This was a question in an interview. Since the interview is quite long, I post here my reply to this question: In my view, the caste system is unfairly misused to demonize India and Hinduism. A study of history would show that it has been misrepresented, probably with the agenda by the Church to convince Hindus and the world that their tradition needs to be replaced with the “true religion”.
By Maria Wirth
All over the Western world, children hear in school that the core of Hinduism is a terrible caste system (apart from many gods), which of course is not true. I also heard it already in primary school, even before I knew that Germans had systematically killed millions of Jews not long before I was born.
As if other societies are equal..
When I came to India, I started wondering why Indian society is so much condemned for ’not being equal’, as if other societies are equal, and why Hinduism is blamed for it. Are people not aware that the caste system is abolished since Independence and that the lower castes were given many privileges – so much so that sometimes higher castes even demanded to get downgraded on the social ladder? In which other country does this happen? Are people not aware that insulting a Dalit results in arrest? Are they not aware that a former President, Chief Justice and Chief Minister were Dalits? That the present President is from a tribal community? Where else in the world does it happen that those belonging to the so-called lowest strata of society reach the highest offices?
Don’t people know about the reservations in government jobs and educational institutes? Dalit students even need lower marks to get entry. It has reached a point where it has become reverse discrimination.
Imagine the pain of a student who has much higher marks but doesn’t get a seat to study because he belongs to a so-called “forward” caste, while his family may even be much poorer than that of his so-called “backward” caste friend?
My household help once told me that, if she had a chance to meet the Prime Minister, she would ask him to abolish this injustice. Her son was in the position I just have described.
The least cruel society is made to look worst.
In other societies the present generation is not held accountable for the sins of their ancestors, like Germans for the terrible holocaust of Jews. Or Western and Arab countries for brutal slavery, or for holding peasants as serfs. Those cruelties are documented. Can historians show similar cruelties by upper caste Hindus to lower castes? They cannot, because they didn’t happen.
Yet every new generation of Hindus is beaten with the stick of “caste system”? Unfortunately, too many Hindus flog themselves for the alleged ‘atrocities’ which their forefathers are accused of but might have never happened, certainly not the type of atrocities for which Islamic terror groups are infamous, and which intriguingly are generously overlooked.
The traditional structure of Indian society in the Vedas was not based on birth but on inclination and profession. That children usually took up the profession of their parents happened all over the world in earlier times, but even Manu Smriti says that one’s varna (caste is nowhere mentioned. It is a Portuguese word) can be changed by consistent conduct which fits another varna.
In the times of Corona Virus, I hinted in a tweet that untouchability may have had its origin in hygiene. My tweet provoked furious reactions from all sides, much to my astonishment. It was clearly an overreaction, as hygiene might indeed have been the reason. There are rules even within a family, for example somebody, who has not yet taken his bath, must not touch the one who has already finished his. It seems that ‘social distancing’ was the greatest fault the British could find with Hindus, and so they made it look really bad.
Caste is basically redundant in today’s times where nobody knows the caste of the person who sits next to him in the bus or plane. In every society, there are jobs which are higher regarded than others. Jobs like cleaning the sewers need also to be done (yet soon to be done by robots) and we all need to be grateful to those who do it, and definitely not look down on them.
This looking down on those who have a lower status in society is unfortunately a human trait everywhere which needs to be overcome. It has nothing to do with Hinduism, on the contrary. Only Hindu Dharma claims that the Essence in all, Brahman, is the same and divine. Moreover, in one’s next life, the role one plays is likely to be different, depending on one’s karma.
The continued attacks on the caste system may have one more reason. Like the joint family, the caste also, apart from imparting skills and knowledge, provides a sense of belonging and security. Western society has become very lonely. Single households are common. I hope that Indian society won’t become as lonesome and individualized as the West. Attempts to break the Indian society are surely on.
This article first appeared in www.mariawirthblog.wordpress.com and it belongs to them.