I can neither eat with you nor touch you
My thoughts on caste discrimination
Nirmal Pathak ki Ghar Wapsi, on Sony Liv, is a lovely five-episode web series that I recently saw, and it brought back some of my childhood memories. Hence, I decided to share those memories and my current feelings about it as a result. Given the situation our country is experiencing these days, I was hesitant to write this post. The freedom of expression and speech have essentially become empty platitudes, you never know how someone can distort your words and give them a different meaning. I believe this piece adequately conveys my thoughts while leaving out the underlying meaning.
My mother once asked me as a child not to touch the woman who used to sweep around our house. She was primarily in charge of picking up any dead animals or birds and cleaning the drainage and surrounding area. When giving her food or money, my elders would always warn me not to touch her. I used to wonder why, so I started asking my family and friends, and I discovered that they are Dalits. We shouldn’t touch them because they perform filthy work. I wanted to protest, but I was too young to actually do it. Further, I learned about the four main caste classifications in the Hindu faith during my schoolwork: Shudras, Vaishyas, Kshatriyas, and Brahmins. Each category had a separate set of responsibilities.
- The Brahmins were in charge of education. Thus, those who fell under this group were priests or gurus. They sprung from the head of Brahma, who according to the Hindu Vedas is the creator of humans.
- The Kshatriyas were in charge of security. As a result, this category included warriors, monarchs, and administrators. They originated from the arms of Brahma.
- The Vaishyas were in charge of commerce or business. Therefore, those who fell into this category were either farmers or traders. They were made from the thigh of Brahma.
- Shudras were in charge of labor. Thus, practically everyone in this category is responsible for performing each type of taxing task. They sprung from the foot of Brahma.
These classifications were designed to maintain social harmony and guarantee that everyone understood their obligations. In other words, the main justifications for classifying people into such groups were Karma (work) and Dharma (Duty). An elaborated Varna system with insights and logic can be found in the Manu Smriti, an old legal document from the Vedic Period, as well as afterward in other Dharma Shastras. In theory, a person’s Varna is determined by their behavior rather than by their ancestry, which implies that behavior is more important than birth in defining a person’s Varna. However, as time went on, people derived their own meanings from the texts, and this varna system evolved into distinct caste divisions. I may not be writing anything that will enlighten you while stating the four categories, but I still want to draw attention to the rationale behind their creation.
The Dalits, often known as the untouchables, lived outside of this Hindu caste structure. Later, I understood that the discrimination was primarily due to the fact that the woman I had mentioned at the opening of my piece did not fall into any of these four categories. Untouchables and Dalits have frequently been mistreated in the past, according to a number of occurrences. But what truly saddens me is that while we have made great progress in science and technology over the past few years, such biases are prevalent. While reading about caste-based discrimination, I came across a few publications explaining that the British era is when such categories really took off. By splitting, they hoped to make colonial India’s variety easier to understand.
Although the government has worked to make such prejudice punishable by law, caste-based events nonetheless occasionally make news, and politicians do play a key part in ensuring that people remain divided based on such categories for their vote banks.
Focusing on discrimination allows only a specific group of people to thrive and prosper and those who are disadvantaged suffer in misery. Since I learned that my thought process is still influenced by others around me and by what I was taught as a child, I am unable to claim to be an honest liberal. Since they must have learned that wisdom from their elders, I cannot hold my friends or family members responsible for their way of thinking. But I have the chance to stand back and teach my child about accepting individuals without prejudice based on their race, caste, sex choice, gender, or background. It may not be possible for one essay to adequately convey the gravity of the issue I am attempting to draw attention to, but the point I am making is that it is past time for us to abandon this line of reasoning and attempt to view the world from the perspective of unity. Being born a certain color, gender, or caste is not something that one can control. So it truly amazes me that we make decisions about someone’s future based on these traits.
Following are the links to a few eye-opening articles/books. I referred to a few articles while stating the facts on the categories and the books that I have listed here are not read by me yet but they are definitely going to be on my priority read.
Viewpoint: How the British reshaped India's caste system
A Google search for basic information on India's caste system lists many sites that, with varying degrees of emphasis…
Caste hatred in India - what it looks like
A recent exhibition in the Indian city of Mumbai documented Dalit (formerly known as "untouchable") families that have…