By Biranchi Narayan Acharya:
For some centuries caste system in India in fact became a liability that really disturbed the social integration of Hindus. Today politicians plays caste based vote bank politics and some self-claimed antillectuals cite the caste system just to abuse the so called upper caste people. Many claim that the caste system particularly untouchability is thousand years of curse (some claim that the caste system is practiced for more than 5000 years). Since 2014 after Narendra Modi assumed power as Prime minister of India, the caste-based activism is increased multi-fold and RSS too brought in the line of fire. In this process the Vedic Chaturvanashram is cited as the culprit of all these oppressive caste culture.
Question is whether Vedic culture supports caste system? Is caste system practiced in Hindu culture for thousand years?
The caste is always a British invention which was enumerated based on occupation/livelihood. In Vedic culture or Hindu scriptures there are only four Varnas but you can find thousands of castes because there are thousand types of livelihood. Raj Pandit Sharma, a member of Hindu Council UK (HCUK) wrote a report that caste is created by British. He said in the report that ‘It was the British who single-handedly formulated the caste schedule that remains in place today. The evils manifest in current form of caste system can’t be ascribed to the Hindu faith. The Current adulteration of the Hindu Varnashram system is a direct result of British Colonial bureaucracy’.
Whereas Anil Bhanot, general secretary clearly claimed that the intention of spreading mis-information on so called abuse of varnashram is to convert people to Christianity.
(Source- Hindustan Times)
Now let me corroborate the claim of HCUK proving that caste has nothing to do with Varnashram or any vedic culture. Some claim that class is mobile but caste is static and varna and caste are synonymous. Let me destroy this argument that varna and caste is synonymous. Further let me also desroy that British’s definition that ‘Jaati’ and caste is synonymous.
‘Jaati’ as defined by Veda is ‘Samaana prasava atmika Jaatih’ which means those who have similar birth source form a Jaati.
Four broad classification of ‘Prajaati’ (different groups of Jaati) as envisaged by Rishis are Udbhija, Andaja, Pindaja and Ushmaja.
- Udbhija: are the Jaati or group that are coming out of ground like plants, crops etc.
- Andaja: Jaati or group takes birth from eggs, like birds, reptiles etc.
- Pindaja: Jaati or group are those which are born from womb or say mammals.
- Ushmaja: are those Jaati or group that are reproduced due to temperature and ambient condition like bacteria, virus etc.
This Prajati (Jaati group) is further classified as ‘jaati’ based on similar physical characteristic of a Jaati. This is the Jaati created by God (or nature) and can’t cross breed across the Jaati. Now on mammals there are many varieties of Jaati like tiger, dog, cat, human etc. All forms a special Jaati. Thus human belongs to one jaati that’s called manav Jaati (or human race). Thus jaati is immobile but doesn’t divide humans! Forget about Indian population, in fact humans of the World in fact belongs to one Jaati. That’s why Vedas say ‘Vasudhyava Kutumbakam’.
However for convenience usage this jaati too referred as to a population of a country or nation. That’s why national address sometimes described as a speech (Bhashan) to Jaati (nation). The term of united nation is also called as Jaati-Sangh!
Now let’s come to Varna. Vedic Sanatan Dharma also called as ‘Varnashram Dharma’. There are four basic Varnas called as ‘Bramhin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra. Also during Vedic era there were other Varnas like Rakshyasa, Dasyu, Chandal etc. However as those are considered criminals hence not included in mainstream civilization!
Now Varna again is based on the occupation and merit. It’s mobile and not at all based on birth. As per Vedic Sanatana Dharma all are born as Shudras. Then based on one’s education and occupation (which are purely on merit and choice) are upgraded to Bramhin, Kshyatriya and Vaishya varna. All these three Varna’s called as Dwija (means twice born).
This proves that first biological birth made all Shudras and then due to individual capacity one is again born to a Varna. People who are involved in intellectual activities are classified as Bramhin Varna, those have profession of defense and warfare are classified as Kshatriya and those have profession of trade, economy, animal rearing agriculture (owning lands) are classified as Vaishya Varna. The remaining who due to lack of education, talent or merit have to do labor work to support all the above Varnas remain as Shudras.
Again here it must be noted that Shudras are not untouchable in Vedic culture. ‘Tapase Shudram’(Yajurveda 30.5) proves that Shudras are hard working class. Also Shudras can do Tapasya!’
Thus the present caste system is no way same to Varnashrama Dharma nor does the today’s Jaati (caste) have any relation with Jaati of Vedic culture. Jaati is always immobile as it’s depends on birth as discussed earlier. But Varna is always mobile, as it’s always a choice of profession and ability to do a certain type of work!
Let me give some examples how Varna is mobile as below.
- Aitareya Rishi was a son of Chandal/criminal (even lower than Shudra Varna) became Bramhin of highest order because of his merit and education. He wrote Aitaray Bramhan and Aitoreyopanishad!
- Ailush Rishi belonged to a Shudra parent but because of his individual excellence he not only became a Bramhin but also got the title of ‘Acharya’.
