(Editor's comments: There are 99,972 discrimination charges against Private Sector Work Place filed with the federal agency which hit an unprecedented nationwide level
and this does not count those unreported instances. This is for the fiscal
year 2010 according to the federal Equal Opportunity Employer.
Will Ramdas challenge a white man or woman to go live in the "black" ghetto for one month, or else, keep his mouth shut, if there is a remote possibility that there is another side to this picture, if at all? Why is Ramdas Lamb turning to RISA to solve
the internal problems of India and not turn to equivalent socially responsible
white religious group to eliminate the widespread discrimination in the US? Is there no money in it or is it becasue those souls in the US are already harvested, so they can continue to suffer the discrimination and atrocities? Was he motivated to go to India as a missionary Christian or was he inclined to be a Hindu to begin with? Who financed his initial years in India?
Note: Lamb re-enters the debate after excusing himself from it for some time, not wanting to have dialogue with his Hindu colleagues and scholars whom he accuses to be
the cause of the social evils in India and "part of the problem" challenging them to do "something" but he is eager to start dialogue with his RISA colleagues. He does not reveal whether RISA has produced one "Mother Theresa" for uplift and care of the downtrodden (oppressed) African American and Native American or other similar populations in the US which deserve and need to be called the "Dalit Americans" who have suffered genocide and untold atrocities which should have moved the bleeding hearts of Lamb like people in the US to look for their saviors and demonstrate what they have done to welcome the Dalit Americans in their fold. When people like Lamb point a finger at others their three fingers are pointing at themselves. Indians have witnessed such "holier than thou" attitude in thousands of busy-bodies that are not shy to start even the very first conversations with stranger Hindus (like: equivalent of: Do you still lynch people in the streets in America?-- Do you still have a caste in India and take dowry and have sattee (sic)? Not at all a pleasant way to get to know a stranger!!) and Ramdas is not the first or the last one that feels being originally a white Christian entitles him with the birthright to criticise, from a high pedestal, other societies and other religions, while there is some stink stuck to his shoes that others can smell from far away. Ramdas' Guru in India has surely exhorted him to "know thyself" first. The anger and hostility towards people from India for "still social evils being present in India" is a remarkable phenomenon demonstrated by Guru Ramdas Lamb!! Ruby was a 5 year old girl in the sixtees when she was to attend an elementary school and on both sides of the street people were shouting death threats at her while US Marshals protected her, when Ramdas was still in this country. What did he do? She prayed every day with her eyes closed and said "they do not know what they are doing." Instead of helping such innocent victims of this society, Ramdas saw it fit to leave US and go to India in 1969. What does that tell you about Ramdas and people like him? Have any foreigners come to US to convert these Dalit Americans to other religions because they are being oppressed or to even relieve their suffering, and made a career for themselves in such activity by setting up tax-deductible non-profit organizations specifically for that purpose? May be Ramdas can do some research on it in his free time to enlighten the world. Let us not be fooled that there is money in this business when you do this in India or Africa but no such money comes easy to do this same thing in the ghettos of US. Why?)
Dr. Ramdas Lamb's post on RISA-L List
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Ramdas Lamb
Date: Mon, Jan 31, 2011 at 4:36 PM
Subject: [RISA-L LIST] HAF caste report controversy
To: +++RISA ACADEMIC DISCUSSION LIST+++
In December, the Hindu American Foundation published an online report on
caste in India (I had sent a link to RISA at the time). It was meant to
shed light on the problems of caste prejudice that continues to exist in the
minds of many orthodox Hindus, especially in villages. Although neither a
strictly academic nor a perfect document (a few alterations have already
been made), the HAF report has some important things to say, addresses an
issue about which many of us are interested, and therefore has taken a
courageous step in a positive direction. Predictably, there has been a
concerted effort, online and in a few Indian publications, by a small but
very vocal high caste group to discredit the report by attacking the
messenger and thereby avoid addressing the actual issue being addressed.
