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Link http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ramendra_nath/hindu.html



Ramendra Nath

Originally published by Bihar Rationalist Society (Bihar Buddhiwadi Samaj) 1993.

Electronically reprinted with permission.


I have read and admired Bertrand Russell's Why I am Not a Christian. On the other hand, I have also read and

disagreed with M.K.Gandhi's Why I am a Hindu. My acquaintance with these writings has inspired me to write

this essay explaining why I am not a Hindu, though I was born in a Hindu family.


The Meaning of "Hindu"

The word "Hindu" is a much-abused word in the sense that it has been used to mean different things at

different times. For example, some people even now, at least some times, use the word "Hindu" as a synonym

for "Indian". In this sense of the term, I am certainly a "Hindu" because I do not deny being an Indian.

However, I do not think that this a proper use of the term "Hindu". There are many Indians such as Muslims,

Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians as well as rationalists, humanists and atheists who do not call themselves

"Hindu" and also do not like to be described as such. It is certainly not fair to convert them into Hinduism

by giving an elastic definition of the term "Hindu". Besides, it is also not advisable to use the word

"Hindu" in this sense from the point of view of clarity. The word "Hindu" may have been used in the beginning

as a synonym for "Indian" [1], but, at present, the word is used for people with certain definite religious

beliefs. The word "Hindu" belongs to the category of words like "Muslim", "Christian", "Buddhist" and "Jain"

and not to the category of words like "American", "British", "Australian", "Chinese" or "Japanese". There

are, in fact, many Indians who are not Hindus, and on the other hand, there are many Hindus who are not

Indians , for example, those who are citizens of Nepal, Sri Lanka and some other countries.


In the religious sense, the word, "Hindu" is often used broadly to include Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs in

addition to those who are described as "Hindu" in this most restricted sense of the term, that is, the

adherents of Vedic or Brahmin religion. For example, the expression "Hindu" is used in the Hindu law not only

for those who are Hindu by religion but also for persons who are Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs by religion.

This, again, is too broad a definition of "Hindu". If we consistently use the word "Hindu" in this sense, we

will have to say that Japan is a Hindu country!


The above definition of "Hindu" is clearly inadequate from a philosophical point of view. Buddhism and

Jainism, for instance, explicitly reject the doctrine of the infallibility of the Vedas and the system of

varna-vyavastha, which are fundamental to Hinduism, that is, if the term "Hinduism" is used in its most

restricted sense. Therefore, clubbing together Buddhists and Jains or even Sikhs with those who believe in

the infallibility of the Vedas and to the varna-vyavastha is nothing but an invitation to



Though I agree with Buddhism in its rejection of god, soul, infallibility of the Vedas and the

varna-vyavastha, still I am not a Hindu even in this broad sense of the term "Hindu", because as a

rationalist and humanist I reject all religions including Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. However, in this

essay I am concerned with explaining why I am not a Hindu in the most appropriate sense of the term "Hindu",

that is, the sense in which a person is a Hindu if his religion is Hinduism in the restricted sense of the

term " Hinduism". In this restricted sense of "Hinduism", Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are excluded from its

scope. I also maintain that this is, at present, probably the most popular sense of the term, and every body

should, in the interest of clarity, confine its use, as far as possible, to this sense only, at least in

philosophical discourse.


Radhakrishnan, for example, has used the term "Hindu" and "Hinduism" in this restricted sense when he says in

his The Hindu View of Life that, "The chief sacred scriptures of Hindus, the Vedas register the intuitions of

the perfected souls." [2] Or, when he says that "Hinduism is the religion not only of the Vedas but of the

Epics and the Puranas." [3]


Basic Beliefs of Hinduism

Gandhi, too, has used the term "Hindu" in this restricted sense, when writing in Young India in October,

1921, he says:


I call myself a sanatani Hindu, because,


I believe in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and all that goes by the name of Hindu scriptures, and

therefore in avatars and rebirth.

I believe in the Varnashram dharma in a sense in my opinion strictly Vedic, but not in its present popular

and crude sense.

I believe in the protection of the cow in its much larger sense than the popular.

I do not disbelieve in idol-worship. [4]

One may be tempted to ask, at this point, whether all the beliefs listed by Gandhi are really fundamental to

Hinduism. In my opinion, (I) the belief in the authenticity of the Vedas and (II) the belief in the

varnashram dharma are more basic to Hinduism than the belief in cow-protection and idol-worship. [5] Though

it cannot be denied that, in spite of attempts by reformers like Kabir, Rammohan Roy and Dayanand Saraswati,

idol-worship is still practiced widely by the Hindu masses, and there is, at present, a taboo on eating beef

among a large number of Hindus. In any case, I am in a position to establish the fact of my not being a Hindu

by asserting the contradictory of each of the above statements made by Gandhi:


In other words, I assert that I am not a Hindu, because,


I do not believe in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and all that goes by the name of Hindu scriptures,

and therefore in avatars and rebirth.

I do not believe in the varnashram dharma or varna-vyavastha either in the sense in which it is explained in

Hindu dharma shastras like Manusmriti or in the so-called Vedic sense.

I do not believe in the Hindu taboo of not eating beef.

I disbelieve in idol-worship.

However, while explaining why I am not a Hindu, I will concentrate mainly on (I) the belief in the

authenticity of the Vedas, and (II) the varnashram dharma , which I consider more fundamental to Hinduism.

Besides, in the concluding section of the essay, I will briefly discuss moksha, which is regarded as the

highest end of life in Hinduism, and some other Hindu doctrines like karmavada and avatarvada.


The infallibility of the Vedas

First of all, let me explain what do I mean by saying that "I do not believe in the Vedas", and why I do not

do so.


