The Cunning of Caste
Translated by T Marx
July 24, 2019
With Independence Day right around the corner, the Indian Cultural Forum will be doing a series on the ideas that built India. From national movements to regional resistances, there have been multiple ideologies and leaders who’ve shaped the country’s desire for sovereignty and the post-Independence period. In the coming weeks we will attempt to bring together writing on many of these leaders and what legacies they have left us. As Independence Day approaches there will be a singular and deafening narrative built on hyper-nationalism. Instead, ICF will be publishing the many ideas, some contrary to each other, that actually lead to the formation of a free nation.
Periyar EV Ramasamy, the father of the Dravidian Movement and the Self-Respect Movement, in this essay, written as an editorial for the Republic (Kudiarasu) and translated by T Marx, talks about the "cunning nature of the caste system" which established the brahmins as superior to other castes. He appeals to those who want complete independence for India to take steps to eradicate caste differences, even while the British rule lasts, otherwise caste domination would continue and the atrocities of the caste system will never be wiped out.
Those who want to protect the multi castes-system! We stated that the reason for original four castes, in course of time multiplying into 4,000 castes was inter mixture of one caste with the other. Still there are people among us, those who are called ‘velalars’ accept the original system of four castes, that is brahmin, vaisya, kshatriya, panchaman, consider themselves as ‘sad sudras’ and some others instead of referring to graded caste names of Sanskrit words, referred to them in beautiful Tamil words like Anthanar, Arasar, Vanigar and Velalar and proclaim that these categories were there in Tamil Nadu anterior to, even before the arrival of aryans and that they belonged to the fourth category and created a myth that to serve the people belonging to these four castes, many castes came into being functioning as slaves and that they were pallu, pariah and eighteen such castes and were contented with such new explanation.
Under the heading of such ‘pallu, pariah eighteen set of people’, that is to indicate eighteen castes meant for serving the four higher castes, the names were given as follows: ilai vanikan, uppu vanikan, ennai vanikan, ochhan, kalthachhan, kannan, kuyavan, kollan, koyilkudiyan, thachan, thattan, navithan, palli, pariah, panan, poomalaikkaran, vannan and valayan.
But these same eighteen castes are, according to a research book, Abhidhanakosam, detailed as servants with the names, viz., sivigaiars, kuyavar, panars, melakarars, parathavars, sembadavars, vedars, valaiars, thimalars, karaiars, sanrars, saliyars, ennai vanikars, ambattars, vannars, pallars, puliars and sakkiliars.
Apart from this, the divisions among the velars are shown as: Velalars are the supreme among the sudras; among them mudalis occupy the top place; next to them come velanchettis—sub categorised into cholapurathar, sithakkattars and panchukkarars; they are saivars and are eligible to sit and eat in the same row without discrimination. Next to them come cholia, thuluva, kodikkal velalars of different categories. Among them the lowest in order are ahambadiyars, below them maravars; lower in rank are kallars. Below them formed Idaiyars and further down the social ladder were kavaraigals and kammavargals.
It can be observed that the above arrangements carefully avoid discrimination among the brahmins and shuffling of higher-lower positions among them and that no objection or doubt could be cast on their position. It clearly explains the cunning nature of the caste system. Otherwise mention is made about quarrels among kshatriyas and vaisyas, objections on who is superior to the other and without any basis, fighting for supremacy over the other, reducing the other caste to a subordinate position, etc. could be discerned. Also even if other caste people try to find sources for raising themselves to a higher level among the fellow castes, all the sources cleverly used to indicate that these are all inferior to the parppanars who are called brahmins. Otherwise they are not useful for the purpose of unravelling the mystery of the creation of such other categorisations.
So, in this way, it was established that except the brahmins, others are inferior castes; that is unfit to be touched by brahmins, nor would a brahmin eat with them giving equal status to them; also the other castes shall not have many other rights; that they are fit only to be subservient to brahmins, were born due to illegal cohabitation, low-high caste cohabitation leading to intermixture, and by and large people of a general, degraded condition. This, in brief, is the essence of caste system.
Besides, if any logical or philosophical explanation is to be given for this, that can only be for the stupids who listen to that: not really for the religion that originated these and supporting documents like the vedas, sastras, the co-called code of righteousness etc. And without raising any valid questions and objections to these logical explanations, people have to merely accept their degrading conditions.
Leaving these aside, if we look at the position and rights assigned to others except the brahmins, one can easily understand that no rational thinking or self-respecting people would accept what is referred to as the name of their castes and in fact could not even dream of such degradation consequent upon this caste division. That is, if you look at the position and rights assigned by the brahmins to the fourth varna, sudra class, it is akin to what the present government has conferred upon people who are referred to ‘traditionally criminal class’ who are obliged to live by the terms and conditions imposed by the government and manner in which they are treated.
For example we will quote from what are referred to dharma sastras or code righteousness: “Snathamaswam gajamatham rishabham kamamohitam sudrama ksharasamyuktam dhoorata parivarjiyem” – i.e., “ a horse that has been give a bath, an elephant in high mental tension, a bull in sexual pursuit, and a literate sudra should not be allowed to come nearer.” Is the meaning of that Sanskrit quotation.
“Japas thapa, theertha yatra pravarjaya, manthara sadhanam, devaradhanam, sachaisva stree sudra pathathanishan” i.e., “Mental prayers, penance, pilgrimage to holy places, sanyasa or renunciation of the world, prayers to God and worship—are all prohibited for womenfolk and sudras.”
“na patem samskritam vanim” –i.e, a sudra should not read Sanskrit.
“naiva sastram patenaiva srunuvan vaidhikaksharam, nasnayatu dayalpurvam thapo mantram suvarjayel” – i.e, a sudra should never study sastras, or listen to the vedas; he should never get up before sunrise and take bath or say mantras or do sever penance either.”
“Itihasa puranani, napatesrotumarhasi”—a sudra should not even read itihasa and puranas. But he can listen to a brahmin reading them. “
“Chaturvarnyam mayasrushtam, parisramatyakam, karmam sudrasyapi pavanam” (Gita) – The four varnas were created by me; in that the principal duty of sudra is to serve others.
Thousands of such quotations can be given and explained. This is what is contained in what is consider as our religion’s religious works, vedas, dharma sastras referred to as revelations from God.
For some reason, we have a government which is not obliged to practice these religious regulations: Accordingly some of us are not obliged to live according to these ‘right’ code of rules and regulations. But again if attempts are made to protect our religion and caste, to stabilise them in the name of religion and caste, think of the havoc we have to face and what are the consequences to be experienced.
So long as there caste divisions within the Hindu society, as long high-low perception also will be there.
Today those who are nationalists and desire that India should have full independence, they must make efforts to eradicate the caste differences even while British rule lasts. Instead if they say, “You leave us, we will take care of things”, it is equivalent to taking poison ourselves and no good will accrue by that. In India, today 999 out 1000 people are not interested in abolishing caste differences, in fact want to be in the higher caste where they would dominate over a number of lower castes. Today if we give up even the rights acquired under the present rule, and if administration were come into the hands of people who are committed to varna dharma, caste domination, the atrocities of caste system will never be wiped out.
This is an editorial that appeared in the Republic (Kudiarasu) on 30 November 1930. First published in Periyar's Writings.
Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.