Jan 30, 2005

Dear Mr. Pitts:

We appreciate your concern for the plight of the "Dalits" in many parts of India. And we are glad that you recognize that "India is a nation of great and wonderful diversity," and that "It is a strong ally, and the world's largest democracy."

But we would also like you to know, in the interest of truth and accuracy, that the caste system was not established by Hindu priests 3,000 years ago to "allow a powerful few to dominate the many." Rather, it was the codification of the system of division of labor that was all too common in the ancient world, except that in the caste framework the hereditary role of professions became too rigid. It is not true that "this system fails to recognize the worth of all people." Rather, it created a hierarchy in the recognition of the worth of all people.

Today, the four distinct castes you are listing are only in name and lineage, and not as rigid and immobile as they once used to be.

It is true that there are vast numbers of "Dalits" (or the so-called outcastes) who are still marginalized in many parts of India. But it is equally true that special quotas are assigned for members of the "Dalit" class in educational institutions and government jobs, and other efforts are made to diminish and eliminate the evils of marginalization of people.

It must be emphasized that the law of the land (India) guarantees full rights to one and all citizens, and that many "Dalits" have risen to high professional positions within the country. This is not to say that extremely bad instances of discrimination and prejudice don't exist in India. The situation is not unlike what obtained in the United States for decades even after the Emancipation Proclamation. Discrimination against "Dalits" is still widespread, like racial prejudice against Blacks in the Western world. But, like here, there are also many social, political, and religious movements in the Hindu world, within and beyond India, which work towards the elimination of the discriminatory elements of the caste system, and for giving full social/religious rights to all "Dalits".

It is unfortunately true that Islamic and Christian missionaries take advantage of this sorry situation to spread their own religions. Such conversions, by appealing to the resentment and frustration of the victims of caste discrimination, may have little spiritual or moral value, but they are perpetrated anyway because in this confused world of ours, there is an eagerness to bring more people under one's religious fold no matter how, with little understanding of what religious commitment is all about.

Again, we appreciate your interest in the plight of the oppressed in the Hindu world. We say these to you, not to condone any kind of unconscionable discrimination, whether in the Hindu, Islamic, or Christian world, but to make you better aware of the complexity of the situation, and the arduous steps that are being taken by a great many enlightened Hindus to bring about positive changes in societies. We hope that the next time you speak or write about a situation in a culture that is far removed from your own personal experience, you would mention of some of the points we have brought to your attention.


Navya Shastra Committee

Navya Shastra is a US-based non profit organization dedicated to fostering the spiritual equality of all Hindus. For more information, please visit www.shastras.org