The grand utopia of the European enlightenment that education is the solution for all our problems has been thoroughly refuted in the streets of India. Post graduation seems to have no effect in creating a casteless society. Is there a way out? Duke Jeyraj looks at the caste conflict in Rajasthan as a case and shares how he overcame the caste attitude in his own life.
Sixty years have passed since we became an Independent nation. It has been the dream of the chief architect of our constitution, Dr. B.R Ambedkar, that we should one day become a casteless society. Though we have progressed much in voicing the rights of each individual with the education we gained, caste feeling has become more divisive and violent with each year passing by. The Gujjar-Meena conflict is an example of it. The conflict resulted in the death of 25 people and large-scale destruction of property. Much to the dismay of the liberal utopia that education would solve the problem; those who lead the conflict are educated. Anil Pandey of The Sunday Indian writes:
The man leading the Meenas is Sukhlal, who is a postgraduate. "We will not eat the Gujjars bite into our cake. If the Gujjars don't clear the siege at Patoli, we will hound them away," he declares. His statement gets approval from the crowd, which begins to shout, hurling abuses. "We will see how food supplies to Gujjar pocket passes through this way. If they don't move, we will ensure they starve to death," shouts a Meena youth.
Earlier, the Gujjar leader who stopped our vehicle had passed on similar threats. "If you meet any Meena in the way, tell him that there are two-hundred Gujjar villages along this highway. If they touch one of us, we will destroy them completely," he hisses. With a highly charged round of slogans, the name of Gujjar deities is invoked….The leader's name is Rajbeer Singh Gujjar. A graduate, he says he has been unemployed for three years. He feels that the Meenas want to lick off the entire cream: that is why, he says, they won't let the Gujjars be categorised as Scheduled Tribe. "Gujjars and Meenas come from the same societal background. We don't have a single IAS officer whereas all the Government offices across the country are full of Meena Officers. From peon to DGP – they occupy every chair!" rues Rajbeer. "Meenas were included in the ST category, 45 years ago, then the Government had turned down a similar request by Gujjars." complains another Meena stalwart. (The Sunday Indian, p 44-45, 17 June 2007).
But why are we blaming others? Are we above the caste feeling?
We may not take up swords against a person of another caste or community or language, but our attitudes, nevertheless, is alarming when it comes to caste. Do we think: "It's only the Malayalees who have caste biases? The Tamils too are like this…. Even the North Indians toe the same line of caste biases; even the Americans have some discrimination so do the English. When it comes to choosing our life partners the first checklist for almost all Indians is this: "Is this person from my caste?" When we choose friends in college we make sure that they are from our own language group. When we eat at the Company canteen, we invariably sit with someone from our own community. What would God think of such blatant exhibition of "caste" or "community" feeling among people who profess to follow Jesus Christ? He would be ashamed of them and reject them, and their biases, you bet!
What the Bible says about caste feeling?
His Word, the Bible, makes several statements that casts those who carry caste-feelings in poor light. The Jewish people could not boast saying "Abraham is our father!" – Jesus warned (Math 3:9). How one bore fruit for the Lord on a day-to-day basis by relating with fellow humans was more important than what family that person was born into – that was Jesus' contention. One could be born of a royal family and yet be rotten like leper (Math 3:10). One could be a leper and still be close to God (Matthew 8:1-4) "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." So wrote Paul (Col 3:11). He got mad at Peter, a Jew, who refused to eat with non-Jews and rightly so. Peter was "clearly in the wrong". And Paul would say believers who exhibit caste feelings in various ways are "clearly in the wrong" (Gal 2:11,12). The Master Jesus narrated a story in which the hero was a "Samaritan" – a person who hailed from a mixed race (Luke 10:25 following). Some Jews had the audacity to call the Samaritans as "dogs". But Jesus condemned and damned such a mean attitude through the famous "Good Samaritan" story.
The Bible casts its vote against caste in not just the New Testament. It does pretty much the same in the Old Testament too. Abimelech was one of the 70 sons of Gideon. He burned with an ambition to succeed his father as the next judge of Israel. So guess what he did? He played the "clan" card. He went to his mother's relatives and asked for their support by playing with their clan feelings. The way he appealed to the leaders of Shechem for support was shameful: Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh (Jud 9:2).
When it came to their marriages, two Old Testament stalwarts married non-Israelites. I refer to Moses and Joseph. Both of them married Cushite (Egyptian) women (Num 12:1; Gen 41:45). Obviously, they found these girls "committed" to the ways of Yahweh otherwise they wouldn't have married them. Zipporrah, Moses' Egyptian wife showed more sensitivity to the laws of God than Moses himself (The Exodus 4 story is an example of this). And that counted more than their caste background. I have serious doubts if those who are viciously caste-conscious will make it to heaven – a place where people of every tribe, language, people and nation will live together and worship God together (Rev 5:9; 7:9).
How I crossed the caste line?
Though I belonged to a caste notorious for marrying only within itself, the above Bible passages inspired me to cross caste-line when it came to my marriage. As a result, I married a committed believer girl who did not belong to my caste on July 9, 2001. I am not passing out a fancy philosophy in this essay – I am sharing what I have been able to practice in my own life by God's grace!