Latasinha's Weblog

Social and political Values and Systems in India.

Journey of Untouchables from Shudras to Dalits (SCs) in India

“We are all humans until Race disconnected us, Religion separated us, Politics divided us and wealth classified us.”

Introduction – Indian Hindu philosophy does not sanctify any discrimination or oppression of lower strata of society.  All the trouble about exploitation of Shudra community started with its politicization of caste-system. The stories about Hinduism justifying discrimination and oppression of Dalit might have been included later into the texts by persons with vested interests. Birth-based caste discrimination, oppression and exploitation in India are a more recent phenomena and has been spread by some vicious people to enflame the emotions of masses in general.

Shudras of ancient and Medieval IndiaExistence of Untouchables/Shudras (at present also known as Dalits, or Harijans, out-castes etc.) was recognized, as early as, Pre-Mauryan Period (6th century BC to 3rd century BC). Question arises who were the Shudras in ancient India and how were they had been treated by upper castes? The principle of Varna stratifies the whole society into four basic social groups – Brahmins (intellectuals), Khhatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (business community) and Shudras (service class/menial workers). Socially, Shudras helped Brahmins (intellectuals), Khhatriyas (warriors) and Vaishyas (business community) in their work or worked under their guidance, therefore, socially they were ranked below them. They performed essential social and economic tasks in different areas including agricultural sector. It is not fully correct to say that Shudras were outside the pale of Varna system. They were always an integral part of the Hindu society.

In the beginning, conquered groups were kept under the category of ‘Shudras’. Later on, individuals or groups engaged in service sector or in unclean/unhygienic occupations, clinging to the practices, which were not considered respectable, people speaking foul and abusive language were put under the category of untouchables. Persons born illegitimately or the groups clinging to anti-social activities were treated as outcastes. Breaking the caste rules meant loss of caste, meaning complete ostracism or having no place in the society. Permanent loss of caste – out-caste- was considered to be the greatest catastrophe for an individual, short of death penalty. By the beginning of Christian era, the out-castes themselves developed caste hierarchy and had their own out-castes.

Initially, inclusion into any of these social groups was not birth based. According to Bhagwat Gita, it depended on attributes (Guna) and deeds (Karma) of a person.  “Janmana Jaayate shudraha, karmana jayate dvijah”. It simply means by birth, a person may be Shudra, he could become a dvija (Brahmin) by his deeds. The reason of its becoming birth-based was due to the gradual increase in the number of population .

In ancient India, there were many widely respected Shudras intellectuals and rulers .  Mahapadma Nanda  of Magadh (4th cen. BCE)  was thought to be of Shudra origin. The Nanda dynasty was conquered by Chandragupta Maurya. His grandson Ashoka the great of Maurya dynasty actually went on to become the greatest, largest and most powerful dynasty to have ever ruled the Indian sub-continent.

The two most popular epics ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ were composed by Valmiki (a Shudra according to present ranking) and Ved Vyasa (a backward caste). And both are revered by all Hindus. The original epics did not justified oppression or exploitation. There were some powerful Shudras kingdoms as well.

Criteria of ranking in social hierarchy – In ancient India, there was
no hard and fast rule of ranking various castes. One of the misconceptions about Varna/caste system is that social ranking of different caste is based on  economic power. No, it is not. In Western societies, stratification of society into ‘class’ is based on  the economic power of a person or a group. There, the societies are divided into Upper, Middle and Lower class according their economic status.

In India, segmental ranking of different caste groups has been done according to relevance and contribution of their occupations to society. Usefulness of a profession to society as a whole, conduct and way of living of different people were the factors to determine social, economic or political status of a group in society vis-a vis others. While stratifying the society, Vedic concept of Varna has given importance to self-restraint and self-discipline in all spheres of life, be it in the matter of daily routine, occupation or inter caste relationship. Considerations of Self-discipline, hygiene, cleanliness, morality, knowledge and spiritual standards have been considered while deciding their ranks within the society. Higher a caste, purer it was considered, and greater were the self-restrictions on its behaviour through rituals.

Accordingly, highest rank was accorded to Brahmins (intellectuals), commanding respect of the whole society. They were put under maximum restrictions. They were expected to lead a simple life, devoted to the spiritual and intellectual pursuits and were denied accumulation of wealth, Economically they were the most disadvantaged community, surviving on income earned by teaching, performing rituals and by begging/charity. The Kshatriyas earned through wages and taxes, the Vaishyas through business and mercantile activities, Though accorded a lower status,  Shudras were land owners, farmers, skilled artisans and craftsmen and musicians. They were an essential part of the whole society, respected and earned large incomes, being the service providers.

