The appalling endemic poverty of the Indian masses and its little-explored religious roots.
Posted on December 19th, 2011

R Chandrasoma

Throughout history, some societies have lived at the edge in terms of human survival and have been plagued by misfortunes arising out of the natural chaotic order of things. Until recently, aboriginal populations of Africa and Asia lived a perilous life beholden to fancied gods for a plain and threadbare existence. This model does not apply to a country like India where great wealth and opulent living were seen from the earliest times. While the masses wallowed in a seemingly irremediable and endemic wretchedness, the privileged few lived well and enjoyed the good life. They.found a rationale and a justification for this gross social injustice in the religious beliefs of the day. The doctrine of Karma or eternal retributive justice formed a straightjacket for all religious speculation in India ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” be it Buddhist, Hindu or Jaina. While its religious expression may involve subtleties that the learned and the devout may argue over, there was a societal corollary that had a devastating impact on the ordering of society ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” forcibly based on a hierarchical power structure and the stranglehold of the elite over the despised.

The devastating truth religiously revealed was that the poor, the wretched and lowly were serving a term of punishment for the misdeeds committed in previous lives. Thus social engineering to thwart this natural order was seen as a violation of the religious law of meet and appropriate punishment for the wrongdoer. The horrendous caste system of India is a stark reflection of the continuing dominance of a diehard metaphysics of Karma that cuts across all socio-cultural levels of Indian society. There is a logical extension of this fearful Karmic Law that must be stated in its unadorned form because of its dire opposition to the evolution of social justice. It is the belief that good karma is accrued by serving the meritorious. There is no merit in serving theƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  humble and the weak. The Brahamins (Mahana Babunas) were living conduits to future felicitous states and demanded service from lesser folk. The lesser beings and outcastes (Neech Kula) had only the contagion of ignorance and moral depravity to offer and must, therefore, be shunned. Thus humanitarian service ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” helping the poor and the weak ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” was deemed a pointless distraction for oneƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  engaged in the arduous task of moral perfectioning that leads to moksha. That this is a dreadful violation of humanitarian ideals and is the foundation for the continued wretchedness of millions in India need not be expatiated on. In contrast to the famous dictum Blessed are the Meek and Humble we have in Indian religions the admonition on the Accursedness of the Karmically Damned. Is it surprising that India is at the bottom in the expression of social justice in its teeming societies?

A comment musr be made about Buddhist practice in Sri Lanka. Our monks are not far behind the Indian religious ideologues in matters of karma and social order.. The sath-purusha is a morally accomplished adept and all services are fruitful when he is the recipient. The kind called the Asath-purusha includes the heedless masses and low-born (neecha-kula) and any service to them is an exercise in folly. The monks are ipso ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ facto sath-purusha and the giving of dana to them is the method par excellence of abbreviating oneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s samsaric journey. In fairness to the Buddhist population of Sri Lanka, it must be said that this elitist moral posturing is rarely taken seriously by the pious of our land. The higher ideal of Buddhist compassion for all has swamped theƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  sacerdotal elitism of the monastic schools.

8 Responses to “The appalling endemic poverty of the Indian masses and its little-explored religious roots.”

  1. Ben_silva Says:

    Religion is a deadly mind virus, that clouds thinking and keep people in poverty.Religion is indeed an opium for the masses. Religion should be a thing of the past. A religion that promote ‘giving up desires’ is deadly in the modern highly competitive, dangerous world.

  2. Christie Says:

    For Hindus people of the Island nation are lower cast exept the Hindis that include Tamils. This concept of it is, Karma that decides your birth as a high caste or low caste allows high caste Hindus to consider everyone else other than their caste as low caste.
    High caste hindus do not allow low cast to leave their locality. All Indians who went to Britosh dominions are high caste.
    So for iIndians in the Island nation all Sinhalese, Moors, Burghers and Malays are low caste.

    How many of these Indians (include Tamils) patronise businesses of other racial groups.

    Non Indians should boycott all Indian good s and businesses.

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    Dr Ambedkar, an Indian of Dalit (Untouchable) origin, became a Buddhist. Through education & knowledge of Buddhism he rose high and became the chief architect of the Indian Constitution. He became a leading Buddhist figure in India.
    Likewise, Dr Narendra Jadhev, also an Indian of Dalit origin, turned to Buddhism. He became the Director of the Reserve
    Bank of India.
    These are examples of how caste can be removed, through self effort, education & knowledge of Buddhism. The Buddha stated that : ‘a person is high born or low born only according his actions”.

    Practice of the caste system plus not laying emphasis on birth control has led to over population, poverty & non-growth for massive sectors of society in India. Even though the Constitution of India outlaws caste discrimination, the 3,000 yr old caste system prevails in some parts, including Tamil Nadu. That is what has happened in India, sad to say. However, hope lies with the higher teachings of the Hindu religion which has no caste system, i.e. only the 4 great Yogas prevail (Bhathi, Kriya, Gnana & Raj Yoga (Meditation), with NO reference to caste These 4 great Yogas are similar to the Buddhist teachings. (Yoga means Union with God/Truth/Allah). ‘Karma’ simply means ‘action & reaction’, it’s meaning misused in the case of the Caste system.

