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- By Hilda Raja
The Indian Caste System - By
Prof. Koenraad Elst
Caste system in India: True
perspective - By Swami Venkata Ganapathi
System – By Mark Tully
Prof. Koenraad Elst
Christians and the caste system
Bases of Social
- By Alain Danielou
Texts Not to Blame for Injustice
G S BHARGAVA
is not to blame for tyranny of caste system -
DR. VIDYA BHUSHAN GUPTA
opposes charges of racial discrimination
- To bring the Dalit issue under racism makes no sense because then one must
clearly identify the races. Are the Yadavas, the Thevars, the Vanniyars, the
Vellalars, the Pillais etc. Aryans? All atrocities against Dalits irrespective
of which State they reside in are perpetuated by the immediately above
horizontal caste segment-namely the backward castes.
are Dravidians so where is the question of racial discrimination? There is not a
single case in Tamilnadu in which the so-called Aryans were involved.
Historically the oppression started with the uppercastes namely the Brahmins
discriminating and oppressing the lower castes. But today it is no more true.
The Dalit issue cannot be labelled under racial discrimination and certainly the
U.N. is not the appropriate forum. The U.N. has been selective in taking up
issues and when it comes to the massacre of the weak in certain countries it is
indifferent because it has nothing to gain. Countries
such as the U.S. and the U.K. cannot throw stones at others while living in
other country in the world has Constitutional safeguards for the disadvantaged
as India has. The operational aspect has certainly not been effective. In a
democratic country like India the issue of the Dalits must be challenged within
the country and solved by the people. It will be a
tragedy to allow the issue to be internationalised when all the so-called
concerned countries themselves have sinned and are sinning on the issue of
The Indian Caste System -
By Koenraad Elst
In an inter-faith debate, most Hindus can easily be put on
the defensive with a single word-caste. Any anti-Hindu polemist can be counted
on to allege that "the typically Hindu caste system is the most cruel
apartheid, imposed by the barbaric white Aryan invaders on the gentle
dark-skinned natives." Here's a more balanced and historical account of
this controversial institution. Merits of the Caste System
The caste system is often portrayed as the ultimate horror. Inborn inequality is
indeed unacceptable to us moderns, but this does not preclude that the system
has also had its merits. Caste is perceived as an "exclusion-from,"
but first of all it is a form of "belonging-to," a natural structure
of solidarity. For this reason, Christian and Muslim missionaries found it very
difficult to lure Hindus away from their communities. Sometimes castes were
collectively converted to Islam, and Pope Gregory XV (1621-23) decreed that the
missionaries could tolerate caste distinction among Christian converts; but by
and large, caste remained an effective hurdle to the destruction of Hinduism
through conversion. That is why the missionaries started attacking the
institution of caste and in particular the Brahmin caste. This propaganda has
bloomed into a full-fledged anti-Brahminism, the Indian equivalent of
anti-Semitism. Every caste had a large measure of autonomy, with its own
judiciary, duties and privileges, and often its own temples. Inter-caste affairs
were settled at the village council by consensus; even the lowest caste had veto
power. This autonomy of intermediate levels of society is the antithesis of the
totalitarian society in which the individual stands helpless before the
all-powerful state. This decentralized structure of civil society and of the
Hindu religious commonwealth has been crucial to the survival of Hinduism under
Muslim rule. Whereas Buddhism was swept away as soon as its monasteries were
destroyed, Hinduism retreated into its caste structure and weathered the storm.
Caste also provided a framework for integrating immigrant communities: Jews,
Zoroastrians and Syrian Christians. They were not only tolerated, but assisted
in efforts to preserve their distinctive traditions.
Elst is a Belgian scholar who has extensively studied the current
socio-political situation in India. Keenly interested in Asian philosophies and
traditions from his early years, he has studied yoga, aikido and other oriental
disciplines. Between 1988 and 1993 he spent much of his time in India doing
research at the prestigious Banaras Hindu University).
Caste system in India - True
By Swami Venkata Ganapathi
India Post -Date: October 9, 1998
It pains me to read various writers in India Post
condemning our Vedic culture and civilization because of castes or caste system.
They betray little understanding on one hand and effect of centuries of brain
washing on the other.
A simple and honest approach will help our
understanding. But this has been absent all along due to thousands years of
Some of the biggest myths are Aryan invasion or the
caste system has been responsible for ruin of India. And Islam came to uplift
lower castes and liberated people oppressive caste system.
Such malicious propaganda against India and India's
culture continues to exist even to date due to mind sons of Macaulay, Marx or
actual sons of invading Arabs and Turks. Indian society by far most ancient one
existing on the face of earth. It continues to be a living force instead of
confined to museums.
There are many sources open to us as to look at our
society. Vedas are of course one. The central message of Veda is one of 'Hita'
or welfare of all life including all creatures. The lowest in creation from Ant
to highest Brahma, receive blessings from Veda.
Such being the case to make them out to be or the
based on them especially Dharma Sastra of Manu as some documents perpetuating
the evil of oppression is height of ignorance and is most deplorable. At present
besides the secular tribe, people like Mayavathi or Kanshiram go around beating
drums against 'manuvadins'. Little do they know about Manu for sure and even less they know
about our society except to exacerbate existing divisions to perpetuate
themselves in politics to loot the public treasury.
We have Ramayana and Mahabharatha. In both these epics
the life of society of India as it existed is well portrayed. They are our
standards. Oppression or exploitation of weaker sections of society is nowhere
Ramayana has many incidents of interaction of different
section of society. Brahmins with kshatriyas and both with Vaisyas or merchants
and all with Sudras. There is the beautiful harmony and cooperation that
prevailed in society not just in Ayodhya but through out Bharath Varsha. There
was no whole scale massacre of defeated people. That is our standard. Only
because of such values great champion of Hindu in recent times, Shivaji,following the foot steps of Sri Rama not only freed captured wife of Subedar of
Kalyan Durga but also honored her calling her as his mother and sent her with
honors and presents as one sends his sister to in law home.
