RSS – A Danger To Hinduism

9 Feb

by Rajindar Sachar, Retired Chief Justice of the New Delhi High Court

To say the RSS is a danger to Hinduism may sound paradoxical, but I am not saying it in levity but in all seriousness.

All progressive sections of the Hindu community blame the RSS for being anti-minorities. But have they paused even for a while to visualise the danger to Hinduism itself from the RSS? It is the same streak of Talibanisation, especially of the Afghanistan type, which is bringing a bad name to the spirituality of both Hinduism and Islam.

I have been pushed to this conclusion by the statement of Mr. Hari Gautam, Chairman of the University Grants Commission, that the UGC has finally approved the proposal for introducing astrology as a course at under-graduate and post-graduate levels in universities from the coming academic session.

Justifying this step, the UGC Chairman said all people were interested in knowing what the future held for them so they wanted to produce certified professional qualifications to secure the confidence and faith of the people.

That the UGC Chairman has not got consent from the council is a cause for concern. I have serious doubts about the legality of such a decision, considering that the universities are all publicly funded and the mandate of Article 51A of the Constitution dealing with fundamental duties directs that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and to preserve the rich heritage of our culture”.

I need not dwell on the unscientific nature of astrological predictions. I might share with Mr. Hari Gautam an immediate image which floated across my memory. It is about a movie “Admi“, produced by V. Shantaram in the late Thirties. It was the story of a son born in a poor Hindu family. His parents had his future predicted by a family astrologer. The prediction was that the son would grow up to be so powerful that at wave of his hands people at the highest level would stop and seek his permission to move on. The predictions naturally made the parents happy. Unfortunately the son, being a straight and honest person, could not join politics, but had to be content with becoming a police constable, and naturally all traffic movement of cars of even the richest awaited the movement of his arms to move. I suppose many would insist that the astrological prediction had come true – the hand indication did control the movement of the richest. If such is the interpretation, could anything be more silly?

I concede that most of us do at some time indulge in this game of astrology, either out of curiosity or at a time of tragedy or at a family function or even out of bravado. To study astrology as a sideline in a private capacity is a different matter. It is well-known that many men and women consult professional clairvoyants, astrologers and tarot-card readers. The Cheiros Book on Palmistry is a common reading amongst the youth as an excuse to hand holding.

As for knowing the future, the UGC Chairman need not worry because he may wish to go by the predictions of Nostradamus, the renowned French astrologer who says that a King of Terror or anti-Christ was to descend on Earth in July, 1999, and whom he identifies as not belonging to Christianity, Islam or Judaism and who will be as ruthless as Genghis Khan, Of course, commentators are divided on the identity of this `King of Terror’. That leaves the field open to be filled up by hordes of RSS men who have destroyed a house of God – the Babri Masjid. But then, unfortunately, even their victory can be of no consolation, because again according to one commentator our planet will be invaded by beings from outer space who will destroy much of humanity. The saviour, after some time, will be Russia and America who may after some time be also dwarfed by the size of China. India is not mentioned and that might have persuaded the UGC to embark on this venture so as to obtain astrological predictions favouring the dominance of RSS ideology.

But, then, all these events were to start happening from 1997- 98, but fortunately for mankind nothing of the sort has happened. Mr. Gautam need not, however, feel dejected, but rather realise the watery base of all these predictions, including that of Vedic astrology.

I am surprised that Mr. Gautam has not given any justification for his step by taking the stand that as astrologers will be able to predict the results of elections, the political party which is to form a government and who is to be the Prime Minister, we could do away with elections to legislatures and instead adopt a pattern of paternalist Guru Sabha, as the RSS has openly advocated before the Constitutional Commission.

We could then even ban political parties because as the results are pre-ordained as predicted by astrologers, why permit such a huge waste of public money. Better still, why have a Cabinet of Ministers – rather, a body of UGC-trained professional astrologers could take decisions on whether it is beneficial to join the W.T.O. or talk to Pakistan, etc. Really, the sublime is becoming ludicrous.

