Uneradicated and normalized: Casteism in the Nepali community
India’s caste system is perhaps the world’s longest surviving social hierarchy. Prejudice, especially arising due to caste, runs very deep in our society. What’s even more disheartening is that; it is not just the adults but even the children are subjected to caste discrimination.
A musician and a writer, Devas Hingmang states, “The country that promotes the ideology of “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam”, which considers the whole world as one family, is today absorbed looking for petty reasons to discriminate each other. The discrimination that is practised is beyond belief. Be it in school, within friends and family, office, religious places, there always exists one or other forms of discrimination. Discrimination is never going to end until and unless we inculcate auspicious thoughts thin ourselves and act according to it. Whatever we humans do in this life whether good or bad, we are bound to face the consequences. It is similar to playing “rock, paper, and scissor”. Today the paper may conclude that it’s bigger and better than the rock, but the sharp scissor can rip off the paper into pieces. So the main issue is that we must broaden our vision and try to cultivate the essence of all shastras which is a purity of consciousness and to relish the nectar of peace & prosperity everywhere, whether be workplace, family or locality.”
He believes that in today’s time when everything is accessible and possible; any individual from any community has the right to elevate their lifestyle with knowledge, wisdom and power. “In fact, many ‘occupational class’ people have attained the ‘satva goon’ with their hard work and perseverance and are leading a very respectful life. Yet people leave no stone unturned to criticize their progress and prosperity. It is because the society that is supposed to embrace virtue, wisdom and reasoning has merely become a worshipper of customs and traditions without rationalizing. It is as if there’s a thick invisible chain that has enslaved the minds of people.”
Hingmang narrates an incident from his yonder days saying, “Once a Pundit from the plain side came to my house and my mother has a huge amount of respect to priests and tries to serve them really well with food and donations. These pundits come once a year and predict the future (which I am not sure of). So, during once such episode, I remember it was round about 6:30 pm and the hour was dark. The pundit wanted to stay over and requested my mother for shelter for that night. My mother, being the person that she is; she allowed him to stay for the night. During the conversation with the pundit he mentioned that he has a devotee close by but he cannot stay there. When I asked him for a reason he told me that the devotee belonged to shudra jaati, so he could neither stay nor eat their food. I told him if that was the case then he shouldn’t be staying here wither because we also belong to the shudra jaati. The pundit was baffled and started elaborating about the Mongolian and Aryan shudra. I remained quiet for a moment and smiled. I thought to myself that it is not the shastras that he was referring to. In fact, it was the situation which compelled him to manipulate shastras to fit his interests.”
Article 15 of the Indian constitution, prohibits the state from discrimination based on the grounds of caste, creed, place of birth and sex. These mandates of the constitution aren’t enough to fight casteism as it is very much evident from the increasing episodes of caste-discrimination in our society. Upper castes Nepalese have often been heard saying phrases such as – Pani Na chalney jaat meaning ‘castes with whom you don’t even share water’ ‘Kami damai jasto bewra nadekha’ meaning ‘don’t behave like the Dalits’ – referring to the Nepali Dalits.
To which Hingmang says, “First we need to understand from where & when such an evil tradition started, because the Vedas never mentions about such an ill phrase directed towards the certain community. The answer to this is The Nepal Civil Code “Mulukey Ain” which was commissioned by ‘Janga Bahadur Rana’ after his European tour in 1854. Please note the year when the evilest law was passed to suppress the human race for Wealth and Power. It was rooted in traditional Hindu Law & Codified Social practice for several centuries in Nepal.
“The social values preached by the ‘Mulukey Ain’, however, were proving restrictive, anachronic and inappropriate with the spirit of times. These values were seen as a potent instrument of Rana’s political repression. After the Rana regime, caste rules relating to food, drinks & inter-caste marriage were openly louted while Mulukey Ain had not even been abrogated. In 1963, legal recognition to caste & all the discrimination laws made on grounds of caste were ceased.”