Those who are a part of this effort, both in Indian and the west, seem
unable to stomach any sort of criticism and will attack anyone, especially
Hindus, who are willing to say "it is a problem we are a part of and needs
to be addressed." The attacks against HAF and its report have been amazing
in their refusal to see the caste system as anything but a great social form
that has done nothing but benefit India. I mention this in case anyone is
interested in the issue and the controversy from an academic perspective.
Before I unsubscribed myself, I received many of the back and forth emails
on the issue and am happy to share some of what has been sent me, at least
those from the open forum mailing lists. If interested, please contact me
Department of Religion
University of Hawai'i
Background note on the article of Dr. Vijaya Rajiva and comments at the website:
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2011
WISER THAN MAHATMA GANDHI, RAMDAS LAMB-HAF ADVISOR
Is Ramdas Lamb wiser than Mahatma Gandhi ?
Dr. Vijaya Rajiva
Dr. Ramdas Lamb is President of the Sahayog Foundation at Chattisgarh, is an academic and one closely associated with the HAF (Hindu American Foundation) and the production of their report ‘Hinduism : Not cast in caste’ (Dec.2010). He is an American, and came to India several years ago in search of spiritual guidance and has reportedly found a Hindu guru. His Foundation works for the uplift of the former Untouchables and he himself has done sincere work on their behalf. It seems to be a subsidiary of its head branch in the U.S.
This article then, is not a personal attack on Dr.Lamb, but is an attempt to understand why he thinks that Varna and Jati need to be eradicated if there is to be justice for the former Untouchables. Mahatma Gandhi endorsed both Varna and Jati because he saw them as both natural and useful for a productive society (as is well known, he opposed Untouchabilty and worked tirelessly for its eradications, as do many of the government organizations, NGOs, and the Sangh organizations). In agreement with the ancient sages of the Vedic period he saw that Varna which divides society into 4 general segments, the intellectual, the political, the producers of wealth and the agriculturists, reflected the needful structure of any developing human society. Jati, loosely and mistakenly translated into English as ‘caste’ allows individuals to achieve excellence and pride in their work. There are innumerable examples of this but one that comes to mind is that of the jati in Kerala which produces high quality mirrors from burnished metal. Down the ages the craftsmen of various jatis produced goods that were famed throughout the ancient world (and even today). One should mention the outstanding shilpis who built the great Hindu temples. The list of the achievements of the jatis is endless.
Gandhiji did advocate flexibility in this system in that the individual, if he/she chooses, can move into another caste. This was, of course, true of ancient and medieval Indian society before the two Occupations, the Islamic and the British. The guild like structure of the jatis was flexible, even while it provided support to the individual. It was primarily a socio-economic entity. Varna and Jati were what made for the celebrated prosperity of ancient and medieval India and as well for the great Hindu classics in every department.
The system was flexible and fell back into itself in a rigid way with the invasions and the two Occupations. Even an historian such as Romila Thapar (not known for her sympathies towards Hindu India) points this out.
Ramdas Lamb’s preoccupation with Varna and Jati arises from his mistaken view that they are responsible for the existence of Untouchability. It must be pointed out that even Manusmriti does not mention the word, though it does go into great detail as to how the 4 Varnas should conduct themselves. The 4 Varnas were: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras.
Scholars are not entirely in agreement as to when Untouchability started in India. The date is roughly assigned to the three or four hundred years before the Christian era. Dr.Ambedkar believes that they were composed both of fallen Brahmins and Shudras.
Some scholars believe that they fell from the Varna-Jati system because they did not conform to social expectations. They became outcastes who then performed the most menial tasks of society, such as removing refuse and night soil, engaging in the disposal of dead animals, removing their hides, etc. Still others believe that they were captured in war, much like the helots in ancient Sparta.
Whatever the origin of the ex Untouchables, they performed a service job and were not
part of the main productive activity of society. And technological improvements did not exist as they do in contemporary India which eliminates by and large in most of the subcontinent the need for a special class of people to do these menial jobs.
