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History Of Caste
Free Use for reference is valid
Some comment by Ambedkar on the supposed egalitarian nature of Muslim society:

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Take the caste system. Islam speaks of brotherhood. Everybody infers that Islam must be free from slavery and caste. Regarding slavery nothing needs to be said. It stands abolished now by law. But while it existed, much of its support was derived from Islam and Islamic countries./2/ While the prescriptions by the Prophet regarding the just and humane treatment of slaves contained in the Koran are praiseworthy, there is nothing whatever in Islam that lends support to the abolition of this curse. As Sir W. Muir has well said /3/:—
". . .rather, while lightening, lie riveted the fetter. . . .There is no obligation on a Muslim to release his slaves. . . ."
    But if slavery has gone, <span style='color:red'> caste among Musalmans has remained. As an illustration one may take the conditions prevalent among the Bengal Muslims. The Superintendent of the Census for 1901 for the Province of Bengal</span> records the following interesting facts regarding the Muslims of Bengal :—
"The conventional division of the Mahomedans into four tribes— Sheikh, Saiad, Moghul and Pathan—has very little application to this Province (Bengal). The Mahomedans themselves recognize two main social divisions, (1) Ashraf or Sharaf and (2) Ajlaf. <span style='font-size:14pt;line-height:100%'>Ashraf means 'noble' and includes all undoubted descendants of foreigners and converts from high caste Hindus. All other Mahomedans including the occupational groups and all converts of lower ranks, are known by the contemptuous terms, 'Ajlaf ,' 'wretches' or 'mean people': they are also called Kamina or Itar, 'base' or Rasil, a corruption of Rizal, 'worthless.' In some places a third class, called Arzal or 'lowest of all,' is added. With them no other Mahomedan would associate, and they are forbidden to enter the mosque to use the public burial ground.</span>
"Within these groups there are castes with social precedence of exactly the same nature as one finds among the Hindus.

I. Ashraf or better class Mahomedans.

(1) Saiads.
(2) Sheikhs.
(3) Pathans.
(4) Moghul.
(5) Mallik.
(6) Mirza.
II. Ajlaf or lower class Mahomedans.
(1) Cultivating Sheikhs, and others who were originally Hindus but who do not belong to any functional group, and have not gained admittance to the Ashraf Community, e.g. Pirali and Thakrai.
(2) Darzi, Jolaha, Fakir, and Rangrez.
(3) Barhi, Bhalhiara, Chik, Churihar, Dai, Dhawa, Dhunia, Gaddi, Kalal, Kasai, Kula Kunjara, Laheri, Mahifarosh, Mallah, Naliya, Nikari.
(4) Abdal, Bako, Bediya, Bhal, Chamba, Dafali, Dhobi, Hajjam, Mucho, Nagarchi, Nal,Panwaria, Madaria, Tunlia.
III. Arzal or degraded class.
Bhanar, Halalkhor, Hijra, Kasbi, Lalbegi, Maugta, Mehtar."
    The Census Superintendent mentions another feature of the Muslim social system, namely, the prevalence of the "panchayat system." He states :—
"The authority of the panchayat extends to social as well as trade matters and. . .marriage with people of' other communities is one of the offences of which the governing body takes cognizance. The result is that these groups are often as strictly endogamous as Hindu castes. The prohibition on inter-marriage extends to higher as well as to lower castes, and a Dhuma, for example, may marry no one but a Dhuma. If this rule is transgressed, the offender is at once hauled up before the panchayat and ejected ignominiously from his community. A member of one such group cannot ordinarily gain admission to another, and he retains the designation of the community in which he was born even if he abandons its distinctive occupation and takes to other means of livelihood. . . .thousands of Jolahas are butchers, yet they are still known as Jolahas."
    Similar facts from other Provinces of India could be gathered from their respective Census Reports, and those who are curious may refer to them. But the <span style='font-size:14pt;line-height:100%'>facts for Bengal are enough to show that the Mahomedans observe not only caste but also untouchability.</span>

In medieval chronicles there are no mentions about lower caste Hindus converting to Islam to gain "equality" because there was no such thing in Muslim society, the only references I saw for such a thing come from a few references to the improvements in condition of those who joined the Khalsa Panth.

Even more ridiculous is the notion that sati must have contributed to widows converting to Islam when infact the favorite past time of Muslims was to abduct Hindu women and put them in harems, that is not a knight in shining armour rescuing the wretched Hindu woman but a rapist doing what rapists do under the sanction of a "religion".

Talking about this supposed Muslim sense of equality, then how do we explain the complete lack of references for any of this "equality" in the poetry of Sants like Namdev or Kabir, infact Kabir was as much a critic of the mullahs as he criticised the Hindu pandits and he referred to none of this mythical "Muslim equality".

Even among foreign Muslims there was no equality, in the Deccan Sultanates there was periodic bloodshed between the East African Muslims (now called Siddis) and the Persians and other Deccani nobles who looked down upon the Africans as inferior.

Furthermore none of the jihadists ever claimed that they were improving the lot of the lower castes by converting them to a religion of "equality", on the contrary they despised the lower caste converts and kept them as far away as possible, they only say that they converted so many kaffirs and thus spread the true religion, nothing whatsoever about equality.

In one of the Hadiths Muhammad himself is recorded to have said that the position of Caliph only belongs to people of the Quraish clan (his clan), this is quoted in Arun Shouries book about the Eminent Historians which I will give the exact reference for later, so where is the question of equality when the founder himself categorically stated that only his clan can occupy the position of a Caliph.
From another forum
But I do not believe that Hindu society is portrayed in any manner grossly inconsistent with observed facts.

You mean how they inter-weave Jati-Caste-Class-Race! and the codification of caste starting with the census, resulting in a change, in the nature of how caste worked in India, culminating all the way to Mandal?

The British understanding was deeply affected by British concepts of their own past, and by British notions of race and the importance of race in relation to the human condition. Further, the intellectual framework, such as that provided by anthropology and phrenology, that was used to help create the ideas surrounding the concept of race, was foreign to the intellectual traditions of India. These concepts endured well into the 20th century and affected the analysis of the censuses throughout this period.

Risley, for example, used anthropometric measurements, which were directly descended from anthropological and phrenological methodology, in his ordering of castes following the census of 1901. These same notions led to a classification of intelligence and abilities based on physical attributes, and this in turn led to employment opportunities being limited to certain caste groupings that displayed the appropriate attributes.

Indians attempted to incorporate themselves into this evolving system by organizing caste sabhas with the purpose of attaining improved status within the system. This ran contrary to traditional views of the purpose of the caste system and imposed an economic basis.

With this, the relevance and importance of the spiritual, non material rational for caste was degraded and caste took on a far more material meaning. In this way, caste began to intrude more pervasively into daily life and status became even more coveted and rigid.

In a sense, caste became politicized as decisions regarding rank increasingly fell into the political rather than the spiritual sphere of influence. With this politicization, caste moved closer to class in connotation. The actions of the Indian people that contributed to this process were not so an much acquiescence to the British construction as they were pragmatic reactions to the necessities of material life.

In expropriating the knowledge base of Indian society, the British had forced Indian society and the caste system to execute adjustments in order to prosper within the rubric of the British regime.

Second, You mean Maculay and group’s utter scorn for all that had been written or developed in India leading to a complete dismantling of everything Indian in the then education system. Do you seriously mean to say that this scorn was to only do with the lack of technology in Indian education and had nothing to do with one culture sitting in judgment of the other?

I will save the board of trying to recount the details of what Maculay’s new system of education did to the Indian ethos.

The cumulative effects of just these two not to mention the economic and social exploitation should be enough to conclude that the British did observe facts but with, colored eyes. A casualty of such actions was that highly evolved temporal systems such as Advaita and simple concepts practiced in the land along with some superstitions were all lumped in one heap and <b>garbaged</b>.
Quote: Read Irfan Habib and then read Lal. Then compare the difference. Then read Nehru and then read Goel and Ram Swarup and then see, who do you believe and who represents the “official” views in India.

There are different narratives, and different perspectives.

Nehruvian views of history was a bury-the-past-and-look-ahead perspective, and a sanitised narrative aimed at ending the acrimony of pre-partition days, and building a secular India.

Obviously, that didn't work.

The Goel-Lal-Swarup views of history is the other extreme,- the overzealous xenophobic perspective, mixed with a vainglorious sanitised, utopian portrayal of Hindu society.

Neither represents the honest Hindu narrative.

A new narrative needs to be created, which takes the elements of truth from both sides into account.

It is not a quest for 'common/middle ground', but the hard, unvarnished truths gleaned from the facts still available.

Nehruvian views of history seeked to white wash the history of an entire nation – through the suppression of truths and the acceptance of theories – with no strong basis in facts. It came from a lack of respect and lack of knowledge of Indian traditions.

For a person, who speaks about the hard unvarnished truth and then in the same paragraph labels epithets such as xenophobic on folks such as Swarup and Goel, displays ignorance on the works of these folks. Where have these authors portrayed an utopian view of Hindu Society, can you point to it please? If you would have said, they are sympathetic to hindu views of society, you would have been far closer to the truth. You obviously have not read Shri Swarup’s, Reviews and Reflections on Hinduism – as per me, one of the most accurate critiques of Hindu society.

So, no the authors of Voice of India are not portraying a sanitized version of anything. They are doing the following:

- Showing that the official views of our history is wrong
- Showing a more accurate picture of Islamic rule and Islamic theology
- Showing that there are dangers to the Indian nation and state from the combination of Marxists, Islamists and the pseudo-secularists

My feeling is you have not read these authors in any detailed manner and hence resort to such labeling – consistently. The debate is not so much over the facts but on what they mean, their interpretations, the motivations, the context, etc.
Quote: The issue is not about one or two things that were positive but the overall picture – which remains overwhelmingly negative. So, why do you choose to rub it in and credit the British with these reforms as if – Hindu society was doomed without them
See how you twist the perspective to suit your needs.
Far from me twisting it, I think, first, you need to come up with a perspective and present the case. All you have done so far is picked a page from a book without reading the whole script.
Quote: I had pointed out that a major impetus of reform came from the British.

To those that claimed that Hindus would have reformed on their own, I asked them to find examples of such reform during the pre-Islamic or pre-British era.

It is clear that the Hindu society had stagnated with ideas of ritual purity and codified degeneration morass, from which it was unable to extricate itself.

It was slowly rotting from within, <b>just like</b> the mullah society is rotting from within, and needs that push from external stakeholders.

The British - with help of bright minds and British-educated liberal elite - did what was until then a Herculean task,- JUMPSTART the process of reform, which - thankfully - continues.
See, right there you have equated the structures of Islam with those of Hinduism to suggest an equal-equal rot. </b>
I am appalled for a person, who understands Advaita so well to have asked such a question. As if, India was governed by some type of an over arching religious arch during the Hindu era. None of the 'Hindu' scriptures have projected themselves as commandment-giving authorities demanding unconditional obedience from all those claiming to be Hindus.
Surely, you know that in Hindu society Manusmriti (and other shastric texts) have as much or as little authority for Hindus as a contemporary book on hindu philosophy.

The British consistently promoted the myth that Hindus were governed by their codified versions of shastric injunctions.,

You cannot ask a 19th century question and seek to apply it a 1000 years before that time. There were certain weaknesses in Hindu society, which allowed the invasions to happen but the caste system or Hindu practices were not among the major reasons.

Understand the diversity and the non – uniformity of systems prevalent in pre Islamic and early India. Any reforms have to be viewed from a then contemporary context. The Hindu system is not a monolithic system as you understand it so well. I think you are quick to judge the end results without adequately understanding the root cuases.

None of the examples below is to deny that hindu society did de-generate especially post Gupta and continued to do so with the march of Islam. The examples below is to find the diversities in systems prevalent in early India, in contrast to as understood by the British and to suggest that India did not NEED the rape by the British (OK, call it gentle rape, if you like), in order to reform itself.

Examples are:
* It is also worth noting that the classical four varna division of Hindu society (as described in the Manusmriti) does not appear to have had much practical significance if one were to go by the accounts of the Greek chronicler, Megasthenes. In his accounts of Mauryan India. Megasthenes appears to list a seven fold social order in which he differentiates between the priest and the philosopher (who he ranked much above the priest, and who could have been a Brahmin, Jain or Buddhist) and also gives special attention to court bureaucrats such as record keepers, tax collectors and judicial officials. He also ascribed to the peasantry a higher status than might be inferred from the Manusmriti and noted with amazement how the peasantry was left unharmed during battles.
*According to Megasthenes, philosophers - whether Brahmins or Jain/Buddhist monks also had obligations in terms of offering advice to the ruler in matters of public policy, agriculture, health and culture. Repeated failure to provide sound counsel could lead to a loss of privileges - even exile or death. Thus, although many Brahmins may have held on to their privileges by being shameless sycophants - others made significant contributions in the realm of science, philosophy and culture. Social mobility was possible since learning was not an exclusive preserve of the Brahmins and both the Buddhist and Jain sanghas admitted people from different social backgrounds and also admitted women. (Jyotsna Kamat points to a Karnataka inscription from 1187 A.D. that suggests that Jain nuns enjoyed the same amount of freedom as their male counterparts.) The more advanced sanghas enforced a separate quorum for women to ensure that a largely male gathering may not take decisions that did not meet with the approval of the women members of the sangha.
*Early Gupta period records indicate the existence of rural consultative councils that mediated between the rulers and the artisans and peasants

*. It also appears that the greatest incidence of the practice of untouchability occurs in conjunction with the growth in the power and authority of the Brahmins in such villages.But these developments took time to spread elsewhere in India, first spreading to Bengal and eastern UP, and very gradually elsewhere in India. However, this pattern was not necessarily replicated in identical form throughout India and some parts of India virtually escaped this trend. In agrahara villages in other parts of India, Brahmins did take on the role of local administrators and tax collectors, but the status of the small peasantry was not always as miserable as in Bihar. The degree of exploitation and oppression appears to be related to the extent of alienation from land-ownership.
* evidence for Brahmin domination in Kalikatti, Southern Karnataka emerges after the 13th C.
*, in Orissa, the ossification of the bureaucracy and its conversion into a group of privileged and exclusive castes appears to take place after the 14th-15th C. when we begin to see a general decline in its overseas trade due to the silting up of its rivers. At the same time, we see the growth of Brahminical hegemony in the realm of religion and military defeats at the hands of the Mughal armies led by Raja Man Singh of Jaipur. All these factors may have played a role in destroying the vibrancy of Oriya society and encouraging caste conservatism.
* Chach-nama and writings of al-Biruni, though written in the 13th and 11th centuries, claim their sources from other contemporary writings. It appears as though the systematic classification was not rigid in the 8th century after all. Shudra as well as Brahmin kings were ruling and not all royalty belonged to the Kshatriya class.
* Although Brahminization was an important factor in leading to caste ossification, it was not necessarily the sole or even the most important factor in the mix. The impact of the Islamic invasions, colonization by the British and ecological changes played an equally crucial if not decisive role in many instances.

