Caste and Caste-Based Discrimination Among Indian Muslims - Part 3
The Impact of the Aryan Invasion of India
By Masood Alam Falahi
04 November, 2010
(Part 3 of Masood Alam Falahi's Urdu book Hindustan Mai Zat-Pat Aur Musalman (‘Casteism Among Muslims in India’)) (Translated From Urdu by Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com)
Definition of Caste
According to sociologists, caste refers to a social system characterised by hierarchically-ordered divisions based on birth. In such a system, there is a strict limit to one’s choice of occupations, which is, theoretically, inherited over the generations. There are also strict rules that govern and restrict commensality, marriage and other forms of social intercourse between the different castes. At the same time, each caste is interdependent on the other castes for various services. A caste-based society is contrasted with a class-based one, in which, at least in theory, people’s status depends on achievement, rather than birth.
The Original Inhabitants of India
Historians continue to debate as to who the original inhabitants of India were, which race they belonged to, and when, if at all, they came to India. It is surmised that the original inhabitants of the land were a dark-skinned, short-statured people similar to the aborigines of Australia, and that they were later followed by the Dravidians. It is widely believed that fair-skinned Aryans invaded India from the north-west and vanquished the Dravidians. They enslaved many of them, turning them into ‘low’ caste menials, forcing many others to flee down south. Some of these people who never submitted in the face of Aryan terror fled to the forests in the mountains of central and eastern India. These are today known as Adivasis, and include such communities as the Bhils, Santhals, Oraons, and so on. Their hatred for the Brahmins and other Aryans remains undiminished even today, after thousands of years.
Some historians date the process of the beginnings of a series of Aryan invasions of India to around 2500 B.C.. The crafty Aryans conspired to create dissensions in the ranks of the Dravidians, and managed to defeat them. After this, they subjected them to heinous forms of degradation and oppression, for which they sought to provide religious sanction. This is clearly evident in all the Brahminical texts. Thus, for instance, the Rig Veda hails the slaughter by the Aryans, supposedly assisted by their gods, of literally hundreds of thousands of Dasyus, a demeaning name for the original people of India. The Aryans raped the Dravidians, that is to say indigenous Indian, women on a massive scale, believing this to be a means for acquiring religious merit. In his Satyarth Prakash, Dayanand Saraswati, founder of the Arya Samaj, mentions that according to a particular Hindu sect, having sexual intercourse a Chandal woman is like pilgrimage to Kashi, and with a Chamar woman it is like bathing at Prayag. Sex with a Dhobi woman is like visiting Mathura, while with a loose woman it is like undertaking the pilgrimage to Ayodhya. This is one way how the Aryans sought to insult and degrade the Dravidians.
Caste in the Hindu Scriptures
The Hindu scriptures are replete with many other such demeaning references to the indigenous Indians who dared to oppose the Aryans. After killing vast numbers of them, the Aryans enslaved the rest of these people as Shudras and Untouchables. They subjected them to barbaric laws in the name of religion so that they would never dare to raise their heads again. The Aryans enslaved the Indians not just physically but psychologically as well. In order to preserve their hegemony, they devised the caste system, and sought to give it religious legitimacy through their scriptures. In this way, they were able to quash all feelings of resentment and revolt among the vanquished. They invented the theory of reincarnation through which they held out what they claimed was the possibility that ‘low’ caste people could be reborn as Brahmins in their next life but only if they strictly abided by the rules and cruelties of the caste system in their present life. Gradually, the indigenous Indians fell prey to the Brahmins’ propaganda and, taught by the Brahmins to hate their own indigenous culture, were slowly absorbed into the Hindu or Brahminical religion. The Brahmins referred to them with demeaning names, such as ‘Das’ or ‘slave’, and even today many of their descendants continue to use such titles, afraid that if they were to give up such names, the gods might be infuriated with them.
The different social groups that formed the Hindu social order remained endogamous, and many of them had different religious beliefs, but one belief was shared by all of them—that of the alleged superiority of the Brahmins. According to certain foreign travellers in the medieval ages, some Hindu non-Brahmin kings would decline to have sex with their newly-wed queens on the first night of their marriage. Instead, they would present that honour to some allegedly respectable Brahmins, and would even pay them for this. This, for instance, is said to have been the practice in some parts of Kerala. In large parts of India, non-Brahmins believed that if they drank the water in which a Brahmin had washed his feet they would acquire great spiritual merit. This practice has not entirely died out. None other than the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who belonged to the Shudra Kayasth community, washed the feet of a large number of Brahmins in Benaras. Then, collecting the dirty water in which their feet had been cleaned, he showered it on himself and his wife, and even drank it. This happened soon after he had been sworn in to the top-most post in the country. When some newspapers criticised him for this, his answer was that he had become the President of India only because of the blessings of the Brahmins.
