Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Is It Time to Go Beyond Caste?

Is It Time to Go Beyond Caste to Determine Eligibility for Reservations?

India needs to adapt a new way to support economically and socially disadvantaged sections of Indian society than caste based reservation system. Caste based reservations have left millions of people across India helpless although it helped urban and literate sections of the society. India should replace caste based reservation system with class based affirmative action system similar to the United States of America. Affirmative action system adapted by the higher educational institutions in the United States has helped economically disadvantaged students of America, as well as the African-American and Latino students tremendously.

The new affirmative action system can also include preferences for both low-income students and the students who are first in the family to attend college. This system will help economically and socially disadvantaged groups and it might not also cause dissatisfaction among the general population, since first generation-students generally tend come from low-income families and may also be the only ones to attend college in their. Allowing the first generation students attending college to utilize affirmative action also might stop abuse of reservation system commonly noted since generations of the wealthy and successful SC/STs and BCs continue to use reservations, while their less fortunate brethren are left in a position of disadvantage.

Affirmative action program similar to the United States or a class-based action program will be more equitable and may also help rid Indian society of the caste system.

Indian government policies are solely to blame for the survival of caste in India in the twentieth century and for its successful continuation into the twenty-first century. Indian society would have moved away from caste in the last sixty-eight years since independence, if the government had not used it as a parameter to determine eligibility for reservations in education and jobs. At least, after seventy years of Indian independence, hopefully, Indian government would come forward with a policy to help economically and socially weaker sections, but move away from the caste system at the same time.  

Caste is an Outdated Parameter to Determine Backwardness

Caste is an Outdated Parameter to Determine Social Backwardness and Underdevelopment

Government of India used caste as a parameter to assign social programs for almost seventy years after independence. People of lower castes have enjoyed free education, caste based admissions programs favoring lower castes to be admitted in to educational institutions even though they had only sub par merit. The lower castes also enjoyed quotas in jobs, as well as promotions based on their castes. The reservations system has done miracles for peoples who utilized them. However, it has also left numerous people, especially poor landed caste people as farm laborers and workers on the country-side without much help.
Landed castes are left with small landholdings, often very small farms with very small annual per capita yield that does not support their families, let alone their educational advancement. Landed castes should also be allowed to enjoy the fruits of reservation system under the quota system. Landed caste regardless of ownership of land are the modern backward castes since they face discrimination at every level due to their poverty.
Caste should not serve as a parameter to determine the eligibility to quality for government programs. In the modern world every person living in poverty faces the same discrimination from educated and elite classes regardless of caste.

Asking someone for caste is meaningless in this modern world. Castes that have enjoyed admissions to privileged colleges, and jobs might find it hard to let go of the facilities caste provides them. However, it is necessary that caste should no longer matter for those living in poverty. Every farmer holding less than five acres of land or every person with annual income of less than Rs. five lakhs should qualify for quotas in schools and colleges, with no such preference extended in jobs. Providing equal educational opportunity should be the prerogative of the government. The young people should take advantage of the opportunities to perform to the best of their ability to quality for a variety of employment opportunities the modern world offers.  

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Caste: Some Questions and Concerns

The Caste Assumptions 

Everything from temple building to beef ban is attributed to caste politics in India. Caste in a society like India is as varied as the accusations of caste are in the modern India. Caste resides and survives on the privileges it offers it members. People that talk about caste system in India miss the basic points of social system in India. I request them to read Beyond Caste: Identity and Power in South Asia, Past and Present, which would help them understand the caste system in India, but also help clear some misunderstandings prevalent among the intelligentsia in India. 

Origins of Caste: Misguided Constructions from Purushasukta

One of the most common misconceptions is equating caste with class. Vedas describe four social classes among the people of the Vedic society. They frequently quote the Rigvedic verse, the Purushasukta, to substantiate their claim that caste has Vedic origins. This is a completely misguided reading out of context and wrought with problems. It is a symbolic verse, discussing cosmic being and his sacrifice noting the sacred origins of society. It is a theological verse. It is mistakenly interpreted to represent caste. Some historians are selective classicists, they embrace textual verses when it suits them and at other times they interpret Vedas as not representing truth. 

Remember caste and class is not the same. In fact, Rigvedic society has only three classes. Four classes were a feature of later Vedic society. There are thousands of castes and only four classes in classical India, and a fifth class was added even later. Indian society has thousands of castes and only five classes. Caste is hereditary based on jati (birth), but class is not hereditary. History has evidence of groups changing professions and changing classes. I urge the historians to study south Indian History. 

Manudharma sastra and various other later dharma texts may have sections on jati, and jati dharma (rules of caste), but there is no evidence that it was uniform in India or that a uniform civil code suppressing the great masses of India. Numerous texts existed, but not many studied Sanskrit or followed the interpretations of Brahmins. In fact, it was British who tried to translate Manudharma sastra to use it in jurisprudence. 

