Castes in India: Why they were created and why they need destruction?

By : Shreepal Singh

The right to be equal in society:

Classification of all people in India into four hierarchical Varnas – or Castes (and sub-Castes) as they are now called – is a social reality of India. This social reality still persists in this country notwithstanding the fact that any discrimination on the basis of Castes is outlawed by the Indian Constitution. The well-known Caste-hierarchy runs from Brahmin to Kshtriya to Vaishya and, lastly, to Shudra. This classification has its origin in prehistoric times and is sanctified by Hindu religious scriptures. To modern human mind it looks abhorrent to classify humans into higher or lower categories. Our sense of dignity revolts against such a cruel treatment of humans by humans and finds itself at a loss to understand any reason, any justification – either now in modern times or in ancient past – for such a division. Is there any justification? Is there an iota of reason for the same? Are all people not made equal to each other? When people come into this world – when they take birth – they are all equal. And, then, they are made unequal by social institutions and sanctified by religious scriptures! Again, is there any justification for the same? In answering this question we would not quote any obscure religious scripture; our sole strength is the logic of reason; and nothing else. Let us start by putting a generic question: Is an ordinary Christian entitled to a social respect equal to Jesus Christ? Is an ordinary Buddhist entitled to a social respect equal to Gautama Buddha? Let us lower down our gaze: Is an ordinary Christian entitled to a social respect equal to an anointed Christian Saint, say like Mother Teresa?Is an ordinary Buddhist entitled to a social respect equal to an accomplished Buddhist Monk, say like Mila Repa? The social reality is that these two classes either in Christians or Buddhists are not equal. It is a truth nobody can deny. Can this logic apply to Hindus or their social institution of Varna, which was systematically organized in ancient times? Let us proceed.

 Relativity is a great tool discovered by human mind. It is a scientific concept (discovered by Einstein), which applies to not only the entities that we call space and time but equally applies to everything else in nature. It is wholesome concept. It states that a thing may be seen (or scientifically, observed) from different points of views (or scientifically, relative to different moving frames of reference) and the result of all such observations may be contradictory to one another but still all such results would be absolutely (!) correct. One who is not versed with science may wonder the accuracy of such a statement. Though the detailed explanation of the logic of this scientific statement would be out of place here, it is enough to explain this mental concept with this example. A train moving on the track at the speed of fifty miles per hour may be observed by a person from ground at the track side or the position of a person who is travelling on this train or the position of a person who is flying in airplane above this train or, still, the position of a person who has just landed on Moon. These positions could be infinite. The result of the observation from the position of the person who is travelling on this train, the speed of the train is zero, that is, the train is stationary. The person on the track the speed of the train is fifty miles per hour. Likewise, the speed of this train would be different when observed from the flying plane or the Moon. And, all observations are correct. And, all these results of the observation of this train are contradictory to one another.

  This concept applies to everything in nature. We can observe society from different points of view. We can observe human beings from different points of view. Let us study human beings. We all humans live on Earth and live in communities, that is, society. We are born equals. In all modern societies, we all have equal legal rights. From the point of view of modern society, this is the position. Let us see humans from the spiritual point of view. All living beings, including humans, are evolving from lower position to higher position. What is that in humans that is so evolving? Is it humans’ body – with all its constituents – alone that is evolving from lower to higher position? Yes, human body is evolving but it is not this physical body alone that is undergoing this evolution. There is a true SELF – Sri Aurobindo names it Psychic Being – in every human that is the device of this evolutionary process. And, this Psychic Being is present not only in humans; it is equally present in every living being, though in an under developed form. This Being – the spiritual spark – is present in every entity in universe; it is there in dead matter, albeit in undeveloped form.

  From the point of view of this developing Psychic Being, all living beings are belaboring through the device of their respective circumstantial human conditions to evolve spiritually from a lower to higher position. It is an evolution of this spiritual being spread over millions of lives and it does not cease with the death of human’s physical body. From this point of view, every human being is equal with everybody else in the society in the matter of purpose and mission of life. However, all human beings are not equal in the evolutionary stage they have attained in this evolutionary process. On Earth there are always some who are evolved more than others in the spiritual journey. One can name many who may come in this category, like Buddha, Jesus Christ, Nizamuddin Aulia, Mira Bai, Guru Nanak, Chaitanya, Ramakrishana, Sri Aurobindo and many others of this kind.

