Why is it that India has the highest recorded incidence of modern day slavery of all countries in the world today? What has happened to the home of Dharma?
Only five countries account for the vast majority of human slavery in the world today, and they are in East Asia. With its high population China has 3 million recorded cases, Pakistan 2 million, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan both 1 million, but it is India with 18 million known cases that by far exceeds any other country in literally keeping up a practice thought to belong to earlier barbaric times. And this is only since proper, more sophisticated measuring abilities have been introduced in the past 15 years. Abilities which also indicate that we are only beginning to find out some of the statistics of a far bigger crisis that is yet to be uncovered.
Modern slavery by definition implies the complete control of one person by another, usually for the purpose of business, and sometimes includes being treated no better than an animal. Tragically it sometimes involves human trafficking and sexual exploitation too, but often it implies being indebted by a debt that can never be repaid in an entire lifetime. How can such an abuse take place? Well there are always greedy unscrupulous people who will commit such crimes for their profit, this is nothing new, though no less tragic. What is even more profoundly concerning is the fact that such human exploitation is going on at its greatest level in India, the very same land that espouses the highest metaphysical understanding of human consciousness, in a land with the richest history of spiritual understanding, sophisticated humanity, a land where “Namaste” is the common greeting, implying that “I see the same divine in you that also exists in me”. What has helped to shape this bitter irony? The answer may be found in the same source of ancient wisdom and Dharma that has enlightened us, namely the Vedas, and more specifically in its teaching on caste consciousness.
The most famous and respected segment of the ancient Vedic sacred literature is the Bhagavad Gita, a poem of about 700 Sanskrit verses spoken by the original Supreme Personality of Godhead, so admittedly a powerful piece of transcendent or metaphysical wisdom revealing the nature of life, the universe and what it takes to achieve the best out of them. In chapter 4:13 Krishna says to his student and friend Arjuna:
chatur-vranyam maya sristam guna-karma-vibhagashah
tasya kartaram api mam viddhy akartaram avyayam
which translates as: “According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.”
These four divisions of society are the foundation of the caste system, namely Brahmana (intellectual), Kshatriya (administrative), Vaishya (mercantile) and Sudra (labourer). Society is supposed to function very smoothly when people know their natures well enough to realise their Dharma or true calling in life, whether on the metaphysical level – as a soul surrendered to serving the absolute – or on a mundane level – as a person with a vocation in society. And it can function well, until we notice that “society”, as practised today only includes those who are born within the borders of Bharat – India – or more specifically, born within the culture of Hinduism. Other than that, the rest are not even in the caste system itself, and thus are labelled “outcastes”. This includes, for example, meat-eaters or Muslims, now an integrated part of modern India, but it also includes untouchables, or other Indian-born people who descend from a lineage of families engaged in lesser work, considered beneath even labourers, like the Dalit community to name but one. The law does not seem to apply to these people – by dint of the fact that they are outside of the social construct espoused in the sacred Vedic texts. Or so goes the logic anyway. What this means is that over 300 million Indians are vulnerable to intense prejudice and outright abuse without due recourse to the law of the land, simply because of their birth. This is racism and modern day apartheid by another name. This is criminal human rights abuse, disguised as righteousness and religious morality. What an ironic tragedy, if ever there was one. The caste system – a pillar of Dharma or religiosity – is being turned on its head and used to justify human rights abuses. And because it is so entrenched in Indain culture and society and has been for countless generations past, the Indians applying it today cannot even comprehend or do not care that it is modern day slavery.
This obviously calls for an almighty shift in perception. It requires a fundamental change in consciousness, along with a reinterpretation of the moral law and system, so that it aligns more with its original transcendental intent. To begin with if we go back to the original Sanskrit text in Bhagavad Gita, we see the verse begins “According to the three modes of nature and the work associated with them…”. The actual Sanskrit words “guna (modes)” and “karma (work/action)” are used in the Devanagari script above. In other words a persons caste, or station in life is determined by his or her behaviour and actions, not by their birth in a particular family. And this is the fundamental flaw in current interpretation and application of the system of caste consciousness used in India which blindly facilitates modern day slavery. A person cannot be judged according to the family of birth, but according to how they behave, so that anyone can become president or prime minister of the country if they have the qualities of character, the qualification to do so. Anyone can become a priest or scholar or expert in the field if they display the obvious qualities. This is the spirit and original meaning of the caste system as presented in Bhagavad Gita. And even more importantly, as also inculcated in the same Vedic sacred texts on human nature and consciousness, “aham brahmasmi” every person is by nature spirit, regardless of birth. And these are the ABC’s of cultured life, of civilization, yet Hindus use their distorted interpretation to abuse other fellow humans for their benefit, as if the person is less than human. What a farce the land of Dharma, today’s India has become.
