First published on June 30, 018
This story was first published on January 26, 2016. (Towards Equality: Why did Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar publicly burn the Manu Smruti on December 25, 1927?). We are re-publishing it today, December 24, 2017.
Manusmruti Dahan Din
Eight-eight (now 89!) years ago, on December 25, 1927, huge strides were made in the movement for self-dignity of Dalits. Under the leadership of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, a small town/village, Mahad in Konkan, the coastal region of Maharashtra, made history.
Manusmurti Dahan Din. The day that the text of caste Hindus epitomizing hegemony, indignity and cruelty to Dalits and mlecchas (that included women) was publicly burned in a specially constructed symbolic funeral pyre before Dr Ambedkar and thousands of volunteers gathered to protest and agitate.
The Mahad satyagraha (peaceful agitation and protest) had been organised so that Dalits (untouchables) could drink from the Mahad (Chavadar) water tank, a public water source open to all. A previous legal notification of the Collectorate authorised free access to all. Despite the existence of this order, caste hegemony and oppression had not created conditions for access to this facility for the oppressed. On the eve of the protest, caste Brahmins had obtained a stay order from a local court against untouchables accessing water from the tank!
Pressure of an unimaginable kind was put by caste Hindus to somehow abort the protest. This included tightening access to any public ground for the proposed meeting. Finally, a local gentleman Mr. Fattekhan, who happened to be a Muslim, gave his private land for the protest, extending solidarity with the struggle. Arrangements for food and water as also other supplies had to be made meticulously by the organisers facing a revolt in the village. A pledge of sorts had to be taken by the volunteers who participated in the protest. This pledge vowed the following:
- I do not believe on Chaturvarna based on birth.
- I do not believe in caste distinctions.
- I believe that untouchability is an anathema to Hinduism and I will honestly try my best to completely destroy it.
- I will not follow any restrictions about food and drink among at least all Hindus.
- I believe that untouchables must have equal rights to access to temples, water sources, schools and other amenities.
The arrival of Dr. Ambedkar to the site of the protest was cloaked in high drama, faced with the possibilities of all kinds of sabotage from other sections of society. He came from Bombay on the boat "Padmavati" via Dasgaon port, instead of Dharamtar (the road journey), despite the longer distance. This was a well-planned strategy, because, in the event of boycott by bus owners, the leaders could walk down five miles to Mahad.
In front of the pandal where Dr Ambedkar made his soul-stirring address, the "vedi" (pyre) was created beforehand to burn the Manusmruti. Six people had been labouring for two days to prepare it. A pit six inches deep and one and half foot square was dug in, and filled with
On its four corners, poles were erected, bearing banners on three sides. The banners said,
1. "Manusmruti chi dahan bhumi", i.e. Crematorium for Manusmruti.
2. Destroy Untouchability and
3. Bury Brahmanism.
It was on December 25, 1927, in the late evening, at the conference, that the resolution to burn the Manusmruti was moved by Brahmin associate of Ambedkar, Gangadhar Neelkanth Sahastrabuddhe and was seconded by PN Rajabhoj, an untouchable leader. Thereafter, the book Manusmruti was kept on this pyre and burned. The Brahmin associate of Ambedkar, Gangadhar Neelkanth Sahastrabuddhe and five six other Dalit sadhus completed the task. At the pandal, the only photo placed was that of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. This has been interpreted to mean that, at this stage the Dalit leadership, including Dr. Ambedkar had yet to be disillusioned with Gandhi.
In his presidential speech Ambedkar said that the aim of the movement was not only to gain access to the water or the temple or to remove the barriers to commensality; the aim was to break down the varna system which supported inequality in society. He then told his audience about the French Revolution, and explained the main points of the Charter of Human Rights enunciated by the French Revolutionary Council. He pointed out the danger of seeking temporary and inadequate solutions by relating how the rebellion of the plebians of Rome against the patricians failed, primarily because the plebians sought only to gain a tribune of their choice instead of seeking to abolish the system dividing society into patricians and plebians.
In the February 3, 1928 issue of the Bahishkrit Bharat (his own newspaper) he explained the action saying that his reading of the Manusmriti had convinced him that it did not even remotely support the idea of social equality.
The root of untouchabilty lies in prohibition of inter-caste marriages, that we have to break, said Ambedkar in that historic speech. He appealed to higher varnas to let this "Social Revolution" take place peacefully, discard the sastras, and accept the principle of justice, and he assured them peace from our side. Four resolutions were passed and a Declaration of Equality was pronounced. After this, the copy of the Manusmruti was burned
One sees here a definite broadening of the goal of the movement. In terms of the ultimate goal of equality and of the eradication of the varna system, the immediate programme of drinking water from the Mahad water reservoir was a symbolic protest, to herald the onset of a continuing struggle for dignity.
The other crucial points of Dr. Ambedkar’s speech were:
“…So long as the varna system exists the superior status of the Brahmans is ensured….Brahmans do not have the same love of their country that the Samurai of Japan had. Hence one cannot expect them to give up their special social privileges as the Samurai did in the interest of social equality and national unity of Japan. We cannot expect this of the non-Brahman class either. The non-Brahman classes like the Marathas and others are an intermediate category between those who hold the reins of power and those who are powerless. Those who wield power can occasionally be generous and even self-sacrificing. Those who are powerless tend to be idealistic and principled because even to serve their own interest they have to aim at a social revolution. The non-Brahman class comes in between; it can neither be generous nor committed to any principles. Hence they are preoccupied in maintaining their distance from the untouchables instead of with achieving equality with Brahmans. This class is weak in its aspiration for a social revolution…..We should accept that we are born to achieve this larger social purpose and consider that to be our life’s goal. Let us strive to gain that religious merit. Besides, this work (of bringing about a social revolution) is in our interest and it is our duty to dedicate ourselves to remove the obstacles in our path.