  Let us come to the collective living of humans. We live in organized society. We organize ourselves so that we can live peacefully, survive and meet challenges that may confront us. And, we organize ourselves in smaller groups to accomplish certain social missions. For example, we organize an army of soldiers; there are many ranks and hierarchy of layers. There in army though all are equal humans, they organize themselves in layers. Why it is so? It is so because as an organized group, they have a mission to accomplish, that is, to win a war. The commander of the group is equal to an ordinary rank soldier, but he knows the art of war better than a rank soldier. He commands to accomplish the plan to win. If there is no commander, there is no planning to win. Also, if there is no mission to accomplish, there is no need of a commander. If there is no mission to accomplish, there is no need of organizing humans into a disciplined group.

 But spiritual wisdom tells us that there is a mission for humans to accomplish on Earth. Humans are on their evolutionary journey, spiritual as well as biological, and they are not aimless wandering herd of animals here on Earth. In ancient India the human’ collective living was organized to accomplish this mission. This organization was Varna (or caste, as it is known today) system. The commander of this grouping was Brahman. When we judge the worth of Varna – Caste – system today, we always forget to take into account the crucial foundation – sine qua non – of this system. The Varna system was conferred by the conduct of the individual concerned and not by his birth. The moment this system was degenerated into the conferment of Varna by birth, it lost its logic, spiritual or otherwise. Thenceforth, it is condemnable. Thenceforth, it is the worst form of social slavery of those who find themselves on the lowest social rung simply because of the circumstance of their birth.

In this context the words of Swami Vivekananda, the renowned disciple of Ramakrishna Paramhansa (the seer of Veloor Math in Calcutta), are full of spiritual wisdom. When asked of the degraded condition of the Sudra caste, the so called lower caste thus, “But if the present degraded condition is due to their past Karma, Swamiji, how do you propose to help them?” the Samiji said these pithy words: “Karma is the eternal assertion of human freedom. If we can bring ourselves down by our Karma, surely it is in our power to raise ourselves by it. The masses, besides, have not brought themselves down altogether by their own Karma. So we should give them better environment to work in. I do not propose any leveling of castes. Caste is a very good thing. Caste is the plan we want to follow. What caste really is, not one in a million understands. There is no country in the world without caste. In India, from caste we reach to the point where there is no caste. Caste is based throughout on that principle. The plan in India is to make everybody Brahmana, the Brahmana being the ideal of humanity. If you read the history of India you will find that attempts have always been made to raise the lower classes. Many are the classes that have been raised. Many will follow till the whole will become Brahmana. That is the plan. We have only to raise them without bringing down anybody. And this has mostly to be done by the Brahmanas themselves.”

 Varna – or castes – system as it practised today (that is,  caste aquired or conferred by birth – and birth alone) needs to be destroyed with its roots. It is a crime against those on the lowest social ladder. How can one uproot this crime against a major section of humanity in India? History tells us, Lord Buddha by his spiritual enlightenment of Indian people had almost uprooted this poisonous weed. However, after passing away of Lord Buddha it could not be completely rooted out and it again grew into a big tree. And, we are face to face with this mankind’s worst menace today. How can we uproot it? To use an allegory here, we may say that to soften its firm underground roots, we need to pour some water into them. These roots are firmly embedded by millennium’s social practice and we need to loosen them. We need to water them by accepting Varna system with the caveat that all categorizations of individuals shall be conferred by State by their conduct alone and not by birth under the rigor of law. This treatment would loosen its roots and allow modern India to manipulate them in order to destroy them.  From this point of view, let us trace its historical origin and evolution to modern times.

Dr. Ambedkar, in his final address to the Constituent Assembly, observed: “The third thing we must do is not to be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. These principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in the same sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality, equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity. Without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things. It would require a constable to enforce them.

  “We must begin by acknowledging the fact that there is a complete absence of two things in Indian society. One of these is equality. On the social plane, we have in India a society based on the principles of graded inequality, which means elevation of some and degradation for others. On the economic plane, we have a society, in which there are some who have immense wealth as against many who live in abject poverty. On the 26th January, 1950, we are going to enter in to a life of contradictions.

