By Sanjeev Nayyar
... . The question is: how could Indian civilisation have survived 5,000 years if discrimination was the only element of caste?
Noted Gandhian Dharampal went through British and Indian archives to reproduce reports of surveys undertaken by the British in Bengal, Punjab and Madras Presidency (1800-1830). According to the collectors’ reports reviewed by Governor Sir Thomas Munro on 10 March 1826, of the 30,211 male school students in Madras Presidency, 20 percent were Brahmins and Chettris, 9 percent were Vaishyas, 50 percent were Shudras, and 6 percent were Muslims. Others constituted 15 percent.
Madras Presidency then consisted of areas that fall in modern day Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Orissa, Kerala and Karnataka.Another report by J Dent, Secretary, Fort George, dated 12 February 1825, stated that out of 1,88,680 scholars in all collectorates of Madras Presidency, Brahmins were 23 percent, while Shudras constituted 45 percent. (Indigenous Education in the 18th Century). (Read the excerpts here)
Chapter IV, verse 13 of The Bhagavad Gita reads: “The fourfold-caste has been created by Me according to the differentiation of Guna and Karma, though I am author thereof, know Me as non-doer and immutable”. Krishna tells Arjuna, depending upon a person’s Guna (aptitude) and Karma (actions), there are four Varnas (castes). As per this shloka, a person’s Varna is determined by his Guna and Karma, and not by his birth.
Notwithstanding the differences in Guna and Karma of different individuals, the Vedas treat the entire humanity with the same respect and do not sanction any birth-based caste system.
Swami Vivekananda said: “Caste is an imperfect institution no doubt. But if it had not been for caste, you would have had no Sanskrit books to study. This caste made walls, around which all sorts of invasions rolled and surged but found it impossible to break through.”