Dalits of India
1.0 Caste system.
Caste system is integral part of Hindu society and is in existence from the time Hindu society was in primitive stage. It's first reference is in Rig Vedas which says Brahmins were born out of the mouth of Brahma, Kshatriyas from arms, Vaishyas from thighs and shudras from foot of Brahma the creator of this world.
Manu a great Hindu scholar and architect of Hindu way of life further codified and gave this division a legal and divine status. Each caste had assigned functions. Brahmins were custodian of Vedic knowledge. They were required to acquire Vedic knowledge and impart Vedic knowledge to others and perform rituals. Kshatriyas were fighters. They were required to fight enemies and protect the kingdom. Vaishyas were required to grow food, and peruse business, commerce etc. Sudras were to serve Brahmins, kshatriyas and Vaishyas and do all menial works. Besides dividing the society into four orders he went further and fixed the principle of graded inequality. Brahmins were superior to all. Kshatriyas were inferior to Brahmins and superior to Vaishyas and shudras. Vaishyas were inferior to Brahmins and Kshatriyas, but superior to shudras. The shudras were lowest in the chatu varna hierarchy. The graded inequality is not notional but is legal.
2.0. How caste system of Hindus differs from caste system of other nations and societies of the world?.
Division of society exist in other nations and civilizations also but division of Hindu society differ from others, in following ways:
I. superiority by birth. As per Manu smriti Brahmins by birth were superior to all. They had certain privileges and rights, which nobody could deprive them. There were separate rules for them.
ii. change of profession was not permissible
iii. Shudra is not only at the bottom of the gradation but he is subjected to innumerable ignominies and disabilities so as to prevent him from rising above the condition fixed for him by Manu law.
iv. Each preceding caste is superior by birth. All the castes except shudras have the right to wear, sacred thread(janeu), study the Vedas, Kindle the sacred fire and right to perform sacrifice. These castes are called twice born. Their first birth is from their mother. Second from investiture with sacred thread. In the second birth Savitri is mother and teacher is father.
V. only instance where normal division of society accepted as ideal and divine.
Vi. Number of the classes have never been a matter of dogma of any society Known to history. Hindu scheme of division makes division of society into four classes a dogma.
Vii. Every society leaves a class to find its place visa vis other classes according to its importance in society as may be determined by the forces operating from time to time. No society has an official gradation laid down fixed and permanent with ascending scale of contempt which neither time nor circumstances can alter. This warrant of precedence is based on principle of graded inequality among the four classes.
3.0 Practice of untouchability
Untouchability is observed by Hindus which is hereditary to certain communities. British government prepared list of such communities and attached as schedule to government of India Act 1935. The is divided into 9 parts. One part refers to one province and enumerates the cast races or tribes or part of or group within the States which are deemed to be untouchables in that province or part thereof. This gives an idea of vast number of communities which are regarded as hereditary untouchables. It includes 429 communities and approximately 28% of Indians, whose mear touch causes pollution to Hindus. This type of untouchability has no parallel in the history of the world.
There are striking features of Hindu system of untouchability. Hindu who touched them and get polluted can become pure by undergoing purification ceremony; but there is nothing which can make the untouchables pure. They are born impure, they are impure while they live. they die the death of impure. They give birth to children who are born with stigma of untouchability affixed to them. It is a case of permanent hereditary stain which nothing can clean.
Hindus society physically segregated untouchables. The Hindu will not live in the quarter of untouchables and will not allow the untouchable to live inside Hindu quarters. This is fundamental factor of untouchability as practiced by Hindus. It is not a case of social separation. It is a case of territorial segregation putting the impure people inside a barbed wire in to a sort of cage. Every Hindu village has a Ghetto. The Hindu lives in the village. untouchables in the ghettos.
In non-Hindu societies persons were treated as impure as individual never a whole class and their generations were treated as impure. Non-Hindu society impurity was of temporary duration and was curable by the performance of some purification rites. There has never been case of permanent impurity based on the rule once impure always impure.
Non-Hindu societies cut off from social intercourse but there has never been a case of person put permanently in segregation camps. There have never been case of people treating a section of their own people as permanently and hereditary impure.
Untouchability among Hindus is a unique phenomenon unknown to humanity in other parts of the world. Nothing like that is to be found in any other society.
4.0 Relevance of Manu in present day.
Caste system in Hindu society is as old as civilization. Division of work mandated centuries back should not be relevant in present context. The caste system should have lost its relevance, and practice of untouchability should have ceased to exist. Historical events and the present-day events indicates the laws framed by Manu are widely respected and widely practiced in Hindu society. Inequality laid down by Manu is still law of land. Few instances of pre-British days are produced below from Dr Ambedkar book “Manu and shudras:
1. Under the rule of Marathas and Peshwas the untouchables were not allowed within the gate of Pune city the Capital of the peshwas; between 3 p.m. and 9 A.M because before 9 and after 3 bodies cast long Shadow. Whenever these shades fall on brahmins it polluted them. He could not taste food or water until he had bathed and washed the impurity.
