Gandhiji was right and Dr. Ramdas Lamb is mistaken
Dr. Vijaya Rajiva
In a recent article "Is Ramdas Lamb wiser than Mahatma Gandhi?" the present writer had pointed out that Dr. Lamb had rejected Gandhiji’s view on Varna and Jati. Gandhiji saw Varna and Jati as being promoters of professional excellence, pride in one’s occupation and so on. Dr. Lamb had expressed his view in a private e-mail to this writer (permission was obtained from him to cite him).
Dr. Lamb came to India in the 60s and followed the traditional trajectory of the young American of those times, disillusioned with his own society (no doubt the Viet Nam war and the lack of civil rights for American blacks) and reportedly found a guru. In his recent public e-mail to the writer he has confirmed that he did find a Guru and is a member of the Ramananda Sampradaya.
Ramdas Lamb also encountered the Untouchables (a they were then called) and was moved by their lot in Hindu society, as he saw it. He worked SINCERELY with that population in Chhattisgarh and established and became the Director of the Sahayog Foundation, which is reportedly doing good work in the rural areas. The HAF (Hindu American Foundation) in its controversial report ‘Hinduism : not cast in caste’ December, 2010) was advised by him and in one of their citations which the present writer followed up, there is a description of the work done in rural areas, especially among the female population, by the Sahayog Foundation.
Illiteracy in these areas was the prime cause of young girls being married off as early as 12 years of age and bearing children by the age of 14.
What should be pointed out is that while the visuals are those of cheerful young girls along with American women, one should ask what the story is behind these optimistic pictures. Is there a follow up of Conversion activity? What is the data behind this activity? Are the American workers (and that includes Dr. Lamb) being used by the U.S. based Sahayog Foundation which has branches in other parts of India?
These are questions the Hindus in the Diaspora, familiar with missionary agenda, and their usual exaggerations of the negatives in the society targeted for conversions, etc., and Hindus who have had a bitter experience of their agenda in the past, must surely ask. A colonized country must ask these questions and it would be remiss of Indians not to ask these questions. Once bit twice shy.
However, in this article the present writer is concerned with the question of why Ramdas Lamb is mistaken and why Gandhiji is right. We can take Ramdas at his word that he is a sincere worker on behalf of the Untouchables. That is not at all the issue. The issue is: why did Gandhiji endorse Varna and Jati? And why doesn’t Ramdas Lamb?
Gandhiji’s writings on the ideal Village Republic are in a collection of essays brought out in 1954 by Navajivan Trust. It is called Sarvodaya: The Welfare of All. It includes his writings from the early 1920's on. Gandhiji makes it clear that he was familiar with the ancient village republics of ancient India. We too know that these post Vedic political formations and the subsequent establishment of empires(the Mauryas in late 4th century B.C.E.) had established certain socio-economic formations. The social formations which were essentially clusters of tribes and a host of communities received organizational structure with the rise of the economic structure, the shreni (guild).
The present writer has strong reasons to believe that this is the origin of Jati. Various economic activities became consolidated with the efficient organization of shreni activity. Each shreni had its specialized craftsmen and artisans, drawn from various families which now had become the Jati base of that particular economic activity. These shreni based Jatis became the backbone of India’s economic prosperity and its world-wide fame in the production and trade of goods. They were also the source from which the shilpis who built the magnificent Hindu temples came. Every shreni had its rules and regulations and the membership was drawn from those particular practitioners of trade.
The relevant Jati could also cut across the Jati boundary; it was not uncommon to find a Brahmin in the shreni membership. And the shilpis who built the magnificent Hindu temples often were of Brahmanic origin. So were some other stone masons. In the latter case they had knowledge of Vastu Shastra.
Varna, as previously stated by this writer and as is well known, is the Vedic general classification of the population into the 4 groups of
1)priests/intellectuals, 2) warriors/politicians, 3) merchant/economic drivers, and 4)agriculturists/the service class. The Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras, respectively.