The schools of ancient Indian thought are generally classified by orthodox Hindu thinkers into two broad

categories, namely, orthodox ( astika) and heterodox ( nastika). The six main Hindu systems of thought --

Mimamsa, Vedanta, Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya and Vaisheshika -- are regarded as orthodox ( astika), not because

they believe in the existence of god, but because they accept the authority of the Vedas. [6]


Out of the six orthodox systems of Hindu thought, Nyaya system is primarily concerned with the conditions of

correct thinking and the means of acquiring true knowledge. According to Nyaya system, there are four

distinct and separate sources of knowledge, namely, (i) perception (ii) inference (iii) comparison, and (iv)

testimony or shabda.


Shabda, which is defined in the Nyaya system as "valid verbal testimony" is further classified into (i) the

scriptural ( vaidika), and (ii) the secular ( laukika). Vaidika or scriptural testimony is believed to be the

word of god, and therefore, it is regarded as perfect and infallible .[7]


Mimamsa or Purva Mimamsa, another orthodox Hindu system is "the outcome of the ritualistic side of the vedic

culture". However, in its attempt to justify the authority of the Vedas, Mimamsa elaborately discusses

different sources of valid knowledge. Naturally enough, among the various "sources of valid knowledge",

Mimamsa pays greatest attention to testimony or authority, which, too, is regarded by it as a valid source of

knowledge. There are, according to Mimamsa, two kinds of authority -- personal ( paurusheya) and impersonal (

apaurusheya). The authority of the Vedas is regarded by Mimamsa as impersonal. [8]


As mentioned earlier, according to Nyaya, the authority of the Vedas is derived from their being the words of

god. But Mimamsa, which does not believe in the existence of god, declares that the Vedas like the world, are

eternal. They are not the work of any person, human or divine. The infallibility of the authority of the

Vedas, according to Mimamsa, rests on the "fact" that they are not vitiated by any defect to which the work

of imperfect persons is liable. [9]


Thus, orthodox Hindu schools like Nyaya and Mimamsa regard the testimony of the Vedas as infallible, though

they give different reasons for doing so. Well-known orthodox Hindu theologians like Shankar and Ramanuja

believed in the authority of the Vedas. Manusmriti, too, upholds the infallibility of the Vedas. As pointed

out by S.N.Dasgupta, "The validity and authority of the Vedas were acknowledged by all Hindu writers and they

had wordy battles over it with the Buddhists who denied it." [10]


The point worth noting is that though popularly Hinduism is a theistic religion, it is not essential to

believe in the existence of god for being an orthodox Hindu -- belief in the authority of the Vedas is more



When I say, "I do not believe in the Vedas", what I mean is that I do not regard the testimony of the Vedas

as a valid source of knowledge. In other words when I say, "I do not believe in the Vedas", I do not mean

that each and every proposition contained in the Vedas is false. It is quite possible that one may find a few

true statements in the Vedas after great amount of patient research. But I assert that the truth or the

falsity of a proposition is logically independent of its being contained or not contained in the Vedas. A

proposition is true if there is a correspondence between the belief expressed by it and the facts. Otherwise,

it is false. So, a proposition contained in the Vedas might be true, that is, if there is a correspondence

between the belief expressed by it and the facts, but it is, I insist, not true because it is contained in

the Vedas. I categorically reject as invalid every argument of the form: "The proposition P is contained in

the Vedas. Therefore, the proposition P is true".


Besides, I also assert that some propositions contained in the Vedas are certainly false. For example,

according to Purusha-Sukta of Rig Veda , Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras originated respectively

from the mouth, hands, thighs and feet of the purusha or the creator. I categorically reject this statement

as false. I maintain that varna-vyavastha is a man-made social institution and it has nothing to do with the

alleged creator of this world.


I also reject both the reasons put forward in support of the infallibility of the Vedas. I neither regard

them to be "the words of god" nor I consider them to be eternal and impersonal. I believe that Vedas were

conceived, spoken and written by human beings. The question of their being "words of god" simply does not

arise, because there are no good reasons for believing in the existence of god. The existence of an

omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent god is totally inconsistent with the presence of suffering and evil in

this world. It is impossible for god to exist. [11]


Similarly, Vedas could not have come into existence before human beings appeared on this earth, and before

Sanskrit language came into existence. And there are no good reasons for believing that Sanskrit language

came into existence even before human beings appeared on this earth!


As far as Gandhi is concerned, though he liked to describe himself as a sanatani Hindu, he was, in fact, not

a completely orthodox Hindu. For example, in the article quoted earlier in this essay Gandhi goes on to add,

"I do not believe in the exclusive divinity of the Vedas. I believe the Bible, the Koran, and the Zend-Avesta

to be as much divinely inspired as the Vedas. My belief in the Hindu scriptures does not require me to accept

every word and every verse as divinely inspired, I decline to be bound by any interpretation, however learned

in may be, if it is repugnant to reason or moral sense. "[12](emphasis mine)


I seriously doubt that this position will be acceptable to an orthodox Hindu. In fact, Gandhi's position

comes very close to that of rationalists and humanists when he says that "I decline to be bound by any

interpretation however learned it may be, if it is repugnant to reason and moral sense". However, since he

refused to say in so many words that he did not believe in the authority of the Vedas, Gandhi may be

described, in my opinion, as a liberal Hindu with an eclectic approach towards religion. On the other hand,

my position is radically different from that of Gandhi, because I do not consider either the Vedas or the

Bible, the Koran and Zend-Avesta or any other book to be divinely inspired.