These are the values of our society that were handed to
us from ancient times. Exploitation of weak is not one of them. Subjugation by
Islamists and later by British is responsible for many evils. Our society is
condemned for institution of Sati and for childhood marriages. Why did they come
about? Kausalya, Kaikeyi or Sumitra, wives of Dasaratha did not commit sati nor
the mother of Pandavas, Kunti. But during Muslim rule it became
common only because our people felt, our women like-those of Rayasthan felt, it
was far better to jump into funeral pyre than into the bed of Muslim marauder.
Similarly in order to guard the girls from abduction and molestation by Muslim
tyrants, the girls were married off early. So there are many such unfortunate
customs evolved during the period of subjugation. And this business of caste
oppression was also one of them.
The Dravida Khajagam built itself over Brahmin bashing
using Ramayana episodes. They said Ravana and his followers were Dravidians and
Aryan Rama invaded them. But they did not tell their followers that Ravana was a
Brahmin while Sri Rama was a dark colored Kshatriya slightly in 'lower' cast
Also this business of classifying, upper and lower
castes did not exist then, it is a recent invention of foul politician to divide
and perpetuate his rule. In Ramayana of Valmiki, one finds excellent harmony and
cooperation that existed in our society before the Muslim invaders came to
'uplift lower castes'.
Our society is rightly compared to the body of Virat
Purusha with each section of society forming a limb of the same Purusha. When we
approach the Lord Narayana we first pray and offer respect to the feet of
Narayana which is the origin of Sudra category.
When Mohammed Ghajzni invaded India, his contemporary
Alberuni chronicled his exploits. He noted that at the time there were only 8
castes - four that existed from time immemorial and four more perhaps sub castes
or some other minor divisions.
Under Islamic rule no one suffered more than the
Brahmin. As he was guide and philosopher of society the Islamic axe fell on him
severely. In Iran, too, when Islam took over, all Zorastrian priests were
summarily executed. And in places like Afghanistan which were centers of
Buddhism, Buddhist priests and nuns were
killed in mass. So also in India. As Ambedkar mentioned this is why Buddhism
disappeared from India.
The caste oppression grew in India only due to unsavory
effect of foreign domination.
Tully BBC correspondent in
all men may be equal in God’s eyes, they can never be equal in the eyes of
other men, and because of that basic flaw in the doctrine of egalitarianism we
in the West now talk of “equality of opportunity”. The pursuit of equal
opportunities for all has many achievements to its credit, but this ideal too is
going to be realized only if there is another life after this one.
Our differences of opportunity
start the moment we are conceived. The gap widens as we live in different
families, go to different schools, are inspired or bored by different teachers,
discover or fail to discover our individual talents and are given or not given
the resources to develop those talents. So it goes on throughout our lives.
There will always be winners and losers.
alienation of many young people in the West and the loneliness of the old show
the suffering that egalitarianism inflicts on those who do not win, the
superficiality of an egalitarianism which in effect means equal opportunities
for all to win and then ignores the inevitable losers. Imagine how many losers
there must be in a country like India where many children have their physical
and mental growth stunted by malnutrition.
also what would happen if egalitarianism and its companion individualism
destroyed the communities which support those who start life with no
all that, the elite of India have become so spellbound by egalitarianism that
they are unable to see any good in the only institution which does provide a
sense of identity and dignity to those who are robbed from birth of the
opportunity to compete on an equal footing – CASTE
is obnoxious to the egalitarian West, so it is obnoxious to the Indian elite
way to discredit any system is to highlight its excesses, and this only adds to
the sense of inferiority that many Indians feel about their own culture.
would lead to a greater respect for India’s culture, and indeed a better
understanding of it, if it were recognized that the caste system has never been
totally static, that it is adapting itself to today’s changing circumstances
and that it has positive as well as negative aspects.
caste system provides security and a community for millions of Indians. It gives
them an identity that neither Western Science nor Western thought has yet
provided, because caste is not just a matter of being a Brahmin or a Harijan: it
is also a kinship system. The system provides a wider support group than a
family: a group which has a social
life in which all its members participate.
In the September 1989 issue of
Seminar magazine, Madhu Kishwar, one of India leading feminists, wrote,
caste system provides for relatively greater stability and dignity to the
individuals than they would have as atomized individuals. This is part explains
why the Indian poor retain a strong sense of self-respect. It is that self-respect which the thought-less insistence on
No Full Stops in India - by Mark Tully Penguin Books.1991 pages 5-7
Facts about Caste
By Koenraad Elst
Sub Verdict from Belgium
Last month, two ardent Hindus
battled out the controversial pros and cons of caste. This month's assessment,
from Europe, focuses on history and how jati and varna have, for the most part,
helped rather than hurt Hinduism.
In an inter-faith debate, most Hindus can
easily be put on the defensive with a single word-caste. Any anti-Hindu polemist
can be counted on to allege that "the typically Hindu caste system is the
most cruel apartheid, imposed by the barbaric white Aryan invaders on the gentle
dark-skinned natives." Here's a more balanced and historical account of
this controversial institution.
Merits of the Caste System
The caste system is often portrayed
as the ultimate horror. Inborn inequality is indeed unacceptable to us moderns,
but this does not preclude that the system has also had its merits.
Caste is perceived as an
"exclusion-from," but first of all it is a form of
"belonging-to," a natural structure of solidarity. For this reason,
Christian and Muslim missionaries found it very difficult to lure Hindus away
from their communities. Sometimes castes were collectively converted to Islam,
and Pope Gregory XV (1621-23) decreed that the missionaries could tolerate caste
distinction among Christian converts; but by and large, caste remained an
effective hurdle to the destruction of Hinduism through conversion. That is why
the missionaries started attacking the institution of caste and in particular
the brahmin caste. This propaganda has bloomed into a full-fledged anti-brahminism,
the Indian equivalent of anti-Semitism.
Every caste had a large measure of
autonomy, with its own judiciary, duties and privileges, and often its own
temples. Inter-caste affairs were settled at the village council by consensus;
even the lowest caste had veto power. This autonomy of intermediate levels of
society is the antithesis of the totalitarian society in which the individual
stands helpless before the all-powerful state. This decentralized structure of
civil society and of the Hindu religious commonwealth has been crucial to the
survival of Hinduism under Muslim rule. Whereas Buddhism was swept away as soon
as its monasteries were destroyed, Hinduism retreated into its caste structure
and weathered the storm.
Caste also provided a framework for
integrating immigrant communities: Jews, Zoroastrians and Syrian Christians.
