Kamlesh Kapur’s Critique of HAF Report

Editor’s Note: This critique was issued in the form of emails to HAF in the immediate aftermath of the report that was published late Dec 2010, and some later re-iterations, all compiled here by the author.


Letter to [email protected] dated Dec 15th 2010 from Kamlesh Kapur

Dear Dr. Meghani,

Namaste

I was shocked to read HAF’s report about caste- its alleged origin and its role or impact today.

The evolution of the Varna and emergence of Jaatis escape the report which makes the report

  1. Seriously flawed, b. lopsided and c. plain wrong in some parts.

My general comments are given below:

  • A couple of years back HAF was fighting a legal battle for correct portrayal of Hinduism and Cast system in the textbooks. The designs of the Christian organizations and DFN ( a front for a church organization) were exposed.
  • Why are you now changing your position? Why did your erstwhile opponents suddenly become your trustworthy sources?
  • What is the overall purpose of the report? What will the report do in the hands of the USA congress or the human rights agency?
  • Are you asking the USA government to intervene and help Christian organizations to emancipate Hindu society? There are some hints in the report.
  • When Germans were flagellated for the wrongs done by Hitler; Germans eventually made it clear that Germany’s current population has nothing to do with the lapses of the leaders half a century back.
  • No child should be made to feel ashamed of the alleged lapses of his/her ancestors.
  • Just to bring a parallel, if caste is an integral part of Hinduism or has its roots in Hinduism because of texts such as Manusmirti, then is anti-Semitism an integral part of Christianity? After all it’s in the text.
  • When the USA faced civil rights discrimination and segregation, the reformers decried it/lamented it; ultimately the Civil Rights Bills changed discrimination. Indian Government or a black equivalent of HAF did not.
  • Suggestions of foreign intervention in Indian domestic issues is a dangerous suggestion. Please consider this as a serious flaw in the report.
  • A congress man once observed that if all Americans were to be of uniform race, religion and color, tomorrow, Americans will invent another reason for discrimination.
  • In the end, your report will continue the textbooks’ biased portrayal-  all about caste, women and Hinduism- the nexus of all evils in India. Our children (yours also) will hang their head in shame in the classrooms. Of course this will be a nuisance and embarrassment for the Indian Govt. not Hindus in India.
  • We are already embarrassed by this report

I suggest that HAF should recall the report and think of real issues to fight for.

The attached document shows my comments for some statements on a few pages. Even touching on some of the problems in the report has come out like 7 pages. The normal font is your paragraphs- bold font is my comment.

Please read it carefully. I read carefully HAF’s booklet.

 

If you want I can send comments on all the 163 pages- will take time.

Regards,

Kamlesh Kapur

This is regarding a report which was released by HAF on their website on Dec. 10th.This created an uproar worldwide not only among the academics and scholars but among people like me who have been fighting the battles for inclusion of India in the curriculum.
I read the report with shock.

The second page reads: ‘To All Those Who Have Suffered From Caste-based Discrimination Over The Centuries – Our Apologies That Hindu Society Failed To Live Up To Its Highest Teachings”

The word shame for Hindus is also mentioned a few times in the report.

More comments:


HAF has not read the Sanskrit text of MS

The criminal violations are not under the MS which was NEVER LAW OF THE LAND IN ANY KINGDOM AND ACCEPTED BY ANY KING. For the past six decades the law of the land is the Constitution of India and the protection of the people falls under the judiciary and the executive branch of the GOI. It is not for a foreign body to proclaim itself as an adjudicator for India with the help of foreign agencies.

I read the report three times. Each time I could not help feeling that there is no amendment possible, it needs to be thrown away.

Varna collapsed during the Muslim invasions. Jaati must stay to prevent marriages between cousins.

Musicians, architects, masons, dancers, wood carvers and all other specialized worker were lower castes. The actual word is separate Varna and not lower or higher category.
People in HAF have neither read proper history nor understood the dynamics of society and Biradari in India.

Manu Smriti was not written by Adi Manu. There were several Manus. Without seeing MS, how can one say it was good or bad? Besides India has a constitution which is not based on Shasras nor based on MS.

Comments on HAF’s report

Three points that bother even a casual reader let alone a person with historical background

1.What does HAF want to achieve with this report?

2.General flaws in the report– lack of proper understanding of the term caste, Varna and Jaati, evolution of jaatis and their purpose, the current dynamics of sporadic/localized incidents of discrimination among Hindus, large scale discrimination against low caste Christian converts- Christian crimes against Dalit women and children- a wide open case of massive  discrimination. The report is based on inaccurate understanding of the Varna-jaati socio economic structure, lacks historical perspective, and does not show that the authors have eschewed the Hindu texts. Because of this, there are contradictions on various pages.