Before discussing varna-vyavastha or varnashram dharma, let me clarify in the very beginning that I am not

interested in giving my own interpretation of what varna-vyavastha is or ought to be in its ideal form. I am

interested, firstly, in giving an objective exposition of varna-vyavastha as contained in recognized Hindu

scriptures like Vedas and dharmashastras like Manusmriti; and secondly, in mentioning my reasons for

rejecting varna-vyavastha. In doing so I will concentrate on the chaturvarnya (four-fold division of society)

aspect of varna-vyavastha.


We have already noted that the first reference to varna (class based on birth or caste) is to be found in the

Purusha-Sukta of the Rig Veda . The reference to the four ashrams or stages of life, namely, Brahmcharya,

Garhastya, Vanprashta and Sanyas is to be found in the Upanishads. These are, in their turn, related to the

four purusarthas or ends of life, namely, dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kama (satisfaction of sensual

desires) and moksha (liberation). Out of these, the Upanishads attach maximum value to sanyas ashram and

moksha purusartha, which is regarded as the highest end of life. [13]


The system of varnashram dharma is upheld by popular Hindu scriptures like Ramayana, Mahabharata and

Bhagvat-Gita. In Ramayana, for example, Ram kills Shambuka simply because he was performing tapasya (ascetic

exercises) which he was not supposed to do as he was a Shudra by birth. [14]


Similarly, in Mahabharata, Dronacharya refuses to teach archery to Eklavya, because he was not a Kshatriya by

birth. When Eklavya, treating Drona as his notional guru, learns archery on his own, Drona makes him cut his

right thumb as gurudakshina (gift for the teacher) so that he may not become a better archer than his

favorite Kshatriya student Arjuna!


The much-glorified Bhagvat-Gita, too, favors varna-vyavastha.[15] When Arjuna refuses to fight, one of his

main worries was that the war would lead to the birth of varna-sankaras or offspring from intermixing of

different varnas and the consequent "downfall" of the family. [16] On the other hand, Krishna tries to

motivate Arjuna to fight by saying that it was his varna-dharma (caste-duty) to do so because he was a

Kshatriya. In fact, Krishna goes to the extent of claiming that the four varnas were created by him only.

[17] Thus, Arjuna's main problem was being born a Kshatriya. Had he been a Brahmin or a Vaishya or a Shudra

by birth, he would have been spared the trouble of fighting a destructive war. Even the much-applauded

doctrine of niskama karma is nothing but an exhortation to faithfully perform one's varnashram dharma in a

disinterested manner. [18]


The celebrated orthodox Hindu theologian Shankar, too, was a supporter of varna-vyavastha. According to him,

Shudras are not entitled to philosophical knowledge. [19] However, the most elaborate exposition of

varnashram dharma is to be found in Manusmriti, an important dharmashastra of Hindus. Let us turn to it in

order to have a close look at the varna-vyavastha.



In the very first chapter of Manusmriti, it is clearly stated that Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras

were created by Brahma (creator of this world) from his mouth, hands, thighs and feet respectively. [20]


Manu claims that the same Brahma, who created this world, also created Manusmriti and taught it to him. [21]


The duties of the different varnas are also mentioned in the Manusmriti. The Brahmins were created for

teaching, studying, performing yajnas (ceremonial sacrifices), getting yajnas performed, giving and accepting

dan (gifts).[22] The Kshatriyas were created for protecting the citizens, giving gifts, getting yajnas

performed and studying. [23] The Vaishyas were created for protecting animals, giving gifts, getting yajnas

performed, studying, trading, lending money on interest and doing agricultural work. [24] The Shudras were

created by Brahma for serving Brahmins and the other two varnas without being critical of them. [25]


It is interesting to note that studying, getting yajnas performed and giving gifts or charity are common

duties of Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas; whereas teaching, accepting gifts and performing yajnas are

reserved exclusively for Brahmins. The Shudras, of course, are denied the rights to study, getting yajnas

performed by Brahmins or even giving gifts to them.


Manusmriti further states that having originated from the mouth of Brahma, being elder and being the

repository of the Vedas; Brahmins are the masters of the entire universe. [26] Besides, Brahmins alone act as

a sort of post office for transmitting food to the gods and the dead, that is to say, the gods and the dead

eat food through the mouths of Brahmins (apparently because they do not have mouths of their own). Therefore,

no one can be superior to Brahmins.[27] All others are said to enjoy everything owing to the Brahmins'

mercy.[28] The Manusmriti clearly states that Brahmins alone are entitled to teach this dharmashastra and

none else. [29]


Manusmriti refers to the Vedas, which are to be regarded as the main valid source of knowledge about dharma,

as shruti and to dharmashastras as smriti. No one is to argue critically about them because religion has

originated from them. [30] Any nastika (non-believer) or critic of the Vedas, who "insults" them on the basis

of logic, is worthy of being socially boycotted by "noble" persons. [31]


In short, the main features of chaturvarnya as elaborated in the Manusmriti are as follows:


1. Division of Hindu society into four varnas on the basis of birth. Out of these only the first three,

namely , Brahmins , Kshatriya and Vaishya, who are collectively known as dwija (twice-born) are entitled to

upanayan and the study of the Vedas. Shudras as well as women of dwija varnas are denied the right to study.


