ROME – An Indian doctoral student presenting Rāmānuja’s philosophy at the Salesian University Rome (UPS), 15 June, has argued the end of caste system on grounds of equality and unique status of human beings. Rāmānuja was 11th century philosopher from Tamil Nadu. Though born a Brahmin, he taught both upper and lower caste people the way to God through bhakti mārga, realized more specifically through the path of self-surrender (prapatti). The president of the five member defence panel, UPS Pro-Vice-chancellor and Philosophy Faculty Dean Prof. Mauro Montovani declared panel’s verdict granting him “the highest marks” awarded to a doctoral candidate.
“Caste system,” says Fr Francis Vattukulam, “embodies a fundamental denial of equality and fraternity since it creates classes based on birth and profession. The division is based on the higher and the lower, the pure and the impure, and the sacred and the profane. There is no role for fundamental rights in a caste-ridden society, let alone a discussion about rights.”
Salesian Father Vattukulam of Bangalore province states “from a philosophical foundation the dignity of man definitely lies in being created in the image of God. This aspect of being created by God, in His likeness and as His mode (prakāra) wins for him/her an absolute value and dignity vis-à-vis God’s existence and dignity.
Fr Vattukulam 39, who did his research under the guidance of former Dean of the UPS Philosophy Faculty Prof Scaria Thuruthyil SDB insists, “the point of relevance for us here is that, the nature of every individual self (jīva), applies not only for the Brāhmaņa, Kșatriya and Vaiśya, but also to those condemned to remain in the fourth caste and those termed as Casteless and Untouchables, for they are also governed by the same principle and have the same characteristics. Therefore we cannot predicate of a differentiating characteristic between one person and the other on the basis of their birth or the occupation that one follows. Everyone shares in the same level of dignity that God has bestowed on the human being. This is what comes to be affirmed by Rāmānuja.”
“Vattukulam followed basically a descriptive-analytical method in articulating Ramanuja’s understanding of man, as well as in delineating the origin and import of caste system, giving at the same time due attention to present the same from a philosophical prospective,” says Prof. Thuruthyil commenting on candidate’s research methodology.
Fr Vattukulam was fortunate to have as his second guide the Dean of the Faculty of Missiology at the Gregorian, Fr Christopher Shelke SJ, a social activist who made a name with his work among under privileged people in Maharashtra.
The third reader, Prof Maurizio Marin SDB is professor of ancient philosophy at UPS Philosophy Faculty.
In addition, Fr Vattukulam’s vast experience of studying philosophy and theology as well as teaching philosophy in various academic institutions in Kerala, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka exposed him to the plight of the oppressed classes.
He will shortly take charge as Principal and Dean of studies at Don Bosco College, Keezhmad, Aluva in Kerala.
Photos by Fr Varghese Kaplikunnel SDB