  “In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic structure, (we) continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up.”

  There are two viewpoints to look at the problem of social justice in the caste ridden Hindu society in India. One may approach this problem from the viewpoint of an enlightened spiritual vision and the other one is looking at the problem from a purely materialist mundane viewpoint.

  An unceasing chain of spiritual leaders of this country have taught us that an individual who has been able to achieve some degree of mastery over his desires and impulses and has subdued his arrogance, greed etc, and because of such mastery has developed some degree of benevolent and humane attitude towards his fellow human beings, is comparatively nearer to Divine light. They tell us that such an individual is more likely to have the grace of Almighty and is a person belonging to a higher category of human beings’ classification. Hindu saints maintain that such a person is Brahmin by his actions or Karmas. Likewise, Jain and Buddhist saints also place such person in a category higher than ordinary human being who has not such mastery. In fact, such a higher state of consciousness on the part of an individual is totally a matter of his psychic evolution, which has nothing to do with his outside material state of social status, position of power etc. It is further taught to us by the great leaders of mankind that the outside manifestations of humane attitude etc. are merely the reflection of internal state of one’s consciousness in these matters.

  From this point of view the so-called lower caste people (these castes being enumerated by Indian Constitution in an annexed schedule and therefore popularly called Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) by and large – because of the very fact of their sufferance at the hands of society and consequently earning spiritual merits in return because of this very circumstance– are better placed if Varnas are determined by conduct and not by birth (as is the true concept of Varnas)  than those who belong to the so-called higher castes, who are because of this circumstance rich and mighty (with concomitant evil of arrogance and pride) and consequently have lesser chance to earn spiritual merits. Though for the evolution of human being’s true Self towards its destiny outer circumstances provide merely the necessary conditions required in specific individual cases, yet the helping hand in this evolutionary venture may be provided by the collective organization of the society.

From this point of view these people belonging to the lowest social rung – depending on one’s spiritual position in the individual cases – deserve to be placed in the upper castes and, conversely and consequently, the people belonging to upper castes – likewise depending on one’s individual case – deserve to be degraded to the lower castes. If today castes are assigned by one’s conduct alone and not by his or her birth (under some constitutional mechanism), then the caste-wise population of India would be turned upside down, that is, many Brahmins, Kshtriyas and Vaisyas would be degraded to Sudras castes and many Sudras would be upgraded to the upper castes of Vaisyas, Kshtriyas or Brahmins. Of course, the ruling political forces of today of diverse hues, which garner votes of people on caste sentiments, would not like things to happen this way. These forces have vested interest in distorted caste-ism. They have ruled and oppressed the lower castes in India for thousands of years, and even today they are least interested in either reforming castes by basing them on one’s conduct rather than on birth or eradicating this birth-based caste-ism, which in its original form once was a great social institution of spiritual advancement of human beings.

  This is the true meaning of castes (or Varnas) and such is its far-reaching impact from spiritual point of view on the upliftment of ordinary members of society, the deformed ritual of which in the name of caste-ism is today plaguing India.

  Indian Supreme Court in one of its judgment graphically depicted the pathetic conditions of these so-called lower castes’ people or Shudras and referred to the Swami Vivekananda’s call to Indian society to come to the whole-hearted aid of the weak, the down-trodden, the wronged Pariah in these words:

  “Let us be sure of the social facts. Mark Twain cynically remarked once: ‘Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.’ It is a fact of our social history and a blot on our cultural heritage that 135 million men and women, described as C and ST, have been suffering as ‘suppressed classes’, denied human dignity and languishing as de facto bonded labor. They still are, in several places, ‘worse than the serf and the slave’ and ‘their social standard is lower than the social standard of ordinary human beings’ (Ambedkar). Tortured, violated and even murdered the saga of the SCs and STs is not only one of economic exploitation but of social ostracisation. Referring to the sorrows of the suppressed shudras (what I prefer to call the panchama proletariat) swami Vivekananda demanded shudra raj and refuted the incapability of the groaning untouchables:

  “Aye, Brahmins, if the Brahmin has more aptitude for learning on the ground of heredity than the Pariah, spends no more money on the Brahmin’s education but spend all on the Pariah. Give to the weak, for there the entire gift is needed. .. Our poor people, these down-trodden masses of India, therefore, require to hear and to know what they really are. Aye, let every man and woman and child, without respect of caste or birth, weakness and strength, hear and learn that behind the strong and the weak, behind the high and the low, behind everyone, there is that Infinite Soul, assuring that infinite possibility and the infinite capacity of all to become great and good. Let us proclaim to every soul: ‘Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached.’ Arise, awake!”