I think the whole idea is not only ridiculous, but dangerous. In a country like India, where almost half the population is female, and 40 per cent of the rural population is illiterate and where all governments, including the present, have not honoured the direction given by the Supreme Court as far back as in 1993 holding that education is a fundamental right, we would be well- advised to divert funds to this need than to this doubtful venture by the UGC.

Hinduism is not a religion, but a way of life. According to Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the recognition of spirit in man is the essential feature of Hindu religion and in this respect all men are equal. But Hinduism has suffered over the centuries by illogical rituals, and worst of all by the disgrace of casteism. Reformers like Ram Mohan Roy and Dayanand (against idol worship) have worked towards restoring to the religion its pristine quality. Fundamentalist Hindus represented by bodies like the RSS, however, go on making attempts to put the clock back by burying it in ritualism. The attempt to introduce astrology in universities is the latest.

This is in line with the equally atrocious suggestions by the RSS Chief, Mr. K. Sudarshan, that Christians and Muslims prove their Indianness by refusing to respect the Vatican and Mecca, as these holy places are outside India.

A deliberately provocative statement, considering that the Vatican is the highest spiritual seat for millions of Christians. And Mecca is the holy place where Prophet Mohammad was born and considered sacred the way the RSS regards Ayodhya, because it is the birth place of Lord Rama. In fact, all these places are worthy of reverence by all communities.

But if being reverential to a holy place outside India is against Indianisation, will Mr. Sudarshan advise Hindus not to revere Kailash Mansarover (the abode of Lord Shiva) which is situated in Tibet, outside India. By the same logic, I take it that he would be advising Sikhs and Hindus not to go on a pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib (birth place of Guru Nanak Dev Sahib Ji) which is now in foreign territory – i.e. Pakistan.

I feel that this attempt by the UGC needs to be resisted at all costs if our education is to fulfill the modern need of development in the country. A throwback to centuries-old superstitions, which we still have unfortunately not been able to shake off, is a poor service that the UGC Chairman is doing to the young generation.

(The writer is a retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court).

