castes. It was accepted by all and worked well till British rule started in India.

Like any organic body, a society is also supposed to behave, function or develop. It needs the services of all its constituents, each part doing a particular function and each part being equally important and indispensible for the whole body. Co-ordinated functioning of all parts together keeps the whole system fit and alive. All need equal attention and care for balanced growth. The creators of the Varna system would be called today-super Management Experts who tried to maximize functional utility of the then available human resources of the society.

Fulfill Aspirations

Some deformities developed in caste-system during the domination of alien’s rule for centuries in India. After Independence, traditional caste barriers and inappropriate practices crept into the system which started breaking slowly. But then, the process of modernization and industrialization, technological developments, especially in areas of transport, means of communication and information technology generated closer interaction with the world a reality.

Earlier, persons who had dreams and potential to step out and perform well outside their traditional occupation did not have access to opportunities. Now that time has come when they can move out to fulfill their aspirations.

Caste is no Barrier

With reformatory movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, introduction of modern education, attempts of constitution-framers, spread of education and growth of awareness among people,many changes have come about in the thinking, attitude and aspirations of all.  Caste is no longer a barrier.

Society has accepted the changeover to any profession a person wishes to pursue and for that he has to prove his suitability in the job market. Hence, the label of Brahmin or of Shudra does not matter at all. There is no dearth of opportunities. From all sections of society, people are acquiring necessary qualifications and are entering into areas of their choice. Experience shows that all are doing well in almost all spheres.

But inspite of all the freedom many of the youth now prefer to opt for their traditional occupations. It is not out of compulsion, but because of the familiarity with the norms and atmosphere of that particular job/occupation/profession. It gives them a better footing and more recognition in that area. It gives them more opportunities to move forward and get more success. A son/daughter of a politician is quite often seen to prefer to become a politician, of an industrialist a industrialist, of a doctor a doctor, of a film actor a film-actor, so on and soforth.

History Also Proves This

There have been many persons who would be called ‘backward’ or ‘untouchable’ as per  present yardsticks, but were honored by the society. Nand and Yashoda (Lord Krishna’s foster parents). Lord Rama, a king, who  ate half-eaten berries of Shabri – an untouchable. Vashishtha, (son of a prostitute) was the principal of the conservative school of Brahmanism, or Vyasa of Mahabharata fame and Balmiki, the original author of Ramayana (both untouchables) were revered as philosophers or spiritual teachers all over India

During medieval India also, Sant Ravidas, Namdev, Tukaram, Malika, Sunderdas were respected as a saint. There had been many instances many warrior kings of Shudra and tribal origin sought Brahmins’ help to acquire Kshatriyas status for themselves.

In modern times also, many persons are occupying important places in power corridors of government or Public or Private sectors like Sh Jagjivan Ram, Mayavati, Meira Kumar and a large number of bureaucrats at all the levels of government services. They are respected citizens of India..

Winding Up

According to Bhavat Gita, it is the deeds, not the birth which determines, who is who. In modern times, everyone is equal in the eyes of God and the law of the land. Caste system too has become socially more liberal and less restrictive.Hence, putting a label has no longer any meaning now.

i Ellis R.S. The psychology of individual differences – 1930, chapter XVI-Individual differences and social differentiation PP.386-404. Also Anatasi A, Differentials Psychology 1958

ii Mac lver RM, Community P.124-5, Cooley CH, Social Organisation, pt. IV Social Classes

October 31, 2010 Posted by | Social and political values and systems | | 5 Comments

Caste politics in India

 

Electoral policy, Census operations and preferential treatment on basis of castes together paved way for the entry of caste into politics. It started long ago, during British rule, which divided Indians and kept them busy in their internal fights.

As Aine-Akbari pointed out, though influence of caste was immense on public minds in medivial India, but was confined within social arena only. Institution of caste was independent of government. Decentralised self-regulated systems were modes in social, political and economic life of the country. After gaining power in 1858, British rulers used social, demographic, linguistics, religious and cultural diversities of India to enflame anti-national, anti-secular and castiest tendencies. To keep their power intact, they played off one part against other- caste against castes, Hindus against Muslims and province against provinces. They created split in 3 stages, first they appeased Hindus, then Muslims and at last backward castes. They continued their ‘divide and rule’ policy till end and kept Indians busy with their internal problems.

