Hare Rama! Every time I salute people this way or I say “Jai Sri Krishna” or even “Namaste”, people look at me like I’ve come from another planet. It is like as if I am wearing my religion on my sleeve and I should be either treated like I’m some elderly family member or that I should be avoided like the plague. If I display my culture in any form – be it a Hindu dressing style, with the ‘bindi’, flowers and all; or my speech blended with Sanskrit words; or my display of simple ornaments like the bangles and ‘mangalsutra’; or my revealing my caste – all these seem to bring out comments aimed at making me feel GUILTY. Why? Why should I feel guilty if I am a ‘upper-caste’ Hindu who loves her culture?
Today’s Hindus are divided into two – one section is filled with people who feel guilty of who they are & the other is filled with people who are hell-bent on making people feel guilty about their identity as a person fond of and following Hindu culture. The former are usually branded as a ‘Sanghi’ and it is taken for granted that they are ‘upper-caste Hindus’. The latter are usually thought of as ‘educated’ and people with ‘modern thinking’. The fact is that most of the people in the former group usually do not want to get into arguments, especially since they do not know how to argue logically and they just want to keep following traditions faithfully without asking any questions. The loudest they will argue is when it is a question of Reservations in the education and job sector, and that too because they are worried about their future and that of their children. And many of them would like to escape any such arguments by trying to go abroad. The latter group has people belonging to all castes, but most of them have leftist leanings and are branded ‘sickularists’ by many people. They are seen as those having less respect for our traditions and culture and are more interested in making money, and love disparaging our country and its ancient traditions.
In this article I wish to make the reader feel proud of his/her caste and understand that Sanatan Dharm never aimed to treat one human as lesser than the other, even if it is projected as such by those who have translated our scriptures to suit their own agendas.
Firstly, did you know that there were 14 Manus and not just one Manu who wrote the Manusmriti? The book which was translated by Sir William Jones in 1794 during the British Rule was based on the Manava Dharmashastra of the first Manu ie. Swayambhuva Manu who lived in Satya Yuga. This translation was done because while the Muslims had a codified law, Hindus did not have any codified laws and the British wanted to introduce a code by which they could dispense with ‘justice’ to the Hindus. Now the points to note here are:
The Manusmriti was a book which only spelt out those actions which could be considered as wrong or right and the subsequent actions that could be taken to rectify/repent for the wrong-doings. Most of the text calls upon the individual to understand what could be considered a lofty behavior and thus calls upon his/her conscience to guide one to do the right thing. For e.g. Divorce is considered wrong, but dissolution of marriage vows and consequent remarrying of a woman wrongly abandoned by her husband, is not considered wrong. Killing a priest is wrong, and the repentance would be to cook and eat raw rice eaten by a cow, subsequently passed out in the dung. Eating meat is allowed based on circumstances, but considering cruelty to animals, it is advised against.
Every scholar worth his salt claims that there is NO authentic version of the Manusmriti and that almost all versions are inconsistent with each other and they have interpolations and insertions which were made to suit the time and society during which they were written.
“Manusmriti is a complex commentary from women's rights perspective, and the British colonial era codification of women's rights based on it for Hindus, picked and emphasized certain aspects while it ignored other sections. This construction of personal law during the colonial era created a legal fiction around Manusmriti's historic role as a scripture in matters relating to women in South Asia.” These are the words of Flavia Agnes, a well-known legal expert.
From the above, it is very clear that the British colonial mindset was instrumental in the translation of the Manusmriti. They translated and gave importance to those portions which suited their purpose of destroying our age-old customs and traditions, by making us feel superior or inferior to one another. This was a classic example of the ‘divide and rule’ policy that they successfully pursued even in later years and we fell into their trap like fools.
If you do not believe what I am saying, please reflect on the fact that Mahabharat was written by a fisherwoman’s son (Veda Vyaasa), the main protagonist was Sri Krishna - a Yadava, Vidura - considered an incarnation of Dharma, was the maid’s son and Bheema’s first wife as Hidambi – a tribal woman. If we were to go further back in time, in Satya Yuga – the period when this Manusmriti was written, Narada Muni too was a ‘daasi’s’ son in his previous life; Satyakaama – Jabali’s son who went on to become Sage Gautama’s disciple and a famous Rishi himself, did not even know who his father was. What I am trying to say is that Manusmriti was a code of suggestions on leading an ideal life, but the fact remains that in Hinduism, we never had a fixed rule for anything, like it is in any Abrahamic religion. This was because we considered our ‘Antaraatma’ or our conscience as the main guiding principle.