Not all Professional Castes are Poor or Untouchable

In India professional castes were wealthier and has more upward mobility than landed farmers until eighteenth century. Leather workers as well as cotton weavers became poor and disenfranchised from their professions as machine production and machine made goods became available for sale in India since the eighteen hundreds, but not before it. I urge any one interested to consult Vijayanagara inscriptions and other inscriptions of southern Indian dynasties such as the Chalukyas and Cholas to gain a better understanding of the caste system in India. Caste is not frozen in time, and was not always similar. Many professional castes castes are mentioned in south Indian Inscriptions that paid substantial taxes to the emperors and owned villages. They also supported construction of temples. Caste operated in different ways during different times and different geographical regions. 

Varna is not Just Color, and It Is Definitely not Caste

Equating varna with caste is one of the colonial vestiges of British education system in India. Class system in India is referred to as Varna, which is interpreted by colonial historians as color, which is only partially applicable  to class. One of the meanings of Varna is color, but it also has other meanings. Varna is a style of dance, and music. Varna is also alphabet. In fact, alphabet is referred to as 'varnamala,' in south India. Historians steeped in colonial historical learning still interpret it as color, which does not make sense, since the dark and light colored skin dichotomy of colonial class system was not part of Vedic understanding of society. Varna simply was a division of society as the alphabet divides the sounds for convenience, as a, b, c, d...

Caste Needs Hinduism, but Hinduism Does not Need Caste

Hinduism is practiced without caste outside its borders, and with varied or lighter versions of caste system in its frontiers such as Kashmir, southern borders of India as well as eastern India. Caste system is not endemic to Hinduism, but India. All religions that are practiced in India, including western religions such as Islam and Christianity also embrace caste system in India. This in itself is evidence that caste is a social practice common to all religions in India. Hinduism in Guyana, Surinam, Fiji, Cambodia and also Hinduism in Thailand, Indonesia does not have a strong caste system associated with it. 

To Banish Caste, Stop Asking for It

Poor people in India are asked for caste to receive their social welfare schemes. Educational and employment opportunities are based on quotas assigned to poor and backward castes. But caste based reservations are only perpetrating the caste system further rather than getting rid of it. A lower caste person has no chance of escaping his caste for the danger of loosing his reservations. Numerous countries in the world had social discrimination in one form or other based on classe. But they all moved forward by abolishing their use in official records and official settings. Japan moved away from social discrimination of the group 'burakumin' by adopting name changes and banishing any identification that would identify a person as burakumin. Burakumin lived under similar circumstances as the untouchables of India. But within fifty years Japan has successfully eradicated the discrimination. India should adopt similar methods and progress beyond caste based society to embrace modernity. Caste is an outdated parameter to decide the availability of social welfare programs. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

India's Problem with Remembering Difficult Past

India's Amnesia with Difficult Past

India is categorized as a country with rich cultural heritage and past, but India also has memory vacuums in its past. India has a problem with remembering its difficult past: It either brushes it off, or slowly forgets it. India is generous about forgetting about the crimes of outsiders than its own people. Numerous terrorist attacks were perpetrated in India, but not even a single memorial marks the dead. Not only that terrorist events are forgotten, this is also true for major historical events such as the first war of independence of 1957. There is a memorial for the British dead in the war in India, but no such memorial for the dead soldiers of India, or its heroes of 1957. Nothing is known about the soldiers dead abroad while serving the British army, in China in the early 19th century, in Europe, and Middle East in the 20th century in the long drawn wars of the first world war. Of course nothing much is known in terms of memorials for soldiers dead in the wars with its neighbors in 1962 war with China or 1972 war with Pakistan.

India won its independence in 1947, but what about the 250,000 people, who died in the skirmishes that resulted during that year. No memorial. One or two films are made with mock characteristics rather than recreating a museum or memorial. India's invaders always inflicted innumerable losses to the life of civilians in India, almost creating a genocidal effect in India. However, all that India does is just forget about the atrocities, and move on, with the hope that such events won't repeat, which is always proven to be a mistake. They always repeat, India never remembers, and hence never adequately prepares, only to succumb to invaders easily.

India moves on with its insolent indifference into the twenty first century. Media discuss the 26/11 attacks, but no memorial for the victims. Everything is whitewashed and forgotten. India should make an effort to remember its past however sad or difficult it is so such events do not happen again.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Colonial Mind, Emigration, and Identity

Twenty-first Century brought forward a new dilemma for Indians. To be or not to be Indian, when one is living in a country away from India, the motherland. The question attracted attention from newspapers, internet portals, and Indian Twitterati. Bobby Jindal aka Piyush Jindal brought this debate to the front, which had been simmering in the back burner for sometime. There are two theories: One side argues that maintaining close connection with one's Indianness is important, the second side argues that an Indians must completely forget one's Indianness and immerse in the culture of the land wherever they may be living.

Both theories are wrought with problems. when one is away living in a different country, the person is not Indian in the full sense of the term, and only belongs to the cultural heritage of India. The middle way to foster this had already been shown by previous immigrants of colonial era now living in the Caribbean Islands, South Africa, and Fiji. The Caribbean Indians are as comfortable with Calypso music as with Bollywood dance numbers.

