Thursday, September 8, 2016
CASTELESS SOCIETY? By Adv. Radharao Gracias
It would be a lie, to claim that there is no caste among Christians, in Goa. How did an essentially egalitarian religion, come to be associated with the pernicious caste system? To find an answer, one has to go back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when local people embraced Christianity.
There was no concept called Hinduism at that time. There were only Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vysas and Shudras with their sub castes. For the missionaries, it was a strange situation as there was no religion in their sense of the term. So, they called the practice “Konknne”, thus giving the religion a geographical connotation, which is how Hinduism also got its name.
So, entire village communities embraced the new faith, lock, stock and barrel (perhaps the feni came in the barrel !). The new converts were accustomed to live a hierarchical existence, with the upper castes dominating the lower castes, over thousands of years. And this was imported into the new faith. Caste is like the chassis and engine numbers embedded into a car. Even if wiped off the numbers can still be traced. And the missionaries were unable to do much about it.
Was force necessary to compel the communities to embrace Christianity in the sixteenth century ? For an answer, consider what happened in the year 1980 after the Assembly and Parliamentary elections in Goa. The rest of the country voted massively for Congress (I). Goa alone, once again proved to be “ajeeb”, as Nehru had found in 1963. Congress (I) was routed. Congress (U) swept the polls winning twenty three out of thirty seats. And overnight, the Congress (U) converted to Congress (I). The reasons given were, that it was in the interest of the people to join the party in power at the center for the purpose of development. I can visualise a similar thing happening, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when the people embraced Christianity, the faith of the winners. And for the same reasons !
A change however, is now discernable. Economic, educational advancement and travel is helping the Christian community abandon old prejudices and coalesce into a homogenous unit. Inter caste marriages are now more of a rule than an exception. Catholics are now progressing from caste to egalitarianism. And from feni to scotch, you may say !
The origin of caste may be traced to Bhagwad Gita, Rigveda and Manu Smriti. The Gita says, “The work of the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vysas are different, in harmony with the three powers of their born nature”, and goes on to enumerate, the works of each caste. According to Dr.R.Unni: “Manu divides Hindus into four Varnas i.e. casteism. He not only divides Hindus into four Varnas, he also grades them. Besides, prescribing rank and occupation Manu grants privileges to Swarnas and imposes penalties on the Shudras. The status of the Shudras in the Hindu Society is prescribed by Manu the law giver. There are so many codes against the Shudras and women.”
Can Hinduism exist without caste? For an answer, one has to examine the essential features of the religion, namely :
“Rita (“truth” or “order”), in Indian religion and philosophy, the cosmic order mentioned in the Vedas, the ancient sacred scriptures of India. As Hinduism developed from the ancient Vedic religion, the concept of rita led to the doctrines of dharma (duty) and karma (accumulated effects of good and bad actions). Rita is the physical order of the universe, the order of the sacrifice, and the moral law of the world. Because of rita, the sun and moon pursue their daily journeys across the sky, and the seasons proceed in regular movement. ....... Violation (anrita) of the established order by incorrect or improper behaviour, even if unintentional, constituted sin and required careful expiation.
Dharma is the religious and moral law governing individual conduct and is one of the four ends of life. In addition to the dharma that applies to everyone (sadharana dharma)—consisting of truthfulness, non-injury, and generosity, among other virtues—there is also a specific dharma (svadharma) to be followed according to one’s class, status, and station in life.
Karma, (“act”), the universal causal law by which good or bad actions determine the future modes of an individual’s existence. Karma represents the ethical dimension of the process of rebirth (samsara), belief in which is generally shared among the religious traditions of India. Indian soteriologies (theories of salvation) posit that future births and life situations will be conditioned by actions performed during one’s present life—which itself has been conditioned by the accumulated effects of actions performed in previous lives. The doctrine of karma thus directs adherents of Indian religions toward their common goal: release (moksha) from the cycle of birth and death. Karma thus serves two main functions within Indian moral philosophy: it provides the major motivation to live a moral life, and it serves as the primary explanation of the existence of evil.”
Thus Hinduism enjoins that every individual must abide by Rita (Cosmic order) and follow Dharma. Afterlife, according to Hinduism is a matter of births and rebirths depending on the Karma of the individual. If he leads a pious life as enjoined by Dharma, he will finally attain Moksha otherwise, he will continue to be born into various life forms or castes according to his conduct. Thus a Shudra has to perform the Dharma enjoined on a Shudra. It is for this reason that when Shambuka a Shudra went into penance, Ram decapitated him because a Shudra had violated the Rita by doing penance not permissible for a Shudra. Similarly, Ekalavya had to sacrifice his thumb because not being a Kshatriya, he was not entitled to the knowledge of warfare.
Now, that being the case, can one be casteless and Hindu at the same time ? I am afraid that just as there can be no Christianity without Christ, there can be no Hinduism without Caste. If half a millennium of Christianity could not wipe out caste, how can Hinduism do it? Thus, an egalitarian society, as envisaged by the Constitution, is an impossible dream.