Logic behind the perversion of caste – Ram Swarup


ram-swarupThe self-styled social justice intellectuals and parties do not want an India without castes, they want castes without Dharma. This may be profitable to some in the short run but it is suicidal for all in the long run. – Ram Swarup

Today casteism is rampant. It is a new phenomenon. Old India had castes but no casteism. In its present form, casteism is a construct of colonial period, a product of imperial policies and colonial scholarship. It was strengthened by the breast-beating of our own “reformers”. Today, it has acquired its own momentum and vested interests.

In the old days, the Hindu caste-system was an integrating principle. It provided economic security. One had a vocation as soon as one was born—a dream for those threatened with chronic unemployment. The system combined security with freedom; it provided social space as well as closer identity; here the individual was not atomised and did not become rootless. There was also no dearth of social mobility; whole groups of people rose and fell in the social scale. Rigidity about the old Indian castes is a myth. Ziegenbalg (1682 – 1719) writing on the eve of the British advent saw that at least one-third of the people practised other than their traditional calling and that “official and political functions, such as those of teachers, councillors, governors, priests, poets and even kings were not considered the prerogative of any particular group, but are open to all”.

Nor did India ever have such a plethora of castes as became the order of the day under the British rule. Megasthenes (ca. 300 BCE) gives us seven-fold division of the Hindu society; Hsuan Tsang (ca. 650 CE) the Chinese pilgrim mentions four castes. Alberuni (973 – 048) too mentions four main castes and some more groups which did not strictly belong to the caste system.

Even the list of greatly maligned Manu contained no more than 40 mixed castes, all related by blood. Even the Chandals were Brahmins on their father’s side. But under the British, Risley (1851 – 1911) gave us 2,378 main castes, and 43 races! There is no count of sub-castes. Earlier, the 1891 census had already given us 1,150 sub-castes of Chamars alone. To Risley, every caste was also ideally a race and had its own language.

Caste did not strike early European writers as something specially Indian. They knew it in their own countries and saw it that way. J. S. Mill (1806 – 1873) in his Political Economy said that occupational groups in Europe were “almost equivalent to an hereditary distinction of caste”.

To these observers, the word caste did not have the connotation it has today. Gita Dharampal-Frick, an orientalist and linguist [currently at Heidelberg University], tells us that the early European writers on the subject used the older Greek word meri which means “a portion”, “share”, or “contribution”. Sebastian Franck (1499 – ca. 1543) used the German word rott (rotte) meaning a “social group”, or “cluster”. These words suggest that socially and economically speaking they found castes closer to each other than ordo or estates in Europe.

The early writers also saw no Brahmin domination though they found much respect for them. Those like Jurgen Andersen (1669) who described castes in Gujarat found that Vaishyas and not the Brahmins were the most important people there.

They also saw no sanskritisation. One caste was not trying to be another; it was satisfied with being itself. Castes were not trying to imitate the Brahmins to improve social status; they were proud of being what they were. There is a Tamil poem by Kamban (ca. 1180 – 1250) in praise of the plough which says that “even being born a Brahmin does not by far endow one with the same excellence as when one is born into a Vellala family”.

There was sanskritisation though but of a very different kind. People tried to become not Brahmins but brahmavadins. Different castes produced great saints revered by all. Ravidas (ca. 1450) a great saint, says that though of the family of Chamars who still go through Benares removing dead cattle, yet even most revered Brahmins now hold their offspring, namely himself, in great esteem.

With the advent of Islam the Hindu came under great pressure; it faced the problem of survival. When the political power failed castes took over; they became defence shields and provided resistance passive and active. But in the process, the system also acquired undesirable traits like untouchability. Alberuni who came with Mahmud Ghaznavi (971 – 1030) mentions the four castes but no untouchability. He reports that “much, however, as these classes differ from each other, they live together in the same towns and villages, mixed together in the same houses and lodgings”.

Another acquired another’s trait; they became rigid and lost their mobility. All mobility was now downward. H. A. Rose (1867 – 1933), Superintendent of Ethnography, Punjab, from 1901 to 1906, author of A Glossary of Punjab Tribes and Castes, says that during Muslim period, many Rajputs were degraded and they became scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Many of them still retain Rajput gotra of Parihara and Parimara. Similarly, G. W. Briggs in his The Chamars, tells us that many Chamars still carry names and gotra of Rajput clans like Banaudhiya, Ujjaini, Chandhariya, Sarwariya, Kanaujiya, Chauhan, Chadel, Saksena, Sakarwar; Bhardarauiya, and Bundela, etc. Dr K. S. Lal (1920 – 2002) cites many similar instances in his recent Growth of Scheduled Tribes and Castes in Medieval India.