3 Responses to “RSS – A Danger To Hinduism”

  1. akhter February 9, 2009 at 9:22 pm #

    Hinduism Exposed
    By Dr. Robert Morey
    Category: Cults, World Religions
    Hinduism is one of the oldest pre-Christian pagan religions still viable in the world today. While we think of it as the faith of Mother India, it actually traces it origins to a mysterious tribe of Europeans called the Aryans who invaded and conquered Northern India from 1500 BC to 500 BC. The light-skinned Brahmins of Northern India claim to be their physical and spiritual descendants.
    The Aryans
    The Aryans brought with them their sacred writings called the Vedas. They were originally fire worshippers and this is why they believed in cremation instead of burying their dead. They also invented the theory of soul-transmigration in which at death you do not go to heaven or to hell but you are reborn into another body on earth. This next body could be animal, vegetable or human depending on whether you were good or bad. Your past behavior catches up with you in your present life due to the law of karma.
    You could in your next reincarnation end up a clam, a carrot, a bush or a human being. The highest rebirth you could wish for was to be born as one of the white-skinned Brahmins who by virtue of their color were considered the “higher” class.
    The Ugly Reality of Racism
    The inherent racism of historic Hinduism is thus blatant. You were judged by the color of your skin, not the content of your character, skills or talents. The darker your skin, the lower your caste and rank in Hindu society. The whiter your skin, the higher your caste and rank. The Brahmins prided themselves on their white skin while despising the darker skinned untouchables who were often viewed and treated as sub-humans.
    This explains why Hindu gurus are more than willing to travel to the West to convert rich white Europeans to Hinduism BUT never travel to black Africa to make converts. The truth is, they don’t want black people whose skin color is an indication of bad karma. As long as they can sucker rich white people into giving them money (“Money is evil. So give it all to me.”) why bother with darker skinned people?
    This can be documented by the statements of many of the gurus who have reaped riches in the West. When one guru was asked on TV what he was doing to help the poor, he responded, “Let the Christians take care of them. I am here to help the rich.”
    The Caste System
    The terrible caste system was invented in order to protect the white Brahmins from polluting their sacred whiteness with black blood. You had to marry and to labor in the caste into which you were born. The lines were clearly drawn and on one was allowed to move from one caste to another by marriage or trade.
    The mechanism of the caste system is tied to the Hindu theory of soul-transmigration in which your rebirth determines your caste. Your rebirth was predetermined by your karma. Your karma was in turn was determined by how you lived in your past life. For example, if you were born with a dark skin to untouchable parents, your life of misery and poverty is your punishment for being evil in your previous life. In other words, you are getting what you deserved.
    The poor, the sick, the disabled, the dark-skinned, etc. are what they are because of their own fault. The deserve their suffering because they did something bad in a previous life and their karma has caught up with them. We should not interfere with their suffering because if we do, we will doom them to experience it in the next life. Thus the kindest thing to do is to let them alone so they get their suffering over and hopefully have a better rebirth the next time around.
    On the other hand, if you were born with white skin to Brahmin parents, your life of wealth and pleasure is your reward for good deeds done in your previous life. You deserve to be rich and white. You earned it. Thus you have no moral obligation to help those less fortunate them you.
    The social inequities of Hinduism ultimately led millions of lower caste Indians to abandon Hinduism for Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism or Christianity because those religions did not lock them into a rigid caste system. Social and financial mobility required a change of religion. Of course, if you were a rich white Brahmin, why would you convert to a religion which would strip you of your social status and wealth?
    Social Evils
    Being originally fire worshippers, Hinduism developed the grisly practice of burning a widow alive on the funeral pyre of her husband (suttee). If she did not willing jump into the fire, she was often thrown into it by the mob gathered to watch her burn to death.
    Child sacrifices to animal gods such as sacred crocodiles were common until this Hindu practice was criminalized by the British. The ritual murder and burial of travelers by the Kali cult (the thugees) is another example of Hinduism’s inherently demonic nature and inspiration.
    Other immoral practices of Hinduism included using children as sex slaves in Hindu temples. They not only served the sexual perversions of the priests and gurus but were used as prostitutes to bring in money. The poorest of the poor who often could not afford to keep a new child, left the baby in a temple assuming that the child would have a better life with the priests than with its parents. They doomed their child to a life of pain and misery.