3. The report claims the support of various Sampradayas by giving quotes from their leaders. These claims in the report are false. The fact that many leaders of all these organizations and many more (not mentioned in the report) decried discrimination does not mean that they support the contents of the report. Were these opinions given by the heads of the organization after reading the contents of the report? Please publish their comments on the entire report. If these are not available, please recall the report to make necessary corrections.

Some points clarified

Claim-‘HAF seeks to serve Hindu Americans across all sampradayas (Hindu religious traditions)’.
Does not- all Hindus living in America are not members of HAF, are not aware of their activities and do not subscribe to the initiatives pursued in a half hearted manner- case in point textbook lawsuit- what necessitated the settlement and where did the money ( donations and settlement amount) go? Many Hindus considered this betrayal of the cause.

HAF does not represent billion + population of India and cannot speak on their behalf- only Indian government can submit a report for the country to the country and to HAF or the USA government. Indians don’t need HAF and the cronies they are pleasing to intervene in the India’s domestic policy.

Page  about dedication

Ambedkar ‘s statement does not reflect current realities. During the last 60 years several affirmative action/ laws gave disproportionate opportunities to the minorities and have resulted in reverse discrimination.

<caste-based discrimination or birth-based hierarchy.> mentioned all through the report Caste is a misnomer, Varna is based on Gunas (qualities and aptitudes) for a certain occupation <Birth-based hierarchy> is not caste- it is jaati system- equivalent to surnames.

The numerous organizations listed are service based and have decried against discrimination.

They have not asserted that caste is hereditary, they fought against discrimination in general does not mean they subscribe to HAF’s report.

Hindus must acknowledge that caste arose in Hindu society, that some Hindu texts and traditions justify a birth-based hierarchy and caste-bias, (Vague and general. Failed to clarify which traditions and which texts did that? All texts emphasized the need to do Savadharma which means that work and spiritual path which is suitable to one’s gunas and qualifications) and that it has survived despite considerable Hindu attempts to curtail it. Caste-based discrimination represents a failure of Hindu society to live up to its essential spiritual teachings and is not an intrinsic part of Hinduism itself. It represents a lamentable gap between the Hindu teaching of divinity inherent in all beings, and the failure of society to put that precept into practice in its dealings with fellow Hindus.

There is always a gap between teachings and general practices of the society. Aspirations are fine- they provide the base and the guidelines for self realization.

Hindu Dharma has two distinct parts- Samanaya Dharma corresponding to Cosmic laws, the other is Vishesha dharma (specific to specific circumstances) Vishesha  Dharma is Desha kaal nimit and under this category fall the duties of a mother, a  father, a king so on and so forth. Varna Dharma falls under this category. According to Manu Smriti, everyone is born as Shudra because everyone is born ignorant; through knowledge do they become Vipras. At that point they are twice born.

During numerous translations, this text became the most distorted and misquoted text.

Vishesha Dharma adjusts itself according to changing social realities.
The report shows very superficial understanding of Hindu Dharma .

In various pages the report blames scriptures- and then on other pages, it does not blame scriptures. Confusion and contradiction obfuscate its merit.

HAF has not studied historical evidence. Megsthenese, 4th century B.C. does not mention the Sudra as a social class. He mentions six classes of society; nor does Fahien, 4th century A.D. T.W. Rhys Davids# distinguishes between Varna and jaati. According to him, Varna stands for colors (read attributes and Gunas) and the latter for birth. The latter is more like a surname or last name in the western countries. In neither sense it had anything to do with the building of caste prejudices. He also states that during Buddha’s time, caste system did not exist. “In Pali and other contemporary texts, these two terms occur as synonyms.”#

Untouchability is a function of hygiene and is not related to economic
conditions and lifestyles or scriptural mandate.

Did Untouchability exist in ancient India?

In the Vedic and post Vedic literature there is no mention of the word untouchability nor is there any reference to such a class. Just as India before independence coined the word Harijan and after independence the word- Dalit, so was the word untouchable coined during the British times when the British became the super caste and treated everyone else as inferior class to them.
Brahmins were an oppressive class is a conclusion not based on historical accounts. Dr. B.V.K. Sastry says, “Brahmins were never a social majority in any period of society. For that matter, a careful study of these same works shows that the society had a set of rules, diluted set of practices for the larger groups of the society. And these rules had segmentations related to the religious guidance – performance of the religious obligations and duties- the ethical aspects.” The austere life expected from the spiritual teachers and priests was followed in all faith traditions. There were Buddhists monks, Jain Munis etc. One can assume that there were Jain Brahmins, Buddhist Brahmins, and orthodox Brahmins, Naiyayikas Brahmins, Carvaka Brahmins, Saivite Brahmins, Vaishnavites Brahmins and the like.

