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Caste and racial discrimination in Hinduism

Written by Mushafiq Sultan on . Posted in Hinduism (Analysis)

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A study of various religions of the world makes it clear that only the Hindu religion sanctions the worst form of discrimination based on one's birth. May be some followers of other religions also practice some sort of caste discrimination. However, their religious texts do not approve of the caste discrimination. This is not the case with Hinduism though. Hindus derive the caste system directly from their scriptures and their scriptures sanction Caste discrimination.

The Hindu religion, from the very beginning, has sowed division between one human and the other.  Let us take a look at the sanction provided to this discriminatory institution in the Hindu scriptures and also, simultaneously respond to modern Hindu polemics which try to deny Caste System in Hindu Scriptures.

Following is a list of verbatim quotations from Hindu scriptures, which speak of and approve the caste system:

  1. बराह्मणो.अस्य मुखमासीद बाहू राजन्यः कर्तः |
    ऊरूतदस्य यद वैश्यः पद्भ्यां शूद्रो अजायत ||

    "The Brahmana was his [God's] mouth, of both his arms was the Rājanya made. His thighs became the Vaishya, from his feet the Shudra was produced."  [Purusha Sukta; Rigveda 10/90/12 and Yajurveda 31/11 and Atharvaveda 19/6/6]
  2. "For Brahman (Priesthood) he binds a Brahmana to the stake; for Kshatriya (Royalty) a Râjanya; for rearing cattle a Vaishya; for Penance a Shudra;" [Yajurveda 30/5]
  3. नृत्ताय सूतं
    "For Dance, God creates a Soot." [Yajurveda 30/6] A 'Soot' is the son of a Kshatriya and a Brahmin woman who generally does the business of dancing. Here caste and profession is determined by birth. Refer to Manu Smriti 10/11.
  4. गीताय शैलूषं
    "For song, God creates a bard." [Yajurveda 30/6]
  5. तपसे कौलालं
    "For penance, God creates a potter's son." [Yajurveda 30/7]
  6. वैशन्ताभ्यो वैन्दं
    "For maintaining small tanks, God creates the son of a Nishada." [Yajurveda 30/16] A 'Nishada' is the son of a Brahmin man and a Shudra woman. Refer to Manu Smriti Chapter 10, verse 8.
  7. ये गर्भा अवपद्यन्ते जगद् यच्चपलुप्यते |
    वीरा ये तृह्यन्ते मिथो ब्रह्मजाया हिनस्ति तान् ||
    "Whatever infants die, untimely born, Whatever herds of cattle waste away, Whatever heroes strike each other dead, the Brāhmin's wife destroys them." [Atharvaveda 5/17/7]
  8. उत यत् पतयो दश स्त्रियाः पूर्वे अब्राह्मणाः |
    ब्रह्मा चेद्धस्तमग्रहीत् स एव पतिरेकधा ||
    ब्राह्मण एव पतिर्न राजन्यो न वैश्यः |

    "Even if ten former husbands—none a Brāhmin—had espoused a dame, And then a Brāhmin took her hand, he is her husband, only he, not Vaisya, not Rājanya, no, the Brāhmin is indeed her lord:" [Atharvaveda 5/17/8-9]
  9. शूद्रार्यावसृज्येताम
    "Shudra and Arya were created." [Yajurveda 14/30]  Here Shudras and Aryas are clearly differentiated. Thus only Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas are considered Arya (translated as 'Noble' by Arya Samaj). Therefore, Shudras are 'Anaryas'.
  10. आर्य ईश्वर्पुत्रः
    'Arya' means 'Son of God', according to Nirukt 6/26. Combining points 9 and 10, Shudras and other low castes are not sons of God or the beloved of God.
  11.  So, what should be the behaviour of Aryans towards the non-Aryans? Various mantras of the Vedas make it clear that Aryans have the God-given right to oppress the non-Aryans, take their wealth and if they resist, kill them.
  12. In Vedic times, there lived an untouchable people in a village named Kikat, in todays Bihar. The used to rear cattle. Obviously to the Aryans this was a crime. So they invoked their warrior god Indra to wage war against them and loot their cows.