Now once this is understood, can we then use this scripture to again and again prove that Hinduism always trampled upon people of ‘lower’ castes? How and when did an inventor, an artisan, a person offering services become a lower caste person – a person to be shunned and disrespected? I hear again and again how Brahmins are responsible for the destruction of our ancient scriptures and the reason why they have become ‘lupt’- disappeared; how Brahmins are responsible for preventing people from entering temples, untouchability and what not. Readers should just contemplate and tell me whether even in today’s time it is the poor, educated man responsible for laws or the powerful politicians and rulers responsible for laws or lack of it. It must have been the same in those days too. Yes, Brahmins must have stopped people from entering Garb Gruhas (inner sanctorum) of temples, but that had other reasons than untouchability for it. Even other Brahmins who are not the priests of the temple are not allowed to enter the inner sanctorum in most temples. If it were not for the Brahmins who zealously protected the ancient scriptures, learning them by rote, we would have not had anything to go by. Remember the Nalanda University and its 9 million manuscripts being burnt down by the fanatic Islamic ruler Bakhtiar Khilji? Earlier too, it had been destroyed by the Huns and the Gauda invaders in the 5th and 7th Century respectively, but had been rebuilt.
India was the best in Metallurgy and held on to its position for thousands of years. Who were the metallurgists then? Higher class people like the Brahmins & Kshatriyas? Of course not … they were the so called ‘lower class’ people of today. It will come as a surprise to you that they were the inventors and entrepreneurs of Ancient India. Their skill set was so advanced that they beat hollow every other civilization in the world. The masons of Harappa & Mohenja-daro, the metallurgists, the inventors of farming equipments (which we use till today), the sculptors, the ‘shilpikaars’ – all these people without whom society could not function like a well-oiled entity, were people who are today called ‘lower caste’ people. Tell me, if they were so disrespected and treated badly, would Bharat have seen such lovely creations in our temples? The Britishers were able to give a body-blow and destroy our inventions and creativity in just one stroke – they declared that the Manusmriti was the codebook and law that Hindus followed and as per that, these intelligent and skilled people were ‘lower caste’ and inferior.
What about outcastes? Anybody who has read Uttanga Maharishi’s episode in the Mahabharat and the visit of Lord Shiva in Chandala form, in front of Adi Shankaracharya, to name just two events, will know that our scriptures never wanted differentiation between man and man. The rigidity in castes and the inferior vs superior complex came about mainly in the last 400 years.
It is time that today we shed our guilty complex of belonging to one caste or the other, and realize that we have a certain skill set which is embedded in our DNA thanks to thousands of years of learning. This is because of the Varna system (that is now wrongly called the caste-system). The Varna system is why some people are better equipped in making tools, some in becoming better teachers or doctors, some in bureaucracy and governance and some in the service and trading industry. It is the natural order of things that each one of us has inborn talent and that if we tap that talent and turn it into our vocation, we would not just do well financially, but also enjoy doing our job. It helps us get peace of mind. Today we are stressed so much because either we do not enjoy the job that we are doing, or we do jobs we are ill-equipped for, just for the money we earn from it. Our life suffers. We tease people or make them feel inferior when they do jobs which are not mainstream – for example, a tanner and cobbler may together make the best bags and shoes, but we have decided in our mind that they are doing lowly jobs. To put off our stupid thinking, we say that Hinduism is responsible for our thought process. At the other end of the spectrum is a child who wants to become a priest, but is teased by his friends because he is not going to do a ‘regular’ job – he would have to wear a dhoti, have a tuft of hair (Shikha) on his head and would have to essentially depend on ‘daan’. So he gives up on his dream and becomes a software engineer and then comes home with a long face every day of his life!
Let us not become prey to self-serving politicians and media people, whose only aim is to divide and loot. Let us take pride in what we are, in the work we do and are capable of doing. If our tradition tells us of places and situations where certain rules are to be followed (like entry to the inner sanctorum of temples), let use follow these traditions without any guilt. Do we not have VIP queues in temples, based on positions or extra entry fee? If we can follow that, why can’t we follow our traditions? Stop giving so much importance to castes in our everyday life & more importantly start giving respect to work actually done v/s respect based on birth (this applies to all forms of nepotism). If you want to still believe in castes, do it in your own house, not when you come to the outside world. Stop reservations and start merit-based systems to have a more efficient India, a country worthy of its glorious past. May the all-powerful Shiva, Natraja destroy the ignorance in us & trample upon our petty-minded thinking.