2. Assigning different duties and occupations for different varnas. This is to be enforced strictly by the

king. [32] According to Manusmriti, if a person of lower caste adopts the occupation of a higher caste, the

king ought to deprive him of all his property and expel him from his kingdom. [33]


3. Treating Brahmins as superior and other varnas, namely, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra as inferior to him

in descending order with the Shudra occupying the bottom of the hierarchy. A Brahmin is to be treated as god

and respected even if he is ignorant. Even a hundred-year old Kshatriya is to treat a ten year old Brahmin as

his father. [34] Brahmin alone is entitled to teach. If a Shudra dares to give moral lessons to a Brahmin,

the king is to get him punished by pouring hot oil in his ear and mouth. [35] Similarly, if a Shudra occupies

the same seat as a Brahmin, he is to be punished by branding his waist (with hot rod) or getting his buttocks

cut! [36]


4. Treating women as unequal. Women, that is, even women belonging to Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya varna

are not entitled to upanayan and the study of the Vedas. For them, marriage is equivalent to upanayan and

service of their husbands is equivalent to the study of the Vedas in the gurukul.[37] Even if the husband is

morally degraded, engaged in an affair with another woman and is devoid of knowledge and other qualities, the

wife must treat him like a god. [38] A widower is allowed to remarry but a widow is not. [39] Besides, women

are not considered fit for being free and independent. They are to be protected in their childhood by father,

in youth by husband and in old age by son. [40] They should never be allowed by their guardians to act

independently. [41] A woman must never do anything even inside her home without the consent of her father,

husband and son respectively. [42] She must remain in control of her father in childhood, of husband in youth

and of son after the death of her husband. [43]


5. Treating different varnas as unequal for legal purposes. The Hindu law as codified by Manu is based on the

principle of inequality. The punishment for a particular crime is not same for all varnas. In fact, the

punishment varies depending on the varna of the victim as well as the varna of the person committing the

crime. For the same crime, the Brahmin is to be given a mild punishment, whereas the Shudra is to given the

harshest punishment of all. Similarly, if the victim of a crime is a Shudra, the punishment is mild, and the

punishment is harsh in case the victim is a Brahmin. For example, if a Brahmin is awarded death sentence, it

is sufficient to shave his head, but Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra are to actually die. [44] If a Kshatriya,

a Vaishya, or a Shudra repeatedly gives false evidence in the court, he is to be punished and expelled from

the kingdom, whereas the Brahmin is not to be punished, he is to be only expelled. [45] If a person has

sexual intercourse with a consenting women of his own varna, he is not to be punished. [46] But if a person

of lower varna has sexual intercourse with a woman of higher varna, with or without her consent, he is to be

killed. [47] If a Brahmin forces a dwija to work for him, he is to be punished. [48] But if a Brahmin forces

a Shudra to work for him, whether by making or not making payments to him, he is not to be punished, because

Shudras have been created only for serving Brahmins.[49] If a Brahmin abuses a Shudra, he is to be fined

mildly, [50] but if a Shudra abuses a Brahmin, he is to be killed. [51] On the other hand, even if a Brahmin

kills a Shudra, he is merely to perform penance by killing a cat, frog, owl or crow, etc. [52] Thus a Shudra

is to be killed for abusing a Brahmin, whereas a Brahmin is to be let off lightly even if he kills a Shudra.

Such is the unequal justice of Manusmriti.


In fact, this system of graded inequality seems to be the very essence of the varna-vyavastha. Whether it is

the choice of names, [53] or the manner of greeting, [54] or the mode of entertaining guests, [55] or the

method of administering oath in the court, [56] or the process of taking out the funeral procession, [57] at

each and every step in life, from birth to death, this system of graded inequality is to be applied and

observed. Manu does not even spare the rates of interest on loan. For borrowing the same amount, Kshatriya

has to pay more as interest than Brahmin, Vaishya more than Kshatriya and the poor Shudra has to pay the

maximum amount as interest! [58]


6. Prohibiting inter-marriage between different varnas. According to Manusmriti, a dwija ought to marry a

woman of his own varna.[59] A woman of the same varna is considered best for the first marriage. However, a

dwija may take a woman of inferior varna as his second wife if he is overcome by sexual passion. [60] But

Manu strongly disapproves of Brahmins and Kshatriyas taking a Shudra woman even as their second wife. They

become Shudra if they do so. [61]



7. Supporting untouchability is also a part of the scheme of social stratification outlined in the

Manusmriti. Manu clearly mentions that Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya, collectively known as dwija and the

Shudras are the four varnas. There is no fifth varna.[62] He explains the origin of other castes by saying

that they are varna-sankara castes, that is to say, castes originating due to the intermixture of different

varnas, both in anuloma (upper varna male and lower varna female) and pratiloma (lower varna male and upper

varna female) manner. [63] For example, Nishad caste is said to have originated from anuloma relationship

between Brahmin male and Shudra female,[64] whereas C handala caste is said to be owing its origin to

pratiloma relationship between Shudra male and Brahmin female. [65]


Manu seems to be disapproving of pratiloma relationship more than the anuloma, because he describes C

handalas as the lowest of the low castes. [66]


Let us see what Manusmriti, has to say about the C handala. The Chandala, says Manusmriti, must not ever

reside inside the village. While doing their work, they must reside outside the village, at cremation ground,

on mountains or in groves. They are not entitled to keep cows or horses, etc., as pet animals. They may keep

dogs and donkeys. They are to wear shrouds. They are to eat in broken utensils. They are to use ornaments of

iron, not of gold. They must keep moving from one place to another, not residing at the same place for a long

duration. [67] They must not move around in villages and cities in night hours. They may enter the villages

and cities in daytime, with king's permission, wearing special symbols (to enable identification), and take

away unclaimed dead bodies. [68]


Moreover, how is the "religious" person to deal with the Chandala? He must not have any social intercourse

(marriage, interdining, etc.) with them. He must not talk to or even see them! [69] He may ask servants

(apparently Shudras) to give them food in broken utensils. [70]


8. Granting divine and religious sanction to varna-vyavastha. Manu gives divine and religious sanction to the

varna-vyavastha by claiming divine origin for the varnas as well as for the Manusmriti and demanding

unquestioning obedience of it.