They were not only tolerated, but assisted in efforts to preserve their
It is routinely claimed that caste
is a uniquely Hindu institution. Yet, counter examples are not hard to come by.
In Europe and elsewhere, there was (or still is) a hierarchical distinction
between noblemen and commoners, with nobility only marrying nobility. Many
tribal societies punished the breach of endogamy rules with death.
Coming to the Indian tribes, we find
Christian missionaries claiming that "tribals are not Hindus because they
do not observe caste." In reality, missionary literature itself is rife
with testimonies of caste practices among tribals. A spectacular example is what
the missions call "the Mistake:" the attempt, in 1891, to make tribal
converts in Chhotanagpur inter-dine with converts from other tribes. It was a
disaster for the mission. Most tribals renounced Christianity because they chose
to preserve the taboo on inter-dining. As strongly as the haughtiest brahmin,
they refused to mix what God hath separated.
Endogamy and exogamy are observed by
tribal societies the world over. The question is therefore not why Hindu society
invented this system, but how it could preserve these tribal identities even
after outgrowing the tribal stage of civilization. The answer lies largely in
the expanding Vedic culture's intrinsically respectful and conservative spirit,
which ensured that each tribe could preserve its customs and traditions,
including its defining custom of tribal endogamy.
Description and History
The Portuguese colonizers applied
the term caste, "lineage, breed," to two different Hindu institutions:
jati and varna. The effective unit of the caste system is the jati, birth-unit,
an endogamous group into which you are born, and within which you marry. In
principle, you can only dine with fellow members, but the pressures of modern
life have eroded this rule. The several thousands of jatis are subdivided in
exogamous clans, gotra. This double division dates back to tribal society.
By contrast, varna is the typical
functional division of an advanced society-the Indus/Saraswati civilization, 3rd
millennium, bce. The youngest part of the Rg-Veda describes four classes:
learned brahmins born from Brahma's mouth, martial kshatriya-born from his arms;
vaishya entrepreneurs born from His hips and shudra workers born from His feet.
Everyone is a shudra by birth. Boys become dwija, twice-born, or member of one
of the three upper varnas upon receiving the sacred thread in the upanayana
The varna system expanded from the
Saraswati-Yamuna area and got firmly established in the whole of Aryavarta
(Kashmir to Vidarbha, Sindh to Bihar). It counted as a sign of superior culture
setting the arya, civilized, heartland apart from the surrounding mleccha,
barbaric, lands. In Bengal and the South, the system was reduced to a
distinction between brahmins and shudras. Varna is a ritual category and does
not fully correspond to effective social or economic status. Thus, half of the
princely rulers in British India were shudras and a few were brahmins, though it
is the kshatriya function par excellence. Many shudras are rich, many brahmins
The Mahabharata defines the varna
qualities thus: "He in whom you find truthfulness, generosity, absence of
hatred, modesty, goodness and self-restraint, is a brahmana. He who fulfills the
duties of a knight, studies the scriptures, concentrates on acquisition and
distribution of riches, is a kshatriya. He who loves cattle-breeding,
agriculture and money, is honest and well-versed in scripture, is a vaishya. He
who eats anything, practises any profession, ignores purity rules, and takes no
interest in scriptures and rules of life, is a shudra." The higher the
varna, the more rules of self-discipline are to be observed. Hence, a jati could
collectively improve its status by adopting more demanding rules of conduct,
A person's second name usually
indicates his jati or gotra. Further, one can use the following varna titles:
Sharma (shelter, or joy) indicates the brahmin, Varma (armour) the kshatriya,
Gupta (protected) the vaishya and Das (servant) the shudra. In a single family,
one person may call himself Gupta (varna), another Agrawal (jati), yet another
Garg (gotra). A monk, upon renouncing the world, sheds his name along with his
Below the caste hierarchy are the
untouchables, or harijan (literally "God's people"), dalits
("oppressed"), paraiah (one such caste in South India), or scheduled
castes. They make up about 16% of the Indian population, as many as the upper
Untouchability originates in the
belief that evil spirits surround dead and dying substances. People who work
with corpses, body excretions or animal skins had an aura of danger and
impurity, so they were kept away from mainstream society and from sacred
learning and ritual. This often took grotesque forms: thus, an untouchable had
to announce his polluting proximity with a rattle, like a leper.
Untouchability is unknown in the
Vedas, and therefore repudiated by neo-Vedic reformers like Dayanand Saraswati,
Narayan Guru, Gandhiji and Savarkar. In 1967, Dr. Ambedkar, a dalit by birth and
fierce critic of social injustice in Hinduism and Islam, led a mass conversion
to Buddhism, partly on the (unhistorical) assumption that Buddhism had been an
anti-caste movement. The 1950 constitution outlawed untouchability and
sanctioned positive discrimination programs for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes.
Lately, the Vishva Hindu Parishad has managed to get even the most
traditionalist religious leaders on the anti-untouchability platform, so that
they invite harijans to Vedic schools and train them as priests. In the
villages, however, pestering of dalits is still a regular phenomenon, occasioned
less by ritual purity issues than by land and labor disputes. However, the
dalits' increasing political clout is accelerating the elimination of
In the Mahabharata, Yuddhishthira
affirms that varna is defined by the qualities of head and heart, not by one's
birth. Krishna teaches that varna is defined by one's activity (karma) and
quality (guna). Till today, it is an unfinished debate to what extent one's
"quality" is determined by heredity or by environmental influence. And
so, while the hereditary view has been predominant for long, the non-hereditary
conception of varna has always been around as well, as is clear from the
practice of varna conversion. The most famous example is the 17th-century
freedom fighter Shivaji, a shudra who was accorded kshatriya status to match his
military achievements. The geographical spread of Vedic tradition was achieved
through large-scale initiation of local elites into the varna order. From 1875
onwards, the Arya Samaj has systematically administered the "purification
ritual" (shuddhi) to Muslim and Christian converts and to low-caste Hindus,
making the dwija. Conversely, the present policy of positive discrimination has
made upper-caste people seek acceptance into the favored Scheduled Castes.
Veer Savarkar, the ideologue of
Hindu nationalism, advocated intermarriage to unify the Hindu nation even at the
biological level. Most contemporary Hindus, though now generally opposed to
caste inequality, continue to marry within their respective jati because they
see no reason for their dissolution.