The same is true of Bhangis. William Crooke (1848 – 1923) of Bengal Civil Service tells us that the “rise of the present Bhangi caste seems, from the names applied to the castes and its subdivisions, to date from the early period of Mohammedan rule”. Old Hindu literature mentions no Bhangis of present function. In traditional Hindu rural society, he was a corn-measurer, a village policeman, a custodian of village boundaries. But scavenging came along with the Muslim and British rule. Their numbers also multiplied. According to 1901 Census, the Bhangis were most numerous in the Punjab and the United Provinces which were the heartland of Muslim domination.

Then came the British who treated all Hindus equally—all as an inferior race—and fuelled their internal differences. They attacked Hinduism but cultivated the caste principle, two sides of the same coin. Hinduism had to be attacked. It gave India the principles of unity and continuity; it was also India’s definition at its deepest. It held together castes as well as the country. Take away Hinduism and the country was easily subdued.

Caste in old India was a cooperative and cultural principle; but it is now being turned into a principle of social conflict. In the old dispensation, castes followed dharma and its restraints; they knew how far they could go. But now a caste is a law unto itself; it knows no self-restraint except the restraint put on it by another class engaged in similar self-aggrandisement. The new self-styled social justice intellectuals and parties do not want an India without castes, they want castes without Dharma. This may be profitable to some in the short run but it is suicidal for all in the long run.

In the old days, castes had leaders who represented the culture of the land, Who were natural leaders of their people and were organic to them. But now a different leadership is coming to the fore: rootless, demagogic and ambitious, which uses caste slogans for self-aggrandisement. – The Indian Express, 13 September 1996

» Ram Swarup (1920–1998) was a Sankhya philosopher, yogi, and colleague of historian Sita Ram Goel. Together they founded the publishing imprint Voice of India in New Delhi, to give Hindu intellectuals a voice when the mainstream media refused to give them any time or space .

Glossary of the tribes and castes

Contemporary challenges facing Hindu society – Gautam Sen

Durga Puja Kolkata

Gautam SenHindu society is also stirring silently, but with heartening self-confidence. The wave of a massive movement … is spreading from the … obscure tribal districts of Mandla in Madhya Pradesh to adjacent regions and beyond, across India. It draws its inspiration from the likes of Vivekananda, Aurobindo, and Chanakya and promises to overturn the long-held accepted norms of acquiescence to threats against Hindu society and the retreat that usually follows. – Dr Gautam Sen

Waking up to the sonorous voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra, reciting the intensely poignant Mahisasuramardini, announcing Mahalaya, is a moment of extraordinary significance for Bengali Hindus. Its memory prompted me to reflect on the catastrophic fate of contemporary Bengal. Dolorous is the word that instantly comes to mind, when contemplating the intellectual, spiritual and moral disintegration of Bengal. Its historic antecedents are in the attempted partition of Bengal under Lord Curzon and its eventual occurrence four decades later. The trauma of the experience gave rise to a self-destructive malaise, paradoxically and inexplicably, presided over by communist refugees fleeing Islamic Jihad in East Pakistan. The final political chapter is being written by the banal phenomenon of Trinamool Congress. Under the bizarre rule of its leader, idolised by many Bengalis, a major growth sector of the local economy is middle class prostitution, testament to the moral nullity that has overtaken its society.

The Bengal renaissance that led India into modernity, reaching back into its Vedic past, gifting the world Swami Vivekananda and a galaxy of luminaries, has all, but evaporated. No profound reflections by a sage like Rishi Aurobindo, unprecedented scientific endeavours of a Jagdish Bose and Meghnad Saha or poet of Tagore’s astonishing talent or the renowned filmmaker Satyajit Ray, have emerged in recent decades. And nor is there in the horizon a new grammarian, linguist and moralist, echoing Montaigne, like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, taking humanism to new heights, clad in modest dhoti. Instead Bengal’s post-independence educated class unleashed nihilistic bloodlust on society in the name of a Chinese warlord, Mao Zedong, in cahoots with Islamic Jihad and then fled to a salubrious life abroad. This cynical and self-seeking cabal has since been virtually urging US and Western imperialist intervention to curb India’s alleged descent into Hindu fascism!

Of course Hindu civilisation itself has also been in retreat for more than one millennium, although its reluctance to acquiesce to an ultimate coup de grace is both remarkable and puzzling. In the aftermath of the transfer of power in 1947, completely erroneously labelled peaceful, this historic hiatus of an endless pause from socio-cultural erasure appears to have been broken. Hindus are now descending rapidly towards cultural and spiritual oblivion.

Gandhi & Nehru (1942)Independent India had fallen under the suicidal spell of an eccentric, the kindest accolade he could be accorded, and he nominated a primus inter pares ill equipped to secure and defend the civilisation of Indica. It was also at his insistence that the new government of India was obliged, by the threat of a fast unto death, to fund the very war the state of Pakistan unleashed against India within months of partition. His tragic murder consigned the fate of Hindus and any prospect of social and spiritual renewal to the ideological detritus of the departing colonial power. The outcome has been a conspiracy to impose an ideology on the fledgling republic that eventually empowered Islamic Jihad, Christian resurgence and grand larceny as its abiding motifs.