- Satyakaam Jaabal became a Brahmin despite son of prostitute!
- King Dakshya’s son Prisadha became a shudra. Later on he did hard Tapasya to achieve salvation! (This also proves that Shudras were equally allowed to do Tapasya, a work of Brmahin.)
- Kshatriya Nedhistha’s son Nabhag became Vaishya where as many of Nabhag’s son became Kshatriya again and one son Dhrista became Bramhin! Dhrista’s son became Kshatriya whereas the next generation again became Brahmin!
- Agnivesya, Rathotar, Haaritand Shaunak became Bramhin despite born to Kshatriya parents. Shaunak rishi’s sons were of all four Varnas.
- Matanga who was born to Shudra family became Bramhin.
- Ravana born to Brmahin family but became Khatriya.
- Viswamitra became Bramhin despite being born to Kshatriya family. Viswamitra’s sons became Shudra.
(Source-Vishun Puran, Vayu Puran and Bhagwat)
The above proves how Vedas never endorsed birth based caste system rather opted for Varna Vyavastha depending on one’s choice, success and merit. Further Shudras weren’t untouchable.
Thus I reiterate that caste based system is an invention by British and western intellectuals link to Varna Vyvastha. At the same time I would say that untouchable term started doing round not during Vedic era rather some hundreds years ago, a period when Sanatan Dharma was really directionless due to domination of Buddhism and Jain religion which were too declining during that period.
Now a second question, can there be a casteless society possible in India. I think casteless society in India in the present situation is a wishful thing. Let me give an example.
One of my friend is totally against caste system and very active on social issues and always stands against the caste based discriminations. I always respect him a lot and I also share the view that there shouldn’t be any caste based discrimination.
One day, when I was sharing my view on Uniform Civil Code, he immediately reacted why not UCC first implemented in Hinduism itself! I couldn’t understand his point. He then clarified that why not caste system in Hinduism abolished! Should such inhuman system continue in modern India?
I immediately responded saying will the lower caste people agree for a casteless society? Because nowadays most of the communities are competing to be identified as lower caste in order to get government benefits such as job reservation etc. There were many violent protests in Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and other parts of country to include their castes in to SC or OBC category to get the caste based reservations.
He angrily replied, “Why do you call it reservation? It’s de-reservation to reservations practiced since 5000 years! Only upper caste will do mental work and lower caste will do physical work in our awful caste system! Do you know what torture and injustice is done to the lower caste people? Even if they would be given reservation for another 5000 years, the sins of the upper caste will not be erased!”
I smiled for a moment and then answered very politely, ‘Sir, you are advocating a casteless society because you are against caste discrimination. At the same time you are supporting caste-based reservation because 5000 years of torture inflicted towards the dalits and other lower caste! While defending caste based reservation you are indirectly demanding caste system to prevail in the society. Isn’t it a contradiction?”
He didn’t say anything further, but I know he is caught between the dilemmas like many others. Whenever caste system is discussed these wise people would ask that there shouldn’t be any caste system or there would be ideally a casteless society. But when caste based reservation comes in, they will defend it citing 5000 years of torture. Interestingly none has a solution.
In Tamil Nadu no educational certificate mentions one’s caste because of casteless social revolution during sixties and seventies. But again you will find people having educational certificate stapled with caste certificate from competent authority only to avail the benefit of government affirmative actions towards lower caste.
This becomes a never ending problem. At one hand one seeks a casteless society but has to defend caste for quota, stipends and other governmental benefits for lower castes. Thus those who seek casteless society in fact had to defend restoration of caste base society.
Now coming back again to the question, can our society be caste less? The answer is, definitely yes, provided people shade the duality. Let’s agree that we Hindus don’t have any caste. If Hindus are a casteless society then this would also end caste based reservations, stipends, special rules etc.
Now the next question to build a casteless society is, should the dalits, other lower caste people and downtrodden community have to give up all the government facilities provided to them as an affirmative action? Why again these tortured communities have to pay once more for making society casteless? Well that’s a very big question and again the advocates of casteless society would come seriously demanding restoring the caste based society!
However my stand is clear, make the society casteless and end all caste-based reservations, facilities etc. Am I against reservation? Certainly not! In fact I am big supporter of all affirmative actions to all down trodden communities. Poverty and hunger neither has any religion nor any caste. Extend all the affirmative action to the poor and down trodden people irrespective of religion, caste, creed or race. In this way we can achieve the dual objectives. While all deserving people would get all the affirmation facilities, society can also be casteless.
But if all over again you start advocating that rich lower caste people should also get benefits because of the so-called 5000 years of torture, then I don’t think you are true to yourself in demanding a casteless society rather while scolding upper class you in-fact strengthening the ancient caste based society. Until the paradox is removed, no social justice or casteless society can ever be possible. Think over it carefully.
# Antillectual is a term used for self-claimed intellectuals who selectively use their intellect.
Biranchi Narayan Acharya is a professional civil engineer & columnist.