    In Sri Lanka, ancient caste practices are minimal compared to India. But, it would be well for all Lankans to note that : ‘by ones actions, one is low born or high born’.

  4. Voice123 Says:

    The Indian caste system has impacted negatively on Sri Lanka. India has changed little since colonial days. The Brahmins and other privileged groups conspired with the British to maintain and consolidate their privileged position. Even today, the privileged and the North Indian Brahmins (NIBs), predominantly Hindis (Gandhis, Nehrus, etc) and other North Indians rule India. Hindi NIBs (many of whom speak English at home), being only 50% of the population have imposed their Hindi language on the rest of India while at the same time chastising Sri Lanka for making Sinhala an official language! Tamilians have reacted against NIB dominance and discrimination but in a very muted way. NIB nationalism seldom criticises the West but tends to slavishly mirror European attitudes towards other races, eg looking down on Africans, Chinese, marketing that odious and slavish “Fair and Lovely” face cream of theirs, etc. Thinking it is futile to fight against the numerically superior and powerful NIBs, Tamilian nationalists have focussed their efforts in conquering Sri Lanka to build a nationalist Tamil nation free of the Hindi yoke. What about the other inhabitants of Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese, Muslims, Burghers etc, dont they have a right to continue living in their homeland, one may well ask? An Indian Hindu will answer that non-Tamil Sri Lankans do not matter. Why? Because all non-Tamil Sri Lankans are lower than the Dalits and on par with the Tribals and outcastes, mongrel people of South Asian origin who must live wretched lives according to karmic and cosmic law. Within Sri Lanka Tamilian nationalists found willing allies amongst the Sri Lankan Hindus and Tamil separratists due to the prejudices of their religious heritage and their nexus with the mindset and countries of the former British Empire. North Indian Brahmin Hindus look down on all other people of South Asia including Dalits, Tribals, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and Sinhalese etc. Even High-caste Hindu Tamilian nationalists from South India consider themselves, along with the Dalits as way down on the pecking order, lower than the North Indian Brahmins but far superior to the Sinhalese and other “mongrels” found in the island nation. This is why they endlessly go grovelling to the NIBs with their endless complaints about Sri Lanka and why the NIBs and their international allies must “give” them Sri Lanka for the lowly Tamilians to live and to chase out or ethnically cleanse all non-Tamil Sri Lankans from Sri Lanka, including the Sinhalese, Muslims, Malays, Burghers, etc. Unlike most Sri Lankans living in Sri Lanka, I meet Non-Resident Indians in the West socially. Most of these Indians are NIBs. One of them confided with me recently that he hopes that India, together with its Western allies can engineer a mass starvation or selectively target “unwanted” low-castes and the poor through biological warfare so that the pulation of India can be reduced drastically to about half of what it is and India can be a “rich and great” nation recignised as such by their patrons in the West. I didnt respond because I know the mindset. That is how many of these people think. Their own low-caste, non-Hindu people and neighbouring nations are refuse to be treated like garbage! Apartheid has ended in South Africa but the primeval scourge of India’s casteism continues unabated.

  5. mjaya Says:

    The caste system in Sri Lanka is different from that of India. In Sri Lanka (among the Sinhalese) the caste system is according to various professions. Karawa – fisherman, Govigama – farmers, Kumbal – potters, Halagama – cinnamon planters, Archiri – artisans, Deva – jaggary makers, Nekathi – musicians and dancers. Radala – aristocrats etc. Often there were times where interaction between castes was forbidden (especially inter marriage) and looking back the main intension would have been to protect the profession. With the exception of the Radalas, all other “castes” think that they are above all others based upon the importance of their profession. Happily the caste system among the Sinhalese people is dying out. During the turn of the 20th century it was very strong but by the end of the 20th century it is all but gone with the exception of marriage where it is still somewhat strong. The demise of the caste system is indeed a good thing.

    The caste system in India is based upon how man was created according to Hinduism.

  6. Fran Diaz Says:

    All SE Asian countries must address the problem of over population and ‘live within their means’ according to resources & finances available at least for basic needs. Going on producing children in large numbers is not the way to go – it would only lead to violence and disaster due to lack of basic needs. Limiting families to 1 or 2 children would be the wise thing to do, and this should be and best done on a voluntary basis through education in schools and Universities.

    Experiments in labs have shown that if rats are allowed to keep on reproducing in a limited space, they will turn on each other and kill each other.

    India has begun to use parts of the Neem (Kohomba) plant for purposes of birth control, by both men & women. Lanka ought to do the same, and grow Kohomba as a commercial venture to produce birth control pills & ointments.

