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The Saffron Book

Crate began as a clan within the Hindu universe but in the face of invasions during the medieval period ended by being a shelter for a slavish menials


15. Casteism

Dear Isabel
It was stimulating to have you and Edward stay with us. I wish you had stayed longer in Delhi if only to satisfy your many curiosities. Caste and casteism, I remember, were among them but there was just not enough time for me to explain these phenomena so unique to India. I say India and not Hindus because the caste does not necessarily and after with conversion to either Christianity or Islam. All one has to do is to open a newspaper and glance at the matrimonial advertisements. They would seek all kinds of spouses ranging from Brahmin Catholics to Rajput Muslims.

My wife Nayana is a Jain which, as you know, is like a Protestant refinement of Hinduism, or rather the sanatan dharma which means the eternal faith. Jainism does not recognise caste. In fact, some scholars attribute its social inspiration 26 centuries ago to a kshatriya reaction tothe alleged dominance of the brahmins. I do not know enough about this subject. But I do know that no one in our family circles considered our marriage to be inter-caste. On the other hand, if I had married a kshatriya, it would have been called an inter-caste union.

There is plenty of literature on caste but not enough compiled into books in the English language. The standard recommendation is a thesis by Professor Ghuraye. In any case, I doubt if you would have the time to read what in England is regarded an obtuse subject. Let me therefore tell you what I believe: the caste and its vitiation namely casteism has been an unmitigated curse.

True, the castes, namely brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra began as a division of labour. To them were added more and more as new immigrants sought absorption into the Hindu universe. Some tribe became the Jats. Another was called Gujjar. A third got popularised as Lohana, and so on. Although all were Hindus, each retained its identity. A change of caste was for centuries evidently possible. There are any number of legends of how a shudra warrior conquered a territory, became king and then undertook a series of ceremonies or yagnas to qualify as a kshatriya. Moreover, for a long time there was perhaps no oppressive discrimination.Otherwise, how could Valmiki, belonging to the scavenger caste, have authored the great epic Ramayana? How could he have had the educational background if he had been a victim of the social taboos which came to be associated with his caste in the subsequent centuries? Similarly Thiruvalluvar, who was a weaver, wrote the Tamil classic called Tirukkural some 2000 years ago. Then consider the legend of Sri Krishna who has fascinated more Hindus than any other incarnation of God; Krishna belonged to the Yadav caste of cowherds.

With the passage of time, vested interests grew and were reinforced by the callous, cruel streak in human nature. Together they conspired to make the castes rigid and oppressive. A change of caste became forbidden; the concept of a division of labour was thrown overboard. Discriminative oppression became the name of the game. A Brahmin ceased to eat food cooked or served by a kshatriya or avaishya; and even a vaishya would not accept water from a shudra. Certain castes were condemned in practice to be untouchable. This was the most debasing of the casteist crimes and Indian civilisation has been punished severely for it. The irony is that we are not even aware of it. More about this later. In the meantime, let me tell you that the degeneration or the vitiation of caste into casteism is a living symptom of a slavery complex that has afflicted our society. What is this complex you are bound to ask? Normally, a slave does not expect to ever become a master. His prospects are sealed. He can neither progress nor rise. Yet he has an ego to satisfy. So how does he do it? By keeping the other slaves down. By scheming and intriguing to pull down his fellow slaves.

There is a fairly popular joke which we tell. It is about crabs that are exported from India. Other countries pack their crabs carefully and in containers which might have ventilation holes but whose lids are fixed. But Indian exporters send their supply with loose lids. For our crabs stay put in the container. The moment one tries to climb up, another one pulls it down. Which incidentally is what is typical of the slavery complex.

Today, no one aspires to move up the caste ladder. The hierarchy is used negatively to console oneself that there is after all somebody lower than oneself, some caste inferior to one's own. Take my own little subcaste called Kapol. Even this small group has been divided into two. For the lack of separate names, they are called 16 and 12. I think merely to reassure the 16 that there are peers lower than themselves, namely, the 12. These are details and I can think of many more. The crux of all this is that they divided, nay, cut up society. Each little compartment vies with the other. The parts compete against one another. Thus the whole can neither flourish nor blossom. That is a tale of India for centuries. A beautiful garden of many trees but few blossoms.

How could this have happened in a civilisation which Professor Basham called the wonder that was India; the India which was one of the three or four cradles of human civilisation? My own feeling is that the Hindu psyche was traumatised with the impact of Islam. The sword of Islam, with its many sharp edges - military, administrative, religio-cultural - proved too much. The Hindu ethos could not produce a lance to combat the sword. The Hindu energy withdrew into a shell in order to concentrate on survival. Even where Islamic influence did not extend, people lived in the dread of the sword.

With vitality reduced, it could do very little that was creative. Yes, the medieval period was studded with many saints of exceptional quality like Ramanuja, Chaitanya and Tulsidas. The list is long. It was their bhakti movement which took the sanatan dbarma from the confines of the Brahmin scholar to the far reaches of the Hindu masses. Mahmud Ghazni and his many raids were the harbingers of what was to come. The Hindu civilisation was not able to put its defensive act together and eventually succumbed to founded by Muhammed Ghauri after the second battle of Tarain in 1192. It was in this battle that Prithviraj Chanhan fell heroically. Thereafter, one dynasty followed another although each time the new conqueror entered from the Hindukush.

When that route dried up, the gateway of India shifted to the seas from where came the European companies. Eventually, the British settled down to govern and administer but also to transfer wealth to their own country 7000 miles away. Give or take a region here and a century there, India was ruled for some 800 years by foreigners. It is not a question of whether the conquerors were Hindu or Muslim. It is a question of Indians. Ibrahim Lodi was no Hindu. Yet even he went down, like his many predecessors, to the conquering Babar the Moghul.

This exploitation, this oppression and, above all, the centuries long humiliation is, I believe, the collective durbhagya (ill fate) that we have suffered for having indulged in the dushkarma (bad deed) which was casteism. I cannot see any other collective wrong perpetrated by the people of India on themselves. I, therefore, believe that we must abolish casteism from the face of our country as soon as possible. So that the dark ages end and yield the horizon to a new golden age of national consolidation.


The Saffron Book
Prafull Goradia
Introduction
1. Awake and Unite!
2. Why The Saffron Book?

Sooraj
10. Small States
3. Vision
4. Economic Face
5. Abolish Casteism
6. Bride Burning, Divorce
7. Rape, Prostitution
8. Revolutionising Education
9. The Constitution

Nationalism
11. Nationalism
12. Pan-Islamism
13. Communism
14. Subnationalism
15. Casteism

Hindutva
16. Hindutva is Dialectical
17. Origin of Hinduism
18. Medieval Phase
19. Modern Resurgence
20. Not Fundamentalism
21. Not Fascism
22. Tolerance
23. Strengths
24. Weaknesses
25. Opportunities
26. Threats
27. Individual Brilliance

Hindu Paradoxes
42. Idolatry
43. Fatalism
44. Double Standards
45. Masochistic Fringe
46. Fifth Column
47. No Soul before Birth

Christians
48. Proselytising Unwelcome
49. Myth of Divide and Rule

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