There was a strong reaction in the section of the press, perceived to be dominated by the entrenched higher caste interests. Dr Ambedkar was called "Bheemaasura" by one newspaper. Dr. Ambedkar justified the burning of Manusmruti in various articles that he penned after the satyagraha. I n the February 3, 1928 issue of the Bahishkrit Bharat (his own newspaper) he explained the action saying that his reading of the Manusmriti had convinced him that it did not even remotely support the idea of social equality. To burn a thing was to register a protest against the idea it represented. By so doing one expected to shame the person concerned into modifying his behaviour. He said further that it would be futile to expect that any person who revered the Manusmriti could be genuinely interested in the welfare of the Untouchables. He compared the burning of the Manusmriti to the burning of foreign cloth recommended by Gandhi. Protests the world over had used the burning of an article that symbolised oppression to herald a struggle. This was what the Manusmurti Dahan was.
The tactical retreat
Meanwhile, condemned by a sudden Court ruling to hold back the satyagraha of drinking water from the public water tank, Dr Ambedkar explained the dilemma faced by on the one hand the government/British Collector and entrenched high caste interests.
In a note entitled ‘Why the Satyagraha was Suspended’ in the 3 February 1928 issue of the Bahishkrit Bharat, Ambedkar said:
“The untouchables are caught between the caste Hindus and the government. They can attack one of the two. There is nothing to be ashamed of in admitting that today they do not have the strength to attack both of them at the same time. When the caste Hindus refused to concede the legitimate rights of untouchables as human beings willingly and on their own initiative, we thought it wise to arrive at a peace (agreement) with the government…… There is a world of difference between a satyagraha launched by caste Hindus and one launched by untouchables. When the caste Hindus initiate a satyagraha it is against the government and they have community support….. When the untouchables launch a satyagraha all the caste Hindus are arraigned against us.”
He observed further that the agitation of the untouchables was not limited to the Mahad water tank. It had been launched to achieve the larger goals the untouchables had set for themselves. The answer to whether it could have been sustained depended upon one’s estimate of the loss and the hurt that would have resulted from the satyagraha and the means that were available to protect the people from this loss and hurt. If the people had seen that they could not recover from the loss inflicted on them by one satyagraha in Mahad they would never rise again to join another satyagraha. This question had to be weighed.
What stands out is the openly rational, almost calculated approach to the strategy of the struggle and a willingness to present it as such. There is no effort to obfuscate or mystify it. Ambedkar responded to the concern that the withdrawal of the satyagraha would give caste-Hindu slanderers an opportunity to scoff at the untouchable leaders, by saying merely that he had not launched the satyagraha to win their approbation.
The Social Context of an Ideology, Ambedkar’s Social and Political Thought, MS Gore, Sage Publications
From left to right: Manu who inspired Friedrich Nietzsche who inspired Adolf Hitler
In his writings, Dr BR Ambekar unraveled the unholy ideological link between Manu who inspired Nietzsche, who in turn inspired Hitler, who in turn (along with Mussolini) inspired the most revered Manuwadis of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS: Balakrishna Shivram Moonje, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar.The foregoing analysis of the religious revolution showed that religious ideas as forms of divine governance for human society fall into two classes, one in which society is the cent
and the other in which the individual is the centre. The same analysis showed that for the former the appropriate test of what is good and what is right, i.e., the test of the moral order is utility while for the latter the test is justice.
Now the reason why the philosophy of Hinduism does not answer the test of utility or of justice is because the religious ideal of Hinduism for divine governance of human society is an ideal which falls into a separate class by itself. It is an ideal in which the individual is not the centre. The centre of the ideal is neither individual nor society. It is a class — the class of Supermen called Brahmins.
Those who will bear the dominant and devastating fact in mind will understand why the philosophy of Hinduism is not founded on individual justice or social utility. The philosophy of Hinduism is founded on a totally different principle. To the question what is right and what is good the answer which the philosophy of Hinduism gives is remarkable. It holds that to be right and good the act must serve the interests of this class of Supermen, namely, the Brahmins.
Oscar Wilde said that to be intelligible is to be found out. Indeed Manu does not leave it to be found out. He expresses his view in resonant and majestic notes as who are the Supermen and anything which serves the interest of the Supermen is alone entitled to be called right and good. Let me quote Manu.
Manu’s is a degraded and degenerate philosophy of Superman as compared with that of Nietzsche [Hitler’s guru] and therefore far more odious and loathsome than the philosophy of Nietzsche – Dr. BR Ambedkar
X. 3. “On account of his pre-eminence, on account of the superiority of his origin, on account of his observance of (particular) restrictive rules, and on account of his particular sanctification the Brahman is the Lord of (all) Varnas.”
He proceeds to amplify his reasons and does so in the following characteristic manner —
I. 93. “As the Brahmana sprang from (Prajapati’s, i.e. God’s) mouth, as he was first–born and as he possesses the Veda, he is by right the Lord of this whole creation.”
I. 94. For the self–existent (Svayambhu, i.e., God), having performed austerities, produced him first from his own mouth, in order that offerings might be conveyed to the Gods and Manes and that this universe might be preserved.”
I. 95. “What created being can surpass him, through whose mouth the Gods continually consume the sacrificial viands and the manes the offerings to the dead?”
I. 96. “Of created beings the most excellent are said to be those which are animated; of the animated, those who subsist by intelligence; of the intelligent, mankind; and of the men, the Brahmanas.”
Besides the reason given by Manu the Brahmin is first in rank because he was produced by God from his mouth, in order that the offerings might be conveyed to the Gods and manes. Manu gives another reason for the supremacy of the Brahmins. He says —
I. 98. “The very birth of a Brahmana is an eternal incarnation of the sacred Law (Veda); for he is born to (fulfill) the sacred law, and becomes one with Brahman (God).”
I. 99. “A Brahmana, coming into existence, is born as the highest on earth, the lord of all created beings, for the protection of the treasury of the Law.”
Manu concludes by saying that —
I. 101. “The Brahman eats but his own food, wears but his own apparel, bestows but his own in alms; other mortals subsist through the benevolence of the Brahmana.”
Because according to Manu —
II. 100. “Whatever exists in the world is the property of the Brahmana; on account of the excellence of his origin the Brahmana is, indeed, entitled to it all.”
