Today Bhagwat Gita has become one of the most celebrated religious scriptures of Hindus. Since most of the other Hindu scriptures like Manusmriti, Upanishads, etc are often mired in controversies due to their inherent inegalitarian character that designate vast majority of Hindus as shudras, impure and untouchables, Hindu reformers/revivalists often seek solace in Bhagwat Gita to defend the Hindu-Brahmanism. They present it as an epitome of knowledge and wisdom. Even the Prime Minister of India can be found proudly gifting this book to foreign dignitaries. Several State governments led by Hindu Upper castes have been mulling to make it compulsory in schools. Since most of the Hindus are backward, oppressed and ideologically ill-conditioned or brainwashed, they easily fall prey to Brahmanic agendas/propaganda and never verify the contents of Gita on their own. The purpose of this post is therefore to contest the claims of Hindu apologists that Gita preaches equality and egalitarianism. The post will show that like many other Hindu Scriptures, Bhagwat Gita too is an inherently casteist scripture that supports and justifies the caste system and seeks to maintain the dominance of the Hindu Upper Castes.
In Chapter 3, verse 35, Bhagwat Gita says- “śreyān sva-dharmo viguṇaḥ para-dharmāt sv-anuṣṭhitāt sva-dharme nidhanaṁ śreyaḥ para-dharmo bhayāvahaḥ”
In English, it means “It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another’s duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.”
The catchword here is “SWA-DHARMO” which has been translated as ‘one’s prescribed duties’. This verse even if read standalone is problematic on many counts as to why it is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties faultily when a person can perform another’s duties perfectly. But if seen in the light of certain other verses, it becomes clear that ‘Swa-Dharmo’ (derived from ‘Dharma’) or ‘one’s prescribed duties’ means nothing but the occupation determined by birth. And if this is the case then the verse simply means that one should only engage in the occupation determined by the caste they are born into. Rest is just the clever game of semantics being played by Brahmins through ages.
Chapter 4 (titled as ‘Transcendental Knowledge’), verse 13 of Gita clearly recognises the four division of mankind. The verse provides- “chātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ tasya kartāram api māṁ viddhy akartāram avyayam” ie. “According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable.”
In Chapter 18 (titled as ‘The perfection of renunciation’), verse 41, it provides- “brāhmaṇa-kṣatriya-viśāṁ śūdrāṇāṁ ca paran-tapa karmāṇi pravibhaktāni svabhāva-prabhavair guṇaiḥ” which means that “Brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas and śūdras are distinguished by the qualities born of their own natures in accordance with the material modes, O chastiser of the enemy.” And then in the next few verses (43, 44, 45) it defines the duties of each of these varnas/categories. For instance, in verse 44 (Chapter 18), it prescribes the duties and occupation of Vaishyas and Shudras- “kṛṣi-go-rakṣya-vāṇijyaṁ vaiśya-karma svabhāva-jam paricaryātmakaṁ karma śūdrasyāpi svabhāva-jam” which translates into English as- “Farming, cow protection and business are the natural work for the vaiśyas, and for the śūdras there are labor and service to others.” In verse 47 of the same chapter, it reiterates- “It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one’s nature are never affected by sinful reactions.” This simply means (regardless whether Varna system was based on birth or profession) that if Shudras are engaged in the labour work they will have to continue doing so (whether they like it or not and whether they do it properly or not) and not switch to any other profession and if they do then they militate against the norms of Gita. The motive and intention behind this verse is self-evident and needs no explanation. If the varna system was really based on occupation and not birth then why stop people from changing their occupation?
Those who are still under the utopian impression that these verses aren’t advocating caste system on the basis of birth should read Chapter 9 (titled as ‘The most confident knowledge’), verse 32 which goes on as- “māṁ hi pārtha vyapāśritya ye ’pi syuḥ pāpa-yonayaḥ striyo vaiśyās tathā śūdrās te ’pi yānti parāṁ gatim” translated into English as “O son of Paṛthā, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth – women, vaiśyas [merchants] and śūdras [workers] – can attain the supreme destination.” The verse clearly recognises women, merchants, and workers as of lower/sinful origins and quite ridiculously also promises them salvation on certain conditions- if they take shelter in God of Gita by strictly engaging in the occupations they are born into as has been prescribed in the previous verses. Then in chapter 18, verse 48, Gita again reiterates that “Every endeavor is covered by some fault, just as ﬁre is covered by smoke. Therefore one should not give up the work born of his nature, O son of Kuntī, even if such work is full of fault.”
Now given that apologists of Hindu-Brahmanism are expert in the tactics of manipulation and extrapolation which they have been honing since ages, they will, of course, come up with scores of explanations to leverage their arguments in favour of these verses and Gita as a whole. But it is for the people who are the receiving end (especially the backward and oppressed castes of Hindus who constitute the vast majority of Indian population) to be cautious and circumspect about anything associated with Hindu-Brahmanism which will only use and befool them as it did in the past and doing in the present.
A perusal of above-mentioned verses of Bhagwat Gita shows that it explicitly supports the varna system and stops people from engaging in occupations that they are not born into. For the sake of argument even if we assume that one’s varna status was determined by the occupation he/she was engaged into, it is still problematic at so many levels as the verses cited above nonetheless stop them from changing their professions. In any case, it was clearly meant to keep the hegemony and monopoly of Dwijas (Hindu upper castes) over others on certain important professions and aspects of life and Bhagwat Gita helps in perpetuating and internalising that.
- Bhagwat Gita (English Translation by Bhaktivedanta Veda Base)