    The tourist who travels to India’s many temples is often shocked by wall art that depicts sodomy, child sex, orgies and bestiality of the grossest kind. Yet, all this is part of what lies at the core of Hinduism.
    The same shock is received when tourists see Hindus drinking urine from animals and humans and smearing dung in their hair and on their body. The smell that emanates from the gurus, monks and holy men of Hinduism is enough to warn us that Hinduism is rotten to the core.
    Why are we beginning our discussion of Hinduism with such ugly topics as racism, the caste system, burning of widows, ritual child abuse and gross immorality? To see the true nature of Hinduism we must study what it produces in those societies where it is the dominant religion. Thus a mere abstract philosophic presentation of Hinduism in the classroom will give a false view of it. Hinduism is far more than a list of abstract dogmas. It is actually a social program that seeks to organize a culture according to Hindu concepts of soul-transmigration, karma, race and caste.
    The Philosophic Failures of Hinduism
    1. Hinduism denies the existence of the infinite/personal triune God of the Bible who exists independent of and apart from the universe which He created out of nothing. It is atheistic in this sense.
    2. Hinduism never solved the problem of the One and Many or the infinite/personal dichotomy.
    3. Those Hindus who emphasize the One over the Many, teach Monism (All is One) and pantheism (All is God), erasing any distinction between Creator and creation. “God” is an impersonal infinite force or power which manifest itself as the universe around us. The “things” we see around us do not really exist per se. They are only illusions of the One. This is what the high caste Hindus teach the Westerners who come to India in search of “enlightenment.”
    4. The vast majority of Hindus do not follow the Brahmin doctrine of monism. Instead of emphasizing the One over the Many, they emphasize the Many over the One and practice the most vile forms of polytheism imaginable in which they worship millions of gods and goddesses. It is said that the Hindus worship more gods and goddesses than the total number of Hindus who exist today. They worship snakes, monkeys, elephants, crocodiles, cats, insects and other absurdities.
    5. As a world view, Hinduism fails to answer crucial questions:
    a. Why does the Universe exist as opposed to not existing? Since it cannot answer this question, Hinduism simply denies the existence of the world around us. It is an illusion (maya) or dream.
    b. Is the universe eternal or did it have a beginning? Hinduism has always taught that the universe is eternal. But this has been successfully refuted by modern science. This also exposes an inherent contradiction within Hinduism. If the universe does not exist but is illusionary in nature, how then is it eternal? How can Hinduism speak of the universe going through eternal cycles if the universe does not exist?
    c. Why does the Universe exist in such a form that predictability and science are possible? By denying the existence of the world around it, Hinduism did not develop science and cannot exist why it works.
    d. What is evil? Once again, since Hinduism could not answer this question, it simply denied that evil existed.
    e. Why does evil exist? Hinduism cannot answer this question.
    f. What is man? Hinduism denies that we actually exist.
    g. How can we explain the uniqueness of man? Hinduism cannot explain why man is distinct from the world around him.
    h. Why do we do evil? Hinduism cannot answer this question.
    i. What is sin? Because it does not have a concept of a personal/infinite Creator, Hinduism has no concept of “sin” per se.
    j. How do we obtain forgiveness for our sins? There is no forgiveness in Hinduism. You will have to suffer in the next life for the evil you do in this present life. This answer exposes an inescapable contradiction within Hindu philosophy. If the universe, evil, and man do not actually exist but are only illusions (Maya), then on what grounds does karma exist? If it does not actually exist either, then on what grounds does reincarnation happen?
    k. On what basis can we explain man’s desire for meaning, significance, justice, morals, truth and beauty? Hinduism has no answer to these questions.
    l. How can we provide a sufficient basis for meaning, significance, justice, morals, truth and beauty? Hinduism cannot provide a philosophic basis for any of these things.
    Hinduism cannot answer the essential philosophic questions that always arise wherever and whenever the human intellect matures. It has been weighed in the scales of truth and have been found lacking.
    Even more importantly, Hinduism has no concept of a Creator God, the Creation, the Fall of man into sin and guilt, a Day of Judgment, atonement or forgiveness, or a Savior who redeems us from our sins by the sacrifice of Himself in our place.
    It did not produce democracy, science or equality among different races and racks of mankind. Instead it produced great social evils which afflict the Indian people to this day. As a religion and a philosophy, Hinduism is a complete failure and cannot provide a basis for meaning, significance, justice, morals, truth and beauty.

