Monday, June 08, 2009

Ram Swarup- Perversion of caste

jun 8th, 2009

how the limeys demonized caste and perverted it.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: A P J

this is an excellent essay by sri ram swarup on how castes functioned in the past
----- Original Message -----

Past does not guide the present

Logic behind perversion of caste

Ram Sawrup
(From the Indian Express, 13th September, 1996)

Today casteism is rampant. It is a new phenomenon. Old India had castes but
not casteism. In its present form, casteism is a
construct of colonial period, a product of imperial policies and colonial
scholarship. It was strengthened by the breast-beating of
our own "reformers". Today, it has acquired its own momentum and vested

In the old days, the Hindu caste system was integrating principle. It
provided economic security. One had a vocation as soon
as one was born.- a dream for those threatened with chronic unemployment.
The system combined security with freedom; it provided
social space as well as closer identity; here the individual was not
atomised and did not become rootless. There was also no dearth
of social mobility; whole groups of people rose and fell in the social
scale. Rigidity about the old Indian castes is a myth.
Ziegenbbalg writing on the eve of the British advent saw that at least
one-third of the people practised other than their traditional
calling and that "official and political functions, such as those of
teachers, councillors, governors, priests, poets and even kings were
not considered the prerogative of any particular group, but are open to

Nor did India ever have such a plethora of castes as became the order of the
day under the British rule. Megasthenes
gives us seven fold division of the Hindu society; Hsuan Tsang, the Chinese
pilgrim (650 A. D.) mentions four castes. Alberuni too
mentions four main castes and some more groups which did not strictly belong
to the caste system.

Even the list of greatly maligned Manu contained no more than 40 mixed
castes, all related by blood. Even the Chandals were
Brahmins on their father's side. But under the British, Risley gave us 2,378
main castes, and 43 races! There is no count of sub-castes.
Earlier, the 1891 census had already given us 1,156 sub-castes of chamars
alone. To Risley, every caste was also ideally a race and
had its own language.

Caste did not strike early European writers as something specifically
Indian. They knew it in their own countries and saw it
that way. J. S. Mill in his Political Economy said that occupational groups
in Europe were "almost equivalent to an hereditary
distinction of caste".

To these observers, the word caste did not have the connotation it has
today. Gita Dharampal Frick, an orientalist and
linguist tells us that the early European writers on the subject used the
older Greek word Meri which means a portion, share,
contribution. Sebastian Franck (1534) used the German word Rott (rotte)
meaning a "social group" or "cluster". These words suggest
that socially and economically speaking they found castes closer to each
other than ordo or estates in Europe.

The early writers also saw no Brahmin domination though they found much
respect for them. Those like Jurgen Andersen (1669)
who described castes in Gujarat found that Vaishyas and not the Brahmins
were the most important people there.

They also saw no sanskritisation. One caste was not trying to be another; it
was satisfied with being itself. Castes
were not trying to imitate the Brahmins to improve social status; they were
proud of being what they were. There is a Tamil poem by
Kamban in praise of the plough which says that "even being born a Brahmin
does by far endow one with the same excellence as when one
is born into a Vellala family".

There was sanskritisation though but of a very different kind. People tried
to become not Brahmins but Brahma-vadin.
Different castes produced great saints revered by all. Ravi Das, a great
saint, says that though of the family of chamars who still go
around Benares removing dead cattle, yet even the most revered Brahmins now
hold their offspring, namely himself, in great esteem.

With the advent of Islam the Hindu society came under great pressure; it
faced the problem of survival. When the political
power failed, castes took over; they became defence shields and provided
resistance passive and active. But in the process, the
system also acquired undesirable traits like untouchability. Alberuni who
came along with Mahmud Ghaznavi mentions the four
castes but no untouchability. He reports that "much, however, as these
classes differ from each other, they live together in the same
towns and villages, mixed together in the same houses and lodgings."

Another acquired another trait; they became rigid and lost their mobility.
H. A. Rose, Superintendent of Ethnography,
Punjab (1901-1906), author of A Glossary of Punjab Tribes and Castes' says
that during the Muslim period, many Rajputs were
degraded and they became scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Many of them
still retain the Rajput gotra of parihara and parimara.
Similarly, G. W. Briggs in his The Chamars tells us that many chamars still
carry the names and gotra of Rajput clans like
Banaudhiya, Ujjaini, Chandhariya, Sarwariya, Kanaujiya, Chauhan, Chadel,
Saksena, Sakarwar, Bhardarauiya, and Bundela, etc. Dr.K. S.
Lal cites many similar instances in his recent "Growth of Scheduled Tribes
and Castes in Medieval India".

The same is true of bhangis. William Crooke of Bengal Civil Service tells us
that the "rise of the present Bhangi caste
seems from the names applied to the castes and its subdivisions, to date
from the early period of Mohammedan rule". Old Hindu literature
mentions no bhangis of present function. In traditional Hindu rural society,
he was a corn-measurer, a village policeman, a custodian of
village boundaries. But scavenging came along with the Muslim and British
rule. Their numbers also multiplied. According to 1901
Census, the bhangis were most numerous in the Punjab and the United
Provinces which were the heartland of Muslim domination.

Then came the British who treated all Hindus equally – all as an inferior
race – and fuelled their internal differences.
They attacked Hinduism but cultivated the caste principle, two sides of the
same coin. Hinduism had to be attacked. It gave India the
principles of unity and continuity; it was also India's definition at its
deepest. It held together castes as well as the country. Take
away Hinduism and the country was easily subdued.

Caste in old India was a cooperative and cultural principle.; but it is now
being turned into a principle of social
conflict. In the old dispensation, castes followed dharma and its
restraints; they knew how far they could go. But now a caste is a
law unto itself; it knows no self-restraint except the restraint put on it
by another class engaged in similar self-aggrandisement. The
new self-styled social justice intellectuals and parties do not want castes
without dharma. This may be profitable to some in the short
run but it is suicidal for all in the long run.

In the old days, castes had leaders who represented the culture of the land,
who were natural leaders of their people and
were organic to them. But now a different leadership is coming to the fore;
rootless, demagogic and ambitious, which uses caste
slogans for self-aggrandisement.


Shankar said...

Authentic Information about Hindu culture is very scattered and only interested people have the time and energy to seek the truth.

Is it possible to start a research project, some kind of Hindu encyclopedia on the web, that contains all articles published by Ram Swarup, Dharampal, Koenrad Elst, Francis Gautier and many others. This site will serve as the single source of information for all things Hindu. Or does such a thing already exist?

A second project could be an online database of all terrorist attacks on Hindus, that goes unreported by the mainstrea media.


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