Theory of Caste
projected the colonial situation and the newest race theories on the caste
system: the upper castes were white invaders lording it over the black natives.
This outdated view is still repeated ad-nauseam by anti-Hindu authors: now that
"idolatry" has lost its force as a term of abuse, "racism"
is a welcome innovation to demonize Hinduism. In reality, India is the region
where all skin color types met and mingled, and you will find many brahmins as
black as Nelson Mandela.
Ancient "Aryan" heroes like Rama, Krishna,
Draupadi, Ravana (a brahmin) and a number of Vedic seers were explicitly
described as being dark-skinned.
Lotus-Eyed God. Keshava, One Who Has Long, Black Matted Locks. Krishna,
But doesn't varna mean "skin
color?" The effective meaning of varna is "splendor, color," and
hence "distinctive quality" or "one segment in a spectrum."
The four functional classes constitute the "colors" in the spectrum of
society. Symbolic colors are allotted to the varna on the basis of the
cosmological scheme of "three qualities" (triguna): white is sattva
(truthful), the quality typifying the brahmin; red is rajas (energetic), for the
kshatriya; black is tamas (inert, solid), for the shudra; yellow is allotted to
the vaishya, who is defined by a mixture of qualities.
Finally, caste society has been the
most stable society in history. Indian communists used to sneer that "India
has never even had a revolution." Actually, that is no mean achievement.
Address: Professor Koenraad
box 103, 2000 Leuven 3, Belgium.
Dr. Elst is a Belgian scholar who
has extensively studied the current socio-political situation in India. Keenly
interested in Asian philosophies and traditions from his early years, he has
studied yoga, aikido and other oriental disciplines. Between 1988 and 1993 he
spent much of his time in India doing research at the prestigious Banaras Hindu
Christians and the caste system
- By Devant
Maharaj (Trinidad, West Indies)
is not an Indian word but a derogatory epithet introduced in India by Portuguese
missionaries in the 16th century to describe the Hindu society. They assumed
that the Brahmins commanded the same authority and power as the Christian clergy
did in their own time in Europe. The reality is that the Brahmins in India never
commanded the authority and power of the Christian clergy. They controlled
neither the economy nor the army, both of which the clergy did in Medieval
It is a serious mistake to view caste from the European Christian and
imperialistic viewpoints. These were hostile to Hindu civilisation and society
which they were trying to undermine to serve their own interests. They also
lacked the historical perspective necessary to understand it.
To properly study the role of caste, we must look at it from the perspective of
Indian history and culture. The Indian word for what is called caste is varna.
The clearest definition of varnashrama or duties of different sections of
society was given by Sri Krishna in the Bhagvadgita. He says: "caturvarnyam
maya srishtam guna-karma vibhagashah." This simply means: "The four
varnas (castes) were created by me based on guna (character) and karma
(duty)." It was a social order meant to ensure stability and proper
functioning of society.
A Brahmin was needed for education and cultivation of scholarship. But he could
not exist without the support of Kshatriya, the Vaishya or the Shudra. The
Kshatriya was the political leader and warrior. The Vaishya was the trader and
Shudra was engaged in productive activities like farming and labour. There is no
mention of one caste being superior to another. Every one of them is equally
important for the proper functioning of society.
Churches in India and world-wide claim that they do not discriminate on caste
lines and they criticize Hindu society for caste discrimination day in and day
out. But the fact remains that churches practice discrimination based on caste.
This is a paradox of which one must be aware. The Catholic Bishop's Conference
of India itself mentions that caste discrimination prevails inside the church.
This is the observation of their General Body Meeting held in Varansi, India
from March 21 to 28, 1998 and the minutes of the meeting were published in a
special issue of Catholic India: Here are some excerpts:
"Christianity is not a caste religion. Church is the people of God and all
the people are equal before God. The various churches are also equal. There may
be elder sisters and younger sisters among the churches but no superior and
inferior. But it is a sad fact that the caste system on which social
organisation has been built, has entered into the Church of India.
"The depressed classes of people belonging to the lowest level of the caste
hierarchy were known harjans. Today the term Dalits is used to denote them.
Literally, the word means the weak, the broken, the oppressed. In the Church
today the name 'Dalit Christians' is used to denote Christians of scheduled
caste origin. The problem of the Dalit Christians has come to focus today. The
Dalit Christians are in fact discriminated against by the government and the
"The rights and privileges given to the Dalits by the government are denied
to the Christian Dalits because they were converted to Christianity. It is a
pity that in the Church also the Dalit Christians are discriminated against
because they are low caste or out castes.
"It seems that the Church has not offered opportunities to the Dalit
members to come up educationally and socially. As a result even after hundreds
of years of their existence in the church, they remain on the periphery of the
community. There are few priests and leaders of the Church from the Dalit
section. In the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar where
majority of the Christians are Dalits and this problem is seriously felt. "
According to the reports 70 per cent of the Tamil Catholics are Dalits. It is
reported that out of 14 Bishops in Tamil Nadu only one is a Dalit. The
percentage of Tamil priests is only four per cent. There were no significant
steps taken by the church until recently to lift the socio-economic condition of
the Dalits. Vocation from Dalit Christians have not been encouraged. A Dalit
priest's feelings have been expressed in the following words: 'We do understand
that vocation is from God, but it boggles our mind why He should choose His
priests from non-Dalit only. Is God too casteist? Does He also practise
In March of this year Communities United to Fight Underdevelopment (CUFU) headed
by Arthur Sanderson, a Christian, brought to Trinidad a United States Dalit Dr
Birwa to lecture about discrimination of Dalits by Hindus and the caste system.
It is unfortunate that Sanderson did not focus on discrimination and the caste
system that exists in his own churches.
of Social Order - By Alain Danielou
The institution we know as the caste
system is called varna-ashrama for the Hindus, varna meaning color, and ashrama
a refuge of peace and harmony. The aim of the system is thus the harmonious
coexistence of the various races and different sorts of human beings.