    किं ते कर्ण्वन्ति कीकटेषु गावो नाशिरं दुह्रे न तपन्तिघर्मम |
    आ नो भर परमगन्दस्य वेदो नैचाशाखं मघवन्रन्धया नः ||


    "O Indra, what do the cows make for you among the Kikatas? They neither yield milk for your offerings, nor do they warm the vessel of libation. Bring to us these cows, bring to us also the wealth of Pramagand (their King). O Brave one, grant us the possessions of the people of low status." [Rigveda 3:53:14]

    On the basis of this clear pronouncement, non-Aryans and untouchables have no right to keep cows. Aryans, whenever they wish can kill them and appropriate their possessions. Hindu culture thus becomes the culture of the progress, civilization and welfare of the Aryan people alone. The pathetic plight of the untouchables of India was due to instructions like these given by Hindu scriptures.
  13. These non-Aryans have been described at several places in the Vedas as अन्यव्रतम (followers of another religion), अमानुषम (not human), अयज्वानम (not performing Yajna) [Rigveda 8/70/11]
  14. इन्द्रः समत्सु यजमानमार्यं परावद विश्वेषु शतमूतिराजिषु सवर्मीळ्हेष्वाजिषु | मनवे शासदव्रतान तवचं कर्ष्णामरन्धयत |
    Indra is said to help the Aryan worshippers in battles and punishes the neglector of religious rites, who are said to be having 'black skin' (तवचं कर्ष्णाम). [Rigveda 1/130/8]
  15. The maidens of the 'dark race' are the free sexual dishes of Aryans. Nirukt 12/13 mentions that 'Raamaa', the lovely maidens belonging to the dark race are only for enjoyment and not for any sacred purpose. 
  16. Shudras have no right to read the Vedas according to Hindu scriptures. However, in recent times some modern Hindus who felt ashamed to carry the burden of this clear discrimination and suppression, tried to reinterpret Hindus texts in such a way which allowed Shudras to also read the Vedas. Some Hindu polemicists, present mantra 2 of Yajurveda chapter 26 as proof that all Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishas, Shudras, the kinsfolk allowed to study the Vedas. The Arya samaj translation of Swami Dayanand more or less goes like this,

    "I do hereby address this salutary speech for the benefit of humanity, for Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Shudras, the Vaishas, my women and servants, and the men of lowest position in society. Dear may I be to the learned and the guerdon-giver in this world. Fulfilled be this desire of mine. May I achieve my aim." [Yajurveda 26/2]

    This new, unique, twisted translation of Swami ji is opposed to common sense. If these are the words of God, according to the Swami, who are the women of God? and who are His servants? When did God get married to have kinsfolk? When God has already named Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishas and Shudras, for what purpose are women and servants  listed separately? Are women and servants outside the castes mentioned? Besides this, the desperation of God that he may be dear to all and his DESIRE be fulfilled , shows him as one craving for fame. This does not behoove God at all.

    All these questions are solved if we take these as not being the words of God. The words are in reality spoken by a Yajmaan (one who is performing the Yajna) asking for his desires to be fulfilled and the food presented in the Yajna be partaken by all. This mantra cannot be used to allow Shudras to read the Vedas.
  17. On the other hand the Hindu scriptures clearly prohibit a Shudra from studying the Vedas. Let us see the commentary on Brahmasutra 1/3/38


    And on account of the prohibition, in Smriti, of (the Sûdras') hearing and studying (the Veda) and (knowing and performing) (Vedic) matters.

