Why is casteism rampant in Odisha?

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Casteism is considered as a status symbol when there is no other quality with that person. Obviously Odisha is poor and uneducated compared to other Indian states. So it is natural caste is a factor in daily social transactions.

In 2011 there was news – Dalit students were not allowed to enter into temples. Link – Dalits punished for entering temple: Government steps in

Here I am giving my observation –

1. Inside Orissa

Every time I travel in train to Orissa, and on reaching Bhubaneswar, I am asked my caste. In train if you meet any Oriya people, and try to interact. Once you become little closer, they first ask your surname, then caste. By that time they have heard all details about my education and job, still they are not satisfied without knowing my caste. I say – ‘hey, I am from Dalit’, then their evaluation criteria get changed. Even-if you say most logical and best teachings, still that becomes meaningless to them. How can Dalit teach them! He got through quota. Many people don’t believe I am a gold medalist. To them it appears it is a lie. How can a Dalit become state topper? Unbearable! I just pity them.

But out of shame or due to fear of humiliation Dalits are scared to disclose their caste in public. To get false dignity even many Dalits claim to belong to general caste in their friend circle.

2. Outside Orissa

Oriya friends come closer outside Orissa state. Again they are stuck with ‘what is your caste?’. Man, you are already educated and we both are working in same grade. Neither I am looking for a girl to marry, nor looking for common dining with his family. How does the caste matter here in public life? – People come and say, ‘You know in our Brahmin caste we follow such as such rituals. We take sacred thread before marriage because we care for tradition. so on …’. The goal is not to teach Indian traditions; rather it is a way to communicate their Brahmin caste. May be they are looking for some dignity or feel good to emphasize caste. On the other hand, I don’t feel to disclose my caste, or emphasize it unnecessarily, as there is nothing to get elated with this birth tag.

Poor fellow! As a Brahmin you are supposed to take Upanayana, sacred thread, Gayatri Mantra at the age of eight as per Manu Smriti 2.36. And then continue Vedic study, join as an officiating priest in some temple and in other houses. Why you are doing job under Govt and private sectors and still claiming as Brahmin? You are wearing a thread as an ornament without understanding its significance, cheating whole Hindus and making jokes of Hindu tradition. And other people also tolerate these fake groups in the name of priest-craft. Jobs are meant for Shudra community. Please note priest-craft has nothing to do with spirituality.

Lower caste people hesitate to disclose their lineage due to fear of humiliation and insult. As long as upper caste people are curious to know other’s caste and as long as lower caste people are hesitating to say their caste openly, there is a sign of inequality, there is a sign of humiliation, there is a sign of suppression.

3. Experiment with Hindu ritual

Recently we organized a common dining through a ritual – Vaisnava Hari-nama Samkirtana. We invited whole village. As it is expected upper castes from our village did not join in common dining, even though it was Hari-nama samkirtana and the food was offered to God – Prasada. Few Vaisnavas from distant villages came as a part of worship. Just to test the present caste situation in my village, I offered to serve them food. No. You can’t. Their head told me – ‘they won’t take food from the hand of lower caste’. I am highly qualified and well established now. And I have paid huge fund for that ritual; still I cannot touch their food. So in front of caste rule, these achievements are nothing. Let God save India!

4. Caste phobia among NRIs

I find highly educated and settled friends come back from USA to get married in same caste. If you ask them – ‘Why same caste?’. Generic answer – ‘My parents won’t agree to other caste girls’. But while romance in college life, they don’t ask parents and they don’t check caste before keeping relations with opposite gender. This caste phobia remains even if people change the country. How can we leave our culture!

5. Separate Graveyards

I find separate crematory grounds for different castes in many villages in Orissa. Unfortunately even today common dining is a distant dream. Leave aside inter-caste marriage, people even do not participate in village rituals, final-rites. They maintain separate crematory ground based on caste.

6. People take discrimination granted

Generally upper castes people do not like have discussion on topic like caste system and discrimination. Because it will go against them and their forefather’s will be at fault due the mistakes they have done. And this fellow will feel guilty for the sins of his own ancestors. One of my Odia Brahmin friends settled in Canada told me – ‘during his school days a washer-woman used to clean their clothes. After delivering it, she was not allowed touch the same cloth due to fear of impurity. And she was given food outside the house. According to my friend – she never felt bad about this treatment and never complained. And my friend’s parent also never felt bad to serve food outside house. So there was no issue with caste system, there was no discrimination.How funny! Just because that woman did not complain openly for her humiliation that does not mean the system was correct. Because that woman accepted it, the things were easy to handle. Once you raise voice, then you are on the wrong side.

