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Ancient caste system not attributed to one’s birth: Amish Tripathi

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New Delhi: When India is still in agony about the Dalit research scholar’s suicide, the best-selling author Amish Tripathi is trying to convey the message that in ancient India the caste system was not rigid and was not attributed to one’s birth.

Tripathi, who deftly weaves in threads on women’s empowerment and the caste system in his interpretations of Indian mythologies, preferred to reserve his judgement on the Hyderabad University issue since it’s under investigation.

But he concedes that oppression continues despite the progress country has made in the last almost 70 years since independence.

Rohith Vemula’s death on January 17 in Hyderabad University after being suspended for allegedly assaulting an ABVP leader has resulted in mass protests across India.

“As far as specific incidents are concerned, learning from the Delhi church attacks and Ranaghat nun rape case (in West Bengal), it turned out the incidents were not how they were portrayed; so we should stay calm and wait for an investigation to conclude.

“At a broader level, there is no doubt oppression does take place. We have made improvements in the last 70 years but there is still a long way to go,” Tripathi, who burst onto the scene in 2010 with the popular Shiva trilogy, said in an interview during the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet.

The banker-turned-writer had some huge success like “The Immortals of Meluha”, “The Secret of the Nagas” and “The Oath of the Vayuputras”  based on Shiva trilogy. His latest “Scion of Ikshvaku” is the first book in the Ram Chandra series – his take on the Indian epic Ramayana. The second book is in progress and talks are on for movie adaptations.

“In my books, I actually speak about the caste system. If you see the genetic research that is coming out, it’s very clear the caste system was not based on birth. In ancient times it was not rigid,” the 41-year-old IIM-Calcutta alumnus contended.

As examples, he says Maharishi Valmiki who wrote the Valmiki Ramayana was not Brahmin born.

“The Maharishi who composed the Mahabharata, who compiled the Vedas, was not born a Brahmin, he was born to a fisherwoman. He became a Brahmin… not just a Brahmin… he became a rishi (sage),” Tripathi underlined.

In addition to the textual proof, he also lays strong emphasis on current genetic research.

“Research shows till around 1,900 to 2,000 years ago, there was heavy intermingling in India between all groups. That’s the first sign of caste system… there is no inter-marrying. Something happened between 1,500 to 2,000 years ago when the inter-marrying stopped. So some people assume that is when the caste system became rigid.

“In ancient times, most of the evidence points to the fact that the caste system was actually not rigid and that is what I am trying to bring out in my books. It was not based on birth. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna clearly says: I created the four varnas based on ‘guna’ and ‘karma’ based on your attributes and on your karma, not on birth.”

Ascribing his knowledge of mythology and scriptures to his family (his paternal grandfather was a pandit and taught at Banaras Hindu University, his maternal grandmother was also a teacher), Tripathi admits his love for India doesn’t mean he can turn a blind eye to issues that need to be dealt with.

“I am a deep patriot. I love my country but I also believe patriotism should not blind us to the things that need to be improved and, of course, one doesn’t like to be told about our country by Westerners, most of them likely have no love for our country; they just want to come and judge us.

“There’s a difference in the attitude of someone who deeply loves his or her own country and there are things which he feels needs to improve,” Tripathi signed off.(IANS)

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Why Dera Sacha Sauda Followers Ready To Die For Rapist Ram Rahim Singh?

After the judgement on Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's case was passed, his followers initiated violence in few cities of Haryana and Punjab

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DSS followers
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's followers were ready to die and fight for him. Wikimedia
  • The head of the Dera Sacha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh recently had a trial and after the judgement was passed, his followers initiated violence in Haryana and Punjab
  • The surprising fact was not the sexual exploitation and other criminal cases against him, but the way his followers were willing to die and fight for him
  • The deras provided economic support, free medicine along with human dignity and self-respect to people who had to hear their caste names being used as abuses

New Delhi, August 28, 2017: The head of the Dera Sacha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh recently had a trial and after the judgement was passed, his followers initiated violence in few cities of Haryana and Punjab. The government of Haryana failed to control the gathering of DSS followers in the place of the trial, Panchkula despite repeated advance warnings given by different security agencies.