Ranking of different castes has not been done by putting different groups within a framework of hierarchical layers of social order, each fitting neatly below the other, but more or less as a series of vertical parallels. All local groups, whether high or low, living in an area mutually depended, cared and supported each other in fulfilling different kind of needs of the society.

Social systems kept masses in society reconciled – As far as masses are
concerned, the systems have always kept them reconciled, if not contended in the past. Because of the system of Inter-dependence, all people living in a village or city, were bound together by economic and social ties and had a strong bond of mutual dependence. There was hardly any room for any section of society to consider itself, as being placed in greater or lesser disadvantageous position with reference to another. Concept of forwards or backwards or feeling of exploitation of lower strata by upper castes was almost non-existent at that time. It kept all the sections of society united under one umbrella despite of their diversity and gave the society stability, continuity and prosperity.

 Medieval India In medieval India also, respect to a person or group was not given on the basis of material success or control of power. Sir John Shore (Sir John Shore, the Governor General of India during the period 1793-1798) had observed that Hindus regarded Britishers at par with the lowest natives despite their being so powerful and the ruling community. Similarly Brahmins associated with unclean jobs like, Mahabrahmins performing last rites, have also been treated, more or less like Shudras and have been put at the bottom of the social structure. There were instances when non-Brahmins or Harijans served as priests of temples of goddesses like Sita or Kali, where all castes made offerings.

Arvind Sharma, a Professor in McGill University observed that caste rigidity and discrimination had emerged in ‘Smriti’ during period from after the birth of Jesus Christ and extending up-to 1200 CE. During Medieval Period, Bhakti movement led by many Sufi saints had challenged the rigid practices of not treating Shudras as equals and giving them a low social status.

Sri H.S. Kotiyal says, “One of the significant development of the early medieval period in India is the increasing participation of the Sudras in the state policy.” The 12th and 13th centuries saw the emergence of some powerful empires led by Shudra rulers in  south India, Kakatiyas Dynasty from 1083 CE to 1323 CE) in Andhra Pradesh, being one of them . Kakatiyas were the first feudatories of the Western Chalukyas of Kalyana, ruling over a small territory near Warangal.

Many studies have shown that ancient or medieval India has never prevented Shudras or others to rise in the scale of society or to earn respect of the society. In many parts of the country, people belonging to lower strata held position of power/superior status or earned respect of Hindu society.

There are instances of people of lower ranks becoming kings. Many warrior kings of Shudra and tribal origin sought Brahmins’ help to acquire Kshatriyas status for themselves. Many Shudras were accepted and revered as philosophers or spiritual teachers like Lord Rama, a king, ate half-eaten berries of Shabri – an untouchable. Lord Krishna’s foster parents Nand and Yashoda, who in today’s classification would be called OBC, get more respect than his real Kshatriya parents from Hindu society. Vashishtha, the principal of the conservative school of Brahmanism, was the son of Uravshi, a prostitute. Vishwamitra, the maker of the very Gayatri Mantra, the quintessence of the Vedic Brahmanism, was a Kshatriya. Aitreya, after whom the sacramental part of Rig-Veda is named as Aitreya Brahamana, was the son from a non-Aryan wife of a Brahman sage. Vyasa of Mahabharata fame and Balmiki, the original author of Ramayana, both untouchable according to present standards, were not ashamed of his origin and are highly respected persons all over India. In middle ages, Sant Ravidas, Namdev, Tukaram, Malika, Sunderdas and several other saints, belonging to lower ranks, earned the same respect as any higher caste saint.

If not Hinduism or caste system, then whom to blame for the miseries of under-privileged sections of Indian society? It all proves that it is not fully correct to say Hinduism or caste system are responsible for Shudra’s isolation; deprivation; exploitation; low social status; inhuman treatment of caste Hindus; low social status Shudras in traditional Hindu Society. Also that no one forces them to do menial, unsavoury and unclean jobs. According to Hindu philosophy,  Instead of holding others responsible for their miseries, Indian philosophy preaches that Adharma” (immoral behavior), “Alasya” (laziness) and Agyan (ignorance) are to be blamed for all evils, exploitation and miseries of people.

Beginning of the troubles for lower strata of Indian society – All troubles of lower strata of society started after the downfall of Hindu Raj, when it became difficult for Hindus to stick on traditional values and systems. Continuous invasions by Turks, Afghans and Mughals had adversely affected the whole society. They, earlier, drained out the wealth of the nation to foreign lands and afterwards made India their homeland and ruled the country for centuries. It resulted in Hinduism turning inwards and observing all the rituals rigidly and blindly to save its distinct identity under foreign rule.

Afterwards, feudalistic attitude, extravagance and luxurious life style of Mughal rulers and those at the helm of authority, increased the disparity between the rulers and the ruled.