Indian history is replete with stories of the evil genius of Brahmins who were fiercely wedded to caste. In his Satyarth Prakash, Dayanand Saraswati, himself a Brahmin, speaks of the bizarre beliefs invented by the Brahmins in order to make merry, wallow in luxury and rule over others, going to the extent of claiming to be gods and as beings worthy of worship. They declared themselves to be bhu devtas or ‘gods on earth’. They went so far as declaring that without propitiating them, people could never hope to enter heaven. If they refused to serve them, the non-Brahmins were told, they would be dispatched to hell. They invented stern rules about caste which they filled their scriptures with, including the Vedas, the Puranas, the Mahabharat, the Ramayan, the Gita and the Smritis.
One of these texts is the Manusmriti, the law-code of the Brahminical Hindus, which is said to be a commentary on the Vedas. It is also considered to be a summary of, and, at the same time, a detailed commentary on, all the ancient Hindu texts. It contains a huge number of laws and regulations, especially about caste. Even from a superficial reading it appears that a principal function of the text is to legitimise Brahminical supremacy and the degradation of the indigenous Indians. It claims that the Brahmins were produced from Brahma’s head, while the Shudras emanated from his feet. It insists that the Brahmins are ‘twice-born’, in contrast to the ‘once-born’ Shudras. It lays down that God has deemed only one work fit for a Shudra, and that is to cheerfully serve and slave for the ‘upper’ castes. It recommends that Brahmins should have ‘auspicious’ names, while those for Shudras should connote degradation. It recommends abject poverty for the Shudras. It claims that a Brahmin, even if he is ignorant and of bad character, is an exalted god worthy of being worshipped and can preach to a king. It insists that Shudras be cruelly punished for any small infraction of the barbarous rules of caste, and ordains that those who provide Shudras with religious knowledge will be destined to perdition in hell. If a Shudra so much as hears the Vedas being recited, it announces, boiling lead should be poured into his ears. If he recites any verse of the Vedas, his tongue should be lopped off. If he memorises any part of the Veda, his body should be split into two.
Such teachings exalting the Brahmins and demeaning the Shudras are also found in the Ramcharitmanas of Tusli Das, which is considered a very holy book by many Hindus. Tulsi Das claims that a person who criticises Brahmins has to pass through many different hells, after which he is reborn as a crow. He writes that even an abusive, violent Brahmin is worthy of being worshipped, while even if a Shudra is a great scholar he can never be so. He equates Shudras and women with drums and animals, and says that all of them are fit to be beaten. If anyone hits a Brahmin or even simply intends to do so, he writes, he will be sent to hell and will be reborn as an ass.
Brahminical law-givers and religionists not only trapped the indigenous Indians with such brutal laws but also ensured that it was difficult, indeed almost impossible, for them to break the shackles of these laws. In this way, they ensured that the Brahminists could continue their unquestioned hegemony. They insisted that every caste must strictly abide by its varna or jati dharma or caste duty, and laid down that ensuring this was the principal function of the ruler.
Enforcing the Rule of Caste
Followers of Brahminism and Manuvad worship cows, pigs, dogs, cats, donkeys, snakes, scorpions and even the sexual organs of males and females, while, at the same time, they believe in texts whose authors preach that vast numbers of people—the indigenous Indians—must be treated as worse than vermin. To expect people who follow such books to be kind to those people who their religious texts so brutally oppress is like hoping for warmth from ice or coldness from fire. This is well exemplified throughout our country’s history.
In Brahminical texts, Chandals are termed as the most despicable creatures in the world. Even the air that blows against their bodies is deemed to be polluted. Simply to look at them is regarded as a sign of ritual pollution. They were forbidden, on the pain of death, from entering the localities inhabited by the so-called ‘high’ castes.
It was not just ‘ordinary’ ‘high’ caste people who firmly held on to such cruel beliefs and who practised these rules. Even figures whom the Hindus consider as their deities and religious heroes are said to have done so. For instance, in the Mahabharat, Dronacharya refused to teach Eklavya archery simply because of his ‘low’ caste. Eklavya was not disheartened byt his refusal, and learnt the art on his own. This greatly enraged Arjun, who complained to Dronacharya that Eklavya, a Shudra, had even excelled him. Dronacharya made the hapless Eklavya sacrifice his own thumb so that, henceforth, he would not be able to wield his bow properly. And that is how Arjun managed to triumph over him.