So, that completes my exposition of the varna-vyavastha. I want to emphasize in particular that my exposition

does not contain any exaggeration at all. The reader may check each and every statement by comparing with the

original Manusmriti in order to satisfy himself or herself. I cannot help if the system is so unjust and so

out of tune with out existing values that even an objective exposition reads like a severe condemnation.

Nevertheless, I will now turn to my reasons for rejecting varna-vyavastha: I reject varna-vyavastha because

it is irrational, unjust and undemocratic, being opposed to the democratic and human values of liberty,

equality and fraternity.


Criticism of varna-vyavastha

The varna-vyavastha is opposed to the value of liberty as it denies the freedom to choose one's occupation

and marriage partner to one and all. Everyone must join the occupation of his varna and must marry within his

varna. Similarly, it denies the freedom to study to the Shudras and woman in particular. Even the dwija must

study the Vedas before he studies anything else. Otherwise, he becomes a Shudra.[71] (Incidentally, according

to Manusmriti, there are several ways by which a Brahmin or dwija may become a Shudra but there is no way by

which a Shudra may become a Brahmin. A Shudra must always remain a Shudra.)[72]


What is worse, the Chandala is even denied the freedom to reside at a place of his choice or to wear clothes

and ornaments of his choice. He is not even free to keep pet animals of his choice.


The conflict between varna-vyavastha and the value of equality is more than obvious. As I mentioned earlier,

the system of graded inequality seems to be the very essence of varna-vyavastha. It denies equal respect to

all in society. It denies equality before law. It denies equal access to marriage partners. It denies equal

access to jobs. The occupation of teachers and priests, for example, is reserved exclusively for Brahmins.

Finally, it also denies equal access to education and knowledge.


A Brahmin, according to Manu, must not teach the Shudra and woman even if he dies with his knowledge without

imparting it to anybody. [73] On the other hand, if anyone studies the Vedas on his own he or she will go

straight to hell. [74] In other words, cent percent reservations for dwija males in the sphere of education.


The varna-vyavastha is most unfair to the Shudras and the untouchables. They are denied respect, knowledge,

power and wealth. They are denied access to occupations considered respectable, just as they are denied

access to men and women of upper varnas for marriage. The Shudras are virtually reduced to being slaves of

the Brahmins in particular and the dwijas in general, whereas the untouchables are regarded as outcast --

beyond the pale of the society. The women are generally treated as sexual objects and as unfit for being

independent and free.


As far as fraternity is considered, we must not expect it to exist in a society, which is so unequal and

unjust. A Shudra's waist is to be branded or his buttocks are to be cut only because he occupies the same

seat as the Brahmin. The "religious" are not to talk or even look at a Chandala. Inter-marriage is

prohibited. Manu seems to be most eager to prevent inter-mixing of the varnas. Thus, the Hindu social order

is based on the isolation and exclusiveness of the varnas.


The Manusmriti not only outlines a totally undemocratic and unjust social system but also gives divine,

religious sanction to this man-made social institution of chaturvarnya. Some Hindus, including apparently

learned "thinkers" and writers, smugly wax eloquent about Hinduism being the most tolerant and liberal

religion of the world.


Is there any other religion, which sanctions slavery and untouchability? Is there any other religion in which

only persons born in a particular caste ( Brahmin) are entitled to become priests?


Slavery is not peculiar to India or to Hinduism, but carrying it to the extremes of untouchability, and

granting it divine and religious sanction is peculiar to Hinduism.


Similarly, some Hindus may be tolerant, just as some of them are intolerant, but Hinduism or Hindu religion

is not tolerant at all, either socially or intellectually. Manusmriti, for example, clearly says that anybody

who argues critically and logically about dharmashastras ought to be ostracized. [75] Non-believers,

including freethinkers, rationalists and Buddhists, are not to be entertained respectfully as guests; though,

mercifully, they may be given food. [76] The families of non-believers are destroyed sooner than later

according to Manu. [77] A state with a large number of Shudras and nastikas soon meets its destruction. [78]

Manusmriti is full of abusive epithets for freethinkers and non-believers. The unorthodox ( nastikas) are

sometimes equated with the Shudras, sometimes with the Chandalas, sometimes with thieves and sometimes with

lunatics! [79] Such is the generosity of Hindu dharma.


Apologies for varna-vyavastha

Let me now consider what the apologists of varna-vyavastha have to say in its defense.


A standard defense of varna-vyavastha is to say that it is a system of division of labor. It is easy to grant

that division of labor is essential for any complex society, but it is equally easy to see that

varna-vyavastha is not a system of division of labor based on aptitude and capability. It is a system of

division of labor based on birth . Besides, it has other associated features such as feeling of superiority

and inferiority, inequality before law, denial of equal access to knowledge and prohibition against



What have these features to do with the division of labor?


Division of labor is found in all societies, but varna-vyavastha is not. Thus, trying to justify

varna-vyavastha as division of labor is a futile exercise.


Another standard defense of the varna-vyavastha is to say that the system was originally based on aptitude

and capability. Whether it was actually ever so is a subject for historical research. Most probably, the

racial theory of the origin of castes is true. However, even if we grant for the sake of argument that the

varna-vyavastha was originally based on aptitude and capability, how does it help? We cannot say that because

the system was originally, some time in remote past, based on aptitude and capability; therefore we ought to

gladly suffer the present system based on birth. It hardly makes any sense at all!


