Misinterpretation of the caste system in Mauritius

According to socio-historical theory, the caste system began in India. The “Varna Dharma”, that is the division of labour in society, consisted of four ‘Varnas’ or major groups namely the “Brāhman”, the “Kshatriya”, the “Vaishya” and the “Shūdra”. From an organic analogy, the “Brāhman” was like the brain in the body, as its representatives were responsible for spiritual and intellectual matters. Political administration and defense were entrusted to the “Kshatriya”, who was seen as the arms of the body. As for the “Vaishya”, he was like the thighs and so he had to supply food to the nation and administer its economic welfare. At last, the “Shūdra” for his part did menial work for he was considered the feet of the body. Thus, this classification was effected on the worth of the individual and not according to his birth. However, over the years, people have misinterpreted the “Varna Dharma”. In fact, each ‘Varna’ consists of different ‘jatis’ or castes. According to the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, excluding tribes, there are around 896 castes groups in India, like for example in Bihar, there were the ‘Dusadh’, ‘Chamar’, ‘Turi’ and ‘Pasi’, amongst others.

In this ever changing world, the reality of Mauritius has become complex. This is because the Hindus in our country have wrongly interpreted the “Varna Dharma”. The irony is that they don’t even have full knowledge of the different ‘jatis’ or castes and they have even failed to understand that the “Varna Dharma” was a division of labour according to the different aptitudes, capacities or qualities of people. People had a sort of achieved status. Nevertheless, the ‘varna of Brāhmans’ commonly identified with the priests and learned class, is the “Maraze” in Mauritius. The ‘varna of Kshatriyas’ associated with rulers and warriors including property owners, are the “Baboojee” in Mauritius. Besides, the ‘varna of Vaishyas’ associated with businessmen, farmers and traders are the “Vaish” in Mauritius and are also in Majority on the island. At last, the ‘varna of Shūdras’, that is the servile labourers, are the “Rajput” (or “Dusadh”) and the “Ravived” (or “Chamar”) in Mauritius.

The way the castes are arranged in Mauritius is preposterous. Hindus have failed to realize that we live in an open society where social mobility is present. Education is the most important factor explaining this social mobility, that is, through the acquisition of knowledge and skills, people are getting jobs with attractive salaries and which carry high statuses. Even a child of ‘low caste’ can move up the social ladder. I feel that many Hindus blindly follow what they have been taught about their caste. Nowadays, the many so-proud “Maraze” work as labourers when they should according to their ‘Varna’, be priests or teachers. Surprisingly, a lot of the “Shūdras” have moved up the social ladder becoming ministers, lawyers and so on. One most humorous thing to take heed is that in Mauritius, one of the “Shūdras” castes is called “Rajput”, while in India, “Rajput” refers to one of the highest castes that of the bravest soldiers and Kings of Rajasthan in Northern India. Another ironical thing I have noticed is that people who have lost their Indian values, for example, people who choose not to study Hindi at school, and prefer European shows to Indian ones, are the very same people who definitely do not understand the caste system and boast unnecessarily too much about their castes.

Here, in Mauritius, it is the politicians who exploit the caste system for their own benefit. As long as people will depend on current politics, the caste system is bound to stay. The different organizations like the “Vaish Mukti Sangh”, the “Gahlot Rajput Maha Sabha”, the Arya Ravived Pracharini Sabha”, amongst others, according to Dr. Hollup (1996)“these caste populations have emerged as important interest groups bargaining for their share of state resources (particularly government jobs) which are distributed through political patronage.” The politicians know well how to divide people to get the maximum advantage, especially in rural constituencies where very often we find the canvas of one “Vaish”, one “Rajput” and one “Ravived” as candidates. It is disappointing to note that people fail to realize that they are being taken advantage of, for other people’s benefits. I feel that the notion of caste has become an object of frequent abuse at vested hands like for example in the case of politicians whose aims are to obtain more votes during elections.

On a concluding note therefore, the reality of Mauritius is getting more complex. It is to be noted that for some people, the caste system is historical, symbolic and for many, philosophical. For some, it is something to be proud of. For others, it means putting down other people. It is high time to get rid of this caste system. Even India has legally abolished its caste system, yet we the diluted Hindus are still holding on to it.

“There is only one caste, the caste of humanity”.

Therefore, I feel that we have to stop being radical. It is really time that we take responsibility for our own actions and biases because caste and societal divisions are the testimony of Mauritian hypocrisy.