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Devdutt Pattanaik - Business Sutra

Business Sutra |9.3| Caste: The Death of Brahmin

Business Sutra |9| Discrimination

We have covered eight episodes of Devdutt Pattanaik’ TV serial on CNBC 18:  Business Sutra.

The subject of Episode 9 is Discrimination. In order to decode this complex problem, Devdutt Pattanaik takes up gender discrimination in the 1st segment and creation of hierarchy in 2nd segment.

Business Sutra |9.3| Caste: The Death of Brahmin

Let us first quickly look at what the current (western) literature has to say on the subject of today’s subject. Caste is a form of social stratification characterized by endogamy, hereditary transmission of a lifestyle which often includes an occupation, status in a hierarchy, customary social interaction, and exclusion. It is an extreme evolution of a system of legally-entrenched social classes, also endogamous and hereditary, such as that of feudal Europe. Although caste systems exist in various regions, its paradigmatic ethnographic example is the division of Indian society into rigid social groups, with roots in India’s ancient history and persisting until today; it is sometimes used as an analogical basis for the study of caste-like social divisions existing outside India. In biology, the term is applied to role stratification in eusocial animals like ants and termites, though the analogy is imperfect as these also involve extremely stratified reproduction. Racial discrimination refers to discrimination against individuals on the basis of their race. Policies of racial segregation may formalize it, but it is also often exerted without being legalised and also it means facing injustice. The Myth of Race – The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea – Robert Wald Sussman : Biological races do not exist—and never have. This view is shared by all scientists who study variation in human populations. Yet racial prejudice and intolerance based on the myth of race remain deeply ingrained in Western society. In his powerful examination of a persistent, false, and poisonous idea, Robert Sussman explores how race emerged as a social construct from early biblical justifications to the pseudo-scientific studies of today….The Myth of Race traces the origins of modern racist ideology to the Spanish Inquisition, revealing how sixteenth-century theories of racial degeneration became a crucial justification for Western imperialism and slavery. In the nineteenth century, these theories fused with Darwinism to produce the highly influential and pernicious eugenics movement. Believing that traits from cranial shape to raw intelligence were immutable, eugenicists developed hierarchies that classified certain races, especially fair-skinned “Aryans,” as superior to others. These ideologues proposed programs of intelligence testing, selective breeding, and human sterilization—policies that fed straight into Nazi genocide. Sussman examines how opponents of eugenics, guided by the German-American anthropologist Franz Boas’s new, scientifically supported concept of culture, exposed fallacies in racist thinking….Although eugenics is now widely discredited, some groups and individuals today claim a new scientific basis for old racist assumptions. Pondering the continuing influence of racist research and thought, despite all evidence to the contrary, Sussman explains why—when it comes to race—too many people still mistake bigotry for science. We have a few good videos on the subject that has Myth of Race as the key phrase: The Myth of Race and Public Policy – FDU trustee Dr. Franklyn Jenifer discusses race, genetics and public policy at a lecture at the College at Florham. “When you say the word race, you should know what you’re talking about,” says Dr. Franklyn Jenifer. People can “walk across campus or any city and pick out race, no problem,” he says. But he contends there’s a difference between race and genetics. Jenifer discusses both “folk” and “scientific” theories of race. Scientifically, Jenifer says, when looking at genomes no one can tell blacks and whites apart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06MhgoJb-5k The Myth of Race | Sharad Paul | TEDxAuckland – Sharad Paul argues that the modern perception of race is wrong and that science and the story of Vitamin D and Folic acid tell their own story about race and skin colour. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8v0ykTrTQEc The Myth of Race | Melissa Weise | TEDxHolyokeCC – We talk about race as if we are certain what it is. What if race was simply a myth society creates? This talk addresses the meaning of both myth and race. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ew62Xq0GMBI In one of his articles, Beyond Hinduism: Is caste a religious or a regional problem?, written about 5 years after the telecast of our present episode, Devdutt Pattanaik has enlisted the documentary back-ups to establish the strong presence of racism (a.k.a. caste-based discrimination) that is neither solely on account of religion nor on account of cultural DNA of different regions. He concludes that to search for an answer  to this issue in mythology is like looking for the ring lost in this dark corner of the street under that distant lamppost where there is light. So, it is time now to look at what Indian mythology has to on the subject, as interpreted by Devudtt Pattanaik, in Segment 3 – Caste – The Death of Brahmin – of the episode 9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67PJ4s2jadM

If I was to use this as an analogy for India’s caste system and if I was to use the politically incorrect word, the Brahmin, right now. Brahmin means the thinker. Mycology has over thousands of years given the Brrahmin an exalted position in society. While laying down that everybody else is equally important somehow the Brahmin has emerged more important than everybody else. How did this get embedded and ingrained in our thinking, to the extent that it has became a rigid caste system and not a system which believed that each one has its own importance and his own place, that each one is important at a particular point in time?

