Most of us are unfortunately familiar with the news of various caste-related atrocities happening across our country and surprisingly, nowadays there are cases of caste-related discrimination even happening abroad. There are cases of workers from the so-called “lower caste” being harassed and tortured by their co-workers from the “upper caste”. There are also cases of women of the “lower caste” being raped by men from certain “upper castes”. These atrocities are not even limited to the boundaries of rural areas of the country. The point is that you have heard of this very often and you have to be living under a rock to not know about this.
However, the Hindu community is often blamed and hated upon for giving birth to this caste system. Sure, the atrocious caste practices are seen mostly in the hindu community, but the line between a community and religion often tend to blur, and this hate and outrage is often directed towards the Hindu religion. Terms like “Brahmanical supremacy” and “Saffron terror” are often used in various slogans in anti-hindu protests across the country, while using the excuse that Hinduism promotes the rigid caste system. They say “the Manusmriti promotes caste-system”. Let’s take a deep dive into this.
First things first, calling “Hinduism” a religion is an incomplete statement. “Hinduism” is also a cultural and geographical identity. It doesn’t follow a set of rules dictated in a holy book, or even a certain number of holy books, like most other religions. The Christians following The Bible or the Muslims following The Quran is often equated to how Hindus follow the Bhagavad Gita or Ramayana. Hinduism is a way of life. It is more than just a set of rules dictated in one holy book.
Now, speaking of sacred texts, often the Manusmriti is blamed for the present caste system in India. It is known how famously B.R Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution, burned the Manusmriti in a public protest to “take a stand” against the oppression of the Dalit community.
To be clear, the Manusmriti DOES NOT promote caste system.
What the Manusmriti does say, is that society should be divided into four varnas, Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. This is only an occupational division of society. It is NOT dictated by birth and it is only dictated by qualities of an individual. The Brahmanas were involved in activities in temples, teaching, and various other professions that required being well-read and knowledgeable. The Kshatriyas were warriors and involved in the protection and military of a kingdom. The Vaishyas were involved in trade and commerce. The Shudras were peasants who were involved in other occupations like farming, sanitation, labour etc. Till here, it is textbook knowledge, even taught to us in schools.
But there’s more to it. The Manusmriti says that the varnas are ONLY defined by the qualities of an individual and nothing else. Shudras, if they wanted to, could educate themselves to become a Brahmana. Kshatriya, if they wanted to, could become a Vaishya. If a Brahmana isn’t well read and good in their work is no more than a Shudra. Anybody could become anything. Of course, it is only natural that children learn things from their parents and draw inspiration from them and often tend to enroll in the line of work as their parents. A Brahmana’s son would watch his Father conducting poojas in temples and might desire to be like him. A Soldier’s son might want to achieve glory in the battlefield like his father. But in the end, it’s an individual choice, according to the Manusmriti.
Also, The Bhagavad Gita verse-IV/13 which describes the caste system in India says,
The fourfold caste has been created by Me according to the differentiation of Guna and Karma; though I am the author thereof know Me as non-doer and immutable.
In the above verse, Guna means the nature of your thoughts and Karma means the work that you do. This implies that, according to The Bhagavad Gita, the caste which you belong to is solely decided by the nature of your thoughts and the work that you do. The biggest lie all Indians are being told by their elders is that your caste is decided by your birth. This is an extremely false notion being conveyed by the ‘saints’ with little knowledge of scriptures.
To look at more examples, Parashurama, one of the ten Avatars of Lord Vishnu was a Brahmana. However, his very purpose was killing numerous evil kings oppressing the people of his time, a deed very unlikely for a Brahmana.
Drona and Kripa, the gurus of the Pandavas and Kauravas in the Mahabharata fought in the Great Battle of Kurukshetra. But that should be the work of a Kshatriya.
Even the famously notorious and evil Asura king, Ravana himself was a Brahmana (his father was Maharishi Vishrava), whom Lord Ram killed! He wasn’t spared for his evil deeds because he was a Brahmana. And yet still Hinduism is blamed for “Brahmanical Supremacy”.
Now, many people might point out that in the Mahabharata itself, Drona had refused Ekalavya to teach him because he wasn’t of royal blood. The great warrior, Karna was often discriminated against for being the son of a charioteer. Well, the Mahabharata is a great work of literature and it had criticised and addressed the issues that were already slowly creeping up in the society of that time. Those characters discriminating was their personal choice. The discrimination was never justified by the book. Even though Karna was largely discriminated against, he was still crowned the King of a kingdom. He still fought in battles. Despite being the son of a charioteer, he had risen up through the ranks through struggle and became a king and a renowned warrior. This only drives the point even more that Hinduism doesn’t promote caste-based discrimination.
When our own Gods and Idols in our sacred texts keep breaking stereotypes, why do we, an evolved civilisation and culture, follow those rules still?
We as a society need to reform and need to face the facts. Hinduism does not promote or encourage casteism. It is only the idea of power-hungry people who want to divide and cultivate fear and terror in the minds of the people in a peaceful society.
It is important that this truth be made at least as well known as the false claim that “Hinduism promotes casteism”. This truth needs to become common knowledge of the people. This should be made the new norm.