In any case, Manusmriti was most probably written between200 BC and 200 AD [80] and the system as outlined in

it is totally based on birth. Gautam Buddha, who lived in sixth century BC, challenged the infallibility of

the Vedas as well as the varna-vyavastha. There are several passages in Tripitaka, mainly in Digha Nikaya and

Majhima Nikaya which are "directed against the claims of the Brahmans to be of different origin from the rest

of humanity, born from the mouth of Brahma, having a hereditary prerogative to teach, guide and spiritually

govern the rest of the society." [81] In Majhima Nikaya Buddha is quoted as refuting varna-vyavastha on

several occasions. According to Buddha, it is unreasonable to decide one's place and functions in society on

the basis of one's birth in a caste. Buddha is also quoted as insisting that in the eyes of the law all

persons ought to be treated as equal, irrespective of the caste or varna in which he or she is born. [82]

Thus, it is obvious that even if the system of varna-vyavastha ever existed in its ideal form -- which is

doubtful -- it had already degenerated by the time of Buddha, that is, about 2500 years back.


The most blatant defense of varna-vyavastha, however, is to say that human beings are born unequal, and,

therefore, it is natural and normal for children to join the occupation of their fathers. Surprisingly and

sadly, no less a person than Gandhi defended varna-vyavastha in a similar manner.


To quote Gandhi: "I believe that every man is born in the world with certain natural tendencies. Every person

is born with certain definite limitations which he cannot overcome. From a careful observation of those

limitations the law of varna was deduced. It establishes certain spheres of action for certain people with

certain tendencies. This avoided all unworthy competition. Whilst recognizing limitations, the law of varna

admitted of no distinction of high and low; on the one hand it guaranteed to each the fruits of his labors

and on the other it prevented him from pressing upon his neighbor. This great law has been degraded and

fallen into disrepute. But my conviction is that an ideal social order will only be evolved when the

implications of this law are fully understood and given effect to". [83]


Again, "I regard Varnashrama as a healthy division of work based on birth. The present ideas of caste are a

perversion of the original. There is no question with me of superiority or inferiority. It is purely a

question of duty. I have indeed stated that varna is based on birth. But I have also said that it is possible

for a shudra, for instance, to become a vaishya. But in order to perform the duty of vaishya he does not need

the label of a vaishya. He who performs the duty of a brahman will easily become one in the next

incarnation." [84]


So, varna-vyavastha, according to Gandhi, is a "healthy division of work based on birth", which takes into

account the "natural tendencies" of human beings and avoids "unworthy competition."


This apparently plausible defense of varna-vyavastha is, in fact, most unscientific. It is a well-known and

scientifically verified fact that acquired characteristics are not inherited biologically, only genetic

qualities are transmitted from one generation to another. For instance, carpentry is an acquired

characteristic; just as knowledge of philosophy is an acquired quality. Neither a carpenter's son or daughter

is born with the knowledge of carpentry, nor is a philosopher's daughter or son born with the knowledge of

philosophy. These are acquired characteristics and, therefore, they cannot be inherited biologically. If

sometimes, though not always, a carpenter's son becomes a good carpenter or a philosopher's daughter acquires

a good knowledge of philosophy, without being formally initiated into these disciplines, it is not because

they are born with the required knowledge, but only because of the favorable environment at home, which

enables them to acquire these characteristics. The result could be different if their places were to be



One may say that though the knowledge of carpentry of philosophy in not inherited biologically, the mental

qualities enabling one to acquire the requisite knowledge is inherited. Some physical and mental qualities

are, no doubt, inherited but this does not mean that parents and their children are always identical in

physical or mental qualities. It is a well known fact -- anybody can verify this by careful observation --

that due to different permutations and combinations of chromosomes and genes offspring of same parents are

not always identical to one another or to their parents. More often than not, they are different. For

instance, one son or daughter of same parents may be tall and another short. The colors of skin, hair and

eyes may differ likewise. What is true of physical characteristics is equally true of mental qualities. Thus,

a child may or may not have the mental characteristics, which his father has.


Therefore, it is totally unscientific to forcefully restrict children to the occupations of their



It is true that all human beings are not equal in the sense of being identical in physical or mental

qualities. But it does not follow from this that they ought to be denied equal opportunity to join a vocation

of their choice or that they ought to be denied equality before law or equal respect as human beings in the



As for "unworthy" competition, how do we know that the competition is unworthy unless all are, to begin with,

given equal opportunity? Take the example of Gandhi himself. He was a bania by caste. Yet, in spite of some

serious aberrations such as supporting varna-vyavastha based on birth and linking politics with religion, he

performed fairly well in the role of a national leader. It would have been a great loss for the nation if in

the name of avoiding "unworthy" competition in politics, Gandhi would have been confined to running a grocery

shop. Similarly, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was born in an "untouchable" caste, but he played an important role in the

drafting of the democratic constitution of independent India. He also taught in a college for some time. To

use the terminology of varna-vyavastha, he ably performed the work of a Brahmin.


Is it possible to imagine how many Ambedkars we may have lost by now owing to the restrictive



As we have noted earlier, varna-vyavastha is a closed system of social stratification without any scope for

upward social mobility. To quote M. Haralambos, author of a textbook on sociology, "A person belongs to his

parents jati and automatically follows the occupation of the jati into which he was born. Thus no matter what

the biologically based aptitude and capacities of an untouchable, there is no way he can become a Brahmin.

Unless it is assumed that superior genes are permanently located in the Brahmin caste, and there is no

evidence that this is the case, then there is probably no relationship between genetically based and socially

created inequality in traditional Hindu society." [85]


Returning to Gandhi, though Gandhi was opposed to untouchability and caste, he did not carry his opposition

to its logical conclusion. Inconsistently enough, he continued to support the varna-vyavastha based on birth.

