Thursday, 17 February 2011

A better understanding of the "P" word as used in the Interlok novel

Something to do with the Interlok and the much hated "P" word in the novel.

I am reproducing two superb letters by En. Ariff Shah and a reply letter by Datuk J.Jegathesan posted in the NST which would give a deep insight of the much talked about caste system. I am reproducing the letters in full for my record and to share with those interested. It is worth the read.

First letter by En. Ariff Shah:

Caste system: Blame history for the 'divisions'

I REFER to the article "Who are the 'Paraiyars', really?" by Universiti Sains Malaysia vice-chancellor Professor Tan Sri Dzulkifli Abdul Razak (NST, Feb 6).
He shed new light on the "Paraiyars", after making references to a book by Abbe Dubois. It was a good attempt to explain the issue but, as a history lover, I found the article slightly misleading.

All those who had argued about this subject, whether Indians or non-Indians, have not explained it clearly enough for the nation to understand this issue of "Paraiyars". Many are not clear about the caste system where the word "pariah" is said to originate.

One would be surprised to know that the caste system does not exist in Hinduism. In Hinduism, there is a system known as the "varnashrama", which divides society into four natural groups -- Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra -- depending on individual characteristics and disposition.

Every human has certain tendencies by natural inclination and choice. These are divided into four divisions known as "varna" (colour). It does not relate to skin colour but to a person's aura or consciousness.

After reading a student's aura and his tendencies, the master would decide which job would suit him most, where it would allow the student to serve society in a harmonious way and not frustrate him.

A student is placed in the varnashrama of either the Brahmana also known as Brahmins (intellectuals, academics, priests), or Kshatriya (rulers, administrators, soldiers) or Vaishya (businessmen, farmers, bankers, those engaged in commerce) or Shudra (ordinary workers, those engaged in physical labour, dancers, singers).

It was never a condition that birth determines a student's division. This was a system of self-discovery and development in assisting a person to find his place in society, where he could contribute to it by doing a job in accordance to his nature.

This system is sanctioned by a book that no one commenting on the issue had referred to, namely the Bhagavad Gita, where Sri Krishna talks to the warrior Arjuna at the battlefield of Kurusethra.

It states: "According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me" (4.13).

"By following his qualities of work, every man can become perfect... By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all pervading, man can, in the performance of his own duty or occupation, attain perfection" (18.45-6).

Clearly, no one is forced into the work he dislikes. Neither is birth a criterion for determining the division he would enter for work purposes. The underlining principle in Hinduism is that work is worship and one is allowed to change the division one is in.

For example, if a soldier has had enough of battles and wants to become a priest, he will leave his Kshatriya division and enter the Brahmin division. It's as simple and flexible as that. This system allowed everyone to work according to his nature and bring happiness to himself and society. It was never meant to divide society according to materialistic divisions. The sole object was to unite people in a cooperative society in the service of God. Every individual in the divisions had equal rights.

From the above verses, there is no mention of "pariah". So what happened then?

As time went on, the varnashrama system was abused by the Brahmins, who made it a condition that those born of a parent who worked in a particular division would remain there. Switching from one division to another was not permitted. In that way, the Brahmins gained control over power and money.

This new condition was against the teachings of Hinduism. Some Brahmins and Kshatriyas opposed these new conditions. However, by this time, India was invaded.

These invaders not only massacred people, but burnt down great libraries that contained most of the information regarding the varnashrama.

A new materialistic caste system was born. When the British arrived in India, they saw the system as an opportunity to divide society further to suit their interest and twisted it with a view of converting the Hindus.

The British then created another theory -- the Aryan theory -- which stated that European nomads came by chariots and conquered India and later composed the Vedas.

Dzulkifli touched on the origin of the word Brahmin, but it was misleading. First, the Brahmins are not followers of Brahma. They, and all other Hindus, pray to the one supreme God known to them as "Brahman". Brahma and Brahman are different entities.

Second, he said the Aryan Brahmins carried out "conversion" and those who refused to convert were "cast out". This is misleading.