    • dobinf February 11, 2009 at 5:06 am #

      Hi akhter,
      thanks for your comment. The points you highlighted are VERY TRUE. Let`s pray to GOD to englighten the minds of our brethren who are experiencing unecessary pain due to Caste system. Infact some of my friends who were Dalit didnt like the caste system since they were merely differentiated based on CASTE and not by their WORK or EDUCATION. Though things are changing drastically in this part of INDIA(i.e Mangalore & Udupi) the RSS and Sangh parivar in Particular want to impart and bring back the CASTE System with full force.

  2. akhter February 11, 2009 at 7:29 am #

    Surly if a faith clearly promotes a class system,then one must ask or at least look at what others [Islam] are offering.

    The Caste System and
    the Stages of Life in Hinduism

    The pattern of social classes in Hinduism is called the “caste system.” The chart shows the major divisions and contents of the system. Basic caste is called varn.a, or “color.” Subcaste, or jâti, “birth, life, rank,” is a traditional subdivision of varn.a.

    The Bhagavad Gita says this about the

    [41] The works of Brahmins, Ks.atriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras are different, in harmony with the three powers of their born nature.
    [42] The works of a Brahmin are peace; self-harmony, austerity, and purity; loving-forgiveness and righteousness; vision and wisdom and faith.

    [43] These are the works of a Ks.atriya: a heroic mind, inner fire, constancy, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and noble leadership.

    [44] Trade, agriculture and the rearing of cattle is the work of a Vaishya. And the work of the Shudra is service.

    [chapter 18, Juan Mascaró translation, Penguin Books, 1962]

    There are literally thousands of subcastes in India, often with particular geographical ranges, occupational specializations, and an administrative or corporate structure. When Mahâtmâ Gandhi wanted to go to England to study law, he had to ask his subcaste, the Modh Bania, for permission to leave India. (“Bania”, means “merchant,” and “Gandhi” means “greengrocer” — from gandha, “smell, fragrance,” in Sanskrit — and that should be enough for a good guess that Gandhi was a Vaishya.) Sometimes it is denied that the are “castes” because, while “true” castes, the jâtis, are based on birth, the are based on the theory of the (the “three powers” mentioned in the Gita). This is no more than a rationalization: the came first, and they are based on birth. The came later, and provide a poor explanation anyway, since the gun.a tamas is associated with both twice born and once born, caste and outcaste, overlapping the most important religious and social divisions in the system. Nevertheless, the are now divisions at a theoretical level, while the jâtis are the way in which caste is embodied for most practical purposes. Jâtis themselves can be ranked in relation to each other, and occasionally a question may even be raised about the proper varn.a to which a particular jâti belongs. As jâti members change occupations and they rise in prestige, a jâti may rarely even be elevated in the varn.a to which it is regarded as belonging.

    Associated with each varn.a there is a traditional color. These sound suspiciously like skin colors; and, indeed, there is an expectation in India that higher caste people will have lighter skin — although there are plenty of exceptions (especially in the South of India). This all probably goes back to the original invasion of the Arya, who came from Central Asia and so were undoubtedly light skinned. The people already in India were quite dark, even as today many people in India seem positively black. Apart from skin color, Indians otherwise have “Caucasian” features — narrow noses, thin lips, etc. — and recent genetic mapping studies seem to show that Indians are more closely related to the people of the Middle East and Europe than to anyone else. Because Untouchables are not a varn.a, they do not have a traditional color. I have supplied blue, since this is otherwise not found, and it is traditionally used for the skin color of Vis.n.u and his incarnations. Chief among those is Kr.s.n.a (Krishna), whose name actually means “black” or “dark,” but he is always shown blue rather than with some natural skin color.

    The first three are called the twice born. This has nothing to do with reincarnation. Being “twice born” means that you come of age religiously, making you a member of the Vedic religion, eligible to learn Sanskrit, study the Vedas, and perform Vedic rituals. The “second birth” is thus like Confirmation or a Bar Mitzvah. According to the Laws of Manu (whose requirements may not always be observed in modern life), boys are “born again” at specific ages: 8 for Brahmins; 11 for Ks.atriyas; and 12 for Vaishyas. A thread is bestowed at the coming of age to be worn around the waist as the symbol of being twice born. The equivalent of coming of age for girls is marriage. The bestowal of the thread is part of the wedding ceremony. That part of the wedding ritual is even preserved in Jainism. Ancient Iran also had a coming of age ceremony that involved a thread. That and other evidence leads to the speculation that the three classes of the twice born are from the original Indo-European social system — the theory of George Dumézil. Even the distant Celts believed in three social classes. The three classes of Plato’s Republic thus may not have been entirely his idea. Although there must have been a great deal of early intermarriage in India, nowhere did such an Indo-European social system become as rigid a system of birth as there. The rigidity may well be due to the influence of the idea of karma, that poor birth is morally deserved.

