THE CASTE SYSTEM OF INDIA
GANDHI, AMBEDKAR, SATHYA SAI BABA AND P.L. MIMROTH
One of Sathya Sai Baba's most bandied aphorisms states: "There's one caste, the caste of humanity". That is all very fine, but why therefore does he support the Indian caste system? He says he "must condemn the hatred between castes and religions" (Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 4, p.84). "Varna or what we call caste, is a convenient arrangement for the conduct of worldly affairs... The four varnas are universal; they can be found in any country. The leaders of thought are the Brahmins; the fighters carrying arms are the Kshatriyas; the entrepreneurs and the business executives are the Vaisyas; the busy producers and the labourers are the Sudras..: "Each varna and asrama has its own rules, regulations and restrictions."(Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 4, p.230-1)
Sathya Sai Baba stated, however, "The system of Varnas is ordained by the Vedas and so there can be no injustice in it; it is not an artifice invented by man." (Sathya Sai Baba in Geetha Vahini, Ch. IX, p. 46 ) Then, in his feckless attempts to appear to 'unify' the castes and made them acceptable as such, he spoke much resounding nonsense, such as: "Caste is the Cosmic Person Himself manifesting as Human Society. It is the visible form of the Lord, charming in every limb. It is a great pity that this truth is not widely recognised. It is the good fortune of this land, Bharath, that in this Vision, the Lord, as the physical integration of the "caste limbs" is promoting peace and harmony, prosperity and well-being for all mankind." and "Judging from mere appearance, one cannot declare that all men are one. We have to distinguish and discriminate and group those with Sathwic, Rajasic, Thamasic or combinations of one or more of those natures, separately. No one can say this is wrong." (Sathya Sai Vahini, p. 216)
What a boon that almost the entire world holds this to be wrong and that it is India's great calamity to suffer from its deep-rooted caste divisions - based on a fictitious idea of how 'spiritual' or 'unspiritual' people are (i.e. Sattwic, Rajasic or Thamasic)! Sai Baba lives in a long-abandoned past where theocratic divisions ruled the populace and princes ruled according to religious scriptures. He wants to apply such notions to the present-day world which by great good fortune has defeated just those oppressive and most often despotic systems of government.
The world in general condemns any such caste distinctions as being, divisive, discriminatory, unjust and oppressive. As Sai Baba describes the castes, their members are not even equal before the same law. It is most noticeable that he omits mention of the Dalits and casteless groups which are the victim of major social suppression. Such a divided and extreme caste system as India's has not been common to other than despotic states. It is a far more rigid and unfair class system than has existed in European countries even when this kind of stratification was at it worst. The caste system in India was made illegal decades ago, but the practices continue throughout the population, though the grip of caste has weakened in some respects for a minority among the lower castes in recent times. Major local clashes and killings, rapes and burning out homes between castes are still widespread and extremely vicious, where the lower castes and the casteless are overwhelmingly the chief victims. Despite the law, caste is invariably also mentioned in the countless daily classified matrimonial ads in the newspapers, which shows how deeply it permeates the society and personal relations. The several thousands of years old caste system in India is a gross - if inexplicable - aberration from Hindu religious values (Sanathana Dharma). Sai Baba was scripturally correct when he stated that the Vedic religion clearly lays down that "birth into a family alone cannot decide caste; it has to be determined on the bases of character and occupation." (Sathya Sai Vahini, p. 217)
The Indian system of castes is certainly very complex, consisting in the four main castes. These four are each subdivided into numerous sub-castes. The four traditional 'Varnas' - which figured in the ancient the ancient epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata - are the Brahmins or Hindu priesthood, the warrior castes (Kshtryas), the traders and farmers (Vaisyas) and the workers (Sudras). Formerly seen as having no caste at all are the Dalits (formerly openly called untouchables), as well as Muslims and other non-Hindu religious communities. Foreigners were all once consigned to the untouchables and utterly disdained as mlechchhas, dirty and uncouth barbarians, and this even persisted among nationalist Hindus while the British ruled much of India. Among more religious and less civilised Hindus, this attitude lingers on.
While Sai Baba defends the basic system of class differentiation as unavoidable, it is frequently argued there that castes and especially sub-castes provide a haven for those born into them since it is a social network which can help its members and defend them. To this it must be said that those low castes with little or nothing cannot help their own kind much at all, while defense is necessary only against the warring by members of other castes. The casteless have had to struggle enormously with very little improvement of their status and opportunities so far. To see the nature of the caste system as it pertained in the 19th century, one can see the illustrated 'Seventy two specimens of castes in India' by T. Vardapillay in 1837.
