Tuesday, April 26, 2016

THE PITFALLS OF CASTE POLITICS



The past few months has been alive with news and views of Rohit Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar both dalit students and political aspirants. Rohit played the death card to highlight his views or predicaments whatever one wishes to call it while Kanhaiya wore the crusaders hat and took campus politics into every house-hold, right into their drawing room during prime time. In the case of Rohit, the establishment with a tongue which is forked on the politics of caste, couldn’t help mismanage the whole incident. In the case of Kanhaiya, flowing in the center of the discussion was the subject whether he was anti-national. That brought into the arena multiple views about what constituted nationalism and then the subject digressed into patriotism and disrespect towards the armed forces. The drama soon shifted to Parliament and what followed was the big eyed histrionics of Smiti Irani, a minister who has no idea about the pressures of a PhD student. Very soon the arguments became partisan and it was proclaimed that loud expressions of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ would be akin to waving the RSS propaganda. Later on as the melee continued, some students of an engineering collage in Srinagar Kashmir couldn’t contain their happiness as Indian cricket team lost to West Indies while a few others got thrashed by the state Police for creating a ruckus with the Indian national flag. All this back and forth exchange of heat and dust was being conducted under the umbrella of freedom of expression or ironically rather the perceived lack of it.

First, arguments should happen, even if it becomes a circus, as it is a healthy sign of a mature democracy and as long as nobody is trying to hurt another physically, they have the right to say anything, even something grossly stupid. In retaliation maybe they get out shouted. In such an atmosphere people tend to modify their views and maybe learn something new. The spectators also take some learning home. In no case should anyone try to stifle the voice of another. Inspite of myself I have to concede that the noise which Arnab Goswani creates on Times Now is good even though I hate watching it.

Secondly let us look at the root cause; the problem of caste discrimination. Caste system today is like a weather beaten mountain full of rocks which though unmovable has developed several cracks and with vegetation growing from every nook and corner. It is regrettable and a crying shame that it still remains non-budging. Caste is the English language word for the pre-Vedic or could be even the Vedic varana system of classification of people and their rights and obligations on the basis of their work skills and contributing abilities towards society. The knowledge bearers / teachers and the soldiers / protectors snatched a higher ranking. This is a practical and commonsense approach to acknowledge those who had the ability to help others realize their passions and those that protect while they learn the requisite skills. The farmers, traders, artisans and other service providers accepted the third ranking of those who are required in a society and helped to make it vibrant and colorful. The last category was left to those who couldn’t learn any skill or those who were too rustic to be molded or most probably those who were forest dwellers and outsiders to that specific society and its way of life. Apparently work skills and contribution to society was a matter of personal abilities and likings. People could move up and down the varanas based on their personal choice and it had nothing to do with rights by birth. Probably such segregation served some purpose because it became extremely popular and stuck on. People soon realized that the rights and benefits were too attractive to be given up and thus they manipulated it to teach their skills to their children even forcibly so that they do not get downgraded and lose out on living standards.

Over a fairly long period of time in came Alexander, then the Turks, the Mughals and finally the British. Society changed. Passing on skills sets to children was no more essential. What remained was the existing caste of the family which became permanent. The entire concept has been rendered useless now because (a) the lesser varanas had no way to get rid of their caste even if they have better skill sets and ability to contribute to society, (b) the higher varanas still control faith and resources which are important to living (c) the higher varanas find no motivation to give up privileges which they have become accustomed to over several generations. This dilemma has lead to social unrest; however unrest in society due of caste considerations is not a new phenomenon. If I may be permitted my mirth, I do subscribe to the opinion that Indian mythology is not all fiction, it is part itihasa as well, or in other words, there are a lot of facts which go unacknowledged. I would like to draw upon the story of Parasurama, a Brahmin, who vowed and also is reputed to have killed several thousand Kshatriyas for the reason that the latter community were either misusing their privileges or were ill treating the Brahmins or in were interrupting his ambitions. Another inference that I draw from Parasurama is that all the four varanas were not defined in a vertical manner but rather in a horizontal. To start with all of them were described as equal, and segregated by their contribution to society. Subsequent developments of war, security, religion, rituals, food and material comforts were reasons to pitch one community against another and society ended up in accepting one community above others with the Shudras or Dalits taking the last position.

