Varun Soni’s CNN article, “ Why I’m Haunted by My Religion’s Dark Side,” details the
tragedies associated with the Indian Caste System, the parallels between this system and
America’s own racially polar social system, and how India has taken progressive steps in
addressing the problematic social culture of the caste system. The Case System, in relevance to this article, is rooted back to Hindu texts in the Rg Veda, where society is theoretically divided into four social groups, “ (1) priests and teachers, (2) rulers and soldiers, (3) merchants and traders, and (4) laborers and artisans.” While the religious texts in particular do not mention any connections between these groups and bloodline or social hierarchy, the caste system was unfortunately propagated in India’s history through both a classist and racist lens. In the article, the professor describes his post-grad travels throughout India, where he witnessed the extreme poverty that Dalits face in modern India, despite the abolishment of the caste system. He notes the tragedies that the Dalit class face, in that they struggle to find proper shelter, educational opportunities, and job opportunities. Soni also acknowledges that India has recently taken steps to address this problem, with programs similar to America’s Affirmative Action, that help push a more equal representation of Dalits in higher education and public official/political roles. He
compares this system, and the America’s own socially divisive systems to further address that while America views India as backward, there are more similarities than differences in this obviously flawed social pattern.
After reading this article’s title, I anticipated to be reading a piece on the sacrificial
practices of Sati (widow suicide), or something related to the video on Aghori Babas (a rare sect of ascetics who eat human remains) that is conveniently plastered at the top of the page. I did not expect that the article would so closely detail the Hindu Caste System or its progressive developments. Perhaps this misinforming title and image placement is where the real question lies when discussing the presence of Religion in the Public Sphere: Can we have an intelligent discussion on other religions without categorically romanticizing and exoticizing them? The title of the article itself would be a misnomer if it were not for the acknowledgement that the mistreatment of Dalits is a dark side of India’s history– but one must take a more analytical look into why this title was chosen specifically for this piece. India has been categorized as a member of the ‘Mystic East’ for quite some time now, through the lens of political and popular culture. In this Orientalist frame, India is often demonized as a backward country, despite it’s recent technological and social achievements. By choosing the title, “ Why I’m Haunted by My Religion’s Dark Side,” the article becomes more appealing to an audience that is already institutionalized to assume that India is a ‘backward’ country. It could not have been an accident to create a clickbait article title for those who want to read about how right they were about the ‘Dark Sides’ of Hinduism.
In any case, the article itself is about the Hindu religious roots to the caste system, and
how throughout history it was abused by social and political schemes to control the population. It was interesting how the piece pointed out that while India’s past practice of accepting the Caste System was so problematic, it was also present in another form in America’s society– through the “ “one-drop rule” in the United States [that] provided American courts with a legal doctrine to enforce segregation and support a racial hierarchy based on similar notions of purity and pollution as found in the caste system.” By pointing out these shameful similarities, Soni makes an attempt at breaking the box that Indians and Indian culture has been put in by most Western thinkers.