2. No untouchable was allowed to live in a walled town.
3. Under the rules of Marathas and peshwas the untouchables were not allowed to spit on ground lest Hindu should be polluted by touching it with his foot. Therefore, untouchables were required to hang an earthen pot around his neck to hold his spit.
4. He was made to drag a thorny branch of a tree with him to brush out his footsteps and had to lie at a distance on his face lest his shadow might fall on the brahmin.
5.. In Maharashtra an untouchable was required to wear a black thread either on his neck or wrist for the purpose of ready identification.
6. In Gujrat the untouchables were required to wear a horn as their distinguishing mark.
7. In Punjab sweepers were required to carry broom in his hands or under armpit while walking through streets as a mark of identification.
8. In Bombay the untouchables were not permitted to wear clean or untorn clothes. In fact, shopkeepers took the precaution to see that before clothes were sold to the untouchable these were torned and soiled.
9.In. Malabar the untouchables were not allowed to build house above 1 story in height and not allowed to cremate the dead.
10. The untouchables were not permitted to carry umbrella, to wear shoes, gold ornaments, milk cows.
11. In South India untouchables were expressly forbidden to cover the upper part of their body above the waist.
Women were compelled to go with the upper part of the body quite bare.
12. Under Maratha rule anyone other than a Brahmin uttering Veda Mantra was liable to have his tongue cut off.
13. All over India Brahmin was exempt from capital punishment. He could not be hanged even if he commits murder.
14. Under the peshwas, punishment to criminal was according to cast lines. Hard labor and death punishment were mostly given to untouchables.
15. In Bengal rent of building depended with the cast occupant. if tenant was untouchables he had to pay the highest rent.
16.. While Hindu kings reigned, justice was delivered according to law of Manu, and law was avowedly based on inequality. This is the dharma laid down by Manu. It is called Manu dharma.ie Dharma which by its inherent goodness can be applied to all men in all times and all places. This dharma is based on theory that brahmin is to have all the privileges and shudra is not to have even the right of a human being. That Brahmin is to be above everybody in all things merely by reason of being born in high caste and the sudras is to be below everybody and is to have none of things no matter how great may be his worth.
Even today after 70 year of independence ghost of Manu is still alive. Laws enshrined by him are widely practiced in several areas. It will take lot of efforts by all Indians to abandon Manu law and establish society based on equality and justice.
5.0 Ambedkar—Masiha of Dalits
untouchables were at the lowest rung of caste hierarchy. They were to serve Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. They were expected to do all menial jobs of upper castes. They had no right to worship, property, and education They were physically and socially segregated. Change of profession was not allowed. Generations of deprivation, poverty, exploitation, indignities and sub human living conditions wrecked their physique and mental health. Untouchables formed almost one third of population.
Normally in every society there are some sane voices who will raise voice against utter discrimination, atrocities and exploitation. Unfortunately, none came to the rescue of untouchables.Dr Ambedkar raised voice against discrimination being meted to untouchables . He, despite various odds faught furiously for the cause of Dalits.When discussions were organized with Indian politicians by British govt in 1930-32 to discuss feasibility of self-government for India as a follow up of the Morley–Minto Reforms Report, Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms Report and the Simon Commission; Dr Ambedkar raised the problems of untouchables with the British govt. He was able to argue the case of untouchables and could convince them that he represented the cause of untouchables. These meetings are popularly known as round table conference. He was invited to attend the conference as representative of untouchables. He fought for separate electoral for untouchables. British govt conceded the demand of separate electoral for scheduled castes.
Mahatma Gandhi vehemently opposed this decision. He believed untouchables are Hindus and should not have separate electoral. He was of the opinion that separate electoral for Dalits will disintegrate Hindu society. He wanted the decision revoked. To press his demand, mahatma Gandhi went on indefinite fast at Yarwada jail Poona on 20 th sept 1932. On the intervention of several Hindu organizations and prominent leaders an agreement was signed with Dr Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi and others. Madan Mohan Malviya signed the agreement on behalf of Hindu organizations. This agreement is known as Poona pact 1932.As per this agreement demand for separate electoral was dropped by Dr Ambedkar. Mahatma Gandhi abandoned the fast on 24 th sept.
Under this agreement representation of untouchables was allowed in provincial assemblies based on combined electoral. This was beginning of hope for untouchables.
i. communal award. Link- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communal_Award
ii Poona pact 1932. Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poona_Pact
iii Ref : Books authored by Dr BR Ambedkar:1. Annhilation of caste 2. .Castes in India, 3. Manu and shudras.