Rise of White-collared jobs during British rule and its effects on lower strata of society – Again, in  nineteenth century during British rule, modernization an industrialization process has made many traditional occupations obsolete or less paying or were regarded more hazardous and more time consuming. White collared jobs gained importance.

Modernity has taught people to escape from menial work and discredit manual work. More, a person withdraws from physical labour, more civilized, honoured and qualified he is regarded by modern society. The trend of apathy towards indigenous skills, knowledge and occupations has turned many occupations obsolete or discredited many traditional occupations. It has resulted in destruction of Indian handicrafts and cottage industry and pushed millions of rural artisans, craftsman and small scale farmers backwards in a very subtle manner.

Process of Industrialization and modernization had scattered efforts, sense of direction and manufacturing skills of millions of artisans, craftsman, weavers etc. For them,  their work, in which they specialized, was essential for their survival, Only a few of them could join modern occupations. Majority belonging to different groups could neither enter modern sector, nor could stick to their traditional occupations. They have lost their creativity, sense of achievement and pride, considering menial work derogatory. Majority of them have no option, but to either join band of agricultural laborers, industrial workers, and marginal labour or increase number of unemployed people living below poverty line. Outcome of such a change has been casualty of workers first, afterwards their work style, commitment, motivation and culture.

Lower strata victim of circumstances – Therefore, it can be said that it was not the malice of upper castes, but the circumstances, that pushed untouchables and others away from the mainstream. Suffering from centuries old enslavement, suppression and ostracism deteriorated severely the condition of lower strata of society, stopped growth of their personality and made them dependent on Government or others for their livelihood. In his Dissent Note, Kaka Kalelkar,  Chairman, First Backward Class Commission Report, has commented, It would be well, if representatives of the Backward classes remembered that whatever good they find in the Constitution and the liberal policy of the Government, is the result of the awakened conscience of the upper classes themselves. Whatever Government is doing by way of atonement is readily accepted and acclaimed by the nation as a whole. The upper classes have contributed their share in formulating the policies of the Government Removal of untouchability, establishment of equality and social justice, special consideration for backward classes, all these elements found place in the Constitution without a single voice of dissent from the upper classes.” BCCI, para III.

Transformation intoDepressed Class during 19th century from Shudras of ancient and medieval India  – During the nineteenth Century, in official circles lower castes were addressed as ‘Depressed class’ or ‘Exterior class’. British government in India regarded these people as ‘Oppressed of the oppressed and lowest of the low’. It was the time, when Missionaries were trying to convert this section of society into Christianity. British rulers had passed many Legislative regulations and administrative orders and declared denial of access to untouchables to schools, well, roads and public places as illegal.

Imperial rulers knew well that they had established their power in India by playing off one part against the other. To continue their domination over India and to rule the country without any distraction as long as possible, they purposely kept Indians busy with their internal problems. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the British turned their attention to uplift non-Brahmin castes to   secure theirs’ loyalty. On September 2, 1897, George Francis Hamilton, the then Secretary of State for India, wrote to Viceroy Curzon, “I think the real danger to our rule in India, not now but say 50 years hence, is the gradual adoption and extension of Western ideas of agitation and organization. If we could break the educated Hindu into two sections, holding widely different views, we should by such division, strengthen our position against the subtle and continuous attack, which the spread of education must make upon our system of Government.”

Educated Hindus amongst non-Brahmins castes, especially in Southern and Western parts of India, found it difficult to compete with Brahmins on equal footings in modern callings. To get the credit for the amelioration and protection of the lowly and secure their loyalty, on one hand, Rulers encouraged non-Brahmins leaders to form their political pressure groups on the basis of castes and raise their voice against Brahmins. On the other, special schools were opened for non-Brahmins and scholarships, loans, hostel facilities and concessions in school fees were provided to them.

Around 1909, the lower strata of Hindu community were conceptualized under the name of “untouchables”. Introduction of electoral politics and suggestion of the Census Commission for 1911 Census, to exclude untouchables, (comprising about 24% of Hindu population and 16% of the total population in 1908) from Hinduism, had made position of untouchables prominent in Indian political scene. For the first time, Indians leaders could understand the strength of numbers. So far, untouchables had clubbed their political activities with backward classes led by the Justice Party and South Indian Liberation Federation, which were already agitating against Brahmin’s dominance in modern callings.

Harijans – The attempt of British rulers in 1911 to exclude untouchables from Hindu population and continuous decline of number of Hindus cautioned the national leaders. In order to retain their Hindu identity, Gandhiji and his followers called them Harijans meaning the “people belonging to god”. On one hand, Gandhiji tried to create compassion in the hearts of forward communities for Harijans and on the other he appealed to Harijans to observe cleaner habits, so that they could mix up freely with other sections of society. Dalit leaders did not like the word Harijan as it symbolized a meek and helpless person, at the mercy and benevolence of others, and not the proud and independent human being that they were.

