Friday, November 6, 2009

The suppressed classes of India

Injustice towards lower classes from more than a millennium is still pervasive. The idea of superiority is entrenched in the Indian mind. A vast majority of the individuals in India have a strong identity with their caste which in itself is innocuous but with it also comes the token of class hierarchy. An individual by birth falls in this hierarchy that he is tagged to till death and he takes full pleasure in claiming superiority over the lower classes in the hierarchy. There are four classes, they are:
1.the Brahmins or the priestly class,
2. Kshetriya or the warrior class,
3.Vyshaya or the trader class and
4. the Sudra or the labor class.
There is another class called the Avarna or the classless untouchables who are considered the Scheduled class and Scheduled tribes in the present constitution. The lowest of the classes have to take the brunt of this social evil in all relations with the class hierarchy. They are looked upon as dirty untouchables. Although these practices have been banned by the constitution of India, in practice they exist covertly and sometimes overtly.

There are several reasons for the present state of class problems in India even after 60 years of independence. The SC/ST classes are stagnant, poor, uneducated and have not progressed one. One reason I find is that upper classes in India who hold powerful positions in government and politics, do not have an incentive to uplift the lower classes. They feel the threat of competition, fear of sharing power and also losing the privileged social, economic and political superiority in the society. Also,there is not only the fear of the Brahmin class but also the other backward classes above the untouchables in the hierarchy, who control the vast swathes of agricultural land feel this fear. The situation is such that these higher classes oppose government distributing unused land to them.

Untouchability has been cleverly sustained in India through unjust maneuvers and made into the code of law otherwise called as Manu smriti in past millinia. Some part of it is also included presently in the present constitution in the form of hindu marriage law. The Manu smriti has many codes of law based on discrimination of caste. Though Hinduism as religion has given social stability, it also carries the baggage of old customs and discriminations. The form it takes now is a potpourri of various sects in the long stride of time in the subcontinent. The point that I am making is that blaming Hinduism will not solve any problems of the present situation. Every religion of the past has its social evils and as man has progressed morally the social practices in religions also changed. It can also be said the same with Hinduism as a social practice. Compared to other religions Hinduism gave ample freedom for an individual to seek spiritual freedom away from the society. The Bhagavat gita also stresses the realization of the individual as the primary step for the good of the society.

There are a few dalit intellectuals and educated people who want to change or eliminate the caste system that has treated them cruelly. I would like to discuss about some reformations they propose. Firstly, I completely agree that caste system should go and it is one social evil that has split this society and caused great pain to its suppressed people.

It is true that on a social scale Hinduism has not been able to
create an egalitarian society based on religion like the Islam but has become fixated in caste distinctions based on birth and labor. Caste is the remnant of old society that are still hard to eliminate because of the hard shells it has formed around each class and deep social disease ingrained in all citizens of class identity and hierarchy.

There are some dalits who say that all of Hinduism is false.I argue that within Hinduism it is known that teachings of scriptures like the Bhagavat gita are catholi and hold true to all of humanity irrespective of caste, nationality,race, sex and birth. The gita very clearly emphasizes that spiritual realization is possible to all individuals irrespective of their class. So we can see a clear distinction in the voice of the Manu smriti and
the Gita. Hinduism has sacred scriptures which celebrate the equal latent potentiality in all human beings to realize their higher consciousness. Hence, it is important to distinguish between the teachings of scriptures and critique accordingly. All scriptures in Hinduism do not carry the same importance and it is ridiculous to go by the manu smriti as the only scripture representing Hinduism.

Some give the solution of an atheist society as an alternative as if the dalits( untouchables) themselves would discard their customs and traditions steeped in their religion. It has to be agreed the religion of dalits and higher caste hindus has co-evolved or probably shared some myths and stories. Therefore, I feel atheism is an unpractical solution for a country like India where religion has played an important role in the culture and lives of people in all their live activities.
And three are some who prefer the complete conversion of dalits to Buddhism. It is true that dalits had to bear atrocities by the upper classes but are these alternatives really viable?

This problem is obviously complicated. No particular solution can offer a complete remedy. The change I feel should come from all quarters of the society. The upper castes should learn to understand their own important scriptures where all humans are treated as equal and give an opportunity for social mobility of the lower classes. They need to recognize that scriptures like Manu smriti are not valid in this modern era and those scriptures are based on discrimination and a shame to human dignity.

The government has tried several plans and programs for the uplifting of the lower classes. One move in this direction is the reservation of seats in higher education for the lower classes. This provision has been scathingly successful. The problem is that the students of lower classes do not get adequate education to get into a higher institutes even if the cut out mark has been deliberately lowered. So it becomes incumbent to focus on primary education for the poor and the lower classes.

The problem in India in its failure of primary education is because of several factors. One of them is that the upper classes who hold the power politically do not see any incentive for proper administration of primary schools and education of the lower classes. It only adds to their disadvantage if the poor educate and complete with the upper classes. The political leaders of upper classes fear they loose their credibility and support of their own respective classes in case they go out of their way in helping the other castes. So the vision of nation building has been reduced and narrowed to uplifting their own caste. In a situation like this the lower classes need to become politically active and have representation in the electoral process, so that there are leaders of their classes who have an incentive to educate them at least as a ploy to get elected again. So, basically they have to become politically active and have more leaders representing them to share the piece of pie along with the rest of the society. Sometimes they may have to come on the streets to protest the
inequality in the society.

This activism by the lower classes has been presently viewed by the upper classes as a rebellion against the age old tradition of caste system. Some upper class citizens also claim that there is no more any class distinction in the modern world and do nothing to engage in straightening the unseen malady. For them, if the problem is not visible to their eyes campus it does not exist. Untouchability is true and rampant today and man does not like to share power with the deprived unless he is forced to. For example, most of the rich do not like to pay taxes for the welfare of the poor. They would like to see the society dying when they pile more money for themselves.

The government whose job is to give a minimum welfare to all citizens has to
take care of the poor and marginalized classes of the society. If social mobility is not allowed due to lack of education and land reform, the democratic society
will be rejected by its poor citizens who will take arms or change their ideology to other dangerous paths like the Marxist movements that are already on the rise in India.

In conclusion, this serious problem has to be addressed immediately and due measures taken for the uplifting of the lower and marginalized classes of Indian society to prevent
farce democracy. This change has to come from the upper classes through proper education of their own sacred scriptures that hold all human beings as equal and reject the caste system as a malady of the past; lower classes with political activism and the government by taking due measures for a welfare state for the support of the poor and social mobility from the bottom up.

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