Hinduism: Social Justice | 16



Issues of social justice in Hinduism revolve around the caste system and the status of women.

The caste system has been complex and different in the many regions of India:

Power has been distributed in different ways across the community groups; in many areas there has been discrimination against those who do not fall within the traditional caste system.

There are many communities that are collectively called “outcaste” in the Western world and that, in India, are now given the administrative labels of “scheduled caste” or “scheduled tribe.”

The names of these groups are part of a larger governmental program in India of granting not just equal opportunity but preference to those perceived as not having had the advantage of formal education in the last few centuries.

Thus, many federal and state jobs as well as admissions to professional colleges and institutions of higher learning depend to a large extent on one’s caste, and there are quotas and reservations exceeding 70 percent in some places for the “scheduled caste” applicants.

The quota system has been controversial, especially for those who believe that they have been passed over in favour of those who are less qualified.

The status of women has largely depended on caste, economic class, age, and even piety. It is extremely difficult to make generalizations about the role of women in Hindu society:

Androcentric (male-centred) texts have tended to disparage them, yet they had specific religious roles, and without them men could not perform their own duties.

It has been a general rule that women in the so-called higher castes had less freedom than those in the so-called lower castes.

Widows, especially, were discriminated against in the past, particularly in Brāhmanic societies.

Unlike many other religions, however, Hinduism has had varied resources that it has drawn upon for the advancement of women in society.

Historically there have been powerful women— devotees, poets, patrons of arts, and philosophers— many of whom were known only regionally. These women have served as role models in the late 20th century and into the 21st century.

Several groups in India are dedicated to various forms of social justice:

One of the best-known movements was initiated by Vinoba Bhave (1895–1982). His movement focused on Bhū dāna (literally “gift of land”) to the poor as a way of redistributing resources.

Swami Agnivesh (born in 1939) has mobilized mass campaigns to fight bonded labour, child labour, and the ecological destruction of Third World countries. He attacks these problems primarily through the legal system as well as with direct activism and social work.