This Issue | Editorial | Feature | E-mail
Rebuttal to Kean Gibson

Part III: The Scriptural Basis for Varna (not Caste)
Gibson writes: “In the Hindu scriptures, the caste system is called ‘Chatur Varna’ meaning four ‘colours’”. Not so; Varna does not mean caste, nor colour; colour is just a popular and loose translation. Caste is derived from a Portuguese word (casta) meaning race or lineage. In Sanskrit, Varna is derived from the root vr or vri meaning to count, classify, consider, describe or choose. For example, each letter of the alphabet is a varna (classification). Next, (see, the roots ‘r’ and ‘rn’ mean ‘enjoyment, pleasure, etc.’ Therefore, varna signifies “accepting with pleasure after elaborate consideration”. So, varna means a classification based on free choice (of conduct).

Significantly, if Varna meant “colour”, as highlighted above, how does one reconcile Lord Krishna’s dark complexion with the nobility (Kshatriya) varna in which he belonged? How can Lord Krishna, as the incarnation of God, be saying he created the four varnas, but implicitly assigning his human self to the lowest “dark” rung, because of his colour? The incongruity is laughable; but Gibson misses it.

Gibson’s limited knowledge and research (whether by ‘method’ or otherwise) becomes apparent when one considers the full sloka from where the ‘chatur varna’ is lifted. Dr S. Radhakrishnan provides the context, translation and elucidation as follows. Gita IV, 13 states: caturvarnyam maya srstam gunakarmavibhagasah. “The fourfold order was created by Me according to the gunas - divisions of quality and work.” Dr. S. Radhakrishnan explains that “the emphasis is on guna (aptitude) and karma (function) and not jati (birth). The varna or order to which we belong is independent of sex, birth or breeding. A class determined by temperament and vocation is not a caste determined by birth or heredity. According to the Mahabharata (MB), the whole world was originally of one class, but later it became divided into four on account of the tendencies and occupational specializations of man. Even the distinctions between castes (varnas) and outcaste is artificial and unspiritual…. In the MB, Yudhisthira says that it is difficult to find out the caste (varna) of persons on account of the mixture of castes (varnas)… So, conduct is the only determining feature of caste (varna) according to the sages.”

It is the said “conduct” – based on different value systems rather than the artificial Gibson construct of ‘dualism, which is the cause of ethnic conflict in Guyana, as it was the cause of the Mahabharata world war, millennia ago.

To underscore the contention that the varna classes were not intended to be fixed and exclusionary, a scriptural reference and an anecdote are instructive. In the early Vedic times, the Varna system meant classes had free mobility of jobs and intermarriage. To substantiate this, the Rig Veda IX. 112.3 hymn contains: "I am a bard, my father is a physician, my mother's job is to grind the corn....”

According to an Upnashadic story, a boy whose mother was a prostitute asked to be initiated. The guru asked him what caste he was. He replied that he was of all castes – he worshipped god like a Brahmin; he earned his keep like a Vaishya; he cleaned his home like a Shudra; and protected his family interests like a Kshyatria. This pleased the guru who initiated him into the Brahmin life. Most people can identify with the boy.

The relevance and significance of varnas can be seen in the following discussion. In all societies, humans fall into four basic classes, based on their aptitudes, tendencies and energies. These are roughly the intellectuals and mind users, those given to physical and courageous acts, those with an aptitude for farming, business and economics, and those who feel comfortable being service providers or given to physical labor. These four divisions are said to be created by the Almighty in the Hindu creation (Purusha Sukta) hymn of the Rig Veda (which Lord Krishna reasserts in the Gita) from the Cosmic primordial man. These four classes are the varnas – a human social order based on a division of labor and modeled on the interrelationship of the four basic human faculties/aptitudes. The universal Cosmic Self is thus linked to the individual man (microcosm) and to society at large (macrocosm) in an organic way. To the four varnas is a color association, symbolic of their energies and tendencies (gunas). The Brahmin or intellectual/priestly role is associated with white signifying Satwik guna for ritual purity; Kshatryia is associated with red (sanguine) symbolizing strength/vigor and courage, the Rajasic-Satwic gunas; yellow is associated with the cultivator and merchant role representing Tamasic-Rajasic gunas, (gold is yellow); and the physical, service provider role, Tamasic guna, is associated with black, signifying natural abilities, and noting that feet rest on the earth, with its natural resources. The color association in the Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago flags, indicate a similar symbolism, that has nothing to do with race:

Guyana Flag: The green symbolizes Guyana's forests, vegetation and agriculture. The Golden Arrowhead (yellow) represents the country's mineral wealth and its golden future. The red stands for the country's eagerness and enthusiasm to embrace the nation-building process. The white represents Guyana's abundant water resources and the black indicates the perseverance and endurance of the nation.

