Thursday, February 5, 2015

India's and Nepal's Caste System -- Simply a Euphemism for Apartheid

The caste system is simply a euphemism for apartheid, plain and simple. The Indian Subcontinent, including Nepal,  is one of the most ethnically stratified regions of the world and has been plagued with extreme prejudice for eons. Caste protocol fetters the mind and all sectors of society, influencing behavior, attitude and development.
In general, most Hindus believe that a person’s current circumstances are preconditioned by former lives. People who perform well the prescribed duties of this life pave the way for favorable circumstances of a next incarnation. With regard to caste, an individual who aspires to rebirth in a higher caste must live a proper life in his or her present caste.
There was a time when caste was not designated by birth. Social assignment was according to tendencies and talents a person developed through choice and predilection. Persons were then grouped according to the path that a person selected. However, that era is far gone and the domain of caste has long since been determined by a person’s pedigree.
In Nepal, caste protocol was codified as law by autocratic Prime Minister Jang Bahadur Rana in 1854. Nepal was authoritatively run from 1846 to 1951 by a succession of prime ministers of the Rana family who overruled the  monarchy. Jang Bhadur Rana wrote the Muluki Ain, or legal statute that codified and entrenched caste discrimination by outlining different rights and privileges according to ethnicity. Although this law has been repealed, it still influences behavior and attitude. Moreover, the view that a person’s circumstances are pre-determined and ineluctable is cited as an impediment to development. In other words, because of a belief in pre-destiny, people are more inclined to accept unfavorable circumstances rather than strive to improve them.
During the self-serving Rana regime, Nepal was shut off from the outside world with the exception of a solitary British delegation in Kathmandu. The tyrannical oligarchy was finally overthrown in 1951 and with restored power, King Tribhuvan opened the borders of Nepal to the world.
A Nayaa (New) Muluki Ain was written in 1964 that stated that superiority cannot be claimed based on race, creed or caste, but the statute did little to nothing to change actual circumstances. To this day, there is roughly a 40% difference in literacy between the Brahmins and the so-called ‘lowest’ caste as well as a lifespan difference that favors the ‘high’ caste by 10 years. It was not until the year 2000 that the kamaiya system of bonded labor was formally banned, officially ending slavery for many, although bonded labor largely continues with exploited children — – one of the many ills of grinding poverty and the lack of transparent rule of law.

Many foreigners are oblivious on caste and that might be harmless except when unwittingly aiding and abetting apartheid by associating closely and almost exclusively with higher castes – entrenching caste positioning and small minded beliefs of superiority as a birth right. For example, the founders of modern yoga schools that are teaching hatha yoga asanas, including Pattabhi Jois, the late B.K.S. Iyengar, and Bikram Choudhury are Brahmin…other boys considered ‘lower’ caster were simply not allowed the chance to study yoga and Hinduism in their era and that continues unto this day. With ‘higher’ castes embedded in the upper echelons of all sectors of society from positions within the dominant Hindu religion, to politics, law, law enforcement, the military, police, media, education, medicine, engineering, government and beyond, the stranglehold is strong and exclusion continues to this day, often subtly and usually unseen to foreign eyes.

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