Don’t get me wrong though, India is not lost, for the Government has actually passed laws granting equal rights to all Indians. Slavery is abhorred by many enlightened politicians in India’s secular government, and so laws are already in place to protect the most vulnerable. But there needs to still be a shift in consciousness. The apartheid system still exists on the ground, entrenched in the culture and societal practices perpetrated for the past several hundred years. Somewhere along the line the priests lost their way and the flock followed suit. Now people think it’s all right to treat a person like an animal, even rape and kill a girl, because she is outside the chosen caste of the day. Gone are the days when all people are seen as part and parcel of God, gone is the spiritual vision, and in its place the priesthood themselves have instilled a distortion of the Dharma and a perversion of the values they are supposed to be upholding. India has fallen because its head is blind.
Fortunately there are still some who believe freedom is a natural right of everyone, who – whether for spiritual or humanitarian reasons – still fight for the rights of all. Recently numerous Indian spiritual leaders from differing faiths and paths all came together to firstly acknowledge that modern day slavery exists. Before that people did not even realize that they were practising slavery, and just thought it was their right or was the norm to abuse some according to caste by birth. Secondly they strove to consciously introduce the term “modern day slavery” it into the lexicon of the day. This was a major step in becoming conscious in this regard, it was a way of acknowledging the problem, labelling it for all to see and understand, for then once exposed, it could be treated as the immorality that it is. Still new laws are being enshrined today that are making it difficult for people to free themselves, so the future is mixed and as precarious as ever. A stronger judiciary is needed, as well as inspections in factories and farms where slave labour could be used in the supply chain of even world class brands. Then foreign governments need to also apply pressure on India and others, so that they adhere to higher standards. Also those foreign companies and countries need to beware falling for the allure of bigger profits while sacrificing human rights, thus being complicit in modern day slavery. Policing needs to be more strictly imposed so that the vulnerable are protected. More than that though, society’s moral and spiritual leaders need to rise to the occasion and pave the way for realised application of the Dharma once more. This is the revolution of consciousness we really need to end slavery.
Together in this way all sectors of society can uplift standards. Examples are already there. Old men today are able to say for the first time that their grandchildren in India will never be subjected to the abuse they and their forefathers underwent now that slavery and caste abuse is being addressed. Governments are even paying out victims or previously disadvantaged people, albeit slowly. But it is a step in the right direction. And indeed some form of recompense needs to be made by the perpetrators of this crime. In South Africa the apartheid system was dismantled with a “truth and reconciliation commission” and previously disadvantaged people were assisted. India needs a similar purification – for the sake of the suffering but also for the sake of the perpetrators whose hearts can be cleansed by some form of amends, lest they die and have to return to be abused in a next life. This will set the example for the rest of the country and will only uplift everyone involved.
Ultimately in this material world, particularly under today’s elite controllers, we are all being subtly enslaved, tied to a debt we can never repay, ensnared in a corrupted economic system that is based on usury and debt. Modern day slavery can hopefully be eradicated in India in coming years, but how much of a slave are you? How much are you being exploited by a corporation or bank that has you working for their profit? In real slavery of the mind, the slave does not even know that s/he is one, especially when born into the prison and trained from birth to submit to the overlords to such a degree that s//he does not even know there are freedoms to be claimed in consciousness as a birth right for one and all. And then even a freeman on land, who has shed the shackles of the corrupt system, is still a slave to his or her senses, to the dictates of the body and mind, unless s/he comes across someone who is able to point it out as such. Someone already liberated or at least on the way.