Trinidad and Tobago Flag: The red base represents the vigor of the land in Trinidad and Tobago, the friendliness and courage of its people, and the sun. The black represents the unity and strength of the people, as well as the natural wealth of the country. The white represents the surrounding sea and the purity and equality of all people under the sun. Together, the colors represent earth, water and fire, which connect the nation's people to the past present and future.

The varna into which one is born is determined by oneself in a previous life. One can move from varna to varna even in the same lifetime depending on one’s tendencies, attitudes and deeds. Moreover, Varnas are complementary, as are human faculties and limbs, not competitive.

In a nutshell, the Rig Veda, the lead Hindu sruti, or revealed scripture, declared varnas as the original human society organizing principle, based on faculties, aptitudes and energies. The Gita added karma (actions) of a previous life, as human society became differentiated and humans were demoted into a different yuga (age). All smritis, including the Manu Smriti, are secondary scriptures to the sruti (Vedas and Upanishads); and no castes (but only varnas) are defined in the srutis. Similarly, the Gita which is a blend of the Vedas and Upanishads (srutis) talks only about varnas. Wikipedia, the internet encyclopaedia states: “Manu Smriti is often quoted in reference to the Varna caste system. The Manu Smriti is a later work that does not form a part of Hindu Scriptures, so it is of questionable relevance. Use of the Manu Smriti by the British colonialists has led to claims that it is used by politicians and sociologists to denigrate those of the Hindu faith.”

This natural system deteriorated into a caste or Jati system based on birth, as other tribes and peoples moved into India, together with human greed and ego needs taking precedence over selfless actions. Today, the caste system, as practiced in India, is a grotesque replica of a former noble system. Donald Mackenzie writes in India – Myths and Legends: “It must be borne in mind that more than one current of thought was operating during the course of the shaping the complex religion which culminated in modern Hinduism; and, of the influence of races that imported their own modes of thought.”

So, when Gibson writes that East Indians in Guyana believe that “Black” people are evil by nature and “This belief is legitimized in the Hindu scriptures in the caste system that is based on the dualism of good and evil,” Gibson is behaving like a child who has an attachment to a broken toy or old blanket and proceeds to take it/use it everywhere she goes (as in misapplying “dualism” to Hinduism).

Part IV: Gibson’s Limited knowledge of Hindu festivals
First of all, to understand Hinduism, one must know that it is a religion of symbols, myths/metaphors and allegories. Very little is what it seems. There are deeper underlying messages in most concepts and practices. Contrasting it with the Judeo-Christian tradition, Eugene Kennedy writes in the Editor’s Foreword to Joseph Campbell’s Thou Art That (Sanskrit: Tat Tvam Asi): “Many elements of the Bible seem lifeless and unbelievable because they have been regarded as historical facts instead of metaphorical representation of spiritual realities.” So, Campbell posits: “People turn to Oriental religion (Hinduism and Buddhism) because therein the real message which has been closed by excessive literalism in their own religion and which is now open to them again.”

Gibson states that “Hindu holy festivals such as Diwali (Deepavali) and Phagwah are about the killing of demons and thus the triumph of good over the evil.” Let us take Deepavali, which simply means “a row of light”. Is any “dualism” lurking there? Gibson doesn’t know/say that there are at least five other reasons that Deepavali, a 5-day festival, is commemorated, namely, New Year Day; Bhaiya Dooj – where sisters invite and accord brothers affectionate welcome; inviting Goddess Luxmi – into one’s life and resolving to earn wealth and material things honestly and to share with family and the community; a harvest festival and offering the harvest to God; and, commemoration of the poisoning death of the noted Hindu reformer, Swami Dayanand. Furthermore, the significant symbolism behind this light festival is the request to God contained in the prayer: ‘Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya’ (Lead me from darkness to light), reminding us that we too can drive out the evils within us and light the ‘lamp of knowledge’ in our lives. Recall that Jesus metaphorically advised not to hide the lamp under the bushel but to set it where all can see to light their paths.

Note that Jews and Christians also celebrate a ‘festival of light’, soon after the Hindu Diwali. In fact, hidden behind the Christmas Day celebration is the celebration of the birth of the pagan sun god Mithras (patterning from the Hindu deity Mitra), after the darkest day of the year in northern latitudes (which metaphor is subsumed).

In the case of Phagwah, the main tradition is the celebration of Spring and the roasting of another harvest grains in a bonfire (Holi). The symbolism attached to the burning destruction of the evil Holika is that as individuals we should eradicate evils within ourselves; the emphasis is not on an external enemy.

