This is a long documentary by activist-filmmaker Stalin K about the scourge of caste and untouchability in modern-day India, where in fact it remains a widespread practice even though holding or treating anyone as untouchable legally a crime.
The film is impressive in its comprehensiveness, covering the subject in all parts of the country, amongst Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians; in the educated and uneducated classes; from the most trivial to the most serious discrimination and violence, the film uncovers a lifetime of abuse against people deemed unclean by birth.
Varanasi scholars and ‘holy’ men defend the practice by appeal to the scriptures, which supercedes their adherence to the law, and there are many telling quotes from the Laws of Manu justifying it.
If Stalin had ventured outside of India and into Sri Lanka, he would have found another society that is stricken by caste, where even the Sangha unholds caste distinctions.
The difference, though is this: unlike appeals to the Laws of Manu by Hindus, there is nothing at all in the Buddha’s teaching that can be used to justify caste discrimination, and it does not exist in other Buddhist countries which are outside of India’s direct influence.
This, in part, is what the Buddha had to say about it (from The Discourse on the Outcastes):
1. “That man who is angry, who has enmity, is bad, and insolent, who has wrong views, and is deceitful, he one should know as an outcaste.
2. Whether once born, or twice born, he who is violent to creatures here, who has no sympathy with creatures, he one should know as an outcaste.
3. He who beseiges and destroys villages and market towns, who is well known as an oppressor, he one should know as an outcaste.
4. (He who), whether in the village or the wilderness, takes by theft what is not given, those things loved by others, he one should know as an outcaste.
5. He who has taken on a debt, and when pressed (to pay it) runs away, saying: “There is no debt due to you,” he one should know as an outcaste.
6. He who desiring a trifle, after slaying a person going along the path, takes that trifle, he one should know as an outcaste.
7. That man who, for his own sake, for the sake of others, or for wealth, when asked to bear witness, speaks falsely, he one should know as an outcaste.
8. He who is seen (misbehaving) with the wives of friends or relatives, whether forcibly, or with consent, he one should know as an outcaste.
. . .
21. Na jaccā vasalo hoti, na jaccā hoti brāhmaṇo,
One is not an outcaste by birth, by birth one is not a brahmin,
kammanā vasalo hoti kammanā hoti brāhmaṇo.
by deeds one becomes an outcaste, one becomes a brahmin by deeds.
and in another place, describing the loss of caste of those gone forth in the Saṅgha he said:
Just as, monks, whatever great rivers there are, that is to say: The Gaṅgā, the Yamunā, the Aciravatī, the Sarabhū, and the Mahī, having arrived at the great ocean, give up their former lineages and names, and are then designated as the great ocean, so, monks, there are these four classes: Khattiyas, Brāhmaṇas, Vessas, and Suddas, who, having gone forth from the home to homelessness in the Dhamma and Discipline taught by the Realised One, give up their former lineages and names, and are then designated as Sakyan ascetics.
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