During this period, the attention of humanitarians and reformers was also drawn towards the pathetic condition of untouchables. They took the path of Sankritisation to elevate them. In order to prevent alienation of untouchables from Hindu community, they drew the attention of forward communities towards inhuman condition of lower strata of society and tried to create compassion in their hearts for downtrodden.

Top most priority was given by them to abolish the practice of untouchability. They tried to clarify that Untouchability was neither an integral part of Hinduism nor an outcome of Varna/caste system, nor have any religious sanctity, but an external impurity and sinful blot on Hinduism. They laid emphasis on education, moral regeneration and philanthropic uplift. and become proud and independent human beings, that they were.

Shudras, now known as UntouchablesBy 1909, the lowest strata of Indian society came to be known as untouchables. Many prominent Dalit leaders like Mahatma Phule, Ambedkar or Gopal Ganesh vehemently criticized Hindu hierarchical structure and regarded untouchability as an inevitable concomitant of Varna/caste system. They taught the lower castes to get united and make eradication of caste system their major plank as it engaged them to forced labour or unsavoury jobs, imposed many restrictions on them and prevented them from joining the mainstream of the society. According to them, Hindus treated lower castes as lesser human beings, meek and helpless persons, who should always remain at the mercy and benevolence of upper castes. They tried to find the solution of their problems through political power, not through acceptance by Hindus.

By 1920’s, numerous caste organizations, especially in the South and West, organized themselves into larger collectiveness by keeping contacts and alliances with their counterparts at other places; formed associations and federations at local and regional levels and emerged as a powerful political force. Together, they demanded special legal protection and share in politics and administration on the basis of caste.

The emergence of Dr. Ambedkar in politics provided with the required leadership and needed stimulus to untouchable movement during late twenties and early thirties. Ambedkar insisted to address untouchables just as untouchables. He regarded the terms ‘Depressed classes’, ‘Dalits’, ‘Harijans’ either confusing or degrading and contemptuous. Dr. Ambedkar made it abundantly clear, ‘It was through political power that untouchables were to find their solution, not through acceptance by Hindus’. He gave untouchable movement a national character and a distinct identity during late twenties and early thirties.

In 1928, Dr. Ambedkar, while representing untouchables in Simon Commission proceedings, demanded separate electorate, reserved seats for untouchables in legislative bodies, special educational concessions, and recruitment to Government posts on preferential basis, laws against discrimination and a special department to look after the welfare of untouchables. These demands were readily accepted through Communal Award of 1932.

Gandhiji along with other National leaders regarded it as the Unkindest cut of all”, which would create a permanent split in Hindu Society, perpetuate casteism and make impossible the assimilation of untouchables in mainstream. Dr. Rajendra Prasad said, The principle of dividing population into communal groups, which had been adopted in the Minto Morely Reforms, had been considerably extended, even beyond what had been done by Montagu Chelmsford Reforms….The electorate in 1919 was broken up into ten parts, now it is fragmented into seventeen unequal bits… Giving separate representations to Schedule Castes further weakened Hindu community… The British introduced every possible cross-division. Some political leaders even thought that that Ambedkar was planted into Indian politics purposely by British rulers only.

Scheduled Castes – In accordance with the provisions of the Communal Award of 1932, instructions were issued, in July 1934, to schedule a list of the people entitled for preferential treatment in matter of special electoral representation and appointment in the Central Government jobs. This gave birth to the term Scheduled Caste in 1935. Scheduling was a legal activity having sanction of legal authorities. Therefore, no one had any objection to this term. The term continued after the independence as well, for the purpose of Reservation.

Untouchables in Independent India – After second world war emergence of the concept of ‘welfare state’ swept the whole world. Independent India, as a civilized democratic society, considered it its humanitarian obligation to uplift and empower the submerged sections of society. The overwhelming poverty of millions belonging to lower strata of society and their near absence in echelons of power at the time of Independence has led the government to of India to intervene.

The Constitution of India has directed the Government to promote social justice and educational, economic and other interests of the weaker sections with special care. It instructed the Government to remove the poverty and reduce inequalities of income and wealth and provide adequate representation to the downtrodden in power echelons through Affirmative Action Program/Reservation Policy. Public facilities, which were denied to untouchables so far, have been made accessible to them. The successive governments both at national as well as provincial levels initiated various Welfare Plans and Policies for employment generation and their social, economic and political growth from time to time.

