Journal of religious culture = Journal für Religionskultur
- 024 b
Mahatma Gandhi’s evaluation of the caste system as an element of the national independence movement in India
- Castes still determine the social reality of India in many fields and affect politics more and more by functioning as vote banks which are decisive in elections. Thus it is small wonder that there is an ongoing discussion about this social phe-nomenon. The controversies in the course of this discussion not only relate to academic theories concerning the origin, the evolution and the mode of opera-tion of the caste system but also determine the discussion about reform models for the Indian society. Such models either strive for the complete abolition of the caste system or at least call for a comprehensive reform of it. Especially the Dalit movement blames the caste system for the oppression and discrimination of the Dalits in society and tries to withdraw them from this system. Yet the Dalit movement does not develop any alternative social draft. The Hindutva movement makes a strong effort to establish a modern (Hindu) nation which is only possible by overcoming the caste system that totally divides the society. Thus Hindutva is against the caste system though the antagonists of this move-ment usually maintain the contrary. Swami Vivekananda holds that the only way to overcome the caste system is the Brahmanization of the whole society. For this he gives a religious explanation as he announces the end of the Kali-Yuga. The Hare Krishna movement wants to turn away from a hereditary caste system towards a system where every individual is classified according to his skills and performance. Such a system should be based on Vedic traditions and especially on the fourfold varna system which is described in the ancient Rigveda. Gandhi’s social draft and above all its attitude towards the caste system are often part of the current discussion but the interpretations differ according to the inter-preter’s ideological direction. Thus some charge Gandhi with having defended the caste system unconditionally, while others consider him a sharp critic of the system. This large spectrum is hardly surprising, since Gandhi’s comments are very reserved and can only become understandable by a comparative analysis of different statements on the caste system made by him during his political career. This article intends to provide such an analysis without neglecting the historical context which is vital to make Gandhi’s ideas clear. ...