DOES FEUDAL AND CASTE SYSTEM STILL EXIST IN INDIA?
I happen to see a program in BBC few days back, about the poor in the developing India. I, being a ‘proud’ Indian, coming from the South, was shocked to see the plight of the so called ‘Dalits’ or lower-caste, poor section of a village in North India. It was then that I realized the burden of caste system and untouchables still haunt the fast developing country of mine.
Few months back, I had the privilege to read the Booker prize winning Novel ‘The White Tiger’ by the Indian writer Aravind Adiga. It is about a North Indian named Balram Halwai, who was a successful student at school (his teacher nicknamed him ‘White Tiger’, someone extra-ordinary compared to the remaining students) dropped out to pay debts to his landlord. This first time novelist begins his novel with a smirk for the West; it is the time of the East; it is the domination of the Chinese and the Indians; the era of the brown and yellow skinned. He describes through the words and thoughts of his central character Balram about the caste system, the oppression of the lower caste at the hands of the upper caste landlords, of why South India is better and advanced technology-wise than the superstitious North, and the Holy Black River Ganga full of unburned body pieces. I read it with a smile and a smirk...thought Adiga was exaggerating a lot...wondered what made the jury give him the Booker prize.
The BBC program to me in fact was a real eye opener. The presenter gratefully presented the facts; the misery, poverty, hunger and every suffering of the Dalits. They hardly have proper schools or colleges to educate their kids whereas the landlord’s kids are often sent to city schools and colleges. With no good education, they hardly can find good jobs. They thus end up doing some menial jobs like pulling a rickshaw or cart; or tilling the farms of their landlord, in exchange for which they receive few rice grains. And if the monsoon fails, they are doomed; not even those numbered rice grains. They end up starving; sometimes they resort to stealing crops (usually mango, sugarcane etc) from their landlord’s property; for which if caught they are beaten to death by their landlord’s goondas. The landlord’s goondas are known for their notorious activities like breaking the limbs and killing their ‘prey’ mercilessly; these mainly take place in the dark, at night.
Out of starvation, many are malnutritioned. Some end up eating what is available; that is RATS. The program showed how they put up sticks and fire to burn the rats they caught from under the ground. To the British presenter, that would have been his unique BBQ!
Because these villages have nothing to offer them other than miseries and death threats, many Dalits like Adiga’s Balram leave for metro cities. Life for them in cities like Mumbai is also hard; no homes, only slum or tent; it is difficult to find work; more competitive…but they struggle happily, having to escape their merciless landlords and the burden of the caste system. Life is a hope for them in these Metros.
Like how Adiga puts it, I feel my South is a ‘Haven’ even though it has no Holy Ganga flowing; particularly in my beautiful ‘God’s Own Country’ which boasts of 100% literacy and with moderate communists in rule there is no trace of landlords who purge on someone else’s blood.
How did the Caste system originate?
In a religion like Hinduism, which views the world as one family, contributed yoga and meditation, the counting system and numbers to the world, this evil must have crept in slowly in the Later Vedic Age, supported by the then law makers and Kings. Earlier, people practiced work that was passed down by their fathers. If you are born into a family of barbers, you are to take up that profession. I should say our society was too organized and strict. You can’t choose the job you like!
If we examine our Holy Texts like Mahabharata and Ramayana, Lord Krishna was born into the family of Cowherds, so not an upper caste. In the long run, some would have taken advantage of the system and exploited the weak. No wonder India produces lot of Phoolan Devis (a Dalit ‘Bandit Queen’ who killed her Landlord).
It has had many disastrous effects in our society than the Slavery practices of the West, even to this day. It is a shame that the Indian Government does practically nothing to save these Dalits from the clutches of the iron handed Landlords!