From its very beginning, the caste
system was envisaged as the expression and codification of the social and ethnic
realities inherent in all societies. The Hindu lawgivers felt that no advanced
society could exist without the recognition of certain facts, such as
professional organizations, relations between the various occupations needed to
maintain the economic, political, and social stability of the state, and the
problems arising from the various degrees of development among peoples and
individuals, their various aptitudes, and the drawbacks of intermarriage.
It should not be forgotten that the
so-called equality in aptitude of the sundry human races takes only the
capacities of the most aggressive races into account, and not of those that are
unable to adapt to modern conditions, such as the Pygmies, the Australian
the Munda populations of India, and many other groups.
For the Hindus, the caste system is
a man-made invention to justify slavery but the recognition of the Creator’s
will, the codification of a state of fact, an attempt to harmonize human society
in accordance with the general scheme of creation. It is easy to see that
despite all the national and linguistic barriers, even modern Western society is
fundamentally, like all societies, a caste system. From whatever position we
view it, we see international corporations whose members have far more in common
with each other than with the various professional or social levels of their own
country. The problem with western society derive from the fact that while
proclaiming the equality of men, it is entirely graded on a hierarchical system
as far as the professions are concerned.
Under the pretext of equality, Western
lawmakers do not let the various groups cooperate among themselves while keeping
their different habits, ethics, and social life. Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Celts,
Basques, Albigensians, Pygmies, blacks, or Inuits are accorded a relative
equality on on condition that they conform to our customs, losing most of their
social, national, and religious characteristics and in fact abandoning their own
In order to cope with all the problems
posed by a multiracial society, the Hindu lawgivers sought to establish rules
making coexistence possible, resulting in the caste system which is still today
solidly established in India despite all efforts to destroy it. In a country
where populations of highly different origins and aptitudes live side by side,
from men of the forest to refined Gangetic craftsmen and proud Aryan warriors,
an equitable place had to be found for all. Each had to be able to continue in
his ancestral way of life, governed by laws suited to him and with the form of
social, religious, agricultural, intellectual, and moral life he preferred,
without adversely affecting the rest of the community. This meant recognizing
each group and each individual’s right to be different which is in fact
liberty’s only valid criterion.
"The system of the four castes was
created by me according to the difference in aptitude and occupation.
I created it, I who am inactive and immutable."
Bhagvad Gita, 4.13)
To some modern eyes, to be destined
from birth to a certain profession is an injustice, to which it can be objected
that all professions are indispensable and that one is good as another. However
the selection is performed, there will always be a difference or inequality
between professional groups. The real problem consists in making all professions
honorable, rather than in opening to everyone certain professions considered
more respectable than others.
Race and Racism
The respect accorded by the caste
system to the various races and cultures is exactly the contrary of what the
West terms racism. Racism, whose logical outcome is genocide, is the defense
system of an oligarchy that claims to be superior and egalitarian. The naïve
and romantic social ideas of Europeans who preach the equality of man but insist
that equality must be on the level of their own beliefs, way of life, customs,
clothing, feeding habits, hygiene, and so on can only lead to genocide or false
assimilation, which will in the end destroy the society that fathered it.
To present the Pygmies or Mundas of
India with the alternatives of becoming bankers, lawyers, or factory workers, or
else of disappearing, is a sinister jest, which has unfortunately already
justified the annihilation of many human races. In the whole of history, India
has been the only defender of peoples who do not adapt to the industrial
exploitation of the world. The nomadic gypsies, victims of racism in Europe,
have never had problems in India since their expulsion from their original home
in Gandhara (present day Afghanistan ) by Islamized Arab, Turkish, and Mongol
invaders. Anti-Jewish racism is first and foremost a struggle for economic and
financial supremacy, directed against the only people in the West who resisted
the imposition of Christianity. In India, the Jews form a caste and have never
known such problems.
Duties and Privileges
It is certain that abusive caste practices were
introduced when the administrative power ceased to be in Hindu hands, thus
making the repression of abuses legally impossible.
Such abuses as there are have been greatly exaggerated
in order to justify Western domination and are normally quite local. In most of
India, the caste system functions today as always has: as a harmonious whole in
which each tribe, family and religious group to live according to its customs,
traditions, and convictions is respected as it is in no other country and no
other form of society. Even in modern India, the most humble artisan, like the
craftsman of medieval Europe, is proud of his race, profession, caste and
customs, which he would not want to exchange for anything in the world. Nor has
he the slightest desire to impose his habits or ways of seeing things on others.
Even, if like the Christian, he is convinced on the grounds of his religion,
customs, and moral concepts, unlike the Christian he has no urge to proselytize.
Caste and Marriage
For the Hindu lawmaker, marriage is above all a social
institution, whose exclusive purpose is the propagation of the species and
preservation of the caste, community, even the nation itself. The Hindu makes a
clear distinction between erotic enjoyment in all its forms, which is part of
the harmonious development of the individual, and marriage whose sole aim is the
family and the continuation of the species. Marriage results not from love but
from careful choice, which takes account only of the heredity, stability, and
happiness of the children.
Momentary pleasures do not require an institution such
as marriage, which can only lose dignity if viewed in such a light. Marriages of
love, chance, or accident, which can be broken by divorce, is countenanced today
by many Westerners, are from the Hindu point of view absurd and immoral, a sort
of legalized prostitution. The Western notion of marriage has no moral or social
counterpart in Hindu society. Marriage is not merely the legitimizing of sexual
relations but an important institution, whose exclusive purpose is offspring –
the continuation of the species under the best possible conditions of heredity
Love with all its fantasies is an essential achievement
for the individual, but marriage is quite different. The sexophobic fanaticism
of the Christian world and its extraordinary taboos were needed to give a sacred
character to a marriage in which the child’s heritage is not even considered.
The institution of marriage on such a basis has no meaning, and the consequent
systematic mismatching of aptitudes is producing an ever-increasing number of
ill-adapted beings in the modern Western world, lacking the basic virtues of the
Based on respect for the species as the work of the
Creator, marriage as an institution concerns caste, race, profession, and
nation, with which the individual has no right to tamper because it affects
everyone else. If marriage restrictions are rigidly obeyed by all, the various
castes or races can live amicably together, profiting by each other without
endangering each other’s customs, traditions, and progeny. Women in ancient
India were never shut away as they were after the Muslim invasion and are even
today, because they were respected by all, and marriage out of the caste was
unthinkable. Hindu legislation is not puritanical and gives much leeway to human
weakness, but marriage outside the caste is considered an antisocial act
jeopardizing the entire structure on which society is balanced.
