India's caste system does not exist here
-Mootoo tells Kean Gibson book inquiry
Stabroek News
April 23, 2004

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The caste system does not exist in Guyana but it has always been an element of Indian culture and religion in India where nationals are classified by virtue of their profession, according to presenter Savithiri Mootoo.

Mootoo, the widow of late government pathologist, Dr Leslie Mootoo and a Malay-sian national of Sri Lankan descent living in Guyana for 47 years now, submitted this view to the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) yesterday.

The ERC is currently conducting an inquiry into the allegation by the Indian Arrival Committee (IAC) that the book The Cycle of Racial Oppression in Guyana, by Dr Kean Gibson, is "peddling and spreading racial hatred between Guyana's principal ethnic groups."

"Every Indian belongs to a caste according to his work, the goldsmith belongs to the goldsmiths' caste and the farmer belongs to the farmers' caste," Mootoo told the ERC.

According to Mootoo, Indians of every existing caste in India came to Guyana during the days of indentured labour and the caste system is still very much alive in India's south where 'pure' Indian culture is still practised to a certain extent today.

Mootoo explained that according to her knowledge of the way the caste system functions in India, one remains in the specific caste into which one is born until one dies and the type of treatment one receives from that society is dependent on the caste into which one is born.

"If you are a fisherman, you are from the low caste [of Indians in India] because fish is rank and you are considered to be unclean... if you are [an undertaker] you are also considered unclean," Mootoo elaborated.

In Guyana, there are inter-religious marriages and these are usually based on wealth and social status, something, Mootoo vows, that would never take place in India where it is necessary for one to marry into one's own caste. She further pointed out that there are inter-racial marriages in Guyana as well and these, she noted, usually take place on the same basis.

Responding to a question posed by Chairman of the ERC, Bishop Juan Edghill, Mootoo observed that Indians in Guyana might object to inter-racial marriage from the perspective that it could result in a disruption of their cultural/religious tradition.

In the Hindu religion, the Brahmins are believed to be the highest caste because they practise a high level of spirituality, in other words, they are seen as deeply religious, Mootoo said, adding that she has a Hindu background but converted to Christianity while attending college.

The commission heard too that the Indians in India who practise the caste system accept the caste to which they belong and do not rebel against it.

Addressing the issue of skin colour, Mootoo told the ERC that there are fair-skinned Brahmins and dark-skinned Brahmins and in the lower castes, there are fair-skinned and dark-skinned persons too.

In a comparative analysis of Levites [Jews/Christian] and Brahmin [Hindu] attitudes toward persons belonging to a caste that is below their own and considered 'unclean', Mootoo told the commission that if a Levite came into contact with a Pharisee, he would have to cleanse himself before entering into God's presence and the same approach would apply if the Brahmin came into contact with for instance, an undertaker.

"An unclean person cannot go into the presence of India, the Hindu mother who has just given birth cannot worship in the temple until the 31st day after she has given birth and the baby's head has been shaved," Mootoo noted.

She alluded to the example provided in the Bible where the "woman who had the issue of blood could not touch Jesus and so she chose to touch the hem of his garment" as an example for comparison.

The hearing continues on Monday.