The report fails to mention that the following factors have led to the collapse of Varna distinctions.

a. education,

b. movement to cities,

c. inter cast marriages,

d. individualism and new economic opportunities,

e. industrialization and factory workers from all jaati working in close proximity. Restaurant business employs people from all Varnas; and food lovers of all castes eat there.

However, the Government wants to keep the caste conflicts alive so that the minorities keep the Hindu society fragmented.

We must also recognize that caste violence in India today is significantly driven by political and economic considerations and occurs not between “upper” castes and SCs but rather largely between the erstwhile “backward” castes and the SCs. For this reason, eradicating caste-based discrimination not only places a religious responsibility on Hindus, but also a secular responsibility on civic and business institutions, and a political responsibility on the GoI as well as state and local government and law enforcement. Effective implementation of police reforms and stringent law enforcement are critical in combating caste-based discrimination. (Contradicted the previous paragraph) If so, how are Hindus responsible for it? Will the problem of discrimination go away by forcing Hindus to take a guilt trip? Political goons, mafia, criminals with the help of the police and sons of the politicians create these crimes. Crime is not caste based nor is it general discrimination.

In this context, why is American govt. involved? P 10

Is Indian govt. going to listen to the reports about crimes against women and children in America? Will GOI ask HAF to submit a report on pedophilic priests so that discrimination against the helpless in the parish be stopped?
Is India looking to the westerners to solve its internal problems?
GOI is perpetuating the caste tags

This is why we argue that Hindu society has a great moral burden to act in a more determined and concerted fashion to end caste-based discrimination.

Hindus had no power base for a thousand years. Today also, Hindus have no power in India. The government is by the minorities for the minorities and of the minorities.

Hindus have no control on GOI’s caste based agenda to perpetuate the categories for block of votes. Is America going to interfere with GOI to relinquish its vicious agenda and vote bank politics? Pushing caste in the census and caste based politics (by creating artificial cleavages) in major states as well as in the central government are the root cause that the local level discrimination continues. Whipping the Hindus for not doing their part and lamenting it in a report for the USA congress or any of its agencies; the report does not explain how does this help remove caste discrimination? Does HAF expect the USA government to send agents to correct the discrimination?

Hindus as a majority have no rights, decreasing number of positions in education, jobs and universities produce verifiable data.

Page 12
UNICEF estimates 250 million individuals worldwide suffer from caste-based discrimination.

Are these all Hindus? Does caste exist in other countries? If so, are Hindus responsible for creating it or are they responsible for demolishing it?

< The caste system, as it has developed in the Indian subcontinent, is a birth-based hierarchy. Wrong

What makes this caste system unique is that (i) its hierarchical and discriminatory
presuppositions have pervaded and permeated very deeply in Indian society to an extent not seen anywhere else in the world; and (ii) it has withstood most attempts aimed at ending the practice right up until now.>

Wrong spin and historically wrong

Unlike most social hierarchies, the caste system positioned the priests at the apex of the societal pyramid, even above the kings and princes, and has had the support of some of Hinduism’s numerous religious texts, especially those that dealt with rituals, law, and social organization. This functioned to embed it into the more orthodox elements of the belief system and in a way that has allowed it to survive to present day. However, many Hindu saints, teachers, and leaders have fought against caste-based discrimination and a birth-based hierarchy for hundreds of years, and Hindu scriptures are filled with statements extolling equality and fairness, and specifically commenting against caste-based discrimination and a birth-based hierarchy.

It seems the authors of the report have not studied Indian History (or studied the grossly distorted versions against which HAF itself was fighting for) nor have they understood the dynamics of Varna in different parts of the subcontinent. What happens in two villages of the south does not happen at all in Punjab- just one example. Many others can be given.

Page 14
They exist as complex sub-groups within the four-fold varna system. Not true

As a side note if caste is an integral part of Hinduism or has its roots in Hinduism because of texts such as Manusmirti, then is anti-Semitism an integral part of Christianity? After all it’s in the text.

Jaatis preserve the society from incestuous marriages. Surnames and Jaatis should never be abolished.