Returning back to where we started, a major casualty of the caste politics has been the alienation from the feeling of nationalism. That society which considers one person superior for the mere chance of birth can never bind itself together as a nation. That society which considers some sections so inferior that others cannot be permitted to mix with them, can never bind itself together as a nation. Such segregations are breeding grounds of hypocrisy; where if a Brahmin commits a crime he is let off with a warning but a Shudras or Dalit is thrashed and left to die, where fruits of development is restricted to one’s own while others are denied and ignored, where one justifies one’s own corruption as a no-other-alternative or as a way of life while criticizing others. How does one convince to nationhood a sufferer due to society’s indifference? History is replete with stories of traitors to the national cause.


The demography of this country is slowly but surely tilting towards the lower castes and to my mind the best way ahead is to totally dismantle the caste equations, and I really mean totally. Caste comes in handy in certain aspects of life for instance while arranging a marriage alliance and while evaluating the extent of religious rituals. Even in such neutral regions it would be better to find some other alternatives and bypass the caste factor. People have to give up on identifying themselves with their caste, and look up for some different paradigm which will consider all people equal and rather evaluate them based on their skill and contributing capability. Today, we can see that while ordinarily people don’t concern themselves with caste when dealing with others in their endeavor to earn their daily bread, however some disgruntled ambitious elements are manipulating this subject for their political and economic benefits. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

SPIRITUALITY IN DAILY LIFE




Bo, staying alive is itself a struggle
When body mind and intellect
Do not remain consistent every moment
And emotions play havoc on the soul


Having a dream isn’t the mistake
You can even work towards a goal
So put forth your best efforts
Since purpose of living is to be happy


The fault lies in wishful expectations when
Dreams become desire exceeding merits
Then you merely become a victim
Because only a fool challenges his fate


Otherwise success kisses the feet
Of toilers with indifference to results
For destiny smiles on the patient
While acceptance can never kill


Faith and rituals do help
To inspire and to stabilize the ego
Maintaining a pleasant state of mind
And never lose hope.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

TOLERANCE - AN INDIAN PERSPECTIVE



Biki my brother has two kids. The elder one Dhiaan is four years old and his younger sister Parthavi is two years old. Parthavi wants to do everything which Dhiaan does, wants everything which her elder brother has, including playing with his toys, and also displacing him at being pampered by their parents. Possibly she evaluates her self-worth by comparing how well she fares against her brother. Dhiaan on the other hand is annoyed at this emotional blackmail by his younger sister. He senses a visible loss at being dotted on whenever Parthavi tries to shift all focus of attention to herself. He possibly feels insecure and that definitely leads to the breakdown of his normally good behavior.

This scene is very common in families and several couples must have experienced such sibling rivalry, many people must also remember this from their own life story. It is not the fault of the siblings that they behave so, nor is it their fault that they have been placed in such a situation by their parents. Of course how can anybody blame the parents also? Its life after all, isn’t it! We advise and cajole the elder one to bear with the younger one, sometimes scold him too for being selfish. We more often than not succumb to the tactics of the younger one. In the end we see better judgment in taking a back seat and let them fight it out and decide for themselves.  I find an interesting parallel to this sibling competition scenario in today’s inter-religious inter-caste landscape where intolerance has once more raised its fierce head.

Today the nations’ social fabric is once more torn by religion and by caste. Some sections of the population have once more become extremely intolerant. I use the phrase ‘once more’ to emphasize the fact that such episodes are not new. Maybe if I may dare say, we have managed to rise slightly above the gender, colour and geographical divide, though the fault lines are still visible. However much we proclaim that diversity is our strength, each diverse group is at pain justifying how it is secular while others are not. It is very easy to get carried away in this emotionally charged atmosphere. We all end up taking sides which are familiar to us, each religion sides with their own and each caste side with their own. Each group feels justified in its thoughts, words and actions. Each group wishes to enforce its writ or get it acknowledged. Each group carries the opinion of having being wronged by the other or by the state or maybe even fate. Each group behaves as if its existence is under threat. Insecurity rules over reason. Fear rules over love and this happens when religion rules over spirituality.

People often refer to some trigger some past cause to explain the present disturbance. While nothing happens without a reason but having said that, one must not lose sight of the fact that causes are also events which can be easily misrepresented and misinterpreted. A normal consequence, a natural sequence can be given an intention ridden twist, a political or even a partisan colour. Sometimes the cause also has a previous cause which gets overlooked. Every reaction generates some unnecessary counter reaction. Definitely a conscious and deliberate acceptance of the situation would be more advisable; however it is easier said than done in this impatient age. Today Allopathy is more popular than Ayurveda. People just want a quick-fix solution which may be ineffective in the long run or could even be counter-productive.

