IF the "shoonya" of "Ganit Shashtra" , the concept of "Zero" in the "science of Numbers/Mathematics" has been often hailed as most revolutionary contribution of 'ancient' India to the world civilization, the code of "Varna Ashram Dharma", popularly called "Jaati Pratha", ordained with scriptural Divine origins, has been castigated as the single social catastrophe that has indeed 'zeroed' and bedeviled the Destiny of India. This graded four fold division of Hindu social polity with the entire paraphernalia of pugnaciously dehumanising 'Untouchablity' towards a vast majority of those at the bottom of social order was translated in the 16th century as the 'Caste' System by the Portuguese missionaries. Instead of seeking some remedies to cure itself of the cancerous wounds of division in society against resurgent Islam and determined Christian colonists, the caste ridden Hinduism has been remarkably successful in 'polluting' the 'Foreign' Faiths too with notions of 'Purity' and 'Divine' discriminations!
The modern era of Independence in 1947 A.D. for this ancient land was heralded, most intriguingly, with the two "Untouchables" - the so called Hindu Shudras and the finest products of 'Firanghi' education ie Dr B.R. Ambedkar & Mr Joginder Nath Mandal, as the Law and Justice Ministers of India and Pakistan respectively. Ambedkar was instrumental in crafting the noblest document of governance of free India incorporating comprehensive legal provision to to root out the abominable caste based injustice to millions of Indians. Pakistan and later Bangladesh have followed different paths of their own in their governance and socio-economic development. The deeper civilizational wounds of Caste based discrimination have, however, continued to bleed across Indus, Ganges, Padma, Kaveri, Godavari and at the lofty heights of Himalayas. So when on September 16, during the session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Nepalese Foreign Minister Jeet Bahadur Gautam chose to break ranks with 'Hindu Consensus', saying that his country welcomed the idea mooted by the UNHRC document to involve, "regional and international mechanism, the UN and its organs" to complement national efforts to combat caste discrimination, the move by the UNHRC was denounced by the Hinduttva elements as, 'an irresponsible act of subverting Indian democratic and cultural institutions...smacks of Church influence to undermine India's Hindu heritage'! It was also interpreted as a blow to the official stand of India to block mention of caste in the category of, 'discrimination based on work and descent.'
Why has India been evasive and in a mode of denial on the issues of caste based discrimination being raised in the fora of the UN? The statement made by the Indian Delegate on August 8, 2002 in the "Informal Discussion on 'Descent' in the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination" is indeed perceptively revealing of a mind set. Referring to 'the situation faced by a particularly vulnerable section of our society', the Delegate hectors, "Our Constitution recognises both the fact of this discrimination and of the imperative of redressing the situation ... one of the first acts of the Government when India became independent was to outlaw this abhorrent practice (Untouchablity) ... ' The disappointment of those who wish that 'our laws are better implemented' is shared adding, 'Transforming a society that has evolved its customs and practices over millennia, and has been shaped in turn by those practices, takes time.' It is emphatically added that term 'descent' in Convention refers to 'racial descent' and that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are unique to Indian Society and its historical process - and do not fall under the purview of Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
The eminent Indian and Western Sociologists and the increasing tribe of scholar-activists of "Dalitology" have seriously engaged themselves in 'unraveling' the roots and branches of this most puzzlingly unjust practice of condemning such a large number of people to 'an enslavement of soul, mind and body' attributed to birth in certain social groups. The systematic effort by the British colonial administration at categorisation and ranking of the entire Hindu population within the theoretical Varna Scheme for the purpose of decennial census since 1901 spurred a scramble for the reclaiming of the Untouchable Castes through reform movements by Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam and conversions by resourceful Christian missionaries. The emergence of leaders of the caliber and vision of E.V.R. Naicker, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, J.N. Mandal, etc. from within the ranks of so called Lower Castes, not to speak of the far reaching Harijan agenda adopted by Gandhi Ji altered the entire spectrum of the 'Jaati Pratha' of Hinduism sustained since ages. Dr Ambedkar had to wage single handedly the grimmest struggle to be the greatest emancipator in human history, whatever the motivated Brahaman-scholars of the ilk of Arun Shourie might write masquerading as historians. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has indeed been a man of honour and integrity to compare caste system to 'religiously' applied Apartheid.
Indians, beginning with Jawaharlal Nehru,have always had a fascination and magnetic attraction towards the UNO and other multilateral forums -the list of UN Pensioners bafflingly includes so many among the top who's who of the government of India. India's experience of J&K in the UN would, however, seem to have caused a deeper suspicion and a pathological allergy for any matter concerning itself to be raised in the UNO. Udit Raj of the Dalit based Justice Party has welcomed the UNHRC move stating that Indian Government should have courage to accept the reality of the problem and that global attention should lead to an increase in aid and government spending to improve opportunities for Dalits in India. The segregation of places of worship on the caste lines by the Indians settled abroad and the recent brutal murder of an 'Untouchable' 'Guru' Ramanand Dass in Vienna, the city of harmony in the heart of Europe, sadly reflect 'globalisation' of caste, calling for international efforts too to stem the tide of evil.
During the last two decades, the political fallout of the caste conundrum on the character of the much touted 'largest democracy' of the world, has been of nuclear proportions. The management of caste-divides with a just & fair deal for those who have been civilizationally demeaned and still remain woefully on the margins of 'shining India' has become the single greatest challenge for all those engaged in the realisation dream of an egalitarian and caste 'castrated' India. Ravi Dass, the celebrated medieval cobbler saint poet, has proclaimed:
Jaat paat ke pher Manh, urjh rahai sab log.
Manushta kun khaat huee, Ravi Dass jaat kar rog.
Jaat, jaat mein jaat hai, jiyon kelan ke paat.
Ravi Dass na manush jurh saken, jau tau jaat, naa jaat.
All are caught in the vice grip of castes.
Ravi Das, humanity has been finished, by the cancer of caste.
Caste, and caste within caste, like the barks of banana tree;
O Ravi Das,never would humanity be united, until the caste is cast out.
All those who love India to be united and strong would listen to what the saint poet proclaimed centuries ago!
[The writer is former diplomat]