A recent staging of plays on “caste” was deeply hurtful as it just proved that the “gift” of “caste” that the colonialists imposed on us still keeps on giving, continuing to trap and enslave us to this day. What’s worse is that an entire community and the faith it holds dear gets beaten and blamed for this when nothing could be farther from the truth. Here are some questions and data points to illustrate this, along with links to resources. Have tried to select short videos and small articles, as far as possible, respecting the reader’s time.
How did we get here?
The “caste” narrative beats the colonial drum. But what is the history of “Caste”? How did we get here? Do last names indicate “caste,” or is it simply indicative of ancestral profession or the name of a place?
Most importantly, is this sanctioned in the Vedas, the foundational text of Hindu Dharma? Or any Hindu scripture, for that matter? No, it is not! Swami Vivekananda is said to have said, “Find me one scripture of authority of the Hindus that gives sanction to the hereditary, hierarchical caste system”. Caste is not even an Indian word but an English one with Portuguese roots.
The British were responsible for hardcoding this caste divide into our society when the original design was a flexible, open system where people were free to change their Jaati and Varna! Jaati and Varna are NOT “caste,” neither are they synonyms.
Caste Politics in the US
Caste legislations are being introduced in this country based on this false narrative. What are the consequences for our kids and families? Undoubtedly, we’re all in agreement here that not just caste but all kinds of discrimination really have no place in civilized society, but such legislations are singling out our tiny <2% minority community and are implicating ALL of us, irrespective of whether we even believe in this imposed caste construct or not. We are, by default, guilty until proven innocent! That caste and all discriminations are already covered by US laws just highlights the shadiness of such “special” treatment.
Loss of pride in identity
Kids are taught that Hinduism = casteism right from middle school. Caste policies and laws introduced blindly all over the country only increase the confusion in the minds of young ones. This makes our children ashamed of their heritage and invites bullying and hate from their non-Indian peers in schools, colleges, and their professional lives as well.
Does this mean we should not talk about it? Of course not! We absolutely should. But that discussion must be based on facts and truth. Such as learning about the people in Indian history who truly worked for the betterment of Indian society and exemplified the teachings of our Hindu Dharma. The amazing rishis, sants (saints), kings, freedom fighters, and other exemplary figures of all “castes”, class and gender, that Bharatiya (Indian) history is full of.
The authors of Ramayana and Mahabharata, who today would be called “lower caste,” hold the highest regard in Bharatiya consciousness. These were among the many people throughout history who preached about one divinity in all beings and walked the talk.
Swami Vivekanand came to this country and taught these noble Vedantic concepts to the West. The Varkari sampradaya that reveres sants (saints) who came from every “caste” and class undertake a pilgrimage called Vaari every year where thousands of people of all strata come together walking for a month, where each calls the other “mauli” (mother) falling at each other’s feet as a respect to the divinity in them. Do all these examples point to a casteist, divisive ideology, or do they instead illustrate a noble one that is inclusive of all beings as manifestations of that one divinity?
Bad behavior is NOT Hindu
There is no denying that there is bad behavior and people have discriminated against each other, but this happens all over the world, in all cultures and religions, just that the labels are different. What is important to understand is that this discriminatory bad behavior is NOT because of Hindu Dharma but because of ignorance of it!
All discrimination comes from a place of arrogance and ignorance, and while the first is for each individual to work on, the second is a collective community responsibility, and that is where Hindus need to step up and help in educating themselves and those around them and set the record straight!
Bharat has always been a vishwa guru, especially for the arts. From the beautifully carved temples to the classical dances and music to the stunning diversity in food, textiles, and clothing styles. Art has been used to educate and inspire with an emphasis on beauty, for while the divine is in all, it is more easily appreciable in that which is aesthetically pleasing. That is what Hindus believe in when they say “Satyam Shivam Sundaram.” That which is true (Sat) is Shiva, and that truth is beautiful!