  The spiritual wisdom tells us that the immortal true Self in every human being is equally capable of rising and marching ahead on the path of one’s destiny in this material world. This is the position from the spiritual point of view. But the spiritual point of view is not the only way to look at this problem.

  There is another viewpoint to look at this problem of social justice in India. This viewpoint is purely materialist in substance and mundane in intention and purpose. Let us look at the social justice problem from this point of view also.

  Individuals in the society have many kinds of inter se relations. All these relations are mutual bridges among them in their collective living. Majority of people in any society seldom live a life that is intimately concerned with their private and subjective true self. The collective life of human beings brings out in the open many facets of their interconnected existence, which otherwise lie dormant.

  One such facet of this collective life that is brought out in the open is the social interrelation among them. In the course of the civilization’s development human beings have evolved the concept of justice, which derives its strength from moral considerations. There are many dimensions of the concept of justice in the humans’ collective life. One such dimension is ‘social justice’.

  Also there are many facets of social injustice. In several countries, there are ethnic minorities. They exist like an island amid an ocean. The people belonging to the majority stock assign in their subconscious mind a place of an intrusive element, which has been imposed on them from outside from historical reasons and which element somehow has to be tolerated by them. In this case, the supposed intruders are held by the majority equal to them in social status but still an unwelcome presence. Here the majority is hostile to them in their treatment. They even hold them in contempt; nevertheless they have a place for them of an equal social status. This hostility of attitude gives birth to the social discrimination and injustice.

  Then, likewise, there are religious and linguistic minorities who suffer discrimination and injustice in the similar manner. The extreme form of social injustice, the plane slavery, is now no longer legally available anywhere in the world. Sometimes, we hear of such cases of human slavery existing in remote corners of civilized world where the writ of law does not prevail but such are the rare instance (one rare case in recent times is of Yezidis being enslaved by religious fundamentalists in Iraq). Even in these rare cases, the treatment meted out to the slave is that of an owner over his chattel – much like an owner over his domesticated animal – where the master inflicts physical injury on his slave but still in his own interest takes care of the necessary welfare of the slave. In this extreme case also, there is no place for a psychological injury to the soul of slave. However, in the case of caste-ridden India, the depth of social injustice is unfathomable and the injury inflicted is incomparable to any of the above forms of social injustice.

  In India, the form of social injustice inflicted on a section of people identified by their castes is a class apart. It is unique in that it does not occur anywhere in the world, except India.

Indian historical origin:

  This unique dimension of social injustice is the product of a peculiar historical past of India where the four Varnas or castes (Brahmin, Kshtriya, Vaisya and Sudra) have been the backbone of her social organization since time immemorial. There, in a structured society regulated by law, the people were compartmentalized into rigid and isolated classes, whose lives were dedicated to their respective specialized and different missions of life. There, at the lowest rung was Sudra, who was socially a Dalit (crushed) and an oppressed. The rationale of putting him on the lowest rung was that he was not able – because of his spirit’s lack to master or even control his lower animal tendencies. It was reasoned that because of his daily lowly activities or karmas, his propensity to fall down to the lower animal instincts and not to rise up and go ahead on the enlightened path, he deserved the lowest place on the social ladder. He was not able, it was argued, to steer his daily conduct onto the path (as laid down by the law of sages) neither of Brahmin, which entailed the mastery over one’s senses, desires and thoughts, nor of a Kshtriya, which needed the heart’s courage of being fearless in war and to sacrifice one’s life for the sake of his subjects, nor even of a Vaisya, which necessitated to be honest in one’s trading activities.

  However, the moment the caste became heritable by one’s birth alone without any nexus to his activities or karma, the rationale for this fourfold social classification lost its moral force and relevance. Thenceforth, this classification became illogical, unjust and retrograde. Thenceforth, this classification became a tool of social oppression in the hands of so-called higher castes to serve their selfish interests.

