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Caste System and Conversions


Many people quote Ambedkar’s works to abuse Hinduism and justify the mass-scale conversations on grounds these lower castes were condemned to suffer for centuries in Hinduism and they convert is to escape the tyranny of this cruel system.

First things first – caste-based discrimination did take place in recent centuries. They continue even today. All right-thinking Hindus must come forward to condemn this unjust system. The original idea was that one should qualify to become a Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vysya or Sudra – the hereditary system as prevalent today is a clear deviation from the established principles.


Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism


Ambedkar conversion to Buddhism is itself is indicative of the intellectual power and historical-cultural perspective of Ambedkar for he didn’t choose one among the two more popular religions – Islam and Christianity. We’ll argue this point a bit later.


Below mentioned are two connected notions widely accepted:


·        Buddhism was a rebel religion against prevalent Brahmanical Hinduism and was meant for commoners.

·        Hinduism was responsible for the eventual decline of Buddhism in India


At this stage we must note the Chinese and Japanese Buddhists, who owe their understanding of Buddhism completely through original theory and practices consider it an elitist religion. Only the upper sections of the society who are intellectually capable are admitted into the monasteries.


Even in India, it was Brahmins and Kshatriyas who converted to Buddhism and constituted its majority. In fact, it was official patronage by Kings starting from Ashoka which led to faster spread of the religion unlike many others. Buddha didn’t allow woman in his sect by maintaining that celibacy of men is of utmost importance. How can a religion that doesn’t allow woman be anything but an elitist one? Far from being a rebel religion, Buddha thought his teachings were closer to the original Vedic religion than the decadent one being practiced.


That Hinduism was responsible for the eventual decline of Buddhism is a notion refuted by Ambedkar himself. He clearly writes on many occasions that the Islamic invasions were responsible for brutally murdering of monks starting from present-day Afganistan (which was traditionally a Hindu-Buddhist place). There is absolutely no evidence that Hindu Kings motivated to uphold Hinduism did anything to harm Buddhism. But these lies have been repeated so often that people just swallow it uncritically. Buddhism survived in south India till 13th century till it was also taken by Islamic invaders.


Ambedkar felt that converting to Islam or Christianity – both of which are of foreign origin – will de-link the lower castes from the national mainstream. He was well aware that though Islam promoted universal brotherhood it clearly discriminated against non-believers.


Aryan Invasion Theory


Till 18th century, the lower castes had no idea that they belonged to a distinct race and their co-religionists are factually their oppressors. So the racial notions of dalit-oppression are a recent discovery. While caste-based discrimination was very much in practice, the full blown theory that an Aryan race invaded a Dravidian populated India and pushed them south – both physically and socially was clearly not known to majority.


While the ongoing debate in its historicity is still far from over – it is reasonable to deduce at this point that the theory as propagated in current academic world is inaccurate. There was no invasion or even imposition and there is increasing evidence of assimilation of both cultures to form a unified identity.

In fact the current fault-line is being exploited to the hilt by Christian missionaries (who originally appropriated Sanskrit texts to give racial colour to a purely cultural concept) who propagate with marked success in Tamil Nadu (also in Andhra Pradesh under late CM YSR.)

The atrocities of past are exaggerated and used to convert ignorant masses who are allured by offering various benefits. This is a subject that requires a complete post to even outline the problems; I’ll touch this topic in future. Suffice is to say that this kind of faulty understanding of history was abetted by Christian missionaries who were poised to gain by exploiting this.


Hindu Response


Hindus haven’t yet risen to meet this challenge.


Few educated guys (westernized) actually deny that any such problem exists. Even if it does, they argue in a typical postmodernist perspective that religion as a category is in decline worldwide and eventually all religions will have to resign to fate of indifference. They do not appear to understand that this thinking actually aids conversions by weakening the resistances of those belonging to oppressed category. Once the oppressive religion gains total control there is no question of “other” category but they fail to realize the resulting imposed category itself is not a neutral one – it is the category of the oppressive.