"Indians who use lofty rhetoric about progress, characterizing their society as "united in diversity," seem to be simply perpetuating the system of social gradation that has blighted so many lives." (Dr. J. S. Murthy). "The British government of India had a considerable, transforming impact on the country's Hindu social structure. The British brought change by passing many important laws designed to aid the marginalized lower castes--laws such as the Hindu Act, the Caste Disabilities Act, and the Widow Remarriage Act. But the British could not find a lasting solution to the problem of castes, particularly since the British saw themselves as a privileged ruling class.
The strongest, most systematic attack on the caste system has come in the twentieth century through the Constitution of India, adopted on November 26, 1949. India's constitution guarantees the right of all its citizens to justice, liberty, equality, and dignity. In practice, however, the situation falls far short of the ideal. The 2014 election of the rightist Hindu-nationalist Narendra Modi as Indian's Prime Minister has not so far led to strife with minority religionists, but it does not bode well for Dalits. Already in 2002, Human Rights Watch wrote how: "The increasing domination of Hindu nationalism in India's current political landscape has dramatically undermined India's constitutional commitment to secular democracy. The policies espoused by India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its sister organizations, collectively known as the sangh parivar, have already resulted in much violence against the country's Christian, Muslim, and Dalit ("untouchable") populations."
The growing economic success of some in India has created a chasm separating the rich from the poor, who make up about 56 percent of the population. Economists describe "two Indias"--one rich and one poor. India's caste system can no longer fully contain the socioeconomic change that the country is undergoing. Different religions, occupations, and levels of education are no longer correlated with caste. A high-caste person cannot be born a chief executive, for example, but must work to become one. A person of low caste may now get a good education and become an executive, a college professor, or even a government leader."
Some of the caste rules that are widely observed today are:
- Marriages between persons of different castes is forbidden.
- No one can change caste in their own lifetime, though they can hope to reborn in a higher caste.
- Higher caste members should avoid physical contact with lower ('less pure') castes, like the Sudras and Untouchables.
No one can defend this system as fair and good for humanity, even though it has ancient roots and may have been preferable to other forms of social organization in the early history of India. Today it is a violation of human rights and human values.
Sathya Sai Baba tries to sell the idea that caste is very proper for society. "I am making a promise today that the people of all the countries, viz. Pakistan, China, Germany, Russia will be united. That should be our goal. The goodness of Bharat will lead to this unity.” Sanathana Sarathi Sept. 2002,p. 267 While India still has an extremely divisive caste system which, though considered illegal, flourishes throughout the land, how can India be an example of any kind of unity whatever? The megalomaniac 'promise' that he will bring about unification of the above countries surely robs Sathya Sai Baba of all credibility.
A full account of the caste system is found in the Manusmriti (Ordinances of Manu), which dates from A.D. 700, is the most authoritative work on Hindu law. Centuries later, it was adopted by British rulers in India.
Dalits ask Government to abolish caste-based discrimination
P. L. Mimroth, chairman of the Centre for Dalit Rights, Jaipur, led the group, while India was represented by Swashpawan Singh, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the U.N. Office. Mr. Mimroth said on his return here that India had for the first time admitted in a U.N. forum the existence of discrimination and marginalisation on the basis of castes and tribes. The Permanent Representative to the U.N. also stated that action at the government level to end discrimination was not enough and other stakeholders were being engaged to address the gaps.
"Mr. Singh's admission in the U.N. body is a long-awaited indication of the Centre's intent to do something for protecting the rights of Dalits," said Mr. Mimroth, adding that it was high time the Centre initiated measures to stop violation of Dalit rights in the areas of access to education, health care, housing, employment and freedom of faith.
More than 10 countries raised specific questions or recommendations concerning caste-based discrimination in India. This seemed to be a "strong message" to the Centre that the international community was deeply concerned about the persistence of this form of discrimination that affected more than 16.7 crore Dalits (i.e. over 160 million).
Addressing the meeting, National Human Rights Commission's representative Aruna Sharma called upon India to ratify the U.N. Convention against Torture. She said policemen at the lower rung in the hierarchy often resorted to torture and harassment of people detained on suspicion of involvement in crimes.
However, Solicitor-General G. E. Vahanvati said the caste-based discrimination could not be considered a form of "racial discrimination" because the caste system, which was unique to India,
was not racial in origin.
