Equality and Social Justice are basic human decency.
My recent visit to African American Museum in Washington DC reaffirmed to me a lot of my views. Finally I know I have no ill-conceived notions on equality and social justice. Its despicable, abhorrent that some of us must even come to think they must be superior to fellow humans merely by virtue of birth. I cannot help but find parallels between racial prejudice that seems to be interwoven with the birth of modern America and the caste prejudice prevalent in Hindu India that are strikingly similar in most ways. Only, in India, the assault is more on the mind even today.
Muhammad Ali, the boxer, comes across as the most dynamic sportsperson with a mind of his own. We all grew up watching him, yet the powerful statements he made and the principles he stood for have moved me to the core. Not stopping with mere words, Ali gears up into action. He truly makes a difference. What an inspiring life!
Parts of this museum, in spite of my anticipation, bore into my soul straight. From fictions on Africa such as those of Wilbur Smith, I had precisely imagined the slave ships and the slave trade. However nothing prepared me for the graphic details and illustrations. In India we had a slightly different story. The ‘untouchables’ were sometimes asked even not to be seen. In Kerala, they had to move shouting so that they could be avoided seen from their voices. Breast taxes were imposed on women. Cremation and sanitation duties still continue to be caste-based. The brahmins, baniyas and kshatriyas prospered at the expense of the shudras and the panchamas without a conscience. Denying knowledge ran in the Hindu ranks. Knowledge reigns supreme in some communities, not because it was shared. Knowledge became a weapon to some because it was NOT shared but kept within blood lines. There has never been dignity of labour in Hindu community. There has never been a sense of service. Divinity and service to humanity are totally de-linked. Animal sacrifice seems to have been replaced by animal abuse in the abode of god and in the name of god. The temple elephants! No Vedas were prescribed to be monopolized by a single community. Scriptures from later dates connived to maintain the supposed hierarchy or social order dictated by the upper castes as the Varnaashramaa expanded aided by the Agamic temples. Psychological damage done to the lowest castes of India by the upper castes is staggering, with the former’s sense of dignity stamped upon for centuries that they lost count of their self-worth. This is very much like the captive elephant psychology. The ‘broken’ mammoth comes to believe that it cannot break the shackles of steel chain rooting it to a spot. The giant believes its place is confined and is unaware of its might. Just like the lowest castes of India believe that they belong where they should, and remain ignorant of their true potential. Genes can have a limited role in knowledge and skills. Rest can be achieved by sheer practice and training, with inculcation of good knowledge. The lowest castes of India have been at the receiving end of history quite like the coloured races of America.
Knowledge is Empowerment.
America is a far healthy and mature democracy where there is scope for debate on sensitive issues. In India, the very channels for a reasonable dialogue are shut tight that anyone who tries to pry open the sealed doors may be christened ‘anti-hindu.’ Hindu Dharma has a future if and only if the Agamic structure is dismantled or is infused with representation from every single walk of Hindu life. The way forward is for the Hindus to become an inclusive society where social justice has a chance to prosper. Caste based occupations must be turned into professional ones as a first necessary step. Why should we have to be discussing this seventy five years since our independence.
I have absolutely no regrets that some friendships have been strained because of my strong views on caste prejudice. I stand by my unshakeable opinion which received a resounding thumping at the African American Museum! I think it is not just indecent but utterly inhumane to even consider oneself superior merely by virtue of birth. Denying knowledge sharing is selfish and cowardice. That wrong sense of entitlement has to be stripped off some.
By sheer coincidence or perhaps by cookie manipulation (!) i chanced upon ‘Harriet’ in Netflix. Logging out with wet eyes. Hats off to the brave, intelligent, inspiring woman! She reminds of me of the much demure Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy, daughter of a Devdasi who was refused medical college admit for her caste. She went on to become the first woman physician in India who later founded the Cancer Institute, Adyar, Madras (Chennai), one of the first of its kind.