Caste and Conquest
There is no moral objection to a prince or a state
conquering other territories or peoples, providing caste restrictions and the
duties of the conqueror are observed. By upsurping the prerogatives of other
castes, one becomes a tyrant. Such an empire will not endure, because conflicts
will break out.
It was this error that led to the failure of all the
Western colonial empires. The use of Christianity spread by the missionaries as
a means of assimilating conquered peoples had had disastrous results on every
"He must consider as law whatever the religion of
the (conquered ) peoples ordains." (Manu, 7.203)
Texts Not to Blame for Injustice - By G S BHARGAVA
ARE Hindu philosophic
traditions alien to a human rights culture? Do they thus make human rights
violations endemic in our country? These questions figured centrally at a recent
seminar held in New Delhi by the Institute for World Congress on Human Rights.
has been argued by Western scholars that the traditions and culture of
non-Europeans peoples are incompatible with the values of promotion and
protection of human rights. Only as a result of interaction with western
civilisation have these countries come to pay attention to them. They further
juxtaposed the Hindu scriptures or law books with industrial revolution values
in western societies to conclude that human rights was an essentially western
value born of Judaic-Christian tradition. While philosophic theory shapes social
and economic action, it will be facile to link contemporary events with cultural
and philosophic legacy. After all, the holocaust had taken place in a society
which was home to Christian tradition. So did apartheid and its milder variants.
is not denied that societal human rights violations in India owe themselves to
the caste system and its prevalence through the centuries. And yet, it is
debatable if today's caste conflicts flow directly from the system. According to
" .. the vedas, upanishads, smritis and puranas, including the Ramayana and
Mahabharata, are the Hindu scriptures. Nor is this a final list. Every age or
even generation has added to list. It follows, therefore, that every thing
printed or found hand-written is not scripture. The smritis, for instance,
contain much that can never be accepted as the word of God.'' In an argument
with Ambedkar, Gandhiji
insisted that "caste has nothing to do with religion. It is a custom
...harmful to ... spiritual growth." He maintained that scriptures ...
``can only be concerned with eternal verities and must appeal to any conscience
i.e. any heart whose eyes of understanding are opened. Nothing can be accepted
as the word of God which cannot be tested by reason or be capable of being
experience is the key to Hindu philosophic theory. As historian Romila
Thapar notes, considerable emphasis is placed
on the universal equality of human beings, on the values of tolerance and
compassion, and on the need for harmony between man and nature through the
recognition of the right of each. " There is no dearth of modern
philosophers who maintain that the Indian moral consciousness has been concerned
almost solely with a quest for spiritual peace. Perhaps it was this concern that
led to a dichotomy between metaphysical thinking which encouraged a withdrawal
from life and the actual social institutions which were almost obsessed with ...
purposeful ordering of life."
points of Professor Thapar's thesis deserve reiteration, that tolerance and
compassion are the focus of Hindu philosophic tradition and the values of human
right and concern for human dignity flow from tolerance ...." Hindu law was
first formulated in a tribal society and it was based largely on customary
practices and relationships. As is frequent in kin societies, social controls
had the force of laws. The central problem at this stage was to maintain peace
between the tribes rather than to protect the rights of the individual."
other words, it is not so much on account of the philosophic traditions that
concern for human rights is low but for other reasons, like the politicisation
of caste in recent years. Dalit scholars may see traditional roots in today's
societal injustice but the virulence of today's caste violence has no relevance
to the ancient texts. The outbreak of caste conflict even in a state like Tamil
Nadu in recent years is an instance of the mutation of the system. When E V
Ramaswami Naicker's self-respect movement led to the onset of reservations, it
had seemed as if Tamil Nadu had solved the problem of suppression of lower
As if to reinforce the impression, the state was
free of the anti-Mandal disturbances that rocked large parts of north India. But
the more recent conflict between Dalits and Thevars in the southern districts of
Tamil Nadu show that the caste system, instead of dissipating as Dr Ambedkar
would have liked, has been strengthened, leading to mutual social
incompatibility. It has also spread to other communities like Muslims and
Christians, and even to the gender
issue. To argue that this is the harvest of the Hindu philosophic tradition is
to stretch the point.
is not to blame for tyranny of caste system -
By DR. VIDYA BHUSHAN GUPTA
The vast majority of Westerners
believe that Hinduism ranks its followers according to caste.
Missionaries have used caste to
convert Hindus, and politicians throughout the world have used it to chastise
India for social ills ranging from poverty to nuclear explosions. Hindus have
been tarred with labels such as "Homo hierarchical." And Hinduism has
been characterized as a religion that teaches indifference to the plight of
fellow human beings.
Is the doctrine of caste rooted in
revealed Hindu scriptures? Or did victorious invaders insert it into secondary
scriptures in order to maintain their dominance?
The Vedas, Hinduism's only revealed
scriptures, mention varna (from Sanskrit root vri,
meaning "to choose"), a fourfold classification of chosen
vocations. According to the allegory of cosmic Purusha
in the Vedas, all people are created from the same God. The intellectuals are
Brahmins who, like the brain of the cosmic Purusha, think and speak; the
warriors, like the arms, defend; vaisyas
(traders and farmers), like the thighs and the abdomen, produce and consume; and
the shudras (untouchables),
like the feet, do physical labor.
A text in the great Indian epic
"Mahabharata" categorically states that originally there were no
classes; all people were Brahmanic to begin with. The existing distribution
arose from character and occupation. Those given to sensual pleasures and
violence became warriors; those who subsisted by agriculture became vaisyas,
and so on. Thus, group membership was determined by aptitude and attitude,
not by birth.
In ancient times, there were examples
of people who moved from one class to another because of the vocation they
chose. For example, Valmiki, who was an untouchable, became a Brahmin, author,
and a sage after he changed his wild ways and wrote the Hindu epic
Caste or jati
as we see today, the hierarchical division of society into about 2,000 rigid
professional groups, is not mentioned in the Vedas; however, the word "jati"
is mentioned once as a group of people born from a common progenitor. Caste
seems to have been juxtaposed on the concept of varna in secondary Hindu
scriptures such as the Puranas and Manusmriti at a later date. According to one
of the Puranas, in the beginning of time the whole human race was of uniform
perfection and happiness. Separation into castes did not take place until a
later time, when human behavior deteriorated.