    Adi, Shankaracharya commenting on it writes,

    "The Sûdras are not qualified for that reason also that Smriti prohibits their hearing the Veda, their studying the Veda, and their understanding and performing Vedic matters. The prohibition of hearing the Veda is conveyed by the following passages: 'The ears of him who hears the Veda are to be filled with (molten) lead and lac,' and 'For a Sûdra is (like) a cemetery, therefore (the Veda) is not to be read in the vicinity of a Sûdra.' From this latter passage the prohibition of studying the Veda results at once; for how should he study Scripture in whose vicinity it is not even to be read? There is, moreover, an express prohibition (of the Sûdras studying the Veda). 'His tongue is to be slit if he pronounces it; his body is to be cut through if he preserves it.' The prohibitions of hearing and studying the Veda already imply the prohibition of the knowledge and performance of Vedic matters; there are, however, express prohibitions also, such as 'he is not to impart knowledge to the Sûdra,' and 'to the twice-born belong study, sacrifice, and the bestowal of gifts.'--From those Sûdras, however, who, like Vidura and 'the religious hunter,' acquire knowledge in consequence of the after effects of former deeds, the fruit of their knowledge cannot be withheld, since knowledge in all cases brings about its fruit. Smriti, moreover, declares that all the four castes are qualified for acquiring the knowledge of the itihâsas and purânas; compare the passage, 'He is to teach the four castes' (Mahâbh.).--It remains, however, a settled point that they do not possess any such qualification with regard to the Veda."

    Acharya Ramanuja commenting on the same Brahmasutra writes,

    "The Sûdra is specially forbidden to hear and study the Veda and to perform the things enjoined in it. 'For a Sûdra is like a cemetery, therefore the Veda must not be read in the vicinity of a Sûdra;' 'Therefore the Sûdra is like a beast, unfit for sacrifices.' And he who does not hear the Veda recited cannot learn it so as to understand and perform what the Veda enjoins. The prohibition of hearing thus implies the prohibition of understanding and whatever depends on it."

    So, here we have two of the most influential Hindu schholars and intellectual giants totally prohibiting the Shudras from studying the Vedas.
  18. स्तुता मया कीर्ति वेदमात प्र चोदयन्तां पावमानी द्विजानाम्
    "Let my libations, giving boons, adoring, further the Twice-born's (Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishas) song that honours Soma." [Atharvaveda 19/71/1]
  19. Shatapath Brahman 2/1/4/12 says,
    "With 'bhûh!' Prajâpati generated the Brahmin; with 'bhuvah!' the Kshatriya; with 'svah!' the Vaisya. As much as are the Brahmin, the Kshatriya, and the Vaisya, so much is this universe: with the universe it (the fire) is accordingly established."
  20. The Upanishads are also supportive of the evil caste system.

    Upanishads clearly spell out that caste is based on birth due to the deeds of previous lives. This is the reason for this idea taking such root in the Hindu society that it continues to divide Indian society even today.

    Chandogya Upanishad 5/10/7 says,

    "Those whose conduct here on earth has been good will quickly attain some good birth—birth as a brahmin, birth as a kshatriya, or birth as a vaisya. But those whose conduct here has been evil will quickly attain some evil birth—birth as a dog, birth as a pig, or birth as a chandala."

