Mythologist | Author | Speaker | Illustrator

April 21, 2014

First published April 20, 2014

 in Mid-day

The New Varna System

Published on 22nd December, 2013, in The Mid-Day.

Every time I read the word High/Supreme Court in newspapers I am terrified. What now? I ask myself. There is the case of the postman who is acquitted of the crime of stealing Rs. 57, for which he was suspended, after 29 years, 3 years after his retirement. There is the case of a contract declared illegal 10 years after the government approved it, and of orders being reversed 20 years after being issued, and of a building that is declared illegal after existing for over 30 years. Then a case of sexual assault of an intern, house arrest of a daughter, dismissal of ‘so called rights of miniscule poppulation’. It is scary; we live in times when anything or anyone can be declared illegal anytime, almost on whim it seems, but after due process is followed.

Our courts today decide who is male, who is female, who is rich, who is poor, who is juvenile, who is mature, which sexual behaviour is appropriate and which is not, what is rape and what is consent. Not surprising for a country whose founding fathers (Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Rajagopalachari, Prasad, Ambedkar) were all lawyers. This legal code was supposed to create a world that is more secure. I am told before the legal system existed there was chaos and anarchy and oppression. Now it is much better. Really? We must be grateful. Really?

I told a friend the other day, that the varna system mentioned in the Rig Veda thrives in society today. The Vedic hymn (Purusha Shukta) said that every society is like an organism whose head is made of Brahmins (intellectuals) who guide society, arms made of Kashtriyas (warriors) who protect society, torso of Vaishyas (traders) who feed society and legs made of Shudras (servants) who serve society. Many social reformers believe this four-fold system is the root of evil in Indian society because it gives too much value to the Brahmins and is totally un-democractic.

But modern India has returned to this four-fold model because of, or despite, democracy. The lawyers and judges make up the head (neo-Brahmins like priests of yore who decide what is right), the politicians make up the arms (neo-Kshatriyas like kings of yore who use force to get their way), the industrialists and corporates and entrepreneurs who make up the torso (neo-Vaishyas like merchants of yore who had money power), and then come the neo-Shudras, the activists who fight for human rights, citizen rights, environmental protection, rights for women, children, disabled people, queer people, elderly people and women and who challenge the higher varnas that have access to authority, power and money.

My friend, an activist, got upset when I proposed this model to him. He did not like being called a Shudra (since it is lowest in the caste hierarchy). But he was uncomfortable being classified as a neo-Brahmin (as it is politically incorrect). So I apologized.

I guess the judges and lawyers of our land would also not like being called neo-Brahmin even if they, like Brahmins of yore, declare themselves as ‘keepers of law’ not ‘creators of law’, and endorse new criminal categories because the scriptures say so. I apologize to them too.

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