  But the history does not move by logic and reason. The caste classification, though devoid of any reason, struck deep roots in the society and from that point of time – a point in remote antiquity – the social injustice in Hindu India commenced.

  This injustice to the people who found themselves placed simply because of their birth on the lowest rung of the social ladder was not inflicted to their body only but to their soul also, which is much more profound in its harmful impact on one’s life. Many Sudras became sages and saints but still they did not become Brahmins. And, conversely, many Brahmins became debauch by their karmas but still they were not pushed down on the social ladder to the rung of Sudras. This India has been regulated not by any spiritual considerations for thousands of years but by sheer hypocrisy and is still being regulated so. It is the spiritual India that has been wounded the most by this hypocrisy.

  This is what the recorded history of India has been. There are some honorable exceptions to this general rule of the Indian history. But it is not the exceptions to the rule that make the history of a nation.

  With the march of time, the already decadent caste classification became more and more injurious to the society. Time degrades everything. Pure and crystal clear things become rotten and harmful with the passage of time. The entry of an outside deserving element to the ranks of the three classes on the higher rung was completely closed with a sense of arrogance. This morbidity was the most at the top rung, that is, the Brahmin class. It was not possible for anybody – except the individual born to Brahmin parents – to get him included in the top caste. Next down on the ladder – Kshtriya – were less rigid. They valued valor and the more meritorious in their field were included by them in their ranks and fold. In this way, Huns and Kushans, who conquered several tribal holds in ancient India, were admitted to thirty-six sub-castes of Kshtriya. There are many Gotras of Kshtriyas of today that are reminiscent of their Hun or Kushan origin. The next on the social rung – Vaisyas – were still more liberal in this respect and many trading communities were admitted by them in their fold.

  The case for the last on the ladder, that is, Sudras was different in this respect, i.e. the entry of the outsiders into their ranks. There were many entry points for the inclusion of people in this caste. Firstly, initially there were all those who were not able to rise through their karmas to rise up and move on to the upper rungs of the caste ladder and by the very nature of human weakness there must had been a considerably large number of them. Also, there were those who had fallen in accordance with the prevailing law from their higher ranks by virtue of their matrimonial alliance in lower caste and were relegated to this lowest caste. Then, there were those who had fallen in wars and were not killed. It was advantageous to the upper rungs to include them in this serving class. Many historians hold that Dravidas and even Mlechchas or (Greek) Yavanas found their entry this way in this class.

  Sudras of yore, which are for the most part the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of today, were regarded by upper classes, and particularly by the top most class, of the society worse than animals. They were untouchables, which animals were not. The mere physical touch of an untouchable Sudra was considered enough by the higher caste people to make them impure in their body. While slaves, where slavery existed, were treated unkindly, they were never the outcaste untouchables.  This way, a Sudra was assaulted on his soul, which was worse than the assault on his body. He was considered to be a sin incarnate. There was no cure possible for his pathetic condition, which was associated with his birth and therefore inherited social status. Acquiring wealth – even the acquisition of kingship – was not sufficient to elevate his social status in the legally organized society.

  It was a psychological punishment that was inflicted on the soul of a Sudra. He was made to believe that he was indeed a sin incarnate on Earth for which there was no atonement. This was one face of the social injustice that Sudra faced. The other one was that a Brahmin, however lowly and impure he may be in his actions or Karmas, was always a Divine light to be obeyed and prayed for one’s salvation. One way of atonement of one’s sins was to offer him alms. This alms-giving to a Brahmin without any regard to his conduct was declared a work of merit on the part of the giver. This bitter historical reality has been inherited by free India.

National dilemma:

  Dr. Ambedkar knew very well the secret of the strength of the caste logic of Hindu society and therefore in his later public life, he realized the futility of his struggle against caste system existing in Hindu society. He realized that there was no way left for him to get social equality for the so-called lower caste people in the Hindu society and therefore he along with his many followers converted to Buddhism. He chose Buddhism simply because there was no place for the caste division, and therefore the caste discrimination, in this religion. In his choice, he was more moved by this temporal virtue of a caste-less community available under the Buddhist religious fold than by any sublime purpose of life embodied in its tenets. Though he had deeply studied Hinduism, Buddhism,  Islam etc. But it was only theoretical.  He was not a much spiritually inclined person. Buddhism is much profound religion with an enlightened vision of life and caste-less social organization is simply a concomitant of this vision. Dr. Ambedkar because of his whole-hearted and life-long preoccupation with the bitter struggle against caste-injustices in the Hindu society and, therefore, his less interest in any spiritual consideration did not know the spirit and real strength of castes or Varnas as they were originally conceived. And, for this very reason, he did not spot its weak underbelly and know how to strike at its life-nourishing node by taking advantage of its own logic to uproot the evil edifice.