Manu directs —
VII. 36. “Let the King, after rising early in the morning, worship Brahmans who are well versed in the three-fold sacred science and learned (in polity), and follow their advice.”
VII. 38. “Let him daily worship aged Brahmans who know the Veda and are pure...”
VII. 37. “Let the king, having risen at early dawn, respectfully attend to Brahman, learned in the three Vedas and in the science of ethics and by their decision let him abide.”
VII. 38. “Constantly must he show respect to Brahmans, who have grown old, both in years and in piety, who know the scriptures, who in body and mind are pure; for he, who honours the aged, will perpetually be honoured even by cruel demons.”
IX. 313. “Let him not, although in the greatest distress for money, provoke Brahmans to anger by taking their property; for they, once enraged, could immediately by sacrifices and imprecations destroy him with his troops, elephants, horses and cars.”
Finally Manu says —
XI. 35. “The Brahman is (hereby) declared (to be) the creator (of the world), the punisher, the teacher, (and hence) a benefactor (of all created beings); to him let no man say anything unpropitious; nor use any harsh words.”
To conclude and complete the theory of supermen and of what is right and good let me reproduce the following two texts from Manu —
X. 122. “But let a Shudra serve Brahmans, either for the sake of heaven or with a view of both this life and the next, for he who is called the servant of a Brahman thereby gains all his ends.
X. 123. The service of the Brahmana alone is declared to be as excellent occupation for a Shudra; for whatever else besides this he may perform will bear no fruit.
And Manu adds —
X. 129. No collection of wealth must be made by a Shudra, even though he be able to do it; for a Shudra who has acquired wealth gives pain to Brahman.
Nietzsche’s supermen were supermen by reason of their worth. Manu’s supermen were supermen by reason of their birth. Nietzsche was a genuine disinterested philosopher. Manu on the contrary was a hireling engaged to propound a philosophy which served the interests of a class born in a group and whose title to being supermen was not to be lost even if they lost their virtue.
The above texts from Manu disclose the core and the heart of the philosophy of Hinduism. Hinduism is the gospel of the Superman and it teaches that what is right for the Superman is the only thing which is called morally right and morally good.
Is there any parallel to this philosophy? I hate to suggest it. But is so obvious. The parallel to this philosophy of Hinduism is to be found in Nietzsche. The Hindus will be angry at this suggestion.
It is quite natural. For the philosophy of Nietzsche stands in great odium. It never took roots. In his own words he was “sometimes deified as the philosopher of the aristocracy and squirearchy, sometimes hooted as, sometimes pitied and sometimes boycotted as an inhuman being.”
Nietzsche’s philosophy had become identified with will to power, violence, denial of spiritual values, Superman and the sacrifice, servility and debasement of the common man. His philosophy with these high spots had created a certain loathsomeness and horror in the minds of the people of his own generation. He was utterly neglected if not shunned and Nietzsche himself took comfort by placing himself among the “posthumous men”.
He foresaw for himself a remote public, centuries after his own time to appreciate him. Here too Nietzsche was destined to be disappointed. Instead of there being any appreciation of his philosophy, the lapse of time has only augmented the horror and loathing which people of his generation felt for Nietzsche. This is principally due to the revelation that the philosophy of Nietzsche is capable of producing Nazism. His friends have vehemently protested against such a construction (M. P. Nicolas, “From Nietzsche Down to Hitler” 1938). But it is not difficult to see that his philosophy can be as easily applied to evolve a super state as to Superman. This is what the Nazis have done.
MS Golwalkar (left) and KB Hedgewar: Inspired equally by Manu and Hitler
At any rate the Nazis trace their ancestry from Nietzsche and regard him as their spiritual parent. Hitler has himself photographed beside a bust of Nietzsche; he takes the manuscripts of the master under his own special guardianship; extracts are chosen from Nietzsche’s writings and loudly proclaimed at the ceremonies of Nazism, as the New German Faith.
Nor is the claim by the Nazis of spiritual ancestry with Nietzsche denied by his near relations. Nietzsche’s own cousin Richard Ochler approvingly says that Nietzsche’s thought is Hitler in action and that Nietzsche was the foremost pioneer of the Nazi accession to power. Nietzsche’s own sister, few months before her death, thanks the Fuehrer for the honour he graciously bestows on her brother declaring that she sees in him that incarnation of the “Superman” foretold by Zarathustra.
To identify Nietzsche, whose name and whose philosophy excites so much horror and so much loathing, with Manu is sure to cause astonishment and resentment in the mind of the Hindus. But of the fact itself there can be no doubt. Nietzsche himself has openly declared that in his philosophy he only following the scheme of Manu. In his Anti-Christ this is what Nietzsche says —
“After all, the question is, to what end are falsehoods perpetrated? The fact that, in Christianity, ‘holy’ ends are entirely absent, constitutes my objection to the means it employs. Its ends are only bad ends; the poisoning, the calumniation and the denial of life, the contempt of the body, the degradation and self-pollution of man by virtue of the concept of sin, — consequently its means are bad as well. My feelings are quite the reverse.
“When I read the law book of Manu, an incomparably intellectual and superior work, it would be a sin against the spirit even to mention in the same breath with the Bible. You will guess immediately why; it has a genuine philosophy behind it, in it, not merely an evil-smelling Jewish distillation of Rabbinism and superstition — it gives something to chew even to the most fastidious psychologist.
“And, not to forget the most important point of all, it is fundamentally different from every kind of Bible: by means of it the noble classes, the philosophers and the warriors guard and guide the masses; it is replete with noble values, it is filled with a feeling of perfection, with saying yea to life, and triumphant sense of well–being in regard to itself and to life — the Sun shines upon the whole book.
“All those things which Christianity smothers with its bottomless vulgarity, procreation, woman, marriage, are here treated with earnestness, with reverence, with love and confidence. How can one possibly place in the hands of children and women, a book that contains those vile words: ‘to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband... it is better to marry than to burn.’ And is it decent to be a Christian so long as the very origin of man is Christianised, that is to say, befouled, by the idea of the immaculate conception?...