British launched an ideological attack on on Indian culture and systems to spread prejudice against everything native. Brahmins/uppercastes were potrayed as oppressors and exploiters of backward castes and poor. Along with mental doze, British rulers encouraged formation of many caste groups against upper castes, in whom they saw a potential threat to their rule in India. With the backing of British government in India and missionaries, educated non-Brahmin communities organized their caste fellows, raised their voice against upper castes and pursued their sectarian interests. By 1920’s, numerous organizations/political formations on basis of caste and community grew into larger collectiveness by keeping contacts and alliances with their counterparts at other places; formed associations and federations at local and regional levels and emerged as a powerful political force.

Leaders of backward castes aimed at obtaining legal rights and position of power through government intervention. They insisted on their separate identity and sought special legal protection and share in politics and administration. Many leaders like Mahatma Phule, Ambedkar or Gopal Ganesh criticized Hindu hierarchical structure. They wanted eradication of caste system, because to them, it engaged many people to forced labor or unsavory jobs, imposed many restrictions on them, prevented them from joining mainstream of the society and subjugated them with the help of the religion.

Granting separate Muslim electorate through Government of India Act 1909, (Minto Morley Reforms) brought the idea of communal electorate to the forefront. Around 1909, non-Brahmin Community was divided into two – Backwards and Untouchables. The suggestion of Census Commissioner suggested to exclude untouchables (comprising about 24% of Hindu Population and 16% of total population) from Hindu fold in 1911 census gave a new dimension to casteism in politics. It increased the importance of untouchables in political circle, in social circle, and in their own eyes too.

In 1930, Starte Committee suggested to sub divide the backward classes into untouchables, aboriginal hill tribes and other backward class. Communal Award of 1932 created a permanent split in Hindu Society. It made impossible the assimilation of different castes under one fold. Seeds of casteism sown by British blossomed to its full in independent India.

Electoral politics has given a new lease of life to casteism after independence. Castes have become basis for political mobilization. Dependence of politicians on caste for their survival gradually increased. Growing political mobilization on caste and communal basis for electoral purposes fostered caste-conflicts and caste rivalries. Numerical strength of intermediate and lower castes plus Muslims makes a strong electoral base for politicians. Therefore, they woo them frantically. Caste has become the most convenient, effective and quickest channel for communication and a reliable source to create vote-banks.

During 60’s and70’s, though taken roots, caste politics was confined to local and provincial politics, where caste divisions were being used for creating vote-banks. At national level, politics was largely dominated by economic issues and question of corruption. After the downfall of Mrs. Gandhi in 1977, era of populist appeals and pursuance of sectional interests started with a force at national level too. Mandal commission appointed by Janata government submitted its report in 1980. Realizing changing ground realities with intermediate caste replacing upper castes as owners of the land (a development of 1960s and 70s) and sensing the mood of the people, the Mandal Report was kept in cold storage for 10 years, from 1980 to 1990) by Congress Party governments of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

In 1990, insecure politicians and their parties had plunged the whole nation into worst form of caste and communal divide, when United Front goverment decided to implement Mandal’s recommendation on Reservations. It polorized public opinion along caste lines. How power was to be distributed within and between institutions became less important for political leaders, than how to share it by various groups of society. Idea of social justice was gradually linked with empowerment theory and sharing power equitably by different sections of society. Displacement of attention from institutions and liberal policies to distribution of power between caste and communities represented a shift towards start of populist politics. After it, Every possible cross division is being introduced by various political parties and their government. They divide people on every possible front be it on basis of castes, creed, class, gender, region, minority-majority etc. telling them that for centuries they have been deprived of their fair share of power by elite groups of society. However, demonstrable political history of Independent India shows having a Dalit President, a Muslim President, a Sikh President, a woman President, a Prime Minister, a Sikh Prime Minister, many Dalit Chief Ministers in Provinces and thousands of Collectors, commissioners, Superintendents of Police and senior bureaucrats in other areas of administration in short span of 61 years of Independence.

Governance on basis of castes or by perpetuating and encouraging caste divisions is repugnant to principles of democracy. Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions, it guarantees only equality of opportunity. Communalism and casteism are bound to destroy unity of the nation and narrow down aspirations of people. National solidarity in a democratic set up demands Government to recognize only two ends – individual at one end and nation as a whole at the other. Nothing should be encouraged to organize itself in between these two ends to the detriment of freedom of an individual and solidarity of the nation.

September 12, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 3 Comments

Caste as a “system” and “casteism”

 It has become a fashion in modern society to denounce ‘caste-system’ and regard it ‘indefensible’ causing ‘miseries’ to millions of people in India. But it is not the ‘Caste-system’ but ‘casteism’, which is deplorable. There is a great difference between ‘caste’ as a ‘system’ and ‘casteism’.