... P.L. Mimroth World Conference against Racism
"The Indian government is trying to stop such a discussion at Durban in a naked display of the prejudiced casteist policy of the ruling political parties and classes. The Indian government's attitude has exposed as shallow its pretence of social equity." P.L. Mimroth, New Delhi
Dalit leaders, Human rights activists and concerned citizens demonstrated at the offices of the United Nations in New Delhi this morning, demanding that the forthcoming United Nations Conference in Durban, South Africa, on Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia discuss the issue of Caste and the violence that casteism has inflicted on the person and human dignity of hundreds of millions of people in several countries of Asia and other continents for over three thousand years.
P.L. Mimroth, Convener for the Centre for Dalit Human Rights (CDHR) see Dalit Warrior
Dalits kept out of the electoral process in 2009
Interviewed by Norway's most prominent journalist on Asia in his book [India, encounter with fate], Thorbjørn Færøvik, Mimroth said that everything is still as before, the houses, families, castes even the village well was the same old. Open to throw people, closed to the casteless! Now as then, the casts is forced to trudge off to the water hole four kilometers away.
For over 2,000 years Rajasthan has been a country of unrighteousness with the rest of India not far behind. One hundred and sixty million casteless live in the world's largest democracy. On paper, they have the same rights and obligations as everyone else. But the reality is that ancient ideas cannot be erased by political decisions or force.
Dr Kancha Ilaiah, professor in political science at Osmania University and a leading campaigner for Dalit rights in India. Author of three books: firstly ‘Why I am not a Hindu’ which was a bestseller in 1996. Thereupon he received from right-wing Hindus letters threatening to kill him and exhibit his body in a museum. Howevr, he received support global ly and also nationally from Dalits and lower communities. He also published God as a Political Philosopher : Buddha's challenge to Brahmanism and Democracy in India: A Hollow Shell (co-authored) as well as The State and Repressive Culture. Further, he has written Buffalo Nationalism; a Critique of Spiritual Fascism
which is critical of Hindu cultural history and Hindu cultural values.
On untouchability in India he holds: "Nowhere in human history has one group - the upper castes of India - been able to oppress so many for so long." He testified to a Congressional hearing in the USA, under the title 'The Abolition of Untouchability: the Key to Stability in India', in which he outlined the roots and the ongoing violence and discrimination against Dalits. Dalits are totally excluded from Hindu religious practices. Dalit hired workers are paid less than half of the minimum wage. Educated Dalits are frequently obstructed by their caste. During the 2004 tsunami relief effort, Dalits were segregated from upper-caste Hindus.
The caste system defended as natural - P.L. Mimroth (Sathya Sai Baba defended the caste system in this way)
Gandhi to Sathya Sai Baba - Hindu-Indian Nationalism
The Evil That Men Do Tribal women claiming rape by Salwa Judum men in Chhattisgarh put a question mark on the NHRC, which rejected their testimonies. Photographs by SHAILENDRA PANDEY [http://www.tehelka.com/story_main42.asp?filename=Ne180709coverstory.asp] Ajit SahiAJIT SAHI Editor-at-Large
In the Indian setting, refusal to act on the testimony of the victim of sexual assault in the absence of corroboration as a rule is adding insult to injury. A girl or a woman in the tradition- bound non-permissive society of India would be extremely reluctant even to admit that any incident that is likely to reflect on her chastity had ever occurred… [A rape victim’s testimony] does not require corroboration from any other evidence, including the evidence of a doctor. — Supreme Court justices Arijit Pasayat and P Sathasivam, July 2008
What happens when those accused of rape are the hired guns of a dubious state-backed militia that is the frontline in one of the world’s most brutal civil wars? What happens when the Indian State pivots this war against deeply entrenched Maoist insurgents on a take-no-prisoners approach, because unless the Maoists are killed off and millions of tribal people removed from their forests, hills and fields, corporate India won’t be able to claim the bounties of their lands? What happens when it is abundantly clear that accepting the charges of rape from such women would be very dangerous indeed because that step just might begin to unravel this barbaric anti-people militia, bringing an end to its unchecked reign of terror?
THIS IS the heartrending story of Chhattisgarh, and all the above questions have only one answer: the Indian State cannot afford to honestly investigate these women’s charges of rape and secure them justice. Therefore, it must be forced to do so. In the following pages, readers of TEHELKA will find graphic gut-wrenching testimonies of some tribal women of Chhattisgarh describing how they were brutalised by the men of the Salwa Judum, the tribal militia that the state government sponsored four years ago and has since terrorised tens of thousands of innocent tribal people, burning their houses down, forcing them to abandon their villages where they had lived for generations, to move into squalid government- controlled “camps”.
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