It is very interesting to notice that India has gone through such phases of social struggle or if one wishes to call it social mayhem time and again. Sometimes it became a fight for survival, sometimes it was to fight against the present regime and sometimes it was an altercation of egos. Researchers should dwell into the root cause of these frequent incidents, whether it has something to do with a typical psychology of the people of this region or even their genes or whether can it simply be attributed to bad luck.  A broad brushing through history reveals some of these shades: Post migration of the Indus people – The old culture was destroyed and replaced by the Vedic culture. Even the spiritually inclined and open Vedic culture changed and became religious and closed. The old native gods disappear or almost, now they can only be seen in few villages and even fewer houses. New gods were created, new religion professed, where rituals and instant benefits took center stage. The caste system made a grand appearance and natives, the aborigines were either converted or segregated. Post the Buddha- The classical clash between the spiritual and the religious. He said there was no god and neither did he respect the caste system. Political patronage became the means to survival and court intrigue ruled the roost. Even the Buddha was poisoned and murdered. Over time both groups modified their respective stands, modified their practices and also their literature. Post the Mughals – Foreigners enter the scene yet again, this time in search of gold and glory, introduced a different way of living and a different religion. This time it was a clash of cultures. Bitter conflicts ended with slaughter of humanity and only those who converted were spared. Cow protection became a rallying point for the Hindus. Destruction of temples and looting its gold became rampant. Post the Christians – Yet another foreigner comes in, again in search of gold and glory, and introduces yet another god and a very different culture. They convert people with a missionary zeal to increase their footprints and social acceptability. They take away local raw material and work, bring back finished goods, take away the profits and livelihood, and make everyone a slave. Modern times post independence – Now there are too many gods, too many religions and too much population. Old habits die hard and the religious plus caste fights continue. New constitution proclaims everyone is equal and to balance the past sins introduces reservation policy. This placating of certain castes is now beginning to hurt, however there is no way out.

Tolerance or intolerance or the fight against both, whichever way you look at it, now runs in the psyche of the people of this land. This has lead to two different schools of thoughts. One says that India was never a tolerant nation; there has always existed these killings and destruction. The other says that when inspite of so much struggle if today we are able to call ourselves a nation, then it is only because we have slowly come to accept and tolerate the difference in all of us. Over time the number and intensity of such incidents have reduced and this trend will continue. Maybe that argument holds weight and promise for the future. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

TO RESURGENCE OR NOT TO



A new wind has been blowing in the country during the whole of 2015. It wants to overpower the existing air circulation system. It sees an opportunity and therefore seeks to establish a new narrative and thereby recreate history. That this wind see the present moment as its golden chance cannot be faulted to it. Indeed this could be its last chance, its only chance. And if it play its cards correctly and is able to carry a sizable population along with it, then it could succeed to a considerable extent.

I am referring to the awakening of the pro Hindutva forces in India; maybe Bharat would be more appropriate, and their political efforts to script a nationalistic renaissance of sorts. Some of these efforts have transformed into violence and killing. It would be an understatement to simply say that civil society across the country has been rudely shaken by all these alterations to the status-quo. All this has snowballed into a huge intolerance debate and agitations have erupted at various sections with a number of groups taking or being forced to take sides.  A few of these significant and yet very unpopular and embarrassing actions were; branding the current education contents and systems as anti-national, branding the heads of governmental institutions as leftist, western educated and therefore again anti-national, lauding Vedic science and its achievements at an International Science Conference, the murder of rationalists and the steam rolling or destruction of opposition, the revival of the Cow Mother belief theory and the frequently expressed desire to dispatch Muslims from India to Pakistan. Let us brace up because I am certain that many more will follow.

As a neutral observer I find it very difficult to equate the forward looking and progressive desire of vast majority of Indian population with the backward looking and regressive thought process of these pro Hindutva groups. That such people do continue to exist in society is not unbelievable but that they are able to exercise some degree of influence is tough to understand. I see this as an affirmation of the presence of fear in society. The pro Hindutva groups like to paint themselves as nationalists and seem to suggest that all remedy of problems of present day living is in bringing back the past traditions. They seem to suggest that the  present education system is bad, the present governance system is bad, the present religious system is bad, the present culture of the people is bad, the present caste and religion based appeasement system is bad, and so also the way in which the present population is growing. I really can’t argue on all the above since I don’t have the knowledge but have only some simple questions; one when in the past was it ever good and two is not the present a direct outcome of all past systems.

