Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Caste myopia

Occupational immobility and founding principles Gautam Chikermane
Indian Express: Monday, May 08, 2006
To ascribe a precise state of consciousness to a particular community, race or religion and fix it into rigid clusters of misery is a needlessly short-sighted look at a vision profound. And India has been suffering from this myopia for centuries. It is today a part of a constitutional mechanism that seeks to “uplift” the socially downtrodden through a series of measures, including reservations, so that India moves towards being an egalitarian state, a nation where equal opportunities are not a theoretical construct but a practical reality.
But the caste system, whose poetical and refined form is beautifully encapsulated in four shlokas of the Bhagwad Gita (chapter 18, verses 41 through 44), has nothing to do with matter at all; it has everything to do with the Spirit. When Krishna explains to Arjuna the duties of the four castes, he is not talking about any colour or texture of skin but with their states of consciousness. Follow the argument long enough and we meet swabhava (loosely, one’s inherent nature) — brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya, shudra. And based on that swabhava, the organisation of society by caste was fluid and free.
Moreover, even as we attempt a discussion standing on a brittle intellectual crust, it would be wise to time-travel a few millennia that have passed since the conception of the caste and the writing of this column. During this time, along with social evolution has come the birth of a far more layered, multi-faceted man. There is, today, a Ravana-like, 10-headedness, multi-beingness that surrounds all of us. Who can say that the brahmin doesn’t serve and the shudra doesn’t rule, or the vaishya doesn’t teach and the kshatriya doesn’t trade? At any point we, knowledge workers, are part-brahmins (we think), part-shudra (we serve) and part everything in between (we organise, we conquer).
Knowledge is equally our tool to negotiate the world with and a sword to fight in the arena of marketshare. We trade the capital between our ears and finally serve one another. To say that as a brahmin our business is only mind or sense control and forgiveness, purity, integrity, mediation our tools, or as a shudra our job is merely to serve the higher castes, is living in an unevolved past. Besides, the caste system, as we know it socially, is a perversion. When formulated, there was free mobility. Can we, for instance, forget that it was not a brahmin whose words of wisdom are encapsulated in the Gita, but a kshatriya’s? gautam.c@expressindia.com

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