Scientifically speaking, there are no Aryan or Paraiyar races. The three primary races are Caucasians, Mongoloid and Negroid.

Both the so-called "Aryan Brahmin" and "Paraiyars" are related branches of the Caucasian race, which is in the same Mediterranean sub-branch. Biologically, they are of the Caucasian race.

"Aryan", or its correct term "arya", was discovered in the Vedas of the Hindus. The term "arya" means noble or spiritual and it never meant a race of people. Those who followed the noble Vedic way of life or arya dharma may be termed as arya. It is a term of respect, something similar to a "datuk".

During the 19th century, many Europeans believed that they belonged to a superior race and their religion was the best. With the racial theory of man in vogue, they thought that the fair-skinned Indians were different from the dark-skinned Indians.

At that period, similarities were discovered in Sanskrit and the European languages. Therefore, they thought that since Sanskrit was related to their languages, it must have come from a white race and not the darker-skinned Indians (compared with the Europeans).

It was a linguistic theory adopted by the British to hold power. They began interpreting the Vedas in the same racial manner. The forces of light against darkness were interpreted as white race against dark race.

Hence, their theory of an Aryan race from Europe that invaded India and gave them the Vedas. Terms were mistranslated to suit the British objective, which was to convert Hindus and to justify their rule.

Many archaeologists and researchers forwarded theories of the location of this Aryan homeland but it kept changing. An exact time period when the so-called Aryans came to India was never established.

This was also because, to the Europeans, the world was created at 9am on Oct 23, 4004 B.C. The great flood of Noah occurred in 2500B.C. So the philologist Max Muller and the rest gave the Aryan invasion date at 1500 B.C. In short, everything was mere speculation which, unfortunately, became part of Indian history.

New archaeological and scientific studies indicate that the Indus civilisation that preceded the Aryans, was Vedic and centred, not on the Indus, but on the banks of the Saraswati river and its language was Sanskrit.

The Rig Veda praises the Saraswati river in its hymns. The river dried up around 1900 B.C., which means Hinduism and those who composed the Rig Veda were there before 1900 B.C. and if the Aryans arrived in India about 1500 B.C., how did they know about this river and build their culture on its banks if the river did not exist any more?

The latest studies also indicate that the Indus sites were wiped out not by war or invasion but by a drought. The skeletons unearthed there showed no signs of injuries caused by war but by starvation or dehydration. This was the drought that wiped out civilisations in Sumeria and Mesopotamia.

Similarly, in Mohenjo-Daro, there was an absence of any signs of war, like extensive burning or weapons or any remains of armour-clad soldiers. Interestingly, evidence of temples and seals of Shiva and Vishnu exist which mean that the Vedic religion had been part of these people and not brought by any Aryan Brahmins.

In short, scholars are rejecting the invasion theory based on this emerging evidence.

Coming back to the "Paraiyars", they were indeed once land owners who lost their land, advisers to the kings, farmers, musicians, singers and members of the manual workforce who were suppressed by the British in the light of their divide-and-rule policy.

They were exploited by the British and later, "Paraiyars" was mispronounced as "paria" just like Singapura became Singapore, Pulau Pinang became Penang, Mumbai became Bombay and orang utan became rang a teng.

The term "pariah" signifies colonial oppression of farmers, musicians, singers and the manual workforce.

Read more: Caste system: Blame history for the 'divisions'

The second letter by Datuk J. Jegathesan

The caste system: It is division of labour
Datuk J.Jegathesan

I REFER to the letter "Blame history for the divisions" by brother Ariff Shah R. K. (NST, Feb 11).
I call him brother though he is unknown to me, for men such as him are a brother to all humanity. He dares to delve into the truth, without fear or favour as to what kind of negative impact this could have on him as a Muslim.

He did not fear that lower minds might condemn him for having such a profound knowledge about Hinduism, and even daring to quote from the Bhagavad Gita.

Here is a true Malaysian, reflecting 1Malaysia to the world as it should be: never demeaning another and always exalting others and thus exalting even higher his own religion.

