06 Dec 2007

      According to the oldest and most sacred of the Hindu scriptures, … man was not created equal.   Instead of equality, four basic levels of man were created.  Included in the three top levels are the priests, scholars, kings, warriors, businessmen, and land owners.  They were to work with their minds.  It is those on the bottom level … or caste … that were born to be laborers and servants.  They were to work with their bodies.

 The Hindu scriptures called this lowest caste, … “two-footed cattle” … and even today the work of the poor is the work that is done by animals or machines in other countries.  The poor – men, women, and children – can be seen toiling day and night all over the country, doing jobs that are unsafe, unhealthy and unrewarding.  Sometimes the work is heavy physical labor; often it is repetitive and dull.  Cart pullers, construction workers, stonebreakers – all work long and hard for a dally wage that hardly meets the needs of survival.  Women work twice as hard, often pregnant or breastfeeding while doing the same physically demanding tasks as the men, and then going on to do the cooking, cleaning and washing at home.  The majority of the Indian workers are poor.  Sometimes the work seems pointless, as if going through the motions was more important than the result. 

 Workers at the bottom caste have little incentive to do better, because only mediocrity is rewarded since excellence on the part of the individual threatens the system. The most widely used Hindu scripture says that it is better to do the job ordained by your birth, … no matter how bad it is, … than another person’s ordained job, … even if you can do it well.  Without ever having read the scripture, the laborer knows better than to aspire to be office manager.  Educated members of the office staff, who speak English and have become familiar with Western ideas, sometimes convey the impression of working on Western terms.  This is little more than a veneer, underneath is a person with a very different system of values … a system that strives to maintain the status quo.

 The caste system of India has been in place for 3,000 years.  Over time, the 4 major cast divisions have been subdivided into thousands of categories.  One large group existing outside the caste system is called “the untouchables.”  These people work with dead animals and with animal skins and other jobs that are forbidden by the Hindu belief system.

 India has made little progress in ridding itself of the caste system.  There have been laws passed. Religious groups have been organized.  Statements are made that all are equal under the law and under god. … Yet, the reality of the daily lives of its citizens tells a different story.  Given India’s population and the need for work, the inefficiency of the caste system is important as a method of keeping people employed.  This is not the ideal solution; rather it is the recognition of the problem and Indian’s deal with it this way.  They need to keep the “two-footed cattle” … employed and under control.


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