The second theory of disowning one's cultural heritage to assimilate completely with a culture of the land one is living at any time is also wrought with problems in addition to the point that it may be difficult and may not come easily for some. One serious issue that comes up with such attitude is if one is so uncomfortable with his own background and cannot live comfortably with his own heritage, how can he be expected to be open minded about myriad of other cultures that may exist around him. And what kind of a leader that one make such person. Twenty first century world brought migrations across the world. There are few places in this world that may be considered homogeneous culturally these days. In Bobby Jindal's case his becoming American mean a very narrow definition of  what American means, which comes with English, and converting to Christianity. In his opinion Asian immigrants are lacking in Christianity, while other Latino immigrants are lacking in English. 

His proposal for Americanness, English and Christianity, is matter of simple life for millions of Indians living in India already, almost every educated person in India speaks decent English, and India has sizable number of Christians dating as far back as early centuries of first millennium C.E. There are a number of Indian Christians living in America as well.  Same is true with Latinos in numerous countries, they speak decent English and are Christians by faith. If this is what defines Americanness in Bobby Jindal's mind, then there are legions of others that are better qualified for such honor than him. Is he ready to call everyone of those who speak good English and is Christian an American then?

Another issue with such disowning one's culture to claim assimilation into another culture is a remnant of colonialism. Neo-Indian culture of nineteenth and twentieth centuries is characterized by learning English language, dress, manners and customs, which sometimes may include conversion to Christianity. Speaking English and dressing as English gentleman is seen as cultured and civilized self. Colonial life in the continent of America is also known for altering the life of natives and landscape of the region forever. Numerous languages perished along with annihilation of tribes, plants, birds and animals. However, there is a modern quest to discover lost languages and cultures, and protect the animals and plant life of the world. It is common in twenty-first century, for humans to live in different countries, but still be able to live comfortably as one-self. The greatest advantage of twenty-first century global world is multi-culturalism, which represents unity in diversity. If Bobby Jindal had difficulty embracing multi-culturalism then he is living in the past a world of early 19th century rather than the twentieth century.

It enriches a country when multiple cultures exist in a country with uniform civil code. Problem ensues when some cultural groups ask for preferential treatment or separate family courts based on their cultural sentiments. Such preferential treatment should not be meted out to any group. Even though the cultures are different they must all respect the law of the land and abide by it, and work for the progress of the country. That's what the leaders should be asking for from their citizens, not homogeneity. Multiplicity is the feature of the twenty-first century. 

Embracing multi-culturalism and multiple selves is the way to go. Living with narrow definitions and identities is helpful to a certain extent, but learning more than three languages, knowing about world cultures and religions is also important in the 21st century. After all no one is living on self-isolating island.

On This Yoga Day, Lets Focus on True Efforts to Understand Yoga

As India, along with the world, is gearing up to celebrate Yoga, a lot of noise is heard from all sides, but real emphasis on true learning is lacking. There is happy noise from the hundreds of Yoga enthusiasts getting ready for their celebration by organizing public performances of Yoga. In fact, some are expecting to enter the Guinnes book for the largest gathering and performance of Yoga. While there are also some gruntling noises from so called secularists, Muslims announcing that they would not be taking part in the Yoga Day celebrations.

India, as the land of Yoga has a responsibility to preserve and continue the tradition of Yoga through education, research and scholarship. Serious study of Yoga is necessary to pass on the requisite knowledge to the future generations. When I was growing up in India all the Yoga asanas I learned are from my family. School education was helpless in the field of Yoga. Similarly, my higher education in Osmania University and University of Hyderabad similarly provided me no background in Yoga. School or college did not teach Yoga at any time. It was only after coming to the West that I learned how important it is for mind, body unity and focus. It was only here that I discovered the value of Yoga. Most universities, public libraries offer courses on Yoga in the West. There are numerous private schools of Yoga that teach a variety of styles of Yoga, calling it a physical exercise. The Yoga day seems to be doing exactly what the privately run Yoga programs in the gyms across the western world had been doing for a long time. Promoting Yoga as a physical exercise. Yoga is much more than just a physical exercise and understanding it should be at the core of Yoga day activities. It is important to have Yoga day celebrated with performance of Yoga. But it should also be a day where new research and scholarship sheds light on this traditional knowledge.

Yoga postures (asanas) are practiced, but it is also important to read and understand the Yogasutras of Patanjali. More publications discussing the Patanjali Yogasutras and philosophical aspects of Yoga should be made available to the common people of India.

Meditation is an essential part of Yoga which needs long and focussed practice under a learned teacher. Training centers, certifications for different levels of Yoga proficiency is also important. Currently, Yoga institutes, and training centers are independent organizations, which are run without any scrutiny or accreditation. A educational authority to certify and accredit various levels of Yoga programs is necessary. Due to the importance of Yoga for modern life, it is important to establish a Central organization to oversee the licensing and functioning of Institutes as well as the certifications for Yoga training.

Before this turns into another show of mindless numbers and postures it should be taken in the right direction where learning, research and scholarship is encouraged at all levels of Yoga practice. Unless Yoga studies is offered as a subject of study in the universities, Yoga Days like this will not be able to provide real value to the practitioners.