Let us separate the reality of society from the thoughts that mythology is trying to communicate, what the society is being informed by a set of stories and how much is actually heard. There is clearly a delta between what is being communicated and what is being heard and imbibed.

Let us keep that as a hypothesis. Let us accept that we know that our society has almost dehumanizing practices – denying people water, the touch. There is no way on earth whereby such practices cane be justified.

The word Brahmin means someone who facilitates the discovery of Brahman. This word comes from the Upanishads. It basically means the infinite potential of a human being to outgrow his animal instincts and discover the divinity. This infinite potential all of us possess. Every human being possesses this.

Brahman is the quality.

He who facilitates this journey was called a Brahmin. It is also essential that this is separated from another word Brahma. Brahma is the word for creator. Please remember in India we don’t worship the Creator. What did he create that he is unworthy of worship.

You have told us this in a previous episode – the rat race.

The rat race is a competitive spirit which is suitable for animals fighting over resources but not for human being if they aim to outgrow their animal instinct. This is the model.

Now let’s look at Ramayan and Mahabharat.

In the Ramayan, the villain is Ravan. It is repeatedly stressed that Ravan is a Brahmin, the thinker. We have to be careful here with the use of the word, Brahmin, because in India today it is a political issue. So let us make it clear to our viewers that we’re using Brahman as a substitute for the word thinker. Brahmin is a thinker. He is supposed to come from the family of thinkers. He has got 10 heads, which means that he is capable of thinking much more than most other people. He is supposed to direct people in this direction of outgrowing the animal instinct. But, his behavior is competitive and he celebrates his animal instincts. So, Rama takes up his destruction, which otherwise is considered to be a greater sin. However, that is what the scripture is actually showing-that this is unacceptable behavior. But Ram still celebrates the idea of the thinker. So, after killing Ravan, Ram performs an act of penance, saying that I respect the idea of Brahman, but not the person of Brahmin, definitely not what the person has become.

In Mahabharat, you have a teacher called Drona. He is a Brahmin. He creates students who fight with each other over property. What kind of a thinker is this? What kind of a teacher is this? Drona is attached to his son, Ashwatthama. He is so attached to his son there that he justifies the entire life being devoted to his son, taking care of his son, earn money for his son. He gives tuitions for his son, he builds empire for his son, He sees a family breaking itself apart in fighting a great war. But he still does not feel there’s anything wrong. He is the teacher of the Kauravas and Pandavas and what has he taught them has led to potentially a great massacre. Yet, he is not ashamed of it. He feels almost sounding like a professional, saying I did what I did and they are responsible for it. So, in the battle-field, Krishna says that Drona is so attached to his son, he is so obsessed with the stuff that if we use the son against him and tell him that Ashwathama is dead, Drona will not wait to find out whether that Ashwathama that is dead is his son or an elephant. Drona lays down his weapons and says that I will not fight with my son dead. He just assumes his son is dead Thereupon he is beheaded.

This is a recurring theme in mythology. Brahma’s head is cut off by Shiva in mythology because he creates the competitive world. Ravan is killed by Rama. Drona’s death is sanctioned by Krishna. These thinkers, the Brahmins, have strayed on the wrong path. The thinker is taking the society in the wrong direction, for which he shall not be forgiven. Any leader, any designer or any strategist of an organization is to take human beings to their higher potential, not to the base values.

So, scientifically, neither gender nor the race would justify stratification based on such factors into strong discriminatory grounds. But, the immutable care animal instinct – survival at any cost- of the human nature has hardened it as over the years as the discriminatory practice. So much so, that, now, when efforts are made to undo such discriminations, the remedial measures also are seen to breed the ground for future discrimination. That is THE learning to take home – discrimination is inevitable, we can only try to make its impact as positive as is possible.

In our continuing journey of Devdutt Pattanaik’s TV serial Business Sutra, we will move on to the three segments of 10th Episode, the Finale, in our next episode.

Note: The images used in this post are the irrevocable property of their respective creator. They have been taken up courtesy the internet, so as to illustrate the point under discussion.