Monday, November 16, 2015

Knowledge hierarchy : Its relationship with varna vyavastha and inequality

In earlier posts - “Delegitimization of Lokavidya:The basis of the demand for reservations/special assistance” and “Social Exclusion-A Lokavidya Perspective” the idea that knowledge hierarchy led to caste hierarchy and the subsequent delegitimization of Lokavidya (intensively in the colonial era) setting the stage for a demand for reservations/special assistance; has been proposed as a perspective on the important question of inequality in social and economic life of Indian society.

Some insightful inputs on this question

In the recent past, Gandhiji also believed that it was not right to place one varna above the other.In fact he said A lawyer's work has the same value as the barber's, as all have the right of earning their livelihood from their work”, reiterating his fundamental belief in equality of all labour. He wrote and spoke a great deal on this subject quite early on his return to India from Africa but his efforts appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

While analysing the dynamics of “knowledge-evolution” in the Indian context Dharampalji in his Bharatiya Chitta, Manas and Kala has stated the following:

Differentiation between what is called the para vidya(knowledge of the sacred) and apara vidya (knowledge of the mundane) is one aspect of the Indian ways of organising physical and social reality.

When this division between para and apara knowledge occured in the Indian tradition cannot be said with any certainity...this sharp division may have arisen sometime during the end of Treta (yuga) and the beginning of Dvapara, with a variety of skills and crafts appearing on the earth to help man live with the increasing complexity of the universe..

It is commonly believed that the four Vedas along with their various branches and connected Brahmanas, Upanishadas, etc form the repository of para vidya ..and the Puranas, Ithihasas etc as also the various canonical texts of different sciences and crafts like Ayurveda, Jyotisha etc deal with the apara vidya.

In spite of the presence of both streams of knowledge together in almost all canonical texts, the dividing line between para vidya and apara vidya seems to be etched rather deeply in the minds of the Indian people..... It seems that the Indian mind has somehow come to believe that all that is connected with apara vidya is rather low, and that knowledge of the para alone is true knowledge.
...What the Indians realised was the imperative need to keep the awareness of the para, of ultimate reality, intact while going through the complex routine of daily life.

With the passage of time, this emphasis on regulating apara vidya through our understanding of the para vidya turned into a contempt for the apara.... this imbalance has affected our thinking on numerous subjects and issues, for instance, take our understanding of the varna vyavastha. In interpreting this vyavastha, we have somehow assumed that the varnas connected with textutal parctices and rituals of the para vidya are higher, and those involved in the apara are lower. Closeness of association with what are defined to be para practices becomes the criterion for determining the status of a varna and evolving a hierarchy between them. Thus the Brahmanas associated with the recitation and study of the Vedas become the highest, and the Sudras engaged in the practice of the arts and crafts of ordinary living become the lowest.

The issue of the hierarchy of the varnas is not , however, a closed question in the Indian tradition. During the last two thousand years, there have occured numerous debates on this question.

(Maharishi) Vyasa..felt a sadness in his heart..he noticed that women and Sudras had been deprived of the Vedas,... to make up for these deficiencies (he) .. composed the (Vishnu) Purana..where he proclaims the Kali yuga to be the yuga of the women and the Sudras. Perhaps in the Kali yuga, everyone turns into a this yuga of the ascendence of the apara vidya, the role of women and Sudras, the major practitiners of the apara vidya, of practical arts and crafts of sustaining life, becomes the most valuable. In our own times, Mahatma Gandhi expressed the same thought...that in this yuga everyone must become a Sudra”.

What does this tell us

In the post on 'Social exclusion' , it was stated that the history of 'social reform' movements (revolutions) “can be seen as a continuing flux in Lokavidya.... every time a certain knowledge thread came into ascendency and sought to radically alter Lokavidya Samaj(the society that lived by Lokavidya) there was a movement within Lokavidya Samaj to relegitimise or redefine a 'relegated' thread of Lokavidya and ensure inclusion of those sections that were(being) 'excluded' from Lokavidya Samaj”. Seen in the light of Dharampalji's summary, this 'flux in Lokavidya' appears to bear close resemblance to the 'tussle' for ascendency between para and apara vidya. And Gandhiji's wish that “in this yuga everyone must become a Sudra”, appears to point to the relegitimisation of Lokavidya.
It has been argued in the post on 'Delegitimization of Lokavidya....' , that the way forward would be to re-establish the fundamental basis of equality between different streams of knowledge/skills in the local market, while the demand for equal wages for all work/labour on par with government employment will kick-start a movement for the removal of inequality between Lokavidya-based labour and University-knowledge-based labour.

It appears that knowledge hierarchy has all along driven social and economic inequality and the way forward to a more equal socio-economic order would be to address the oppressive aspects of knowledge hierarchy with all resources at our command.


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