Friday, February 26, 2010
Open Letter: Ignoring Caste-Based Discrimination is not the Solution from (HAF)
Source Hindu American Foundation (HAF)
I cannot begin to express my dismay at recently reading a piece by a prominent leader of an international Hindu organization founded by some of the most progressive Hindu leaders. The unfortunate piece highlights a serious need for the Hindu community to awaken to the realities of caste-based discrimination as it exists today.
To state that, "Untouchability is a bygone problem in our country [India]. It is only the Church which has been harping on this signature tune of their proselytisation agenda," ignores a very real social evil that affects not only Hindus suffering under the archaic practices, but Hindus worldwide, who must live with the knowledge that our ancient Hindu teachings of tolerance, equality, love, compassion and dignity are at odds with our society's actions. The reality is that untouchability is a major problem in India, one in which countless Hindus, including those from every major religious and spiritual organization, have dedicated their lives to uplifting. The problem of untouchability did not end with Swami Vivekananda's calls for its elimination, Swami Dayananda Saraswati's casteless ideology of Arya Samaj, Mahatma Gandhi's call for its eradication, nor the enactment of the Indian constitution.
Claiming that it is no longer an issue makes a mockery of Hindus who have dedicated their lives to its removal, working in every corner of India, in slums and villages, in mountain towns to desert encampments, from Mumbai to Calcutta, from Delhi to Chennai. It also ignores the fact that every major Hindu religious leader, including Swami Avdeshananda Giri, Swami Dayananda Saraswati and his AIM for Seva movement, Swami Bodhinatha Veylanswami, Mata Amritanandamayi, Sri Sri Ravi Sankar, Swami Tejomayananda, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, Swami Chidananda Saraswati and Dada Vaswani, has called for the end of untouchability and in fact, suggests a gross ignorance of these highly respected religious and spiritual leaders of India and Hinduism.
Brushing aside the current caste problem in India with broad sweeps of history, ignores the fact that not just Hindus, but huge numbers of Indians, still face some level of caste discrimination on a daily basis. Today, Hindus have the ability and capability to collectively rid India of caste discrimination and untouchability. Accepting Hindu society's current responsibility to do more for the caste problem does not mean Hindus have to ignore the role of Islamic invaders, British opportunists, Christian missionaries or Indian politicians in furthering caste discrimination or the fact that caste discrimination is a very gross reality in other religious and ethnic communities in India and worldwide. Yet we still have leaders who, by refusing to look at numerous studies on caste discrimination at face value and by refusing to listen to the masses, prevent the strengthening of Hindu society by their indifference. In many ways, these leaders actually hinder Hindus from uniting. Thus, we urge Hindu leaders to look at the situation with objective eyes, rather than through lenses clouded with enmity from past invaders and current political machinations.
My own experiences, along with those of others at the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), have been shaped by direct contact with villagers, who despite being proud Hindus and who can recite the Ramcharitamanas by heart, still are not allowed to enter there village temples or socialize freely without others constantly reminding them of their so-called low caste status. And similar experiences have been shared by many others, spanning all social, religious, cultural, linguistic, political and professional strata. These direct experiences cannot be ignored or minimized. I hope that others will speak out, as speaking out does not mean disrespect, but instead puts our conscience and hearts for the future of Hindus worldwide and Hindu dharma above blind respect for any particular leader.
HAF has also been working on its own report on caste discrimination, to not only highlight the reality of the problem, but also to show that while Hinduism is not the cause of the problem, it can be the solution to the problem. This report will be released in several months, and includes statements by prominent Hindu spiritual and religious leaders who acknowledge this problem and clarify how Hinduism can help resolve the social problem of caste discrimination. Ignoring the problem will not resolve it. And so I urge the author of that unfortunate piece to reexamine the realities of India, acknowledge the social evil and use his leadership and prominence to aid in eradicating caste-based discrimination.
Mihir Meghani, M.D.
President and Co-Founder, Hindu American Foundation