This is a response to an article by Lord Meghnath Desail "Being a Hindu" that appeared in the Indian Express on 29/March/2014 The criticism of Indian society for some prejudices between communities is well known and Indian's themselves are at the fore front of highlighting it. It is also true that 'datil' communities have been and perhaps continue to be discriminated against today and is well acknowledged.
Having acknowledged that I would just like to point towards some misconceptions that we have. Starting with the question of jati(samaj) and varna. I would not use the term caste because it is a foreign term and does not really describe the social phenomenon that really exists.If we look at our selves from imported constructs then we will only see what the foreigner sees rather than knowing the nuances which our own perspective brings.
The first writer/thinker I would like to mention is late Dharampal. He is often described as a Gandhian. He wrote several books. Many of which are available for free in electronic format.In 'Indian Science and Technology in the Eighteenth Century: Some Contemporary European Accounts' he shows how Indian science and technology was at quite an advanced stage when the Europeans came to India. Several other books have been written on this subject for instance Mr C K Raju has written about how Indian Ganita was of much advanced stage than anything that Europe had and how is was transmitted to Europe via the Arabs and the Jesuits who came to Kerala. He gives example of Calculus which was clearly developed in India and was taken to Europe by the Jesuits.
Aryabhatta who is credited with trigonometric discoveries, proposing that the earth is round, calculated circumference of earth and also proposed that earth revolves on its axis, was not a Brahmin as his name itself makes clear with the 'bhatt' suffix. He also wrote in Sanskrit. The point I am making without going into to much details here is that while it may be true that reciting of vedas was limited to Brahmins because of the discipline & practice that was required to learn the vedas from a very young age which then became a way of life; knowledge was not exclusive domain of the the Brahmins. The shipbuilders, engineers, surgeons, doctors, architects, sculptors, artists, mathematicians, astronomers, metallurgists, weavers(including technology) of ancient India were clearly not Brahmins. These are all fields of knowledge also and these were with the communities who used this knowledge for productive use. Pursuit of knowledge is and was the primary objective of our civilization that I am convinced of; through practical experience of our values and through reading the works of these authors like Dharmpal, C K Raju,Banwari, and many others. Sanskrit was not an exclusive domain of the Brahmins it should be clear because many of the books on practical sciences used by non Brahmins were also in Sanskrit.
Dharampal has written another book of note 'The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century'. Quoting from the records of the British civil servants he brings to our attention some facts which will forever change our perspective on what the British really did to our education. Noting the kind of education that existed in India before British intervention and before the heavy taxation that the British introduced on our economy he mentions the following in his book:-
William Adam in his first report observed that there exist about 1,00,000 village schools in Bengal and Bihar around the 1830s. Men like Thomas Munro observed in Madras residency that ‘every village had a school. For areas of the newly extended Presidency of Bombay around 1820, senior officials like G.L. Prendergast noted ‘that there is hardly a village, great or small, throughout our territories, in which there is not at least one school, and in larger villages more.’34 Observations made by Dr G.W. Leitner in 1882 show that the spread of education in the Punjab around 1850 was of a similar extent.
We had much higher penetration of education than even what existed in England at the time. Regarding the composition of students studying in these pre-British Indian schools this education was not limited to just the Brahmins and Vayshya. In fact the majority of students and also teachers were from other varna's and communities. This is from British records:
For example in tamil-speaking areas the twice-born ranged between 13% in South Arcot to some 23% in Madras, the Muslims form less than 3% in South Arcot and Chingleput to
10% in Salem, while the Soodras and the other castes ranged from about 70% in Salem and Tinnevelly to over 84% in South Arcot.
I would now like to come to the question of Varna in our dharma shastra. Mr Desai has quoted the Bhagwata Gita. Many people have attacked Gita saying that is justifies the supposed 'caste system'. Although I believe that first there is no Caste(its and imported term) and second there is no System(no one brainstormed and made it). I have read the verses Mr Deais has mentioned. It clearly and repeatedly mentions Svabhava(ones own nature) and Gunah(three modes of material nature Tamas, Rajas, Satva) distinguishing Brahmanas, Khyatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras.
Gita in fact lays out a very difficult tasks and expectation of service to society for the Kshatriya and Brahmana by laying out the qualities needed in them like generosity, courage in battle, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance. We all know that Brahmins were the poorest in terms of wealth in our society. Knowledge and high standards of virtue being their only wealth. For Shudra question our society is much maligned. But where does the Gita say that Shudra are lost.It does say that one born with natural tendency of service is Shudra. Now one might say this work is better than the other but is it not the nature of any society(even the western model) today don't we value scientist, scholars, soldiers, entrepreneur etc. So why do we condemn the values of an ancient society for the ills of today. Gita in fact speaks of dignity of labour when it says one should work as per ones natural tendency which is better than imitating what is not your natural tendency. I don't see anything in Gita justifying a class structure that a Brahmin's son has to be a Brahmin and a Shudra's child has to be a Shudra. It says no such thing; that is just an interpretation that modern scholars have done either out of ignorance or deliberately to malign.
Dharmpal in his book Bharatiya Chitta, Manas va Kala gives an explanation of the hierarchy possibly came into being in our society as a result of more value being given to para-vidya (pursued by a Brahman) than to apara-vidya(pursued by a Sudra). Para is knowledge of the sacred and Apara is knowledge of the practical/mundane. I have heard other scholars maintain that there is no hierarchy between Para and Apara. Dharampal does mention that a hierarchy has been formed in our society pertaining to these vidyas and hence lower and higher status of the varnas has developed.
Below explanation from his book is worth reproducing as is:-
The Purusha Sukta indeed states that the Sudras appeared from the feet of Brahman, the Vaisyas from the thighs, the Kshatriyas from the arms and the Brahmanas from the head. But this does not necessarily define a hierarchy between the Varnas. The Sukta is a statement of the identity of the microcosm and the macrocosm. It presents the world as an extension of the body of Brahman. In its cryptic Vedic style the Sukta informs us that the creation is a manifestation of Brahman, it is His extension, His play. The Sukta also probably recounts the variety of tasks that have to be performed in the world that Brahman creates. But nowhere in the Purusha Sukta is it said that some of these tasks, and consequently the performers of those tasks, are better than others. That the functions of the head are higher than those of the feet could only be a matter of a somewhat literal interpretation that came later. At another time such interpretations can even get reversed. After all it is only on his feet that a man stands securely on earth. It is only when the feet are stable that the head and hands play their parts. When the feet are not securely placed on the earth, nothing else remains secure either. Incidentally, the Purusha Sukta does not even imply that all four Varnas came into existence simultaneously at the beginning of creation. The Sukta does not give the story of creation and its unfolding; it only explains, through the analogy of the body of Brahman, an already manifest and differentiated Universe. In fact, as we have seen earlier, the Pauranic texts seem to suggest that at the beginning there was only one Varna, and it is only later as the need for newer and newer human capacities started arising that the Varnas divided, first into two and then into three and four.
Dharmapal also quotes from the puranas rishi Vedavyasa saying in exuberance 'blessed are the Shudra, blessed are the women because the Kaliyuga is the age of women and shudra.'
Finally I would like to come the reason which prompted Mr Desai to write this article. The RSS Awadh representative's statement about untouchability bias driving people to Christianity & Islam in the context of his drive of making people aware that these biases should be removed. No doubt people have converted because of discrimination they have faced, that is not the only reason though and if we look at Ambedkar then he did not convert. He adopted Buddhist tradition but he did not convert out of Dharma; consciously knowing the dangers of such conversions to the integrity of our civilization. Dharma traditions are not exclusive you need not convert into only one tradition and be completely removed from the other. In Japan for instance people remain Buddhist and Shinto at the same time. Mazhabi traditions are exclusive, have a truth claim and consider other traditions as false. That perspective and monism gives them imperialistic tendencies. Other cultures are seen as inherently evil worthy of being removed and replaced with Mazhabi tradition. Their holy books also explicitly call out other traditions especially the practices of Dharma tradition as 'demonic'. This is factual. No such thing can be found in any of the Dharma texts, such hate does not exist in Dharma traditions, there is no proselytizing zeal either. This makes Dharma vulnerable to missionary propaganda since there is a rallying call in Mazhab and no such rallying call in other traditions which respect all ways a leading to truth.
Mazhabi tradition's fundamentalism is exploited by extremists all too often. The very real threat that Indian civilization faces today is from right wing western evangelist(baptist/ lutheran etc). They openly preach hate for Hindus and have a concerted aim of Christianizing India. JosuaProject.net, World Vision, India Gospel League, Samaritan's Purse, Harvest India and innumerable such churches and NGOs have joined hands in the this project. People like Billy Graham known as America's Pastor, his son & others like him have envisioned such projects which have a stated aim to 'demolish Hinduism' and bring true biblical God to 'satan's land'. These efforts are not to be taken lightly. Some people have also written about how US government is perhaps knowingly or unknowingly funding conversions in India.A report appeared in First post recently Uncle Sam funding conversion. Iain Buchanan in his book The Armies of God: Study of militant Christianity has written about this too. Here is his speech describing the result of his research at a university conference in Malaysia. The definition of religious freedom itself is skewed as Sankrant Sanu argues well in his article Re-imagininig Religious Freedom.
Hinduism is not able to respond to this challenge for multiple reasons.
1) Primarily because it does not believe in proselytizing and does not bad mouth other traditions.
2) Finances being deployed by the global church are huge $50 billion of liquid assets at disposal as per Iain Buchanan.
3) Hindu temples are in government control with the funds being appropriated by the government and not spent on Dharma related activities.Estimated number is 4.5 Lakh all India with 40,000 in Tamil Nadu itself.
4) Dharma has suffered a degradation because of foreign invasion and rule.
5) Some of the clearly biased government policies like the hue and cry for Gharwapsi which is presumed to be forced and people are arrested charges slapped, while conversions of thousands goes on without any check even when they use clearly illegal practices like faith healing, exorcism, fraud, preaching children schools, making Hindu students studying history of Christianity and Christ in schools, bringing up Hindu children in orphanages as Christian even when their parents religion is clearly known.
This list is long I will not go into this subject further. I would like to say in the end it is not just about the Jati and Varna and it is not merely about discrimination of certain communities. There is discrimination in Christians(closed congregation churches, separate Black/Hispanic/Indian churches,Dalit Christians even buried separately) and Muslims(Ashraf/Ajlaf, Saudi Muslim racism, Shia Sunni fight) also. That is no justification what so ever for religious conversion just because Mazhabi books direct the followers to convert others and bring an end of the world apocalypse once everyone is converted.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come