The surprising fact was not the sexual exploitation and other criminal cases against him, but the way DSS followers were willing to die and fight for him.

The history of such Sufi cults or babas inspiring thousands of followers has been a part of north-western India for a long time. The question that arises is what is so distinctive about the structures of socio-political belonging to the society in that area which makes it possible for such centres of power to emerge?

For answering this question, a look at the region’s historical trajectory and the present day’s social and political structures. Punjab and Haryana, both have been through various foreign invasions which have caused a lot of chaos. The invasions did not allow the formation of socio-political structures for people to arrange their lives around. The people were deprived of stable socio-religious or political institutions. this was accompanied by the frequent destruction caused by the armies, which built a ground for Sufi cults or spiritual gurus to emerge. This gave people’s lives a direction as well as a stable institution of support and social security.

ALSO READNorthern Railways Suspend Services Ahead of Verdict of Rape Case Against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh

The second reason which prompted the emergence of Sufi cults is the huge Dalit population and other minority castes present in that region. the comprise of a major portion of their followers. Haryana’s neighbouring areas and Punjab, both have a huge population of Dalits, with their population touching 30% in Punjab, the highest in India. However, the Dalit population in the society’s power structures is weak. This is due to highly skewed ownership of land in this region, wherein the power rests with the controllers of land. The caste system has played a huge part in depriving Dalits of the ownership of land. The Act of Alienation of Land enacted in 1990 created agricultural castes, including Muslims and Jat Sikhs mostly and they were made land allotments’ sole beneficiaries under the widening of canal-colonies and agriculture. They were given preference during the selling of land and put restrictions on the selling of land to others, which included rural Dalits and upper-caste urban Hindus.

This further excluded them weaker artisans and Dalit from the platforms of decision-making. The Jat Sikhs started gaining dominance in Sikh institutions and other castes such as khatris started getting displaced. The conflicts of land owners with the agricultural labourers gave rise to religious fights. Dalits were not welcomed in Sikh temples or gurudwara, which made them take up an alternative, in which they not only comprised a huge proportion of the crowd but they were also represented in decision-making and management structure.

The development of deras gave rise to an alternative institution for various cultures. The most appealing aspect of these deras was their promise of treating all DSS followers equally irrespective of the caste. They provided economic support, free medicine along with human dignity and self-respect to people who had to hear their caste names being used as abuses in the society. An example of this would be DSS’ local unit’s head being called as “Bhangi Das”. In a society where the word “Bhangi” is used to insult or abuse someone, this represents an act of pride, protest and the reclamation of the dignity of many broken people.

Such simple people’s faith becomes vulnerable to dera heads and their machinations, who quickly develop an unholy connection with mafia and politicians. No wonder politicians have been courting such deras actively! This occurrence is attributed to two reasons- the first being the transformation of Dalits from landlords’ dependents to wage labourers due to the fall of old feudal order and the Green Revolution. This provided the Dalits with an escape route to urban-industrial areas.

This loosened the control over Dalits by land owners and they had to look for alternatives to influence the votes of artisans castes and Dalits. Along with this, the democracy started deepening from the 1980s and the marginalised communities started gaining importance in politics. The politicians started approaching deras in order to win their votes as the obligation of democracy, “one man, one vote” policy and reservations made it impossible to ignore these castes in the process of elections.

The politicians never wanted to give a real say and stake to Dalits, therefore the only way to make them vote in their favour was to extend impunity and political patronage to the heads of deras.

However, the High Court asking to seize dera’s properties and remove all its dependents is in one way, a misinterpretation of justice. The recently witnessed Jat agitation destroyed a lot more property but the judiciary didn’t give an order to confiscate all Jat properties, or those belonging to the organisers or any other case for that matter. It is essential to investigate and punish the ones who are guilty.

We see various liberals and media houses are slamming the government that shooting more people will not have an impact on them as long as it is giving them additional talking points. A right mixture of statesmanship and state power is required if we want tp prevent long-run effects of destabilising and chaos.

