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Why over time caste, a man-made barrier, got weakened in other countries, not India

By Osman Sher* 
The basic character of Hinduism is “all the things to all the people all the time.” It gives freedom to every individual to establish a personal relationship with God and seek salvation in his own ways. He is free even to choose his favorite dewata and be his bhakt. Unlike other religions, it has no binding doctrines.
In such a sea of liberalism, however, it appears ironic that the caste system (untouchability is a byproduct thereof), which in no case is a pleasant phenomenon for an enlightened society, is persisting with full force even today. E. J. Rapson has written in the New Cambridge History of India, Vol. I, Chapter II, that the broad distinction between conquerors and conquered is no doubt natural and universal, but with the change of time such man-made social barriers have been either weakened or done away with in other societies. However, they have remained firmly ingrained in India which means that the human institutions have received the sanctions of a religion which has been concerned more with the preservation of social order than with the advancement of mankind.
And, the Dharma does not maintain any sharp distinction between private and public. Instead, it considers the society as an organic whole. The society holds the individual, both the king and the commoner, totally subservient to it. Like the modern collective theories (such as Fascism and Hindutva) this view raises the society above the individual, it strikes at the very root of personal freedom or individuality. Therefore, the Constitution of India, which gives freedom to an individual, could not withstand the might of Manu smriti.
The Hindu religion maintains that the quality of actions (karma) of a person determines the status of his next life. This underlined fatalism that his own karma is responsible for the caste in which he is born forces him to accept unquestionably his status in the society. This religious sanction was so sacred that even with the later political regimes, be of the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims or British, could not dare or consider enforcing equality among the citizens. On the contrary, they subordinated their policy to the exigencies of the society.
Hinduism is not a revealed religion. It has no church or hierarchy of priests or the system of religious jurisprudence which could assess the needs of the society from time to time and make pronouncements. For instance, a measure of reform like the abolition of satti (widow burning) could only come from outside and not from within. Despite its being a very cruel custom, the Muslim rulers did not interfere with the religious feelings of the Hindus. It was only the British rulers that they dared abolish the Satti.
The caste system is not a small component of the faith; it encompasses the entire structure of the Hindu society under its fold. Necessarily very gigantic and revolutionary steps were needed for the reform. Also, the measures to reform might not be thought out in a short run as the Constitution has done; they had to be evolved and the society to be conditioned for it over a long period of time, particularly through modern education. Unfortunately, initiative in this direction has not come forth as it suited those who alone could bring change, i.e., the higher caste people who were graced with education.
It is, however, certain that once the institution of caste is done away with, by whatever means, it would lose its religious sanctity as satti has done these days. The enlightened minds in the Hindu society like Dr. Ram Puniyani, however, are not lagging behind in this regard.
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*In response to Ram Puniyani article. Source: JanVikalp, a bilingual (Hindi-English) Online Forum of writers, academicians, editors, intellectuals and social workers

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