22 [No reformers, and no appeals to reason, have so far succeeded]

[1:] Can you appeal to reason, and ask the Hindus to discard Caste as being contrary to reason? That raises the question: Is a Hindu free to follow his reason? Manu has laid down three sanctions to which every Hindu must conform in the matter of his behaviour:


[3:] Here there is no place for reason to play its part. A Hindu must follow either Veda, Smriti or sadachar. He cannot follow anything else.

[4:] In the first place, how are the texts of the Vedas and Smritis to be interpreted whenever any doubt arises regarding their meaning? On this important question the view of Manu is quite definite. He says:


[6:] According to this rule, rationalism as a canon of interpreting the Vedas and Smritis is absolutely condemned. It is regarded to be as wicked as atheism, and the punishment provided for it is excommunication. Thus, where a matter is covered by the Veda or the Smriti, a Hindu cannot resort to rational thinking.

[7:] Even when there is a conflict between Vedas and Smritis on matters on which they have given a positive injunction, the solution is not left to reason. When there is a conflict between two Shrutis, both are to be regarded as of equal authority. Either of them may be followed. No attempt is to be made to find out which of the two accords with reason. This is made clear by Manu:


[9:] "When there is a conflict between Shruti and Smriti, the Shruti must prevail." But here too, no attempt must be made to find out which of the two accords with reason. This is laid down by Manu in the following shloka:


[11:] Again, when there is a conflict between two Smritis, the Manu Smriti must prevail, but no attempt is to be made to find out which of the two accords with reason. This is the ruling given by Brihaspati:


[13:] It is, therefore, clear that in any matter on which the Shrutis and Smritis have given a positive direction, a Hindu is not free to use his reasoning faculty. The same rule is laid down in the Mahabharat:


[15:] He must abide by their directions. Caste and Varna are matters which are dealt with by the Vedas and the Smritis, and consequently, appeal to reason can have no effect on a Hindu.

[16:] So far as Caste and Varna are concerned, not only the Shastras do not permit the Hindu to use his reason in the decision of the question, but they have taken care to see that no occasion is left to examine in a rational way the foundations of his belief in Caste and Varna. It must be a source of silent amusement to many a Non-Hindu to find hundreds and thousands of Hindus breaking Caste on certain occasions, such as railway journeys and foreign travel, and yet endeavouring to maintain Caste for the rest of their lives!

[17:] The explanation of this phenomenon discloses another fetter on the reasoning faculties of the Hindus. Man's life is generally habitual and unreflective. Reflective thought—in the sense of active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge, in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends—is quite rare, and arises only in a situation which presents a dilemma or a crisis. Railway journeys and foreign travels are really occasions of crisis in the life of a Hindu, and it is natural to expect a Hindu to ask himself why he should maintain Caste at all, if he cannot maintain it at all times. But he does not. He breaks Caste at one step, and proceeds to observe it at the next, without raising any question.

[18:] The reason for this astonishing conduct is to be found in the rule of the Shastras, which directs him to maintain Caste as far as possible and to undergo prayaschitta when he cannot. By this theory of prayaschitta, the Shastras, by following a spirit of compromise, have given caste a perpetual lease on life, and have smothered the reflective thought which would have otherwise led to the destruction of the notion of Caste.

[19:] There have been many who have worked in the cause of the abolition of Caste and Untouchability. Of those who can be mentioned, Ramanuja, Kabir, and others stand out prominently. Can you appeal to the acts of these reformers and exhort the Hindus to follow them?

[20:] It is true that Manu has included sadachar as one of the sanctions along with Shruti and Smriti. Indeed, sadachar ( ) has been given a higher place than Shastras:


[22:] According to this, sadachar, whether it is dharmya or adharmya, in accordance with Shastras or contrary to Shastras, must be followed. But what is the meaning of sadachar? If anyone were to suppose that sadachar means right or good acts—i.e., acts of good and righteous men—he would find himself greatly mistaken. Sadachar does not means good acts or acts of good men. It means ancient custom, good or bad. The following verse makes this clear:


[24:] As though to warn people against the view that sadachar means good acts or acts of good men, and fearing that people might understand it that way and follow the acts of good men, the Smritis have commanded the Hindus in unmistakable terms not to follow even Gods in their good deeds, if they are contrary to Shruti, Smriti, and sadachar. This may sound to be most extraordinary, most perverse, but the fact remains that is an injunction issued to the Hindus by their Shastras.

[25:] Reason and morality are the two most powerful weapons in the armoury of a reformer. To deprive him of the use of these weapons is to disable him for action. How are you going to break up Caste, if people are not free to consider whether it accords with reason? How are you going to break up Caste, if people are not free to consider whether it accords with morality? The wall built around Caste is impregnable, and the material of which it is built contains none of the combustible stuff of reason and morality. Add to this the fact that inside this wall stands the army of Brahmins who form the intellectual class, Brahmins who are the natural leaders of the Hindus, Brahmins who are there not as mere mercenary soldiers but as an army fighting for its homeland, and you will get an idea why I think that the breaking up of Caste among the Hindus is well-nigh impossible. At any rate, it would take ages before a breach is made.

[26:] But whether the doing of the deed takes time or whether it can be done quickly, you must not forget that if you wish to bring about a breach in the system, then you have got to apply the dynamite to the Vedas and the Shastras, which deny any part to reason; to the Vedas and Shastras, which deny any part to morality. You must destroy the religion of the Shrutis and the Smritis. Nothing else will avail. This is my considered view of the matter.