  The logic of Varnas is plain and simple to understand, and its force lies in determining caste by Karma alone and not by birth. It is universally known and admitted by Hindus that originally caste or Varnas were to be determined by Karma or actions alone. Dr. Ambedkar could have insisted for restoration of the original pristine principle of determination of caste by Karma alone and not by birth. But he did not have any hint of this solution. He was a true soldier of Dalits but narrowly missed the weakest spot of his eternal enemy to strike. He simply converted to Buddhism. But embracing Buddhism without any intention to use its vision to obtain Nirvana – the sole purpose of life – is no solution to get social justice. Even there, the so converted people have not been able to secure social respect and equality at the hands of upper caste Hindus.

  Constitution of free India under the intellectual inspiration of Dr. Ambedkar sought to resolve the existing social contradictions. However, in doing so the Indian Constitution has created a very serious contradiction, which the Indian judiciary today is trying to reconcile by resorting to an ingenious approach.

  Constitution prohibits discrimination among Indian citizens on ground of caste only and provides that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of caste, among other things. However, it also provides that the State shall not be prevented by this Article from making any special provisions for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Also, Constitution seeks to secure Indian citizens equality of opportunity in matters of public employment by providing that no citizen shall, on grounds only of caste, among other things, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State. However, it also provides that the State shall not be prevented by this article from making any provision for the reservation of appointment or posts in favor of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.

  The Indian judiciary seems to have applied so far successfully the constitutional tool of affirmative discrimination. But, then, it has given birth to a new consequential contradiction. It is observed by the Indian Supreme Court that there are sufficient indications in the Constitution to suggest that the Scheduled Castes are not mere castes and that they may be something less or something more. Though it is ruled that the time badge is not the fact that the members belong to a caste but the circumstance that they belong to an indescribably backward human group, the contrary social reality is recognized by the court by observing that since a contrary view is possible and has been taken by some Judges a verdict need not be rested on the view that Scheduled Castes are not castes. Thus, it is judicially possible to hold, and some Judges have also held, that the Scheduled Castes under the Constitution are the castes as they are understood in the traditional meaning of the word by Indian society. Moreover, it is a mere judicial nicety only. In the real world of the Indian society, the Constitutional Scheduled Castes are taken by the popular view only the castes belonging to the lowest rung of the society, that is, Shudras of the Varna classification. It is not only the social reality, it is worse; today the powerful and dominant political forces with vested interest in such identification openly and aggressively hold and propagate the unity of the constitutional Scheduled Castes with these so-called lower castes in their electoral maneuvers.

  It is also said that discrimination on the ground of caste only has to be made by the State so that a stage in society is reached where there shall not be discrimination on the ground only of caste. The question arose as to how long this affirmative discrimination is necessary. The answer given is any length of time till thus protected citizens are transformed into socially equal citizens. Political motives apart, it is suggested that this time may run into not decades but centuries. Is it not possible that by then the forward would become backward? The political class asserts that it is necessary to undo injustice that has been done during thousands of years and for this affirmative discrimination a period of a century is not a big deal. However, the Indian judiciary does not subscribe to this view, so far. It is a constitutional dilemma and the Indian judiciary is grappling today to resolve this dilemma.

  It was admitted a correct principle that providing employment under the state by reserving places for Dalits would raise their social status and equalize them with the so-called upper castes. It was thought that such places of power and position would make the so-called upper caste people to admit the occupant Dalits to a rank equal to their own. This principle is flawed in its logic and has been disproved by history of India. Money, wealth, power and position of authority have not been able to secure one a status equal to the so-called upper castes. There are many examples of this failure in the Indian history.

