Tuesday, December 8, 2009

[ZESTCaste] Casting caste on the world stage



Casting caste on the world stage

Bal Anand

IF the "shoonya" of "Ganit Shashtra" , the concept of "Zero" in the
"science of Numbers/Mathematics" has been often hailed as most
revolutionary contribution of 'ancient' India to the world
civilization, the code of "Varna Ashram Dharma", popularly called
"Jaati Pratha", ordained with scriptural Divine origins, has been
castigated as the single social catastrophe that has indeed 'zeroed'
and bedeviled the Destiny of India. This graded four fold division of
Hindu social polity with the entire paraphernalia of pugnaciously
dehumanising 'Untouchablity' towards a vast majority of those at the
bottom of social order was translated in the 16th century as the
'Caste' System by the Portuguese missionaries. Instead of seeking some
remedies to cure itself of the cancerous wounds of division in society
against resurgent Islam and determined Christian colonists, the caste
ridden Hinduism has been remarkably successful in 'polluting' the
'Foreign' Faiths too with notions of 'Purity' and 'Divine'

The modern era of Independence in 1947 A.D. for this ancient land was
heralded, most intriguingly, with the two "Untouchables" - the so
called Hindu Shudras and the finest products of 'Firanghi' education
ie Dr B.R. Ambedkar & Mr Joginder Nath Mandal, as the Law and Justice
Ministers of India and Pakistan respectively. Ambedkar was
instrumental in crafting the noblest document of governance of free
India incorporating comprehensive legal provision to to root out the
abominable caste based injustice to millions of Indians. Pakistan and
later Bangladesh have followed different paths of their own in their
governance and socio-economic development. The deeper civilizational
wounds of Caste based discrimination have, however, continued to bleed
across Indus, Ganges, Padma, Kaveri, Godavari and at the lofty heights
of Himalayas. So when on September 16, during the session of the UN
Human Rights Council in Geneva, Nepalese Foreign Minister Jeet Bahadur
Gautam chose to break ranks with 'Hindu Consensus', saying that his
country welcomed the idea mooted by the UNHRC document to involve,
"regional and international mechanism, the UN and its organs" to
complement national efforts to combat caste discrimination, the move
by the UNHRC was denounced by the Hinduttva elements as, 'an
irresponsible act of subverting Indian democratic and cultural
institutions...smacks of Church influence to undermine India's Hindu
heritage'! It was also interpreted as a blow to the official stand of
India to block mention of caste in the category of, 'discrimination
based on work and descent.'

Why has India been evasive and in a mode of denial on the issues of
caste based discrimination being raised in the fora of the UN? The
statement made by the Indian Delegate on August 8, 2002 in the
"Informal Discussion on 'Descent' in the Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination" is indeed perceptively revealing of a mind
set. Referring to 'the situation faced by a particularly vulnerable
section of our society', the Delegate hectors, "Our Constitution
recognises both the fact of this discrimination and of the imperative
of redressing the situation ... one of the first acts of the
Government when India became independent was to outlaw this abhorrent
practice (Untouchablity) ... ' The disappointment of those who wish
that 'our laws are better implemented' is shared adding, 'Transforming
a society that has evolved its customs and practices over millennia,
and has been shaped in turn by those practices, takes time.' It is
emphatically added that term 'descent' in Convention refers to 'racial
descent' and that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are unique
to Indian Society and its historical process - and do not fall under
the purview of Article 1 of the International Convention on the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

The eminent Indian and Western Sociologists and the increasing tribe
of scholar-activists of "Dalitology" have seriously engaged themselves
in 'unraveling' the roots and branches of this most puzzlingly unjust
practice of condemning such a large number of people to 'an
enslavement of soul, mind and body' attributed to birth in certain
social groups. The systematic effort by the British colonial
administration at categorisation and ranking of the entire Hindu
population within the theoretical Varna Scheme for the purpose of
decennial census since 1901 spurred a scramble for the reclaiming of
the Untouchable Castes through reform movements by Hinduism, Sikhism
and Islam and conversions by resourceful Christian missionaries. The
emergence of leaders of the caliber and vision of E.V.R. Naicker, Dr
B.R. Ambedkar, J.N. Mandal, etc. from within the ranks of so called
Lower Castes, not to speak of the far reaching Harijan agenda adopted
by Gandhi Ji altered the entire spectrum of the 'Jaati Pratha' of
Hinduism sustained since ages. Dr Ambedkar had to wage single handedly
the grimmest struggle to be the greatest emancipator in human history,
whatever the motivated Brahaman-scholars of the ilk of Arun Shourie
might write masquerading as historians. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
has indeed been a man of honour and integrity to compare caste system
to 'religiously' applied Apartheid.

Indians, beginning with Jawaharlal Nehru,have always had a fascination
and magnetic attraction towards the UNO and other multilateral forums
-the list of UN Pensioners bafflingly includes so many among the top
who's who of the government of India. India's experience of J&K in the
UN would, however, seem to have caused a deeper suspicion and a
pathological allergy for any matter concerning itself to be raised in
the UNO. Udit Raj of the Dalit based Justice Party has welcomed the
UNHRC move stating that Indian Government should have courage to
accept the reality of the problem and that global attention should
lead to an increase in aid and government spending to improve
opportunities for Dalits in India. The segregation of places of
worship on the caste lines by the Indians settled abroad and the
recent brutal murder of an 'Untouchable' 'Guru' Ramanand Dass in
Vienna, the city of harmony in the heart of Europe, sadly reflect
'globalisation' of caste, calling for international efforts too to
stem the tide of evil.

During the last two decades, the political fallout of the caste
conundrum on the character of the much touted 'largest democracy' of
the world, has been of nuclear proportions. The management of
caste-divides with a just & fair deal for those who have been
civilizationally demeaned and still remain woefully on the margins of
'shining India' has become the single greatest challenge for all those
engaged in the realisation dream of an egalitarian and caste
'castrated' India. Ravi Dass, the celebrated medieval cobbler saint
poet, has proclaimed:

Jaat paat ke pher Manh, urjh rahai sab log.
Manushta kun khaat huee, Ravi Dass jaat kar rog.
Jaat, jaat mein jaat hai, jiyon kelan ke paat.
Ravi Dass na manush jurh saken, jau tau jaat, naa jaat.
All are caught in the vice grip of castes.
Ravi Das, humanity has been finished, by the cancer of caste.
Caste, and caste within caste, like the barks of banana tree;
O Ravi Das,never would humanity be united, until the caste is cast out.

All those who love India to be united and strong would listen to what
the saint poet proclaimed centuries ago!

[The writer is former diplomat]

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