“I know of no book in which so many delicate and kindly things are said to woman, as in the Law Book of Manu; these old grey–beards and saints have a manner of being gallant to woman which, perhaps, cannot be surpassed. ‘The mouth of a woman,’ says Manu on one occasion, ‘the breast of a maiden, the prayer of a child, and the smoke of the sacrifice, are always pure’. And finally perhaps this is also a holy lie — ‘all the openings of the body above the navel are pure, all those below the navel are impure. Only in a maiden is the whole body pure.’”
This leaves no doubt that Zarathustra is a new name for Manu and that Thus Spake Zarathustra is a new edition of Manu Smriti.
If there is any difference between Manu and Nietzsche it lies in this. Nietzsche was genuinely interested in creating a new race of men which will be a race of supermen as compared with the existing race of men. Manu on the other hand was interested in maintaining the privileges of a class who had come to arrogate to itself the claim of being supermen.
Nietzsche’s supermen were supermen by reason of their worth. Manu’s supermen were supermen by reason of their birth. Nietzsche was a genuine disinterested philosopher. Manu on the contrary was a hireling engaged to propound a philosophy which served the interests of a class born in a group and whose title to being supermen was not to be lost even if they lost their virtue.
Compare the following texts from Manu.
X. 81. “Yet a Brahman, unable to subsist by his duties just mentioned, may live by the duty of a soldier; for that is the next rank.”
X.82. “If it be asked, how he must live, should he be unable to get a subsistence by either of those employments; the answer is, he may subsist as a mercantile man, applying himself into tillage and attendance on cattle”.
IX. 317. “A Brahmana, be he ignorant or learned, is a great divinity, just as the fire, whether carried forth (for the performance of a burnt oblation) or not carried forth, is a great divinity.”
IX. 323. “Thus, though the Brahmans employ themselves in all (sorts) of mean occupation, they must be honoured in every way; (for each of) them is a very great deity.”
Thus Manu’s is a degraded and degenerate philosophy of Superman as compared with that of Nietzsche and therefore far more odious and loathsome than the philosophy of Nietzsche.
This explains why the philosophy of Hinduism does not satisfy the test of justice or of utility. Hinduism is not interested in the common man. Hinduism is not interested in society as a whole. The centre of its interest lies in a class and its philosophy is concerned in sustaining and supporting the rights of that class. That is why in the philosophy of Hinduism the interests of the common man as well as of society are denied, suppressed and sacrificed to the interest of this class of Superman…
It is therefore incontrovertible that notwithstanding the Hindu Code of Ethics, notwithstanding the philosophy of the Upanishads not a little, not a jot, did abate from the philosophy of Hinduism as propounded by Manu. They were ineffective and powerless to erase the infamy preached by Manu in the name of religion. Notwithstanding their existence one can still say, “Hinduism! They name is inequality!”
(From Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings & Speeches, Volume 3, published by the education department, government of Maharashtra, pages 72-87).
(This article has been archived from the May 2000 issue of Communalism Combat. The cover story, “India’s Shame” traced how even 50 years after the Constitution proclaimed equality for all, over 160 million Dalits continue to be victims of a ‘hidden apartheid’, treated as untouchables and worse)
Collected Works sell sans Annihilation of Caste and the Riddles in Hinduism!
Who is afraid of the writings of Babasaheb Ambedkar? Both, the Modi and Phadnavis governments respectively; or so it seems.
For an average social scientist, Ambedkarite, a student of Indian freedom and inequality, when discussing Ambedkar and his most critical works, some names come immediately to mind.
These are, or are they or not, the Annihilation of Caste, or Riddles in Hinduism? Even State and Minorities , Shudras and the Counter Revolution, Women and the Counter Revolution ? Not for this regime(s) however. This government(s) – Centre and Maharashtra -- would have us believe that the seminal or important works of this man are only his writings on the Roundtable Conference or his works related to Poona Pact, or his debates with Gandhi.
Now imagine a set of books, the official collection, copyright of which is with the Government of Maharashtra, re-branded as the (truncated) Collected Works of Bhimrao Ambedkar (CWBA) but without these seminal texts that cast a sharp and critical look at caste-ridden Hindu society.
This is exactly the farce that is being played out at India’s premier Book Fair currently on in the capital right now. The Delhi Book Fair. The Ambedkar Foundation, a Government of India body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the sole publisher of Babasaheb’s writings and speeches in Hindi, is selling the Collected Works without 11 books from the set ! Among the missing books in the Collected Works in Hindi are Anhilation of Caste and Riddles in Hinduism.
The official explanation is that the Ambedkar Foundation is in the process of publishing a new set of the Collected Works --and in the intermediate period -- this truncated Collected Works is what they have to offer to the readers. But none at the Foundation (whom this writer spoke to), knows exactly when the new set of books will be published. This is the status of the Hindi edition of the CWBA.
For the English originals, the situation is more complicated. As the Foundation has not received the No Objection Certificate or the NOC from the Maharashtra Government, the copyright holder of these works, the Foundation cannot publish the English versions of the CWBA. It's intriguing that the Maharashtra government that holds the publishing rights for the writings and speeches of Babasaheb is resisting sending this NOC to the central government affiliated Foundation!
In the meanwhile, citizens of the country have no option but to buy a truncated set of the Collected Works. These acts of the Modi and Phadnavis governments come at a time when the year is being celebrated, nationwide, for the 125th Birth Anniversary of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has himself taken the lead in these celebrations. The Indian Parliament has held a two days special session to mark this occasion; a special commemorative coin has also been issued.
Is this celebration, then, just a façade for the Modi Government ? On the outside there are clever moves to appropriate Babasaheb; the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have declared him a ‘thinker’ or a ‘Guru’. But in essence, while this shallow eulogising continues, the radical social scientist and critical thinker in Babasaheb is being white-washed.