Dr. Lamb does not see Untouchability as an historical emergent and one that would pass away in due time, with modernization and urbanization. He seems to think of Varna-Jati as intextricably linked with the oppression of the Untouchables (Dalits) becaue of its inherent built-in oppressive nature.
He has not advanced any systematic view of this subject, as far as the present writer is aware. That he does hold to the above view is evidenced in one or two e-mails that he exchanged with the present writer (Mention of this fact is after obtaining permission from him to cite him and even quote his views).
The present writer wishes to advance an interpretaion of his anomalous position. He is a former Christian and therefore brings to his work and activity a lack of genuine understanding of the basic ethos of Hindu India. Hindu acharyas have pointed out that Untouchability is a social injustice and is not part of Hinduism. Ramdas Lamb only reacts to the social reality he has witnessed (and no one can deny that it continues to exist in various parts of India) and mistakenly projects it onto the Varna-Jati system.
‘Higher’ and ‘lower’ are categories that exist in every human society, but interestingly the Varna-Jati system does not condone that. Dr. Lamb is unable to see this, precisely because he brings to bear a mythical ‘egalitarian’ ethos which he inherits, whether he likes it or not, from his early Christian upbringing. The fact that this ‘egalitarianism’ has never existed historically is beside the point. This is his mind set. In addition he has seen at first hand the social injustices of inequality in Chattisgarh.
The question then that needs to be asked is whether he or the HAF Report that he advised should not change their focus. Of course, Varna and Jati are central to Hindu India’s historical development, but the development and continued existence of Untouchabilty is not linked to Hinduism.
This latter point is submerged in the HAF Report precisely because the authors of the Report (as advised by Dr. Lamb) have conflated Varna, Jati and Caste. The complex system of Varna-Jati has been assimilated to Untouchablity (of a variety of forms). This leads to an unintended linkage with the Hindu religion per se, even when the Report denies it.
The unintended consequences of Dr. Lamb’s and the Report’s theoretical failures are:
1. An excessive mea culpaing.
2. Opening the door to the excesses of Navya Shastra whose director has also been
involved in the production of the Report.
3. The Report’s vulnerability to be used by outright opponents of India such as
(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university)
POSTED BY NOKIDDING--- AT 9:09 AM 4 COMMENTS:
What other entities is Ramdas Lamb an advisor to? Is he an advisor to RISA? Is he an advisor to US congress or Congressional Commission on Human Rights? Is he an advisor to UN? Is he an advisor to Navya Shastra? How did he do his root-cause analysis of the injustice suffered by the Harijans to come with his answer? He started his career studying Indian society in 1969. Did it take him 31 years to make this unique discovery to sell it to HAF and Navya Shastra or may be five years earlier when the secret deliberations on writing the HAF report started? Is he also a politician? Who is financing his trips to India for thirty one years? Is he going to discuss now withdrawn HAF report with members of RISA? For what purpose? Why is RISA not inviting Indian and Hindu American scholars of Hinduism if Ramdas Lamb is to discuss HAF report in RISA?
FEBRUARY 28, 2011 10:16 PM
The critiques have been published, the dueling emails have coursed the web like live magnesium wires, and the readers of the readers of the report have weighed in.
We are in agreement that the report in its original form was unacceptable; that it harbored serious contradictions in its content – in that on the one hand it emphatically denied that Hinduism condoned caste and on the other, called for "rejection" of certain texts; that it presented a catalogue of horrors perpetrated on "lower" castes while failing to correspondingly highlight equally specific instances of actual progress in India’s social uplift that the west is clueless about; and that overall, it communicated more as work of self-flagellating expiation than as a blueprint for positive change.
I share my perspectives here as someone who has both criticized the report AND acknowledged in all fairness portions of it that are laudable in their clarity and substance.
Among its positive qualities: The report lucidly describes caste dynamics as a political rather than a religious phenomenon. It also addresses and dismisses another popular perception in the west -- namely, that the oppressor class is exclusively "brahmin." It incorporates well-chosen quotations from Hindu texts that promote a mindset of insight-based mutual tolerance equal to, if not unparalleled by any other faith tradition.