  7. Ananda-USA Says:

    I strongly disagree with Mr. Chandrasoma on one aspect of this article: That of lumping Buddhism with Hinduism, and holding Buddhism also responsible for the continuation of the caste system in India … and elsewhere. On the contrary, the advent of Buddhism created a social upheaval in its day in India, confronting caste head-on and alleviating and uplifting the lower castes. In caused a veritable revolution in the minds of men.

    One of the PRINCIPAL DIFFERENCES of Buddhism from Hinduism is that one’s present condition in life is not taken to be immutable, unchangeable, cast in stone. In fact, Buddhism arose in India IN REACTION to the caste-based inequities of Hinduism that Lord Buddha preached against. While Buddhism shares with Hinduism the belief that one’s present condition is largely determined by a weighted cumulative sum of one’s samsaric acts of both good and evil, Buddhism teaches that every individual can, and should, strive to understand the true nature of things, and work to change his condition in his ordinary life as well as in his journey through the samsara, and achieve Nirvana through his own efforts. The Lord Buddha taught that both the king and the untouchable are endowed with the intrinsic inalienable ability to achieve greatness of soul, and the goal of permanent enlightenment in equal measure.

    We see the impact of this central Buddhist teaching and attitude in Buddhist countries in Asia today. On the whole, Buddhist countries have achieved a large measure of solcial equity and reduced or eliminated discrimination based upon caste. Sri Lanka is no exception.

    The Buddhist mindset of the vast majority of citizens of Sri Lanka set the tone for social progress in Sri Lanka since the dawn of independence in 1948 when we the people wrested the power to fashion our social policies again. It is not by accident that while India … with all of its much balleyhooed federal system of governance and state handouts based on caste that exacerbate communal divisions … languishes in the iron grip of an enduring caste system, with its attendant de-facto denial of education, and unequal access to public resources (water, pasture, the law, jobs etc) … Sri Lanka has forged ahead to reach a literacy and infant mortality equal that of developed countries, to empower and give equal de-facto status to women, to protect our children from abuse, to make justice accessible to all, to bring transportation and electricity to the meanest of rural homes, and to reduce landlessness and homelessness significantly. Where did these policies, and the motivation to implement them, spring from?

    Ask then, why is there a yawning gap between the social equity enjoyed by the citizens of India and Sri Lanka, when we were two sister nations that achieved independence one year apart in 1947 and 1948 with equally decrepit social and economic systems geared to the well being of our colonial overlord, and steeped in closely related cultural systems?

    Having studied the social and political evolution of these two countries since independence, I have come to a startling conclusion. The astonishing rise of social equity in Sri Lanka compared to that in India was propelled the Buddhist mindset of the vast majority, and by immersion in that Buddhist sea all, of Sri Lanka’s citizens. This is the KEY DIFFERENCE that enabled successive governments of Sri Lanka to implement policies that improved the lot of the poorest and most vulnerable of its citizens, without Brahmins burning themselves in the streets in opposition as in India, with the broad support of MOST citizens of Sri Lanka … even those who … like my own parents … lost property in the process.

    The much maligned Sri Lankan Buddhist priest, to their eternal credit and my heartfelt gratitude, played a highly significant role, in making social equality happen in Sri Lanka. Conventional labeling of the Buddhist priests as high-born and having a vested interest in preserving the kula-heritage of their priestly ancestry … is DEAD WRONG. On the contrary, they were at the forefront of urging the creation of a Dharmishta Rajyaya … in the Asokan Buddhist mold … and always taking a patriotic stand in defence of the nation.

    In post Gandhian India, apart from Ambedkar who also accepted India’s rich Buddhist heritage to solve his community’s problems, and arguably today’s Chief Minister Mayawati, most religious and political Indian leaders turned a blind eye to this seminal religious-caste problem that has hamstrung national progress. The social inequities in India have now grown to catastrophic proportions … creating a vast Naxalite-Maoist rebel movement enveloping 850 million of India’s approximately 1200 million people, and stretching across a wide swathe of India from Mumbai in the South West to Nagaland in the North East. Naxalites govern by night the land the government pretends to govern by day. Briefly, India has failed to assure social equity at the grass roots level, while Sri Lanka … to most intents and purposes … achieved it.

    I credit the Buddhist mindset of the bulk of our people for that astonishing achievement, that has set the stage for transforming our motherland, this resplendent isle, into the New Wonder of Asia in the coming decade!

  8. Fran Diaz Says:

    I would like to elaborate a bit further on an earlier statement I made i.e. “‘Karma’ simply means ‘action & reaction’, it’s meaning misused in the case of the Caste system”.
    On thinking further, it is not just a case of ‘misuse’, it is simply out of place. The Caste System was man made, not God/Truth/Allah made, and therefore, the word “Karma” has no place in the Caste System. Karma applies only in the Laws of God/Truth/Allah, and certainly not in man made systems to suit some people.

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