Dr. Ambedkar, while delivering his concluding speech before the Constituent Assembly, had forewarned us about the problems with hero worship. This regime, adept at ‘event management’ is simply trying to appropriate an idol. By suppressing Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s critical works, the RSS driven regime is trying to rob the revolutionary essence contained in the writings of Babasaheb. While both the BJP and the RSS want to appropriate Babasaheb, his writings are, in a sense, too hot for them to handle. As a symbol to garner votes, Babasaheb is a welcome appropriation to the Hindutva pantheon. But their affection for him ends there.
Why are Ambedkar himself and the Ambedkarite movement a Catch 22 for the RSS and the Sangh Parivar ? Because, it has always faltered in its dealings with the issue of Caste. The centrality of caste in the democratic discourse of Ambedkarite stream of thought is a stumbling block for the avowed objective of the RSS in establishing upper caste Brahamanic hegemony in the country. In the Anhilation of Caste, Ambedkar actually advocates the demolishing of certain Hindu religious texts to enable Hindus to be really free. His writings are therefore extremely problematic for any organisation that seeks to re-affirm or consolidate caste hegemony.
And therein lies the rub. With Ambedkar and his legacy of radical critical thought, a searchlight is shone on aspects of the Indian (read Hindu) social and political structure that reactionary forces like the RSS and the BJP would prefer to conceal. In this year of the 125th Birth Anniversary of Ambedkar, the choice is clear. Dr BR Ambedkar’s writings and thoughts need to be recognised in their completeness. In toto. By hollowing out his Collected Works of their seminal portions, the regimes in Delhi and Maharashtra seek to sanitise this legacy. A strong vibrant Dalit tradition will not so easily allow this mis-appropriation.
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches
(The writer is a senior journalist, former managing editor India Today group and presently researching at the Jawaharlal Nehru Univreristy (JNU) on Media and Caste relations)
Babasaheb Ambedkar is equally critical of the Muslim League as the Idea of a Hindu Nation
On the Eve of Babasaheb's 125th Birth Anniversary, April 14, 2016, the Haryana Government Heaps Insults on Dalit History by renaming Gurgaon as Gurugram
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is terribly busy re-writing history these days. It will be more appropriate to call it a guillotining of history, as facts and historical realities are being sacrificed at the altar of the political ambitions of the Hindutvawaadis.
So far this ‘creativity’ was restricted to the works and words of Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and Sardar Patel. Of late Babasaheb Ambedkar appears to have become the latest victim of the malafide manufacturing of history by the flag-bearers of Hindutva. Dr Ambedkar is being –assiduously and insidiously -- presented as a leader in the league of (sic) K.B. Hedgewar and M.S. Golwalkar: Defending the cause of the Hindu Rashtra.
Way back in 2003 it was Vinay Katiyar, the former head of Bajrang Dal and a diehard product of RSS cadres, who first declared that B.R. Ambedkar was a great supporter of both Hindutva and the Hindu Rashtra, just like KB Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS.
In the more recent past, this attempt at hijacking of Dr. Ambedkar has accelerated with the coming to power of the RSS-BJP combine in India in 2014. True to its tradition, RSS-sponsored ‘think tanks and 'thinkers' have started manufacturing their version of a manipulated history. They have –predictably but no less shamelessly –gone to the extent of putting words in Ambedkar’s mouth; attributing to him –Babasaheb—words that he neither spoke, wrote or believed.
On the eve of 124th birth anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar (2015), the RSS published special issues of both its English and Hindi organs. One of the articles in these, written by a joint general secretary of the RSS, Krishna Gopal said, “Untouchability was not part of Hinduism but originated during the 'Muslim' rule.” According to Gopal: "He (Ambedkar) says Untouchability encrypted Hindu society 12 to 13 hundred years ago."
Now this is as bizarre as it is untrue. Dr. Ambedkar renounced Hinduism in 1956 because of its repressive elements and converted to Buddhism.
In his remarkably written, polemical piece, What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables, he wrote, “To put the matter in general terms, Hinduism and social union are incompatible. By its very genius Hinduism believes in social separation which is another name for social disunity and even creates social separation. If Hindus wish to be one, they will have to discard Hinduism. They cannot be one without violating Hinduism. Hinduism is the greatest obstacle to Hindu Unity. Hinduism cannot create that longing to belong which is the basis of all social unity. On the contrary Hinduism creates an eagerness to separate”.
These crass efforts to portray Dr. Ambedkar and his legacy,to parade him so to say, as a supporter of Hindutva do him great injustice. Throughout his life he was a great opponent to the politics of Hindutva and the Muslim League, both. His book, Pakistan or The Partition of India (1940) is a living testimony of his views. They are well articulated and speak out against the nefarious designs of communal elements in India. His ideas and warnings on Hindutva contained in this book can, and must, work as great bulwark in checking the resurgence of forces of Hindu communalism.
Contrary to what RSS 'thinkers' are telling us, Dr. Ambedkar felt thus, “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country No matter what the Hindus say. Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.” According to him the pet slogan of Hindutvawaadis —Hindustan for Hindus—is and was, not merely an arrogantly held belief but amounted to, arrant nonsense.
Ambedkar was of the firm opinion that Hindutva was nothing but a ploy of high caste Hindus to maintain their hegemony over the resources of society. While comparing them with Muslim communalists he said: “The Hindus are the more difficult of the two parties to the question. In this connection it is enough to consider the reaction of the high caste Hindus only. For, it is they who guide the Hindu masses and form Hindu opinion. Unfortunately, the high caste Hindus are bad as leaders. They have a trait of character which often leads the Hindus to disaster. This trait is formed by their acquisitive instinct and aversion to share with others the good things of life. They have a monopoly of education and wealth, and with wealth and education they have captured the State. To keep this monopoly to themselves has been the ambition and goal of their life. Charged with this selfish idea of class domination, they take every move to exclude the lower classes of Hindus from wealth, education and power...This attitude of keeping education, wealth and power as a close preserve for themselves and refusing to share it, which the high caste Hindus have developed in their relation with the lower classes of Hindus, is sought to be extended by them to the Muslims. They want to exclude the Muslims from place and power, as they have done to the lower class Hindus. This trait of the high caste Hindus is the key to the understanding of their politics.”
These crass efforts (by the RSS-BJP) to portray Dr. Ambedkar and his legacy,to parade him so to say, as a supporter of Hindutva do him great injustice. Throughout his life he was a great opponent to the politics of Hindutva and the Muslim League, both.
Ambedkar as a leader and fighter for a Secular India did not differentiate between the flag-bearers of Hindutva and the Muslim League. He treated them as two faces of the same coin bent upon destroying India. He wrote: “Strange as it may appear, Mr. Savarkar and Mr. Jinnah instead of being opposed to each other on the one nation versus two nations issue are in complete agreement about it. Both agree, not only agree but insist that there are two nations in India—one the Muslim nation and the other Hindu nation.”
Baba Saheb did not mince words either, when he wrote, “It must be said that Mr. Savarkar's attitude is illogical, if not queer. Mr. Savarkar admits that the Muslims are a separate nation. He concedes that they have a right to cultural autonomy. He allows them to have a national flag. Yet he opposes the demand of the Muslim nation for a separate national home. If he claims a national home for the Hindu nation, how can he refuse the claim of the Muslim nation for a national home?”
Dr. Ambedkar was fully conscious of the real designs the politics of Hindutva on the minorities. He believed there would not have been any problem if Hindus and Muslims were allowed to live as partners with mutual respect and accord. But according to him, “this is not to be, because Mr. Savarkar will not allow the Muslim nation to be co-equal in authority with the Hindu nation. He wants the Hindu nation to be dominant nation and the Muslim nation to be the servient one.”
Ambedkar as a true secularist stood for "forming mixed political parties based on an agreed programme of social and economic regeneration, and thereby avoid the danger of both Hindu Raj or Muslim Raj becoming a fact. Nor should the formation of a mixed party of Hindus and Muslims be difficult in India. There are many lower orders in the Hindu society, whose economic, political and social needs are the same as those of the majority of the Muslims and they would be far more ready to make a common cause with the Muslims for achieving common end than they would with the high caste of Hindus who have denied and deprived them of ordinary human right for centuries.”
We must not forget that Dr. Ambedkar was forced to resign as India’s first law minister in 1951 due to an aggressive campaign against him by these very Hindutva organisations that today brazenly try to appropriate him and his legacy. Dr Ambedkar was made the target of a bitter campaign by the proponents of Hindutva who were opposed to his draft of Hindu Code Bill which aimed at providing share to Hindu women in property and gender equality.
Why is it, that despite this inherent contradiction -- embodied in the anti-Hindutva ideas and analyses by Dr. Ambedkar himself -- and Hindutva's antipathy to the egalitarian agenda of Babasaheb, is the RSS embroiled in this Goebelsian propaganda about his orientation and legacy?
One of the reasons is that the RSS –that seeks to be the moral arbiter of the Modi Regime’s brand of Hindutva -- has played absolutely no role in the freedom struggle of the country and is desperate to claim some part of that heroic heritage.
But the RSS needs Dr. Ambedkar for another reason too. Despite the doublespeak by this regime on globalisation, the Indian Government led by its favourite swayamsevaks has also been functioning as a stooge for the forces of crony capitalism. India’s Dalits have been the worst victims of this process –transfer of public resources to the private sector -- of both liberalisation and globalisation as they are, sectorally, the worst sufferers – among those who have lost livelihood in the public sector. The present breed of politicians governed by the ideology of Hindutva ---by creating a public facade of love for Dr. Ambedkar-- wants to, in actuality, through this empty symbolism, also hide its real anti-people face.
How much do the leaders who espouse Hindutva actually respect Baba Saheb and Dalit sentiments? The answer can be had from their most recent action on the eve of 125th birth anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar.
The RSS/BJP ruled Haryana government has decided to change the name of its major city Gurgaon to Gurugram (after Dronacharya) There could not be a worse humiliation of Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, a Dalit icon on his 125th birth anniversary.
The RSS/BJP ruled Haryana government has decided to change the name of its major city Gurgaon to Gurugram. This change has been justified on the ground that this area was the abode of Guru Dronacharya during the times of the Mahabharata; hence the change is to honour him.
There could not be a worse humiliation of Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, a Dalit icon on his 125th birth anniversary. Guru Dronacharya was the Guru who deceitfully deprived a fine archer, Ekalavya of his thumb (by demanding that his thumb be sacrificed as 'guru dakshina') so that he could not compete –and win—an archery contest with the Guru's high Caste Kaurav and Pandava students!
This renaming of Gurgaon to Gurugram does not merely reveal the brazen insensitivity of RSS/BJP rulers to the History of the Oppressed, Dalit Bahujan History on Dr Ambedkar's 125th Birth Anniversary. This action, like many others, also exposes the contradictions and hypocrisies inherent within the politics of Hindutva.
Monopolistic and exclusivist reservation of the posts of priests (archakas) and assignments for collateral duties in temples for members of the upper castes is unlawfuland violates all cannons of equity and justice. It is also unconstitutional, being blatantly contrary to Article 14 (equality before law), Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and Article 16 (equality of opportunities in matters of public employment).
The status of a caste among Hindus is generally proportionate to the physical contiguity of its members to idols (murti) in temples. Persons religiously entitled and scripturally eligible to conduct devotional and sacramental rites, and theological ceremonies in the sanctum sanctorum (garbhagriha)—for instance, people from the Agnihotri, Tantri, Vajpayee, Namboothiriclans—are at the top of the pecking order of Hindu castes.They are the priests. Those engaged in miscellaneous and auxiliary temple duties like preparing items for worship (pooja) and the deity’s ceremonial food (prasad) occupy the next grade. The security providers stand next in the line. Unfortunately, in temples administered by governments, this illegal, unethical, unjust and anachronistic system that violates two basic foundational ideals of the Constitution—equality and fraternity—are prevalent throughout India
Article 13 of the Constitution has declared that all laws which are inconsistent with the provisions of the Fundamental Rights be declared void;such laws include ordinance, order, bylaw, rule, regulation, notification, as well as any custom and usage in force in India. Recently, information about rules and regulations governing the appointment of chief and junior priests in temples under the administrative control of Travancore Devaswam Board was obtained through the RTI Act, 2005 by the author of this article. The data indicated that the posts of priests are exclusively reserved for Malayalee Brahmins. The post of the chief priest of Sabarimala temple is exclusively reserved for a Brahmin family from Chengannoor. No foolproof, transparent or systematic selection procedure is reportedly followed for the selection of priests in temples. The same for promotions and other professional aspects of the cadre of priests performing poojas.