Part V: Rebuttal of Specific Issues
Kean Gibson has committed a number of factual errors and blatant misrepresentation of quotations and interpretations of Hindu scriptures; and distorted historical/situational incidents, of which only a select few can be dealt with, because of space.

Gibson writes, seemingly, quoting or elucidating C. Seecharan’s (Tiger in the Stars) views, that the caste system was reconstituted for Guyana so that the normally lower castes were reclassified to Brahmins and Kshatriyas. Two comments are appropriate. Firstly, if one can transcend caste boundaries so easily, then the notion that castes are rigid is a non sequitur; and, caste then becomes artificial and not scripture-driven. Secondly, by definition, the Kshatriya varna/caste is responsible for administration of government and enforcing the rule of law. So, the “Black” population, on the heels of the Creoles and “Whites”, are the de facto Kshatriyas in the Guyana context. The East Indian PPP might be the elected government but the security and bureaucratic administration is predominantly weighted and executed by “Blacks” – a reason why violent criminals, especially from areas like Buxton, a “Black” enclave in Guyana, pose a challenge to be apprehended. Premier Jagan said it best in the West on Trial, referring to the years 1957 to 1964: “the PPP was in office but not in power.” Furthermore, it is the large majority of East Indians who traditionally are the shopkeepers, field cultivators and manual laboring classes, the Vaishya and Sudra categories, which are lower than the Kshyatrias class. This fact alone is sufficient to discredit Gibson’s ill-conceived thesis of “Black”degradation at the hand of Indians.

Again she claims to quote C. Seecharan to say: “the divine conquest that has been detrimental for Africans in Guyana was the killing, by Lord Rama, of the lustful, curly haired demon Ravana from the foreign land of Sri Lanka.” In the first place the “curly haired” implication that Ravana was “Black” hence a “shudra” is fallacious. Ravana was of Brahmin lineage. Wikipedia has it: “Thus he (Ravana) is thought to have been either a brahmin or a mix of the brahmin and kshatriya castes.” Secondly, Ravana’s fatal flaw was his hubris, his massive ego, as a result of the supernatural boons bestowed on him because he had performed his Brahmin austerities assiduously. This led him to commit exceedingly unpardonable acts of aggression against pious people and deities, including rape of countless women. Wikipedia continues: “Using his invulnerability and awesome strength, Ravana conquered and humiliated thousands of kings across India, building Lanka's empire and dominion over the rest of the world.” So, Ravana was not just from a “foreign land”; he was regarded as the first cruel coloniser of India! Yet, in the end, in a magnanimous act of chivalry Lord Rama paid recognition to the fact that Ravana was a Brahmin by birth, well-versed in the Vedas and prolific in his knowledge of Sanskrit. Thus Rama ordered that the funeral arrangements for Ravana be those befitting his grandeur. This chivalry also puts a dent on Gibson’s assertion that the Hindu gods (and Rama) “prefer to kill” rather than transform demons (and Ravana).

Furthermore, Gibson should be informed that there is a universal concept called “karma” (action begets reaction, in equal measure) that even the Supreme Lord does not interfere with – a natural law of the universe. Thus if Ravana killed, he will be killed in return. At least, Ravana, a devil incarnate, got a funeral “befitting his grandeur”. Can Gibson get any better than that from any other religious tradition?

Gibson writes that in the Rig Veda (RV), the Shudra is “to be expelled at will” and “to be slain at will”. In fact the only reference to the Shudra varna in RV is the Creation (Purusha Sukta) hymn, discussed above, where no such prescription to expel or slay is found. Similarly, she makes other opprobrious claims about other Hindu scriptures that either cannot be substantiated or are of questionable legitimacy as is the Manu Smriti.

In other places she liberally quotes C. Seecharan to assert East Indian superiority over Africans. If Seecharan did write what she says, he is free to express his opinion, even though his would be a minority view that is clearly misguided. It is the Indians who were the most disadvantaged on the sugar estates and in the city. The Creole society which seconded the “White” folk felt East Indians were alien “coolies” with a heathen religion and were not anglicized, so were not ready for ‘prime-time’ in government and polite society. As Africans got admitted to the said Creole caste, they too looked down on the “country coolie” whom they also bullied because of their bigger physical stature. Keep in mind as well, that it is the said Seecharan who lionizes “bitter sugar” Jock Campbell but disparages his opposite (the East Indian) Cheddi Jagan as one who “could only see black and white, not the nuances that constitute reality.” But, ironically, it is Jock Campbell who demurs and comes to Jagan’s rescue, and says: “Dr Jagan was a good man, who was trying to do his best for the people of Guyana” (not East Indians, alone) and who (Jock Campbell) also correctly saw that “Burnham was a criminal, an absolutely beastly man in every way.” It ought to be clear, then, that Seecharan’s opinion is not a reliable barometer of the East Indian psyche, traditions, achievements, religion and culture.