The truly enlightened Hindu spiritual persons feel every religion is the same as their own. So it doesn’t matter what religion one follows as ultimately all reach the same destination. A typical Hindu notion is “Be a true Christian/Muslim, its as good as being a true Hindu”. This attitude stems from incomplete understanding of the original theories of these religions.


Such people do not understand that a true Christian (as described in primary sources) is duty-bound to propagate his religion and “civilize” other people. So is a true Muslim – he is obliged by his religion to punish infidels, destroy pagan temples and culture, humiliate them and so on. Neither is the fact that practitioners of these religions cannot accept other religions as an equal highlighted enough. If all religions are equal, it undermines their basic reason of forced conversion.


Few chest-thumping Hindus exist whose thinking is too shallow to make any dent in society. In fact their actions appear to confirm the widespread notions of Hindu fundamentalism. Ah? But let’s define what fundamentalism is – fundamentalism can be defined as a theory or ideology wherein one particular interpretation/notion is alone consider correct and all others are considered wrong.

Does any Hindu insist that only his interpretation of Hinduism is correct and others wrong? Even if he does, it is merely at a philosophical level and never slips to force or violence. A practicing Hindu has no problem in personally praying to Lord Vishnu while his neighbor prays to Lord Shiva. To him this difference is not a threat; it is merely a live example of unity in diversity.

Now just think a bit to understand what kind of oxymoron Hindu Fundamentalism is !

Comments

  1. Madhav,
    Thanks for such as enlightening article.

    I think we need to introspect the origins of caste system, to understand the fault lines, to ensure it does'nt spings up again.
    Was it a 'broad categorization' of a profession/employment (or Karma ?) followed by value differentiation for their professional service that formed the Hindu caste system?

    I think Brahmins, kshatriyas, vaisyas, sudras etc. must have had good respects for each other's work in Ancient India, and valued each others service equally important as theirs. Children must have had free will to choose their field of interest when they grow up.
    As generations passed by, and value system changed (or value system transformed by Aryans?) in society the threshold of crossing a professional class must have been too high that people wander and switch work within their existing class. (By threshold, I mean financial and emotional)

    The notion of professional classification must have transformed into a caste by birth system over time.
    Lets hope history doesnt repeats with new 'caste by birth' systems of engineers, doctors, lawyers etc...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nithin:

    Thanks for commenting.

    "I think we need to introspect the origins of caste system, to understand the fault lines, to ensure it does'nt spings up again."

    You missed my point. Caste system is merely effective distribution of work. It is not an evil in its original form, though the polluted one is undoubtedly wrong.

    Was it a 'broad categorization' of a profession/employment (or Karma ?) followed by value differentiation for their professional service that formed the Hindu caste system?

    It was a flexible categorization of choosing one's profession depending on one's aptitude.

    I think Brahmins, kshatriyas, vaisyas, sudras etc. must have had good respects for each other's work in Ancient India, and valued each others service equally important as theirs. Children must have had free will to choose their field of interest when they grow up.

    Yes. Each class respected the other. The point was no particular class of men should have access to all the four important resources : knowledge, weapons, money and land. (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vysya, Shudra resp.)

    As generations passed by, and value system changed (or value system transformed by Aryans?) in society the threshold of crossing a professional class must have been too high that people wander and switch work within their existing class.

    Aryans and Dravidians were together for thousands of years, inter-married and together they contributed to Hinduism. The recent Dravidian movement is a farce resulting from appropriation of Vedic texts and motivated by Christian missionaries.

    The notion of professional classification must have transformed into a caste by birth system over time.
    Lets hope history doesnt repeats with new 'caste by birth' systems of engineers, doctors, lawyers etc


    Every person becomes eligible and qualifies for each of these castes. In this manner, one could speculate that in an ideal system, Ambedkar himself would have classified as a Brahmin given his reasonably strong intellectual ability. His shortcomings were mainly because of lack of available sources rather than his own biases. I find no intellectual dishonestly in his writings.

    ReplyDelete

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