We can only speculate about the
reasons for the corruption of these secondary scriptures. Was it done to
maintain the dominance of the victorious Aryans over the dark-skinned Dravidians
(another meaning of the word "varna" is color)? Was it done to
maintain a constant supply of skilled and semiskilled laborers?
Assigning a specific role to every
individual helped India maintain social order in the face of the barbarian
attacks in medieval times, according to Abbe Dubois, a Christian missionary who
worked in India in the last century. A similar order was also prevalent in
Although this rigid division of labor
helped Indian villages survive political upheavals, it became an instrument of
exploitation and oppression. People who were born from a union of higher and
lower castes and those who did not belong to any caste became pariahs or
untouchables, living on the fringes of society.
Caste is a sociocultural phenomenon
in South Asia, not an article of Hindu faith. Even the most conservative Muslims
of Pakistan and Sikhs of Punjab are caste-conscious. A 27-year-old Pakistani man
attending an American university was prohibited by his conservative Muslim
father from marrying a woman out of his caste. High-caste Sikhs do not marry
among low-caste Sikhs.
Such distinctions are not unusual in
societies that have a long history of colonialism. Catholics were treated as
belonging to a lower caste during the heyday of British rule in Ireland. The
British treated Indians of all castes as pariahs during the days of the Raj.
Slavery existed among the Hebrews in ancient Israel. St. Paul regarded slavery
as legal. "Let every man remain in the calling in whch he was called. Wast
thou a slave when called? Let it not trouble thee"(1 Corinthians 7:2O-21).
St. Augustine considered slavery an
expression of divine order, as a punishment for sins. Thus the Hindu scriptures
cannot be faulted for caste any more than the Bible can be faulted for slavery.
Social evils are a product of the time, and scriptures should be interpreted in
their historical context.
Though the injustice of the caste
system lingers in sections of Indian society, Hindus and the Indian government
have made great efforts to eliminate this evil. Two reformers of the 19th
century, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Swami Dayananda, worked tirelessly to argue the
case against casteism.
Dayananda correctly interpreted the
Vedas to prove that varna does not refer to color but to choice, to choose a
profession according to one's aptitude and attitude. Mahatma Gandhi embraced the
untouchables as children of God, lived among them, and died among them.
India's founding fathers abolished
untouchability in 1949 and incorporated an affirmative-action plan in the
constitution. The Indian constitution guarantees 22.5 percent of the seats for
untouchables and people of lower castes. Affirmative action has increased to the
extent of 50 percent in a few states. India's current president is from a lower
Short of a revolution followed by
authoritarian rule, this is the best Hindus could have done to redeem themselves
from the social sin of caste. Let's not disregard Hinduism's positive aspects:
seeing the world as one family; looking at the virtues in others, not at their
color or caste; and recognizing that God of one color has produced people of
different colors for beauty's sake. Meanwhile, we must maintain the reform that
began more than 50 years ago.
DR. VIDYA BHUSHAN GUPTA of Closter
specializes in developmental-behavioral pediatrics. He teaches at two hospitals
affiliated with the New York Medical College and holds a research appointment at
Columbia University. He has written a handbook of developmental-behavioral
pediatrics and has published widely in scientific journals and in the lay press.
A native of India who came to the United States in 1984, he edited the
newsletter of the Arya Samaj of Bergen County from 1991-1992 and translated
Sandhya, the daily prayer of the Hindus, into English.
"There is no superior caste. The
Universe is the work of the Immense Being.
The beings created by him were only divided into castes according to their
- Mahabharata, Shanti Parva, 188
opposes charges of racial discrimination
May 29: India has strongly opposed all attempts of putting 'racial
discrimination' and 'caste system' in the same basket at a United
Nations meeting here and said if the international community wanted to
deliberate on the latter it should widen the ambit of the forthcoming
World Conference on Racism to be held in Durban, South Africa.
"We have heard references being made to the caste system and
members of the traditionally disadvantage castes in my country. We
are, however, not persuaded that such issues fall within the ambit of
the World Conference," the Indian delegates said, at the on-going
'Second Preparatory Committee for World Conference against Racism,
Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance' (II Prepcom),
convened by UN here.
While NGOs and other social organizations were trying to put caste
system in the ambit of the world conference to get international
attention on the issue, the officials have been maintaining that both
were different as racism
was based more on biological basis whereas caste system was more on
social set up.
"Even though the caste system has been based on birth, it is
obvious that the term descent in the Convention (on racial
discrimination) clearly refers to racial descent. The
term caste, on the other hand, is not based on race. It has its origin
in the functional division of the Indian society during ancient
the officials said, at the 'II Prepcom Meeting'.
The Sanchi Torso
- One of the Many Lost Treasures of India
The Sanchi torso is now one of the Victoria and
Albert’s most cherished possessions, and the most revered masterpieces of
Indian Art outside India. There is something hypnotic about that stylized but
supremely graceful pose, something deeply sensuous about the swelling flesh
gently submitting to the hard ornamentation of necklace and girdle. Yet, despite
its celebrity, its origins confounded the experts until very recently. It was in
1971 that its pair was discovered amongst the broken statuary originally
unearthed by Major Cole. From the pair it was possible to deduce its identity
– the Boddhisattva Avalokiteswara (Gautama
Buddha) as well as its original position and its date – about A.D. 900.
Discovered - By John Keay
is just one of the many valuable art treasures of India plundered by the
British. While history books
are constantly telling us how the 'Evil Nazi's' stole art in Europe, the (so called benevolent)
British continue to refuse to return India's looted treasures including the
famous Kohinoor diamond. This diamond is part of the British Crown Jewels, and
is on display in the Tower of London.
Myth of Saint Thomas
According to Christian leaders in India,
the apostle Thomas came to India in 52 AD, founded the Syrian Christian Church,
and was killed by the fanatical Brahmins in 72 AD. Near the site of his martyrdom, the Saint Thomas church was built. In fact this apostle never came to
India, and the Christian community in south India was founded by a merchant
Thomas Cananeus in 345 AD (a name which readily explains the Thomas legend). He
led 400 refugees who fled persecution and were given asylum by the Hindu
In Catholic universities in Europe, the myth of the apostle Thomas
going to India is no longer taught as history, but in India it is still
Richard Von Garbe (1857-1927), German Indologist, who studied the Samkhya and
Yoga schools of philosophy, who examined the mutual influence of Western and
Indian ideas, doubted the historicity of the legend of St. Thomas.
