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The caste system has perverted our ideas about human conduct. The principle of different codes of conduct for each caste based on birth, and life led in accordance with it for centuries, have spoiled the Hindu mentality almost beyond repair and destroyed the idea of uniformity in conduct. Graded inequality has got so much into the Hindu blood that general intelligence is warped and refuses to mend even after English education and higher standards of living.

periyar 238Force of tradition is the stock excuse

It is not, therefore, uncommon to find even college professors, England returned scholars and experts, politicians and lawyers behaving in their homes exactly like the unlettered Hindu priest or peasant in a remote village. The one stock excuse these educated men blurt out for the inconsistencies in their life is the force of tradition. They are quick to blame their old ladies at home. The fact is they have not the courage to practice their convictions but quietly submit to superstitious tradition in the name of domestic peace, but let their education go to waste.

Education merely to find a good job and make easy money is no education. This is why all educated persons are not wise. Wisdom and culture have to be cultivated independently and may be had even without education. Education ought to help man to become wise and cultured. Caste and religion prevent the educated man in India from progressing towards wisdom and culture.

Why a subordinate position to women?

In all the world, chastity and love have been used to subordinate women and subject them to men’s control. Likewise, morality has been used to deceive and exploit the poor and the downtrodden. Chastity, Love, truth, justice, morals, etc., are all children of the same mother. They have all been used to make the proletariat to stick to a certain line of conduct for the ultimate benefit of clever and strong people.

It is said that laws are all man-made and hence the subordinate position accorded to women. It can also be said that laws are all made by the strong and the mighty to subjugate the weak and the lowly.

Fear complex on children

Just as children are kept under control through the fear-complex, the common man is taught virtuous conduct to keep him submissive to the exploiting classes and, if possible, to worship them as demi-gods. Children submit to the fear-complex and make believe only so long as their intelligence is undeveloped. Even so, the exploiting classes can keep the privileges to themselves only so long as the common people are kept in darkness in regard to their rights and the truth about conduct preached to them is hidden.

Peep into the past of one’s own life

What is prescribed as good conduct or bad conduct is to be measured by the strength and cleverness of the party that lays down the rules and not by their intrinsic worth.

Ordinarily, prostitution, falsehood, theft, and deceit are declared to be bad conduct, but there is no man who is not subjected to one of these in his daily life. The practice may not be open in some cases, and in some others may not be apparent. A dispassionate peep into the past of one’s own life will disclose periods or occasions when virtue was set at naught for personal benefit. A little analysis of the conduct of our close relatives, friends or acquaintances will show us instances of their bad dealings and dishonest ways.

Good conduct only to others

People, in general, depend for their livelihood on commerce, agriculture, public services, manufacturing, the professions, etc. who amongst these conduct themselves virtuously all through their lives? It is not our purpose here to define virtue or good conduct. The purpose is to discuss what people in position and power mean when they talk about virtue and good conduct to others who are unfortunate in life.

A capitalist will be found to scold a worker for an act, which he himself would do openly. An officer in government service will find fault with a clerk for offences or lapses from which he (the officer) himself is not free. The only difficulty is that the clerk will not be able to say so in the face of the officer. To whom then is virtue preached? Likewise, a father would be found to condemn his son for acts which the father is himself doing. People given to bad habits are therefore to be found criticizing those habits in others.

The caste system, the great ‘help’

This is not true only of a section of the people. It is true for all people. What I wish to emphasize is that virtue or good conduct is what we wish in others and not necessarily in ourselves. It is largely used to deceive others, who are low in the social scale and poor in wealth and not used to really establish an egalitarian socialist society.

For inconsistent conduct such as this, the Hindu caste system is a great ‘help’. What is good and virtuous for some castes is bad for others. Bad conduct is permissible for some castes and prohibited for other castes. The principle of ‘do unto others as you would like to be done to you by others’ is wholly inconsistent with the Hindu caste system.

Part and parcel of their blood

If it is a fact that there is such a thing as bad conduct, and if theft, falsehood, and deceit are components of it, these characteristics are largely to be found amongst kings, priests, merchants, lawyers, politicians, etc., and certainly not amongst the poor and illiterate peasants, and workers. The people, who cause pain and impoverish, deceive and degrade the masses, are these groups of exploiters.

It would be no exaggeration to posit that bad conduct, in general, is part and parcel of the blood of these classes. Yet it is strange that these groups do not excite the dislike of the people. Indeed they are their objects of veneration or worship. This is so only because the masses are ill-educated and devoid of wisdom.

Not by reform but by revolution

Good conduct is that which we not merely preach to others but also practise ourselves. One should respect another in the way in which he expects to be respected by the other. This is a revolutionary principle for the Hindus. It can materialise not by reform but only by revolution. There are certain things, which cannot be mended but only be ended.

- Periyar E.V.R.

(From 'Collected Works of Periyar E.V.R.', compiled by Dr. K. Veeramani, published by 'The Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution')

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