At one stage, he even supported restrictions on interdining and intermarriage. As he wrote in Young India in

1921, "Hinduism does most emphatically discourage interdining and intermarriage between divisions... It is no

part of a Hindu's duty to dine with his son. And by restricting his choice of bride to a particular group, he

exercises rare self-restraint. Prohibition against intermarriages and interdining is essential for the rapid

evolution of the soul. "[86] (emphasis mine)


Later Gandhi moved away from these orthodox ideas, and started supporting intercaste marriages. Finally in

1946, he refused to solemnize any marriage at Sevagram Ashram unless one of the parties was an untouchable.

[87] May be he would also have given up varna-vyavastha if he had lived longer. That, however, is in the

realm of imagination, the fact is that Gandhi supported varna-vyavastha. It is worth noting that he invented

his own conception of varna-vyavastha, which, according to him, had nothing to do with the feeling of

superiority and inferiority or with prohibition against intermarriage. We find here in Gandhi a quaint

mixture of conservatism and reformism.


I would like to dispose of one last objection before concluding this section. One may say that the Hindu law

at present is quite different from what Manu desired, and presently Hindus in general do not follow Manu in

totality. This is true. The Hindu law at present, for instance, allows inter-caste marriage and prohibits

bigamy and child marriage. It permits divorce. It also allows widow remarriage and grants equal rights to

daughters in father's property. Nevertheless, there seems to be a gap between the progressive Hindu law and

the conservative social practices of the Hindus. A majority of Hindu marriages are still within the caste and

very few Hindu women actually claim or get a share in father's property.


The Indian constitution has rightly made special provisions, such as reservations in services for scheduled

castes, scheduled tribes and other socially and educationally backward classes, to enable them to enter

occupations and positions of power, which had been traditionally denied to them. No doubt, some upper caste

liberal Hindus, too, support the policy of reservation. But, by and large, the Hindu upper castes are far

from fully reconciled to this progressive step as is evident from violent and aggressive anti-reservation

agitation spearheaded by upper caste students from time to time. This kind of reactionary agitation aimed at

preserving the present dominance of upper castes in education and the services enjoys considerable support

and sympathy in the upper caste dominated media as well as the academia.


On the whole, the Hindu society is yet to fully exorcise the ghost of Manu. Caste based on birth and

untouchability still exist in the Hindu society, in spite of the fact that untouchability has been abolished

by the Indian constitution. The distribution of education, power and wealth continues to be uneven in the

Hindu society, with the dwijas being on the top and the Shudras and untouchables being at the bottom.

Teaching is no more an exclusive preserve of Brahmins, but the occupation of Hindu priests is still fully

reserved for Brahmins, though this fact does not arouse the ire of our fervent anti-reservationists.


Moksha, Karmavada and Avatarvada

Moksha is traditionally regarded as the highest end of life in Hindu religion. The "endless cycle of birth

and death" is considered a bondage from which one must attain liberation, that is moksha or mukti.


This whole concept of bondage and liberation is based on the unproved assumption of life after death, and the

existence of soul ( atma) which continues to exist apart from the body even after death. In the famous words

of Gita, the soul changes bodies just as human beings change clothes. [88]


Now, there are no good reasons for believing in the existence of soul or life after death or rebirth. These

beliefs are not at all supported by incontrovertible scientific evidence. According to S.N. Dasgupta, "there

has seldom been before or after Buddha any serious attempt to prove or disprove the doctrine of rebirth. The

attempts to prove the doctrine of rebirth in the Hindu philosophical works such as Nyaya, etc. are slight and

inadequate." [89]


However, even before Buddha, Lokayat had disproved the existence of soul, life after death, rebirth, heaven

and hell on an empirical basis, as these things are never perceived. [90]


Thus, in absence of any evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable to believe that each one of us has got one

and only one life . Once a person is dead, he is dead for ever. Never to be reborn. Mind, consciousness,

memory and life cannot outlast the destruction of brain and body. This is the harsh truth; howsoever we may

dislike it.


The belief in soul seems to have originated from primitive animism. [91] If this belief continues to persist,

in spite of total lack of evidence in its support, it is only because of human beings' inability to come to

terms with, or to squarely face, the reality of death. One likes to believe that one's near and dear ones,

who are dead and finished forever, actually continue to live in some other imaginary world, and that they

will also be reborn one day. One draws comfort from the thought that one will not die even after death, and

continue to live in some other form. It is paradoxical that, first, the fear of death and love of life makes

one readily accept the belief in the immortality and rebirth of soul without adequate evidence, and, then,

getting rid of this alleged cycle of birth and death itself becomes the topmost religious aim! [92]


The problem of getting "released" from the alleged cycle of birth and death is a pseudo-problem (in the sense

that one is trying to get rid of something which simply does not exist) and moksha is an imaginary ideal

which has nothing to do with the reality. Instead of running after the imaginary ideal of moksha, it is far

better to concentrate on improving and living well this one and only life, which we have.


Mimamsa, which is an orthodox Hindu school of thought, considers attainment of heaven ( swarga), instead of

moksha, as the highest end of life. References to heaven and hell are also to be found in the Manusmriti. The

belief in heaven is fairly widespread at popular level. However, the ideal of the attainment of heaven, too,

is based on unproved assumptions, like life after death and the existence of heaven, and, therefore, it

cannot be accepted.


Another related doctrine is the Hindu belief in karmavada or the so-called law of karma. According to this

doctrine, every human being gets the fruits of his actions either in the present or in some future life.

Whatever a human being is in his present life is the result of his own actions in the past life or lives.


