Towards Understanding Caste – A Systems Approach
– By Satyadeva Prasad
Caste is a fundamental feature of Hindu society. It is the most maligned and least understood of all Hindu institutions. Notwithstanding our ignorance or meager understanding, we feel free to pronounce final judgement on this institution. In spite of all our so called efforts to `reform` or `remove` or `annihilate` the `evil` of caste, it continues to exercise tremendous hold direct or indirect on every aspect of Hindu life. Because of its hold on present day Hindu life, a discussion and understanding of caste institution is inavoidable necessity. We can ignore it or neglect it only at our grave peril. Our present knowledge about caste is mostly coloured by two hundered years of Europen-christian (mis) propaganda coupled with centuries of unsettling socio-political upheavals. As a result of these we developed many knee-jerk reactions to caste rather than healthy, informed, realistic, confident responses. When it comes to presenting as Hindus either to ourselves or to outsiders we are either apologetic or aggressive. Both of these responses are the result of our inner conflict with regard to our caste identities. The date on which we formulate our responses is meager and defective in the extreme. The aim of this paper is to try to remedy this situation to the extent possible by suppling some meaningful information on caste. To understand caste better, it is necessary to understand its structural and functional aspects from as many angles as possible. One such attempt is to understand the caste institution from a systems point of view. Read More
Social Equality and Hindu Consolidation
– By Balasaheb Deoras
it is said that there was no Varna Vyavastha in olden times. Later on it was felt that some system was necessary to ensure the proper and steady progress of society. The leaders of society at that time thought that the society could progress only if four kinds of functions were properly and efficiently executed. Hence the society was classified into four groups depending upon the specific propensities and aptitudes of individuals and groups of individuals. Thus, the Varna system was evolved. Any system entails classification. However, this system did not envisage any differences in the status of the people belonging to the different groups.Classification is one thing and class-discrimination is another.
According to some scholars, the classification in the beginning was also not hereditary. But as time went on, it must have become increasingly difficult to recognize and classify aptitudes in an extensive society, residing in such a vast stretch of country and having no means of quick transport or communication. Under such a situation, birth in a particular family must itself have been taken as the indication of his aptitudes and as a basis for classifying a person or a group of persons. That is how the growth of the Varna system must have taken place. But even at that time there were no superiority or inferiority complexes. On the other hand, the whole society was visualized as a single living entity, personified into a magnificent figure with ‘a thousand heads, a thousand eyes and a thousand feet’. Such a glorious concept does not permit the perverse and ridiculous notion that the thighs are superior to the feet, the hands are superior to the thighs or the head is superior to the hands. The idea is that all these limbs are equally essential for the proper functioning of society.
The sense of high and low that we witness today had no place in that concept of one corporate living social entity. To imagine otherwise would be to do grave injustice to those people. It was for this reason that the system was acceptable to one and all. And it was because of its common acceptance that certain systems of checks and balances were evolved to continue it from generation to generation. For example the group endowed with the intellectual power was to embrace poverty. The group with ruling power was denied wealth power. The power of state and of wealth was not allowed to combine in the same group. So long as these checks and balances were efficiently maintained, the system worked well. But defects crept in the system when these checks and balances were ignored in course of time.
Defects are bound to creep into any system. It is well known that communism aimed at the removal of all types of inequalities, particularly the ‘classes’. But Milovan Djilas (a top communist leader of Yugoslavia) in his famous book ‘The New Class’ has written that a new class has come up in all communist countries. He had to say this of the communist system within less than 50 years of its inception—a system which was avowedly born to do away with all classes’. Human nature is such. Vested interests develop in any system. The Varna system too was no exception to this human weakness and as a result it became distorted and it collapsed. But none can say that the originators of the system had any such perverse intentions in their mind when they introduced it. Read More