Friday, 5 January 2018

Caste Experiances

Om Prakash
December 28, 2009 at 9:49 pm
Hoya, It is the best conversation I have witnessed on the web in some time. My best compliment to Adarsha for bringing out the reality of caste as it is today, however permit me to share my own village experience of caste. 

To begin I was drilled by my mother, aunt, grandmother about my caste and gotra and the variation within them. No one ever told me that my caste made me better or superior. I was taught to greet my elders and teachers by bowing and touching their feet. Curiously my teachers were of the lower castes (which made no difference to my family or me); 

Two richest families in the village were from the castes of Kanu (vaisya) and Dhobi (shudra). I have no recollection of any one of my childhood friends weather they were of any caste wanting to be of any other caste. The lowest were Dome, they herded pigs, I was not allowed to play with pigs, for that matter with dog or donkey either, I had to bathe if I touched them, but that was not true of playing with children. I have no memory of ever be scolded for playing with Ahir, Suri, Dhobi, Dome or Dusadh child.

Adarsh’s accusation that higher casts colluded with the British has much merit, all we need to do is look at the people who were Zamindars. Most Zamindars were high castes but not all. Furthermore, most of the large land owners were of Vaishya or Shudra Varna. To my knowledge there was only one Brahman and one Kshatriya large land owners in my subdivision. 

It should be rememberd that the independence movement was also led and supported by the high castes, furthermore after independence I do not remember high cast going on march to preserve their priviledges. I believe Adarsh may wish to consider what the caste based traditional privileges were supposed to be.

I witnessed a conversation between two of my seniors at BHU, (1970), one a MA student of economics, the other a Ph.D. student in science, both of brahman cast, one saying to the other ‘What could be more shameful than a rich Brahman’. Curiously there was no argument or disagreement on that point. The privilege of a Brahman was to be the purveyor of knowledge, Kshatriya  to provide order or justice, Vaishya to conduct  commerce, Shudra  manufacturing of all trade goods. Shudras were the master craftsmen of India. 

People tend to forget that brahman did not rule, teaching was their livelihood. Their livelihood became endangered with the growth of Buddhism in India. It is my thesis that Brahmans became farmers to retain their vedic knowledge. If we look at the Indian culture, teaching and religious ceremonies became the province of Bhikshuks. Keep in mind the great universities of Nalanda and Taxshila were Buddhist in their origin. Arabs, and Mughals brought their own Ustads and their own system of Talim. Brahmins did not benefit from the Buddhist or Muslim tradition of teaching. They were the outsiders. During the British Raj there were many brahman kings (king of Darbhanga, Benares, Jaunpur etc.), and even more important graduated of the Calcutta University. 

Please note that in the late 19th century and early 20th century the intellectual capital of India was Calcutta and not Varanasi. Please also note that caste and especially untouchability was being challanged and eliminated by our own leaders (Brahma Samaj, Arya Samaj and even RSS). I do not know of brahman scholors who would have supported caste based untouchability.

Much has been said about Brahmins, Kshatriya and Vaishya and their misconduct during and pre colonial times. I have never seen any analysis based upon rulers of the country and the value they imposed on the Indian people (who believed in Dharma). Perhaps it should be noted that the Hindu kings engaged in a 1300 years of survival with the Arabs, Persians and the Mughals. The influence of musalman civilization, we tend to forget. Please note the language of Indian Mughal court was Persian and Arabic. How come no one holds the rulers responsible for their misconduct. We take the destruction of the Hindu temples in stride. Has any one read one article lamenting the destruction of the Hindu temples or for that matter the destruction of the Buddhist shrines or the Zarthustrian places of worship. My own family uprooted it self many times to escape the Mughals.

I believe Adarsh is also trapped by the western calculation of linear hirarchy, for he continues to look at the caste as high and low and not as interdependent. My village was a self sustaining ecology, where each family had a role. Those who consider Brahman to be at the appex of the cast system have not seen their poverty, their helplessness, their quiet desperation, their dependence on community for their sustenance or have appriciated the disregard among brahmans, for the brahmans who sold out and became ‘Babu’ during the british rule. Even more so perhaps they forget that no Hindu could be cremated without the fire from the hearth of a Dome. So I submit for your consideration, how high am I in this Hindu hirarchy, when I must approach the lowest in utter humility and beg for an ember from his hearth to cremate my father, whose last rites can not be sanctified without the cooperation of the lowest. How high am I when in the village festival I can not start eating unless the lowest has been served the same food as on my banana leaf, and I may not getup from the line until every member has completed their meal including the lowest, who may be some where at the end of the line, or even seperated from the rest. I have often wondered of the tradition of the five feasts, which I participated in, before my twice born ceremony. These feasts were given by the low cast of my village, I called them Kaka and Kaki, Bhaiya and Bhauji, it was bitter sweet, in retrospect, they were saying goodby to me. My ceremony, indicated the beginning of a discipline, not only of my family heritage but also of the cultural heritage which belonged to all castes. There seemed to be roles for various casts, their participation was required for the ceremony to be sanctified.

No one could defend the untouchability among humans, it is illogical, unethical, and against the dharma. How can any one in his right mind talk of high and low birth when every thing is the manifestation of one Brahma. If any one must be blamed for the existence of untouchables then it must be those who benifited from this and perhaps we should explore when it became codified and accepted as normal.

Ziegenbbalg writing on the eve of the British advent saw that at least one-third of the people practised other than their traditional calling and that “official and political functions, such as those of teachers, councillors, governors, priests, poets and even kings were not considered the prerogative of any particular group, but are open to all” ... 
... The early writers also saw no Brahmin domination though they found much respect for them. Those like Jurgen Andersen (1669) who described castes in Gujarat found that Vaishyas and not the Brahmins were the most important people there.

They also saw no sanskritisation. One caste was not trying to be another; it was satisfied with being itself. Castes were not trying to imitate the Brahmins to improve social status; they were proud of being what they were. There is a Tamil poem by Kamban in praise of the plough which says that “even being born a Brahmin does by far endow one with the same excellence as when one is born into a Vellala family”.
There was sanskritisation though but of a very different kind. People tried to become not Brahmins but Brahma-vadin. Different castes produced great saints revered by all. Ravi Das, a great saint, says that though of the family of chamars who still go around Benares removing dead cattle, yet even the most revered Brahmins now hold their offspring, namely himself, in great esteem.

"In the old days, the Hindu caste system was integrating principle. It provided economic security. One had a vocation as soon as one was born.- a dream for those threatened with chronic unemployment. The system combined security with freedom; it provided social space as well as closer identity; here the individual was not atomised and did not become rootless. There was also no dearth of social mobility; whole groups of people rose and fell in the social scale. Rigidity about the old Indian castes is a myth.
Ziegenbbalg writing on the eve of the British advent saw that at least one-third of the people practised other than their traditional calling and that “official and political functions, such as those of teachers, councillors, governors, priests, poets and even kings were not considered the prerogative of any particular group, but are open to all”.

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