Sunday, April 7, 2013

Caste system : myth buster and revelation session

Insightful excerpts from the book by Sachchidanand Sinha.

  • Man is born with certain predispositions to respond in specific ways to outer stimuli....one of the in-variants of human behaviour is the hostility of members of one human group towards another one.In fact inner cohesion and solidarity among men are observed to be directly related to their hostility towards other group.
  • The inherent superiority of 'Aryan race', 'middle kingdom', 'white-man's burden', 'socialist fatherland' have all been used to satisfy the tribal conceit of peoples or to act as camouflage for some murderous intention. This form of rationalization is common in group behaviour. 
  • Basic causes of caste or any other stratification :
    • Genophobia
    • Urge of status - domination of men over men in a group and by a group over another, which results in material advantages and prestige.
    • Myth-making, an innate compulsion of man. Every thing is considered a part of a grand design and plan. So even while acting in self interest, men feel that they are acting according to certain rules or ideology that has been pre-decided.
Specifically in case of Indian caste system, it may have been because of :
    • Excahnge relation between agricultural core surrounding pastoral and hunting tribes.
    • The Varna myth arising from the interaction of pastoral conquering horde with settled agricultural people.
    • The primitive fear of pollution enforced by the belief in philosophy of Karma, which became specifically prominent after Budhhism.
  • Dharmashastras' prohibition were no where really in operation, and it was possible for people in lower varna to acquire knowledge and wealth, and with connivance of Brahmans to acquire higher varna status. Because raising one's varna status was so easy with the collusion of brahmans that few who got the capacity to do so, found it futile to challenge the varna system.
  • In many cases where a tribe raised itself to Kshatriyahood, a Parsurama legend was invented.
  • Legend of Rajputs :
    As more and more non-Hindu tribes, in successive wars became dominant in north and west, a large warrior clan calling themselves Rajputs were accorded Kshatriya status, that was needed to protect the Brahmanical order. In the south or east, kings clamouring for Kshatriya rank were not grouped under one caste like Rajputs as there was more threat in the northwest, hence the need to group the warrior clan into a common caste.
  • Conditions of castes and their food habits and manners were a far cry from recent times, as also from the idealised picture of society that we get from Brahmanic literature. The forbidding moral codes enjoined by the Shastras were, in all probability, merely the fantasy of a frustrated minority of priests who found the goings in the world difficult for themselves, and hence carved out a dreamland.
  • Manusmriti myths
    • Since it was compiled between 200 BC and 200 AD, which was a period of turmoil, large parts of India was under attack by foreign hordes. There was hardly a stable empire. So, it is unlikely that Manu code could have been applied anywhere. It was hibernated, nourished perhaps on paltry paps from Brahmanical princes. 
    • The British rulers were the first to provide the code its large scale legitimacy. It also led to the festering of bitterness between the castes.
  • There was a greater mobility in the past, although without a smooth change over but rather through force, suddenly.
  • Reasons for persistence :
    • It was extremely adaptable, would accommodate new elements within its structure, making change of the system unnecessary.It may seem paradoxical for a system filled with rigidity, but whenever a new tribal element arrived at the scene, it was find a place near the bottom of the hierarchy, and later with the acquisition of power and influence, find its way up. So the need to destroy the system was not there. But the advent of British froze it and no further movement could happen.
  • Impact of industrialization under Britishers :
    • In the urban areas, where modern industries came up, there was a semblance of caste system dying out. But in the villages, caste oppression tended to increase  as the lower castes ( artisans and all) were rendered jobless and poorer. This gave caste system a new lease of life.
  • Rigid Varna system in South ?
    • Caste segregation much more rigid in south of Vindhyas as in the north the Dharmashastra dispensation against Shudras was just a product of fevered mind of Brahmans, anguished by their decline in power.They were merely giving vent to their torment. But in distant lands, the new converts might take these injunctions more literally and try to impose them zealously, a common feature of new converts to faith worldwide.
  • Karma theory :
    • It is likely that this theory predates Hinduism and Buddhism. Might have originated from the belief in mana. But then it got associated with castes.
  • There is persistence of belief that stratification in society arises through peaceful evolution. The truth is everywhere, whether it be slavery or feudalism, it was due to use of force. that a section of people were brought under obligation to serve another. Only in the capitalist system has the use of force been replaced by subtle socio-economic pressures.
  • Sense of Unity throughout India :
    • Continuity through the overlapping layers of tribal groups, that is otherwise difficult to explain. It is the tribal spread covering most parts of the country which works as the underpinning of the sense of cultural unity that so baffles people. It is this vague feeling of unity lingering though tribal tradition.
    • This sense of nationhood is not based on any imperial ambition, it is a search for identity, that he can find in when he identifies with all the places where his forefathers may have been.
  • Endurance of castes in spite of industrialization  as it seems to provide a sense of security to the members who are disadvantaged.
  • Even on changing religion, the caste affection remains :
    • Muslims : Sheikh, Sayyid -----> high castes, Momin ----> lower
    • Christians : Syrian ---> Nayars, Nmboodari brahmans ( high ), Latin ---> lower
  • Caste system served the purpose of composing the diversity of Indian people. Although it was a hierarchical system, it served its purpose as it had two safety valves in place :
    • possibility for lower orders to seek enfranchisement at the point of sword, by getting ruling status, by carving out a kingdom for itself.
    • Emphasis on the renunciation of worldly goods as the highest aim of man : so highest honour of society could be acquired by becoming a recluse : by both high and lower castes.

      So the tensions cause by frustrations never reached a flash point to cause disruption.

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