This, again, is a totally unverified and unverifiable doctrine based on the assumption of the "cycle of birth

and death". It is only a convenient tool for explaining away the perceived inequality in human society. The

idea of karma is found in Buddhism and Jainism as well. However, these religions do not support

varna-vyavastha. But in Hinduism the doctrine of karma, along with the idea of god, has been used for

providing ideological support to the unjust varna-vyavastha and for making it appear just and fair. In

Hinduism the so-called law of karma merely serves the purpose of legitimizing the unjust varna-vyavastha by

making the Shudras and the "untouchables" meekly accept their degrading position as a "result of their own

deeds" in imaginary past lives, and by assuring them "better" birth in "next life" if they faithfully perform

their varna-dharma in their present lives. [93] In this way, this doctrine prevents them from revolting

against this man-made undemocratic system, which has nothing to do with alleged past and future lives.


Lastly, I come to the Hindu doctrine of avatarvada. According to this doctrine, whenever religion is

threatened in this world, god takes birth as an avatar to put things back into order. Ram and Krishna, for

example, are popularly regarded as avatars by the Hindus.


Belief in avatarvada, too, is logically unjustifiable and merely makes one run away from one's own

responsibilities. Instead of making efforts to improve their own condition, those who believe in avatarvada

keep waiting for an avatar to take birth. Since god does not exist, there is no question of his being born on

this earth as an avatar. (Let me add here that I also do not believe in the truth of statements like "Jesus

is the son of god" or "Mohammed is the messenger of god".)


Not only I do not regard Ram or Krishna (or anyone else) as an avatar of god, I also do not regard them as

ideal personalities. Ram, as mentioned earlier, was on upholder, of the varna-vyavastha. His cruel behavior

with Sita, after fighting a destructive war with Ravana to get her released, is too well known to need

recapitulation. [94]


Krishna, on the other hand, is portrayed in the Mahabharata as the teacher of Bhagvat Gita , a book which

expounds untrue and harmful doctrines like the belief in god and immortal soul, avatarvada, karmavada,

varnashram dharma and the doctrine of moksha.


In Mahabharata Krishna adopts and advocates adoption of unfair means like lying and deception for achieving

one's ends. Obviously, he did not believe in the doctrine of purity of ends and means. There are several

flaws in the character of Krishna as portrayed in the Mahabharata, Bhagvat and Harivamsa. These have been

ably enumerated by Dr. Ambedkar in his The Riddle of Ram and Krishna . I refer the interested reader to this

work for a fuller treatment of this subject. [95]



To conclude, I categorically reject major Hindu religious beliefs including the doctrine of the infallibility

of the Vedas, varnashram dharma , moksha, karmavada, and avatarvada. I am not an admirer of Ram and Krishna,

and I also do not believe in idol worship or the Hindu taboo of not eating beef. I support logical and

scientific thinking; and a secular, rational morality based on human values of liberty, equality and

fraternity. Therefore, I am not a Hindu by conviction, though I am a Hindu by birth.


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This is not directly related to the above article,but often when I tell people that I worship Krsna,the question always pops up:"Is that part of Hinduism?" I sometimes reply:"Something like that."or if the circumstances are favourable,I would explain that Krsna is not an Indian or a Hindu god.He is God and He is for the whole human society.


As an aspiring devotee of Krsna,do I consider myself a Hindu? The answer would be in the negative.The word "Hindu" is a material designation and,according to Srila Prabhupada,a term concocoted by Muslims living in the North of India based on a mispronounciation of the word "Sindhu".


Although Hinduism and Krsna Consciousness does share a common Vedic heritage,the two are more like two sons from the same father who have gone their seperate ways while retaining some family similarities.Popular Hinduism can be said to be a set of vague beliefs with no firm doctrinal basis.


During his preaching mission,Srila Prabhupada pointed out on several occasions that Krsna Consciousness has nothing to do with Hinduism.In a 1970 letter to a temple administrator in Los Angeles, Srila Prabhupada wrote:


"The Hindu community in the West has got some good feeling for me because superficially they are seeing that I am spreading Hindu religion, but factually this Krishna Consciousness movement is neither Hindu religion nor any other religion." In an interview with Bhavan's Journal on June 28, 1976, Srila Prabhupada remarked:


"India, they have given up the real religious system, Sanatana Dharma. Fictitiously, they have accepted a hodgepodge thing which is called Hinduism. Therefore there is trouble."


Soon after Srila Prabhupada arrived in America,he was invited by some churches church governed schools and colleges and in a letter to Madam Sumati Morarji Baisaheba, the lady who had given him free passage on board the Jaladuta,he wrote about his experience speaking in those colleges:


When I was speaking to the students they were very much eagerly hearing me about the principles of Srimad-Bhagavatam rather the clergymen were cautious to allow the students to hear me so patiently. They thought that the students may not be converted into Hindu ideas as it is quite natural for any religious sect. But they do not know that the devotional service of the Lord (Sri Krishna) is the common religion for every one including the aborigines and the cannibals in the jungles." (Letter to Madam Sumati Morarji Baisaheba,October 27, 1965)


IMHO,devotees of Krsna should be concerned not with Hinduism,but sanantana-dharma --- the eternal occupation of the living entity.This sanantana-dharma is not any "ism", but rather it is the universal and non-sectarian heartbeat of spirituality of people all over the world.







[This message has been edited by leyh (edited 05-22-2002).]

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Ramendra Nath has given us a chance to enhance our own faiths and help many others suffering from such a negative understanding.


I wd be grateful if someone cd give me satisfactory answers.


Originally posted by bhaktajoy:

Mr.Ramendra Nath wasting his valuable human life,misused intelligence...


[This message has been edited by bhaktajoy (edited 05-23-2002).]


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Originally posted by abhi_the_great:

I wd be grateful if someone cd give me satisfactory answers.


It is a good post and we need to respond to this. I can handle all his trivial comments except the birth based caste system which is a social reality. I have doubts about the authenticity of manu smriti as it exists today. I have called for another thread Caste to discuss caste system. I hope to get some questions resolved so that all his points are refuted like a swat on a fly.


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