Dalits – Dalit, a Maradhi word means suppressed. The term was chosen and used proudly by Ambedkar’s followers under the banner of various factions of Republican Party of India (Formed in 1956). The Mahars of Bombay (8%), Jatavs of UP (Half of the SC Population in UP) and Nadars and Thevars of Southern TN being numerically significant, played a decisive role in taking forward Dalit movement. Maharashtra Dalit movement has a longest and richest experience.

In 1972, a distinct political party, in the name of Dalit Panther was formed in Maharashtra. It organized the lower castes under the banner of ‘Dalit’ throughout India. One of the founders of Dalit Panther, Mr. Namdeo Dhasal widened the scope of Dalit by including SC, tribes, neo-Buddhists, landless labor and economically exploited people. Its orientation was primarily militant and rebellious. Dalit Sahitya Movement legitimized and reinforced the use of the term Dalit. Since then, this term is very popular amongst the untouchables.

Earlier, a few leaders of untouchables had at least some regard for the cultural tradition of India. They did not reject Vedic literature or the foundations of Hinduism, out-rightly. Dr. Ambedkar accepted that all parts of Manusmiriti were not condemnable. Gopal Baba Walangkar had said that Vedas did not support untouchability. Kisan Fagoi, another Mahar leader of pre-Ambedkar era had joined Prarthna Samaj. But present Dalit leaders are vehemently against cultural traditions of India, which according to them, are based on inequality and exploitation. There is always a fear of upper caste or intermediate caste backlash.

In mid sixties, an aggressive Dalit movement started under the banner of Shoshit Samaj Dal in Central Bihar, which has, presently, become a major center of Naxalite movement. Dal was founded by Jagdeo Mahto, who began to mobilize the lower castes against economic repression and exploitation of women by upper caste feudal elements.

The new phase of Dalit assertion is most prominent in the most populous state of UP, where the upper caste domination has been challenged by BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) formed in 1984 under the leadership of Kanshi Ram and Mayavati. They redefined Dalit politics especially in north India. Their approach to Dalit issues was more socio-political rather than economic. BSP has started pursuing power with militancy since 1990. Of late, BSP has made significant inroads in UP, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. BSP has borrowed all their phraseology from Dalit Panthers. Most of their utterances are arrogant, revengeful and opportunistic.

Political and economic vested interests of Dalit leaders has aroused militancy among discontented youths of different castes and communities all over the nation. They are taught to fight only for rights without any sense of responsibility towards their nation. Present day youth pay scant attention to their duties. There is a cutthroat competition amongst various Dalit groups for scarce positions of power and prestige.

Once again, the tendency of ‘divide and rule’, as was there during British domination, has emerged in national scenario. The growing desire of Dalits to rule has made them very sure of their friends and foes. Dalit leaders, even after so many years of Independence has identified Upper Castes as their enemy and intermediate castes sometimes as their friends and sometimes as their enemies. Kanshi Ram, a BSP leader had initiated a formula of DS4, meaning Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangarsh Samiti, taking into its fold untouchables, STs, Muslims and OBCs.

OBC leaders also know that Dalit parties now control a large vote bank. Therefore, from time to time, they try to please Dalits leaders in order to increase their own political strength. But Dalits are in no mood to play a second fiddle to other national political parties. They are aware of their growing influence and crucial role as a kink-maker in today’s highly competitive and unstable political atmosphere. All the three major national political formations – Congress’s UPA BJP’s NDA and National Front – are wooing frantically Dalit leaders and competing with each other to have a pre or post poll alliance with them. Instead of demanding a share in power structure, equity or social justice, Dalits now want to reverse the power equation and to transform the society by capturing all political power. Their aim is to get hold over the posts of PM-CM (Political Power) through electoral politics and control over administrative authority – the bureaucracy – through Reservations/Affirmative Action Program.

There is an elite section amongst Dalits, which protects its turf under the banner of Dalits at the cost of poorest of Dalits. It does not care much to bring Dalit masses into the mainstream. For some, presence and miseries of large number of Dalits is a recipe for Dalit vote-bank, for others enjoying all the benefits of affirmative action programs initiated and implemented by the Government of India and other concessions given to them. Whatever might be the condition of Dalit masses, but the political power and arrogance of Dalit leaders and intellectuals are at rise. And here lies the crux of Dalit politics.

Dalits at International platform – Dalits are not satisfied even after having growing influence in ballot-box politics and attaining enough places in the government jobs. Since 2001, these activists have been pushing the cause internationally arguing that Indian Dalits are like blacks in US till 1950. Even now, they face many problems at their workplace, in schools and in places of worship.

In 2005, some Dalit leaders belonging to All India Confederation have sought intervention USA, UN and the British and EU Parliaments on the issues of ‘untouchability’. UN recognizes religion, race, language and gender as main causes of inequality in the world. Dalit activists want caste to be included too in this category. They desire to have Global alliance, global involvement and intervention of the international community to put pressure on the government of India to address the problem Dalit marginalization. They feel that globalization and privatization has made it difficult for Dalits, Tribal and OBC’s to compete on equal footing or find enough space in the job market within the country or abroad. At the behest of the Republican Congressman from New Jersey, Chris Smith, the US Congress had held a hearing on 6.10. 05 on the subject.

A resolution on the issue – “ India’s unfinished Agenda: Equality and Justice for 200 million victims of the caste system” was prepared by the house committee on International Relations and US Human Rights to be tabled in the US Congress. “Despite the Indian government’s extensive affirmative action policies, which aim to open government service and education to Dalits and tribes, most have been left behind by India’s increasing prosperity…. Much more remains to be done.” The resolution says, “It is in the interest of US to address the problem of the treatment of groups outside the caste system… in the republic of India in order to better meet our mutual economic and security goals….”

So far, intensive lobbying by Dalit groups including followers of Ravidas sect succeeded in getting passed the Equity Bill on March 24, 2010 in the house of Lords. It empowered the government to include ‘caste’ within the definition of ‘race’. In 2001, India was able in keeping caste out of the resolution adopted at 2001 Durban Conference.

Along with it, staunch supporters of Human Rights, some Scandinavian countries, Church organisations around the world and Lutheran World Federation have shown interest and expressed their solidarity with Dalits. Recently the comment of UN Commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay asking India that “time has come to eradicate the shameful concept of caste” and proposals of UN Human Rights Council’s or US based Human Rights Watch (HRW) to recognise caste as a form of discrimination ‘based on descent and birth’ appear not to be based on rational understanding of caste system. Their opinion about untouchability is greatly influenced by the lobbying of powerful/influential Dalit leaders and Dalit intelligentsia.

No one knows where the Dalit assertion will lead the nation to? It is not the paternalistic policies, (which have failed to yield so far the desired results) that are required for the upliftment and empowerment of submerged sections of society, but there is need to educate, make them aware of their rights and duties, provide enough employment opportunities and other civic facilities like health etc at the grass root level for the sustainable growth of backward communities.


June 28, 2019 Posted by | Social and political values and systems | Leave a comment

India, one nation, one culture

“If there is honesty in India today, any hospitality, any charity…. any aversion to evil, any love to be good, it is due to whatever remains of the old faith and the old culture”. C. Rajgopalachari


India occupies a special place in the global society and Indian civilization is one of the oldest alive civilizations of the world. It presents a fascinating picture of unity amidst diversity, cultural richness, largeness of area and huge population. It has assimilated multi-ethnic migrants into its fold. India comprises people of different ethnic, religious, castes, linguistic and regional identities.

Usually diversity makes divide easy. In India also, there have been periods of discord. However, the forces of unity have always been stronger than the divisive forces. Different identities in India have lived together for centuries and present a mosaic culture.

Factors leading to the unity of India – Important factors, which have kept unity and continuity of India intact, are:

  • Indian philosophy, Vedic literature and its value system – C. Rajgopalachari has said, “If there is honesty in India today, any hospitality, any charity…. any aversion to evil, any love to be good, it is due to whatever remains of the old faith and the old culture”. Indian philosophy contains a vast reservoir of knowledge. It is found in Vedas, Upanishads, Sutras and Smritis. Basham says that Vedic literature contains “an ocean of knowledge in a jar.”

The Vedic literature is a magnificent example of scientific division and orderly arrangement of rules in a few words, in different branches of human knowledge, covering almost all the aspects of life, be it phonetics, arts, literature, medicine, polity, metrics, law, philosophy, astrology or astronomy.

Indian philosophy and its value systemstill commands the respect and attention of an average Indian. The priestly schools had devised a most remarkable and effective system of transferring knowledge to succeeding generations in the form of hymns, restricting it only to those, possessing brilliant feats of memory and capability to keep extreme sanctity.

Only after raising oneself from ignorance, a person could be able to understand the greatness of the Indian value system. Like a jeweler, one could spot out gems from amongst worthless pebbles. A knowledgeable person could pick up knowledge and leave the undesired obsolete elements developed in it with passage of time.

 This gold mine of knowledge inspired not only Indians, but foreigners as well. Intellectuals from various countries have translated it in their own languages and reinterpreted it for a rational mind.

  • Doctrines of Varna, Dharma and Karma

The foundation pillars of the Indian civilization are the principles of Varna, Dharma and Karma. It give to the people, a purpose to live for and ideals to be achieved. Together these principles laid the foundation stones of Indian social structure and contributed to its growth. It has organized inter-relationship of various groups of society. In addition to all this, It has defined their roles by distributing various functions and managed the performance to improve quality of life.

