Solving the Hindu Caste System
Hinduism teaches universal brotherhood. It recognizes all existence as the sacred manifestation of God and all beings, including animals, as the embodiment of God Himself. Yet, followers of the same religion, even the most educated ones, even those who live abroad, habitually practice caste system. Their words may not betray their caste loyalties, but their actions, decisions and choices certainly show how much pride they have for their castes and how attached they are to their castes and caste distinctions.
A keen observer of human behavior will notice instantly how pervasive caste system is in Hindu society and how closely it shapes the destiny of each individual. In politics, sports , and almost in every profession and institution, you can trace the influence of caste system. Even educational institutions are not free from this malady. Teachers and students alike align themselves into caste based groups and indulge in campus politics.
Undoubtedly, caste system is one of the weakest aspects of Hinduism, if not the weakest. In terms of the damage it causes to the foundation of Hinduism and its future prospects, it is perhaps the worst of the ills plaguing the tradition. Caste system divides the community into groups and subgroups and puts them against one another. It weakens their resolve for unity and solidarity and to stand united against common causes. It allows vested interests to take advantage of them by appealing to their baser emotions and keeping them divided and distracted. It creates social and economic disparities among people based not upon individual merits and demerits but upon the castes to which they belong. Caste system was originally meant to facilitate division of labor and ensure the order and regularity of society. It became an evil practice when it degenerated into a birth based caste system which ensured privileges for a few and suffering for a vast majority.
The caste system was largely responsible for the subjugation of the Indian subcontinent by foreign invaders as the native armies were formed based upon castes rather than the valor and strength of the individuals. In the past, as now, the system excluded a vast majority of people from socioeconomic sphere and relegated them to an inferior status . Even today, if Indian society is largely divided and is in disarray, it is because caste system still rules the minds of people. We may even trace many social evils like dowry system, conversions and gender bias to castes and caste based discrimination.
The caste system is the largest threat to Hinduism. If there is one factor that can destabilize Hinduism and destroy its foundation, it would be caste system. Since the earliest times, caste system drove many people into desperation and prompted them to convert to other religions. It happened during the time of the Buddha. Then in medieval India. Then in British India. And it continues to be responsible for the conversion of many Hindus to other religions.
It is true that in many villages of India, lower castes are still not allowed to enter the local temples and worship the gods. As a result, many villages in the country now have predominantly Christian population and more churches than temples. Some overzealous Hindus blame the missionaries for the conversions, but ignore their own complicity. How can we blame anyone, if we collectively allow the caste system to perpetuate social and religious inequalities and injustices? For a brief time, put yourself in the place of a person who belongs to a deprived caste and think what justification any one can have to practice a religion that does not make one feel good about oneself.
As Hindus, we take pride in our ancient religion. We proudly proclaim it as Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion. But what about those, whose pride and self-esteem it takes away because they belong to a lower caste? If we love our religion, if we want it to flourish and continue, we must not allow caste discrimination to continue any further. It is important to know that caste system, as such, is not the problem, but caste discrimination is. We may allow the castes to prevail, but not the discrimination.
To appreciate the value of human birth and the equality of all beings, which is actually the foremost ideal of Hinduism, we do not have to look far. We have ample examples and illustrations within our own religion. We have many sects in our own religion that detest caste system and preach social equality and the sanctity of life itself. Many saints and seers in the past fought against caste system and preached universal love, tolerance and compassion towards one and all.
In this regard, Saivism stands out prominently as a tradition that opposes casted based discrimination. Saivism is undoubtedly the most ancient sect of Hinduism. Probably, it is even more ancient than the Vedic tradition itself. From the earliest times, the followers of Lord Siva refused to acknowledge caste discrimination. They preached against empty ritualism, pretentious worship and caste based privileges for a few. They emphasized the importance of inner purity, social equality and equality of all beings. Lord Siva Himself embodied within Him all that the Vedic religion detested as impure, unclean and irreligious. He encouraged His devotees to follow unconventional methods of religious worship and spiritual practice. Even now, the temples of Siva do not follow caste based restrictions. Anyone can walk into a Siva temple, make offerings of water and milk and worship the deity directly, even without the intervention of a priest.
We should draw inspiration from Saivism, the teachings of Saiva saints and the scriptures of Saivism, to deal with the problem of caste system. We should build more temples for Lord Siva in the villages and encourage people from all castes to come and worship Him according to their convenience with or without the aid of priests. We must also encourage people from all castes to act as priests in those temples. Only then we can stop the bleeding that is presently going on in Hindu society.
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