Going up the popularity chart
Sir — The internet poll to determine a list of the “top 10 Britons of all time” is a measure of the utter meaninglessness to which such popular surveys have been reduced (“Di makes grade, Queen doesn’t”, Oct 20). Is top-of-the-mind-recall all there is to justify the personalities’ presence on the list' For example, how can Diana measure up to Queen Elizabeth I' On the basis of contribution to society' The Princess, whom even the report describes as best known for her failed marriage to Prince Charles, just doesn’t come anywhere near the queen. Is the durability of public memory a criteria' Then there must be a bar on all those who died less than a hundred years ago. And anyway, popularity is a mere accident in many cases. Who is to determine why Issac Newton became more popular than say, James Watt' Such internet polls, with their so-called “catchy” questions, are merely marketing gambits. And neither are they foolproof — what is there to prevent one respondent from polling more than once' They should not be accorded any seriousness.
Sunny Biswas, Calcutta
Sir — The Supreme Court’s judgment allowing non-Brahmins to perform puja in temples will go a long way in eradicating the unfair monopoly of Brahmins in temple administration and religious rituals (“Rite or wrong”, Oct 10). It is such out-moded practices that have caused the once vibrant Hindu religion to stagnate. Anyone properly trained in the scriptures and having knowledge of all the rituals performed on various occasions can became a pujari. The court has, in a single sweep, declared that the actions of a person decides his caste, not his birth.
In the past too there have been instances of the downtrodden rising above the caste they were born into and attaining high social positions by dint of their actions. Two non-brahmin women, Maitreyi and Gargi, were respected scholars of the Vedas, Upanishads and other scriptures. Vishwamitra was born a kshatriya but rose to become a revered sage. In the words of Karna, said to be the son of a lowly charioteer, the caste in which one is born into is decided by destiny, but to greatness is something which lies in individual hands. Manu was a kshatriya before he became a sage and wrote the Manu Smriti . More recently, a Dalit became chairperson of the Constitution drafting committee.
It is time we dismantled the caste system, lock, stock and barrel and united all Hindus with the aim of leading the nation to development and prosperity.
Arvind D. Tapkire, Mumbai
Sir — It is doubtful whether the apex court’s judgment will have much impact. The process of social change in today’s society is very time-consuming. As a result, exploitation of the lower castes is still rampant; sati and dowry, though banned under law, continue to be widely prevalent. The apex court can at most lay down strictures against something that is wrong and encourage the right; it cannot eradicate evil traditions. Only social reform can do this, provided it comes from within the society.
Sudarsan Nandi, Rangamati
Sir — Who is to decide the qualification of priests: the courts or the religious leaders following the instructions of the shastras' After all, a temple with an idol of the diety made of stone, wood or metal, is made sacred by the rituals enjoined by the shastras. And the shastras lay down three criteria for priesthood — Brahmin birth, proper training and devotion. Both the orthodox, who think only Brahmins can be priests, and the Supreme Court, which thinks anyone can be a priest if he has proper training, are wrong. According to the shastras, the two are of equal importance. Properly trained non-Brahmin priests will not do, why not try to train Brahmins themselves'
Samir Kumar Sen, Calcutta
Sir — It is not an easy task to chant mantras in Sanskrit, maintaining the correct pronunciation. It requires intellect, which is not guaranteed by birth. Even so, the belief that only Brahmins can do puja has taken such deep roots in our country that not even our considerable achievements in science have been able to shake it.
N. Banerjee, Calcutta
Sir — The editorial, “Caste out” (Oct 15), is absolutely right in that nothing exposes the high sounding anti-caste rhetoric of the left better than when the children of the cobbler community are denied entry into a Durga Puja pandal. The rhetoric has already been exposed twice before this year. First, in the case of Tehmina Khatoon, who had to fight a nine year legal battle for having refused to mention her religion and her husband’s surname in an official form. Second, the report of the Pratichi Trust on primary education in the state which reveals how some higher caste teachers use sticks to touch their lower caste students, who were also made to sit separately. No wonder, a large number of them dropped out. The hold caste has on rural and urban areas in the state can be gauged from the way most matrimonial advertisements begin with caste markers. Even those who state “inter-caste marriage no bar” do not forget to mention their caste.
Then again, the Left Front’s hypocrisy is also revealed in the fact that the backward castes and women are yet to get representation proportionate to their population in the state cabinet. One wonders whether even V.I. Stalin, the son of a cobbler, could have made it into the ministry, had he been born in West Bengal.
Sujit De, Sodepur
Sir — It might be reprehensible that cobbler children are not being allowed into puja pandals. But there is no doubt that Bengali society has changed in that cobblers are being asked to have their own puja. Even some years ago, this would have been unthinkable. Never mind stray instances, there is no doubt that the communal situation in West Bengal is much better than most other states.
Naren Sen, Howrah
Sir — The contemporary version of caste in India is an intriguing amalgam of what it used to be some 300 years ago and how it was moulded by the Anglo-Saxon influence. Also the reactions of rural and urban India to caste are so different as to make it impossible to generalize that “The role of caste in all spheres...is becoming weaker” (“Inter-caste marriage”, Oct 17). In urban India, no one one might raise eyebrows if one were to switch from one’s caste vocation to some other; but even now marriage between caste extremes, say a Brahmin and a Dalit, is frowned upon except in the very highest crust of society. In rural India these barriers are much more rigid. In middle class homes, “love” marriages are still regarded as fairly daring. Why only caste, even regional considerations play a big role in such matters. If a Bengali Brahmin boy were to marry a Tamil Brahmin girl, it would be seen with disapproval by much of society. Communities like the Kashmiri Brahmins marry among themselves because they consider themselves purer than the Brahmins elsewhere in the country. In sum, caste continues to be a part of Indian society, whatever scholars in their ivory towers may say.
Surajit Basak, Calcutta
Sir — A few months into office, and all Shatrughan Sinha’s report card as health minister shows is a project to redesign his Nirman Bhavan office according to the principles of vaastu shastra (“Vaastu, wife steer shotgun”, Oct 3). Apparently, Sinha has not even had time to attend to official appointments. This is a colossal waste of resources which could be better spent to improve healthcare standards in India. Especially, since Sinha could have used his popularity and influence for the good of society.
S. Poddar, Calcutta
Sir — There could be something in the Union health minister’s reliance on vaastu shastra after all. Perhaps, vaastu could be the answer to all the health problems faced by India. Next on the agenda could be plans to demolish all hospitals and rebuild them according to vaastu. This would do away with the need for medical practitioners. Patients would only be required to stay a day or two in the hospital and bingo, he would be cured. India seems to have fallen on dark days indeed if we have such superstitious people for ministers.
Anup Fatehpuria, Calcutta