Doctrine of Varna – Doctrine of Varna gives the Indian Society a stable, sustainable social structure, which distributes and organizes performance of various functions. It has made it possible for the people to lead a quality of life and ensured the continuity despite numerous foreign invasions, migrations and assimilation of various groups.

Doctrine of Dharma – The doctrine of Dharma defines the duties and vocations for different sections of society, ensures social harmony and prevents rivalries and jealousies.

Doctrine of Karma – Doctrine of Karma makes the inequalities, prevalent in the society, tolerable to an average Indian.

These principles have given to the people a distinct character. In the past, these principles had wisely directed all the activities – social, political, intellectual or economic – into proper life functions and controlled its malfunctioning or dis-functioning. It had made it possible for people to reach a high level of intelligence having specialization in different areas. It contributed to all round growth of cultural heritage and encouraged self-discipline, consciousness, self-control and self-direction. Decentralized self-regulated systems were the mode in social, political and economic life in ancient India.

  • ‘Sanatan (eternal) Dharma’ of Hinduism takes care of the basic physical, mental and spiritual needs of the human beings at different stages of life. It nurtures the basic instincts of human beings over nature, after a deep study of natural instincts, inherent attributes and natural behavioral pattern.

It has prepared an atmosphere for co-existence of different groups, be it ruler or ruled/rich or poor. It has provided unity of culture throughout India and serves to give Indian society coherence, stability and continuity.

  •  Tolerance – The spirit of tolerance and firm belief in the principle, ‘Live and let live’ has always been the part of Indian ethos. Tolerance is most evident in the field of religion. Tolerance is not confined to religion alone. It is seen everywhere in the Indian way of life. Indians believe in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. The whole world is one family. Truth, Ahimsa, peace and non-aggression are the hallmark of Indian culture. The people endure injustice and unfairness until they are pushed right to the wall.

John Fischer mentions, “Even during Bengal famine, an extreme situation – when necessity knows no laws, people did not take law in their own hands, nor was there any violence. No grocery stall, no rice warehouse, none of the wealthy clubs or restaurants was ever threatened by a hungry mob… They just died with docility, which to most Americans is the most shocking thing about India.’ Many times in the past, Indians had accepted oppression and exploitation without much protest, while such situations, elsewhere in the world, would have led to bloody revolutions.

Even today, in the hope of better future, Indians are patiently tolerating the criminalization of politics, high-handedness of authorities, corruption, scams and scandals and inefficiency of the administration without much protest. Administration is one such area, where tolerance is harmful, as it not only hinders the development, but also pushes the nation backwards.

  • Validity to all religions – Hindu faith in an all pervading omnipresent god, multiplicity of gods and goddesses as representing some portion of the infinite aspect of the Supreme Being, inspired it to accommodate people of all faiths. The places of worship of Hindus, Muslims and Christians, (major religions of India) i.e.Mandir, Masjid and Church, all have 6 alphabets in it, and their religious Granths, Geeta, Kuran and Bible, each one has the same no. of 5 alphabets in it, all preaching the same ‘God is one’.    

Hinduism concedes validity to all the religions and does not lay down strictures against any faith or reject any religion or its god as false. That is the reason, why all the twelve major religions of the world are present and flourishing in India without any hindrance.

  • Path of assimilation – Hindu religion neither repulses any trend vehemently, nor allows others to sweep its established culture off its roots. It has adopted the path of assimilation. It does not force others to convert. It does not impose its beliefs, practices and customs on others. In the past, it has assimilated numerous social groups willing to join it.
  • Fusion of different cultures –As India passed through various phases in the past, various  religious communities have left its influence on Indian culture, which came down to the present generation in an unbroken chain of succession, with some minor alterations, modifications and adaptations here and there. All the sects present in India, whether alien (like Islam, Christianity,  Zoroastrianism etc.)or indigenous(originated within the land of India like Budhism, Jainism, or Sikhism etc) have been influenced greatly by Hindu thinking, practices and systems. Also the interaction between value-system of Vedic culture and other religions (of indigenous, migrating or foreign communities) present in India, have contributed in enriching the composite culture of India:
    • Vedic Hindu Culture – Vedic Hindu Culture is one of the oldest living cultures in the world. It mainly originated and flourished in northern parts of India and later on spread throughout India. The word ‘Vedic’ is derived from the word ‘Vid’ meaning ‘Knowledge’ and signifies’ ‘knowledge par excellence’.

The Vedic culture came into being due to intermixing of the culture of Aryan with the culture of indigenous tribal people of India during 2nd century BC to 650 AD. The origin of the Vedic culture cannot be traced in any single founder; neither can it be confined in one single authoritative text.

