Statement against Caste-based Discrimination: His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

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Background

His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a renowned spiritual leader and multi-faceted humanitarian whose mission of uniting the world into a violence-free family has inspired millions of people worldwide. The icon of non-violence and universal human values, Sri Sri seeks global peace through service and dialog.
 
In 1981, Sri Sri started the Art of Living Foundation, an international nonprofit educational and humanitarian organization. The Foundation, now active in more than 140 countries, offers educational and self-development programs designed to eliminate stress and foster a sense of well-being. While his self development programs have popularized traditionally exclusive ancient techniques, Sri Sri's social initiatives address an array of issues such as conflict resolution, disaster and trauma relief, prisoner rehabilitation, youth leadership, women's empowerment, female foeticide, child labor, and access to education which have reached more than 30,000 rural communities. Sri Sri travels to more than 40 countries a year to share his message of social responsibility, and that all great spiritual traditions share common goals and values. His teachings of love, practical wisdom, and service promote harmony among people, and encourage individuals to follow their chosen spiritual path, while honoring other paths.

Statement

Peace and progress can only happen through reconciliation and reform. Reform cannot happen out of anger or hatred. We need a calm and clear mind, and a compassionate approach, along with the whole-­hearted participation of the parties concerned. The scriptures did not support the caste system by birth, but caste is suggested by professional and innate tendencies. Such systems are prevalent in all the civilized societies and in every culture around the World. For instance, only doctors form part of a doctors’ association. It is the same with other professions be it lawyer or the military.
 
The need of the hour is to help people realize that being born in any a particular caste is not a curse and that discrimination is not sanctioned by religion. Every Hindu needs to be educated about the fact that many of the sacred texts he or she reads were written by Dalits. Historically, many of the revered rishis were Dalits. The Dalit contribution to the literature of Sanatana Dharma is commendable. For instance, the narrator of the Puranas, Soota Maharishi, was a Dalit. Shaabara Rishi, born into an ‘atishudra’ family, was highly revered as a scholar and a sage. Rishi Shaabara’s commentary on the Vedas is a highly regarded reference book for the most learned of Vedic scholars. The current generation of upper castes is not exposed to this information and this is the reason why, in the villages, people continue to indulge in discriminatory practices.
 
If the caste had always been so rigid, you would not have many saints, kings or businessmen from every community. More than half of the rulers of pre-independence India were form the backward communities. It was in the last days of the Mughal Rule and during the British regime that the caste system deteriorated further and took an inhuman turn. If you go to any Shiva temple you will find figures of 63 saints. Many of these were from Shudra background and were worshipped by the Brahmins.
 
Every morning, the first Puja of the day in Tirupati temple is offered by the scheduled caste Banjara community. It would be good to start this practice in other temples where there is discrimination. The oppressors need to be taught that what they claim to be their own has major contributions from the Dalits. As Maharishi Dayananda, Sri Aurobindo, and many others have rightly pointed out, religious practices have drifted away from their philosophy.
 
It is unfortunate that people without proper knowledge of the scriptures simply quote from the Manu Smriti, which is only a code of conduct given by a king. It is sad that people have discarded the underlying philosophy and have allowed the unscrupulous practices to continue. It is time for this to change. The greatest of the epics -­ the Ramayana was written by a Dalit. How can Dalits drop their precious heritage and allow a few orthodox narrow-‐minded people to dominate? It is not only the Dalit community who are fighting for their rights; many upper caste people are working and fighting for their cause. Let us not forget that the name Ambedkar was given to Bhimrao Saheb by his mentor who was a Brahmin. Not all upper caste people are oppressors and religion certainly does not sanction oppression. The vicious cycle of hatred and revenge is being promoted for political gains.
 
For peace and progress, there has to be reconciliation and reform.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar