The caste system

 The civilisation of Europe has always been preponderatingly

material and the division of classes was material in its principles

and material in its objects, but our civilisation has always been

preponderatingly spiritual and moral, and caste division in India

had a spiritual object and a spiritual and moral basis. The division

of classes in Europe had its root in a distribution of powers

and rights and developed and still develops through a struggle

of conflicting interests; its aim was merely the organisation of

society for its own sake and mainly indeed for its economic

convenience. The division of castes in India was conceived as a

distribution of duties. A man’s caste depended on his dharma, his

21 September 1907 683

spiritual, moral and practical duties, and his dharma depended

on his swabhava, his temperament and inborn nature. A Brahmin

was a Brahmin not by mere birth, but because he discharged

the duty of preserving the spiritual and intellectual elevation of

the race, and he had to cultivate the spiritual temperament and

acquire the spiritual training which could alone qualify him for

the task. The Kshatriya was a Kshatriya not merely because

he was the son of warriors and princes, but because he discharged

the duty of protecting the country and preserving the

high courage and manhood of the nation, and he had to cultivate

the princely temperament and acquire the strong and lofty

Samurai training which alone fitted him for his duties. So it was

with the Vaishya whose function was to amass wealth for the

race and the Sudra who discharged the humbler duties of service

without which the other castes could not perform their share of

labour for the common good. This was what we meant when we

said that caste was a socialistic institution. No doubt there was a

gradation of social respect which placed the function of the Brahmin

at the summit and the function of the Sudra at the base, but

this inequality was accidental, external, vyavaharika. Essentially

therewas, between the devout Brahmin and the devout Sudra, no

inequality in the single Virat Purusha of which each was a necessary

part. Chokha Mela, the Maratha Pariah, became the guru

of Brahmins proud of their caste purity; the Chandala taught

Shankaracharya: for the Brahman was revealed in the body of

the Pariah and in the Chandala there was the utter presence of

Shiva the Almighty. Heredity entered into caste divisions, and

in the light of the conclusions of modern knowledge who shall

say erroneously? But it entered into it as a subordinate element.

For Hindu civilisation being spiritual based its institutions on

spiritual and moral foundations and subordinated the material

elements and material considerations. Caste therefore was not

only an institution which ought to be immune from the cheap

second-hand denunciations so long in fashion, but a supreme

necessity without which Hindu civilisation could not have developed

its distinctive character or worked out its unique mission.

But to recognise this is not to debar ourselves from pointing

684 Bande Mataram

out its later perversions and desiring its transformation. It is the

nature of human institutions to degenerate, to lose their vitality,

and decay, and the first sign of decay is the loss of flexibility and

oblivion of the essential spirit in which they were conceived. The

spirit is permanent, the body changes; and a body which refuses

to change must die. The spirit expresses itself inmanyways while

itself remaining essentially the same, but the body must change

to suit its changing environments if it wishes to live. There is

no doubt that the institution of caste degenerated. It ceased to

be determined by spiritual qualifications which, once essential,

have now come to be subordinate and even immaterial and is

determined by the purely material tests of occupation and birth.

By this change it has set itself against the fundamental tendency

of Hinduism which is to insist on the spiritual and subordinate

the material and thus lost most of its meaning. The spirit of caste

arrogance, exclusiveness and superiority came to dominate it instead

of the spirit of duty, and the change weakened the nation

and helped to reduce us to our present condition. It is these

perversions which we wish to see set right. The institution must

transform itself so as to fulfil its essential and permanent object

under the changed conditions of modern times. If it refuses to

change, it will become a mere social survival and crumble to

pieces. If it transforms itself, it will yet play a great part in the

fulfilment of civilisation.


VOLUME 6 and 7



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