Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Caste and Religion

Unlike religion (a community with a synthesised faith),  castes were the communities with gradual evolution of faith.  Castes are acquired by birth, so are religions (like Islam or Christianity). 

Circumcision and baptising may be the formalities. Fact is, a Muslim's child will not be a Christian and viceversa. People marry within their castes so do religions like Muslims, Christians, Jains. (Falling in love, marrying someone are personal choices, not social issue). But still, a Yadav marrying a Yadav is regressive, where as Christian marrying Christian is not. Why? Because, outsiders taught us that we are Hindus and we are one religion.

Caste is nothing but a cultural identity of a man just like a religion or a language. Just because a community (which is more ancient than all most all known religions) do not have a book or a prophet, will not make its characteristics less unique. The Gods are their own. The special foods prepared in festivals are unique for every community, rituals in marriages are unique. The dress worn on occasions have their own flavour. They are nothing but our heritage. But instead of cherishing it and celebrating our diversity we look down at these things because, western way of thinking has taught us; being different is wrong.
Another feature of caste system was its distinct domain of work (which we have never seen with any other religions). Brahmins involved with praying, teaching. Kshyatriyas the warriors, Vaishya being traders and Shudras being peasants/labourers. Difficult to say whether occupations followed faith or faith followed occupation.
(I am keeping the untouchables out of this box, as they appeared much later in the society. People who offended were kept out of this society and made to do  menial job like septic cleaner.  In fact, even this community were designated (in vernacular languages) by the jobs they were doing. In my vernacular language, they were called Holeya (which was again a job description). Calling them untouchables (probably British) was a wrong nomenclature. Untouchability was not imposed on any one community alone. Every community did not touch the rest ).
If I consider Casteism was not wrong, what was faulty then?
First one, the hierarchy practised between the communities (But then, hierarchy is an ever present evil which not just exists between the castes, also between classes (poor/rich) as well. Mahabharata dispassionately narrates how individual gets abused by society. It was not just Karna or Ekalavya who were treated badly. Acharya Drona, a Brahmin who had all the skills to be a king, did not have milk to feed his baby.

Second one, rigidity in the system (no movement between castes). Reasons for this, I have discussed it here and here. Basically I am presuming, Ashoka's organisational spread of Buddhism made the rest of the communities to recoil. They were alarmed with the number of people deserting their own faith. Buddhism instilled a fear amongst them. Rigidity was brought in to prevent people from abandoning their community. (If you leave, you can't enter in, ever). 

Third, treatment of Dalits. (This also can be attributed to rigidity in Caste system). Keeping an offender outside the society was more humane than chaining them as slaves or dumping them in a different island. But no rules were formulated to get back the offender's child back to the main stream. This resulted in a child born to an offender (who had become Dalit) to continue being a Dalit and no new offenders from mainstream community went on to become a Dalit. This chain (offender to Dalit) was cut somewhere for some unknown reasons. I presume, if society was not turbulent because of invading religions, it would have found a solution by itself. (Just like how it allowed a prostitute Jabali's son Satyakama to study and become a scholar). But the tensions within and outside, prevented it from considering it.
Decades back when I was studying in University, there was once a strike by Dalit students. The incident was, a guy in college canteen (by slip of the tongue) had used a proverb ಊರು ಅಂದಮೇಲೆ ಹೊಲಗೇರಿ ಇರಬೇಕು - (There has to be a lane for Dalit in any village/town). It refered to Dalits  as Holeyas. I understand, how that word (which refers to the meanest job) induces hurt for these people. But I beg your pardon, I don't think that proverb meant to demean the community in anyway. Those days, the words untouchable or Dalit were not in use. I felt the tone of that proverb was, every community has equal right to exist in a village. A Dalit's lane (Holageri) is as essential as an Agrahara (a Brahmin's lane) in any village.

No comments:

Post a Comment