A Dalit’s visit to Manusmriti: Catalyst of dalit martyrdom,instrument of divisive politics

Posted by Aravind K
January 8, 2018


Humans have organized themselves economically in varied forms, with the prominent systems being capitalism, communism and socialism. These were primarily founded on Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” and Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto”. All modern flourishing economies have evolved out of these basic ideologies into more complex economic systems. But interestingly, 2000 years before these books were written, Hindus had designed a Varna or Caste system without having the help of inputs from Karl Marx and Adam Smith. As a Dalit, I want to desperately study, understand and decode my religion’s history.  The important questions in my mind are,

  1. What forms of social organization did Hindus use before the Varna/Caste system?
  2. On what socio-economic principles was the Varna system designed?
  3. Why was the segregation of the Varna system so rigid, with harsh punishments for intra-caste contact?
  4. How much coercion was used to maintain the rigidity of the caste system?

For a species or a civilization to survive they need food, security from intruders, knowledge to progress, and leaders to drive the progress. Based on this different species organize themselves differently. Ants, lions, humans etc, with social behavioural characteristics, divide responsibilities among their species. This seems to have been the basic procedure of social organization before the Varna system, and the founding principle of the Varna system.

But modern history has shown us that every system of social organization has unevenly distributed privileges, leading to civil wars by the less privileged. And I would like to propose that Hindus in the pre-Manusmriti period had experienced socio-economic revolutions before establishing the Varna system, and this answers the third question of why the segregation was so important.

The sequence that I propose is initiated by a “survival of fittest – the law of jungle” regime, which precedes a civil war leading to the “rule of commoners” regime. The centrally administrated rule of commoners regime fails due to excessive redistribution of wealth leading to economic revolution and the establishment of the Varna system. This perception of the Varna system has been depicted in the following pic with a modern counterpart for each regime and their examples.

The only unanswered question is why were there are no Dalit “unrests” or Dalit movements until the 1870’s. Does that imply the use of coercion for rigid maintenance of varna was not very widespread? Dr Subramanium Swamy says that the varna system was not originally birth based. In the 21st century, we find a number of religious books being the biggest reasons behind killing people. Manusmriti provokes the emotions of dalits, but should political leaders provoke these emotions and martyr dalits?

I would prefer that leaders make a neutral analysis of Hindu religious books because evolution is at the core of Hinduism and evolution of ideas is the only way forward for Hinduism. Hinduism never is and never will be a one-book, one-prophet religion. We have prophets reach us every time we are in trouble. 

The caste system is now a blessing in disguise for India, enabling rapid poverty alleviation, decentralisation on demographic, non-geographic lines driving growth. In India, we have virtual Dalit villages, virtual Brahmin villages spread across the country working for their self-progress which is a perfect manifestation of decentralisation.

Caste is no longer an evil word with increasing intra-caste contact. It’s time to distance away from the age-old western perception of the caste system and work through it in the context of Indian economy. Annihilation of caste in Indian electoral environment looks unattainable. The optimum modifications or reorganization for further economic progress could be identified. Till then leftist organizations and students should abstain from proviking dalits. Heirarchies in societies are inevitable because of varied talents. The british only reinforced on us a english modification of varna system(pic). Jai Hind!

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