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Hindus and Hinduism

Two concerns in Hinduism:
The caste system & the status of women

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Disclaimer:

It is our policy to not criticize theological beliefs of any religion or spiritual tradition. However, we do occasionally criticize behaviors like sexism, racism, homophobia, religious intolerance. We do this even in those cases where denigration of others is derived from theological beliefs.

That is: we do not criticize beliefs, only practices that harm others. We feel that the following two examples by Hindus fall into this category.

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The caste system:

Although the caste system was abolished by law in 1949, it remains a significant force among Hindus throughout much of India. 

Each Hindu belonged to one of the thousands of Jătis (communities/sub-communities) that existed in India. The Jãtis were originally defined by the person's profession. They were grouped into four Varna (social castes). A fifth group called the "untouchables" were outside the caste system. A person's Jat determined the range of jobs or professions from which they could choose. Marriages normally took place within the same Jat. Typically, parents passed on their professions to their children.

Over time, successive generations became trapped within a single profession and thus a single community.

There were rules that prohibited persons of different groups from eating, drinking, or even smoking with each other. People were once able to move from one Varna to another. However, at some time in the past (estimates range from about 500 BCE to 500 CE), the system became rigid, so that a person was generally born into the Jat and Varna of their parents, and died in the same group with no possibility of upward mobility. 1

InvestIndia.com once concluded:

"The caste system splits up society into a multitude of little communities, for every caste, and almost every local unit of a caste, has its own peculiar customs and internal regulations." 2

The Rigveda, a collection of ancient Vedic Sanskrit hymns dedicated to the Gods, defined four varnas (castes). In decreasing status, they are normally described as:

bullet Brahmins (the priests and academics)
bullet Kshatriyas (rulers, military)
bullet Vaishyas (farmers, landlords, and merchants)
bullet Sudras (peasants, servants, and workers in non-polluting jobs). 

The Dalit were outcasts who are not even considered to be part of the caste system. Until the late 1980's they were called Harijan (children of God). They worked in what are considered polluting jobs. They were untouchable by the four castes. In some areas of the country, even a contact with their shadow by a member of the Varnas was considered polluting.

Practicing untouchability or discriminating against a person because of their caste is now illegal. The caste system has lost much of its power in urban areas; however the tradition has been preserved largely unchanged in some rural districts. The government has instituted positive discrimination by reserving a percentage of civil service jobs for Dalits, in order to help them.

Many Dalit have converted to Buddhism, Christianity, and other religions in recent years. This has often been motivated by a desire to escape the caste system. On 2001-NOV-4, one million low-caste Dalits were scheduled to meet in Delhi, India, for a mass conversion to Buddhism. According to Gospel for Asia, Dalits feel that:

"The only way for our people to find freedom from 3,000 years of slavery is to quit Hinduism and Castism and embrace another faith."

Mass conversions to Christianity have also occurred. 3 This has generated massive anger and even instances of violence and murder directed at proselytizing religions by some Hindus.

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Devaluation of females:

The status of women is typically discussed on a nation-wide basis. However, about 80% of the citizens of India are Hindu, 14% are Muslim and 6% are of other religions or no religion. Most of the negative behavior towards girls and women across the country can probably be safely attributed to the practices of Hindus.

Infanticide has been widespread in India for centuries. R.J. Rummel reported:

"In India, for example, because of Hindu beliefs and the rigid caste system, young girls were murdered as a matter of course. When demographic statistics were first collected in the nineteenth century, it was discovered that in "some villages, no girl babies were found at all; in a total of thirty others, there were 343 boys to 54 girls. ... [I]n Bombay, the number of girls alive in 1834 was 603." 4

A Reuters article in 2007-JUL reported on the high level in India of:

bullet Female feticide: This is the practice of using ultrasound instruments to determine the sex of a fetus, in order to abort fetuses that are found to be female.
bullet Infanticide: This involves the actual murder of a newborn female, typically because of her gender.
bullet Widespread neglect of girl children.
bullet Mob violence, including murders, victimizing women believed to be evil sorcerers. 5

The Gendercide web site reports:

"A study of Tamil Nadu by the Community Service Guild of Madras ... found that 'female infanticide is rampant' in the state, though only among Hindu (rather than Moslem or Christian) families. 'Of the 1,250 families covered by the study, 740 had only one girl child and 249 agreed directly that they had done away with the unwanted girl child. More than 213 of the families had more than one male child whereas half the respondents had only one daughter." 4,6

"Most strikingly, according to UNICEF, 'A report from Bombay in 1984 on abortions after prenatal sex determination stated that 7,999 out of 8,000 of the aborted fetuses were females. Sex determination has become a lucrative business'." 4,7

Using ultrasound techniques to determine the sex of a fetus with the intent of aborting it if it is female is illegal in India. However, the law is widely ignored because local officials are reluctant to fight the will of the people. 8

Reuters reports that:

"Around 10 million girls have been killed by their parents over the last 20 years, the government says, as female infanticide and foeticide, although illegal, are still prevalent with boys preferred to girls as breadwinners." 5

Data on infanticide is quite unreliable. However, if we assume that the 10 million deaths is an accurate estimate and that the cases involved 98% feticide and 2% infanticide, then the three most serious instances of genocide over the past two decades may have been:

bullet The Rwandan genocide of about 800,000 persons based on tribal identity, and
bullet The religiously-based genocide of about 200,000 in Bosnia Herzegovina, involving mainly Serbian Orthodox Christians targeting Muslims, and
bullet The murder of 200,000 newborn girls in India.

Reuters reports:

"Domestic violence and sexual abuse involving young girls is reported frequently in the country and a 2006 government survey found that 45 percent of girls were married before the legal marriageable age of 18."

"India's adult female literacy rate was 47.8%, compared to the adult male rate of 73.4 percent in 2004."

"The sex ratio in the country is still one of the world's lowest, with an average of 933 females recorded for every 1,000 males in the 2001 census."

" 'Education of girls even in big cities was dismal and census figures show that the population of the girl child was dropping,' said Chakraverti, adding that tough laws and education of parents were needed to force change. 'Most cannot complete primary education'." 5

Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, mentioned above, is a Wiccan and social activist. She has been nominated by the government's National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) to head a panel given the task of improving the status of young girls. 5

For more information, we recommend that you Google India infanticide, or India feticide, or India status women

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References used:

  1. "The Caste system," at: http://members.tripod.com/ 
  2. "India's social customs and systems: The caste system," at: http://www.investindia.com/ (Apparently offline)
  3. " 'Untouchables' on Verge of Turning to Christ," Religion Today summaries for 2001-OCT-5.
  4. "Case study: Female Infanticide," Gendercide Watch, at: http://www.gendercide.org/
  5. Bappa Majumdar, "Govt turns to Wiccan queen to save girls", Reuters, 2007-JUL, at: http://wwrn.org/
  6. Malavika Karlekar, "The girl child in India: does she have any rights?," Canadian Woman Studies, 1995-MAR.
  7. Yi Zeng  et al., "Causes and Implications of the Recent Increase in the Reported Sex Ratio at Birth in China," Population and Development Review, 19: 2, (1993-JUN), Page 297.
  8. "10 million females illegally aborted in India. Parents desperate to bear son changing nation's demographics," WorldNetDaily, 2006-JUL-07, at: http://www.wnd.com/

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Site navigation: Home page > World Religions > Hinduism > here

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Copyright © 2007 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2007-OCT-07
Latest update: 2013-OCT-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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