Similar unjust and illegal procedures and practices are followed throughout India in practically all temples and shrines governed by state and central governments or trusts constituted by them. To name a few:Somnath Shiva, Dakor Krishna, Ambaji Devi, and Shymlaji Krishna temples in Gujarat; Kamakhya temple in Assam; NathDwaratemple in Rajasthan; Vaishnav Devi temple in Jammu and Kashmir; Kali/Durgatemples in West Bengal; Jagannathtemple in Puri, Orissa; Meenaxi Devi temple in Tamil Nadu; TirupatiBalajitemple in Andhra Pradesh, Siddhi Vinayakatemple in Mumbai.
This discriminatory system also goes against specific stipulations in the core scriptures of the Rigveda, the Upanishads, and the Bhagvad Gita.
A few relevant extracts from the holy texts are:
“May you move together, speak together in one voice. Let your minds be of one accord; and like the ancient sages, may you enjoy assigned share of fortune”.
“May our counsel or the public prayers be common, and common be our assembly. May our minds move in accord; May our thinking be in harmony, - common the purpose, and common the desire. May our prayers and worship be alike, and may our devotional offerings be one and the same.
“May your resolves be one; May your hearts feel alike; May your thinking be one; and thus may all of you live happily with thorough union.” (Rigveda, Mandala, 10, Sukta, 191(2 to 4)
“Men of self-knowledge are same-sighted on a Brahmana, imbued with learning and humility, a cow, an elephant, a dog and an outcaste”. (Bhagvad Gita, Adyaya -5, Sloka 18)
“He, who sees Me (universal soul/God) everywhere and sees all in Me, He never becomes lost to me, nor do I become lost to him” (Bhagvad Gita, Adyaya -6, Sloka 30)
The metaphysical definition of a Brahmin does not validate the present system of fixing a person’s caste according to his parent’s caste. The popular definition of Brahmin in scriptures is:
“At the time of birth, everybody is Shudra (a person kept away from knowledge according to the the Sanskrit etymologistYaskan); by acquiring education/culture, he becomes twice born; by mastering Veda (means any set of knowledge), one becomes vipra(a man of specialized knowledgeVisheshapragna) and by acquiring knowledge of Brahma (brahmagnanam—spiritual awareness), one becomes a Brahmin”
The superiority of an individual solely based on his birth (the basis for jati or caste) is unscientific, illogical and unreasonable. The Sanskrit etymology of the word ‘jati’ is in ‘janmanajati’ that is, caste is based on birth. Since 300 CE (Common Era), the caste system has blocked socioeconomic, educational and cultural mobility in Indian society, thus keeping India backward in most fields.
One way to bring about change as envisaged by Ambedkar would be for the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to introduce suitable legislation for the constitution of a state-wise temple service cadre (for instance, a Gujarat State Temple Service, a Kerala State Temple Service, a Central Temple Service) on the pattern of existing state and all-India services. Those currently serving as priests could suitably be absorbed in the proposed service structure.
Allowing all qualified Hindus to enter the priestly order in temples will be in line with the direction in the Rigveda which recommends sticking to the path of justice. The Vedic Sukta exhorts, “Oh men! Just as the sun and the moon move on the prescribed path with regularity, similarly men also should go on the path of justice”. (Rigveda, Mandala-5, Sukta-51-Sloka-15).The Bhagvad Gita (Adyaya -16, Sloka-24) says, “Let the Shastras (laws) be your authority in deciding what you should do and what you should desist from doing. Having understood what is ordained by the laws, you should act accordingly.”
Ambedkar had spoken against exactly the sort of inequality that is prevalent in the country’s temples in his concluding speech in the Constituent Assembly after the adoption of the Constitution on November 25, 1949. He said, “Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it, social democracy, that is, a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as principles of life. They form a union or trinity. Without equality, liberty would produce supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative. Without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things…
The Sanskrit etymology of the word ‘Jati’ is “JanmanaJati”, that is, caste is based on birth only. This social construction is devoid of any appraisal of physical, psychological, emotional, mental, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of an individual personality.
“We have a society based on the principle of graded inequality, means elevation of some and degradation of others. We are entering into a life of contradictions. We have political equality; but in social and economic life, we will have inequality. In politics, we follow one man, one vote and one vote one value. In society and economics, we deny principle of one man, one value…
“Those who suffer from inequality, will blow up the structure of democracy…Fraternity envisages a common brotherhood of all Indians—being one people—giving unity and solidarity to social life. (Casteism is) anti-national, (castes) bring about separation in life, generate jealousy and antipathy between caste and caste. Without fraternity, equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint…
“Many in India are beasts of burden, but also beasts of prey. The downtrodden classes are tired of being governed. People are tired of government by the people. They are prepared to have government for the people and are indifferent whether it is government of the people and by the people. If we wish to preserve the Constitution in which we have sought to enshrine the principles of government of the people, for the people and by the people, let us resolve not to be tardy in the recognition of evils that lie across our path and which induce people to prefer government for the people, to government by the people, nor to be weak in our initiative to remove them. That is the only way to serve the country, I know of no better.”
It would be more productive to pursue this line of thinking rather than retrogressive and counterproductive programmes like ‘GharVapasi’ ( reconversion of Christians and Muslims) and the controls being exercised on food preferences of citizens by banning the consumption of beef. These are a distraction from the effort to remedy discriminative practices in the social, religious and cultural lives of Hindus.
