By Bal Ram Singh, PhD
The caste word from Portuguese ‘Casta’ meaning race, and with British inspired Aryan Invasion Theory suggesting the Shudras being native while the superior Brahamins, Kshatriyas, and Vaisyas being Aryans, the misinterpretation of the Varna system was well on the way in.
Deterioration of the basic values and practice of all the so called higher varnas – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaisyas for their self interest lent further support to the notion that the varna system is more like a race as had been as alluded by the term caste.
Furthermore, with the lure of personal and family benefits, both from Muslim and British rulers, the naturally inclined fundamental duties of the varnas went out the windows, and fake identities were adopted that served the individuals and the rulers of the time. Unfortunately, that does not seem to have changed despite India being independent for more that 75 years.
Part of the problem has been adoption of the city based socio-political system on the lines of the Western practices. Anyone who knows the village culture, cannot even imagine the jatis will be referring to different races, when those of us coming from the villages know very well that people of an entire village consider and refer to each other as an extended family.
People refer to and behave as kins irrespective of jati or even religion. This is the culture that has produced Valmiki as a brahmin, Nishadraj as a king, Suheldev (a backward caste in today’s lingo) as a king/kshatriya who defeated Mahmud Gazni, Bhamashah as a kshatriya, these not necessarily being by birth but by actions. The varna system, if practiced truly according to the nature of the system, is the most meritorious, complementary, and evolutionary.
The lack of the practice of the Varna system stems from the lack of samskara, disparity amongst people, and discrimination by those who wield power directly and indirectly. Introduction of government job quota system first for Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes that was meant for 10 years by social stalwarts like Dr. Ambedkar, and extending it further to the OBC by an additional 27% even in educational institutions, including coveted Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management may have helped provide justice for people, but this short gain has done damage to a system that is meritorious to people with skills.
The threat to amend the constitution to require job reservations for Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Castes in the private sector has only aggravated the situation.
While government moves in such cases are almost entirely motivated by vote bank politics, a 49.5% quota for 75% population does not sound unreasonable, either. The question remains, however, whether a quota system created with ulterior motives of party politics is ever going to solve a long-term degradation in Indian society. History all over the world suggests that social engineering, be in the name of communism, eugenics, or religion, normally has opposite effects and divides societies.
Honesty, equality, and fairness, on the other hand, bring everyone together to work for the welfare of all. Dilapidation of Indian society over the past millennium has led to the current state of unfair treatment of its own population, and there is a clear recipe available within the Indian tradition to right the wrong of hundreds of years.
It may, in fact, be the most fair thing to do is to provide 100 percent reservation in jobs, whether government or private sector, for shudras with the caveat to permit conversion of anyone into the Shudra class. A reservation of 100% jobs for Shudras and a provision for the conversion of all those who seek jobs (including professors, doctors, and engineers) will remove social injustice, provide dignified economic opportunities to all, and promote meritocracy, all the while keeping corrupt politicians at bay.
And, this is all within the subscription of Indian tradition, as outlined even in Manusmriti — shudro brahmagaataameti brahmanashchaiti shudrataam, meaning a shudra can become a brahman and vice versa, by action and qualities.
The shudras are the true practitioners of the tradition when they provide seva with their practical skills, which not only provide satisfaction and happiness to them (santosham param sukham, meaning the satisfaction brings the greatest happiness), the Brahmins are tied down with 9 requirements (refer to TSAT article on December 2-6, 2023, page 21), Kshatriyas with 7 and Vaishyas with 3, for which Shudras are given complete freedom to create their own rules.
Balram Singh is a Professor and the President of the Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, Massachusetts, researching Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedic education, and Vedic social and political traditions. He is also an adjunct faculty at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times