  • System” means an organised, harmonious, effective and established set/pattern/procedure of working/arrangement based on doctrines, ideas, experiences or principles; A manner of classifying, symbolizing or formalizing things.

  • Caste” – Caste is an organised social institution referring to social structure of India. There is fourfold division of society into Brahmins (scholars), Kshatriya (warriors), Vaisya (traders and agriculturists) and Shudra (workers and cultivators. It has always been both defended and opposed.

  • Casteism – Rigid attitude in observance of caste practices without having regard for reason or rhyme or using it for vested interests by powerful lobbies,which led to generate abnormalities and distortions in the system. At present, its use for political purposes has completely disfigured the face of caste system.

In past, when Caste/Varna worked as a system, it succeeded in doing in India, what no state, no conqueror and no economy was able to do – establishment of a single unified system of society throughout India. When other parts of world were passing through ‘Dark Age’, India was full of light. First few centuries are recognized as ‘golden period’ of Indian history. During this period it was rich in literary, philosophical and religious fields. It possessed wealth, knowledge and quality of life. Arts, commerce, crafts, philosophy and knowledge flourished magnificently. Its people reached a high level of intelligence having specialization in different areas. It was a cheerful land. There was no rivalry or bitterness for pelf, power or position in ancient India. Many travelers visiting India, from alien lands at different points of time confirmed it.

Weakening of caste system, in modern times, has led the nation to a situation, where all communities are facing hardship, because of centralization of control systems. There are alarming disparities of power, wealth and culture amonst different sections of society. Total aversion of youths from their traditional values has generated confusion in their minds. It has led them to spend their time, energy and efforts in pursuit of materialistic pleasures, which could have otherwise utilized for constructive purposes.

Like elsewhere in the world, in India also, lower strata, minorities and poor have been the most vulnerable, oppressed and exploited sections of the society. It has been estimated, that despite numerous developmental plans, schemes, and legislations, there will be 500 millions Indians living in squalor at the threshold of 21st century. Most of them are illiterate, poor and

suffer humiliation, exploitation and violence. Brutally exploited bonded labor and child labor come mostly from these sections only.

For their agonies and poverty caste system is being blamed. Instead of heading towards casteism/politicization of caste system, there are many other reasons, factors and real issues, which need to be addressed on priority basis like population explosion, illiteracy, lack of awareness, indebtedness, unemployment,/casteism, obsolete forest and land policies, half hearted implementation of developmental plans and insufficient wages in un-organized sector. Poverty is the most pervasive phenomenon in India, which cuts across all barriers of caste, religion or region.

Greatest damage to Indian society has been done by bringing caste into politics. Vested interests of some politicians to create vote-banks and elite sections amongst socalled ‘backward castes’ to protect their turf under the banner of ‘SC’, ‘ST’ or ‘OBC’ and enjoy benefits of paternalistic policies of Government of India and get backdoor entry in government jobs, educational institutions and other areas. Their interest lies in keeping majority of people ignorant, insecure and out of mainstream. And here lies the crux of present day politics, which has made ‘system’ weak and ‘caste’ prominent leading the whole society towards casteism.

September 1, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Creation of casteless society in India

 

At present, caste has become a derogatory word. Many modern reformists, politicians, non-governmental organizations, intellectuals and activists regard the system as indefensible, problematic and complicated as it carries a historical baggage of discrimination and exploitation. It has forced destitution on a vast number of people belonging to weaker and unprivileged sections of society in the country. Its practices and values are the causes for illiteracy, communal problems escalating violence, crimes and corruption, disparities of power, wealth and culture, leading ultimately to disintegration of Indian society. Therefore, they wish to change the caste-ridden Indian society into a caste-less society.

Before forming an opinion or passing on any comment, it is necessry that one must understend what caste system really is? How, when and why did it come into existence and develop in its present form? What have been the factors, which brought changes in the system during a very long period of its evolution or  contributed to its development? What are the strengths and weaknesses of caste system? How much influence does it still exercise on modern Indian society?

So far, people propogating for casteless society have not been able to find an alternative to replace caste system. More they criticize caste system, the more they themselves cling to their own caste identities. They find castes to be the easiest and most effective channel to propagate their ideas or create vote-banks. No doubt, a few deformities have developed into caste system during its long period of evolution. But it is not easy to bring caste to an end. It is very difficult for millions of people to forget about their roots or identity, which is defined in their own society on the basis of caste.

Caste-system is one of the oldest social structures in the world. Still it can not be ignored as an adolescent or useless phenomenon, as its hold on the public mind is still very strong. So much and so that, Muslims and Christians, Sikhs or Buddhist, living in India could not remain immune from it for long, though their respective religions believe in egalitarian society.

