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COULD THE BRITISH RAJ HAVE BLUNTED THE INTENSITY OF CASTEISM IN INDIA?

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     It is said—‘In India you can change your religion but not your caste.’ But this reality almost met with a challenge from the Britishers at the time of the British Raj which is largely unknown. In fact, had the British Raj, pushed its way through, it would have shown the way for abolishment of the caste system, all together. But they began only with criminals, by sending them to Andamans, better known as Kala Pani. (Literal meaning is ‘black waters’. But ‘Kala’ also signifies ‘kaal’—that signifies the time of death).

    If the British so wanted. In the eighty nine years of their dictatorial rule. They could have at least blunted the ferocity of the caste system in India, if not completely uprooted. But they had other nefarious designs that was to divide and rule. So, while on one hand they exploited the caste rivalry in the mainland, on the other they got rid of it by sending criminals to islands in Kala Pani. Where, they could rid them of their caste. But sadly, most of them were freedom fighters whom they had held as prisoners.

        These remote islands in Andamans, were considered suitable to punish the ‘India Independence’ activists—called the freedom fighters. Not only were they isolated from the mainland. The overseas journey to the islands (Kala Pani) also threatened them with loss of caste that could have resulted in social exclusion. Sadly, this is also corroborated by Hindu religious scriptures. These convicts were largely used in chain-gangs, to construct prisons, buildings and harbor facilities. Many were finally hanged and many died while building these structures. Where, they largely served to colonize the island for the British.

    That brings us, to the moot point. What about those Hindus, who were not prisoners? But have travelled overseas, either on business or pleasure. Have they also lost their caste identity like those prisoners, just because they crossed the seas? Because, as per the scriptures. Those Hindus who have travelled overseas, automatically lose their caste, and to retrieve it they need to go in for deep penance. Further, if we are to believe in the caste system. We also need to believe in the scriptures with equal measure. As both are ancient and part of our tenets. For it can’t be that on one hand we believe in the caste system but give the other theory a grand miss. For our religious scriptures below, say it all.

    The offense of crossing the sea is known as “Samudrolanghana” or “Sagarollanghana.” The Dharma Sutra of Baudhayana (II.1.2.2) lists sea voyages as first of the offences that cause the loss of varna (caste). The Dharma Sutra suggests a person can wipe away this offense in three years by eating little at every fourth meal time. By bathing at dawn, noon and dusk; standing during the day; and seated during the night.

    The reasons behind the taboo include the inability, to carry out the daily rituals, and the sin of contact with the mlecchas (barbarians). The fear of crossing the seas also derives from the notion. That it entailed the end of the reincarnation cycle as the traveler was cut off from the regenerating waters of the Ganges. Such voyages also meant breaking family and social ties. And, according, to another belief in the pre-modern India the Kala Pani (sea water) was inhabited by the houglis, bad spirits and monsters.

    During the Age of Discovery, Portuguese sailors noted that Hindus were reluctant to engage in maritime trade due to this taboo. In the eighteenth century, the Banias of North India, considered, even the crossing of the Indus River, at Attock as a taboo, and underwent purification rituals upon their return. However, not all Hindus adhered to the taboo, especially the Hindu merchants located in Burma, Muscat and other places.

    So, can we, then say. All those Hindus, who have traveled overseas, are now devoid of any caste?

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By Kamlesh Tripathi

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CASTE ONE’S LOT -How India marches ahead by going backwards

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By kamlesh Tripathi

New Doc 61_1

I love reading columns of Jug Suraiya for the simple reason that he tries to humour-ise issues that tickles the common man of India, and this column is no different. Indians have this habit of getting stuck in their past by either glorifying it or condemning it. But there is a reason to. Most Indians did not have a bright and boastful future to look forward to, so they remained in their past. And that includes the famous story of Indian caste-ism. But India is fast changing now where 60% of Indian population is demographically young, ambitious and upbeat—and at below 35 years of age, where they aspire to be in the global arena where reservations don’t work.

And coming to Jug Suraiya’s point below that the so-called—creamy layer is beginning to benefit disproportionately; I would only like to put forward the great example of the ‘Indian gas subsidy’ which many Indians gave up because they could afford it, without subsidy. And I am more than sure that the creamy-layer of the OBC too has a heart that beats for their non-creamy-layer brethren.

Writes Jug Suraiya,

‘The National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) has asked the government’s permission to sub-categorise OBCs-other backward classes-into three separate divisions; the merely backward, the even more backward and the most backward.

The reason is that there is a growing apprehension that the so-called ‘creamy layer’ among the OBCs are benefitting disproportionately from the 27% job quota reserved for backward castes at the expense of the most backward. So if all goes according to the NCBCs plan, the country will see a multiplication of OBCs; the backward, the backwarder and the backwardest.’

Read the entire column:

TOI 27.5.15

CASTE ONE’S LOT

How India marches ahead by going backwards

By Jug Suraiya

India is a unique country in many ways. And one of the uniquer ways that it is unique is that in order to get ahead it goes backwards, literally.

The National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) has asked the government’s to sub-categorise OBCs—other backward classes- into three separate divisions; the merely backward, the even more backward and the most backward.

The reason is that there is growing apprehension that the so-called ’creamy layer’ among the OBCs are benefitting disproportionately from the 27% job quota reserved for backward castes at the expense of the most backward. So if all goes according to the NCBCs plan, the country will see a multiplication of OBCs; the backward, the backwarder and the backwardest.

Similarly among dalits there are the regular dalits and then there are the mahadalits, who are supposedly more dalitical than the ordinary dalits. Ever since Mandal, the politics of what might be called competitive backwardness has gained momentum with not only more and more people claiming even greater backwardness.

Backwardness has become a prized commodity, like gold or diamonds, and everyone wants a chunk of it. For instance, the Jat community—which is known for its assertive forwardness in getting its own way in all manner of things- is aggressively pressing its demand to be classified under the OBC rubric. Demands  have also been raised that Muslims and Christians too should be given backward quotas within their respective folds, which is all the more intriguing in that many converted to these faiths in order to escape caste system.

With everyone racing in reverse gear to get backward –and then even more backward- status, India will witness a boom in backwardness, which will become one of the fastest growing industries in the country. Indeed, backwardness has made so much progress that in some places so-called upper castes, like Brahmins, are laying claim to be designated as backward.

If this trend continues, we can pride ourselves on having  devised the world’s only society that is truly back-to-front.

By Jug Suraiya