I don’t have any issues with publicizing the Vedic texts as information. However instead of waving its contents as facts some of these groups should try and if possible establish all its claims as not mere fiction. That may take some doing, some real research. Possible most of it would still remain as information but some portions could get established as real science in the school curriculum. That would still be considerable achievement as it would surely lend a tremendous support to the authenticity of Vedic science which is the real goal of the pro Hindutva groups.

But I do have a major problem with the killing the voice of dissent. This country was never united until the past six decades. Plurality of thoughts and beliefs was the main reason why we were fragmented. But to remain united if we have to shed this privilege of being different, then I really don’t care to remain united. I am myself one unique being and I cannot think or perform like anybody else. I hold this distinctiveness very dear. If we all can remain united but at the same time preserve the right to be different then I am with all. There are huge economic benefits of being one nation and also there are certain rules, responsibilities and accountabilities expected from every citizens of a nation. There are times when individual preferences have to be given up for a common good. Certainly that does make sense. But as a human being I find it degrading that someone needs to be killed or sacrificed in order to bring about homogeneity. Moreover there would hardly anything interesting or even any development if everybody did the same thing.

The Cow Mother is another concept I am unable to digest. Why is cow the only animal to be given such recognition? What crime has the buffalo committed? In India we consume more of buffalo milk and it’s by products. Neither do we distinguish cow and buffalo dung. And yet the Vedas eulogizes only the cow. What sense does it make to selectively legalize in the present days some portions stated in the ancient Vedas? The Vedas also describe horse sacrifice which we don’t practice today. Logically since the Vedas were from the Indus and Saraswati River civilization its influence should not be enforced on the natives of central, south and east Indians. Why not ban the killing of all animals? As a vegetarian even though I would welcome it but as a citizen of a democratic country I would condemn that too.

Coincidentally all these eruptions have manifested after the BJP has come to power at the center. No doubt the BJP has won with the help of the RSS and its pro Hindutva umbrella of organizations. But the basic pitch which has brought it to power was development. To my mind it should stick to that basic and all work should be centered on that. Any deviation would and should be punished like the Bihar election results. However all these pro Hindutva umbrella organizations are proving to be the Achilles heel for the central government because each one of them wants to bring out its own organizations agenda on top of the BJP agenda. All these organizations have to realize that now they are dealing with real politics. When politics confronts economics, politics always loses. That is because the population only wants a better living and they can do with any kind of religion, culture, or belief. The economic argument is so powerful that it can overcome all other arguments. People only want development and that too, only equitable development. That is where the Congress government messed up with their corruption. That is where Vajpayee government lost because they claimed India to be shining while infact there was no such shine in the lives of the poor. People want their next generation to lead a better life. People want the next generation to become internationally competitive and have a broad outlook so as to fit in anywhere in the world. Today the Dalit parents want their ward to study and work in the UK and the USA which until yesterday was the privilege of the richer section. Information technology and information explosion has reduced the whole globe into one geographic mass. This stark difference is so much evident that while the ordinary people are looking to the future, the pro Hindutva groups are look to the past. Perhaps it is high time to ask the question, whether these pro Hindutva organisations are anymore relevant, whether they have outlived their utility?

One also senses the feeling that just because all these decades these pro Hindutva groups have never had the opportunity on a mass scale to try out, explore, implement their ideologies, they are now desperate. They were consistently restrained on the grounds of secularism, and that is one word that they have come to hate. Today they want to pay back intolerance meted out to them by the same coin of intolerance. Today one can see an air of arrogance in their behavior. But in an electorate democracy such arrogance is also short lived and they too will bite the dust. People of this land have always been free to choose their belief systems and sometimes are even forced to. In the past too there have been forceful conversions, but inspite of that, plurality has survived. The Vedic culture had morphed and adapted itself to suits the needs of the time. However inspite of the efforts of the Islamists the Christians and the Buddhists, the Hindus have survived. I find that amazing and I see no reason to fear that it could ever be wiped off from the face of the earth.