  This flawed principle has forced the Indian judiciary to resort to newer concepts, like creamy layer, that are equally invalid. The judicial logic goes that provision of the position of power with a state mantle by means of reservation is bound to raise the social status of the so-called lower castes and a time comes when such occupants become equal to the advanced so-called upper castes. At that stage, thus goes the logic, the progeny of such occupants do not need special protection by way of reservation. The creamy layer people belonging to the so-called lower castes attain social status equal to all other ordinary people and therefore in their case there should not be discrimination on the basis of caste. India today is facing a political storm on the justification of this judicial concept of creamy layer. The opponents argue that attaining a position of power by the so-called lower caste persons (perhaps for too short a period) does not make the occupants socially equal. There is a dilemma here. If attaining a position of power by a person belonging to so-called lower caste does not socially equalize him with the rest of the advanced citizens, then what is the justification of providing him by reservation a position of power to which he is not otherwise entitled? And, if the attainment of the position of power does raise his social status, then why the creamy layer persons whose social status is raised should not be treated equal. In fact, the idea of providing reservation was included in the Indian constitution to bring an equality of social status where all castes would be equal or a caste-less society would be evolved in India in due course of time. This impression gets reinforced by the fact that the initial period for providing reservation was fixed only ten years.

  Judiciary in India, as elsewhere, has the limitation of working within a constitutional framework. It is attempting to give a helping hand to the nation in resolving the age-old caste conflict existing in Indian society. In the context of the constitutional right of equal opportunity to all citizens in the matter of public employment and reservation, it is aptly observed by the Indian Supreme Court that the backward classes seek justice and the general class (seek) equity, and the difficulty comes in when the third variable comes in, namely, the constitutional requirement of ensuring the efficiency in the public services, which the judiciary is asked to reconcile and to find a stable equilibrium among the three conflicting claims. Has the judiciary been able to find a working formula that would establish such equilibrium –stable or otherwise – among these antagonistic claims?

  The demand for justice by backward classes is the logical consequence of a peculiar Indian historical past, the claim for equity by general class is the expression of a natural human aspiration and the requirement to maintain efficiency in public services in the country is an imperative for national survival in this age of fierce international competition. Finding such equilibrium is a political task that has been thrown upon a nation by her past demanding resolution.

  It is too tall an order for any judiciary to resolve. The Indian judiciary has been doggedly grappling with this problem and, in an effort to be more penetrating in its reach and soothing to the raw nerves of collective national psyche, has been taking and shifting postures ever since the birth of Indian Constitution. In its latest judicial wisdom, the nation’s highest court has aptly observed that reservation is necessary for transcending caste and not perpetuating it. It is emphasized that the reservation has to be used in a limited sense; otherwise it will perpetuate caste-ism. On the crucial point of establishing a stable equilibrium among the three competing claims, it has sought to resolve the problem by ruling that the elements of efficiency, backwardness and inadequacy of representation are required to be identified and measured, which calls for the need of collecting relevant data. Courts are not allowed as a matter of constitutional prudence to dabble with policy matters, which are inherently political in nature, and therefore are not equipped to resolve problems that call for political wisdom of a people. The approach of Indian judiciary in this respect is commendable. But it is not sufficient at all to resolve the problem.

  Today the original idea of the Constitution framers of ushering young India into a casteless society by providing reservation for initial ten or so years of democratic India is no longer a cherished ideal of public psyche in our divided society. It is convenient for a nation to ignore or distort the stark facts and find alibis to look the other way. But it is really hard to face the truth. Today, for the so-called lower castes, it is the matter of redressing the historical injustice done to them by the so-called upper caste.

  How that injustice can be redressed? It can only be done by doing to the so-called upper castes that they had done in the past to the lower castes. It is reversing the castes upside down. Here there is no need of weakening or eliminating the caste to make the society caste-less but to empower the lower castes. It is not transcending caste but perpetuating it.

  Therefore, the agenda of social justice is born out of and nourished by an idea of the need to create caste consciousness among the lower castes to achieve that objective. It is a stark reality. It is not possible for the Indian judiciary to halt this political process for long. It is a fact that reservation has failed to push the caste ridden Indian society to a caste-less one. On the contrary, it has kicked start a political process of undoing the injustice done to the lower castes in the past by strengthening the caste consciousness. Caste is not only relevant but important today. It enables one to get power and position if he is this side of the divide, or makes him suffer and lose, if he happens to be on the other side. There is no question of right or wrong in this matter since there is a justification and logic in this historical process of retribution. Modern secular India is clueless today about this sinister phenomenon’s life-sustaining nectar or its mortal naval points.