To prevent a forest fire from advancing, firefighters set off small controlled fires to clear swathes of vegetation that might feed the blaze's carnivorous advance. When the fire is in your own home however, you would not expect firefighters to respond by setting off fires in different corners of your house. Nor would you expect them to call a wrecking crew to demolish the home in order to contain the fire. No, you would expect them in that situation to PRESERVE lives and CONTAIN the damage.
HAF has made a gesture towards CONTAINING the damage by taking their report offline. We, the critics of the report, should contribute to the PRESERVATION angle by not engaging in personality-assassination.
Why not just wait for the revised version? It is not just an imperfect report that can hurt the Hindu image and cause, you know. The relentless public skewering of those involved in the report, the insulting presumptions of an ulterior agenda, the reckless disregard for the feelings of HAF office-bearers who have a history of shared activism that predates this report – what does this achieve, other than to exacerbate an already polarized climate?
( to be continued)
MARCH 2, 2011 7:58 AM
PART TWO ( continued from Part one )
I am aware that NavyaShastra’s worldview has permeated this report and their members are acknowledged as partners and contributors to it. But let me remind all that it is the SUBSTANCE of the report that is being debated. And that substance has been thoroughly examined and critiqued. So now, unless HAF officially announces a merger with NavyaShastra, why should NavyaShastra’s baggage be used to punish HAF?
NavyaShastra is a sovereign group with a clearly articulated mission and agenda distinct from HAF. When HAF makes it clear that they had no knowledge of inflammatory statements made by a member of NS, there the matter should end. If the NS member in question is absorbed by HAF in some capacity, then we should worry. Otherwise, it is a non-issue.
It is one thing to warn of the consequences of certain actions and judgment calls. It is quite another to work up a frenzy of conjecture as to what caused those actions, generating a tsunami of reactive speculation that subsumes reality.
I appeal to all concerned to strive for more objectivity and graciousness. In construing HAF's current silence on the matter as hostility, some of HAF's detractors come across as both vocally and destructively hostile. You cannot challenge HAF to heal the original schism while opening up fresh rifts!
HAF also was criticized for its “hubris” in not consulting with older and more experienced members of the community before going public with the report. What about HAF’s critics? Have some of them not displayed a Rambo-esque lack of anger management and proportionality? Who among us can honestly say that our egos have no bearing on our actions?
I appreciate Dr. Vijaya for signing her name to her personal views on Dr. Ramdas Lamb. I would respectfully urge "nokidding" to shed the anonymity, pick up the phone and have a direct, civil conversation with Dr. Lamb. That is what I would do if I were genuinely interested in answers, rather than fuelling the feeding frenzy.
MARCH 2, 2011 8:04 AM
Dear Chitra Raman:
Your comments on both the negative and the positive aspects of the HAF Report were useful.
In my opinion, the achilles heel of the Report is the absence of a clearly worked out statement on Varna and Jati which would explain the historical success of India's prosperity and fame in the ancient and medieval worlds, until the two Occupations (Islamic and British).
Secondly, both Varna and Jati have no connection with Untouchability. It used to be that Western scholars (and following them Indian scholars also) thought of Varna as the beginning of rigid stratification. That
approach no longer exists except among some fundamentalist thinkers who want to use that stick with which to beat Hinduism.
Jati has not yet been fully explored. As I say in my article Jati was the basis of ancient and medieval India's enormous success. It was the framework to structure the society. And there was mobility within the system. Neither Varna nor Jati have anything to do with the oppression of the Untouchables.
The Report by not addressing these questions has weakened their (HAF's) defence of Hindu India. My guess is that they (HAF) were influenced in this direction both by Dr.Lamb's lack of understanding of the Hindu ethos and by Navya Shastra's extremism; also HAF Report was not based on a proper understanding of Indian history.
It is still a mystery why a supposedly Reform group like Navya Shastra would have an anti- Indian associate like Pathmarajah
Nagalingam. In his case his malafide intentions are crystal clear.