    According to the Laws of Manu, when the twice born come of age, they enter into the four âshramas or “stages of life.”

    The first is the brahmacarya, or the stage of the student (brahmacârin). For boys, the student is supposed to go live with a teacher (guru), who is a Brahmin, to learn about Sanskrit, the Vedas, rituals, etc. The dharma of a student includes being obedient, respectful, celibate, and non-violent. “The teacher is God.” For girls, the stage of studenthood coincides with that of the householder, and the husband stands in the place of the teacher. Since the boys are supposed to be celibate while students, Gandhi used the term brahmacâri to mean the celibate practitioner that he thought made the best Satyagrahi, the best non-violent activist.

    The second stage is the gârhastya, or the stage of the householder, which is taken far more seriously in Hinduism than in Jainism or Buddhism and is usually regarded as mandatory, like studenthood, although debate continued over the centuries whether or not this stage could be skipped in favor of a later one. This is the stage where the principal dharma of the person is performed, whether as priest, warrior, etc., or for women mainly as wife and mother. Arjuna’s duty to fight the battle in the Bhagavad Gita comes from his status as a householder. Besides specific duties, there are general duties that pay off the “three debts”: (1) a debt to the ancestors that is discharged by marrying and having children; (2) a debt to the gods that is discharged by the household rituals and sacrifices; and (3) a debt to the teacher that is discharged by appropriately teaching one’s wife, children, and, for Brahmins, other students. The three debts are sometimes associated with the three Gods of the Trimûrti — the ancestor debt with Brahmâ, the gods debt with Vis.n.u, and the teacher debt with Shiva.

    The third stage is the vânaprastya, or the stage of the forest dweller. This may be entered into optionally if (ideally) one’s hair has become gray, one’s skin wrinkled, and grandchildren exist to carry on the family. Husbands and wives may leave their affairs and possessions with their children and retire together to the forest as hermits. This does not involve the complete renunciation of the world, for husbands and wives can still have sex (once a month), and a sacred fire still should be kept and minimal rituals performed. This stage is thus not entirely free of dharma. The Forest Treatises were supposed to have been written by or for forest dwellers, who have mostly renounced the world and have begun to consider liberation. I am not aware that forest dwelling is still practiced in the traditional way. The modern alternatives seem to consist of the more stark opposition between householding and becoming a wandering ascetic. Nevertheless, forest dwelling is an institution that doesn’t really develop as such in Jainism and Buddhism. The idea that husbands and wives would engage in ascetic practices together, without celibacy, would appear extraordinary. In those terms, it is an unfortunate loss if the institution does not continue in modern Hinduism.

    The fourth stage is the sannyâsa, or the stage of the wandering ascetic, the sannyâsin (or sâdhu). If a man desires, he may continue on to this stage, but his wife will need to return home; traditionally she cannot stay alone as a forest dweller or wander the highways as an ascetic. The sannyâsin has renounced the world completely, is regarded as dead by his family (the funeral is held), and is finally beyond all dharma and caste. When a sannyâsin enters a Hindu temple, he is not a worshiper but one of the objects of worship. Not even the gods are sannyâsins (they are householders), and so this is where in Hinduism, as in Jainism and Buddhism, it is possible for human beings to be spiritually superior to the gods. It has long been a matter of dispute in Hinduism whether one need really fulfill the requirements of the Laws of Manu (gray hair, etc.) to renounce the world. The Mahâbhârata says that Brahmins may go directly to Renunciation, but it also says that the three debts must be paid — and the debt to the ancestors could only be paid with husbands and wives living together either as householders or, if renunciates, as forest dwellers (indeed, the Pân.d.avas are all born in that way). There are definitely no such requirements in Jainism or Buddhism. The Buddha left his family right after his wife had a baby, which would put him in the middle of his dharma as a householder. Buddhism and Jainism thus developed monastic institutions, with monks and nuns, but these did not really develop as such in Hinduism: While wandering ascetics are rather like mendicant monks, we lack monasteries and nuns, and the ascetics are, traditionally, supposed to have already lived something like a normal, lay life.
    The four stages of life may, somewhat improbably, be associated with the four parts of the Vedas: the sam.hitâs with the stage of the student, who is particularly obligated to learn them; the brâ with the stage of the householder, who is able to regulate his ritual behavior according to them; the âran.yakas with the stage of the forest dweller, who regulates his ritual behavior according to them and who begins to contemplate liberation; and finally the with the stage of the wandering ascetic, who is entirely concerned with meditation on the absolute, Brahman.

