Monday, February 7, 2011

Kalavai Venkat’a brilliant critique of HAF Report on castes.


Given below are the few passages from Kalavai Venkat's critique of damaging report on Hindu castes by the HAF.

The entire text can be read at


Refutation of the HAF report done by Rajiv Malhotra and Sandhya Jain can be read here :-

Rajiv Malhotra on HAF "Caste" Report

Sandhya Jain on Caste & the misconceived report of HAF




Caste: a HAF-baked lamentation




Kalavai Venkat




HAF plays the fiddle in the missionary choir

The HAF-baked report alleges that the Hindu bhakti movement originally was a rebellion against Hindu orthodoxy, Brahmin priests, Hindu rituals, and the caste system. This is the pet theory of Christian missionaries and Marxist propagandists. The report faithfully repeats what the Hindu-baiter Romila Thapar wrote in her book Early India that I critiqued at length a few years ago.[4] The efflorescence of the Hindu bhakti movement was signaled by the arrival of the Saiva Nayanmars and the Vaishnava Azhwars in the first half of the first millennium in the Tamil country and flourished until the 16th century. The report alleges, without basis and echoing the Christian propaganda, that the bhakti movement was originally considered unorthodox (by the Brahmins).

Nayanmars and Azhwars sang their hymns advocating devotion to Siva and Vishnu respectively. The only polemics in their hymns are directed at Jainas and Bauddhas who are portrayed as opposing Vedic sacrifices.[5] Those were the times of the Kalabbhra rule in the Tamil country. The Kalabbhras are believed to have patronized Buddhism and Jainism. Bhakti saints bemoan the fact that paraphernalia needed to perform rituals in temples have been withheld by the Jainas. There is nothing in their writings that can be construed as a polemic directed at Brahmins or against rituals.

The great Saiva saint Appar, one of the Nayanmars, praises Siva as the Lord of the Vedas.[6] He declares that he was a Jaina ascetic once, during which time he was distracted from pursuing the truth. Sambantar, another great Saiva Nayanmar, has written at length about the greatness of the Vedic sacrifices, and has sharp words for those (the reference here is to the Jainas and other heterodox sects) that oppose the Vedic sacrifices. The absurd claim that bhakti saints opposed caste is belied by the very words of another great Saiva Nayanmar and exponent on tantra Tirumular, who sings:

Of crystal made is the Linga, the Brahmins worship

Of gold, the Kings worship

Of emerald, the Vaishyas worship

Of stone is the Linga, the Shudras worship[7]

The bhakti tradition was the torchbearer of Hindu orthodoxy during the medieval period. Will the HAF please illuminate which of these verses can be perceived as a rebellion against orthodox Hinduism, caste, or rituals? What compulsion made them distort Hindu texts and traditions and lend credence to a propaganda originally instituted by Christian missionaries and disseminated by the likes of Romila Thapar who deny there was any negative impact on Hinduism owing to iconoclastic invaders? Is this merely the case of sheer ignorance of Hindu traditions and texts on the part of HAF writers? Do they derive their knowledge of Hinduism only from tracts and translations written by Christians that are antagonistic towards dharma?

It is important to understand te Bhakti movement in its historical context. The Sangam literature is the precursor to the Bhakti movement. In the Sangam texts, the four Varnas were the norm as well as the ideal. One of the songs says that even though a person may belong to a lower Varna among the four, if he were to acquire knowledge, then those born of the higher Varnas would respect him.[8] Another song says that even if those of higher birth fell into poverty, the virtues of their higher birth wouldn't desert them,[9] while yet another says that one's character could only be commensurate with what is befitting the Varna into which he is born.[10] The oldest extant Tamil grammatical treatise also recognizes Varna.[11] The great Tamil savant Tiruvalluvar categorically stated that a Brahmin who forgets the Vedas could learn them again, but should he ever cease to be moral, the virtue of his high birth is lost forever. Elsewhere, he argues that the scruples of a king are measured against his ability to safeguard the Vedic learning of the Brahmins.[12] Thus regard for Brahmins, the Vedas and for learning in general was a feature common to all Hindus, and it was in this milieu that the Bhakti movement was born.
So it is not surprising to see the Bhakti saints express the same veneration for the Vedas and the Brahmins. But their central focus was moksha or liberation whereas the karma kanda of the Vedas, as evident from the Purva Mimamsa doctrine of Jaimini, were primarily concerned with only three of the four purusharthas: dharma, artha, and
kama. Bhakti transcends these and emphasizes on the the fourth purushartha. It would be the height of ignorance to interpret this as antagonism towards the Vedas.

Blame the victim, exonerate the oppressors

The HAF dedicates the report:

"To All Those Who Have Suffered From Caste-based Discrimination Over The Centuries

We Regret That Hindu Society Failed To Live Up To Its Highest Teachings

To Those Who Remained Committed Hindus Despite this Failure"

Untouchability is first recorded in India in the 12th century CE. Its origins in The Bible and its parallels from elsewhere in the world will be discussed in a future report. Many parts of India had by then been colonized by Islamic invaders. There was large-scale plunder and rape. Hindu society had well-defined rules that prohibited harming civilians during war. This fact is not only reflected in ancient Sanskrit and Tamil literature but is also recognized by Greek chroniclers who are surprised that peasants observe a battle in progress without fearing harm. The large-scale rapine committed by Islamic invaders would have shocked Hindu society in a way difficult for us to comprehend today.


Let us discuss a few examples of the circumstances that would have made it impossible for Hindus to fight inequities such as untouchability that came into vogue in India during this period.
Rishi Devala, appearing in the Sindh province in the 10th century CE, wrote a very laudable text called Devala Smriti in which he laid down the guidelines for the ablutions that a victim of rape might undergo so that she emerges pure—contrast this to the practice in Islamic society even today of "honor killings" when a woman is raped. In the west, even today, many victims of rape are psychologically and emotionally scarred for life because rape is essentially an act that signals the subjugation and total humiliation of the victim. It destroys, in Mahatma Gandhi's words, one's inner core. In pre-Islamic
India, where crimes such as rape were unheard of, and where the feminine was considered sacred, the effect would have been traumatic. Rishi Devala's benign and wise prescription would have helped those victims overcome trauma and perceive themselves as sacred again.


This pattern of plunder continued for centuries as evident from the fact that Rajput women, when faced with the inevitable rape at the hands of the Islamic invaders, after the Rajput men fought and died valiantly in the battlefield, resorted to sati and jauhar. In denying their would-be rapists an opportunity to rape those courageous women emerged victorious though they paid with their lives in the process. This practice did not cease after the British Christian conquest of India because resort to jauhar continued sporadically.

The Jats are another Hindu jati that put up valiant resistance to the invading Muslims. Needless to say, many Jat youth perished defending India. Many young Jat women were widowed and their children were rendered orphans. The Jat community resorted to the ancient Hindu custom of niyoga enabling the younger brother of the slain warrior to marry the widow. This not only offered protection and continuity of life to the woman but also enabled orphaned children find a new father who was a blood relative. In the west, even today, when a woman remarries, the child faces the prospect of abuse at the hands of the step-father when the child escapes the predatory attention of the Christian clergy. The Jat solution, on the other hand, rid two problems with one solution.

Even the pro-Muslim Cambridge Economic History of India (volume 1), edited by Marxist critics of Hinduism, Irfan Habib and Tapan Raychaudhuri, highlights the devastating famines precipitated by the brutal revenue collection of Islamic rulers that left the peasantry impoverished and dying, hardly propitious circumstances for Hindus to perform any kind of religious duty! It is the ignorance of this history that makes the attempted HAF critique of alleged Hindu 'human rights' violators, when they did not even have the ability to protect their womenfolk and survive hunger, particularly objectionable.

Islamic domination was supplanted by British Christian subjugation of Hindus. Mike Davis, in his well-documented treatise, The Late Victorian Holocaust, shows how exploitative British agrarian policies unleashed famine and starvation and pushed numerous agrarian jatis beyond the pale of civilized existence. Many jatis had to lose their lands to become indentured labor to pay exorbitant taxes to their Christian masters. Many such castes, having been cut off from all support systems, ended up as disenfranchised and eventually untouchable. Data proves that the practice of untouchability and the incidents of caste discrimination in the 20th century India are directly proportional to the extent of the lack of land ownership of the Harijan jatis. On the other hand, such practices of discrimination are practically non-existent in major Indian cities because anonymous cities are not governed by an agrarian economic system.

Dharampal was a highly trusted historian. Mahatma Gandhi asked him to research the plight of education in Hindu India. The factual findings were published in a research volume titled The Beautiful Tree. Dharampal marshals persuasive evidence to prove that wherever the Hindus could sustain their institutions, they educated all jatis in their traditional schools or patasalas. Every jati, including the Harijans, was proportionally represented as teachers and students, as evident from the Madras Presidency 1822-25 (Collectors Reports), Details of Schools & Colleges, Caste Division of Male school students:[13]








# of students







% of total student population







This would change in the 19th century when Christian missionaries, backed by the brute power of the colonial British administration, systematically destroyed traditional schools and denied education to a large section of Hindus. The new system of schools ushered in by the Christian missionaries charged exorbitant fees and denied entry to the Harijans. This resulted in disparate access to education across Hindu society. The celebrated patriot, social reformer, and scholar, Suddhananda Bharati documents the travails a Hindu family had to undergo to acquire education in missionary institutions. A lack of education led to difficulties finding gainful employment, plunging these Hindu families into poverty. It was not a coincidence that many revolutionaries in the initial phase of
India's freedom struggle hailed from Hindu families that had pledged everything so that their sons could get educated in missionary institutions.

Thus, Hindus were themselves a subjugated and disenfranchised people during the course of the millennium. How could such a people have marshaled the wherewithal to fight a social evil such as untouchability that emerged precisely during this period of Hindu disenfranchisement? HAF's accusation against Hindus is not just absurd but also unethical. It is akin to blaming the blacks for slavery and the Jews for not attempting to save other Jews from the Holocaust. It is shameful that the report tacitly exonerates Christian missionaries and British colonial rulers guilty of instigating and institutionalizing many forms of discrimination by laying the blame at the doorstep of Hindus. The HAF report gives the impression that caste structure has been rigid in Hindu society. The American scholar, Nicholas R. Dirks, refutes this and highlights the hugely negative impact of attempts by British colonial administrators to enumerate and often artificially impute caste identities in censuses undertaken. In his view, these censuses artificially ossified caste identities, which were in reality much more fluid before. This view is confirmed by census data from the early 20th century that Prof. M N Srinivas marshals. As the sample from census data summarized below reveals until then entire jatis could move across the
varna system in a very short span of time: [14]


Jati Name


1911 Census

1921 Census

1931 Census


























The following table summarizes the number of jatis and their new varna status per the 1931 census:[15]

Newly claimed Varna status




Traditional Varna status
















It was the British obsession with classification that would eventually lead to ossification subsequently witnessed in Hindu society.


Even Islamic and Marxist historians such as Irfan Habib have been more honest than the HAF on this count! Irfan Habib and his father Mohammad Habib fearlessly and unhesitatingly documented the subjugation of the Hindus at the hands of British Christian colonial masters as a result of the inhumane agrarian policies that were forced upon the farmers. Admittedly, the Habibs did not feel compelled to please the Christian establishment in the USA or to collaborate with them on some human rights agenda unlike ostensible contemporary defenders of Hindus.
Christian missionaries should be grateful to the HAF for this unexpected windfall. Hope they would one day reciprocate by doing unto the HAF what the HAF has done unto the missionaries with this report.


Affirming the Christian hate speech

Next the report declares, quoting the words of Ambedkar, that:

"There is no nation of Indians in the real sense of the word, it is yet to be created. In believing we are a nation, we are cherishing a great delusion. How can people divided into thousands of castes be a nation? The sooner we realise that we are not yet a nation, in a social and psychological sense of the world, the better for us."

What HAF has failed to understand is there is a world of difference between the nation as a political and territorial unit and the socio-cultural interconnectedness of a people. The former is a creation of the modern world, evolving and regularly challenged while the latter has ancient roots that highlight the profound potential unity of man immanent in the Hindu world view.
Hinduism is governed by the motto "Vasudaiva kutumbakam" or the entire world is a family. Hinduism celebrates diversity and preserves it. It recognizes the fact that unity is meaningful only where diversity exists. The caste system is a glowing example of the Hindu commitment to preserving all traditions. Each jati could follow different wedding, funerary, or dietary customs, or speak different dialects or languages. Yet they have always shared a common spiritual and cultural identity. Notions of dharma formed the core of such a shared identity.

At the same time, Indians clearly knew how to distinguish themselves from foreigners who did not share either their culture or their notions of dharma. In the Sangam Tamil literature, Roman mercenaries (yavanas) serving the royalty were called mlecchas following strange customs. The lack of hygiene of the European Christian colonizers repulsed Indians so much that they considered their colonial masters untouchables. From time immemorial, dharmasutra texts clearly delineated the boundaries that separated those who followed the Dharma in the homeland of Hindu society and those who lived beyond the borders and did not share our cultural values.

It was expedient for the British colonial rulers and Christian missionaries to plant the canard that
India as an entity never existed because that enabled them to divide, rule, and convert Hindus. What expediency governs the HAF in parroting the same canard?
This is not merely a canard. This is hate speech. Christianity and Islam seek to achieve homogeneity to dominate. Historically, Christian and Islamic invaders derived inspiration from their scriptures and committed genocide of many races including the Native Americans, Gypsies, and the Jews. Diversity, wherever encountered, first attracted the suspicion of the Christian church and then resulted in hatred of the "other," leading the Church to create fault lines and fissures, which were then exploited by the Church to divide and conquer throughout its history.

Prof. D. E. Stannard, in his daring treatise, The American Holocaust, documents how the Christian intolerance of diversity resulted in the genocide of over 100 million Native Americans. In my paper, From the Holy Cross to the Holocaust, published as part of the anthology Expressions of Christianity, I have shown how the Christian intolerance of diversity resulted in hate speech directed at the Jews which finally culminated in the Holocaust.


To argue that a society cannot attain unity despite diversity and divisions among its many castes is a notion that must be vigorously opposed. Historically, homogeneity has been regarded by oppressive elites as essential for political domination and control. The virtual eradication of European Jewry by Adolf Hitler was very much in this political mould and tradition. It has also been cultivated by the Church in its endless wars over heresy and the succession of its chosen royal houses. The USA is a prime example of how the obsession for homogeneity led to the genocide of Native Americans. In subsequent times, the blacks would be denied their freedom to follow their African religious traditions and speak their diverse languages eventually getting absorbed into the American society as segregated Christians. But their churches remain separate since whites and blacks apparently ascend or descend to a different heaven or hell on expiring, depending on their antecedent skin color! The contrasting equanimity of Hinduism in the face of diversity and its serenity over religious difference is a dramatic contrast that has been remarked on by many thoughtful observers.

It is sad to see the HAF advancing Christian hate speech to claim that unity is dependent on homogeneity. Many white supremacist groups in the USA too harbor a similar notion that for America to exist as an entity all Americans should be white, Christian, and only speak English. Dalits Christians are also asserting that India's national language should be English (code for endorsing Christianity as the national religion)! The HAF report will appeal to such groups but it would also earn the HAF a nomination for the Darwin Awards.[16]


Burn the Hindu sacred books!

The HAF-baked report was extensively reviewed, and possibly contributed to, by Jaishree Gopal and Prof. V V Raman (who goes by the fancy title Acharya Vidyasagar these days), two prominent members of the anti-Hindu group Navyashastra, which disseminates calls to burn sacred Hindu scriptures. The HAF report seems to prepare the way for this eventuality when it first acknowledges that none of the Hindu scriptures supports untouchability only to conclude that Hindu scriptures such as The Manusmriti promote caste bias, prompting HAF to call for their rejection by Hindu acharyas. The HAF is clearly oblivious to the fact that The Manusmriti is considered a defining text of great antiquity in Hinduism even though it has not been the code of law for millennia.


Hinduism is not a religion of the book(s) as HAF correctly acknowledges. Shruti and smriti are one of the many pramanas in Hinduism. Each sampradaya lays varying emphasis on a given shruti or smriti pramana. Then where is the need to reject an ancient text such as The Manusmriti? Internal analysis indicates that it was compiled in the Magadha province or the modern Indian state of Bihar. We do not know who its author was. The text attained a central place in Hindu history. Many other law texts were written over time but The Manusmriti was remembered as the gold standard. The great saint and philosopher, Tiruvalluvar, a Harijan by birth, renders sections of the Manusmriti into couplets in the Tirukkural. The legendary Chola king renowned for his sense of justice is remembered by the title Manu Niti Chola. The well-known poet Kambar hailed from a backward caste and rendered Valmiki's Ramayana in Tamil in which he evaluates Sri Rama's adherence to justice by using Manu as the gold standard.


The influence of Manu was symbolic, articulating the sanctity of the Vedas by its very presence, and not literal. It is futile to retroactively inject modern secular concerns in interpreting these ancient texts. Manu was the foremost lawgiver. Even though new texts emerged as society changed, and these various texts (rather than The Manusmriti) have been the codes of law during the historic period, Manu's contribution was not forgotten. In other words, the HAF is asking our acharyas to reject a text that has not been in vogue for millennia and which is rare to obtain today. A powerful case was made affirming this point by the feminist critic of Hinduism, Madhu Kishwar.

Most of our saints and powerful emperors have been Harijans or shudras. Yet, none of them found The Manusmriti to be a discriminatory text. Instead, they hailed it as a lofty text that safeguarded everyone's interests. Should not the authors of the HAF report have thought for a while as to why all attacks on this sacred text originated only from Christian missionaries while our saints had only words of praise for it? Anti-Brahminism and the stigmatizing of the word shudra are also of Christian missionary origin. Powerful kings of the past had proudly identified themselves as shudras. Vema Reddy, a great Hindu king who defeated the Muslim marauders called himself "a proud shudra who, like the sacred river Ganga, emerged from the feet of Vishnu."[17] He also equated himself with the sage Agastya. Vema Reddy's grandson was a celebrated Sanskrit scholar who wrote a commentary on the works of Kalidasa bearing testimony to the fact that learned men emerged from all varnas but none of them found our scriptures to be discriminating.


If the HAF has bothered to read The Manusmriti and its various commentaries in the original, they would have realized that the text does not promote caste bias. It does not accord preferential treatment to one caste over another. The text promotes social harmony. In pre-modern times most societies were rural and agrarian. People had limited mobility. Most occupations were hereditary. In such a society, it is important to safeguard the interests of various castes. The dharmashastra texts and texts on polity such as The Arthashastra aim to achieve this objective. The Arthashastra introduces the concept of sreni or guilds (such guilds were common in proto-Industrial Europe and considered essential precursors to modernity) to protect the interests of artisans and transmit knowledge to succeeding generations.  The Chanakya Niti disallows the Brahmins from taking to dairy farming, weaving & dyeing, and selling oil. These would have been the mainstay occupations providing livelihood to a vast majority of people in the ancient period. The dharmashastra writers, by denying Brahmins entry into these professions, were protecting the interests of many castes. Similarly, they were protecting the interests of Brahmins and a few others by restricting who could perform Veda yajnas. These stipulations varied over time and across geography depending on social conditions and various dharmashastra texts addressed those needs.