Indian society was very diverse in its practice and unlike Islam did not have a central over arching social amd political framework. To suggest that such a society would be immune to change – given the necessary social and political space is not what the evidence proves.
There is further evidence, which suggests that Indian society started to change after the death of Aurangzeb.
Quote: As it actually was and honesty – These comments need to have an overall perspective and not a selective emphasis.
You are coming down to equal-equal arguments.

The differing emphasis is because of differing needs.

Why emphasise the obvious ones, and drag down the importance of the critical ones ?

Asking for an overall perspective is the only honest way to gauge what was the true picture. A selective emphasis is a biased and motivated exercise in white washing.

If you think the obvious ones as you referred to are really that obvious to the general population, you of all would not be trying to make the arguments you are making.
Quote:[quote]And you do not see the word obfuscation, you are indulging in?[/quote

No, I do not.

I have a choice before me,- to remain in a state of degradation( no hope of change ), or to convert and be free of the degradation ( that is what I am told, that is what I believe ).

What do I do ?
Study deeper. Understand, who, is pronouncing that it was degraded beyond repair. Understand their motivations, their actions. Understand root causes. You are not displaying any of the characteristics of a learned fellow in these matters.

Quote: The statement that the they took the step, suggesting a voluntary decision, is highly debatable and unproven. In fact, evidence points to the other way. That is the Dalits of India were as staunch or weak defenders of their faith as the upper castes were.

We see that evidence in the Dalits of today, no ?

Let's start with Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

And let's proceed to the periodic mass conversions.

Why aren't these folks defending their faith now ?
First, Ambedkar is, shall we say a motivated, if not a false god of the Dalits. Gandhi probably did as much for the Dalits as Ambedkar, but everyone is quick to foreget that for long periods in the 30’s it was Gandhi, who had almost left the freedom struggle and was fighting for the cause of the Dalits. It was Ambedkar, who seeked to divide Hindu society, until Gandhi forced the issue and saved from another division of Hindu society. Ambedkar’s political choices, sometimes, in conflict with the freedom movement is well known.

On conversions, the political hoop la apart, the incidence of conversions have no material impact anymore on demographics. Conversions have been replaced by a differential in birth rates and immigration. Does not help to count every so called conversion by EJ’s and shuddhi ceremonies by the VHP, in this context.

What we do see is the effects of the codification of castes, started by the British and continued by the GoI.

Evidence again points to the other way. Jizyah was applied to all except Brahmins, slaves, women and children under 14. The rates were different – but they were applied to all – rich and poor. Read Lal on the economics of the muslim state in India.

You must know there is a difference in theory and practice.

In theory, caste system is an ideal division of society.

And in theory "La ikraha fi deen" is the Islamic injunction against conversion by force.

None of that holds in practice.

You either completely misunderstand Islam and its practices in India or are deliberately misrepresenting it. The practice of Islam was largely in compliance with its theology.

The phrase “La ikraha fi deen” means there is no compulsion in religion. It was phrased in the context of Islam and not “conversion”. That is to mean there is no compulsion in religion in Islam. None of the theologians have any confusion in this area and the injunctions to convert by force remain supreme. Either ways “La ikraha fi deen” itself was superceded by later ayats. I hope you do know that in the Quran later ayats supercede earlier ones. So, the practice of Islamists is consistent with the theological doctrines of Islam.

Not worth the trouble! It was one of the primary and sustainable means to convert the population by keeping them under pressure.

Once again, in theory.

In practice, jizya was used more as a means of bolstering revenue, and economically/militarily debilitating the "alien" subjects, so as to keep the ruled lands in submission.

If some of the caste Hindus converted, good enough. They would pay zakat, and they would swell the ranks of the Muslim administrative cadre, and prove good examples for others to follow [ In fact, this is what happened in the Punjab, as more and more Muslim villages slowly absorbed the remaining Hindus through peer pressure .

If not, they would be always on their toes paying the high tax bills, and at least they wouldn't have the time or luxury to plan or execute a revolt.

The dalits were menial labours, and they were anyway marginal to society. It was not worth the administration's limited constabulary to keep chasing them for a few kauris.

Jiziyah: In the Indian context, it was not just a tax but consistent with the injunctions of the Quran Hindus were non-citizens of the muslim state (except between 1564-1679) allowed to live in Dar-ul-Islam, under certain disabilities. Jiziyah is meant for the humiliation of non-muslims. The hindu was to pay this tax with meekness, humility and utmost respect.

Quzi Mughisuddin of the 14th century, Mulla Ahmed, Sirhindi and Shah Walliullah in the later centuries were all consistent in their definitions of what Jiziyah was in the Indian context. Not just a tax but a tool for humiliation and degradation.

Jiziyah was applied on muslim territories from the day MBQ set foot in Brahmanabad. The rates for Jiziyah differed from era to era. Usually in three grades. Except between 1564 and 1679, starting with the reigns of Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jahan, Jiziyah was collected from the Hindu population – ruthlessly. The known rates are 40, 20, 10 for the Rich, middle and poor in whatever measure of currency available.

The poor and many Dalits were among those who, converted to escape these grinding taxes and not as popularly known to escape the discriminations of the caste system.

Zakat, applied on muslims was a tax of 2.5% on “apparent property” in excess of “nisab”, i.e: after meeting expenses of food, clothing, shelter, animals, vehicles and craft tools for a whole calendar year. So, in essence a wealth tax of 2.5%. Further, it could not be extracted by force, since compulsion would vitiate its character.

In the muslim state, Zakat’s primary purposes were charitable and religious – for the muslims. While the expenses of the state were met by a combination of Khams, Kharaj and Jiziyah coupled with double customs duties (tamgha) for hindus as opposed to muslims.

Alauddin Khaljis grinding taxes and imposts labeled as “reforms” were a grinding mix to subdue the hindu population leading to conversions, sale of the self and abandonment of fertile lands – unprecedented in the annals of Indian history.

So, the analogy of Jiziya = Zakat is fallacious, in all respects.

You talk about the difference between the theory and practice of the muslim state in India, why not read Lal’s book on the very subject to understand it and learn from it.

Again, Read Lal’s – Indian muslims, who are they? You will know the reasons why large numbers of the high castes and some professional guilds converted.

This is my last post on the issue, if all we get in return is a superficial understanding of the issues and labels being used without any basis in fact.

Manu on householders, and women......part 3 of a five part article on one of India's greatest ancient legal texts.
29 May 07 15:06:00 PM - 90 Views | comments rss:

Tags: Hindu Manu Smriti Religion

The most intriguing question facing Hindu society from time immemorial is which is the superior path ; that of the householder or that of the sanyasin (the renunciate). Saints and thinkers have opined diverse views. The criticism of sanyasin is that it renders destitute society of its best intellects and manpower; while that of householders has been they are so besmirched with maya that it depletes them of the vital powers of concentration on the road to moksha. The chain of relationships bonds them to the unreal, their effete selves are no match for the sanyasin’s relentless pursuit for the goal supreme. It is the latter view, which held sway with orthodox Hindus for centuries.

The historical examination points out that the Hindu tradition actually discouraged jumping into the ascetic bandwagon. The buddha’s path, although proclaiming a middle path, consummated in a large scale conversion of millions of young men and even women into sanyasin. Buddhism probably gave to the world, the first organized order of monks which Shankara would emulate for Hindu sanyasins almost a millennium later.

The etymology of the word sanyas is to be alone….Samsara is not the world, it is stagnation at the level of the senses. Thus, in Hindu philosophy, the essence is to attain sanyasa while engaged, in work, in activity. Yet, for the lesser mortals, the last phase of life must be utilized in the attainment of the same, for as Krishna says in the Geeta, no spiritual gains made in this life ever goes waste.

Shankara had said a man must take up Sanyasana as soon as vairagya [spiritual dispassion] dawns upon him, irrespective of whether he had completed the intervening grihastya. But Manu, and all smriti writers of the time, were unanimous in their view, that sanyasa could not be undertaken without first gratifying the debts to one’s ancestors, gods and most importantly family and society at large, by begetting and raising righteous children. Thus, grihastha, the phase of the householder, involves several rites which have to be performed along with the wife. It is an ideal ground for discipline of the body, mind and soul. Manu does not condemn the cause for desire, which is central to a householder; as he opines [MS 2.4]

Not a single act here (below) appears ever to be done by a man free from desire; for whatever (man) does, it is (the result of) the impulse of desire

Thus Manu contends that while working with desire for fruits is not laudable, yet, it is ultimately desire that drives, exceptions are few to be found where man can work solely for work’s sake without thinking of the fruits of his action. As is known, Krishna in the Geeta appeals to Arjuna to work selflessly and renounce the fruits of his actions to him. Manu is definitely more realistic in his vision and attempts to harmoniously rationalize it with the spiritual idealism

Manu, praises the order of householders for being the most excellent as evident from the following verses.
MS 3.78

Because men of the three (other) orders are daily supported by the householder with (gifts of) sacred knowledge and food, therefore (the order of) householders is the most excellent order.

MS 6.90

As all rivers, both great and small, find a resting-place in the ocean, even so men of all orders find protection with householders
Manu vision of the householder is one of radiant humanism. Manu obviates the need for extenuating the householder’s spiritual limitations w.r.t. the sanyasin, by putting forth the argument of societal sustenance depending exclusively upon the former. But Manu’s intransigence with dharma for any being, produces the profound vision of the householder with his radiant humanism, who is not limited by his familial constrains, but as a model citizen, is responsible for the dharmic considerations of the society at large.

Manu appeals to householders to follow an ethical, not mechanical basis of dharma.

MS 10.63 Five virtues constitute the dharmas of all the four varnas-non violence, truth, non thieving, purity and sense control.

In this respect, that Manu says “atithi devo bhava” -> Guests must be treated as gods. They must be requested to stay at nightfall. Never should thoughts of driving away a guest arise in a householder’s mind. However, leprosy patients should not be entertained (for fear of infecting the family) Recently, Romila Thapar, has challenged this view and claimed, that only Brahmins were accepted as guests. However, there is no internal evidence to support this view. Other smriti writers even admitted charvaks/the hedonists of ancient India as guests. It is perhaps, the testimony of Megasthenes, the greek ambassador of Selecus I to Chandragupta Maurya which absolutely debunks Thapar’s audacious claim, especially since the former, being outside the pale of varna, was a mleccha. To quote from Megasthenes’s Indica “Indians officers are appointed even for foreigners whose duty is to see that no foreigner is wronged. Should any of them lose his health, they send physicians to attend him, and take care of him otherwise, and if he dies they bury him, and deliver over such property as he leaves to his relatives. The judges also decide cases in which foreigners are concerned, with the greatest care, and come down sharply on those who take unfair advantage of them.” It is with a sense of compunction; one has to concede that the same civilization is today, the most tourist unfriendly nation of the world!

The glorification of a life of a disciplined householder also nails the criticism that Hinduism is a life negating, other worldly, pessimistic religion.

Every householder is expected to perform the five yagnas daily, which include learning, offering food to manes, receiving and taking care of guests, and taking care of birds and beasts alike. In this important rite, we find Manu encompassing a sublime daily vision of the householder who prays for welfare of the entire universe itself….[devo mangalam, manu mangalam, surya mangalam, chandra mangalam, pashu mangalam….bhavatu bhavatu bhavatu -> let there be auspiciousness everywhere; let the sun be auspicious, let the moon, the gods, the man, the beasts all be auspicious.]

To this picture of goodness and strength, Manu expects the householder to retain all elements of basic hygiene….he should wear good clothes, avoid excessive fasting, have his hairs and nail cut, and face shaved and wear white clean clothes. {MS 4-34/5]

The means of livelihood should involve least harm to anyone. [MS 4.2] Thus, one can find the origins of ahimsa extant within the Manu Smriti itself. [Also see MS 7.198] This if further exemplified with regard to meat eating. Manu says in 5.56, There is no sin in eating meat, in drinking liquor, and in carnal intercourse, for that is the natural way of created beings, but abstention brings great (spiritual) rewards. In this verse, we find a profound display of the concept of sinlessness, a unique conception of the Hindu religion. The abrahamic faiths are obsessed with the triple canyon of sin, hell and damnation. But not in Hinduism! No wonder Vivekananda had said “it is a sin to call anyone a sinner” To err is human, to be damned for those deeds is not but neither should it be reason to don the dresses of decadence! Perhaps, this verse also hints at moral relativism, but unlike the philosophy of existentialism, which rejects universal moral values, Manu views relative morals as being linked, a connecting chain to the absolute dharmic principle. The morals are neither permanent, nor absolute, but in subscribing to the morals of today, man upholds the dharma of eternity.


Several sections of the 6th chapter deal exclusively with the order of ascetics. Manu believes, the ascetic by his actions has to prove his ability to remain in a state of equanimity under both, conditions of adversity as well as pleasure.

The goal of the ascetic is to realize the highest truth….the one without a second…..the atman, the universal consciousness pervading all existence.

MS 6.65. By deep meditation let him recognise the subtle nature of the supreme Soul, and its presence in all organisms, both the highest and the lowest


The position of women in the Indian civilization has despite a rich scholarly examination by writers both indigenous and foreign, has inadvertently focused on the current ambiguous status of Indian women to serve as the benchmark for their study. It is not without reason that a sustained propaganda has been made out by certain historians and sociologists to defame the Hindu religion, and culture as being anti woman, despite the fact that persecution of women has been universal propounded by all major religions and civilizations, without exception. It is here, one can see light of feminine freedom in some elements of the Hindu tradition, both orthodox and heterodox, especially the latter as they reach their zenith in the Hindu tantric feminine traditions*. Naturally, they have deeply influenced several modern feminist writers.

* In Buddhist Tantra, the female is relegated to the inferior position of the passive principle, and the male takes over as the active principle. This is diametrically opposite to the Hindu tantric principles in which the male [shiva] is the passive principle, and the female [shakti] is the active principle. Thus, in popular Hinduism, it is said, shiva is a shava [corpse] without shakti.