    On one hand Upanishads talk of one Soul permeating all; only Brahma being real and the world being an illusion, while on the other hand they sanction this cruel birth based caste system.
  21. Some Hindus give the example of Satyakaam Jabali, who was the son of a prostitute and became a Brahmin. This is an outright lie. If we read carefully the interview of Satyakaam by his would be Guru, Gautama Haridrumata, we find that birth based caste system is again affirmed. When the Guru asked Satyakaam of what family he was, he replied he did not know except what his mother told him. Hearing this straightforward answer, the Guru declared that he was a Brahmin, because NO ONE BUT A BRAHMIN SPEAKS IN SUCH A LANGUAGE. [Chandogya Upanishad 4/4/4-5] Note that the boy had not yet acquired knowledge and thus could not be a Brahmin. The Guru just by listening to his words decalred that he was from a Brahmin FAMILY. This proves that the caste was determined by birth. So this example of the modern Hindu revisionist backfires.
  22. Even the ancient books on Sanskrit grammar are not free from the caste mindset. Panini states in his book Ashtadhyaayi Book 8, Chapter 2, Sootra 83 that in response to the salution of greeting of a Shudra, one should reply to the salutation without any cheerfulness or being too friendly. However, in the case of the Dwijas/Twice borns, greeting must be returned with a better greeting.
  23. Further, the same Panini writes in Ashtadhyaayi 2/4/10 शूद्राणां निरवसितानाम and शूद्राणां अनिरवसितानाम The latter means a Shudra who can take food from the dish of a higher class without permanently defiling the vessel. The former is that Shudra whose touch permanently defiles the vessel in which he takes food.
  24. Manu Smriti is the clearest Hindu document which spells out that Shudras are just filthy and have to be enslaved. Many Hindus want to just do away with Manu Smriti but the excerciseis futile. Manu Smriti is authenticated by the Vedas and also the Upanishads.
  25. But for the sake of the prosperity of the worlds he caused the Brahmana, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya, and the Sudra to proceed from his mouth, his arms, his thighs, and his feet. [Manu Smriti 1/31]
  26. A low-caste man who tries to place himself on the same seat with a man of a high caste, shall be branded on his hip and be banished, or (the king) shall cause his buttock to be gashed. [Manu 8/281] Caste is by birth.
  27. A Brahmana may confidently seize the goods of (his) Sudra (slave); for, as that (slave) can have no property, his master may take his possessions. [Manu 8/417]
  28. But a Sudra, whether bought or unbought, he may compel to do servile work; for he was created by the Self-existent (Svayambhu) to be the slave of a Brahmin. [Manu 8/413]
  29. A Sudra, though emancipated by his master, is not released from servitude; since that is innate in him, who can set him free from it? [Manu 8/414]
  30. Dr. Surendra Kumar has written a detailed translation of Manu Smriti in Hindi that analyzes each shloka on various parameters and weeds out the verses which he assumed to have been interpolated. He concluded that a certain verse of Manu Smriti was interpolated if it contradicted with the Vedas. Now let us see the how these modern Hindus cremated their own ideology by this misadventure. Manu Smriti 1/96-97 says,

    "Of created beings the most excellent are said to be those which are animated; of the animated, those which subsist by intelligence; of the intelligent, mankind; and of men, the Brahmins; Of Brahmins, those learned (in the Veda); of the learned, those who recognise (the necessity and the manner of performing the prescribed duties); of those who possess this knowledge, those who perform them; of the performers, those who know the Brahman."

    Note the bold and underlined text. It clearly implies that a Brahmin is one by birth. That is why is uses the words 'of Brahmins, the most excellent are those learned (in the Veda)'. For the modern Hindus who assume that caste ACCORDING TO THE VEDAS is not by birth but by qualities, this text of Manu Smriti was an interpolation. Thus they removed it from the Revised Manu Smriti.

    However, in their ignorance of the Vedas, they did a blunder. The same text is present in Atharvaveda 12/4/22 which says,

    "If hundred other Brāhmins beg the Cow of him who owns her, The Gods have said, She, verily, belongs to him who is learned."

    This mantra also implies that Brahmins are Brahmins by birth and there may be more learned people among them. Now, if the text of Manu Smriti was ousted as an interpolation then by the same standard this mantra of Atharvaveda also is an interpolation.
  31. Manusmriti declares that a Shudra cannot marry a girl from outside his caste. But a Brahmin can marry in the other three castes also in addition to his own. Similarly Kshatriyas and Vaishyas are allowed to marry girls from castes lower than their own besides from their own castes. [Manusmriti 3/13]
  32. Know that a Brahmana of ten years and Kshatriya of a hundred years stand to each other in the relation of father and son; but between those two the Brahmana is the father.  [Manusmriti 2/135]
  33. Manusmriti forbids a Shudra from giving evidence in a law-suit involving Brahmins. Similarly, a Brahmin cannot give evidence in a Shudra's case. Shudras alone can appear as witnesses in a case involving Shudras and the same rule applies to scavangers also. [Manusmriti 8/ 68]
  34. In short, the scriptures provide maximum punishment for Shudras, while the other castes get lesser punishment for the same kind of offence. The tongue of a Shudra who utters harsh words against the twice-born must be cut, says the 'Manusmriti.' If a Shudra pronounces the name and surname of a twice-born or utters impertinent words like "Hey Yagnadatt, you are a low Brahmin", etc., a ten-inch-long, red-hot iron nail is to be thrust into his mouth.
    [Manusmriti 8 / 267 - 268]
  35. Ironically, a Shudra is punished even for doing good deeds. Religious preaching was considered to be righteous act. But 'Manusmriti' says that hot oil must be poured into the mouth and ear of a Shudra who dares to preach to a Brahmin [Manusmriti 8 / 270 - 271]
  36. A Shudra is not to be given good advice. Manu Smriti 4/80 says,

    "Let him not give to a Sudra advice, nor the remnants (of his meal), nor food offered to the gods; nor let him explain the sacred law (to such a man), nor impose (upon him) a penance."
     
