Toynbee: Revolts against Caste in India

The Toynbee Convector, April 18 2008

The impact of Religiosity upon Caste in India has begotten the unparalleled social abuse of “Untouchability”; and since there has never been any effective move to abolish or even mitigate “Untouchability” on the part of the Brahmans – the hieratic caste which has become master of the ceremonies of the whole caste-system and has assigned to itself the highest place in it – the enormity survives, except in so far as it has been assailed by revolution.

The euphemism “Scheduled Castes” came from the Government of India Act 1935.

The earliest known revolts against Caste are those of Mahavira, the founder of Jainism (occubuit prae 500 B.C.) and Siddhārtha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism (vivebat circa 567-487 B.C.): two creative personalities who were non-Brahmans themselves and who ignored the established barriers of Caste in recruiting the bands of disciples whom they gathered round them to wrestle with the moral problems of the Indic “Time of Troubles”. If either Buddhism or Jainism had succeeded in captivating the Indic World, then conceivably the institution of Caste might have been sloughed off with the rest of the social debris of a disintegrating Indic Society, and an affiliated Hindu Civilization might have started life free from this incubus. As it turned out, however, the role of universal church in the last chapter of the Indic decline and fall was played not by Buddhism but by Hinduism – a parvenu archaistic syncretism of things new and old; and one of the old things which Hinduism resuscitated was Caste. Not content with resuscitating this old abuse, it embroidered upon it. The Hindu Civilization has been handicapped from the outset by a considerably heavier burden of Caste (a veritable load of karma) than the burden that once weighed upon its predecessor; and accordingly the series of revolts against Caste has run over from Indic into Hindu history.

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