Manu has often ridiculed in one of his most off quoted verses [5.148]; …..Na Stri svatantrayam arhati [In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman is not fit for freedom]

Can a historian base his judgment on the authority of a couple of patriarchal passages; to consider them in isolation of the others contrary to the above exhortation? It is nothing short of intellectual infancy to condone such views especially when there is another verse which contradicts the above. [MS 9.12] Women are well guarded of their own accord, by themselves, not by confining them to home, or keeping a watch on them through spies and servants

The legacy of Greece and Rome is the apple of the eye for Eurocentric historians. Although, the suppression of women in those civilizations is undisputable, their mainstream historians and sociologists put these unpalatable elements into the shade, by emphasizing on their glories of another day. The piquant views of such writers while quoting this verse, do not deem it fit to mention that in Ancient Greece, women could never leave her home without a guardian. All her life, she was under the tutelage of one; either her parent, husband or son! Moreover, Manu clearly believed in women deserving protection all her life, especially in her old age through her son. A son far from subjecting his mother, was predominantly trying to balance the aspirations of his wife and mother. Yet, his primary duty was towards his mother, than his wife. It is the former that has represented the ideal of Indian womanhood through the ages, for better or for worse!

It is preposterous to find the origin of women rights in India being negated in majority of women studies literature all around the globe, when a customary reading of the Smritis, provides even the lay reader with ample testimony, of not only its existence but its progressive evolution through the ages. It is beyond the scope of my current article to compare and contrast the position of women in the world civilizations through the ages, so I will restrain myself to juxtaposing the opinions on women, and their rights as mentioned in the Manu Smriti with those of the Greeks.



Friday October 27, 1:30 AM

Casteism is the chink in the armour
Two very controversial views have been expressed by Francois Gautier in `Buddhism to blame for India's ills' (IE, September 26). <b>According to him, ahimsa or non-violence as propounded in the Vedas and the Bhagwat Gita did not prevent the Hindu Aryans from defending the frontier. On the contrary, it also helped them to expand their kingdom from Afghanistan to Kanyakumari. The Buddhist ahimsa, preached and practised later in time, failed to maintain this tradition.</b>

To come to these controversial conclusions, Gautier has unabashedly resorted to using myths for facts and facts for myths. It is, however, a historical fact that the non-violent Buddhists suffered terrible atrocities at the hands of hostile brahmanical rebels under the leadership of Pushyamitra Sunga. The unarmed Buddhists had no reply to these armed attacks. But there is no historical evidence to suggest that Buddhists had at any time ever persecuted brahmanical Hindus. It went to prove that for a truly non-violent movement, that was not necessary. There is also no historical incident to suggest that any Buddhist ruler ever faltered in defending his country.

Gautier's suggestion that Alexander was motivated by the emergence of Buddhist ahimsa is also far from true. In the first place, the western satraps which met Alexander's army on the bank of Hydapes were not Buddhists. Ashoka (273-232 BC), for the first time, organised missionary preaching after the battle of Kalinga. However, the battle of Hydapes took place in 327-326 BC, which was about 150 years before Buddhist ahimsa was propagated and spread by Ashoka. Ashoka was, on the contrary, responsible for a totally different kind of victory across the border. His cultural mission in foreign lands fetched India a lasting place in the world.

The spread of Aryan kingdom from Afghanistan to Kanyakumari through so-called practical non-violence, as propounded in the Vedas and Bhagawad Gita, is a contradiction in terms. Aryanism evidently stood for necessary and social subjugation. The term ahimsa, stated to be a holistic policy, was evidently concocted to efface the mercenary antecedents of Aryan inroads. <b>After all this, it would be a specious dilution of myths and history to give the alien Aryans credit for spiritual non-violence which was hardly practised in actuality. If Gautier is to be understood, ahimsa as per Vedic parlance, was a cult of double entendre which ultimately evolved into a cult killing philosophy of Lord Krishna.</b>

Even Gandhiji's aversion to violence in the struggle for independence actually stemmed from social cause, not political exigency. As a votary of the Bhagwad Gita, Gandhiji was keen to uphold the social validity of occupational caste fixation. Gandhiji feared that if the shudras and social subalterns (who were prohibited from holding weapons) were allowed to violate the social rule, it could be next to impossible to persuade them to surrender arms after Independence.

The root cause for the weakness in India's defence was, therefore, not ahimsa, but the water-tight caste fixity of occupation. This reduced the scope for military recruitment. This could have been the case even during the Buddhist period. The defence of the country always remained entrusted to a small, clannish group. Even today, there is no SC/ST reservation in the Indian Army.

Incidentally, the defeat of the army of the Sultanate in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, is very pertinent. The sultan's army went down to the guns of Clive's small force and India lost her independence for 200 years! Clive himself said that about ten lakh able-bodied villagers flocked to watch the battle. Clive observed that instead of doing that, if each one of them had brought a quarter-staff and hurled it at them, his forces would have been buried under a hill of sticks.

Similarly, in the battle of Haldighati, Babur defeated the confederacy of the Hindu princes under Rana Sanga. Perplexed by the huge line up of Sanga, Babur was wondering whether to fight or withdraw. <b>But when he looked through his field glasses in the evening, he noticed that each camp was emitting smoke and came to learn that all the Hindu soldiers did not share a common kitchen. Inspired by this show of caste disunity among the soldiers, he decided to go ahead and strike. Sanga was defeated.
Often Hindu national leaders and historians play down this grassroots reality. But to what good?

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

<!--QuoteBegin-acharya+Jul 29 2007, 05:09 AM-->QUOTE(acharya @ Jul 29 2007, 05:09 AM)<!--QuoteEBegin-->WILL WE EVER LEARN ??????


Friday October 27, 1:30 AM
Similarly, in the battle of Haldighati, Babur defeated the confederacy of the Hindu princes under Rana Sanga. Perplexed by the huge line up of Sanga, Babur was wondering whether to fight or withdraw. <b>But when he looked through his field glasses in the evening, he noticed that each camp was emitting smoke and came to learn that all the Hindu soldiers did not share a common kitchen. Inspired by this show of caste disunity among the soldiers, he decided to go ahead and strike. Sanga was defeated.
Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.
<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd--> Can we see some evidence for this? It suits the purpose of the "historians" so perfectly; it sounds too good to be true.
Some questions:
<b>Did Babur and Rana Sanga fight at Haldighati?</b>
I read that they fought at a different place, Khanwa.

<b>Were field glasses(binoculars) invented by then?</b>
I believe the answer is no.

<b>Were telescopes invented by then?</b>
Not in the western world. Not in much of the east, too.

It also appears that the decisive egde that Babur enjoyed was because of the use of artillery and muskets. Also, Babur also sued for a negotiated settlement soon after his advance guard was destroyed.

However, inspite of all this, the article could be right, but the writer need to cite his sources. The burden on proof is on the writer.

<!--QuoteBegin-vishwas+Jul 29 2007, 07:36 AM-->QUOTE(vishwas @ Jul 29 2007, 07:36 AM)<!--QuoteEBegin--><!--QuoteBegin-acharya+Jul 29 2007, 05:09 AM--><div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(acharya @ Jul 29 2007, 05:09 AM)<!--QuoteEBegin-->WILL WE EVER LEARN ??????


Friday October 27, 1:30 AM
Similarly, in the battle of Haldighati, Babur defeated the confederacy of the Hindu princes under Rana Sanga. Perplexed by the huge line up of Sanga, Babur was wondering whether to fight or withdraw. <b>But when he looked through his field glasses in the evening, he noticed that each camp was emitting smoke and came to learn that all the Hindu soldiers did not share a common kitchen. Inspired by this show of caste disunity among the soldiers, he decided to go ahead and strike. Sanga was defeated.
Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.
<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd--> Can we see some evidence for this? It suits the purpose of the "historians" so perfectly; it sounds too good to be true.
Some questions:
<b>Did Babur and Rana Sanga fight at Haldighati?</b>
I read that they fought at a different place, Khanwa.

<b>Were field glasses(binoculars) invented by then?</b>
I believe the answer is no.

<b>Were telescopes invented by then?</b>
Not in the western world. Not in much of the east, too.

It also appears that the decisive egde that Babur enjoyed was because of the use of artillery and muskets. Also, Babur also sued for a negotiated settlement soon after his advance guard was destroyed.

However, inspite of all this, the article could be right, but the writer need to cite his sources. The burden on proof is on the writer.

No. The writer is clearly clueless. Muslims historians suffer from battle of Badr complex. I.e after a win they want to show to the faithful that they beat a "much larger army" with a much smaller force because "god" is on there side.

This is why babur mentions that Sanga had 100,000 and he had 12,000 men. This is ofcourse wrong.

The reason Rana Sanga lost is because his top general's treachery.

And who can be more dumb then this fellow when he does not know who fought at Haldighati. http://hindurajput.blogspot.com/#Maharana_Pratap


|| Satyameva Jayate ||
Hinduism, “Caste System” and discrimination - Join the debate
Posted on October 9, 2007 by B Shantanu

Dear Readers,

I am moving several comments on the Turkey and Secularism post here due to the fact that they are more to do with Hinduism and discrimination and less with the subject of the original post.

Please continue this discussion on this thread.



1. Patriot, on October 8th, 2007

There is this whole positioning about Hinduism (excuse me, VCK) being such a tolerant religion, which has not imposed its faith on others.

I really, really want to question this:

Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is a drawdown from the polytheistic faith of our ancestors who settled in the indus valley region (wherever they came from, that is another debate!). They settled and grew in what was probably the most fertile, productive and habitable region of the civilised world then (ex the Nile region). As a result, they never needed to go out of this region to ensure survival. All they needed to ensure is that any invaders did not wipe out their gene pool. Moreover, as invaders came and settled here, the original inhabitants accepted them into their gene pool, because the Invaders were militarily MORE POWERFUL.

Thus grew the myth of peace loving, non-geographical extending hindus. But, have you considered the following: While the Hindus did not harrass any external faith, they more than made up for it by what they did to people of their own faith!!!

1. The caste system - the longest running discrimination system in the world, both in terms of number of years and volume of people discriminated against
2. The treatment of women - child marriage, Sati, widows sent off to Benares to become prostitutes, temple prostitutes, no chance of owning property, I could go on and on
3. Education - Large scale deprivation of education for 85% of the population. All prayers said in Sanskrit (not understood by 95% of the people, equivalent to Latin masses of the Roman church) - this still goes on, no local languages are used.

I can go on and on, but I think this should be a good starting point for all those who believe Hinduism to be a peaceful religion to respond? And, my point is that a lot of the above practices are STILL going on …….. hinduism is like a cancer that feeds on its own people.


2. v.c.krishnan, on October 8th, 2007

Dear Sir,

It is always hinduism and Caste! What about the caste system in the “Enlightened Educated Society’.
I am always surprised that the modern “Educated Individual” (EI for short) keeps harping on Rituals and Caste in the religion.

The EI considers it abhorring and “Feels” so much for the deprived. But suppose the same EI goes to a give a lecture at a place where only a three peice/coat is made compulsory to enter the hallowed precints. What does he do, he goes to the extent of even investing in one for a single night to be a part of this “Society”
The same EI feels it very comfortable where some places known as “Exclusive Clubs” and inside that a place known as a “Bar” , where people most times find it difficult to hold their physical needs under control, and what are they expected to wear– A Collared shirt, Pants, ( maybe the dhothi does not sufficiently cover the parts covered by a pant) and feet should be appropraitely covered— This means a Jibba/Kurta, a Dhoti, and a Chappal are not “wears” but something else!!

No EI would like to avoid such a place as he has to be part of the crowd and the “in society”.
For the EI this is not a casteless society but subscribing to certain norms.

Why single out a way of life and state that it has these flaws and leaves out people from this activity or that activity.
Just as a club has its norms and its bye laws every society carves out a way of life for it.
When one is not anathema why is the other considered so. Is it because the underlying feeling is that it is related to the next world where one catches up with the greatest person one wishes to meet—GOD! or is it anything else?

Caste in what ever form you may call it exists in every human being. So let us get down from our high horses and feel the earth for what it is.



3. B Shantanu, on October 9th, 2007

@ Patriot: Thanks for contributing to the discussion with your thought-provoking remarks (as always!).

Hurried response (due to time pressure):

1. I believe it would be wrong to consider Hinduism as an organised religion

2. Re. the various “ills” of Hinduism that you mention, none of them find religious sanction in the Vedas - which I believe come closest to being an authoritative treatise(s) on Hinduism.

I certainly do not think that there is any religious basis for any kind of discrimination within Hindusim - either gender-based or “caste” based. I know such practices exist - but it is wrong to say that religion demands that we discriminate against women and others.

More on this hopefully later.

Thanks for joining the discussion.


@ Vidhya: Welcome to the blog and look forward to more comments from you in the future.


@ Nandan, Sanjeev and vck: Thanks for sharing your views.


4. Patriot, on October 9th, 2007

@ Vck,

Are you really, really equating the caste system with dress codes???? And, are you justifying the caste system because “clubs” have dress codes? WOW!!!!!! That is really amazing and really, really scary. To hear such views even today.

@ Shantanu,

Thanks for your comments. I accept that Hinduism is not an organised religion like say, christianity, but its upper layers exhibit the same kind of organisational behaviour as any other organised religion.

RE: sanction of holy texts for discrimination - I do not think any “holy” text ever directy sanctions any discrimination, but the holy men of the day do their bit to twist the texts to support discrimination. This has been true of all religions (and it continues to be so in varying degree in all religions). In the case of Hinduism, though, you have had the added “inspiration” of Manusmriti, which probably started most of the regressive practices and sanctified it.

Look forward to hearing your usual balanaced thoughts on the issue!!



5. Patriot, on October 9th, 2007


I just read this post of yours: http://satyameva-jayate.org/2007/07/02/is-...oo-much-to-ask/

Very interesting post and also the link to Nava Shastra ….. Good to find at least one reforming religious organisation these days. If all the “Shankracharyas” start listening to what Nava Shastra is saying, we may yet make progress socially.


6. Nandan, on October 9th, 2007

Dear Shantanu:

Many of us consider Manu Smriti as the villain of Hindu Society. I have never read it. Yet, I can quote a couple of stanzas from it. Esp. the one relating to women “ na stree svatatyam arhati” is widely known to all and sundry. Even a lack of familiarity with Sanskrit language is not an impediment in understanding the meaning of the dictum.

I have always felt that Sanskrit impedes our understanding when it is used as the language for prayer. The quotes with such words as “satyam vada” , “dharmam chara” remain by far the most difficult ones for the modern non-Sanskrit scholars. However, they overcome the problem of language by reading the Ten Commandments which have been rendered in simple and easy to understand English.

