Hindu society needs a movement to kill caste

Abhijit Majumder
Abhijit MajumderJan 24, 2016 | 10:58

Hindu society needs a movement to kill caste

Twitter these days has introduced a "poll" feature. You pose a question and give options for others to click. At most times, it is at best a fun tool to play with when you are bored. But on the rare occasion, it reveals something deeper, something to think about.

With all the intrigue, opportunism and cacophony around Dalit student-activist Rohith Vemula's suicide, I held a little poll with the poser: "Hindu society must work towards…" The options were "scrap caste", "keep caste but unite", "lower castes overthrow upper castes" and "no change, all is well".


Of the 896 tweeple who voted, 66 per cent voted for scrapping caste and just one per cent for lower caste supremacy over upper castes. What is disturbing is that 33 per cent were fine with caste. Of them, 28 per cent felt castes must stay but unite, and five per cent felt there was no need for a change at all.

Social media is used by educated, mostly young Indians. Although this is a small sample, that one in three would be fine with castes although the devices they used for voting recognise no such division is telling.

Many argue that the oppressive aspects of caste were later distortions of the idea of varna vyavastha. The RSS leaders argue that they are against casteism but not against caste.

This logic, in the face of the immensity of the problem and daily caste humiliation across large parts of the nation, whittles down to mere semantics. The idea of broad divisions based on work is far from essential. And it invariably creates entrenched hierarchies, whether one theoretically accepts it or not.

Caste must go.


It is easier said. No less than Guru Nanak, Acharya Ramanuja, Dayananda Saraswati, Narayana Guru, Vinayak Savarkar, Mahatma Gandhi and several others had tirelessly tried but failed to root it out.

But there needs to have a massive and united social, religious, cultural and educational movement to outcast caste in Hindu society. Spiritual leaders, politicians, corporate India, academics… People from every stratum need to be involved in drawing up an intense, grassroots campaign.

At the Vishwa Hindu Sammelan in Udipi in 1969 represented by various sects and their heads, a resolution was passed to banish untouchability. But it fizzled out. Today, we have the technology and communication systems to take the message to the people far more effectively.

The RSS, trusted by a large number of Hindus, should stop pussyfooting and go back to what their "Guruji" had to say.

"At the root of untouchability lies the belief that it is part of dharma, and transgressing it would be a grave sin. This religious perversion is the chief reason why this pernicious practise has continued to stick to the popular mind," ideologue and former RSS chief MS Golwalkar wrote in his Bunch of Thoughts. "Nor did our dharma gurus condemn such practises because even they mistook the custom for dharma."


Deendayal Upadhyaya was more circumvent and while he did not wholly dismiss varna vyavastha, he wrote: "Through several social upheavals during several centuries, several perversions have crept into the system and they will have to be removed."

British colonisers exploited three main fault lines in Indian society - religion, caste and the north-south rift - to divide and rule. There are intellectuals and political parties with a sinister agenda to keep the issue burning while making it all look like progressive discourse.

Hinduism does not have unchangeable edicts. "As you peel off layers of rituals that exemplify everyday Hindu practise, you realise that none of it is designed as a final, unalterable route," writes Hindol Sengupta in his new book Being Hindu.

Caste has no use whatsoever in this time. It must die. It must be taken out by mature, mass action. Hindu society has shown the strength to reform itself again and again, wave after wave. A big one is due.

Last updated: January 25, 2016 | 16:57
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