HAF has probably publicly distanced itself from such undesirable elements as surmised by you but it has not been that widely publicised. Most critics do not think that HAF has done that. Yet, I do hope that in their revised version of the HAF Report they will make an effort to refocus their work on the importance of Varna and Jati to Hindu society in its economic functioning. The work on the CONTEMPORARY significance of Jati in the Indian economy has been amply elucidated by people like S.Gurumurthy.
I can cite one easily accessible article by him which was published in The Hindu:
"Is caste an economic development vehicle?" S.Gurumurthy, The Hindu, Jan.19,2009.
Dr. Vijaya Rajiva
MARCH 3, 2011 10:35 PM
Ramdas Lamb wrote Sun, Mar 6, 2011 at 11:53 AM
The letter below is my response to Dr. Vijay Rajiva's recent article about me and my thoughts on caste. I am sending it to you as well because I know you have or will likely spread his article around to your friends. Let's see how willing your are to pass my response around as well.
When you first wrote to me, I naively trusted your sincerity. My gurus have encouraged trust. It is sad that you felt comfortable in belittling me, my thoughts, and my experience to support your own narrowmindedness. First, I am NOT president of Sahayog Foundation at Chattisgarh, but then truth does not seem to be something you find of deep interest. I am president and founder of Sahayog Foundation, a U.S. based organization. We are affiliated the with Chhattisgarh organization, but they are two separate entities and I have NO official position with that organization. Second, it appears you found it necessary to belittle my experience as a Hindu as well. You write that I went to India in “search of spiritual guidance and has reportedly found a Hindu guru.” You know that I took diksha in the Ramananda Sampraday as a sadhu and lived that life for nearly ten years and am still a member of the order, but you chose to ignore that and instead emphasize my previous Christian background, repeatedly. I guess anyone who disagrees with you cannot be a “legitimate” Hindu in your eyes.
You claim I “have preoccupation with Varna and Jati.” Again, you distort. As a committed Hindu, I have a preoccupation with helping our Hindu brothers and sisters who have been and continue to be oppressed because they have been marginalized by caste Hindu society and people like you. I would like to see the degraded system that exists today dissolve. You, on the other hand, seem to have a preoccupation with Varna and Jati and with the present system the way it is, and pretend that it is not the cause of oppression. I dare you to start telling people, both your friends and people you just meet, that you are really from a Harijan family and do so for an entire month and see how you are treated. Then, you can talk to me about the glories of Varna and Jati and the present system. If you are unwilling, then any denial that caste and oppression are connected is hypocrisy on your part.
You write “Gandhiji did advocate flexibility in this system in that the individual, if he/she chooses, can move into another caste.” The system Gandhiji advocated does NOT exist in India today. If it did, the problems the system has caused and that I am working to alleviate would not be there. Another challenge to you: would you be willing to allow you son or daughter to marry someone who was born in a Harijan or Dalit family but decided to “move into” a high caste? If not, then it is but another sign of the double speak and disingenuousness that you put forth.
Again, you write that I have a “mistaken view that they [Varna and Jati] are responsible for the existence of Untouchability.” Actually, I believe that arrogance and narrowmindedness are responsible, but those who promote Untouchability use Varna and Jati to justify their attitudes and actions.
You say Untouchability will eventually pass away. When do you think it will happen, and what are YOU doing to help? Also, what about the millions of Hindus who continue to suffer under that stigma until it does pass away, or is their suffering irrelevant to you? Again, are your words simply empty or are you doing something to improve their lives?
Finally, you suggest that HAF’s caste report will “be used by outright opponents of India.” Actually, the best ammunition to be used against India AND Hinduism are the writings of people like you who continue to justify social oppression of Dalits and Hindu Harijans. You and those who think like you are the real ones who are supply fuel to attack India.
Now, let’s see if you have the decency to have this letter spread around the Internet as you have done your attack on me. You claim that you wrote your piece as “an attempt to understand” my views on Varna and Jati. Well, I have just given you a few answers. Let’s see if you are willing to share them with the same people you shared your attacks with. Let’s see how interested you are in fairness and truth.
