Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Casted in Iron

This appears to be the season of caste consciousness, what with UP elections and the OBC reservation issues raging across the country. So, I thought I'd like to take a look at the so-called first principles of castes.

I first bowled a googly at my parents - "What is the difference between Iyengars and Iyers ?". Forward defence clumsily played - "Iyengars worship Vishnu and Iyers worship Shiva"... Lousy shot, since now I could bombard them with questions they couldn't answer - "So, aren't they both Gods of Hinduism ?", "So what if they worship different Gods ?", "What is the difference between Vishnu and Shiva that creates Iyengars and Iyers ?"... Having no clues, they came up with the classical escapism of cricket - over change, pass the buck to the non-striker- "Why don't you ask the vaadyars (priests) ? They can answer you". I'm not put off, I come back "You mean you don't know. Say yes or no"...

After a long while, they admit they don't know what being Iyengar means, they don't know what "Brahmin" means, they only know they have to follow a set of rituals because their elders and priests say so. Of course, they got really irritated with me by this time (you can't easily accept you don't know what or why you've been doing your entire life - so it is natural to be irritated), so I'd to cease my interrogation. Isn't it great that we are a country of 1.2 billion sheep (I sincerely apologize to the animal-lovers and sheep reading this blog !)- clueless, brainless, gutless wonders of Matrix-like proportions. What a sham(e) !

This is also the tragedy of religion and society: we don't want to be bothered by inconvenient details, so we just abstract away the knowledge in a way that makes a Unix kernel look amateur. "I don't know, the priest said so", "that is what the shastras say", "I don't know, your grandmother says so" seem to have become perfectly acceptable demonstrations of cluelessness of an individual... Till today, nobody has shown me the shastras that they quote and more importantly, prove that something is right just because it is supposed to be in the shastras. BTW, I also think grandmothers are the most lethal organisms ever invented - proficient in the art of emotional blackmail and a demand for obedience rivalled only by military chain of command, their only purpose in life is to ensure transition of so-called values comprising of superstition, blind beliefs, meaningless rituals to the obedient and sheep-ly members of the younger generations. And you think the IT companies have perfected the art of KT (knowledge transfer) !!

Every caste believes it is superior to the other. Nobody really knows how. They say caste is hereditary - I'm supposedly a Brahmin because my parents are Brahmin ... but why ? Inter-caste marriages spoil the theory - what caste does the offspring belong to ? So, instead of changing theory, it is easy to change the laws, so inter-caste marriages are forbidden. Fortunately for us, the power of human love, affection and often plain lust is far greater than respect to stupid elders, which is probably one reason our country is still united.

They say some are untouchable ... I don't understand it - I mean, do they have any poisonous aura around them that is going to kill me if I touch them ? They say some castes are impure ... if I'm really from a superior caste (as every caste claims to be), shouldn't my touch purify the other person, instead of my being scared of catching some religious small-pox ? I've thought a lot about it, and pestered people, but haven't got any answers. Perhaps, there isn't any.

It is also myth that the castes that we are talking about relate to Hinduism. I know a great friend of mine (and is a Christian) who is extremely particular about choosing to marry from the identical caste within the Indian Christian circles. So, it is likely that the caste didn't evolve from religion, rather from society. So, what really is the foundation of caste ?

So, according to my "power hypothesis" (and I can't prove this) this is the truth about caste: it is only an instrument of gaining and protecting power over others. Perhaps, long long ago, employment was divided into 4 categories for sake of administrative convenience. Perhaps, the so-called "untouchables" were probably people who were so poor that they used to be employed to do "dirty" things such as clean wastes (remember, no toilets at that time), and hence contracted diseases (remember, no modern medicine at that time) that couldn't be properly diagnosed. So, some smartass somewhere high at the top, wanting more political power and more clout in the kingdom, came up with a rule so that he and his family got assigned into a "better" caste, by making the class division hereditary (and hence permanent) and it flowed down the generations of obedient people, ending up with the non-sense that we have now.

This isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. Hitler based his holocaust on Aryan superiority non-sense, split the society into manageable units (but was clever enough to be on the side of the majority), and started massacring people even remotely connected to Jews (who were coincidentally a minority and militarily weak). Did he believe in his Aryan superiority theory ? Did Stalin believe in Communism ? I doubt it. They just believed in using the tools to gain power. All they had to do to succeed was to convince their compatriots about the worthiness of their "cause". We got to be thankful that we didn't go into such extremes.

So, that is the secret of caste - power hunger .. or as Miss Marple describes it - "human nature". You want to get rid of casteism ? Decrease caste-consciousness. Stop talking about caste equations every time there is an election.

Go and chew on it. You'll probably agree with me.

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