(Disclaimer – Long Answer. Please have the patience to read it through. Comments and discussion welcome.)
A pertinent Question.
However do we really want to ‘demolish’ the caste system or casteism? do we want to completely do away with it or do we want to purge the ills of it and retain and reinforce the good of the caste system?
I attempt to answer it thus:
Firstly we need to understand the difference between the following:
- Caste System
- Varna Vyavastha
The aforementioned two are often used interchangeably which results in gross misunderstandings.
I’ll try and summarise what these terms actually mean:
- Casteism – Means discrimination on the basis of caste. Casteism leads to biased treatment of individuals and communities of a particular caste/s. The effects are seen in biased treatment of such individuals/communities effecting their rights, benefits, education, social interactions and social status. Casteism gives rise to perceived notions and illogical customs devised by the perceived upper class to restrict/control and to assert their superiority over the “less fortunate”.
- There are no benefits of Casteism nor any takeaways which can ever benefit anyone. Casteism is an evil to be done away with at the earliest.
- Caste System – Means a system which encourages individuals to follow the family tradition in terms of vocation and livelihood. Caste system gives rise to Guilds pertaining to various professions and is affected by the benefits and ills inherent to the guild system. Some evident pros and cons of the Caste System are:
- Retaining the genetic pool – Science has proven that f amily traits are passed on genetically.
- Knowledge is passed on from generation to generation thereby creating a knowledge-base doubled with experience.
- Vocations are easy to catch up to by the young and eases ones gainful employment in the family trade.
- Individuals are forced to take up family vocation even if they are not inclined, not interested, and posses no relevant skills.
- To coverup for the lack of skills, malpractices arise and dilute the very essence of the vocation and help rot it from within.
- Individuals who have inclination towards other vocations are discouraged by both parties – the ones from the inherited vocation as well as from the new vocation.
- Varna Vyavastha – In the Vedic age, for the smooth functioning of the society, Varna Vyavastha was adopted. Varna Vyavastha seeks to classify society into 4 primary parts, viz –
- Knowledge Seekers/Keepers/Educators – These were the learned ones who gained knowledge through self study and study of scriptures. They were consulted and held high regard in the society for their knowledge alone.
- Security Providers – These were the ones who were entrusted with the security of all the varnas because of their mastery of the art of war and tactic.
- Commerce and Business doers – These were the ones who had great business acumen and were known for their ability to do trade, negotiate, generate employment, and thereby benefit the society at large.
- Assistant Workforce for all the above – These were people who with their limited skills and knowledge were good followers and executors. In their hands was entrusted the execution and completion of tasks at the ground level.
A thing of importance which has to be accounted for in the success of the above arrangement was that the varna of an individual depended solely on its inherent ability, skill, application of acquired knowledge and inclination. All these were judged and honed in the Gurukul under the tutelage of able Gurus. Once the students passed out of the Gurukul they contributed to the society based on their individual levels and NOT on what varna their parents belonged to!
What most refer to while either claiming superiority or crying foul at the description, is the. It states:
- ब्राह्मणोऽस्य मुखमासीद्बाहू राजन्यः कृतः ।
- ऊरू तदस्य यद्वैश्यः पद्भ्याꣳ शूद्रो अजायत ॥ ११॥
When the Purusha Sacrificed Himself in the Holy Yagna various parts of His form transformed into various creations….
… His face depicting knowledge transformed into Brahmans, His shoulders depicting strength became Kshatriyas, His thighs depicting opulence became the Vaishyas, and His feet, depicting mobility became the Shudras….
The Purusha is supreme in its totality and hence any part thereof cannot be superior to the other. Hence interpreting that Brahmans that came from the face are superior to the others is not one erroneous but also egotistical. This argument when used by either sides is laughable and shows how superficially they know their own teachings and with such minuscule understanding are claiming either to be superior or trodden upon!
Rather it is the feet which help the rest of the other parts to be mobile and hence live and chaitanya! As all parts of the body are essential to feel complete, all parts of the society are essential for its normal functioning progress.
Now look at this classification of any modern business organisation –
- Top Management/Think tank/Decision Makers – These are the ones have knowledge about the markets and business they are into, have decision making powers and are leaders.
- Higher Management – These are the ones who manage the health of the business by engaging with the people across the levels and securing them for the business.
- Middle Management – These are the ones who interact directly with the workforce and are capable of getting things executed as per business requirements
- Workforce – These are the basic unit of any business/corporate who learns part of the business/project and executes it to the best of his knowledge and ability.
This is a typical pyramid structure on which any organisation runs with relevant modifications depending on the nature of business.
Any individual who develops relevant skills can easily move to the other levels and lack thereof can be moved to other levels as is necessary.
See any similarity?
The modern business structure was not only defined but also adopted by the Vedic society for sustained development of all individuals involved. Moreover to have a functioning society on such a business model spells how evolved and inclusive the society was. The Varna Vyavstha was to supplement individual aspirations and skills and define work culture to benefit the society at large with minimal interference or overlaps.
However over a period of time, the ideal varna vyavastha started to stagnate and constricted individuals to their hereditary occupation. This resulted in loss of skill and inclination within all varnas, which in turn led to them becoming paranoid about the purity of their castes. This inevitable led to the fail of the caste system and gave birth to Casteism.
Casteism is inherently flawed in its definition. It spells discrimination based on inherited caste-labels. On an individual level, one cannot choose a caste/colour/gender/socio-economic conditions etc. Hence to discriminate against such a person is outright wrong.
Casteism is prevalent in all societies across the globe. It is not something associated only with Hindus. Wasn’t slavery a norm and sanctioned till recent times in the so called educated and progressive west? What are the “gymkhana” clubs a remenant of? The rigidity of the class divide as followed in abrahamic cultures and the followers of abrahamic religions is much more deep rooted and prevalent than Caste System is in Hindus.
So in conclusion we as a society need to do the following:
- Understand the difference between Casteism and Caste System
- Shun Casteism
- Rid Caste System of its acquired rigidity and restore it to its Varna-Vyavastha days. Where all strata of the society work in coherence for mutual benefit
- Identify, acknowledge and nurture talent where we see it irrespective of what it inherits as a name or caste
- Encourage cross caste interaction.
- Acknowledge people based on their individual ability rather than based on their family antecedents.
Hope this helps!