I came across these two articles while browsing the internet. I think they are very informative.






7. v.c.krishnan, on October 9th, 2007

Dear Sir,

That is precisely the point. Dress codes are not castist but a way of life is not accepted! Why because it is acceptable to the majority who think on the lines today. So if somebody thinks that dress codes are Castist it is ooph! scary.

That is the point I am trying to drive in. Each society creates its own self sufficiency and way of life, it may start with the dress code and may end up with Talibanism!
That is more scary than this ridiculous thought as of not accepting a way of life structured to the requirements of a society and riducling it.

I will rather live with the scare of the way of life rather than the Talibanistic dress code!


8. Patriot, on October 9th, 2007

Dear VCK,

Based on your posts, I have to ask you this - have you ever faced or seen the discrimination that our caste system foists on people, who just happen to be unfortunate in birth??? Or, are you part of the elite that created this structure and said that this is great for our society and we should all accept this as a gift from our forefathers??

If you want to wear a dhoti, you can CHOOSE not to go to “westernised” clubs that discriminate on attire and it is no big deal.

But, if you are BORN a Chamar, then what DO YOU DO? Wait for rebirth?

(PS: I have deliberately used that harsh word in the previous sentence)


9. Patriot, on October 9th, 2007

Apartheid in South Africa - about 100 years
Slavery in America - about 150 years
Feudalism in England/Europe - about 500-700 years
Caste System in India - over 2,000 years, and still going strong

Yeah, we sure are the leaders of the world ….. in world-class discrimination.

And, also give credit to those who set up and perpetuated the caste system - they created the longest running power system in the world, which survived emperors, kings, feudal chieftains, internal wars, the mongols, the mughals AND the english. WOW!!!


10. v.c.krishnan, on October 9th, 2007

Dear Sir,

A nose ring cost a job in London. Is it a dress code or is it a casteism? This inert thinking of caste is in prime need of extinguishment as the talibanistic and christian evangilical mentality of the Educated Intellecutal (EI) is being primed up frequently.

The traditions on which this society has grown has never looked at it as “caste”. It has looked at it only from the point view of a job and a way of life. The concept of caste “is mainly a foreign import as it exists only in the minds of the EI brought up in the talibanistic and christian evangilical educative method. The concept of divide and rule has replaced the wholesome concept of being together as a family.

Even in the Mahabharatha, Karna, the warrior is eugolised. Karna was called a “Charioteer’s son” and hence incompetent to fight with the warrior like Arjuna. There was no “caste involved here”. It was a way of life. Assuming Karna was truely a Charioteer and truly incapable and if Arjuna had fought with him it would have been one sided conflict and Arjuna would have been despiced as a Warrior as he fought with “only a Charioteer and not a true warrior”.

(I am only wondering what would have happened if Karna only had been only a charioteer’s son and Arjuna had fought with him, was there a human rights commission existing at that time - pity Arjuna).

That was not caste, it was a way of life.

Again, where Lord Rama is in search of Sita he meets Sabari, a tribal. She had tasted every fruit and kept the sweetest for him and Lord Rama ate the fruits. Here, Lord Rama is a Kshatriya / Warrior / Prince and according to the doubters of “Sanatana Dharma” an Aryan invader. (Was Sabari a part of invading race I do not know - the EI’s have to answer the question).

Coming back to the subject Lord Rama ate everything given to him was there any “caste” involved.

What are the EI’s talking: let them read the true history of India, not some history written by some guy from Cambridge or Oxford or other X,Y,Z foreign unviersity. Let him visit the Archives of BHU, Thanjavur palace, the Royal Archives of Rajasthan, Gwalior / Jodhpur / Jaisalmer and other royal families. Let the EI’s also read what is avaiable with the royal families of the Kerala.

The question is “caste” a desi or pardesi concept.

Even coming to the aspect of Buddhism, Prince Siddhartha did not leave because he was an upper caste and he found the lower caste being illiterate and downtrodden or illtreated. It was because he found the truth was not as it is seen but there was a greater truth to the way of life and he wanted to seek and attained nirvana. Even here the EI loses his protection of focusing on caste.

Buddhism is from India, I hope the EI’s do not dispute atleast this. So is caste desi or pardesi.

Unless the EI gets educated the problem will continue in fester in his mind.


Please continue the discussion below and use comment #s to refer to something said before. Hope this helps. Please also note that several comments are being caught in the “spam queue” but I am clearing it several times a day. Thanks.

Related Posts:

Is this too much to ask?

Utterly shameful and inexcusable…

Caste, Varna and Jatis: The need for clarity in intellectual debate

Filed under: Debates & Discussions, Distortions, Misrepresentation about Hinduism, Distortions, Misrepresentations about India, Hindu Dharma, Hindu Social System, Medieval Indian History, Sanatana Dharma, Women in Hinduism & India | Tagged: , Caste System, Castes, Discrimination, Hinduism, Jati Pratha, Varna
« Is India now officially “Hindu”?
5 Responses to “Hinduism, “Caste System” and discrimination - Join the debate”

Bharat, on October 9th, 2007 at 9:00 pm Said:

How many of us know the origin of the word “Caste”? I am afraid, perhaps not many.

Do we find Caste word in any Bharatiya bhasa (Indian languages), prior to the advent of British and Portuguese? NO.

Caste is not an Indian word. It is derived from Portuguese word “Casta”. When Portuguese mercinaries and missionaries came to India, they found a kind of social (actually functional) divisions among the native people. Since their society already have Casta system, they started using the word Casta for Hindus too. British, later, popularised it and finally made a Caste-based population census in 1931.

Greek ambassador to Bharat/India, who lived five years in Pataliputra (present day Patna) during Maurya period (3rd century BCE) mentioned several occupations (around 10) of the people. His writings contain no words as caste.

Does that mean, we had no social divisions among Bharatiya people? We had, they are based on socio-economic functions, and not by birth-based system.
What we had/have is Varna system. And varna is not caste. Varna is not birth-based system. Rishis/sages of Vedic times were not surname holder Brahmins like today. They were brahmans by guna and karma, e.g. Valmiki, Vedavyasa.

Read Bhagavad Gita and see what it says about varna. Krishna says, these four varnas (Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra) are my creations based on guna (quality) and karma (actions). Nowhere it mentioned about birth-based system. It is impossible and impractical. If a Professor’s son become a criminal, does we call him Professor? If a dacoit’s son become a noble man and a saint/professor, do we call him dacoit?

And this divisions of society based on socio-economic fuctions exists in every society and it will remain. We have teachers, bankers, businessmen, cultivators, cleaners, contruction workers etc. All are performing their own actions and not bound by birth. They may move upwardly or downwardly. Smt Mayavati, Chief Minister of UP, is a ruler now. She is performing Kshatriya funtions, do we call her chammer? Does her guna and karma has anything to do with chamra (skin) or leather work?

What is important is the practice, practice what we preach. Those high priests here and in other medias vehemently criticise and oppose caste-system, most of them practice castism. They will be going to find a match/partner from same caste. So, lets practice and not merely criticise. By-birth castism will not go, unless we stoped practicing it; unless we accept, castism is racism and inhuman practice.

Dr Ambedkar said, “Castism is untouchability. Unless untouchability goes, castism will not go.” So, what we need is practice, practice and practice.
Patriot, on October 9th, 2007 at 9:12 pm Said:

Nice theory, VCK, but you did not answer the questions that I posed in my post.

In theory, caste can be anything …. the varnas, a way of life, whatever. In practice, in Modern India, it is a tool of discrimination and enslavement. Are you saying we should justify this as a way of life???? What about the other stuff? Shall we re-institute the practice of Sati, since that is also part of our glorious culture? How about not allowing anyone apart from Brahmins from getting educated? That should be very popular and take us back to the pinnacle of our glory.

And, what does a nose ring costing a job in London have to do with my original point? That two wrongs make a right? Then, the London guys have a long way to go …… after all, 2000 years of discrimination is not easy to catch up with.

I DO NOT care what the original intention behind castes was … I only care about how it is being practiced today. As they say, the road to HELL is paved with good intentions.

And, please do not try to sidetrack this post into a discussion on western vs Indian cultures or dhoti vs trousers or whatever.

Please read my original post and then come back to me on the merits of what I am saying and the state of our society today, not some fanciful construct of what Arjun said to Karna and how that is relevant to our caste system.

I will not answer any more off-topic posts from you.

What astounds me, though, is the difference in the quality/tenor of your comments in the “is india a hindu state” post and this one.
Patriot, on October 9th, 2007 at 10:32 pm Said:


The theory of the vocation based varnas as the basis for the caste system is well known ……. but is that the social system that exists today?

With hand on heart, can you truthfully say that a non birth-based system has existed for the last 500 years? 1000 years? 1500 years?

I think there is enough historical evidence to suggest that the vocation based varnas degenerated into a birth-based one very early in its life. And, that is not surprising when you think about it ….. if you are a Brahmin and control access to the scriptures, would you not want to perpetuate it? If you are a Kshatriya ruler of a kingdom, will you not want to pass on the kingdom to your blood son? Or would you rather hold a contest in your kingdom to check who is the most valorous one? It is human nature - when you have power, you want to perpetuate it. And, that is the problem of our caste system …. it is a tool of power, of subjugation.

In the current context, it is as you say …. what do you actually practice?
Nandan, on October 9th, 2007 at 11:40 pm Said:

I fully agree with Patriots view that discrimination of any kind, whether in the name of caste or way of life, is abominable. We must not even try to defend it. No purpose will be served by closing our eyes to facts. It is a fact that discrimination existed in India for a long time. It is also a fact that the intensity of discrimination has reduced today due to a number of reasons.

There is no denying that oppression and suffering have turned many away from the religion of their birth. But our society has undergone many positive changes in the twentieth century. Now our task is to let such reforms continue unhindered. For this to happen, we must own up our past mistakes and provide equal opportunities for all

However, in certain parts of India, we are witnessing the trend of reverse discrimination. Tamil Nadu is an example. There is wide spread discrimination against the Brahmins there. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The present generation must not be held responsible for the acts of a previous generation.

Patriot has made a reference to “Navya Shastra” in his Comment #5. I had never heard of such a movement. What a fantastic thing to happen. We do not know whether the movement is the result of real repentance or just motivated by self preservation. Whatever it is, we must all vow to support the beautiful idea. This is the way to carry forward the reforms. It is time to stop the blame game. We must acknowledge each other’s contributions, take responsibility and strive to build a nation that can truly be called “VASUDHA IVA KUDUMBAKAM”

B Shantanu, on October 10th, 2007 at 12:01 am Said:

Dear All,

The history of the caste system is too complex to be dismissed in sound-bites and short comments to a post (to get a sense of how complex, have a look at the linked article on “Caste, Varna and Jatis”)

We have a choice of dwelling on the past and studying history OR of making sure that the evil is eradicated.

I am clear about my own position: While I remain seriously interested in the origins of the caste system and how it morphed into what we see today, beyond a point, such a discussion becomes academic and/or unproductive.

Instead, let us look at what we have today and how can we make it better in the future.

A good beginning could be NavyaShastra - and I am certain there are lots of other good ideas out there.

Can we focus on them rather than on the finer nuances of caste system (although it is a worthy topic of academic research)?


Varna and Jatis: The Need for Clarity

By: B Shantanu
Novermber 25, 2005
Views expressed here are author’s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is at the bottom.


Recently, I came across this piece in the International Herald Tribune (i) mentioning that the United Nation Commission on Human Rights has recently appointed two special rapporteurs to examine the caste system and to specify a set of guidelines for policy and governance purposes.

The article by respected columnist, Sunanda Datta-Ray made the same error that Indian social commentators (particularly those writing in English) commonly make i.e. a literal interpretation of the Sanskrit term “varna” to mean “colour”. To quote, the UN will examine the “abominations of what has been called the world’s oldest color bar – the Sanskrit word for caste being varna, or color (sic)”

I thought this was an excellent excuse to examine the whole issue (and confusion) around caste, class, race, varna, jati and related terms.

What exactly do these terms mean?

In the words of Andre Beteille, “When one uses the term “caste” in English, one is actually translating two distinct terms in the classical as well as the modern languages of India. The first term is varna and the second is jati. Varna and jati have both been described as caste. They are not unrelated to each other but they are not the same, and it is very important to understand the distinction between the two in order to understand the social logic of caste.(ii).

To quote Rajiv Malhotra, “In particular, today’s common views of varna and jati are very narrow, and do not adequately describe Indian society. Jati is not caste, but became so under colonial rule (Dirks did a lot of good research on this). But more problematic is the distortion of Varna, which has become the basis for the whole Dalit conflict. I read far too many works that seem to insist on frozen jati-varna (wherein a whole jati has the same varna, and, furthermore, this varna is said to be unchangeable). But this is an inaccurate picture. I hope …students are given a more nuanced treatment than most South Asianized desis that I have come across on these matters.(iii)

Dr.Edmund Weber has written that, “The colonial term 'caste' is muddling the two sociological categories meaning completely different social states of affairs: 'jati' and 'varna'. Jati means real working community of birth, marriages, of profession, culture and religion (closer to the widely (mis)understood meaning of caste; varna, however, means the social rank, status, order (closer to class). ”Varna” does not mean the work-sharing assignment of the “jatis”. This has been always an element of the “jatis” themselves. The socio-cultural evaluation of the “jatis”, their ranking place (again, as in class), is expressed by the hierarchical “varna”.(iv)

Bear in mind that the origin of the word itself suggests the fundamental misunderstanding around the concept of racial purity. The word derives from the Portuguese word casta (also Spanish), feminine of casto which means “pure” from the Latin “castus”.

Also it is worth mentioning that the word “varna” does not directly mean colour. It is in fact derived from the root “vr” which means screen, veil, covering, external appearance. One of its indirect meaning is “appearance”. As appearance however, it does not refer to the colour of the skin of the people, but to the qualities (“guna”) of energies of human nature.

Ignoring the conceptual distinction between “jati” and “varna” (which is sometimes deliberate and ideologically motivated) doesn’t help either a deeper understanding of the origins of the system or serious efforts to combat the distortions that have crept in.

For an excellent analysis of broad categorisation of theories that attempt to explain the caste system, visit “The Origin of Caste” website at http://www.islam4all.com/the_origin_of_caste.htm. It includes excerpts and brief summary from the book “Caste, Class and Race – A Study in Social Dynamics’ By Oliver Cromwell Cox, Ph.D. Professor of Sociology, Lincoln University]

The following excerpt illustrates just how much misunderstanding and confusion has been caused by the extremely narrow interpretation of the term “varna”.

