| The battle against social evils
|Following is an article published in an English daily - Deccan Herald
The battle against social evils
Most politicians will be out of business if the caste system and superstitions are done away with
BY P N BENJAMIN
Mahatma Gandhi regarded untouchability as a sin and described it as "a snake with a thousand mouths through each of which it shows its poisonous fangs." And to fight it he even went on a 12,500-mile tour of India in 1935 giving up his four-anna membership of the Congress Party in pursuit of his goal. He was not always a welcome guest in some places. In Pune an angry citizen threw a bomb at his motorcade. He received angry mail from sanatanists. But nothing deterred him. He carried on a crusade against untouchability with all the force at his command. And, he succeeded in exposing that ancient social sore. At the height of Gandhi's valiant crusade against untouchability, C Rajagopalachari, who was one of the front-ranking nationalist leaders of the time, in an article entitled 'The Revolution is Over' wrote: "What remains is but the removal of the debris." He wrote too soon. The debris continues to exist. Our political leaders would not like to see it removed lest along with the debris they too are swept away.
A social crusader
Gandhi was as much a crusader for social reform as he was a committed politician. The scene today is totally different. The politician-social reformer is an extinct species now. Social reform is of no one's concern. What is worse, caste has been turned into a political base. Many politicians would be out of business were caste to become irrelevant. It is they who are keeping it alive in order to cash in on the system. They would probably fight tooth and nail to prevent the abolition of the caste system, which today gives them political power.
"The castes are a handicap, they are no sin," wrote Mahatma Gandhi in Young India, June 1931. It is no longer considered a brave thing to fight casteism, or for that matter, even communalism. The point is that caste and casteism are no longer considered something basically offensive. Practically all political parties are guilty of condoning the system.
One has only to read the advertisements in the matrimonial columns of our national newspapers to realise how all pervading, deep-seated and exclusive is our caste system. But, why should one think strictly in terms of caste? Aren't there enough rituals and customs that call for change? Journals are full of reports of dowry deaths. The custom of demanding dowries cuts across all castes, creeds and communities. It needs to be fought. There are many similar obscenities which go under the rubric of custom or convention.
Cynicism pervades our society. As one intellectual said after reading a report of a sati: "So what? How many cases of suicides are there every year? At least this woman decided to die as a matter of principle." A new culture has taken root in place of the old. The so-called 'market culture' is dictating social changes which were once the prerogative of the committed social reformers.
Depths of depravity
The reports about farmers' wives ploughing land in the nude to propitiate the rain gods some time ago hardly evoked any public outrage or comment. But, why should it, when nudes feature every day in our newspaper pages? Are we not selling our souls to models who bare their navels? It is to such depths of depravity that we as a people have come.
Last year at a temple in Tamil Nadu several children were "buried" for a minute as part of a ritual. Some time ago, defying rules that restrict animal sacrifice in the name of ritual, around 51 buffaloes and 200 goats were sacrificed during an ongoing 5-day Kariyamma festival in Karnataka. One villager literally bit a goat into pieces and threw the limbs of that unfortunate animal around supposedly to appease the Goddess. Child marriage is fairly common even to this day and age in many parts of India. Hardly any protest is raised. It is taken as just another fact of life that is best ignored.
In our country there are 'gurus' and 'miracle' men and women of every religion by the dozens but have we heard of any one of them fasting to stop animal sacrifice or child marriage or the dowry system? One reason for this calculated indifference lies in the belief that technology and the advance of science will take care of religious indecencies with the passing of the years. As standards of living rise, goes the argument, so do standards of culture. And there are enough grounds to concede that that is true. But if we let time take care of our religious infirmity, we will probably have to wait for generations to come. That reflects poorly on our concepts of social responsibilities. (END)
Benjamin P N __._,_.___
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