  37. Let him not allow a dead Brahmin to be carried out by a Sudra, while men of the same caste are at hand; for that burnt-offering which is defiled by a Sudra's touch is detrimental to (the deceased's passage to) heaven. [Manusmriti 5/104]
     
  38. Even social reformers like Swami Dayanand could not escape the strong influence of the Shastric injunctions. He too gives some do's and don'ts in dealing with Shudras. Some of them are as follows:
    1. Eat food offered by Brahmins but don't eat food offered by the Shudras like Chandals, scavengers, cobblers etc.
    2. Only on the occasion of grave emergency is one allowed to take food cooked in a Shudra's house.
    3. A shudra who fulfils the conditions needed to pursue the studies of scriptures can be taught all the Shastras except the Vedas. Many religious teachers agree to the fact that a Shudra can pursue studies of scriptures but there can be no sacred thread ceremony for him. Since Swami Dayanand does not refute this attitude of the teachers, it can be inferred that he also subscribes to their views.
    4. The tag 'Das‘ must be attached to the name of a Shudra (Sanskaar Vidhi  Pg 66)
  39. Death is the reward for a Shudra who performs religious rites. An episode in the 'Valmiki Ramayan' says that a Brahmin put the blame for the death of his young son on Lord Ram. Then Narad came and explained to Ram that the death was owing to the illegitimate asceticism of a Shudra named Shambhuka.
    In another context, it is said that Ram saw a boy in the direction of South doing penance. When Ram asked the boy the reason for his penance, he replied that he wanted to conquer the 'Devalok' and then attain Godhood. He introduced himself as a Shudra named Shambhuka. When Ram came to know the Shudra identity of Shambhuka, he immediately killed him with his sword. And the Gods expressed their gratitude by showering praises on Ram.
  40. Did Ram eat the fruit tasted by Shabri ?
    One is prompted to ask the question why Shudras are treated with contempt if, as claimed earlier, Ram ate the fruit offered by Shabri (a Shudra woman)?
    We want to know in which of the 'Ramayans' the above episode occurs? Surely, there is no mention about Ram's eating the defiled fruit in 'Anand Ramayan', 'Manjul Ramayan' or 'Tulsi Ramayan'. The mention of Shabri's low origin does occur in 'Adhyatm Ramayan'. But it does not say anything about Ram's eating the plum she offered, after tasting it herself first.
    In 'Ramacharit Manas,' the following reference to Shabri occurs in 'Aranya Kand'. When Ram steps into Shabri's hut, she is reminded of Sage Matanga's prediction that Ram would one day visit her hut. Seeing the two brothers (one is dark and the other is fair) with lotus-like eyes, long arms, matted hair and adorned with garlands, Shabri fell at their feet Overwhelmed with love and devotion, she could not utter a word. Instead she prostrated at their feet again and again. Then after washing their feet and offering them honourable seats, she brought lot of fruits and roots for the distinguished guests.
    It becomes clear from this that the question of Ram's taking fruit tasted by a Shudra woman does not arise. Moreover, the Shastras do not put any restrictions on accepting fruits and roots etc. from low caste people. Therefore, by accepting the fruit offered by Shabri, Ram neither antagonised the Shastras nor did he do anything radical.

This being the fact, there are people who claim that in Hindu scriptures, Shudras are treated with equality and love. But apparently those who claim thus have either not read the scriptures properly, or want to keep the Shudras in eternal subjugation, or dare not raise a voice against the inhuman attitude of the Shastras, or want to interpret this discriminating attitude as friendly.