For instance in The Silappadikaram, a Jaina saint considers it inauspicious when the Brahmins give up chanting of the Vedas and take to other professions. The newly married Kovalan and Kannagi are dissuaded from entering a settlement where the Brahmin musicians reside, again because they have taken to a profession that is not allowed for them.[18]


It is pointless to self-righteously denounce such ancient texts animated by western prejudices since their rationale was contingent and contemporary in ways hard for us to comprehend.
Many important Hindu monarchs were Shudras or Harijans. A significant number of key Hindu scriptures were written by Harijans. Vyasa, Valmiki, Tiruvalluvar, Tirumazhisai Azhwar were all Harijans while other great poets such as Kambar were from what is known as the Shudra varna. These saints even refused to please powerful kings. On one occasion, the tradition says, when the king ordered a Vaishnava to leave the town for refusing to eulogize the king, the Harijan saint Tirumazhisai Azhwar left the town. Not only that, he ordered Sri Vishnu to leave the town with them. Sri Vishnu promptly complied. The message here is very clear. The saints will not bow their head to anyone other than Bhagavan. Had the dharmashastra texts been promoting bias as a matter of principle none of these great thinkers would have held them in high regard.
Evidently, the HAF decided to seek their knowledge of the dharmashastras from hostile Christian missionary propaganda instead of understanding them the way Hindu traditions have usually understood them. Even their call to denounce sections of the dharmashastras is an echo of the Christian habit of denouncing and declaring texts the church did not like as heresy.

Hinduism has a rich tradition of dealing with texts and practices that are no longer relevant. Our acharyas do not deny or denounce them. They just move on and write texts relevant to the times as Rishi Devala did during the Islamic invasions. The appeal to acharyas to denounce those texts is absurd. Hindu scriptures have evolved by absorbing and modifying different traditions they encountered without the denunciation and purges that are the hallmark of religions that murder and burn those they describe as heretics. Which other sacred tradition views the atheism of Nastikas with such serenity? How can one insinuate bigotry and intolerance against such a plural and tolerant scriptural tradition except for the mundane purpose of aiding imperial subjugation, the norm for Islam and Christianity?


It is also a selective appeal.

There is no text on the planet which is more violent and discriminatory than The Bible. Prof. Norman Beck has documented more than 450 antisemitic verses in the Bible[19]. Other eminent scholars have shown that the Bible with its anti-Semitism is deplorable while without anti-Semitism it is unthinkable. Christians see it as a literal text revealed by God. Hence they persecuted the Jews and sent them to the gas chambers during the Holocaust. Jesus also calls for forcible conversions and the genocide of non-believers. These teachings legitimated the genocide of Native Americans in order to usurp their land. Abominable practices such as untouchability are first found in the Bible, which is also easily available in many languages and widely circulated.

Yet, the HAF has not called upon the pope or the leading pastors to reject sections of the Bible which are inhumane. This is strange because, in the foreword to the report, Prof. Ramdas Lamb first declares other religions inherited caste discrimination from Hinduism then hopes "that this report can inspire like-minded Hindus and non-Hindus to work together to bring justice and a sense of equality to all Indians irrespective of caste or religion." It seems as though all religions should share the credit for removing discrimination but it is only Hindu texts that should be condemned. Ironically, a Hindu organization has made this call!


Hindu acharyas will not denounce any dharmashastra because, firstly, that is not a Hindu tradition, and especially so because they are knowledgeable of these texts and are aware that these lofty texts promoted social harmony. Hindus will denounce the HAF report, and by extension HAF's ability and standing to represent Hindus.