[Advaita-l] Re: Question: Swadharma

Ramesh Krishnamurthy rkmurthy at gmail.com
Fri Feb 10 10:00:31 CST 2006

Namaste Sri Ram Garib,

I have read all your mails in this thread and must say I
wholeheartedly empathize with your
feelings. However, there are a few points where I think you are
looking at the issue from the wrong angle.

For example, you wrote:
>Take for example rules of manu. No self-respecting non-dvija can ever
relate to those >rules. I understand that no one today is insisting
for imposition of those rules, but the >sanction of them by a
religious scripture attacks at the very core of ones value as a >human
being. As a non-dvija, it makes you feel worthless as a human being.

and again:
> Historically, brahmins have been as poor
> (if not more) as shudras, barring a few in the kings'
> courts. All our ancient stories start with "Once upon
> a time there lived a poor brahmin.....". It can safely
> be concluded that "rich brahmin" is a very recent
> phenomenon that occurred only after brahmins gave up
> their herditary occupations. It will therefore be
> difficult to explain the abuse on economic terms. It
> is unmistakably linked to explicit or implict
> scriptural sanction to such abuse.

Certainly there are some statements in the manusmriti and a few other
scriptures that can be interpreted as being abusive to non-dvijas.
However, historically non-dvijahood has in itself NEVER been a source
of social discrimination. The Patels of Gujarat, mentioned in some
earlier mails, are a classic example. They have long been a fairly
well-to-do and respected jaati. They are proud of their traditions and
do not carry a historical sense of being oppressed. Similarly, there
are scores of other non-dvija communities. Many royal dynasties in
India were non-dvija, and so forth. They fully participated in all
spheres of life, be it religious, economic or political.

In fact, the term dvija has never really had much public recall. Most
people would never have even heard of the term. It hardly meant
anything socially.

However, there is a small portion of the non-dvija population that has
this historical sense of being oppressed. But the reasons lie
elsewhere, in the phenomenon of "untouchabilty".
As far as I understand, untouchability is primarily related to ancient
sentiments regarding death. For example, if I attend a funeral, I am
temporarily untouchable until I take a bath and "purify" myself. For
jaati-s whose work required them to frequently come in contact with
dead bodies (such as leather workers, cremation ground workers, etc),
this notion of untouchability became permanent.

It is specifically the notion of untouchability that lead to social
abuse of certain jaati-s, and not their non-dvijahood. And this abuse
was essentially a kind of boycott, with these jaatis having to live

The whole problem becomes much clearer when you separate the
dvija/non-dvija issue from that of untouchability. So for most
non-dvijas, the idea of following family traditions is not a problem
in itself. They are quite proud of their traditions.

Unfortunately, many modern intellectuals and the media have mixed up
the two issues. So we now have a situation where a section of our
population has a sense of victimhood, and others have a sense of
guilt, and everybody points a finger at the manusmriti. Granted that
the manusmriti has its problems, but the social issues we face are
quite unrelated to it.

And at the end of the day, it is Hinduism that is suffering, with all
and sundry criticizing it.

One last point. Theoretically, tradition is secondary to Shruti and
Smriti. But in practice, tradition trumps Shruti as well as Smriti, in
part because it is tradition that decides what is Shruti/Smriti and
what is not, and in part because our texts are not to be interpreted
like one interprets the Constitution of a country. Manusmriti et al
are the interpretations of tradition by individual authors, and not
the creators of tradition.Whatever such texts say about non-dvijas
doesnt matter much because tradition has not followed them. On the
other hand, when we talk of untouchability, it is tradition that is
the problem, not the texts. This is where the problem lies, and the
solution as well.

The more we point fingers at the texts, the more we go away from the
real problem.

Given that you are well read in the shaastra-s, I would have expected
you to see through this problem. But even you seem to have fallen prey
to the prevailing worldview. Certainly, Hinduism is in bad shape.


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