On the issue of political parties and racism, Gibson writes: “A consequence of the unequal nature of East Indian racism was that it forced a change of the electoral system in 1964…” This blatant attempt to fault so-called East Indians’ “racism” for a change in the electoral system is sharply in contrast with the facts. The governing PPP was Marxist (labeled Communist) by detractors, including the USA and Britain, who were out to remove Jagan/PPP from office. Burnham, in his slippery style, called himself an “egalitarian” to distance himself from Socialism, in order to be installed in power. Here is what declassified USA State Dept documents have to say: (Sept 11, 1964) “Burnham, a racist and probably anti-white, remembers slights and repays them; at the same time, he takes advantage of people who treat him softly. A recent frank exchange between Carlson and Burnham, however, proved at least partly satisfactory. Burnham said that if he gets into power he will not recognize the USSR and that he will have nothing to do with Cuba so long as he can find other people to buy British Guiana’s rice” and,

(Oct 17, 1964) “The election prospects still look good. One of the things we [US] are concentrating on is ensuring that the opposition parties (PNC, UF, etc.) turn out to vote on election day; to this end the CIA, in a deniable and discreet way, is providing financial incentives to party workers who are charged with the responsibility of getting out the vote.”

An aborted indictment of Burnham for racial violence, by Governor Luyt, is what saved the day.

(Sept 14, 1964.) “(1) Possible complicity of Burnham in Georgetown violence and conceivably his indictment (which Governor considering), (2) likelihood of attempts by Jaganites and others to use such prospects to delay elections and seek alternative courses of action.

If Burnham was indicted, the whole plan to install him, including the change of the electoral system, would have come crashing down, so the superpowers aborted plans for his indictment for racial violence on East Indians, in order to further their (superpowers’) cause of blocking another beach-head for Marxism/Communism in the Western world.

Gibson writes: “… the East Indians perceive themselves as a group under siege…” This statement is completely contradictory to Gibson’s assertion of Indian perception of themselves as superior and as the group wielding the power in Guyana, both in government and in the economy.

Gibson’s scapegoating of East Indians in Guyana is very akin to the scapegoating by Blacks of the larger society in Toronto for a sharp escalation of “Black” gun violence in that city during the past year. It took a couple of objective local Black pastors to break away from the conventional wisdom of ‘oppression of Blacks’ as the cause; and openly declare that the problem of Black violence resided right in the Black community and right in their homes. So convinced they were, that they brought a Harvard educated Black pastor (Rivers) who made the said assertion and who was able, earlier on that basis, to reduce Boston’s Black gun homicides significantly. Pastor Rivers made it clear that Black violence was the result of missing male parenting/role models in the Black community, mainly as a result of serial illegitimacy. Thus, a loss of family ‘values’ and healthy father role-modeling was leading to violent ‘conduct’ of Blacks – not racial oppression.

This penchant for “mindless violence” in some sections of the Black community was recently noted (Toronto Star, Feb 5/2006) by a Black New York Times columnist, Bob Herbert. He wrote: “in many parts of the Black community, this form of domestic terror (mindless violence) is taken for granted, and even celebrated in many popular songs [such as]: ‘Niggas who (bleep) wit me get shot up,’ says [rapper] 50 Cent.

Kean Gibson should review the CIA files and the Toronto situation before she goes any further and triggers a racial conflagration in Guyana (similarly, for T&T) because of her misplaced blame for Guyana’s inter-racial disparity and violence on Hindu scriptures.

Gibson’s references to “dehumanization of Africans” by East Indians, “pogroms”, “genocide”, and “the elimination of Africa-Guyanese can be seen as service to God’s will” are clearly inflammatory, and place East Indian Guyanese at risk of mortal danger. In fact, the only occasion of ethnic cleansing/genocide in Guyana’s history was the one inflicted by “Blacks” on East Indians at Wismar, including very violent rape and dehumanizing of the Indian women with bottles and sand. East Indians, over several millennia, around the world, have no such history of aggression against others, thanks to venerable Hindu scriptures and related traditions. But, the experience of over one-half million of genocidal victims between Hutus and Tutsis and the Wismar atrocity point the ethnic-cleansing finger in a different direction. Gibson’s diatribe and invective against Hindu scriptures and East Indians in Guyana, bolstered by using false statistics, is unethical, unscholarly, and specious, and, would appear sincere only to those who wouldn’t do the required homework. She ought to be severely censured for the hate she is engendering.

– By Veda Nath Mohabir

© Copyright GuyanaJournal