It was very hot that day, a typical summer in the city where I did my schooling. Late in the afternoon, I
was walking along with my friend. We were just chatting and fooling around; laughing over the incidents in the school. Air was dry. Only in an hour or so, our white shirts turned brown with dirt, our throats were burning with thirst. We both knew about a Rama temple nearby. That there was always a pitcher filled with water near the temple stairs. I drank first and then my friend filled his glass. Suddenly out of nowhere, the temple priest came towards us shouting. He asked us both the same question, ‘’which caste are you’’? We looked towards him with blank faces. We were just two 12 year old boys. I innocently said Brahmin. So he asked my surname to confirm. He repeated the same question to my friend. Sadly, my friend wasn’t a Brahmin and the worst was that he came from a Dalit family. The priest didn’t allow my friend even a single drop of water. That was the first time in my life when I experienced caste discrimination in Hinduism.
I have grown up in basically a higher middle class society. I have lived in a society where my neighbors have been doctors and engineers, where social class has been more important to my parents than religious castes. But my grandparents still live in a village. The villages in that place are segregated on the basis of different castes. This is a typical assortment in many Indian states. My grandparents live in a Brahmin village. To our west is a Harijan village; to our east is a village of Yadavs. My readers who are unfamiliar with the Hindu caste system -> Brahmins are the highest caste in Hinduism. Harijans and Dalits are the lowest. How low? – Well, I have mentioned one example above. In the past and even today (in many backward states), Dalits are considered untouchables. A member of a Dalit family could be whipped in the street if his shadow fell on a higher caste Hindu. A Dalit cannot draw water from the well of a higher caste, he cannot worship in the same temple and he cannot eat or sit at the same place where higher caste people do. I think that caste system is one of the worst kinds of apartheid that men have ever perpetrated against their other fellow men.
Since the independence of India, Dalits have played a big role in the development and progress of Indian states. According to the latest census, Dalit population is around 16.2% of the Indian population. That number is not just big, that number is huge if you check out the billion plus Indian population. Several low castes and tribes have been assorted in the category of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. These categories (Commonly known as SC and ST) are helped by the Indian government in getting admissions in good colleges and Jobs through affirmative action. Infact, India holds the honor of running the biggest affirmative action program in the whole wide world. One must not think that the Dalit situation is exactly
same as it was 200 years ago. In the state of Uttar Pradesh where I live, Dalits dictate the politics of the state. Since 1950, India has enacted and implemented many laws and social initiatives to protect and improve the socio-economic conditions of its Dalit population. By 1995, of all jobs in India, 17.2 percent of the jobs were held by Dalits, greater than their proportion in Indian population. Of the highest paying, senior most jobs in government agencies and government controlled enterprises, over 10 percent of all highest paying jobs were held by members of the Dalit community, a tenfold increase in 40 years. In 1997, India democratically elected K. R. Narayanan, a Dalit, as the nation’s President. In last 15 years, Indians born in historically discriminated minority castes have been elected to its highest judicial and political offices. The quality of life of Dalit population in India, in 2001, in terms of metrics such as access to health care, life expectancy, education attainability, access to drinking water, housing, etc. was statistically similar to overall population of modern India.
I don’t want to give a candy picture of the developments in India. The reality is that many Dalits still face discrimination in many Indian states. One of the worst that I still retain in my memory is the case of Khairlanji massacre. Khairlanji is a small village in India , located in the Bhandara district of the state of Maharashtra. This is a news report from the Indian daily, ‘’Indian Express’’.
||In eastern Vidarbha’s paddy belt, Khairlanji has never been the same ever since the Bhotmanges, one of the three Mahar families in the village who became Buddhists, objected to people cutting across their field to get to their own. The Bhotmanges, who had land in Khairlanji, had moved in from neighbouring Ambagadh. This simple assertion of their right annoyed others in the village. Cutting across castes, they all ganged up against the Bhotmanges.
Surekha Bhotmange, a mother of three, sought the help of Siddharth Gajbhiye, a cousin from neighbouring Dhusala, in the matter and this annoyed the villagers even more because Gajbhiye had already had a fight with one of them over a money transaction. Some villagers chased and beat up Gajbhiye. The Bhotmanges, especially Surekha, stood up for Gajbhiye and testified against the villagers, leading to their arrest.
On September 29, Surekha, her sons Sudhir and Roshan and daughter Priyanka were hacked to death and their bodies thrown in a nullah. Priyanka and Roshan were stripped before they were killed. The attackers showed no mercy to even Sudhir who was visually impaired.
Bhaiyyalal, Surekha’s husband, was the only one to survive. “I was in the field when I heard people shout. When I rushed to my hut, I saw some 50-60 people attacking my family.” Bhaiyyalal says he now realises it was a mistake moving to Khairlanji. “We thought we could mingle with the upper castes in the village, but they always made us feel that we were not their equal. If we had a function, they wouldn’t eat at our place,” he says. ||
There is one Hindu scripture that is smellier than shit compared to all the other Hindu scriptures put together. That book is called the Manusmriti. There are diktats given in Manusmriti about how a lower caste Hindu should be treated. These are some of the verses:-
– God said the duty of a Shudra is to serve the upper varnas faithfully with devotion and without grumbling. (Manu 1-91) Manu is not satisfied with this. He wants this servile status of the Shudras to be expressed in the names and surnames of persons belonging to that community. Manu says:
– Let the first part of a Brahman’s name denote something auspicious, a Kshatriya’s be connected with power, and a Vaishyas with wealth but a Shudra’s express something contemptible. (Manu II. 31.)
– The Brahmin should never invite persons of other varnas for food. In case, the latter begs the Brahmin for food, the Brahmin may give them some left-over. Even these left-over must be served not by the Brahmin but by his servants outside the house. (Manu II2)
– A Shudra who insults a twice born man with gross invectives shall have his tongue cut out; for he is of low origin. (Manu VIII. 270.) [Twice born means Brahmin]
– If a Shudra arrogantly presumes to preach religion to Brahmins, the king shall have poured burning oil in his mouth and ears. Manu VIII. 272.)
Oh! I should stop now. This book of Hindus makes me sick. I have never asked for the destruction and burning of any book. But, this ‘’piece of dog-shit book’’, I can’t bear. One must remember that wherever the word Shudra is mentioned in the above verses, it means the lowest of the four castes.
India is a very big country. Its problems due to Religion and Class clashes are very huge in size. It cannot be tackled in one day. Though I see the changes coming but not everyone will live to see the changes that future will unfold for my country. Caste system cannot only be defeated by the government alone. To defeat this inhuman system, we need the support of every men and women in India; most particularly the ‘’so called’’ higher castes. That friend of mine who wasn’t allowed a glass of water from a temple is now an Engineer. Half of my class in MBA belongs to the Scheduled caste category. As the time changes, Human Beings leave their old rotten pasts and move into a fresh, new dawn. It is the political system in India that doesn’t wants to let the caste system die. Indian politicians have divided their vote banks on the basis of castes. We need to defeat that and we need to grow over it. I see education at all levels as the only solution. I have my fingers crossed. Let’s see what happens in the future…