“Probably the most common explanation of the origin of caste is based upon beliefs that the word “varna” means color; hence, caste must have originated in the Aryan’s passion for protecting their light Asiatic color from intermixture with the dark color of the Dravidians. However, as we shall attempt to indicate below, the early literature of the Hindus does not show this to be the case. “

Part of the confusion is simply due to ignorance or mis-understanding of several Sanskrit terms (which sometimes have fairly broad interpretation). In this context, it may be helpful to list a few key points:

* Varna has other meanings in Sanskrit, apart from colour

* The term “Sudra” is not synonymous with “Dravid”

* There is no historical data to suggest that “varna” really symbolized racial antipathy between Aryans and Dravidians

* It is mistaken to assert that caste is invariant and immutable and one is born into it

* There are clear references in the Bhagavad Gita to how “varna” was determined by (“guna”) qualities and (“karma”) efforts. “In sloka (IV.13) Lord Krishna says: "Chaturvarnyma mayaa sristam gunkarma vibhagsah" i.e. four orders of society created by Me according to their Guna (qualities/behaviour) and Karma (profession/work/efforts). Note that there is no reference to “guna” and “karma” of previous life.

* In sloka (XVIII.41) Lord Krishna says "Brahmana Kshatriya visham sudranam cha paramtapa, karmani pravibhaktani svabhavaprabhavaigunaih." It means people have been grouped into four classes according to their present life karma (profession/work) and svabhava (behaviour). `The division of labour into four categories - Brahman, Ksatriya, Vaishya and Sudra - is also based on the Gunas inherent in peoples’ nature`. Had this division been based on birth, Lord Krishna would have naturally used phrase 'Janmani pravibhaktani' in the very shloka (XVIII.41).

* It is not even clear which, if any, skin colour, was considered superior or “preferred” amongst the early Aryo-Dravidians.

* Shri Krishna, for example, is often referred to as the “dark-cloud-faced one” or the “dusky-one” or the “dark-blue-one,” and Lord Rama, the divine hero, is often represented as dark or blue or green.

* The racial theory of caste is empirically inconsistent because before the (caste) system became organized, the population had already became inseparably mixed

* Note that this early amalgamation of population demonstrates that the “varna” system was not rigid & inflexible. In the words of John C Nesfield, “a Bengali Brahman looks like other Bengalis, a Hindustani like other Hindustanis, a Mahratti like other Mahrattis, and so on, which proves that the Brahmans of any given nationality are not of different blood from the rest of their fellow-countrymen”. In reality, Brahmins from different regions resemble the local communities far more (in appearance) than some mythical Aryan “white” race

* The blurring of distinction between “varna” and “jati” may not be entirely blamed on modern interpretation. Apparently even Manu used the term “varna” synonymously with “jati” - which is better defined as the form of existence determined by birth, position, rank or family descent; kind or species

Finally, here are a couple of points to think about. Is it really possible that a system as rigid as the caste order could be built upon skin colour – not even colour as such but by the parentage of the colour groups?

Even if we were to assume for a moment that the caste system originated due to the difference in skin-colour, how does one explain the apparent assumption of “natural superiority” by the Aryans when at the time of the “invasion”, the Dravidians evidently had a higher culture?

All this points to the need of creating awareness about these terms and more research into the origins of the caste system. Until that happens, social commentators, activists and politicians will continue to abuse the terms for their narrow ends.

B Shantanu

February 27, 05, Open Forum, Organiser
Hinduism does not permit caste system, By J.G. Arora

There is a misconception in some minds that Hindu scriptures sanction the caste system.

Vedas, the proud possession of mankind, are the foundation of Hinduism. Vedas are all-embracing, and treat the entire humanity with the same respect and dignity. Vedas speak of nobility of entire humanity (krinvanto vishvam aryam), and do not sanction any caste system or birth-based caste system. Mantra, numbered 10-13-1 in Rig Veda, addresses the entire humanity as divine children (shrunvantu vishve amrutsya putraha). Innumerable mantras in Vedas emphasise oneness, universal brotherhood, harmony, happiness, affection, unity and commonality of entire humanity.

A few illustrations are given here. Vide Mantra numbered 5-60-5 in Rig Veda, the divine poet declares, “All men are brothers; no one is big, no one is small. All are equal.” Mantra numbered 16.15 in Yajur Veda reiterates that all men are brothers; no one is superior or inferior. Mantra numbered 10-191-2 in Rig Veda calls upon humanity to be united to have a common speech and a common mind. Mantra numbered 3-30-1 in Atharva Veda enjoins upon all humans to be affectionate and to love one another as the cow loves her newly-born calf. Underlining unity and harmony still further, Mantra numbered 3-30-6 in Atharva Veda commands humankind to dine together, and be as firmly united as the spokes attached to the hub of a chariot wheel.

The Bhagavad Gita, which contains the essence of Vedas and Upanishads, has many shlokas that echo the Vedic doctrine of oneness of humanity. In shloka numbered V (29), Lord Krishna declares that He is the friend of all creatures (suhridam sarva bhutanam) whereas shloka numbered IX (29) reiterates that the Lord has the same affection for all creatures, and whosoever remembers the Lord, resides in the Lord, and the Lord resides in him. Shloka numbered XVIII (61) declares that God resides in every heart (ishwar sarva bhutanam hrudyeshe Arjun tishthti).

Guna (Aptitude) and Karma (Actions)

Hindu scriptures speak only about ‘varna’ which means to ‘select’ (one’s profession, etc.) and which is not caste or birth-based.

As per shloka numbered IV (13) of the Bhagavad Gita, depending upon a person’s guna (aptitude) and karma (actions), there are four varnas. As per this shloka, a person’s varna is determined by his guna and karma, and not by his birth. Chapter XIV of the Bhagavad Gita specifies three gunas viz. satva (purity), rajas (passion and attachment) and tamas (ignorance). These three gunas are present in every human in different proportions, and determine the varna of every person. Accordingly, depending on one’s guna and karma, every individual is free to select his own varna. Consequently, if their gunas and karmas are different, even members of the same family can belong to different varnas. Notwithstanding the differences in guna and karma of different individuals, Vedas treat the entire humanity with the same respect and do not sanction any caste system or birth-based caste system.

Veda is the Foundation

Hinduism is all-embracing and grants the same respect to all humans, and anything to the contrary anywhere is not sanctioned by the Vedas. Being divine revelation, the shrutis (Vedas) are the ultimate authority on Dharma, and represent its eternal principles whereas being human recapitulations, smritis (recollections) can play only a subordinate role. As per shloka numbered (6) of Chapter 2 in Manu Smriti, “Veda is the foundation of entire Dharma.” Shloka numbered 2(13) of Manu Smriti specifies that whenever shruti (vedas) and smritis differ, stipulation of Vedas will prevail over smritis. In view of this position, anything discriminatory in Manu Smriti or anywhere else is anti-Veda, and therefore, is not sanctioned by Hinduism and has subsequently been inserted with unholy intentions, and deserves to be weeded out.

Besides, precise codification of Hinduism in one book is indispensable to make Hinduism easier to be understood by a layman. For this codification, appropriate mantras of Vedas and Upanishads, and selected shlokas in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata (which also includes the Bhagavad Gita), etc. will provide the basic material.

Role of Media

In order to usher in a casteless and harmonious society, the all-embracing and universal message of Vedas has to be followed and spread.

Both the print and electronic media play an important role in a country’s life. They should contribute their mite to unite various sections of the society. But in India, most of the media are unwittingly strengthening caste and communal divisions. By publishing divisive articles and describing political leaders and electorates, achievers and sports persons, and even wrong-doers and their victims as members of a particular caste or community, the media is strengthening the divisions instead of unifying the society. The media should play a positive role so that there is amity all around.

Let Your Hearts be One

Anyone believing in the caste system is violating the Vedic command of oneness of entire humanity. Although the first known poem in the world appeared as the first mantra in Rig Veda, and though the Vedas and Upanishads contain the sublimest thoughts in the sublimest language, because of a faulty education system, most of the educated Indians are ignorant of their rich heritage contained in the Vedas and Upanishads. Most Indians do not know Sanskrit, the language of Vedic literature. Many persons do not know even the meaning of their Sanskrit names. By learning Sanskrit one can read the Vedas, though even translated Vedic literature can be studied.

We have to ensure that we do not lose our rich Vedic heritage as it would amount ot losing our identity. To ensure the survival of our Vedic heritage, and to bring about unity and harmony in society, it is imperative that the all-embracing message of the Vedes is practised and propagated.

(The author is a former Chief Commissioner of Income Tax. His e-mail address is: jgarora@vsnl.net)

From the above:
Shloka numbered 2(13) of Manu Smriti specifies that whenever shruti (vedas) and smritis differ, stipulation of Vedas will prevail over smritis.

Fromm Dhaarmik Traditions,, is presently with the publisher should be available in a month in Amazon

Appendix F


FAQ on Caste

What is the situation regarding the Caste system in Hindu society? Was such a system endorsed by the ancient Vedics in any of the scriptures? Did the Hindu scriptures endorse Untouchability?

The short answer is that such a system was not endorsed by the ancient scriptures and that the Hindu scriptures certainly never endorsed Untouchability. It is therefore a facile assumption which even significant proportions of Hindus make that the Hindu belief system sanctions all of the behavior patterns that occur under the rubric of the term ‘Caste’. In reality it is safe to say that the resulting exploitation of economically disadvantaged sections of society by their fellow human beings has no sanction in any of the scriptures of the Sanatana Dharma. People sometimes behave contrary to the tenets of the faith they profess. This occurs in every society of the world. The incidence of such behavior relative to the population is below that of most other countries which report incidences of sectarian and ethnic violence and is well within the 6 sigma limits of statistics , which would classify it as statistically insignificant behavior. We would like to see this number to be 0, but human nature being what it is; we are unlikely to see a zero number achieved in the near future.

In what follows, it is not our intention to defend the caste system. Merely to point out that it does not have a basis in our ancient traditions.
Why do we say that exploitation of fellow human beings is not sanctioned in the scripture? In order to answer this we will answer the next question which is.
What is Varna? What is the Varna Ashrama System? What is the Guna Varna Vyavastha?

The Varna Ashrama system comprises of 2 basic concepts of Varna and Ashrama. The Varna system, namely Guna Varna Vyavastha that produced the Varnashrama Dharma was conscious of the fact that this was the world's early attempt at a division of labor based on aptitudes. In short, the system was a synonym for a meritocracy . That the system was eminently successful in its own way , I have no doubt because the resulting civilization flourished for well over 5 millennia, until its very foundations were attacked by barbarians from both within and without ,barbarians, whose notion of entertainment was to build a pyramid of skulls, in order to terrorize the local population to capitulate. The current system in place after the colonial power was done reinventing and reshaping it to its own specifications, and which goes by the name Caste, is so utterly different in all significant ways, that we can safely say it has little to do with the Hindu faith or Hindu traditions such as the Guna Varna Vyavastha. The Vedic division of people into 4 Varnas (Brahmana, Rajanya, Vaisya and Shudra) is by Guna and Guna only and is known as the Guna Varna Vyavastha. The Asrama system refers to the four stages of one's life, namely Brahmacharya (life of an unmarried student), Grihasthya (life of a householder), Vanaprasthaya (life of a retired householder), sannyasa (life of a monk) is based in the physical, mental and emotional changes that take place in a person as he/she ages and matures.
What are the GuNAs
There are 3 GuNAs as we have explained elsewhere (see Glossary), Sattva, Rajas and Tamas and these three GuNAs occur in each and every individual in varying degrees. The relative proportion of each in the total determines the essential nature of the individual. It follows that at any given time an individual, may exhibit different modes of behavior as his personality matures and develops. The son of a Brahmana may choose not to follow the priestly vocation and may elect to go into law. As a general rule of thumb one elects to be in a profession which utilizes his GuNAs fully. For example Brahmanas tend to cluster around intellectual pursuits (teaching, legal, corporate management, administration etc. In the past the choice of professions available to Brahmanas were limited to priestly duties and the services he could render as a Minister to the Maharaja including mundane tasks such as accounting and cooking. In recent years substantial numbers of Brahmanas faced with increasing discrimination from their own government have elected to go into Business, so that his varna is that of a Vaisya, unless he maintains his competency and knowledge of the Vedic scripture and adheres to the injunctions of a Brahmana
Since there are three guNAs, why are there four varNAs?
The GuNa Varna Vyavastha arose out of the propensity of individuals to exhibit a dominant GuNa or GuNAs, rather than an equal distribution of all three. If all individuals had only one guNa in them, then it would be logical to conclude that there can be only 3 varNAs. But this is not so. The mapping between GuNAs and Varna is not one to one .These 3 guNAs are found in 'varying degrees' in all individuals, be they Indian, American or British. So the ancient seers made a broader classification of the individuals based on the guNAs present in them. See the exposition by Sri Krishna in Chapter 18, verses 18-40, on the GuNAs that the various Varnas should exhibit in order to qualify as a member of a particular Varna. Note that it is not the case that the Brahmanas and Kshatriyas are not subsets of the other two. Each Varna possesses a mix of GuNAs which while not being mutually exclusive, and while having a degree of overlap, have distinctive characteristics as is to be expected if it was a division of labor which we emphatically believe to be the case
The guNAs present in individuals fall under the various varNAs in the order of predominance as follows:
Brahmana: Sattva-->rajas
Kshatriya - rajas-->Sattva-->Tamas
Vaisya - rajas-->Tamas-->Sattva
Shudra - Tamas
In other words, one cannot term himself a Brahmana or a Sudra unless the person is endowed the right characteristics. This is not the situation today where the caste system is primarily an ethnic classification with racial connotations
Can you give references to the occurrences off the Guna Varna Vyavastha in the Sruti?
Let us look at a few examples to see what the scriptures say.
The following verse in the Rg. Mandala X, hymn 90-11, is usually quoted, to bolster the assertion that the caste system is sanctioned by the Vedas. This is what the verse actually says

ब्राह्मणो.अस्य मुखमासीद बाहू राजन्यः कर्तः |

ऊरू तदस्य यद वैश्यः पद्भ्यां शूद्रो अजायत || X,90-11

brāhmano.asya mukhamāsīd bāhū rājanyaha kartaha |
ūrūtadasya yad vaiśyaha padbhyāha śūdro ajāyata ||
This verse is usually translated into English as follows
The Brahmana was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya made.
His thighs became the Vaisya; from his feet the Sudra was produced.
The verse also occurs in the Yajurveda, 31.11
But, what is this meant to convey. It is actually an answer to the previous verse which asks the following question
यत पुरुषं वयदधुः कतिधा वयकल्पयन |
मुखं किमस्य कौ बाहू का ऊरू पादा उच्येते || X,90-10

When they divided Purusa how many portions did they make?
What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet?