May Ram Ji open your eyes and heart,
----- Forwarded Message ----
From: Vijay Rajiva To: ramdas
Sent: Sun, March 6, 2011 6:16:19 AM Subject: Your public response
Thankyou for your response. I will try to keep this short. I can understand your feelings of hurt at what you consider my insensitivity to both your efforts and the condition of the Untouchables.
I did begin my article by saying that it was not a personal attack on you. Please note that.
Then I went into an attempt to explain briefly that Untouchability is not intrinsic to Varna and Jati. In that sense my effort is parallel to that of the Report which
states that Untouchability is not intrinsic to Hinduism.
My criticism of the Report is that it seems to tacitly denigrade Varna and Jati,
and thereby deprive itself of an important tool for understanding India's historical
development and yes its past achievements.
In your case you connect Untouchability directly to Varna and Jati.
This is a mistake. Both you and HAF are throwing the baby out with the bath.
Gandhiji does not do that. Even while working tirelessly to eradicate Untouchability he endorsed Varna and Jati because his models of economic development were the old Janapadas and the sreni of ancient India.
Yes, his system DOES partially exist in India today, because the medium and
small industries are fuelled by Jati. S.Gurumurthy has done some work on the subject. I mention that in my article. His article 'Is Caste an economic development vehicle?' (The Hindu, Monday, Jan.19,2009).
Economically then, there is a dual movement, one of urbanisation, modernisation and the fuelling of the economy by big business and that of the small and medium industries. Gandhiji would have preferred the latter.
I am deeply sorry if my article offended you, but there is nothing personal against you. I am concerned both as a Hindu and as an Indian that extremist elements such as Pathmarajah Nagalingam will carry the day with Reform groups like Navya Shastra. The latter has input into the Report.
Nagalingam proposes a military invasion of India, in case international persuasion/coercion fail, to address human rights abuses. This is in his e-mail, reportedly sent to Navya Shastra. I shall forward it to you if you have not
already seen it.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: rakesh bahadur
Date: Sun, Mar 6, 2011 at 9:50 PM
Subject: Fwd: Exchanges on HAF-baked caste report: Dr. Vijay Rajiva and Dr. Ramdas Lamb
Dear Dr. Lamb
I read your email with fascination. I applaud your dedication to Hinduism. But at the same time I am surprised at your statement “I have a preoccupation with helping our Hindu brothers and sisters who have been and continue to be oppressed because they have been marginalized by caste Hindu society …”. Statements like “caste Hindu society” are by-product of ignorance. Ignorance never helps or heal.
It is always prudent to do a thorough research before using terms like “continue to be oppressed”. Mr. Veerappa Moily, the Law and Justice Minister of Government of India made the following statement on August 4, 2009 in the Indian Parliament “Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have made considerable progress in the last 60 years”. Maybe you know something that the Law and Justice minister of Government of India does not know. Prerequisite for progress is proper conditions and positive environment. Exponential progress never happens where a group is being oppressed.
A critical analysis of the following parameters that define a society – literacy rate, crime rate, human right violations, poverty rate, and health indicators will give a true picture about the status of “oppressed classes”. Let me share literacy rate progress for scheduled castes in India. I was able to get data from US Library of Congress, British Archives, and Government of India websites.
The attached graph shows change in literacy rate for scheduled caste and general population over last 60 years. Exponential progress cannot happen in a society where discrimination is wide spread and human right violations are rampant against a group. Social change is a slow incremental process and is moving in the positive direction at an exponential rate for scheduled castes in India.
The best fit Scheduled Caste data is with Exponential fit (R2 = 0.9913) and the best fit for General Public (R2 = 0.9932) is from Linear fit. A trendline is most accurate when its R-squared (a number from 0 to 1 that reveals how closely the estimated values for the trendline correspond to the actual data) value (R-squared value: A number from 0 to 1 that reveals how closely the estimated values for the trendline correspond to your actual data. A trendline is most reliable when its R-squared value is at or near 1. Also known as the coefficient of determination.) is at or near 1.
