All through our scriptures, the sages tell us that our ignorance is our biggest obstacle. Vedanta attributes a number of our traits as emanating from our ignorance of the self, and repeatedly appeals to shed the ignorance.
I begin to wonder, if we are ignorant of an obvious thing like the caste system that is so glaring in the eyes and have not been able to correct it, when would we develop an understanding of the self, which in the relative scheme of things is far more difficult to learn or unlearn, than following the right model of the caste system.
How can a society turn a blind eye to a caste system that we Hindus have come to follow? We misused and continue to misuse and misinterpret the caste system to our convenience, and in the process are exploiting people and playing with their self esteem.
Is it not an insult to our seers who gave up everything, and shared their learnings to help the future generations live a life of principles?
Paramhansa Yogananda often said that the real “races” of man have nothing to do with the color of the skin, but it had everything to do with the state of consciousness.
He gives the examples of how Monks from different parts of the world would feel a greater kinship with one another than, possibly, with their own relatives. He says businessmen understand one another naturally and easily, even if they have to converse through translators. What people do, and even more so the kind of people they are, separates them into categories that cut across all barriers of language, nationality and skin colors.
‘Swabhava’ (one’s own inherent nature) is the word used to define the caste system. That the caste system is meant to depend on what each person is in himself and not on heredity/inheritance. They were defined in line with the Gunas (Bhagavad Gita verse 18.41). The scriptures provided a framework that ensured everyone in the society was included and and had a role to play. Whatever be that starting point the framework also provided one the ability to rise to the higher level of consciousness. (verse 18.45 – Each one attentive to his own duty, men rise towards the highest success).
The Gita is loud and clear on the caste model. It is very important that we develop this understanding and practice it every moment of our lives.
Sometimes, we understand the consequences of an ill understood system only through examples, and what better example can we think of, then that of Dr. Ambedkar, who had to face the insults and hardships throughout his life, just because of his caste, and in-spite of great qualifications was unable to break through the caste barriers. Imagine a common person. Towards the end he was so disappointed with the impositions of the Hindu society, that on May 24, 1956, on the occasion of Buddha Jayanti, he declared in Bombay, that he would adopt Buddhism in October. On October 14, 1956 he embraced Buddhism along with many of his followers. On December 6, 1956, Baba Saheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar died peacefully in his sleep.
Dr.Bhimrao Ambedkar was born on April 14, 1891 in Madhya Pradesh and belonged to the “untouchable” Mahar Caste. His father and grandfather served in the British Army. In those days, the government ensured that all the army personnel and their children were educated and ran special schools for this purpose. This ensured good education for Bhimrao Ambedkar, which would have otherwise been denied to him by the virtue of his caste.
Bhimrao Ambedkar experienced caste discrimination right from the childhood. At school, he had to sit on the floor in one corner in the classroom and teachers would not touch his notebooks. In spite of these hardships, Bhimrao continued his studies. In 1912, he graduated in Political Science and Economics from Bombay University and got a job in Baroda. In 1913, Maharaja of Baroda awarded scholarship to Bhim Rao Ambedkar and sent him to America for further studies. Bhimrao reached New York in July 1913.
Back in India, he suffered the humiliating experience of not being served drinking water during official functions. At the officer’s club, he had to sit in a corner and keep his distance from the other members belonging to higher castes.
He also had difficulties in finding a rented house, as he was not allotted government bungalow. He stayed in an inn owned by Parsis (members of Zoroastrian religion). One morning, as he was getting ready to go to work, a dozen Parsis, all wielding sticks, rushed up to his room screaming that he had polluted the inn and insisted on his immediate departure. He begged them to let him stay for a week longer since he hoped to get his government bungalow by then. But they would not accommodate. After spending much of the day in a public garden, Ambedkar, in utter frustration and disgust, left for Bombay by the 9 pm train.
In 1947, when India became independent, the first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, invited Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, who had been elected as a Member of the Constituent Assembly from Bengal, to join his Cabinet as a Law Minister. The Constituent Assembly entrusted the job of drafting the Constitution to a committee and Dr. Ambedkar was elected as Chairman of this Drafting Committee. In February 1948, Dr. Ambedkar presented the Draft Constitution before the people of India; it was adopted on November 26, 1949.
In October 1948, Dr. Ambedkar submitted the Hindu Code Bill to the Constituent Assembly in an attempt to codify the Hindu law. The Bill caused great divisions even in the Congress party. Consideration for the bill was postponed to September 1951. When the Bill was taken up it was truncated. A dejected Ambedkar relinquished his position as Law Minister.
Achievements: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was elected as the chairman of the drafting committee that was constituted by the Constituent Assembly to draft a constitution for the independent India; he was the first Law Minister of India; conferred Bharat Ratna in 1990.