“Every man born in USA knows that he is a man. Every man born in India knows that he is a slave of society. Now, freedom is the only condition of growth; take that off, the result is degeneration.” — Swami Vivekananda said it while he was referring to crystallized social institution and customs NOT allowing Indian to think or to raise voice. So Indians are not verbose (rather shy) in public forum against it.

7. Caste fanaticism among religious people

There is a saying, if a Hindu becomes religious, then automatically he become castist because of adhering to Hindu Varnasrama dharma. I find the caste discrimination is more visible among religious Hindus. They typically believe their Gotras or lineages are pure, others are impure. People read Vedanta – ‘Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma – All this is verily Brahman’, but this knowledge does not work with caste rules. Still people hold, caste should be by birth, even of Gita says repeatedly, caste is based on profession. So you cannot change the sentiment of stupid people.

Swami Vivekananda said – “Each Hindu, I say, is a brother of every other, and it is we who have degraded them by our outcry, “Don’t touch, don’t touch!” And so the whole country has been plunged to the utmost depths of meanness, cowardice, and ignorance. These men have to be uplifted; words of hope and faith have to be proclaimed to them. We have to tell them, “You are men like us, and you have all the rights that we have.”

Reformative mind

From my childhood I was curious to know – why I am treated differently. Why my caste is low? What mistakes a Dalit child did? – My parents could not give any satisfactory answer other than saying – ‘things are like that in Hindu society. So we need to accept it. We cannot change the whole world. So better accept and bear’. Of late I read, Lord Buddha was deserted from India and kept separated from Hinduism, because he was against caste system. I have asked many learned people in my life. I have searched all Hindu texts like Veda, Upanishads, Gita, Smritis to know a real meaning of caste by birth. All searching are in vain. There is no logic behind it. It is done by few cunning fellows for selfish reason to exploit and create slaves. So how can you get the answer? And nobody challenges the system.

Many times in my childhood I have objected – Why the priest and his son should be treated in a better way? Why the Brahmins will not plough fields? – We need to cultivate their farms and they enjoy. Why we need to clean the plates after eating food at higher caste houses? Why upper caste people don’t eat in our house? If you raise voice – each time the first obstacle comes from my own people, own parents, own relatives. They say – ‘poor fellow, you are challenging the Dharma. This is the rule made by God. You will get sins by not observing it’. I remember once I forgot to clean plates in some house after eating. That lady got it cleaned by my aunt later. And to my surprise my aunt scolded me for my wrong doing. What a pity! I don’t understand till date, why they used to invite us for food, why we joined them and cleaned the plate! It is not only upper layers dominate us, we the Dalits also accept the subjugation without any complain. We never complain. Why?

In India we have never heard any civil war due to caste conflicts. It is only due to lower caste people were never complaining in nature or maybe they were trained like that in the name of Prarabdha, Karma, hell, Svadharma, God etc. They were accepting in nature.

It is only after reading Swami Vivekananda and Dr. Ambedkar, I realized this is a grave mistake perpetuated in Hindu society. Swami Vivekananda write, Letter date: 22 August, 1892 – “Poor fellows! Whatever the rascally and wily priests teach them — all sorts of mummery and tomfoolery as the very gist of the Vedas and Hinduism (mind you, neither these rascals of priests nor their forefathers have so much as seen a volume of the Vedas for the last 400 generations) — they follow and degrade themselves. Lord help them from the Râkshasas in the shape of the Brahmins of the Kaliyuga. [CW-8]”

Swami Vivekananda said – “The caste system is opposed to the religion of the Vedanta. Caste is a social custom, and all our great preachers have tried to break it down. From Buddhism downwards, every sect has preached against caste, and every time it has only riveted the chains. Caste is simply the outgrowth of the political institutions of India; it is a hereditary trade guild. Trade competition with Europe has broken caste more than any teaching. [CW-5]”

The great Dalit reformer and author of constitution Dr. Ambedkar said – “The true function of law consists in repairing the faults in society. Unfortunately ancient societies never dared to assume the function of repairing their own defects; consequently they decayed.”

Conclusion

So socially, politically, morally we need to be strong to get rid of caste discrimination. It is a challenge and struggle for Dalits to get rid of discrimination. Don’t look for upper castes to do it for you. As Dr. Ambedkar says in his message to his followers – “educate, organize, agitate!”.

Always remember, what Lord Krishna says in Gita 2.37 – “tasmād uttiṣṭha kaunteya yuddhāya kṛta-niścayaḥ – get up and fight with determination. I am in your back.”

Author :Muktipada Behera, Social worker, reviewer of caste technology.

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