The behaviour of Ram with regard to the ‘low’ castes was no different. According to the Valmiki Ramayan, one day, when Ram, along with Sita and Lakshman, was in exile in the forest, he met Shurpanakha, sister of Ravan, who fell in love with him and asked him to marry her. Ram declined, but suggested that she could marry Lakshman instead. But Lakshman, too, refused. Ram indicated to Lakshman that Shurpanakha was of a ‘low’ caste and ordered him to cut her nose and ears off. Ram refused to marry Shuparnakha simply because she was a Shudra, of the Dravidian race, while he was a Kshatriya.
The Valmiki Ramayan also relates the story of an old Brahmin whose son suddenly died at a very young age. Taking the boy’s corpse with him, he entered Ram’s court, loudly exclaiming that never before had anyone died at such a tender age. There must certainly be something terrible happening in Ram’s kingdom that this had happened, he said, pleading with Ram to bring the lad back to life.
On hearing all this, Ram gathered his ministers to discuss what should be done. Just then, a group of eight Brahmins, including Narad, entered the court. Narad narrated the reason why the Brahmin boy had died. In the earliest times, that is Sat Yug, he said, only Brahmins used to worship and that is why no one died at a young age then, and everyone had a long life. However, in the Treta Yug, the Kshatriyas also began worshipping, because of which Manu and others had to devise the rules of varna, according to which the Brahmins now shared the right to worship with the Kshatriyas, while these two castes were served by the Vaishyas and the Shudras. When the Dwapar Yug would arrive, the Vaishyas, too, would get the right to worship, he said. But in none of these three ages would the Shudras ever earn the right to worship. However, in the evil age of Kali Yug, some products of what he called shudra yoni (people born from the private parts of Shudra women) would, defying the law of caste, take to worship, he warned. He told Ram that it must certainly be that a Shudra somewhere in his kingdom was engaged in worship so that unnatural events, such as the death of the Brahmin lad, were taking place. It was adharm or a gross violation of religion or dharma, he said, for a Shudra to do so, and if a king did not prohibit adharm from happening in his kingdom, he would be sent to hell. Hence, he advised Ram to search for the Shudra engaged in the supposedly irreligious act of worship and kill him. By doing so, he said, the Brahmin lad would come back to life and dharma would prosper.
On the instigation of Narad, Ram armed himself and set off looking for what Narad had indicated to him was the source of adharm in his kingdom. After much searching, he finally spotted a lake near a mountain where he saw a man engrossed in stern austerities. Ram went up to him, and asked him his name and his caste. The man replied that he was a product of a shudra yoni, and that his name was Shambhukh. He explained that he was engaged in austerities so as to enter heaven in his physical body and attain the status of a dev or god.
As Shambhukh was speaking, Ram unsheathed his sword and lopped the man’s head off. At the very same moment, so the Valmiki Ramayan claims, in far away Ayodhya the Brahmin’s son came back to life, and the gods in the heavens congratulated Ram for his action, showering him with fragrant flowers. Greatly pleased with Ram for killing Shambhukh, the gods collectively addressed him as a god and an exalted soul who, they said, had done the work of the gods by slaying their enemy. By his act, they went on, they had prevented a Shudra from entering the abode of the gods. For this they offered to give Ram whatever he wanted. In response, Ram asked that the Brahmin’s son be brought back to life, and the deities obliged.
Many questions can be raised about this story, but because this would inevitably unnecessarily lengthen our discussion I leave this work to the minds of my readers to engage with. This and other such stories contained in the Brahminical religious texts very clearly prove the complete falsity of the argument that in the early period of what we today call Hinduism caste was based on achievement or karma and not on birth. In this story Narad and Shambhukh both use the term shudra yoni, which clearly indicates a that even in this early period that many Hindus regard as their ‘golden age’ caste was based on birth and not on actions.
Commiserating with the plight of the Shudras, the Indian poet-philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal, whose ancestors were Kashmiri Brahmins, penned the following couplet:
Ah Shudar ke liye Hindustan gham khana hai
Dard-e insani se is basti ka dil begana hai
O! For the Shudras India is an abode of sorrow
The heart of this locality is bereft of empathy for the plight of humanity