What is adhikAra? (fwd)

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Tue Jun 16 16:04:05 CDT 1998

On Wed, 3 Jun 1998, Prashant Sharma wrote:

>     The current caste system includes  social ills like untouchability.
> Are you trying to say that these things existed even in the time of the
> Buddha?


> These ills are  considered by sociologists to be a spin-off  of
> the desire for political power and  dominance of the "upper" caste, rather
> than as something which has been practiced from day one.

Economic and political factors are only a part of the meaning of caste.
Maybe a big part but it is too simplistic to say they are _the_
explanation.  Take for example the cultural situation in Gujarat.  The
part where my mother comes from was ruled by the Maratha Gaekwads.  They
were enthusiastic patrons of Sanskrit culture and Brahmans promoting them
to high political positions.  The land as well was prosperous and
stable.  My Fathers side on the other hand comes from a part that is
chronically drought-stricken and ruled by no less than 202 different
Rajas, some of them Muslims and some of them no more than trumped-up
bandits.  While there is some difference in outlook and customs between
the two areas Brahman culture is more similiar than different.

> Besides, the
> practice of the sanAtana dharma has not even the remotest connections to
> exploitation of one group of people by another. In other words the part of
> orthopraxy that has direct bearing to a regions body politik has to arise
> with changes in the political system and cannot be independent of it.
> Therefore it can be discarded without any loss of "dharmic" activity.

I don't think oppressing some landless peasant is the price of admission
into Brahmanhood.  I myself have managed to avoid it so far. ;-)  But
being a member of a caste does have a bearing on ones relationships with
other people, chiefly in matters of "roti aur beti" as the saying goes.
Oppression is a slippery word which isn't always as precise as people
think it is.

A few years ago when I was starting to learn about Dharma in earnest, the
sister of one of my Mothers friends asked me to say Satyanarayana Katha at
her house right here in NJ.  I usually refuse such requests because I want
to wait till I really know Karmakand well but she insisted and as it is a
fairly simple puja I said what the hell.  The lady who wanted the katha
was a Patel which is a caste traditionally ranked amongst Shudras though
it should be noted they are the politically and economically dominant
caste in the region.

Well there was a good crowd and things went rather nicely and as I was
finishing up I could smell the delicious smell of the prasad wafting in
from the kitchen.  Afterwards I was led to the kitchen by that time I was
salivating in anticipation.  So imagine my surprise when I was presented
with an envelope of and a bag of groceries and sent on my way.  When I got
home I asked my Mother in puzzlement what the bag was for and she said
"It's called sidhu in Gujarati and they gave it because they didn't think
a Brahman would eat in their house."

Now this encounter was obviously casteist and unequal.  But who exactly
got oppressed here?

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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