  Then, there is another dilemma confronting modern India. The provision of the position of power under state by constitutional mechanism entails a correspondingly high responsibility and duty. If there has to be an employment under state of those who are not found fit or competent enough to such positions but have been employed so only because of the affirmative discrimination by way of reservation, then the nation in this age of fierce international competition has to pay a price and suffer in many arena. This disadvantage may put the nation in peril even to the degree of mortal consequences. As a consequence of employing those who are not competent enough to be so employed, a stage is bound to come when in the country there would be abundance of military commanders who cannot win the wars, medical doctors who cannot cure the patients, engineers who cannot run the industries, pilots who cannot fly planes etc.

  Is it possible that there is no application of reservation principle in such skill oriented state jobs and the rest of the lucrative but non-skilled jobs – like ministers, governors, judges etc. – are subjected to the principle of reservation? It is possible. If it is done, it would be pure case of undoing injustice that has been inflicted for centuries on the so-called lower castes; or, in reverse, it would be pure case of doing injustice as a matter of tit for tat by those who have suffered injustice Then, there would be a class of masters composed of the lower caste people occupying higher positions under the State and a class of servants composed of the higher caste people who would be serving their masters by doing dirty jobs, which had been done for centuries but in a converse position.

  In a democracy there is the rule of majority. In India, there is no doubt that the so-called lower caste people are in majority and they must rule. They have been deprived of the basic human dignity for centuries and they are united – or going to be united soon – alone by their caste consciousness. Logically, they must and would rule India. They would more likely than not undo the injustice that has been done to them, in the manner indicated above. Then, what would happen to the people belonging to the so-called upper castes? They would also – sooner or later – unite to resist the process of upside downing of position of power, resulting into the civil strife. This may turn out to be a very serious social upheaval –civil strife – that India may not be able to withstand and come out in a single piece. Is India heading in this direction? The time would tell.

  Any way if India needs to move towards an enlightened society where there may be social justice to all citizens, there are two ways open to her. If India gives any value to spiritual wisdom, she should make caste a relevant factor in all sphere of public life where caste should be determined by actions of the individual concerned. There may be constitutional provisions to enforce caste by actions and for crossing over of individuals’ caste. Criminal provisions may be legislated to give teeth to such provisions. Or, alternatively, if India gives a damn to spiritual values, then instead of moving along the line of caste based reservation, she should provide reservation to matrimonial alliances of lower and higher castes. In this way, the heterogeneous progeny could perhaps be saved from impending social upheaval. Here we may again quote the words of Swami Vivekananda that he spoke while dealing with the age-old caste problem of India. In an interview that he gave to The Hindu on February, 6, 1897, when asked of his views on the relation of caste to rituals, he said: “Caste is continually changing, rituals are continually changing – so are forms. It is the substance, the principle that does not change. It is on the Vedas that we have to study our religion. With the exception of the Vedas, every book must change. The authority of the Vedas is for all time to come; the authority of every one of our other books is for the time being. For instance, one Smiriti is powerful for one age, another for another age. Great prophets are always coming and pointing the way to work. Some prophets worked for the lower classes, others like Madhava gave to women the right to study the Vedas. Caste should not go, but should only be readjusted occasionally. Within the old structure is to be found life enough for the building of two hundred thousand new ones. It is sheer nonsense to desire the abolition of caste. The new method is evolution of the old. Instead of frittering away our energies on ideal reforms, which will never become practical, we had better go to the root of the evil and make a legislative body, that is to say, educate our people, so that they may be able to solve their own problems. Until that is done, all these ideal reforms will remain ideals only.”

The truth of the words spoken 115 years ago about the futility to abolish the system of castes in India is testified by the 65 years’ history of free India. Instead of going to the root cause of the evil of the caste system – caste by birth and not by Karma – we as a nation have been frittering our energies on ideal reforms incorporated in our Constitution, one after another, only to find that the remedy has proved worse than the disease and caste by birth and its ill effects are eating away the vitals of this country .


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  1. Trackback: Castes in India: Why they were created and why they need destruction? | occupysonoradan1

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