These verses are from the famous Purusa Suktam , the hymn in praise of the cosmic Purusa or the cosmic self (Viraat Purusa) and it is an analogy between the limbs of the cosmic self and the occupations in each of the varnas based on their mix of GuNAs. In the first verse of the Purusa Suktam the gigantic being that comprises the cosmic self is described as having a thousand heads, thousand eyes and a thousand feet. It is clearly a metaphor for the Viraat Purusa (VP). There is no reference to his arms. The VP is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. There is also the clear implication of interdependence between the various parts of the cosmic self. No (wo) man is an Island unto himself and specialization of skills leads to division of Labor where every one in theory does what he or she is best suited for. In this Indic societies were and are no different from other societies in the west where the son of a blacksmith almost always opted to become a Blacksmith.
It is by no means an endorsement of a hereditary caste system based on race, as the question of race rarely enters into the discourse anywhere in the Gita. There is a clear implication that within the same person there dwells the tendency to be any one of the Castes depending on the stage in one’s life and the circumstances and challenges faced by the individual at various stages on one’s life. Hindu Renaissance has brought out a special issue on the topic which takes a parallel view of the topic.
The use of analogy is termed UpamAna in Sanskrit epistemology. It is one of the six instruments of the mind used to gather pAra Vidya. Clearly the analogy has failed in its purpose which was to educate the public on the role of guNAs in the 'division of labor' paradigm as embodied in the Varna Ashrama system, and it is probably time to discard such an analogy which does not fit with the politically correct temper of the times. But merely because it is politically incorrect is hardly reason enough to misinterpret it as a system based on Race as the British did with the obvious motive of driving a divisive wedge in the society and make their own job of ruling autocratically all the more easier. Thus it was, and the evident glee with which the British went about embellishing and reinventing the Caste system is obvious for all to read Equally obvious is the fact that they would not have succeeded if there was no exploitation of weaker sections of society by fellow human beings.
There are several points to note about the verse
1. The tenth Mandala of the Rg. was probably the last one written, even though it is generally accepted that the Mandalas are not in chronological order. Despite that the antiquity of the Rg. according to astronomical dating is circa 5000 BCE. Vedantic ideas had not evolved as yet, as exemplified in the Brahma sutras. The concept of Purusha (as opposed to Prakriti the material universe) was the first glimpse of an ontological principle at work.
2. This is probably the first evidence of an organized division of Labor based on aptitudes. In other words it was a meritocracy. It was not intended to be a hereditary system. The system unfortunately degraded into a hereditary system.
This (in the Purusha Suktam) is probably the first occurrence of the word Shudra in the Sruti
Shudra or Sudra is the fourth varna (See Appendix H, the glossary) in the traditional four section division of labor in Indic society. Their assigned and expected role of the Sudra in Vedic India was that of artisans and laborers. The four varnas are Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya, (see Glossary) and Shudra. Whilst the origins of the other varnas can be traced to Indo-Iranian or even Proto Indo-European words, the root of the word Sudra is not clear at all. A threefold division of societies can be found in ancient Iran that matches the Brahmana, Kshatriya and Vaisya varnas. Although linguistically related Nuristani people in neighboring Afghanistan have a class equivalent to the Shudras amongst them. It has been proposed ,mistakenly it turns out that the Shudras were same as Dasas and Dahyus, who are portrayed as enemies of the Aryans in the Vedas, and who it is said were enslaved by the Aryans. But the latter groups are also encountered in the Avestan texts and no subjugation is mentioned, though enmity is. The ancient texts of India betray no such subjugation by conquest resulting in a servile group of people, but merely assume that the Shudras are part of society, even if not the most exalted. There is no etymology of the word Sudra that is available to us; it just emerges suddenly in the Purusa Suktam of Rig veda. The numerical strength of this varna is also not clear from the Vedic corpus as tasks attributed to Shudras later are done by Vaisyas in the era represented by these texts.
Bhagavan Sri Krishna takes responsibility for the creation of the 4 Varnas according to a person’s relative mix of GuNAs
catuvR{y¡ mya s&ò< gu[kmRiv-agz> ।
tSy ktaRrmip ma< ivÏ(ktaRrmVyym! ।। 4,13

Chaturvarnyam maya srshtamGuna karma vibhagha saha I
Tasya kartAramapimAm, VdyakartAram avyayam II

catuvR{yRm! - carae< v[R - the fourfold caste
mya - mere Öara - by me
s&òm! - rce gye hE< - has been created
gu[kmRiv-agz>- gu[ AaEr kmaˆR< ke Anusar- according to their qualities and skills
tSy - %nke - thereof
ktaRrm! - ktaR kae - the author
Aip - -I - also
mam! - muH - me
iviÏ - jan - know
AktaRrm! - AktaR - passive

AVyym! - AivnazI - immutable

gu[ AaEr kmR ke iv-ag se carae< v[R ( äaü[, ]iÇy, vEZy, zUÔ )
mere Öara rce gye hE< , %nka ktaR haene pr -I muH AivnazI prmeñr kae tum AktaR hI jan ,
The four orders of society (viz., the Brahman, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya and the Sudra) were created by Me, classifying them according to the qualities and skills,predominant in each and apportioning corresponding duties to them; though I am the author of this creation, know Me, the immortal Lord, to be passive and immutable. (4,13)

The following is a verse from the Rg. also, exemplifying the fact that different members of the same family pursued different professions and that there was no one to one mapping between Varna and professions
कारुरहं ततो भिषगुपलप्रक्षिणी नना |
नानाधियोवसूयवो.अनु गा इव तस्थिमेन्द्रायेन्दो परि सरव || Rg.IX,112,3
kāruraham tato bhishaghu palaprakshiNī nanā |
nānādhiyovasūyavo.anu ghā iva tasthimendrāyendo pari srava

I am a poet, my father is a physician, and my mother grinds corn on stone. Being engaged in different occupations, we seek wealth and happiness, as cows seek food in different pastures. May Thy bounties flow for our happiness, 0 God.”
We need not multiply quotations, as even European scholars now reluctantly admit that hereditary Castes did not exist in the Vedic era
Why is the Varna Ashrama System called a Caste System and is there a rational for calling it such ?

If there were not a multiplicity of Varnas in the ancient times,how did we end up having so many castes in the last 100 years

"The word caste is not a word that is indigenous to India. It originates in the Portuguese word Casta which means race, breed, race or lineage. However, during the 19th century, the term caste increasingly took on the connotations of the word race . Thus, from the very beginning of western contact with the subcontinent European constructions have been imposed on Indian systems and institutions. To fully appreciate the caste system one must step away from the definitions imposed by Europeans and look at the system as a whole, including the religious beliefs that are an integral part of it. To the British, viewing the caste system from the outside and on a very superficial level, it appeared to be a static system of social ordering that allowed the ruling class or Brahmins, to maintain their power over the other classes. What the British failed to realize was that Hindus existed in a different cosmological frame than did the British. .."

"Today, people think that the rigid caste system operated in India is the result of ancient requirements of religion. But just how much of this rigidity was due to their religion? Or how much was it due to a conscious direction by the British to create artificial divisions in order to make it easier to divide and rule the sub-continent and its people?"

"Moreover, as will be seen later in this paper, it appears that the caste system extant in the late 19th and early 20th century has been altered as a result of British actions so that it increasingly took on the characteristics that were ascribed to by the British." The 1901 census of India contains a wealth of detail that reflects some of the preoccupations of its age. It contains exhaustive treatments of issues related to population change and religion and civil condition and the other matters normally recorded in the census reports. A major introduction in this census report, not seen in the previous census reports, was the study of the "anthropometric" readings of racial characteristics which is introduced into its discussion of "Caste, Tribe, and Race" in chapter eleven of the work. There is also a very extensive discussion of the origins of caste in the census report which has provoked much controversy .
Sir Herbert Risley also wrote a major work on Indian Castes called The People of India which he published in 1908.

No indigenous equivalent to the word Caste in India. The English word Caste was derived from Portuguese word Casta which meant race, breed or lineage. Quite distinct from Varna
The British institutionalized the word Caste, using the decennial Census of India as a tool for ethnographic mapping and conjured up 100’s of new castes
the Census acted as a catalyst for an increased consciousness of caste as caste status became an increasingly significant factor in attaining material status.
See for instance Nicholas Dirks ‘Castes of Mind’

Caste and the Colonialist Enterprise

Caste (as we experience it today in India) is neither an unchanged survival of ancient India nor a single system that reflects a core cultural value. Rather than a basic expression of Indian tradition, caste is a modern phenomenon – the product of a concrete historical encounter between India and British colonial rule

Nicholas Dirks Castes of Mind, Colonialism and the Making of Modern India

Herbert. H. Risley, Commissioner of the 1901 census, also bared his underlying British prejudices in an 1886 publication which stated that race sentiment, far from being:

a figment of the intolerant pride of the Brahman, rests upon a foundation of fact which scientific methods confirm, that it has shaped the intricate grouping of the caste system, and has preserved the Aryan type in comparative purity throughout Northern India.

The interesting inference we can make from this statement, is that while he brands the Brahmana as being intolerantly proud, he reveals his strong belief in the existence of an Aryan racial prototype. The zeal and efficacy with which the British segregated themselves from the middle class Indian for over a hundred years, and the extraordinary extent to which they opposed democracy and free elections in India speaks louder than any words that they believed in the Caste system, and that they considered themselves to be part of the ruling caste

Is the Guna Varna System a valid paradigm for the 21st century, and if so should we defend and retain it.
It is time to redefine it or better yet if possible, discard it altogether. I say so not because I deem the system to be devoid of the very qualities and virtues which have propelled its existence for several millennia but because it has become a source of divisiveness for the republic and a weapon in the hands of those who would like to see the extinction of the Dharma. It is best if there were no references to caste in any public document such as application forms for employment or loans, or any affirmative action based solely on caste. Given the dynamics of the social system as we inherited it from the British, and the entrenched vested interest (of those who oppose Hinduism) in its prolongation, this is unlikely to happen. Hence in all likelihood the system will limp along kept alive by bureaucrats, the Hinduphobics, rival theological camps and last but not least the communists to provide them a strawman to belabor.
What should be done about the Caste system , the terminology and the practice?

There is no question it should be discarded . It has neither traditional sanction in the Sruti, nor is it appropriate for our times.

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->In reality it is safe to say that the resulting exploitation of economically disadvantaged sections of society by their fellow human beings has no sanction in any of the scriptures of the Sanatana Dharma.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->

Kaushal Ji,

I humbly ask:

1. Does the grouping 'scriptures of the Sanatana Dharma' include the purANa-s?
2. Reserved social and economic privileges, or lack of these, to varNa-s in a strict hierarchical (and also hereditary) basis - are these totally absent in all the scriptures too?

My own feeling is that the above statement - 'scriptures of the Sanatana Dharma' -will include the Vedic literature, Ramayana-Mahabharata, some others, but should certainly exclude at least some of the purANa-s, which have very clearly presented varNa-description in a way entailing an ossified form of the varNa-dharma different from that described in veda-upaniSada-s, mahabharata or ramayana.

Such ossification did take place, and one will do justice to show that it did indeed take place, as argued and criticized by sages like Maharshi Dayananda and others.

Therefore I whole heartedly support this part in the concluding section:
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Is the Guna Varna System a valid paradigm for the 21st century, and if so should we defend and retain it. It is time to redefine it or better yet if possible, discard it altogether. <!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
US army studies

Caste and Class

Although many other nations are characterized by social inequality, perhaps nowhere else in the world has inequality been so elaborately constructed as in the Indian institution of caste. Caste has long existed in India, but in the modern period it has been severely criticized by both Indian and foreign observers. Although some educated Indians tell non-Indians that caste has been abolished or that "no one pays attention to caste anymore," such statements do not reflect reality.

Caste has undergone significant change since independence, but it still involves hundreds of millions of people. In its preamble, India's constitution forbids negative public discrimination on the basis of caste. However, caste ranking and caste-based interaction have occurred for centuries and will continue to do so well into the foreseeable future, more in the countryside than in urban settings and more in the realms of kinship and marriage than in less personal interactions.

Castes are ranked, named, endogamous (in-marrying) groups, membership in which is achieved by birth. There are thousands of castes and subcastes in India, and these large kinship-based groups are fundamental to South Asian social structure. Each caste is part of a locally based system of interde-pendence with other groups, involving occupational specialization, and is linked in complex ways with networks that stretch across regions and throughout the nation.

The word caste derives from the Portuguese casta , meaning breed, race, or kind. Among the Indian terms that are sometimes translated as caste are varna (see Glossary), jati (see Glossary), jat , biradri , and samaj . All of these terms refer to ranked groups of various sizes and breadth. Varna , or color, actually refers to large divisions that include various castes; the other terms include castes and subdivisions of castes sometimes called subcastes.

Many castes are traditionally associated with an occupation, such as high-ranking Brahmans; middle-ranking farmer and artisan groups, such as potters, barbers, and carpenters; and very low-ranking "Untouchable" leatherworkers, butchers, launderers, and latrine cleaners. There is some correlation between ritual rank on the caste hierarchy and economic prosperity. Members of higher-ranking castes tend, on the whole, to be more prosperous than members of lower-ranking castes. Many lower-caste people live in conditions of great poverty and social disadvantage.

According to the Rig Veda, sacred texts that date back to oral traditions of more than 3,000 years ago, progenitors of the four ranked varna groups sprang from various parts of the body of the primordial man, which Brahma created from clay (see The Vedas and Polytheism, ch. 3). Each group had a function in sustaining the life of society--the social body. Brahmans, or priests, were created from the mouth. They were to provide for the intellectual and spiritual needs of the community. Kshatriyas, warriors and rulers, were derived from the arms. Their role was to rule and to protect others. Vaishyas--landowners and merchants--sprang from the thighs, and were entrusted with the care of commerce and agriculture. Shudras--artisans and servants--came from the feet. Their task was to perform all manual labor.