-prepared by Harsimran Kaur of NewsGram. Twitter Hkaur1025

NewsGram is a Chicago-based non-profit media organization. We depend upon support from our readers to maintain our objective reporting. Show your support by Donating to NewsGram. Donations to NewsGram are tax-exempt. 

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“Ants Among Elephants” by Indian-Origin Author Sujatha Gidla is Creating Waves in the US

Interview with Sujatha Gidla, who recently wrote a memoir capturing the life of Dalit community in India

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Dalit Women protesting against exploitation
Dalit Women protesting against exploitation. Wikimedia
  • Many instances of discrimination and humiliation that she and her family were customarily subjected to
  • This Independence was not real independence, it was only transfer of power
  • Caste-based discrimination is uniquely cruel

New York, USA, August 27, 2017:  The nation has just celebrated Independence Day with great pomp and fervor but does this special occasion evoke similar sentiments among the Dalits living in the country? No, contends an Indian-origin author Sujatha Gidla, who was born an “untouchable” and is now creating waves in US literary circles with a provocative memoir capturing the life of her community in India.

Until recently, Sujatha Gidla was just another New Yorker, working as a conductor on the City Subway. But her recent memoir, “Ants among Elephants: : An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India”, which not only details her memories of growing up as a Dalit woman in India but also lists the many instances of “discrimination and humiliation” that she and her family were customarily subjected to, has thrust her into the limelight.

On how she responds to special occasions like Independence Day, the author said that, as children, they would admire iconic figures like Gandhi and Nehru, and celebrate the day but things changed gradually as they become more aware.

ALSO READ: Religious minorities, Dalits face discrimination in India: A report by US Commission on International Religious Freedom

“When I joined the RSU (Radical Students Union) we were told that (this) Independence was not real independence, that it was only transfer of power. And now we don’t feel anything because we are not made to feel that we are Indians like other Indians.

“It is the same thing in the universities where I studied. I don’t have that pride of my alma mater because we were not treated as equals. None of us have that pride, not even my mother,” Gidla told IANS in an email interview from New York.

The author further quipped that, by and large, “this is not independence” for members of her community.

“There have been many types of discrimination in various parts of the world. As far as I know, caste discrimination is uniquely cruel. There is racism in America, but I will never compare it with caste and rather say that caste is much worse.

“I will also say this: Blacks here are murdered, they have been lynched. But I have never read about another place where untouchables are fed excreta, made to drink urine and paraded naked. Even under slavery, the slave owners took care to feed their slaves in order to keep them fit to work. Untouchables in India never even had that,” Gidla said.

Sujatha Gidla reiterated that untouchability is neither a religious nor a cultural problem. It is rather a social problem and that there has to be “some sort of fundamental change”; otherwise the Dalits will “continue to suffer”.

Elaborating on the “suffering” that she repeatedly mentions in the book, Gidla said most Dalits in India, particularly those trying to fight against the caste system, live under constant duress due to verbal attacks and the threat of physical violence.

“Our neighbors in India have been actively trying to kick my mom out of her apartment. Her (upper) caste colleagues hate the fact that her daughter wrote a successful book.”

“That is the irony; we cannot even celebrate the publication of the book because we are afraid that it will make people around us unhappy. Even fellow untouchables are not posting it on social media for fear of being exposed to their colleagues and (upper) caste friends as untouchables,” she elaborated.

Also Read: Dr. Kallol Guha: Anglophonic Education will not uplift Dalits

Gidla’s grandparents converted to Christianity at the onset of the 20th century and were educated at Canadian missionary schools. She too, with the help of Canadian missionaries, studied physics at the Regional Engineering College in Warangal, in what is Telangana today. She was also a researcher in applied physics at IIT-Madras.

Gidla initially worked as a developer in software design, then moved to banking but lost her job in 2009 during the economic crisis. Finally, she took up the job of a conductor at the New York Subway.

This book, Gidla said, initially began as an investigation into the caste system but finally took the shape of a memoir as her family members also enriched its pages with their personal experiences and reflections.

So what would bring “freedom” in the true sense to Gidla and her family, as also to over 300 million Dalits in India?

