PICTURE CAPTION: Caste Uncast
During the festive season of Diwali, I was invited to someone’s home for a short visit, a family I had never met before. They graciously welcomed us in, and I felt the warmth of the welcome and the family as we entered. Upon sitting down, I observed a clean and well-decorated home, while being offered tea and snacks.
After the first few minutes of formality, while nibbling on cashews, the conversation of caste came up. I am against a caste system or labeling of any kind. In an effort to be polite, I answered the lady’s curious question, and said, “I’m a Baniya” (business folks caste). The lady then immediately asked, “What sect of Baniya are you?” I mentioned, “Gupta, Agarwal, Garg,” the names I had heard from my forefathers when I once enquired about my lineage. The lady immediately responded, and proudly elevated her right hand in the air, “Oh we belong to the highest sect of Baniyas, the Tayals, higher than you.” She rejoiced at this idea, while I smiled and thought to myself, good for you if that makes you happy.
As she continued talking about this subject, I held the space of compassion for her. She seemed stuck in the gross material world, where status, caste, and other symbols gives her a sense of identity. It somehow makes her feel better that she’s on top of the caste hierarchy. I began thinking does that truly bring her joy on a day-to-day basis? What does that translate to in her real world?
In ancient times, castes and sub-castes were created by the Aryans in the 1500’s for a larger purpose: to facilitate social relations in a community with people of similar professions, including the Aryans themselves. 5 castes (or groups) were developed, and soon this hierarchy came into being:
1. Brahmins (priestly people)
2. Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers)
3. Vaishyas (merchants, tradesmen) Baniyas are here.
4. Shudras (laborers)
5. Dalits (the untouchables)
While it served its purpose, there’s a huge downside which still exists today in modern India among traditional thinkers: one’s caste (now called social status) can determine the fate of where one can live, what one can eat, who one can mingle with or marry, the number of seats allotted in an educational institution, and even where one can be cremated. A newborn’s fate is decided even before it takes birth.
My spiritual teachings and observations have taught me we are all One. Just one particle of the same magnificent energy.
All boundaries created are manmade, be it country, religion, politics, socio-economic, race, or caste. The sun has no boundaries and sheds its light and source of life on all. The air, wind, seas, earth, beneath the earth and above the skies, have no sense of discrimination. That’s the essence of our True nature.
Whether one is a Brahmin or a Dalit, love all, be kind to all, respect all. For all this is Maya (an illusion), including the caste one identifies with. I was reminded of the social work I’ve done for the Dalits in Bihar (supposedly the untouchables), spending a few days with them, hugging them, sitting with them, and helping them in their impoverished surroundings. I intentionally chose to work with this group of Dalit villagers, to show them ‘they matter.’ I touched them, put my arms around weeping ladies who were hiding their unworthiness behind their saree pallus (the end piece of a traditional Indian garment draped over one’s head). I held the worn-out hands of older village men to give them comfort, for they have been subjected to their fate the longest of them all. The Dalits are as beautiful a soul as anyone, as equal to anyone, for they are created from the same Consciousness.
As I sat on her couch and conversations flowed, another conversation was going on inside me, a spark of my Guru’s words flashed: We are just a drop of water in this vast ocean. This lifetime is one wave. The wave cannot come into being without the ocean. There is no separateness. We will be reborn countless times until this Truth is realized.
My 15-minute visit to the lady’s home inspired me to write this story. As I said Namaste on my way out, I silently prayed for her awakening, so that she may shed her ego and realize who she really is. She’s much more than a Tayal, she carries the seed of universal consciousness!
Dr. Shivani Kumar,
The American Desi living in Rishikesh.
Posted BY: Admin On 20/11/2020 Under Category of: Blog