While the Constitution has prescribed certain protective measures and safeguards for these classes, successive Five Year Plans have regarded their progress as a major objective of national policy.
Since 80‘s GoI started putting special funding for SC in the Five year plans. The attached table illustrates that during “Fifth Plan (1974-78) and Sixth Plan (1980-85) no allocation was made under SCSP for the Central Sector. However, allocation of Rs. 751.33 (4.25%) and Rs 3614.66 crore (7.67%) had been allocated under State Sector. Allocation under Central Sector had been made only during Seventh Plan onwards”.
Figure and Table
Ramdas Lamb: Reply (see below)
 http://www.education.nic.in/cd50years/y/3T/9U/3T9U0301.htm http://planningcommission.nic.in/sectors/sj/SCSP_TSP%20Guidelines.pdf
http://www.education.nic.in/cd50years/g/z/7H/0Z7H0102.htm , http://www.nlm.nic.in/tables/scenario.htm
 SCHEDULED CASTE SUB PLAN: GUIDELINES FOR IMPLEMENTATION, PLANNING COMMISSION, Government of India. 2006 http://planningcommission.nic.in/sectors/sj/SCSP_TSP%20Guidelines.pdf
From: Ramdas Lamb
Date: Sun, Mar 6, 2011 at 10:47 PM
Subject: Re: Exchanges on HAF-baked caste report: Dr. Vijay Rajiva and Dr. Ramdas Lamb
To: rakesh bahadur
Dear Shri Bahadur,
In the 1960s, the U.S. passed a series of laws to ban racial discrimination, and since that time many Blacks have been able to gain quality education, get good jobs, etc. Yet, anyone who would say that racial discrimination has ended here is not seeing reality. Much the same is the case in India with untouchability. Sure, many have benefited from government and other attempts to eradicate the problem, and I applaud these. I also believe most Hindus do not support untouchability, but the system that puts SC at the bottom does.
Simply saying the problem does not exist does not make it go away. Please tell me, what are you doing personally to help alleviate the problem? What is Dr. Rajiva doing as an individual to help? It is easy to criticize me and HAF, but what are you doing? I continue to applaud and strongly support HAF for wanting ALL Hindus to be treated with respect. Do you know want that? If you do, then what are you doing to make it happen? Until you can explain what you and others are doing to help our Hindu brothers and sisters, the words remain empty. Please dedicate your efforts and energy to help suffering Hindus rather than sweeping their problems under the rug.
May Ram Ji bless us all with compassion and inspire us to do something to help,
Dear Dr. Lamb --
Your responses to Dr. Vijaya and Shri Bahadur were forwarded around by R S. I thought hard about whether I really wanted to insert myself into the crossfire. But since the conversation has stopped being about the report and has gotten increasingly personal, I hope to reintroduce some measure of objectivity and return the focus to the issues rather than our personalities.
Let me state at the outset that I do greatly and sincerely respect your personal involvement and commitment to alleviating harsh ground realities.
I couldn't help noticing that in being deeply hurt by what you saw as Dr. Vijaya's misrepresentation and diminishing of your experience and record, you have made some leaps to judgment of your own.
You presume, for instance that because Dr. Vijaya tries to explain Varna and Jaati as distinct from the practice of Untouchability, that she justifies the status quo and wants it to persist. You state that the purpose of her writings is to " justify social oppression of Dalits and Hindu Harijans."
But does she do that, really? It may be that discussions of Varna and Jaati are viewed as academic and bearing little to no relation to what is actually happening on a day to day basis. But I don't see that it was brought up in order to suggest that things are fine exactly as they are!
My perception is that it was brought up in the context of the way in which the HAF report portrays caste and its basis in Hindu scripture. At issue was the question of whether or not there is a scriptural basis for caste discrimination in Hinduism.
Manu Dharmasastra is not scripture, as we know. The BhagavadGita is. The Gita has passages on Varna and Jaati that are routinely misunderstood and misrepresented.
