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Caste versus Class – Mahatma Gandhi


Mahatma Gandhi did a beautiful comparison between caste and class. He told Man being a social being has to devise some method of social organization. We in India have evolved caste: They in Europe have organized class. Neither has the solidarity and naturalness of a family which perhaps is a God-ordained institution. If caste has produced certain evils, class has not been productive of anything less.

If class helps to conserve certain social virtues, caste does the same in equal, if not greater, degree. The beauty of the caste system is that it does not base itself upon distinctions of wealth-possessions.

Money, as history has proved, is the greatest disruptive force in the world. Even the sacredness of family ties is not safe against the pollution of wealth, says Shankaracharya. Caste is but an extension of the principle of the family. Both are governed by blood and heredity.

Western scientists are busy trying to prove that heredity is an illusion and that milieu is everything. The sole experience of many lands goes against the conclusion of these scientists; but even accepting their doctrine of milieu, it is easy to prove that milieu can be conserved and developed more through caste than through class. The Anglo-Saxon is temperamentally incapable of appreciating any outlook but his own. One can understand his violent opposition to everything that goes against his grain. But Indians, whether Hindus or Christians, ought to be able to see that the spirit behind caste is not one of arrogant superiority; it is the classification of different systems of self-culture. It is the best possible adjustment of social stability and progress. Just as the spirit of the family is inclusive of those who love each other and are wedded to each other by ties of blood and relation, caste also tries to include families of a particular way of purity of life (not standard of life, meaning by this term, economic standard of life).

Only, it does not leave the decision, whether a particular family belongs to a particular type, to the idiosyncrasies or interested judgment of a few individuals. It trusts to the principle of heredity, and being only a system of culture does not hold that any injustice is done if an individual or a family has to remain in a particular group in spite of their decision to change their mode of life for the better. As we all know, change comes very slowly in social life, and thus, as a matter of fact, caste has allowed new groupings to suit the changes in lives. But these changes are quiet and easy as a change in the shape of the clouds. It is difficult to imagine a better harmonious human adjustment.

Caste does not connote superiority or inferiority. It simply recognizes different outlooks and corresponding modes of life. But it is no use denying the fact that a sort of hierarchy has been evolved in the caste system, but it cannot be called the creation of the Brahmins. When all castes accept a common goal of life a hierarchy is inevitable, because all castes cannot realize the ideal in equal degree. If all the

castes believe that vegetarian diet is superior to animal diet, the vegetarian caste will naturally be looked up to. There are certain sub-castes in India that have ever stood on a par with each other, and yet have not interdined or intermarried. Just as a Hindu or a Mohammedan does not think himself an inferior of the other because

of his differences of faith, or just as a Brahmin or a Lingayat in Southern India mutually refuse to inter drink, all castes can confine their food and drink to their own caste. Only by accepting the standard of the Brahmin or the Vaishnavas as the best, have the other castes consented to dine at the hands of the ‘purer’ castes. Touch, drink, food and marriage are progressively private affairs. But by refusing to touch a man, you practically refuse all intercourse with him. He is thus denied all the fruits of social development. The touchable, for instance, can all attend the kathas, the kirtans (religious sermons). They can visit temples and thus get the

free education of religion, rituals and arts. In the temple, all the touchable exchange their love and service and the fruits of civilization. The ‘untouchables’ are automatically barred from all that. In many places, being required to live outside the village, they are deprived of even the protection of their life and property. In the social division of labour they do one of the most important duties to society, and they are deprived of the fruits of the great social life which is evolved by the family of castes. Untouchability has made the ‘depressed’ classes the Cinderella of Hindu society. The question of food and drink has or ought to have no social value. It is merely the satisfaction of physical wants. It is, on the other hand, an opportunity for the control of the senses. Inter dining has never been known to promote brotherhood in any special sense. But the restraints about inter dining have to a great extent helped the cultivation of will-power and the conservation of certain social virtues.



Young India, 29-12-1920


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