The following news is dated Dec. 15, 2010.
“When spectrum scam broke out, Karuna said that Raja is being targeted because he is a dalit. It is really pathetic to note that Raja had grabbed the lands of poor dalits in Perambalur and sold the same at exorbitant rates within 6 months.  Coercive tactics were used to take the lands from the marginalised dalits. Yesterday many of the channels showed the poor dalits, virtually weeping.”
[email protected], [email protected]

Is the above caste based inspired by Hindu traditions and scriptures?

The most objectionable is the dedication ‘To All Those Who Have Suffered From Caste-based Discrimination Over The Centuries -Our Apologies That Hindu Society Failed To Live Up To Its Highest Teachings”

The word “shame” for Hindus is also mentioned a few times in the report.
The general principle followed while teaching is that no child should be put to shame for the alleged deeds of his ancestors. This report will be used in the classrooms to put our children to shame. How will this end the so called caste discrimination?

More comments:

 

HAF has not read the Sanskrit text of MS

The criminal violations are not under the MS which was NEVER LAW OF THE LAND IN ANY KINGDOM AND ACCEPTED BY ANY KING. For the past six decades the law of the land is the Constitution of India and the protection of the people falls under the judiciary and the executive branch of the GOI. It is not for a foreign body to proclaim itself as an adjudicator for India with the help of foreign agencies.

I read the report three times. Each time I could not help feeling that amendment is not possible; it needs to be thrown away.

Varna collapsed during the Muslim invasions. Jaati must stay to prevent marriages between cousins.

Musicians, architects, masons, dancers, wood carvers and all other specialized worker were lower castes. The actual word is separate Varna and not lower or higher category.
People in HAF have neither read proper history nor understood the dynamics of society and Biradari in India.

Manu Smriti was not written by Adi Manu. There were several Manus. MS was written by some one known as Manu in the last half of the first millennia B. C. Without seeing MS, how can one say it was good or bad? Besides India has a constitution which is neither based on Shasras nor based on MS.

Further comments sent to HAF on Dec. 24th 2010
HAF has no authority to speak for all the Hindus in America let alone in India and the rest of the world.

Many of the HAF executives who prepared the report have not fully grasped the Smritis and the texts.

HAF has not understood the historical developments which have made many Smritis irrelevant.

Jaatis should not be confused with Varna Dharma

Some translations of MS are distorted by later translators. HAF has no authority to reexamine these texts and impose their interpretations on others and then format it as a legally binding report on the Hindus worldwide and Hindu in India.

What the rest of Indian society is doing in India is also not their problem to resolve unilaterally or by seeking the help of various agencies and groups. Many of the groups are the ones with whom the textbook battle was fought by HAF.

How did the opponents become the best sources for the report now?

These are the issues that HAF is answerable to all Hindus.

If HAF drops this report, this whole acrimonious episode will be soon forgotten and this itself will be a victory for the HAF.

On Jan.7th 2011The following comments were sent:

  • What is the overall purpose of the report? What will the report do in the hands of the USA congress or the human rights agency?
  • Who wanted such a report to be the stick to beat the Hindus. If the members of the HAF have not read the original texts quoted then whose research of these texts was the basis of the report?
  • HAF’s Claim-‘HAF seeks to serve Hindu Americans across all sampradayas (Hindu religious traditions)’ is incorrect and misleading.
  • HAF does not represent all the Hindus living in America. All the Hindus are not members of HAF, are not aware of their activities and do not subscribe to HAF’s initiatives pursued in a half hearted manner- case in point textbook lawsuit- what necessitated the settlement and where did the money ( donations and settlement amount) go? Many Hindus considered this betrayal of the cause.
  • Does HAF represent billion + population of India? If not it cannot speak on their behalf- only Indian government can submit a report for the country to the country. Others can access it too. Indians don’t need help/ solutions from HAF and busy professional living far away from Indian society who probably had little chance to understand the dynamics of Varna and Jaati in the Indian family system.
  • In any future conference or meeting, the clear purpose of a report may be stated, guidelines provided and consensus from the community obtained.
  • Has HAF or any US based organization legal right to intervene in the social set up of another country? No organization or group of individuals can ask the U.S. government to intervene in India’s domestic policy matters.
  • HAF has waited five years to frame this report, let everyone spend another few years to reexamine the issue but only after this report is dropped completely. After carefully reading it, I found that corrections or patching here and there will not work. Hedging around the points will delay the solution and cause more agony.

Kamlesh Kapur is the writer of Portraits of India- History of Ancient India. Chapter 13 deals with social Structure in Ancient India- Varna and Jaati.
Chapter 11 deals with Vishesha Dharma (specific Dharma) which is place time, circumstance bound under this category Varna Dharma falls.

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