Indologists: Biographies of Scholars in Indian Studies writing in German
- By Valentine Stache-Rosen. p.133-135).
Refer to The
Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple.
For one thing, the legend’s
textual basis, the apocryphal Acts of Thomas, is ambiguous at best.
Its setting of the story indicates Arsacid Iran (several Persian
names, “a desert country”) more than India, and its use of the
term India should be seen in its context: in the pre-colonial age,
“India” often meant “Asia” from Yemen to Japan, eg. when
Columbus landed in Cathay/China or Zipangu/Japan, he called the
natives “Indians”. Furthermore, if the
Church relegated the Acts of Thomas to the apocryphal dustbin, it
was not without reason: the text paints an unflattering picture of
both Thomas and Jesus.
First of all, Thomas is called
Jesus’ twin-brother, so what with Jesus as “God’s
only-begotten son”? Thomas is also said to be
sold as a slave by his brother Jesus (the redeemer!), then to
have made a career as an unscrupulous magician who had a boy killed
by magic for not serving him quickly enough, and who lured women
away from their families.
Can such a problematic text be
upheld by Christians just because it supports their claim to an
Indian sojourn of an apostle? In any case, Indian and
missionary Christians continue to invest heavily in defending the
Saint Thomas story. This is understandable, less so is the support
they are getting from the secularists, who are always full of
contempt for religious myths such as those pertaining to Rama’s
Ayodhya. It is a standard phrase in political speeches, as well as
newspaper columns by secularists that Christianity was brought to
India in its very fifty years.
The Hindu Mind - Ideological Development of Hindu Revivalism - By Koenraad
Elst Publisher: Rupa ISBN: 81-7167-519-0
Even many vocal "secularists" who attack the Hindus
for "relying on myth" in the Ayodhya affair, off-hand profess their
belief in the Thomas myth. The important point is that Thomas can be upheld as a
martyr, and the Brahmins decried as fanatics. In reality, the missionaries were
very disgruntled that the damned Hindus refused to give them a martyrs (whose
blood is welcomed as "the seed of the faith"), so they had to invent
one. Moreover, the church which they claim commemorates Saint Thomas' martyrdom
at the hands of Hindu fanaticism, is in fact a Hindu (Jain and Shaiva) temple.
It was forcibly replaced by Christian missionaries. No one knows how many
priests and worshippers were killed when the Christian soldiers came to remove
the curse of Paganism from Mylapore beach.
in India - By Koenraad Elst
Elst is a Belgian scholar who has extensively studied the current
socio-political situation in India. Keenly interested in Asian philosophies and
traditions from his early years, he has studied yoga, aikido and other oriental
disciplines. Between 1988 and 1993 he spent much of his time in India doing
research at the prestigious Banaras Hindu University.)
The basis of the story are apocryphal
writings called "The Acts of Thomas"
from which, by some stretch of imagination, it was derived that Thomas visited
India. What the propagators of the myth leave unsaid is that these writings also
claim that the apostle Thomas was the twin brother of Jesus, and that Jesus set
Thomas on the path to apostolic martyrdom by selling him as a slave! After some
rather bizarre adventures that would be hard to reconcile with claims of
sainthood, Thomas lands up in the court of Gondhoporus, the supposed Keralite
King. The problem here is that the description of the land is the very opposite
of Kerala's famed and lush greenery. Besides, the name of the King is more
Persian than Indian, and in sync with the arid and desert nature of the
"India" being depicted.
Leaving that aside, there is another serious problem with the myth. It
is well documented that the Nambudiri Brahmins did not arrive in Kerala until
after 400 CE (AD, if you prefer). Centuries too
late to be converted by any globetrotting apostle. As for the supposed martyrdom
of Thomas in Mylapore in Tamil Nadu, this was found to be a Portuguese
fabrication. Not surprisingly, the Roman
Catholic Church never bought into the myth and the Church-sanctified bones of
the apostle (which are not the poor unfortunate's bones that were unearthed by
the Portuguese at Mylapore) lie in some church in Southern Europe.
The best guess to the antecedence of the Syrian Christian community is a
Middle-eastern merchant named Thomas of Cana who fled Antioch (Syria) with
several of his followers to Kerala, around 300 CE, to escape religious
persecution. Like the Jews who also settled there, and who may have been
contemporaries, they were generously welcomed by the local ruler and allowed to
peacefully coexist with the natives. Intermarriage with the locals, leading to
the Nordist and Suddist branches, eventually gave rise to the Syrian Christian
to Paul William Roberts,
" Legend has it that Saint Thomas was martyred in Madras after
to win a debate on theology with local Brahmin pundits.
He agreed to accept death if he lost the debate. Vanitas vanitatum.
of the Soul: Some journeys in India - By Paul William Roberts p.
"Thomas' subsequent history is uncertain. According to the 4th-century
Ecclesiastical History of Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, he evangelized Parthia
(modern Khorasan). Later Christian tradition says Thomas extended his apostolate
into India, where he is recognized as the founder of the Church of the Syrian
Malabar Christians, or Christians of St. Thomas.
There is much uncertainty about
his missionary work after the Pentecost. One tradition placed it among the
Parthians but another, more persistent, placed it in India, where the Syrian
Christians of Malabar claim they were evangelized by Thomas.
) Unfortunately, the tale of the arrival of St Thomas the Apostle in
52 CE, fondly believed by many Indian Christians, seems to be a pure myth.
Apparently, Thomas never came to India, according to the Vatican's records; nor
did he die in Madras -- he died in Spain.
Also refer to The
Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple
and The Myth of
Thomas in India - By Ishwar
Sharan (aka Swami Devananda
Saraswati, a Canadian sannyasi who took his Vedic
initiation from a renowned Dasanami mahamandaleswar at Prayag
in 1977) Voice of India South Asia Books 2nd Revision
edition November 1995. ISBN 8185990212).
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