[Advaita-l] Re: Question: Swadharma

Sanjay Srivastava sksrivastava68 at gmail.com
Sat Feb 11 16:59:20 CST 2006

Sri Ramesh Krishnamurthy wrote:
> 1. Negative scriptural statements in the manusmriti etc pertain to
> non-dvijas
> 2. Negative social treatment pertains to people currently classified
> as "scheduled castes"

I wanted to add a few thoughts here. 

Chaturvarna system as described in manusmriti is dead since long. What we find today is a caste system which has substantially evolved in response to various demands of society in different times. The caste system is only obliquely related to chaturvarna system and carries a lot more complexity than permitted in chaturvarna system. Cotroversial passages which are cited from manusmriti pertain to a system that has not been in existence in hinduism for well over a thousand years. Today, we can only speculate on why manusmriti contains negative references to *non-dvija-s of chaturvarna system* since compiler of manusmriti is not even aware of the caste system we have. If someone wanted to understand the religious practices and difference between a "tiwari" and "krishnamurthy" or "khatri" and "agarwala" or "saxena" or "datta", no amount of research into manusmriti and veda-s is going to help. 

There is a saying in hindi that the snake has already left, but we are still beating its marks. This is what has been happenning with chaturvarna system and manusmriti.

Sri Ram Garib wrote:

> 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 might have also realized that wearing of sacred thread did not alter your social status. At one time Arya Samajists distributed sacred threads en masse to everyone. I am not aware if it made any dents in their social status. 

On the contrary, I see a widespread reluctance to wear sacred thread even among those who would otherwise be entitled for it. In my community, sacred thread is worn once in life, at the time of marriage and is discarded the very next day. It seems people are rather willing to jump on any excuse for not wearing the sacred thread than other way round. No one seems to be particularly anxious to protect the social priviliges that come from wearing the sacred thread.

Ideally, sacred thread conferred a right and a duty to study vedic texts which were restricted to ensure the authenticity of original texts. Here also I do not see caste people clamouring to protect this right. If at all, I find people needing constant persuasion from religious leaders to carry on at least a modicum of vedic study. Shringeri acharya once claimed that he does not have any dearth of funds to support those who are interested in vedic studies but there are hardly any takers.

> 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.

I would doubt that this discrimination is based on dvija-hood or wearing of sacred thread. Since you are from UP, you might know that in some states, kayasthas are considered dvija-s and in others not. If dvija-hood were the criterion of social status, then you would expect to see kayasthas of bengal enjoying radically superior social status than kayasthas of UP or rajasthan. I do not however see any such dramatic differences there. Moreover, if you claim that non-dvija-hood led to social oppression, then you would have to conclude that a substantial portion of erstwhile zamindars and today's landlords in the cowbelt would fall in the "oppressed" category.

I would therefore conclude that power balance between different castes has been the the root cause of social discrimination than non-dvija-hood or not wearing of sacred thread. 

Since "caste" is largely a social construct, its utility and practices should be evaluated from social considerations rather than religious one. In this context I will let the best known social reformer of the last century, speak for himself:

(Letters to B.R.Ambedkar -M.K.Gandhi, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad-14, 1941, edited by Bharatan Kumarappa).

"I believe that if Hindu society has been able to stand it is because it is founded on the caste system. Hinduism would have been reduced to a bland monolith were it not for the castes to preserve their identities, practices, traditions and beliefs in their myriad hues. These being my views I am opposed to all those who are out to destroy the caste system". (p.52)

and later...

"I have no dubts that 'untouchability' as it is practiced today by hindus is a scourge, an unadulterated menace that cannot be allowed to continue on any grounds. My understanding of hindu scriptures says that 'truth' and 'non-violence' are the core values of hinduism and anything that is inconsistent with core values is superfluous. ....'untouchability' is physical, emotional and spiritual violence" (ibid. p.53)'

> 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.

Social issues that we face today are at most only tenuously related to scriptures and that too by implication. If we wanted to study the social issues of chaturvarna system, manusmriti would have been quite handy. However, if we want to analyze the rivalries between kurmis, bhumihaars, lodhs and ahirs, we will be unable to find a single reference to them in any of the scriptures.


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