HAF made a clear claim in the report that caste discrimination has no basis in Hinduism. But that message was diluted by other elements of the report that seemed to contradict this assertion.
Some people feel strongly that if the intent is to NOT indict Hinduism as being defined by an ingrained hierarchical mindset ( any more than is the case in the Semitic religious texts ) it is necessary to explain Jaati and Varna ( which do appear in the scriptures) as distinct from what we currently know as Caste ( which does not).
That is a particular point of view and you might disagree and still see it as irrelevant hairsplitting. But I just want to say that it would be wrong for you to see anyone who attempts to explain Varna and Jaati as being an apologist for caste discrimination. My father frequently launches into explanations of such customs and traditions. And he was progressive long before that word was coined, starting from the earliest days of his career in the IAS in Orissa.
In fact my father's "Mylapore brahmin" family could serve as a case study of how amazingly the norms of intermarriage could change in the space of a couple of generations.
You question whether anyone of a "higher" caste would allow their son or daughter to marry a Harijan seeking upward mobility. Well -- I dont know if you are familiar with the phenomenal Narendra Yadav, the multilingual IAS officer and public speaker who started his life as the son of a sweeper. He has chronicled his tenacious and inspiring rise in a profoundly compelling book titled "Untouchable." I am told both his daughters have married Brahmins. Interesting, is it not.
One of the most intellectually stimulating Indian philosophers of the 20th century, Nisargadatta Maharaj, whose insights reveal a capacity for abstract thinking amazing in an unschooled mind, was from the sweeper caste. His book is a relatively recent addition to my collection. The people who flocked to him, including the remarkably erudite and articulate Ramesh Balsekhar who translated his works from Marathi into English, came from all walks of life. Time and time again we see that the enlightened Hindu, or at least one who is in search of enlightenment doesn't need to be persuaded to shed caste consciousness.
There are many in my family who are deeply invested in social work. I am particularly proud of my cousin Usha Ramanathan, Law Researcher in Delhi and fierce defender of the downtrodden. I'd like to introduce her to you with this You tube clip:
She has most recently taken on Nandan Nilekani's IUD program for its potential to seriously infringe upon the rights and privacy of the weaker sections of society.
Secondly let me introduce you to another remarkable individual I am truly proud to know, Dr. Ray Umashanker who put his mind and soul into supporting his daughter Nita's vision, transforming himself into a fundraising force of nature in order to realize her vision to facilitate the upward social mobility of the children of sex workers in India.
Here is the website of the nonprofit they founded together that has grown exponentially in its reach since its inception.
Dr. Lamb, you are right in pointing out that those who talk are not the same of those that do. But many more of us talkers support the doers in more ways than is widely recognized and reported.
The idea that altruism flows exclusively and perennially from the Church and Hindus practice it only as much as necessary to keep the Church at bay is an inextinguishable and mendacious meme whose self-replication is fed by the media and powerful vested interests.
In many instances Hindus do what they do without much fanfare. My maternal uncle and his wife who live in rural Tanjore have done more than their share for people but the full extent of their work is not known even to extended members of our family. They supported a farm laborer's son through school and engineering college. They conduct eye camps for the Lion's club, they have fed a whole village in the wake of the devastating 2005 tsunami. No prospect of publicity or awards for people like them. But that doesn't stop them from doing what they do. It leads me to wonder how many more might be inspired to act if the stories and examples of people like my uncle and aunt were more widely disseminated.
Enlightenment cannot be taught -- if it is not first sought. If the intention is to attract more constructive involvement by all Hindus, then the best way for HAF to facilitate that in my opinion would be by validating the central philosophical underpinnings of Hinduism, by affirming and appealing to the the best in human nature. Not by blaming and shaming, or by apologizing, or by appending lists of atrocities.
Finally Dr. Lamb, I urge you not to see all criticism as inimical. I put it to you that none of us would be where we are today if all we had gotten from our elders and mentors was unconditional acceptance. To resent criticism is human; to reflect upon it is divine.
Thank you for indulging my comments.
Sincerely, Chitra Raman