Its knowledge has been handed down from time immemorial, earlier by verbal transmission and later on, in written form by the ancestor to succeeding generations. It has not prescribed final absolutes. It is a constant search for more knowledge. Vedas are not supposed to be the end of quest for knowledge. It is a never ending process (‘Neti-Neti’ meaning ‘no end, no end’).

The strength of Vedic culture is proved by the facts: –

  • Despite centuries of foreign rule over 75% of Indian population remains Hindu.
  • Had it become obsolete, it would have given place to other religions and cultures.
  • It influenced almost all other religions found in India.
  • Buddhism and Jainism – Budhism and Jainism has influenced the thought, moral and life style of many Indians. Buddhism attracted equally the elite as well as the lower strata of Hindu society. Buddhism drew the attention of people towards the harsher effects of the caste system, sympathetic attitude towards lesser human beings and system of organized education. Major contribution of Jainism is the principle of non-violence.
  • Dravidian culture – After the sudden disappearance of Indus valley culture, of which the most characteristic feature was its town planning, Dravidian culture with its advanced social system, industry and trade made a mark in the South.
  • Islamic culture- After the tenth century, Islamic culture influenced the Indian culture substantially. Its influence could be seen in the rejection of elaborate rituals and caste pretensions. It preached a simple path of faith, devotion, brotherly love and fellowship. With the growing political strength of Muslims, the need for mutual understanding and communal harmony gave rise to Sufi tradition of Islam and Bhakti movement of Hindus. Both these emphasized the need for mutual appreciation, tolerance and goodwill. Like Buddhism, Islam also provided an alternative to people, wishing to opt out the caste system.
  • British Culture – Eighteenth century onwards, the British culture influenced the Indian culture substantially, especially that of elite and intellectuals. Access to modern education, Western literature and philosophy gave Indians the understanding of liberal and humanitarian ideas of the West.

Some of the contributions of the British to India are political and administrative unity, many democratic institutions like Parliament, bureaucracy and concepts like rule of law, unified nationality, a common currency, a common Judiciary. They gave a new economic structure based on industrialization. British-rule gave an impetus to social progress and brought many reforms.

The British influence on Indian minds was as discussed below: –

  • Many reformers welcomed rationality and other good features of English culture. They advised people to interpret religion rationally and make efforts to eradicate social evils like Sati, child marriage, untouchability etc. prevalent at that time.
  • Some people were so influenced by the alien culture, that they developed a complex about the primitiveness of Indian society.
  • Some reformists tried to revive their own rich ancient culture and prevent the masses from being swayed away by the glamour and materialism of Western culture. It gave the call for ‘Back to Vedas’.

Two aspects of Hindu culture received a good deal of attention of British: –

  • The Caste system and
  • Reluctance to convert people of other religions, on the ground that all religions are valid.

The British condemned the Caste system, but the later, they enthusiastically applauded.

Hindu, Islam and Christian religions had received substantial state patronage for sufficiently long period.

Assimilation and fusion of different cultures – Assimilation and fusion of different cultures has been a continuous process of the India civilization. A major cultural synthesis took place during 6th and 10th century, between Vedic Hindu culture, Buddhism and Dravidian culture. Another assimilation was seen after the 10th century, when the thinking of Arabs, Turks and Afghan, mainly guided by reason, influenced Indian thought. Sufi and Bhakti movements are examples of this. These two sects taught the people to love and respect all human beings irrespective of caste or creed. These also brought changes in the nature of mutual understanding, communal amity and accommodation.

Once again, during the period in between 18th century to 20th century, a major cultural synthesis took place with modernization and industrialization ushered in by the British.

Winding up

Many principles and cultures developed in the past, elsewhere in the world, had created such a wave that swept over the entire world for some time. An anti-wave, replacing such waves, emerged soon. It wiped off the previous influence. The Vedic culture, however, has proved to be an exception in this regard. There had been periods, when the Vedic culture became weak, especially under foreign rules. But it re-emerged every time, and whenever it re-emerged, it did not destroy other sects, it assimilated them within itself.

Despite of having different kinds of diversities, most of the times, the Indian society has been able to develop “an attitude of reconciliation rather than refutation, cooperation rather than confrontation and co-existence rather than mutual annihilation.”

It has happened due to basic tenets of Vedic culture along with tolerance, which are very close to every Indian. The principles of Varna, Dharma and Karma have contributed to the growth of the Indian society as a whole in a systematic way. It has organized orderly performance of various functions needed to provide a quality of life to its people. It prepared an atmosphere for co-existence of different sections of the society – be it ruler or ruled, be it rich or poor. It served to give Indian society coherence, stability and continuity; and held together different castes and communities having diverse languages and practices for generations – thus making unity in diversity a reality. om:offi

June 25, 2019 Posted by | Social and political values and systems | | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: