Four natural broad working groups formed the backbone of the Hindu society. No vocation was considered high or low. All segments had to be working together for the common good. Everyone was born as a Shudra to begin with. It was only after acquiring knowledge and skills that individuals moved to higher class. Non Hindus, out of these Varna were identified as Malechcha or Yavana. They were aliens to Hindu Society.
Dignity of Labor
Hindu society has given due importance to every kind of duty performed. Of all the functions Sevak Dharma (servitude) is regarded as highest form of duty alias Dharma. Lord Hanuman is regarded as an ideal role model in the performance of Sevak Dharma and has been honored as one amongst the five principal gods known as (Panchdeva). Dignity of labor is thus imbibed in Varna system.
Occupation based social Groups
Social grouping of Manu was based upon the mental make-up and aptitudes of persons according to the role they were required to perform in society. They were not based on birth of a person in any Varna. There is no country, no race, or society in this world, which is free from social segmentation in some form or the other, similar to caste system in Hindu society. Even in the so-called socialist countries, where all are claimed to be equal, some are more equal than others!
A society based on the division of labor is far superior to a society divided on the basis of wealth or color of the skin. For administrative convenience workers are divided in to several departments, trades and grades all over the world. The social differentiation on the basis of birth and race is still prevalent in Western world in the form of ‘lords’ and ‘commoners’, ‘whites’ and ‘blacks’. In the case in Islamic world Master (Aaqa) and slave (ghulaams) vocabulary is part of holy literature. In Hinduism the distinctions were related to actual occupation of the person and not on the basis of race, color, or wealth.
Identical to Modren Life styles
The Indian Varna system encompasses all the aspects that management experts of today suggest regarding work culture, environment, and work ethos. Hindu life style prescribed for each Varna did not confine only to the work place, but also prescribed a way of life in totality. Brahmins need to be living an ascetic life, eating simple Satvik food consisting of non-alcoholic, vegetarian and low-calorie diet. The Khashtriya are prescribed more nourishing and regal life style as Rajasik. For the remaining, it is Tamasik or a mix of Rajsik and Tamsik, keeping in mind that these strata of working groups required more physical energy.
oday in all health conscious societies, people are adopting dietary habits and living style suiting their work environment more or less similar to the type advocated in Hindu scriptures. In no way modern science of Personnel Management differ on this concept. Intellectuals prefer low-calorie Satvik food and life style; Executives live the Rajsik way, while rests indulge in Tamsik fast food and life style. Western counterpart of Tamsik food is known as junk food. Can this fact be denied that today hotels also advertise working lunch on similar classification as low-calorie Healthy Herbal food, Executive food and Economic packets made of Junk-food assortments?
Profession and Heredity
All members of nomadic groups were socially equal, but all civilized societies have segments depending upon educational differences, financial status, and occupations of persons. Almost in every country, individuals inherited family name, property and social status from parents, and retain the same till they earn or relinquish at their own.
Normally in every society a son adopted profession of his father, because having been brought up in the environment of his family, it was genetically natural for him to have similar genes, aptitude, and facilities for developing and improving skills needed for the family profession. On the other hand, since it was not practically feasible to predict the aptitudes of every individual for allotting profession at the time of birth. Thus heredity had come to be accepted as a working principle to suggest the most likely profession of every child. Subsequently, as the son easily inherited the traits, working and living environment of his father; he adopted the trade also of his father to carry forward family’s expertise and skills. The ‘thumb rule’ based on heredity was flexible and voidable in the past as it is today.
Exceptions to Heredity
There is enough evidence in the scriptures to show that persons adopted professions other than the Varna at their birth. Notable examples are that of Parshuram, Dronacharya and Kripacharya. They were Brahmans by birth, but turned warriors. Sage Vishwamitra was a Kshatriya, while Maharishi Valmiki was a Shudra, but they are respected and remembered today on the basis of their professions, and not because of their Varna at birth.
There have been several other cases where people born in lower castes have risen higher to saint-hood by their virtues and those born in the upper castes have been degraded due to their vices. Ravana was a highly learned Brahmin, but he is equated with evil as compared to Rama, who was a Kshatriya.
Sage Manu’s classification of society permitted Varna swapping also. He has recommended weaponry by Brahmins and even killing of Brahmins by others in the following verse:-
आत्मनश्च परित्राणो दक्षिणानां च संगरे। स्त्रीविप्राभ्युपपत्तौ चघ्नन्धर्मण न दुष्यति।।
गुरुं वा बालवृद्धौ वा ब्राह्मणं वा बहुश्रुतम्। आततायिनमायान्तं हन्यादेवाविचारयन्।।
– Manusumriti Chapter 8- 349-350
(It meant, when it is necessary to protect the learned and ladies, Brahmins and other castes should take up arms for the protection of Social Order of Dharma. Such violence is not sinful. Similarly if Guru, Brahmin, or any learned person runs amuck, he must be killed without any hesitation).
Thus, as and when Shudras, Vaisyas and Kshatriyas acquired knowledge and reformed habits, they empowered themselves to the upper castes.
For vested interests and vote bank politics, today Varna classification by the government is being done on the basis of heredity. Like educational institutions issue degrees and diplomas to the learned, government is issuing certificate to the backwards. Ironically, today more Hindus clamor for obtaining a certificate of being backward than classified as learned persons.
Restrictions on Higher Education
The intelligence of person is dependent upon heredity as well as the environment in which he lived. The acquisition of higher education demands higher level of intelligence, which mediocre performers are not likely to possess. As resources cannot be wasted on persons lacking requisite intelligence, grasping power, and aptitude, non-performers get ousted from the realms of higher education everywhere. The restrictions on higher learning were not only in India but are prevalent all over the world even today. Aptitude test is nothing but a tool to gauge the potential of an individual for assessing his suitability to absorb higher education. All those who do not score the minimum prescribed grade on the aptitude test are barred admission.
It will be an unrealistic proposition to reform the entire world, since some diversity has been created by Nature even among brothers of same parentage and environment. People should be given equal opportunity and scope for development but not get walk-overs on account of birth certificate.
Restrictions for Common Good
Power of knowledge is a double-edged weapon that can be used for a good cause, as well as for pursuing evil designs, as per the mental make-up of the user. Even those who create virus in computers are experts in the field of software; those who steel and sell kidneys are also doctors. They turn evils on the basis of their using their expertise.
There is a perfect illustration in Mahabharata. Having seen Eklaveyya misusing the archery skill to block the mouth of a poor dog, Guru Dronacharya incapacitated Eklaveyya from possessing superior technology. Today also, if nuclear technology is possessed by under developed nations, misuse the same is apprehended. But if the same is possessed by developed countries, it is taken for granted to be used to ensure peace. The precedence of Guru Dronacharya is being followed by USA and UNO alike.
There are many instances, when villains earned higher skills and capabilities through hard work initially, but the granting Rishis subsequently withdrew the same through a curse, when the same were misused.
Certain jobs in every society require persons to work in contaminated surroundings. For hygienic reasons, it is therefore necessary to restrain them from coming in contact with others in private as well as at public places. Operation Theaters in hospitals are not open to all, unless, the entrants adopt prescribed standards to disinfect. Likewise temples, kitchens, water sources, and other places of public utility are not open to persons employed on unclean jobs. This is legitimate restriction that speaks high of awareness in ancient Hindu society towards public sanitation.
It is desirable even today. One would not like to come in contact even with nearest relation, who is habitual of keeping poor personal hygiene. While certain upper classes, due to cumulative effect of multiple reasons, over practiced un-touch ability, certain persons to malign Hindu religion have also over played it for political reasons. It was to engineer conversion to other religions for changing the demographic profile of population for imperialist designs.
Shudras are an inseparable integral part of Hindu society and not a race different from other Varna of Hindu society. It is not to be confused with racial discrimination that is practiced in other parts of the civilized world. Segregation of some people from Shudra with poor hygiene was nothing but a method to enforce desirability of maintaining cleanliness at public places.
With the introduction of modern technology and constitutional regulatory provisions, this issue is now irrelevant. Some self-styled politicians have kept the same alive to nurture their vote banks. It is ironical that most of such leaders never advised people at lower pedestals to move up through hard work and genuine knowledge. They want them to continue.
Chand K Sharma
Next: Splashes – 24/72 – Status of Women in Hindu Society)