“True freedom is equal access to everything in society -education, jobs, etc. When that is achieved, the prejudices will begin to disappear, but only gradually, not instantaneously. Without having equal access to economic betterment all these words about caste being an evil practice or we should treat untouchables with respect are meaningless,” she maintained.

The book has been published in the US by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan publishers, and is yet to hit the Indian market. (IANS)

 

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Book Review: Author Tim Harford’s “Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy” deserves Plenty of Plaudits

But economist, columnist and author Tim Harford does not only seek here to list of 50 specific inventions but also to tell us the singular stories behind their inception

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Tim Harford
Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy cover. Facebook
  • Author Tim Harford has written a new book titled ‘Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy
  • Tim Harford is also an economist and a columnist

New Delhi, August 22, 2017: The i-Phone may seem the pinnacle of human endeavour, ingenuity and technological prowess — but while Steve Jobs deserves the plaudits, the range of technologies making it possible were a collective effort, facilitated by a surprisingly unexpected benefactor. Such tales are discussed in Tim Harford’s “Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy.”

When we think of the wonders of our modern world, we may cite these flashy hand-held devices that enable us to communicate, entertain ourselves and find information instantly. But they are merely one facet, for our lives now owe to a range of inventions and discoveries stretching from the humble plough to Google, and from the elevator to intellectual property, and achieved in several unusual and unexpected ways.

And while the i-Phone does make a list of 50 such inventions, so do concrete, clocks and infant formula as well as limited liability companies, public key cryptography and the welfare state — and many others, including some which may seem surprising.

But economist, columnist and author Tim Harford does not only seek here to list of 50 specific inventions but also to tell us the singular stories behind their inception — the iPhone especially — and how they affected us socially and economically from the beginning of civilisation to workings of the world economy now. Or rather in laying its foundations.

These 50 inventions, he says, range from those “absurdly simple” to ones which became “astonishingly sophisticated”, “stodgily solid” to “abstract inventions that you cannot touch at all”, profitable right from their launch or, while others were initially commercial disasters.

Also Read: Book Review: Hinduism in Ancient India and the Various Aspects of its Traditions by Greg Bailey

“But all of them have a story to tell that teaches us something about how our world works and that helps us notice some of the everyday miracles that surround us, often in the most ordinary-seeming objects. Some of these stories are of vast and impersonal economic forces; others are tales of human brilliance or human tragedy.”

Harford, known for his “Undercover Economist” series, does stress that he doesn’t seek to identify the 50 most economically significant inventions for some seemingly obvious entrants — printing presses, airplanes, computers — are missing. And there are good reasons why.

He also promises that while zooming in closely to examine one of these or pulling back to notice the unexpected connections, will provide answers to questions like the link between Elton John and the promise of a paperless office, how an American discovery banned in Japan for four decades affected women’s careers there, which monetary innovations destroyed Britain’s Houses of Parliament in the 1830s.

Harford also explains how all these inventions have two facets — they may not be always benign — in the longer run, or ensure a “win-win” scenario for all.

While it is easy to see inventions as solutions to problems, he warns against seeing them as only solutions, for they “shape our lives in unexpected ways — and while they’re solving a problem for someone, they’re often creating a problem for someone else”.

These attributes are best shown by the case of an ostensibly well-meaning American inventor who is responsible for poisoning our environment twice-over though his two contributions were initially helpful, and then by both the beneficial and baleful impacts of the plough — or banks for that matter.

Harford also shows that there is more to an invention than its inventing, and even for any one of them, “it’s often hard to pin down a single person who was responsible — and it’s even harder to find a ‘eureka’ moment when the idea all came together”.

Dealing with such aspects in the brief interludes between the inventions, placed in no discernible chronological or thematic order, Harford also seeks to put them together at the end to pose the vital question of how we should think about that often used and often misunderstood buzzword “innovation” today.

“What are the best ways to encourage new ideas? And how can we think clearly about what the effects of those ideas might be, and act with foresight to maximise the good effects and mitigate the bad ones?” he asks.

But as his incisive but illuminating and entertaining sojourn through centuries of human activities and endeavours show, there are no easy or definite answers. (IANS)