While the interaction between shreni and the Jatis was a straightforward one, the social cluster of the Jatis had its own cultural, religious and social life. Neither of these two entities had ever a direct relationship with Untouchability, whose origins can be traced back to 300 or 400 years before the Christian era (according to scholars). Dr. Ambedkar has theorized that the Shudras were originally part of the upper 3 varnas and fell into disfavor with them and were thus pushed down into a fourth Varna, the Shudras. Those doing the “lowest” menial work in this Varna then became the Untouchables. Later there was an additional influx of various tribals and incoming populations who also were pushed into this category.
Gandhiji fought against such labeling of people leading to Untouchability. The Indian Constitution has outlawed it since Independence. The government has affirmative action programs for the uplift of the ex-Untouchables. Individuals, NGOs and the Sangh Parivar organizations are doing sterling work toward the goal of eradicating Untouchability for the last six decades or more. No serious Hindu could/should condone the continued existence of Untouchability, which in many parts of India, has disappeared, owing largely to urbanization. But some of it still persists in some places. Our Acharyas have in the past condemned Untouchability as a social evil and they continue to do so.
However, the related questions of Varna and Jati are yet to be fully understood in contemporary India. The Jati system continues to be an engine of commercial and economic activity. The writings of S. Gurumurthy (political commentator, economist and accountant by profession) are a source of authentic material. His work is spread across his blog with a web-site (guru.gurmurthy.net). He has an easily accessible article therein: “Is caste an economic development vehicle?” To quote:
“A UNIDO study (1997) shows that out of the 370 small scale industrial clusters
and 2600 artisan-based clusters, which generated 70 per cent of India’s industrial
output, 66 per cent of exports, and 40 per cent of employment, only 13 were
government sponsored. The rest had evolved out of the caste-community based
(S. Gurumurthy, “Is caste an economic development vehicle?” The Hindu, Jan.19.2009).
In this context, it is important that the question of alleged human rights abuses of the caste system raised by anti-national individuals such as Pathmarajah Nagalingam (associate of the reformist group Navya Shaastra) should be vigorously contested by the Hindus of the Diaspora and in India. The concocted accusations by people like him are clearly a fig leaf for the hostile agenda of various groups in India, of which the missionaries constitute a significant segment. Other writers such as Rajiv Malhotra and Aravind Neelakandam in their latest book Breaking India, Dec. 2010, have listed the three main dangers that India faces today:
1. Islamic Fundamentalism/Terrorism
3. The Dravidian-Christian nexus.
Readers need to be reminded that Pathmarajah Nagalingam has advocated even military invasion of India, in case international pressure and coercion fail to change alleged human rights abuses. His agenda is obviously clear. The HAF has hopefully publicly distanced itself from such a project. It is not clear whether Dr. Lamb has PUBLICLY distanced himself from it. Dr. Lamb’s most recent e-mail to me (which is now being widely circulated) makes it clear that his interests in the Untouchability problem are religious-humanitarian, not political. Though he has impetuously turned to RISA membership to invite them to discuss currently withdrawn HAF report with or without the knowledge and permission of HAF, it needs to be presumed that Ramdas Lamb is not connected in any fashion with the Christian missionary agenda, giving him the benefit of the doubt. We can take him at his word. Only time will tell whether his activism is genuine or whether he too will go the way of all flesh, meaning that he will, like all missionaries, attack the Indian system in the end or will he turn to the UN for its so called “Human Rights” activism within India.
The present writer has said in the above mentioned article that Dr. Lamb’s linking of
Untouchability with Varna and Jati are the result of his inability to relate to the Indian/Hindu ethos. It is hoped that his engagement with rural India does not entail either missionary activity or the endorsement of Naglingam’s agenda. His theoretical failure to understand Varna and Jati as distinct from the problem of Untouchability can easily be changed, with some background reading and reflection on the Hindu ethos. It will, in the opinion of the present writer, actually strengthen his ability to deal with the Untouchability question in Hindu India. It is surprising that he has not, in these 31 years of his close association with Hindus and India, attempted study of the system.
The HAF Report rightly argues that there is no linkage between Hinduism and Untouchability. The present writer is on a parallel track: there is no linkage between Varna- Jati aspect of Hinduism and Untouchability either. If Dr. Lamb accepts HAF’s premise, there is no reason why he should not give credence to the second premise, especially since it has the backing of Mahatma Gandhi whom no one can accuse of ill treatment of the Untouchables, or of being not interested in their plight.
(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university).