Any religion that refuses to reform with the times will be relegated to oblivion and insignificance. We have classic examples of this natural phenomenon in India itself in Buddhism and Jainism. A simple and clear reform, not affecting the basic nature, is the need of the hour if Hinduism is to find its place as one of the best ways of life in twenty first century.
One aspect of Hinduism that is unique, controversial but so intrinsic to the religion is the Caste system. So many saints, reformers and even outsiders have tried to eradicate or avoid it but the system continues to be alive and vitiate the society from attaining the much needed harmony in modern times. The modern education system was expected to produce men and women with no castes and creed. But we have seen that the 'ugly' caste feelings are much more among educated class and more so when it comes to social affairs like marriages and rituals.
Instead of wasting time to eliminate an essential feature of our own religion, I feel it is worthwhile exploring mechanisms for effective and quick reforms. Any religion that refuses to reform with the times will be relegated to oblivion and insignificance. We have classic examples of this natural phenomenon in India itself in Buddhism and Jainism. A simple and clear reform, not affecting the basic nature, is the need of the hour if Hinduism is to find its place as one of the best ways of life in twenty first century. A knowledge based liberal democratic religion is indeed the best suited for the modern age of information, knowledge and freedom.
A clear mismatch exists between the classical four tier Caste system mentioned in the scriptures and the present day Hindu society. We find thousands of castes and sub-castes instead of a clear cut division into four. Across India, we find only the Brahmins having some similarity but other groups are let to choose their Castes according to the political and economic clouts.
For example, in Kerala, no one knows who are the Kshatriyas, Vysyas and Sudras. We have always considered Namboothiris to be the Brahmins in Kerala but there have never been a consensus on the other three castes. Other categories of people like Nairs, Ezhavas, Thiyas, Parayas, Pulayas etc. etc. have been classified under various castes in various times according to different scholars. The situation is very much similar in other states as well.
I strongly feel that we can positively utilize this mismatch between the classical four tier Caste system and the hundreds of castes that exist now. It is possible that we are confused between Gothras and Castes. All these present day categories like Jats, Rajputs, Nairs etc., etc., are essentially Gothras and are akin to the tribes in Africa and Arabia. Even if some scholars feel otherwise, I feel a lot of our problems can be solved if we define it that way. The present day names can continue as such provided they are considered as Gothras (or some other new name) instead of Castes. At one stroke, we can continue with the present naming systems and social groupings but can do away with the Caste problems.
Since the four tier system is referred in our scriptures at various places and cannot be undone or wished away, all that is required is a different way of looking at the Caste system. I propose a system in which all of us Hindus live through the Sudra, Kshatriya, Vysya and Brahmin Castes as different stages in our lives.
If one goes back to the origins of Caste system, it is nothing but a scientific and systematic structuring of the then society according to the tastes and talents of the people. The hereditary principle which created bad blood in later years is nothing but a clever move on the part of Brahmins to keep the power within their kith and kin. We find this no longer valid and practical. Most children of Brahmin parents do not study scriptures, do not practice rituals and do not live like Brahmins. So how can they continue to 'enjoy' and monopolize Brahminhood? Similar is the case with all other castes, as they are classified now.
In the classical definition of Caste System, the different qualities attributed are as follows :
Brahmin ' Learned & Spiritual
Kshatriya ' Strong & Fighting
Vysya - Intelligent & Creates Wealth
Sudra ' Average & Assists all others
Essentially all of us are Sudras at birth and it is evident from the qualities attributed. It is something like starting on a clean slate. The average age of a human being is now 80 years and it is logical to assume that we exhibit Sudra like qualities until one fourth of our lifetime i.e till the age of 20. In the next phase i.e till the age of 40, we are strong, physically active and exhibit qualities of a Kshatriya. This is the period most of us marry and rear children. Strong and fighting qualities are required to protect the family and feed them. In the next phase i.e 41 to 60, we all become worldly wise and participate in one form or other of wealth creation for the family and society, which makes us good Vysayas. And finally, in the last phase, we tend to concentrate on spiritual activities and get ready to depart. We all try to become ideal Brahmins in the age group above 60.
Thus all of us Hindus, irrespective of our Gothras, pass through the four tier Caste system as envisaged in our scriptures and live an ideal life fulfilling all the necessary conditions required at various phases. It is this minor reinterpretation of the Caste system that will bring about drastic changes in the way Hindu society would think. All that we need is disassociating the classical Caste system from the present arrangement we have.
The distinct advantage of such a reinterpretation of the Caste system is the little or minimum changes that will result in the present social symbols. All the present day laws and rules can continue as such if Caste is replaced by Gothra in the statute. For example, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will merge and change to Scheduled Gothras. And they can enjoy the same reservations they are entitled to. The bad name attributed to Hinduism on account of the caste discrimination will vanish in one stroke. All present day names and surnames can continue without any change, but no Gothra will be automatically associated with any one of the four castes. This means nobody is a Brahmin or Kshatriya or Vysya or Sudra throughout his or her life. It all depends on age and qualities. In the long run, the bad blood generated so far would fade out and Hindu society would be much more harmonious and stronger.
Success of all this depends on the approval and blessings of the prominent religious leaders and institutions. It would be one of the most popular and progressive decisions anywhere in the world, if one 'Dharm Sansad' is called specifically to endorse such a viewpoint and root out causes of caste discrimination once for all from the mind of modern Hindus. It is high time the nationalist and patriotic forces in our country realized the importance of such a reform is equal to that of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, if not more.