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Caste System – Excerpts

Although all men may be equal in God’s eyes, they can never be equal in the eyes of other men, and because of that basic flaw in the doctrine of egalitarianism we in the West now talk of "equality of opportunity". The pursuit of equal opportunities for all has many achievements to its credit, but this ideal too is going to be realized only if there is another life after this one.

Our differences of opportunity start the moment we are conceived. The gap widens as we live in different families, go to different schools, are inspired or bored by different teachers, discover or fail to discover our individual talents and are given or not given the resources to develop those talents. So it goes on throughout our lives. There will always be winners and losers.

 The alienation of many young people in the West and the loneliness of the old show the suffering that egalitarianism inflicts on those who do not win, the superficiality of an egalitarianism which in effect means equal opportunities for all to win and then ignores the inevitable losers. Imagine how many losers there must be in a country like India where many children have their physical and mental growth stunted by malnutrition.

Imagine also what would happen if egalitarianism and its companion individualism destroyed the communities which support those who start life with no opportunities. For all that, the elite of India have become so spellbound by egalitarianism that they are unable to see any good in the only institution which does provide a sense of identity and dignity to those who are robbed from birth of the opportunity to compete on an equal footing –

Caste is obnoxious to the egalitarian West, so it is obnoxious to the Indian elite too.

One way to discredit any system is to highlight its excesses, and this only adds to the sense of inferiority that many Indians feel about their own culture. It would lead to a greater respect for India’s culture, and indeed a better understanding of it, if it were recognized that the caste system has never been totally static, that it is adapting itself to today’s changing circumstances and that it has positive as well as negative aspects.

The caste system provides security and a community for millions of Indians. It gives them an identity that neither Western Science nor Western thought has yet provided, because caste is not just a matter of being a Brahmin or a Harijan: it is also a kinship system. The system provides a wider support group than a family: a group which has a social life in which all its members participate.

In the September 1989 issue of Seminar magazine, Madhu Kishwar, one of India leading feminists, wrote, " The caste system provides for relatively greater stability and dignity to the individuals than they would have as atomized individuals. This is part explains why the Indian poor retain a strong sense of self-respect. It is that self-respect which the thought-less insistence on egalitarianism destroys."

Source: No Full Stops in India by Mark Tully
Penguin Books 1991 pages 5-7


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