Later conceptualized was a fifth category, "Untouchable" menials, relegated to carrying out very menial and polluting work related to bodily decay and dirt. Since 1935 "Untouchables" have been known as Scheduled Castes, referring to their listing on government rosters, or schedules. They are also often called by Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi's term Harijans, or "Children of God." Although the term Untouchable appears in literature produced by these low-ranking castes, in the 1990s, many politically conscious members of these groups prefer to refer to themselves as Dalit (see Glossary), a Hindi word meaning oppressed or downtrodden. According to the 1991 census, there were 138 million Scheduled Caste members in India, approximately 16 percent of the total population.

The first four varnas apparently existed in the ancient Aryan society of northern India. Some historians say that these categories were originally somewhat fluid functional groups, not castes. A greater degree of fixity gradually developed, resulting in the complex ranking systems of medieval India that essentially continue in the late twentieth century.

Although a varna is not a caste, when directly asked for their caste affiliation, particularly when the questioner is a Westerner, many Indians will reply with a varna name. Pressed further, they may respond with a much more specific name of a caste, or jati , which falls within that varna . For example, a Brahman may specify that he is a member of a named caste group, such as a Jijotiya Brahman, or a Smartha Brahman, and so on. Within such castes, people may further belong to smaller subcaste categories and to specific clans and lineages. These finer designations are particularly relevant when marriages are being arranged and often appear in newspaper matrimonial advertisements.

Members of a caste are typically spread out over a region, with representatives living in hundreds of settlements. In any small village, there may be representatives of a few or even a score or more castes.

Numerous groups usually called tribes (often referred to as Scheduled Tribes) are also integrated into the caste system to varying degrees. Some tribes live separately from others--particularly in the far northeast and in the forested center of the country, where tribes are more like ethnic groups than castes. Some tribes are themselves divided into groups similar to subcastes. In regions where members of tribes live in peasant villages with nontribal peoples, they are usually considered members of separate castes ranking low on the hierarchical scale.

Inequalities among castes are considered by the Hindu faithful to be part of the divinely ordained natural order and are expressed in terms of purity and pollution. Within a village, relative rank is most graphically expressed at a wedding or death feast, when all residents of the village are invited. At the home of a high-ranking caste member, food is prepared by a member of a caste from whom all can accept cooked food (usually by a Brahman). Diners are seated in lines; members of a single caste sit next to each other in a row, and members of other castes sit in perpendicular or parallel rows at some distance. Members of Dalit castes, such as Leatherworkers and Sweepers, may be seated far from the other diners--even out in an alley. Farther away, at the edge of the feeding area, a Sweeper may wait with a large basket to receive discarded leavings tossed in by other diners. Eating food contaminated by contact with the saliva of others not of the same family is considered far too polluting to be practiced by members of any other castes. Generally, feasts and ceremonies given by Dalits are not attended by higher-ranking castes.

Among Muslims, although status differences prevail, brotherhood may be stressed. A Muslim feast usually includes a cloth laid either on clean ground or on a table, with all Muslims, rich and poor, dining from plates placed on the same cloth. Muslims who wish to provide hospitality to observant Hindus, however, must make separate arrangements for a high-caste Hindu cook and ritually pure foods and dining area.

Castes that fall within the top four ranked varnas are sometimes referred to as the "clean castes," with Dalits considered "unclean." Castes of the top three ranked varnas are often designated "twice-born," in reference to the ritual initiation undergone by male members, in which investiture with the Hindu sacred thread constitutes a kind of ritual rebirth. Non-Hindu castelike groups generally fall outside these designations.

Each caste is believed by devout Hindus to have its own dharma, or divinely ordained code of proper conduct. Accordingly, there is often a high degree of tolerance for divergent lifestyles among different castes. Brahmans are usually expected to be nonviolent and spiritual, according with their traditional roles as vegetarian teetotaler priests. Kshatriyas are supposed to be strong, as fighters and rulers should be, with a taste for aggression, eating meat, and drinking alcohol. Vaishyas are stereotyped as adept businessmen, in accord with their traditional activities in commerce. Shudras are often described by others as tolerably pleasant but expectably somewhat base in behavior, whereas Dalits--especially Sweepers--are often regarded by others as followers of vulgar life-styles. Conversely, lower-caste people often view people of high rank as haughty and unfeeling.

The chastity of women is strongly related to caste status. Generally, the higher ranking the caste, the more sexual control its women are expected to exhibit. Brahman brides should be virginal, faithful to one husband, and celibate in widowhood. By contrast, a Sweeper bride may or may not be a virgin, extramarital affairs may be tolerated, and, if widowed or divorced, the woman is encouraged to remarry. For the higher castes, such control of female sexuality helps ensure purity of lineage--of crucial importance to maintenance of high status. Among Muslims, too, high status is strongly correlated with female chastity.

Within castes explicit standards are maintained. Transgressions may be dealt with by a caste council (panchayat-- see Glossary), meeting periodically to adjudicate issues relevant to the caste. Such councils are usually formed of groups of elders, almost always males. Punishments such as fines and outcasting, either temporary or permanent, can be enforced. In rare cases, a person is excommunicated from the caste for gross infractions of caste rules. An example of such an infraction might be marrying or openly cohabiting with a mate of a caste lower than one's own; such behavior would usually result in the higher-caste person dropping to the status of the lower-caste person.

Activities such as farming or trading can be carried out by anyone, but usually only members of the appropriate castes act as priests, barbers, potters, weavers, and other skilled artisans, whose occupational skills are handed down in families from one generation to another. As with other key features of Indian social structure, occupational specialization is believed to be in accord with the divinely ordained order of the universe.

The existence of rigid ranking is supernaturally validated through the idea of rebirth according to a person's karma, the sum of an individual's deeds in this life and in past lives. After death, a person's life is judged by divine forces, and rebirth is assigned in a high or a low place, depending upon what is deserved. This supernatural sanction can never be neglected, because it brings a person to his or her position in the caste hierarchy, relevant to every transaction involving food or drink, speaking, or touching.

In past decades, Dalits in certain areas (especially in parts of the south) had to display extreme deference to high-status people, physically keeping their distance--lest their touch or even their shadow pollute others--wearing neither shoes nor any upper body covering (even for women) in the presence of the upper castes. The lowest-ranking had to jingle a little bell in warning of their polluting approach. In much of India, Dalits were prohibited from entering temples, using wells from which the "clean" castes drew their water, or even attending schools. In past centuries, dire punishments were prescribed for Dalits who read or even heard sacred texts.

Such degrading discrimination was made illegal under legislation passed during British rule and was protested against by preindependence reform movements led by Mahatma Gandhi and Bhimrao Ramji (B.R.) Ambedkar, a Dalit leader. Dalits agitated for the right to enter Hindu temples and to use village wells and effectively pressed for the enactment of stronger laws opposing disabilities imposed on them. After independence, Ambedkar almost singlehandedly wrote India's constitution, including key provisions barring caste-based discrimination. Nonetheless, discriminatory treatment of Dalits remains a factor in daily life, especially in villages, as the end of the twentieth century approaches.

In modern times, as in the past, it is virtually impossible for an individual to raise his own status by falsely claiming to be a member of a higher-ranked caste. Such a ruse might work for a time in a place where the person is unknown, but no one would dine with or intermarry with such a person or his offspring until the claim was validated through kinship networks. Rising on the ritual hierarchy can only be achieved by a caste as a group, over a long period of time, principally by adopting behavior patterns of higher-ranked groups. This process, known as Sanskritization, has been described by M.N. Srinivas and others. An example of such behavior is that of some Leatherworker castes adopting a policy of not eating beef, in the hope that abstaining from the defiling practice of consuming the flesh of sacred bovines would enhance their castes' status. Increased economic prosperity for much of a caste greatly aids in the process of improving rank.
Intercaste Relations

In a village, members of different castes are often linked in what has been called the jajmani system, after the word jajman , which in some regions means patron. Members of various service castes perform tasks for their patrons, usually members of the dominant, that is, most powerful landowning caste of the village (commonly castes of the Kshatriya varna ). Households of service castes are linked through hereditary bonds to a household of patrons, with the lower-caste members providing services according to traditional occupational specializations. Thus, client families of launderers, barbers, shoemakers, carpenters, potters, tailors, and priests provide customary services to their patrons, in return for which they receive customary seasonal payments of grain, clothing, and money. Ideally, from generation to generation, clients owe their patrons political allegiance in addition to their labors, while patrons owe their clients protection and security.

The harmonious qualities of the jajmani system have been overidealized and variations of the system overlooked by many observers. Further, the economic interdependence of the system has weakened since the 1960s. Nevertheless, it is clear that members of different castes customarily perform a number of functions for one another in rural India that emphasize cooperation rather than competition. This cooperation is revealed in economic arrangements, in visits to farmers' threshing floors by service caste members to claim traditional payments, and in rituals emphasizing interdependence at life crises and calendrical festivals all over South Asia. For example, in rural Karnataka, in an event described by anthropologist Suzanne Hanchett, the annual procession of the village temple cart bearing images of the deities responsible for the welfare of the village cannot go forward without the combined efforts of representatives of all castes. It is believed that the sacred cart will literally not move unless all work together to move it, some pushing and some pulling.

Some observers feel that the caste system must be viewed as a system of exploitation of poor low-ranking groups by more prosperous high-ranking groups. In many parts of India, land is largely held by dominant castes--high-ranking owners of property--that economically exploit low-ranking landless laborers and poor artisans, all the while degrading them with ritual emphases on their so-called god-given inferior status. In the early 1990s, blatant subjugation of low-caste laborers in the northern state of Bihar and in eastern Uttar Pradesh was the subject of many news reports. In this region, scores of Dalits who have attempted to unite to protest low wages have been the victims of lynchings and mass killings by high-caste landowners and their hired assassins.

In 1991 the news magazine India Today reported that in an ostensibly prosperous village about 160 kilometers southeast of Delhi, when it became known that a rural Dalit laborer dared to have a love affair with the daughter of a high-caste landlord, the lovers and their Dalit go-between were tortured, publicly hanged, and burnt by agents of the girl's family in the presence of some 500 villagers. A similar incident occurred in 1994, when a Dalit musician who had secretly married a woman of the Kurmi cultivating caste was beaten to death by outraged Kurmis, possibly instigated by the young woman's family. The terrified bride was stripped and branded as punishment for her transgression. Dalit women also have been the victims of gang rapes by the police. Many other atrocities, as well as urban riots resulting in the deaths of Dalits, have occurred in recent years. Such extreme injustices are infrequent enough to be reported in outraged articles in the Indian press, while much more common daily discrimination and exploitation are considered virtually routine.
Changes in the Caste System

Despite many problems, the caste system has operated successfully for centuries, providing goods and services to India's many millions of citizens. The system continues to operate, but changes are occurring. India's constitution guarantees basic rights to all its citizens, including the right to equality and equal protection before the law. The practice of untouchability, as well as discrimination on the basis of caste, race, sex, or religion, has been legally abolished. All citizens have the right to vote, and political competition is lively. Voters from every stratum of society have formed interest groups, overlapping and crosscutting castes, creating an evolving new style of integrating Indian society.

Castes themselves, however, far from being abolished, have certain rights under Indian law. As described by anthropologist Owen M. Lynch and other scholars, in the expanding political arena caste groups are becoming more politicized and forced to compete with other interest groups for social and economic benefits. In the growing cities, traditional intercaste interdependencies are negligible.

Independent India has built on earlier British efforts to remedy problems suffered by Dalits by granting them some benefits of protective discrimination. Scheduled Castes are entitled to reserved electoral offices, reserved jobs in central and state governments, and special educational benefits. The constitution mandates that one-seventh of state and national legislative seats be reserved for members of Scheduled Castes in order to guarantee their voice in government. Reserving seats has proven useful because few, if any, Scheduled Caste candidates have ever been elected in nonreserved constituencies.

Educationally, Dalit students have benefited from scholarships, and Scheduled Caste literacy increased (from 10.3 percent in 1961 to 21.4 percent in 1981, the last year for which such figures are available), although not as rapidly as among the general population. Improved access to education has resulted in the emergence of a substantial group of educated Dalits able to take up white-collar occupations and fight for their rights.

There has been tremendous resistance among non-Dalits to this protective discrimination for the Scheduled Castes, who constitute some 16 percent of the total population, and efforts have been made to provide similar advantages to the so-called Backward Classes (see Glossary), who constitute an estimated 52 percent of the population. In August 1990, Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap (V.P.) Singh announced his intention to enforce the recommendations of the Backward Classes Commission (Mandal Commission--see Glossary), issued in December 1980 and largely ignored for a decade. The report, which urged special advantages for obtaining civil service positions and admission to higher education for the Backward Classes, resulted in riots and self-immolations and contributed to the fall of the prime minister. The upper castes have been particularly adamant against these policies because unemployment is a major problem in India, and many feel that they are being unjustly excluded from posts for which they are better qualified than lower-caste applicants.

As an act of protest, many Dalits have rejected Hinduism with its rigid ranking system. Following the example of their revered leader, Dr. Ambedkar, who converted to Buddhism four years before his death in 1956, millions of Dalits have embraced the faith of the Buddha (see Buddhism, ch. 3). Over the past few centuries, many Dalits have also converted to Christianity and have often by this means raised their socioeconomic status. However, Christians of Dalit origin still often suffer from discrimination by Christians--and others--of higher caste backgrounds.

Despite improvements in some aspects of Dalit status, 90 percent of them live in rural areas in the mid-1990s, where an increasing proportion--more than 50 percent--work as landless agricultural laborers. State and national governments have attempted to secure more just distribution of land by creating land ceilings and abolishing absentee landlordism, but evasive tactics by landowners have successfully prevented more than minimal redistribution of land to tenant farmers and laborers. In contemporary India, field hands face increased competition from tractors and harvesting machines. Similarly, artisans are being challenged by expanding commercial markets in mass-produced factory goods, undercutting traditional mutual obligations between patrons and clients. The spread of the Green Revolution has tended to increase the gap between the prosperous and the poor--most of whom are low-caste (see The Green Revolution, ch. 7).

The growth of urbanization (an estimated 26 percent of the population now lives in cities) is having a far-reaching effect on caste practices, not only in cities but in villages. Among anonymous crowds in urban public spaces and on public transportation, caste affiliations are unknown, and observance of purity and pollution rules is negligible. Distinctive caste costumes have all but vanished, and low-caste names have been modified, although castes remain endogamous, and access to employment often occurs through intracaste connections. Restrictions on interactions with other castes are becoming more relaxed, and, at the same time, observance of other pollution rules is declining--especially those concerning birth, death, and menstruation. Several growing Hindu sects draw members from many castes and regions, and communication between cities and villages is expanding dramatically. Kin in town and country visit one another frequently, and television programs available to huge numbers of villagers vividly portray new lifestyles. As new occupations open up in urban areas, the correlation of caste with occupation is declining.