Caste system has given Indian society a distinguished identity and a solid social structure with a system of thought, a way of life, and sense of direction. It has served to give Indian society coherence, stability and continuity. It still appears to most of the Indians as a very dear and natural social institution. It is not the caste system, but its politicization due to vested interests of a few, that has created problems and has disfigured the face of caste system beyond recognition and created many problems in nation’s prosperity. Socially it has held together different castes and communities despite numerous foreign invasions, migrations and assimilation of various groups and having diverse languages and practices for generations – thus making unity in diversity a reality.

 

 

August 29, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 7 Comments

Mosaic culture of India

 

Wonderful process of assimilation of different castes, linguistic, regional and social identities and religious groups and fusion/intermixing of their cultures for centuries – a continuous process of the India civilization – presents a mosaic culture. More than anywhere else in the world, it holds a multitude of thoughts because of co-existence, inter-mixing and cultural mingling of varied beliefs. The mosaic culture of India consists of –

  • Groups belonging to faiths originated in India like Hinduism, or Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism or,

  • Groups, who migrated to India due to persecution or oppression in their homeland, like Jews, Bahais, Zoroastrians, or Tibetans, or

  • Groups converted to alien religion like Christianity and Islam, religions of conquerors.

Cultures of Hindus, Islam and Christians had received substantial state patronage for sufficiently long period at different points of time. In the beginning a cultural synthesis took place, when Vedic culture came into being due to intermixing of culture of Aryan invaders with culture of indigenous tribal people of India during 2nd century BC to 650 AD. Then, a major cultural synthesis took place during 6th and 10th century, between Vedic Hindu culture, Buddhism and Dravidian culture. Another assimilation was seen after 10th century, when thinking of Arabs, Turks and Afghan, mainly guided by reason, influenced Indian thought. Once again, during the period between 18th century to 20th century, a major cultural synthesis took place with modernization and industrialization ushered in by the British.

     

August 28, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

Reform movements of early 20th century in India

 

British rulers underrated reformative efforts of great Indian leaders like Gandhi, Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Nehrus, Subhash Chandra Bose, Sardar Patel etc, who influenced thinking of the masses towards end of 19th and beginning of 20th centuries in different ways.

British introduced modern education system in India in 1834 with an intention “To form a class…..of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect” (Lord Macaulay). Many Indians developed a complex about primitiveness and evil practices prevalent in Indian society at that time and embraced Christianity.

Rulers succeeded in achieving their goal to some extent, but could not pevent growth of great national leaders, reformers, intellectuals along with it, who welcomed rationality of Modern education. Out of a fragmented, poverty stricken, weak, indifferent, backward and inward looking society, they wished to build a modern, open, plural, culturally rich, prosperous and powerful India through Sanskritisation. They advised people to remain firmly rooted to Indian Culture and then move forward.

They made efforts to stop all forms of exploitation, inequality and injustice and to remove social evils like Sati, Polygamy, child marriage, untouchablity or inhuman treatment to women etc prevalent at that time because of ignorance, superstitions. They advised people to fight with “Abhava” (Scarcity), “Agyan” (Ignorance), “Annyaya” (Injustice), and “Alasya” (Laziness), as these were the causes of all evils. They criticized numbo-jumbo of rituals and superstitions created by vested interests to entangle the ignorant and poor masses.

Some of social reform movements were “Arya Samaj” (1875 onwards) initiated by Swami Dayanand or “Achutodhar” by Gandhiji. “Rama Krishna Mission” founded by Swami Vivekanand, Theosophical Society of India “Brahma Samaj” founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1928. They inspired people of Bengal, Maharashtra, UP, Punjab, Madras and other provinces to form similar organizations and interpret everything rationally.

Some reformists noticed erosion of rich ancient Indian Culture and tried to revive it. To them, traditional system of living was like an anchor, which had kept the boat of Indian society in safe harbor, so far. In absence of that anchor, the boat would be left at mercy of wild waves on a stormy ocean. They advised masses not to be swayed away by glamour and materialism of alien culture.

To them, it was not Hindu principles, but practices, which went wrong. Vivekanand said, “It is we, who are responsible for our degradation.” They advised the people to set free Hinduism from all degenerate features and “Return to Vedas” as Vedas were source of knowledge and truth.. Swami Vivekanand said, “Each nation like each individual has a theme in this life, which is its center, the principle note, around which every other note comes to form the harmony. If any nation attempts to throw off its national vitality or the direction, which has become its own through the transmission of centuries, it dies.”

August 21, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment