[Advaita-l] Re: Question: Swadharma

Ram Garib garib_ram at yahoo.co.in
Fri Feb 10 15:48:49 CST 2006

Thanks Ramesh for your inputs.

Every time I post a reply on this topic, I think twice
before hitting the "submit" button. I hope I am not
testing moderators' patience by often going off the
scope of this list. I am here taking liberty to assume
that a topic on "swadharma" cannot be completely
irrelevant to non-dual philosophy since eligibilty for
non-dual philosophy presupposes a life led in
accordance with dharma. 

--- Ramesh Krishnamurthy <rkmurthy at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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.

Thanks for your encouragement. I am definitely looking
forward to get challenged and corrected, where I am
> 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.

I agree that the term "dvija" carries more of an
academic significance than social. I would in fact be
surprized if someone in my village knew what "dvija"
means. It may well be similar to the surprize of an
English country man who discovered that he had been
speaking in "prose" all his life:-)

However, it will be incorrect to say that "janeu" does
not carry any social significance. At least, in the
rural context, it is an unmistakeable sign of social
superiority. At one time, I too had (quite foolishly)
satrted wearing janeu and had to be persuaded by Swami
Krishnananda-ji to give it up.

You say that non-dvija-hood has never been a cause of
social discrimination. I would argue exactly the
opposite. Non-dvija-hood has not as much been the
cause of economic discrimination as scoial. In my
village in eastern UP, I do not remember any shudra 
passively accepting lower wages on account of his
caste yet when it came to issue like education, he
will quite willingly accept an inferior treatment
based solely on caste. Even government run primary
schools were not exempt from an unofficial yet quite
entrenched discrimination. The only available means
for basic education for non-dvija-s remained the local
christian church.

As far as non-dvija-s' economic and political
participation  is concerned, I am entirely on your
side. However as far as their religious participation
is concerned, I have serious doubts. Religious
participation of non-dvija-s has remained very
exclusive of other castes. Even though we celebrated
festivals like "holi', it was never doubted that
temple precincts and "holi-milan-samaroha" etc. were
out of bounds for us. Ironical though it may seem,
very often we held our "holi-milan-samaroha" in church
courtyards. In fact, impressed by the idea of social
egalitarianism, I had seriously thought of converting
to christianity in my teens. It was only later that I
had good fortune of meeting Swami Krishnananda-ji and
some very excellent philosophy teachers at BHU when I
realized that power of shankara compels you wherever
you go.  

> 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.

I am fine with your analysis distinguishing
"untouchability" from "non-dvija-hood". It is the
notion of "un-touchability" and "dirtiness" associated
with non-dvija-hood that is more of a problem rather
than non-dvija-hood itself. However saying that only a
small population of non-dvija-s has a sense of being
oppressed is not correct. I am not speaking here from
my personal experience alone. I have worked at fairly
senior levels in the Ministry of Social Welfare and
the data speak for themselves. As on date, there are
at least 200 million people in India who are still
subject to the extreme form of untouchability. If you
need detailed documented evidence in this regard, you
are welcome to contact me off the list.

> 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
> separately.
> 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.

I would be quite happy if they really were proud of
their traditions. Unfortunately, a very substantial
population of them, is not. We need an ideal larger
than our life to sustain our self-esteem in the
vicissitudes of life. Non-dvija communities have been
lacking exactly this ideal. In my last post I
mentioned that historically brahmins were as poor as
shudras however it did not erode their self-esteem
since they had a galaxy of community ideals starting
from sages of the yore. By contrast, barring a valmiki
here or a vidura there--non-dvija-s never had
community ideals which they could fall back for
inspiration. It due to this reason that I think that
looking back to traditions might indeed be
counterproductive for non-dvija-s.
> 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.

I also do not think that the blame game can lead us
anywhere. However I find it unacceptable when we
refuse to look at the root causes. I understand that
looking at the scriptures with critical eyes can open
up pandora's box. Scriptures are the basis of any
religion and if we doubt their authority or
authenticity, then the whole edifice comes crumbling
down. Moreover, if we start with one scripture, where
do we draw the line to avoid throwing the baby out
with the bath water. At the same time, claiming that
our social issues are quite unrelated to scriptures is
ignoring the reality. Some of our social issues are
very much related to our scriptures and the
interpretations of those scriptures. The sooner we
recognized this, the better.

> 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.

I would quite happily agree that traditions are more
at the root of the problem esp. since most of these
scriptures were anyway not available for non-dvija-s.
The issue is that today we can neither restrict nor it
is desirable to restrict the knowledge about such
scriptural texts. As knowledge about them grows, a
very substantial portion of hindu community will find
it difficult to relate to them. How are we going to
respond to this situation? 

> 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.

I, on the other hand do not share your pessimism about
the fate of Hinduism. I have a firm belief that
tomorrow will be better.

With regards,
Ram Garib 

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