Caste associations have expanded their areas of concern beyond traditional elite emulation and local politics into the wider political arenas of state and national politics. Finding power in numbers within India's democratic system, caste groups are pulling together closely allied subcastes in their quest for political influence. In efforts to solidify caste bonds, some caste associations have organized marriage fairs where families can make matches for their children. Traditional hierarchical concerns are being minimized in favor of strengthening horizontal unity. Thus, while pollution observances are declining, caste consciousness is not.

Education and election to political office have advanced the status of many Dalits, but the overall picture remains one of great inequity. In recent decades, Dalit anger has been expressed in writings, demonstrations, strikes, and the activities of such groups as the Dalit Panthers, a radical political party demanding revolutionary change. A wider Dalit movement, including political parties, educational activities, self-help centers, and labor organizations, has spread to many areas of the country.

In a 1982 Dalit publication, Dilip Hiro wrote, "It is one of the great modern Indian tragedies and dangers that even well meaning Indians still find it so difficult to accept Untouchable mobility as being legitimate in fact as well as in theory. . . ." Still, against all odds, a small intelligentsia has worked for many years toward the goal of freeing India of caste consciousness.

In village India, where nearly 74 percent of the population resides, caste and class affiliations overlap. According to anthropologist Miriam Sharma, "Large landholders who employ hired labour are overwhelmingly from the upper castes, while the agricultural workers themselves come from the ranks of the lowest--predominantly Untouchable--castes." She also points out that household-labor-using proprietors come from the ranks of the middle agricultural castes. Distribution of other resources and access to political control follow the same pattern of caste-cum-class distinctions. Although this congruence is strong, there is a tendency for class formation to occur despite the importance of caste, especially in the cities, but also in rural areas.

In an analysis of class formation in India, anthropologist Harold A. Gould points out that a three-level system of stratification is taking shape across rural India. He calls the three levels Forward Classes (higher castes), Backward Classes (middle and lower castes), and Harijans (very low castes). Members of these groups share common concerns because they stand in approximately the same relationship to land and production--that is, they are large-scale farmers, small-scale farmers, and landless laborers. Some of these groups are drawing together within regions across caste lines in order to work for political power and access to desirable resources. For example, since the late 1960s, some of the middle-ranking cultivating castes of northern India have increasingly cooperated in the political arena in order to advance their common agrarian and market-oriented interests. Their efforts have been spurred by competition with higher-caste landed elites.

In cities other groups have vested interests that crosscut caste boundaries, suggesting the possibility of forming classes in the future. These groups include prosperous industrialists and entrepreneurs, who have made successful efforts to push the central government toward a probusiness stance; bureaucrats, who depend upon higher education rather than land to preserve their positions as civil servants; political officeholders, who enjoy good salaries and perquisites of all kinds; and the military, who constitute one of the most powerful armed forces in the developing world (see Organization and Equipment of the Armed Forces, ch. 10).

Economically far below such groups are members of the menial underclass, which is taking shape in both villages and urban areas. As the privileged elites move ahead, low-ranking menial workers remain economically insecure. Were they to join together to mobilize politically across lines of class and religion in recognition of their common interests, Gould observes, they might find power in their sheer numbers.

India's rapidly expanding economy has provided the basis for a fundamental change--the emergence of what eminent journalist Suman Dubey calls a "new vanguard" increasingly dictating India's political and economic direction. This group is India's new middle class--mobile, driven, consumer-oriented, and, to some extent, forward-looking. Hard to define precisely, it is not a single stratum of society, but straddles town and countryside, making its voice heard everywhere. It encompasses prosperous farmers, white-collar workers, business people, military personnel, and myriad others, all actively working toward a prosperous life. Ownership of cars, televisions, and other consumer goods, reasonable earnings, substantial savings, and educated children (often fluent in English) typify this diverse group. Many have ties to kinsmen living abroad who have done very well.

The new middle class is booming, at least partially in response to a doubling of the salaries of some 4 million central government employees in 1986, followed by similar increases for state and district officers. Unprecedented liberalization and opening up of the economy in the 1980s and 1990s have been part of the picture (see Growth since 1980, ch. 6).

There is no single set of criteria defining the middle class, and estimates of its numbers vary widely. The mid-range of figures presented in a 1992 survey article by analyst Suman Dubey is approximately 150 to 175 million--some 20 percent of the population--although other observers suggest alternative figures. The middle class appears to be increasing rapidly. Once primarily urban and largely Hindu, the phenomenon of the consuming middle class is burgeoning among Muslims and prosperous villagers as well. According to V.A. Pai Panandikar, director of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, cited by Dubey, by the end of the twentieth century 30 percent--some 300 million--of India's population will be middle class.

The middle class is bracketed on either side by the upper and lower echelons. Members of the upper class--around 1 percent of the population--are owners of large properties, members of exclusive clubs, and vacationers in foreign lands, and include industrialists, former maharajas, and top executives. Below the middle class is perhaps a third of the population--ordinary farmers, tradespeople, artisans, and workers. At the bottom of the economic scale are the poor--estimated at 320 million, some 45 percent of the population in 1988--who live in inadequate homes without adequate food, work for pittances, have undereducated and often sickly children, and are the victims of numerous social inequities.
The Fringes of Society

India's complex society includes some unique members--sadhus (holy men) and hijras (transvestite-eunuchs). Such people have voluntarily stepped outside the usual bonds of kinship and caste to join with others in castelike groups based upon personal--yet culturally shaped--inclinations.

In India of the 1990s, several hundred thousand Hindu and Jain sadhus and a few thousand holy women (sadhvis ) live an ascetic life. They have chosen to wear ocher robes, or perhaps no clothing at all, to daub their skin with holy ash, to pray and meditate, and to wander from place to place, depending on the charity of others. Most have given up affiliation with their caste and kin and have undergone a funeral ceremony for themselves, followed by a ritual rebirth into their new ascetic life. They come from all walks of life, and range from illiterate villagers to well-educated professionals. In their new lives as renunciants, they are devoted to spiritual concerns, yet each is affiliated with an ascetic order or subsect demanding strict adherence to rules of dress, itinerancy, diet, worship, and ritual pollution. Within each order, hierarchical concerns are exhibited in the subservience novitiates display to revered gurus (see The Tradition of the Enlightened Master, ch. 3). Further, at pilgrimage sites, different orders take precedence in accordance with an accepted hierarchy. Thus, although sadhus have foresworn many of the trappings of ordinary life, they have not given up the hierarchy and interdependence so pervasive in Indian society.

The most extreme sadhus, the aghoris , turn normal rules of conduct completely upside down. Rajesh and Ramesh Bedi, who have studied sadhus for decades, estimate that there may be fewer than fifteen aghoris in contemporary India. In the quest for great spiritual attainment, the aghori lives alone, like Lord Shiva, at cremation grounds, supping from a human skull bowl. He eats food provided only by low-ranking Sweepers and prostitutes, and in moments of religious fervor devours his own bodily wastes and pieces of human flesh torn from burning corpses. In violating the most basic taboos of the ordinary Hindu householder, the aghori sadhu graphically reminds himself and others of the correct rules of social behavior.

Hijras are males who have become "neither man nor woman," transsexual transvestites who are usually castrated and are attributed with certain ritual powers of blessing. As described by anthropologist Serena Nanda, they are distinct from ordinary male homosexuals (known as zenana , woman, or anmarad , un-man), who retain their identity as males and continue to live in ordinary society. Most hijras derive from a middle- or lower-status Hindu or Muslim background and have experienced male impotency or effeminacy. A few originally had ambiguous or hermaphroditic sexual organs. An estimated 50,000 hijras live throughout India, predominantly in cities of the north. They are united in the worship of the Hindu goddess Bahuchara Mata.

Hijras voluntarily leave their families of birth, renounce male sexuality, and assume a female identity, name, and dress. A hijra undergoes a surgical emasculation in which he is transformed from an impotent male into a potentially powerful new person. Like Shiva--attributed with breaking off his phallus and throwing it to earth, thereby extending his sexual power to the universe (recognized in Hindu worship of the lingam)--the emasculated hijra has the power to bless others with fertility (see Shiva, ch. 3). Groups of hijras go about together, dancing and singing at the homes of new baby boys, blessing them with virility and the ability to continue the family line. Hijras are also attributed with the power to bring rain in times of drought. Hijras receive alms and respect for their powers, yet they are also ridiculed and abused because of their unusual sexual condition and because some act as male prostitutes.

The hijra community functions much like a caste. They have communal households; newly formed fictive kinship bonds, marriage-like arrangements; and seven nationwide "houses," or symbolic descent groups, with regional and national leaders, and a council. There is a hierarchy of gurus and disciples, with expulsion from the community a possible punishment for failure to obey group rules. Thus, although living on the margins of society, hijras are empowered by their special relationship with their goddess and each other and occupy an accepted and meaningful place in India's social world.
This is the standard western line. Diversity gets branded as barriers and division.
OAK FOREST, Ill. A blaze that killed a couple and their
3-year-old son in their suburban Chicago apartment may have had its
point of origin on the other side of the world, in India's ancient
Hindu caste system.

- AP

In case you dont know, it isnt as ancient as the article is making out to be, regardless that is a different matter of talk altogether.

Caste system as it exists today in its rigidity is not more than two centuries old. Castes were loose groupings -- much like tribes -- and even today sociologists dispute if castes are hierarchical or they were made hierarchical by the Britishers and the Indians changed their behaviour to suit this interpretation of White masters.
Goras have a habit of over- blowing flaws in other civilisations so that Western civilisation comes out looking good every time. </b>This is a game two can play. For example, when covering any murder in America, an Indian correspondent can write:

"The age-old and deep rooted hatred of the White race for Black and coloured people was manifested today again when a Black American was stabbed by a White Caucasian in front of a store over a parking dispute. Sociologists say that though segregation was abolished by law in the sixties, many Whites have been unable to reconcile to the forced equality between them and the Blacks.

For all the visible material prosperity of America, it is a society wracked by deep social divisions. Racial tensions simmer just beneath the surface and it seems the racial divide can never be bridged. Many White religious leaders claim privately that Blacks are not true Christians but are actually heathens, and the Bible does not allow non-believers equality in Christian socieities. The abolition of segregation, they claim, was an assault on the supremacy of White civilisation and true Christians. The landscape of America is still littered with Black-only or White-only churches.

There is a strong constituency in America which feeds movement like the KKK and looks back to the glory days of Black enslavement when "the niggers knew their place." The hollowness of claims of enlightened American values can be seen from the fact that this country has in the last two centuries been unable to elect a Black president.

Some commentators see the unwritten seggregation and racialism against Blacks still being pracrtised in America as deriving from the fundamental division of believers and non-believers in Christianity.

A social scientist says: "Racialism and hate crimes in America cannot be eradicated till the bedrock of Christianity on which the White civilisation stands is not reformed and hate-filled references to non-believers are not edited out of the Bible itself."


Rethinking Religion in India attracting scholars

Tue, Jan 22 07:50 PM

By Sandeep Datta

New Delhi, Jan.22 (ANI): The ongoing conference on Rethinking Religion in India is drawing an increasing number of participants, as was visible on Tuesday when several scholars and intellectuals from different parts of the country and abroad arrived here despite intense cold in the capital.

The second day commenced with Parallel Paper session I on Caste system and Indian religion 1 and followed by a Roundtable session participated by a number of scholars.

Research scholar Esther Bloch, as one of the speakers during the Parallel Paper session I on Caste system and Indian religion 1, said: "One of the problems of Hinduism has been felt (by Europeans) that you cannot explain Hinduism because it lacks one God, one holy book, one religion or one practice, etc. These things constitute or make them feel that their (kind of) framework is absent in India, is something what Europeans see."

Since it is not there the Europeans feel that something important is lacking in Indian society and that is why they feel that religion has 'degenerated'. Scholars question that if there is no structure-similar to that European society-- how can it exist. They perhaps wanted to replace something (structure) to make it exist in India, Esther Bloch added.

Professor Scaria Zacharia, School of Letters Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, one of the speakers, said: "They (Europeans) often connect caste and religion. But relation between the two needs to be re-examined as a social process. It (the European perspective) emphasizes on two occupational fixity and endogamy (marriage from the same race). This conclusion has to be understood and examined under everyday life of pre-colonial India. Society needs to be understood by the views or system existing in pre-colonial system."

"You should not be carried away by the colonial vision of caste system. We should re-examine the past records and practices in the light of contemporary experiences. Today, Jaati (caste) system is back in its real political face," Zacharia added.(ANI)
Full personal (christianist) account of the Rethinking Religion conference:

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->More particularly, she said that she thought she was here to discuss “how we were understood by <b>Orientalist and missionaries</b>… so that we are in a position to start thinking more cognitively about alternative ways of looking at religious description.”<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Marianne Keppens
<b>The Tribes of India as the ‘Tribes of Israel'? The Christian Notion of ‘Tribe' and Colonial Understanding of India</b>

Today nobody would accept the claim that Brahmins are a tribe. In fact, if there is one group that is very clearly not a tribe it would be this caste. Brahmins definitely do not characterize themselves as a tribe and there is a clear distinction, accepted by social scientists and politicians alike, between the classifications of Indian social groups into castes on the one hand and into tribes on the other hand. <b>However, in the colonial writings of the beginning of the nineteenth century Brahmins were explicitly described as a tribe comparable to the Levitical tribe of the Jews. </b>We also find that the terms ‘caste' and ‘tribe' were used interchangeably at that time.  <b>Moreover, we find that descriptions of the Brahmins and other tribes correspond to the Christian image of the tribes of Israel.</b>

How to account for this change in the perception of ‘tribes'? <b>In this paper I will argue that the South Asian notions of ‘tribe' of today are indeed a product of a ‘colonial classification' </b>and that this classification was transformed accordingly as certain elements within the colonial culture changed. <b>If we want to understand and contest the notions of ‘tribe' in contemporary India, we cannot but trace the characteristics and origins of the concept of ‘tribe' in the history of the Christian West.</b> That is, we need to understand how and why notions of ‘tribe' changed as they did: how could the Brahmins first be regarded as a typical tribe later to become the opposite of what constitutes a tribe? <b>Several scholars have argued that a Christian framework determined the colonial understanding of India. </b>I will examine to what extent Christian notions of the relation between ‘tribe', language and religion structured the colonial descriptions of the Indian society, which still prevail today.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->

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