Two concerns in Hinduism:
system & the status of women
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.
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 Jătis 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
Brahmins (the priests and academics)
Kshatriyas (rulers, military)
Vaishyas (farmers, landlords, and merchants)
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:
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.
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:
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.
Infanticide: This involves the actual murder of a
newborn females, typically because of her gender.
Widespread neglect of girl children.
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 25 years may have been:
The Rwandan genocide during 1994 which involved the murder of about 800,000
persons based on tribal identity, and
"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
More information on the sex ratio in India:
Many families in India prefer boys to girls when building their family. A major reason is that dowries are often required by the husband's family when girls marry. Although dowries have been banned since the 1960's, they are still common. Another reason is that a woman will often leave her famly of origin and join her husband's family when she marries. A third reason is sexism in favor of males. Girls are thus often looked upon as a burden by their parents.
Some women resort to abortion when an untrasound shows that a the fetus is female. Abortions in India are legal up to 12 weeks gestation, but an ultrasound test typically cannot determine the gender of the fetus until much later. Although it is illegal, some clinics offer a package deal to pregnant women that covers an ultrasound test and includes an abortion if the fetus is female. One study in 2011 found that there were a half million sex-selection abortions a year in the country. 10
According to an article in The Atlantic, thousands of girl babies are abandoned after birth and allowed to die. 10
CNN published a disturbing infographic during 2014 showing the ratio of girls to boys aged 0 to 6 in India for each state and for the country as a whole. They found:
Punjab and Haryana states to the northwest of Delhi had the lowest ratio with fewer that 850 girls per 1,000 boys (i.e. a surplus of boys in excess of 17.6%).
Jammu and Kashmir states to the North of Delhi had the next lowest ratio with between 850 and 875 girls per 1,000 boys (i.e. a surplus of boys between 14.3% and 17.6%).
Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh states had a ratio of between 875 to 900 girls per 1,000 boys. (i.e. a surplus of boys between 11.1 and 14.3%)
For the country as a whole, the sex ratio appears to have improved during the first decade of this century. The total population was composed of:
During 1991: 495 million females in the country and 531 million males. (a 7.3% surplus of boys).
During 2001: 496 million females and 532 million males. (a 7.3% surplus of boys).
During 2011: 586 million females and 623 million males. (a 6.3% surplus of boys).
The global sex ratio -- the average for the entire world -- in 2010 was 986 females for each 1,000 males. (a 1.4% surplus of boys).
For more information, we recommend that you Google India infanticide, or India feticide, or India status women