Abroad, in Africa and in many other nations, Malaysia has established a shining reputation as a nation of religious and ethnic harmony that many nations want to emulate.

However, today, this great Malaysian legacy is being threatened by lower minds, who risk bringing bring disrepute to themselves and their faiths.

I am not a historian but merely a "development economist" , who as a pioneer member of the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (Mida), way back in 1967 , helped in a small way in Malaysia's big push for economic development and job creation after May 13, 1969.

I wish to present the facts about the caste system as it was meant to be, from the ancient texts.

But even as one reads what I write, one must be conscious of one thing: man is known to corrupt great truths and great teachings, and turn things around to suit his own selfish ends, be it for personal, racial or religious needs.

For example, if one reads all the holy texts of all religions, one will see that all the teachings as to what one should do to have a peaceful and happy life are more than 90 per cent similar.

No religion asks one to rob, rape, murder, sexually abuse children or anyone, steal, lie, condemn and so on.

All religions teach the fundamental human values of truth, righteousness, peace, love, non-violence, respect and reverence for father and mother, loyalty and hard work.

Yet, we see the very people who praise their own religion and even priests and "men of the cloth" violating these principles, to the shame and horror of the majority of the followers of the religion.

The important thing to remember is that the acts of shame of a minority should not in any way be used to judge the great teachings of a religion.

Would the founders of the various religions recognise the great religions they started, given the diverse splits and dissension in them today?

Every society, wittingly or unwittingly, practises the caste system. Does not every society have:

- preachers, philosophers, authors and scientists? These are the Brahmanas (Brahmins) according to ancient Hindu texts;

- government officials, judges, soldiers and the police, and those who administer and defend the nation? They are the Kshatriyas;

- those involved in agriculture, trade, banking, commerce, industry and business" They are the Vaisyas; and,

- those involved in manual work, labourers and artisans? They are the Sudras.

Let me give a couple of quotes to throw some light on what the original Hindu texts say about the caste system:

- "Not birth, not samskaras, nor study of the Vedas, nor ancestry are the causes of being twice-born (that is a Brahmin). Conduct alone is verily the cause thereof. (Vana-parvan, cccxiii 108); and

- Truth, charity, forgiveness, good conduct, gentleness, austerity and mercy, where these are seen, he is called Brahmana. If these marks exist in a Sudra and not one twice-born (Brahmins), the Sudra is not a Sudra nor the Brahmana a Brahmin; where this conduct is shown, he is called a Brahmana, where this is not shown, he should be regarded as a Sudra (Mahabharata, cixxx 21, 25, 26).

We can see that:

- This division of labour exists in every society;

- The work people do is defined by their aptitude for that work;

- The caste, that is, the varnas or colours, which is also the colouring of one's mind, defines the work one will do; and,

- Caste is not a birthright but is defined by the work one does and this is defined by one's aptitude and ability.

If you look at this division of labour, you will know into which colour or caste you fall. If you are a teacher, preacher or scientist, than you are a Brahmin. Your father could be a government servant or army captain (Kshatriya), your brother or uncle could be a trader or banker (Vaisya) and your cousin could be an artisan (welder) or mechanic (Sudra).

This was how the caste system evolved; a division of labour and the scriptures declared that if your aptitude is to be a businessman (Vaisya) though your father is a university lecturer (Brahmin), go for it. Don't allow anyone to force you into doing something against your aptitude and inclination; if you do, you may end up being very mediocre in that field, whereas you could have shone like a star in the area of work your heart and soul was set on.

So, what happened?

Ariff Shah put it very nicely: man, for his own selfish needs, made the division of work based on aptitude a birthright, and thus the nobility of a great teaching (as so many other teachings in other religions) became corrupted and institutionalised.

Today, at least in India, because it is so entrenched, this caste system attitude still exists in some sectors, even among the educated, but many leaders are trying to revive the true traditions of Hinduism.

As for overseas, these entrenched issues are slowly giving way. For example, there are many priests in temples who were not born in a Brahmin family. They just have the aptitude for such work.

Kuala Lumpur

Read more: The caste system: It is division of labour

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