    The twice born may account for as much as 48% of Hindus, though I have now seen the number put at more like 18% — quite a difference but more believable. The Shudras (58% of Hindus) may represent the institutional provision that the Arya made for the people they already found in India. The Shudras thus remain once born, and traditionally were not allowed to learn Sanskrit or study the Vedas — on pain of death. Their dharma is to work for the twice born. But even below the Shudras are the Untouchables (24% of Hindus), who are literally “outcastes,” without a varn.a, and were regarded as “untouchable” because they are ritually polluting for caste Hindus. Some Untouchable subcastes are regarded as so polluted that members are supposed to keep out of sight and do their work at night: They are called “Unseeables.”

    In India, the term “Untouchable” is now regarded as insulting or politically incorrect (like Eta in Japan for the traditional tanners and pariahs). Gandhi’s Harijans (“children of God”) or Dalits (“downtrodden”) are prefered, though to Americans “Untouchables” would sound more like the gangster-busting federal agent Elliot Ness from the 1920’s. Why there are so many Untouchables is unclear, although caste Hindus can be ejected from their jâtis and become outcastes and various tribal or formerly tribal people in India may never have been properly integrated into the social system. When Mahâtmâ Gandhi’s subcaste refused him permission to go to England, as noted above, he went anyway and was ejected from the caste. After he returned, his family got him back in, but while in England he was technically an outcaste. Existing tribal people as well as Untouchables are also called the “scheduled castes,” since the British drew up a “schedule” listing the castes that they regarded as backwards, underprivileged, or oppressed.

    The Untouchables, nevertheless, have their own traditional professions and their own subcastes. Those professions (unless they can be evaded in the greater social mobility of modern, urban, anonymous life) involve too much pollution to be performed by caste Hindus: (1) dealing with the bodies of dead animals (like the sacred cattle that wander Indian villages) or unclaimed dead humans, (2) tanning leather, from such dead animals, and manufacturing leather goods, and (3) cleaning up the human and animal waste for which in traditional villages there is no sewer system. Mahâtmâ Gandhi referred to the latter euphemistically as “scavenging” but saw in it the most horrible thing imposed on the Untouchables by the caste system. His requirement on his farms in South Africa that everyone share in such tasks comes up in an early scene in the movie Gandhi. Since Gandhi equated suffering with holiness, he saw the Untouchables as hallowed by their miserable treatment and so called them “Harijans” (Hari=Vis.n.u). Later Gandhi went on fasts in the hope of improving the condition of the Untouchables, or at least to avoid their being politically classified as non-Hindus.

    Today the status of the Shudras, Untouchables, and other “scheduled castes,” and the preferential policies that the Indian government has designed for their advancement ever since Independence, are sources of serious conflict, including suicides, murders, and riots, in Indian society. Meanwhile, however, especially since economic liberalization began in 1991, the social mobility of a modern economy and urban life has begun to disrupt traditional professions, and oppressions, even of Untouchables. Village life and economic stasis were the greatest allies of the caste system, but both are slowly retreating before modernity in an India that finally gave up the Soviet paradigm of economic planning.

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