“After the European tour done by Janga Bahadur Rana, he understood the wave of democracy in European countries. He learnt the facts about the American Revolution and French Revolution and successfully identified the class of people who can light the fire of democracy and pose a threat to the monarchy. The people who belonged to classes like an artisan, daily workers, educated middle-class families & professionals were at the majority. So in order to suppress the wave of democracy in advance, he played the card of divide & rule, for which manipulated the codes of Hindu Religion. He conspired and regulated his evil codes under the smokescreen of religion so that everyone was bound to accept it. This is how caste discrimination and other prejudices came into society.”
People have their own set of prejudices against words such as ‘Kami-damai’. Even though one might argue that the Schedule Caste community in Sikkim is not discriminated as compared to the olden times, but make no mistake, our society has very often discriminated them and made them feel small. There are many subtle aspects of discrimination that we are oftentimes a part of that goes unacknowledged. The most convincing proof of our caste hypocrisy manifests during the instances of inter-caste marriage.
“The main reason I believe for people to consider inter-caste marriage unacceptable is that people have a fear that any person who doesn’t belong to their community will violate the culture and traditions of the family or introduce new cultures and traditions into the family. If we refer to the religious textbooks, for many centuries only Brahmins & Kshatriya were allowed to read & pursue knowledge of the scriptures. Vaishyas (Business Class) were only allowed to listen to the scriptures in satsangs and the shudra (Farmers and occupational class) were not even allowed to even listen.
With the passage of time, Brahmins & Kshatriya acquired knowledge and became respected and powerful. On the other hand, the Vaishyas and Shudra started being considered as weak. Now the Brahmins and the Kshatriya came to be known as the higher class while the Vaishyas and shudra were considered lower class. During that period, if any person from the higher class married with the person from a lower class they would be stripped off of the status of higher class. Despite these restrictions, many inter-caste marriages occurred because of which they have disowned from there society and was compelled to join an occupational class. This is the reason why many titles and gotras (sub-castes) of Damai and Kami match with that of Kshatriya & Brahmins. For example- we have titles like Shivakoti, Katuwal, Dhungel, Gimirey, and Rizal and so on. The powerful and influential people of the then society blocked all the means of knowledge & wisdom for Vaishyas & Shudra and forcefully pushed them into the pit of ignorance. This is one of the major reasons why inter-caste marriage is not acceptable to date.” Hingmang mentions.
He says, “According to the Shanti parva Mahabharata there is no distinction of jaati in a person by caste, the classification of Varna is done only by acts (karma). In the Mahabharata, Guru Dronacharya refused to take Karna as his student because he did not belong to the Kshatriya (warrior) Varna. Everyone humiliated him by calling him ‘Sutaputra’-the charioteer’s son or the outsider. Even after being humiliated by society, Karna happens to become the king of Anga Desh because of his capability, quality and skills. In the Kurukshetra he fought as a Kshatriya and if we understand it properly without him the Kauravas were frail. He was exceedingly skilful and was killed unfairly. This moral of the episode is that a person’s worth is determined only with his character and skills, not with the caste a person belongs to.”
“People in our society have a subjective view of the words Kami and Damai. They’ve forgotten the contribution of our ancestors to the society. Our ancestors learned the skills and taught others. If it were not for our ancestors, our society would be stuck in the Stone Age.” He adds.
He says that the scheduled caste community must not be ashamed of their identity rather they must be proud of the rich cultural legacy. He suggests that people must meditate on ancient scriptures like the Rig Veda and the Bhagavad Gita that will help us purify our minds. He believes that if we all educate ourselves with the ideology of real Indian culture then issues such as caste-based discrimination will curb instinctively. “It is needless to fight among each other. It will only create further divisions rather we must unite and spread harmony.” He states.
He adds, “We must understand that the caste system began as a social arrangement where people were categorized based on occupation. Back in the days, our ancestors very well understood the benefit of this arrangement and it worked. But today this arrangement has taken a different turn. People are bullied, oppressed and discriminated for belonging to a certain jaati, which is not even a choice of his/her. Everyone one of us belongs to a certain community created by society. It is not a choice we have but we must realize that this is not the certificate for a community to humiliate or discriminate a person simply because he/she belongs to a community other than yours. If you sow hatred, we will reap misfortune, but if you sow love, you will be graced by good fortune.”
By Mahima Grace Rai