The Crime of Caste

“Four Varnas were made by me according to variations of character and work.”

The Gita says this, and it specifies the occupations and traits pertaining to each Varna. Everyone knows what they are. I may be permitted to call this Chatur varnya (Four Varna System) bye the name of “ the Gita theory of society”, although it is well known that the same ideal is upheld in most of the ancient writings. I do so for convenience. The Gita theory may, or may not, promote the highest interests of man. It was never experimented in its pure form, or, if it was, history tells us nothing about it. As a hypothesis it is one of the best and the most attractive. At least some of us think so.

But the caste law is leagues away from the Gita theory. For the Brahmanas have long ceased to make Vedas and Shastras; they have long ceased to think seriously of eternal verities of the sciences of this earth. They have totally forgotten the meaning of the older and purer writings. They adopt all professions. They are cake-sellers, railway clerks, and police – constables. And their general intelligence and character are naturally on a level with their pursuits. The Kshatriyas have long ceased to govern.

The Vaishyas and Shudras have followed the great chaos. They are honest but they are very ignorant and down-trodden-very far indeed from being fit for performing their duties as prescribed by the Gita ideal of society. And instead of the four Varnas, you have four thousand castes . And you sometimes quote ethnology, eugenics, hydrostatics, and what not, to support these four thousand castes! But, alas, the ignorant masses or our country have been made to believe that this caste chaos is a special divine gift to our country and whoever transgresses it has to go to hell. It is this belief more than anything else that makes people insensible to the injurious results of caste. If you really have your justification in ethnology or hydrostatics, then you have been cheating people during all these centuries by telling them a different story. No science can justify cheating.

The Sole remedy is in inter-dining and inter-marrying. The others are mere quack remedies of an anaesthetic character. There are many difficulties in the way of applying this remedy on a large scale. One very real difficulty is the fact that many members of the purely vegetarian sects cannot physically endure the smell of flesh and fish at a distance of five yards. But the vegetarian worthies, consisting both of Brahmnasa and non-Brahmanas, can marry among themselves. There is no National excuse for not doing that. I repeat there are many-but not insuperable-difficulties in the way of applying that remedy. But there is not othe remedy that the human mind can think of.

Sometimes people who seem half-inclined to admit the injustice and inutility of caste suddenly turn round and shout: “But they have similar prejudices ins South Africa, North America and Oceania.”

If other people are fools, that is no reason why we should be so. If others to-day are thoughtlessly committing the mistake that we committed many centuries ago and became much degraded as a consequence thereof, it is our duty to warn them. But we ought not to make it an excuse for not rectifying the mistake for which we have been so signally punished by the laws of Nature.

“But the masses of people are quite content, “say some. “It is only the intellectual classes that are always harping on this old grievance. From Buddha to Vivekananda, many have been the sages who condemned this chaos. But it persists. It is in the blood of the Indian people.”

I reply that the people are not contented. That is proved by the very fact that for these two thousand and five hundred years great ones have again and again risen from the ranks of the people and condemned this caste in no measured language. During these two thousand and five hundred years it has lost most of its saving features. Little vitality is now left in it. The form remains with a shadow of life and a million bad wounds on it. Let none rejoice that caste takes a long time in dying, for its life will be all the ghastlier for that.

Who knows? Who knows that the Brahmanas may not purify themselves by the waters of knowledge and them recognize that no caste can be irredeemably impure? Who knows that the other castes which have been out-heroding Herod, the castes which are fonder of their chains than the Brahmanas themselves, even they may not behold the vision of the age and proclaim democracy?

If only the Brahmanas of to-day will read aright the signs of the times, then they will see that Democracy, for from being a thing to be dreaded, will be as great a joy to tem as to any other class. The three watchwords of France – Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity-when fully understood by men, will really prove to be the highest guides of human evolution.

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The Commonweal
06.10.1916

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