The chosen nominee for the premiership of independent India was himself from a morally bankrupt Kashmiriyat political tradition of incoherence and imbued with vaulting self-regard that had already surrendered its own community to predators, although the endgame awaited the 1990s. His family subsequently sought to turn popular Indian democracy into indefinite dynastic rule, by nurturing every latent fault line and endangering the nation’s very survival, until boundless greed overwhelmed all judgement and common sense. It is they, who were responsible for the immeasurable tragedy of the Punjab, in a vain and imbecilic attempt to augment regional political power to dominate the Centre. Their earlier catastrophic follies in relation to Tibet and Kashmir are open IOUs to fate that hang like a sword of Damocles over future generations. The recent rise of Narendra Modi, who ended the unfolding calamity abruptly was considered to be the moment of a reversal of rapid decline, though it could not be and was nothing of the sort.

In the meantime, Hindus are in confused retreat on multiple fronts. The best outcome they can apparently hope for and many earnestly seem to desire, is to become like Koreans, with the accretion of a degree of prosperity, but without history or their rich and vibrant antecedent traditions and culture. Korea is now largely a Christian nation and its remaining Buddhists dismayed at waning state patronage of their age-old religious and cultural heritage. What historical national identity Indian secularists would prefer without Hindu antecedents is a mystery, since all culture and memory permeate it. The defining societal hallmark of this terrifying prospect is the growing insignia of the Ambanis and Vijay Mallya rather than the sage Adi Shankaracharya and divine Swami Vivekananda. Wealth, its grotesque display and obscene consumption, imitating the imperialist and racially arrogant elites of the US, is the warped longing degrading the humanity of Hindu society, as it has done elsewhere. Self-restraint and genuine concern for the welfare of the many in desperate circumstances, the essence of self-realisation and godliness, appear to have been substituted by the moral universe of Hades.

Abroad, Indian humanities and social science academics have been whipped, en masse, into an incomprehensible and incoherent frenzy of rage against imaginary signs of supposed Hindu self-assertion. So ferocious is their desire to curb this alleged Hindu descent into fascism, embodied by Narendra Modi’s modest electoral success, they are evidently willing to join hands with Islamic Jihad to protect the oxymoron of Indian secularism. Some among them not-so subliminally seek armed international intervention to protect their terrorist allies from the wrath of the Indian state, under the guise of minority rights, and, presumably, to prevent church window panes being broken in India. The genocidal impact of such intervention, visible in the Middle East, is possibly regarded as an incidental bonus!

Foreign governments like the US and the UK, which have always had malign intentions towards India, want to use it as a pawn against China, though the prospect of betrayal in a Sino-US deal that institutes condominium is the most probable outcome. Significantly, both governments and their European allies, aided by the Republic of Korea, are waging a deadly war simultaneously to permanently subvert Hindu civilisation through religious conversion. In a recent visit to Nepal, I was stunned to be told by several knowledgeable public figures that the Church privately boasts about how a third of the population has already embraced Christianity. Christianity has indeed advanced in Nepal through allurement, subterfuge and outright bribery, including a multimillion dollar inducement to a former prime minister. The dramatically successful campaign of religious conversion in Nepal, across India and within the UK itself, abetted by some infiltrated British Hindu social and religious organisations, highlight the perversity of the situation.

Narendra ModiYet the rise of Narendra Modi represents a moment of respite and hope. Having inherited a parlous nation, in the throes of economic, political and moral chaos, the appropriate priorities for reversing its decline are easy to debate and dispute. And the authority and power he and his government enjoy are not unfettered, as political and social life in India brutally demonstrated in the past two years. The incumbent government is besieged on many fronts by an array of truculent adversaries, determined to thwart even the most indispensable policy measures. International conspiracies, originating in foreign capitals, aided by treasonous domestic surrogates and incited by a suborned anti-national media, abound visibly. The urgent task of national economic revival is preoccupying the Modi government’s attention and socio-cultural initiatives appear to enjoy less prominence. However, the task of securing the nation’s future in a hostile world, by creating national productive capacity and ensuring future electoral consolidation, surely depend on the overall policy stance adopted by Narendra Modi.

Hindu society is also stirring elsewhere, silently, but with heartening self-confidence. The wave of a massive movement, Hindutva Abhiyan, for example, is spreading from the apparently unpropitious and obscure tribal districts of Mandla in Madhya Pradesh to adjacent regions and beyond, across India. It draws its inspiration from the likes of Vivekananda, Aurobindo, and Chanakya and promises to overturn the long-held accepted norms of acquiescence to threats against Hindu society and the retreat that usually follows.

» Dr. Gautam Sen is President, World Association of Hindu Academicians and Co-director of the Dharmic Ideas and Policy Foundation. He taught international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science for over two decades.

Sri Aurobindo