By absorbing the ideas of Ambedkarin public life, the country’s elite can liberate itself, as envisaged in the Vedic prayer, “Oh Lord! We have fallen in a dark cave. In this severe darkness, many demons are harassing us. We pray to you to destroy this darkness and bless us with donation of brightness, so that we can be liberated from these enemies”. (Rigveda, Mandala-1, Sukta-86, Sloka-10)
(The author, a retired IPS officer, is a former DGP of Gujarat)
Brahmin-Savarnas occupy Strategic Posts
In JNU, teachers and students have come together to stage a united fight against organised Hindutva forces and militarization of the campus. As per one of the speakers, their fight aims at saving the soul of ‘India’ by defending its ‘universities’. One may agree or disagree with them. However, one cannot fail to notice the caste and class differences between the teachers and the students.
While students form a relatively heterogeneous group, thanks to affirmative action; teachers continue to be dominated by Brahmins and other Savarnas (hereafter Brahmin-Savarnas). Is this difference a problem?
Well, such ‘differences’ are part of all campuses in India.
The statistics of All India Survey in Higher Education is quite instructive. Though the survey doesn’t ‘count’ upper-castes separately, one can safely say that 66% of all teaching positions are occupied by ‘Non-SC, ST, OBC, Muslim, Other religious Minority and PwD’ teachers. Who form ‘Non-SC, ST, OBC, Muslim, Other religious Minority and PwD’ teachers, is anybody’s guess! If 66% of all teachers come from Brahmin-Savarna backgrounds, it effectively means that all important decision-making bodies in higher education are dominated by privileged social groups, who are historically part of the ruling social class.
This being the case, it is hard to believe that teachers and students would have the ‘same’ or ‘similar’ intentions behind saving public-funded universities. The powerful groups dominating powerful posts would want to save the university to maintain their power and control over resources, irrespective of their progressive lip service. We do not have many reasons to think otherwise. For example, have we witnessed Brahmin-Savarna teachers forming human chains or organising hunger strikes to fill SC/ST/OBC backlog positions in Universities?
On the other hand, Dalit-Bahujan and other minority students would want to save universities (or any other pubic-funded institution) to essentially dismantle its status-quo and claim their rightful share.
This contradiction in interests should be historicised and analyzed carefully. We can build meaningful solidarities only if we show the courage to face conflicting histories and interests.
The formation of the Independent Indian State consolidated the Brahmin-Savarna supremacy in no simple ways. We can go through the community and genealogical histories of several groups to understand the ways in which they ensured their inclusion (and over-representation) by denying equal opportunities to others and maintaining the status quo.
Let us briefly look at one example. This example or rather a case study appears in an essay written by C. J. Fuller and Haripriya Narasimhan titled ‘From landlords to software engineers: migration and urbanisation among Tamil Brahmans.’ They collected eighteen such genealogical accounts to understand the generational movement of Tamil Brahmins -
Nagalingam, born in 1927, belongs to one of Tippirajapuram’s leading landed families. Both his grandfathers were landlords there; his father qualified as an accountant, but did not practice and instead looked after his land, which Nagalingam has retained. Nagalingam is also an auditor still working in the City Union Bank (CUB), which is largely controlled by Vattimas. He went to college in Madras and qualified as a chartered accountant in 1953. He first worked for a central government department in Jaipur and Calcutta, and later joined a leading private-sector company, but he fell ill and returned to Tippirajapuram in 1963, where he practiced accountancy….Nagalingam and his wife have two sons in their forties, both auditors in Chennai, and one daughter in her fifties who is a housewife married to a doctor living in Ohio and has three children, all trainee doctors. Nagalingam’s father had one brother, whose only daughter, Rajalakshmi, also born in 1927, married a landlord, and they have four children, now in their fifties. Rajalakshmi’s elder son works for the CUB in Coimbatore and the younger son works in Bangalore for a financial advice and services company started in Chennai in 1974 by Vasudevan, Rajalakshmi’s younger daughter’s husband, who is also a chartered accountant. Vasudevan’s elder daughter is an IT professional living in the United States, his younger daughter is married to CUB manager in Kumbakonam, and his son works for his father’s company in Chennai. Rajalakshmi’s elder daughter is married to her cross-cousin (once removed), a landlord in another Vattima village, and they have three sons, one working for the same financial company in Mumbai (Bombay) and the other two for software companies in Chennai. Nagalingam’s father also had one sister, whose four sons, all born in the 1930s, are respectively two retired lawyers, who practiced in nearby Kumbakonam and Mayuvaram, and two landlords (one just mentioned as married to his cross-cousin). Each lawyer had two sons: one works for the CUB in Tirucchirappalli, and three are in Chennai, one in a large private-sector company, one in business, and one an accountant.
In Nagalingam’s family, banking and accountancy have been common occupations, mostly practiced in Chennai and other Tamilnadu towns.
Fuller and Haripriya’s essay try to make sense of the ‘over-representation’ of Tamil Brahmins in IT professions. They contextualise it in the history-induced migration of this group. The essay is not political in any measure but it captures the objective realities which led to Tamil Brahmin expansion in strategic sectors.
In the above example, we would find that quite a few individuals from Nagalingam’s family are chartered accountants. There are historical reasons for the same. During the British rule, land settlements were administered through the village accountants and headmen. Most of the accountants were Brahmins.
These ‘revenue Brahmins’ (as Conlon refers to them, quoted in Fuller) started migrating to towns and cities to man several state jobs. One also needs to note that most of the Tamil Brahmin landlords received proprietary rights under the ryotwari system and were exempted from tax payments as they owned ‘inam’ land or ‘gifted’ land. Their preferred ‘life’ of wealth and ‘education’ was made possible by their total non-involvement with any labour in the field. All the labour was outsourced to the Dalit-Bahujan communities.
In 1891, the only group to draw salaries above Rs.500/month in Travancore Services was the Foreign Brahmin (mostly Tamil Brahmins). Kannadiga Brahmins sought affirmative action against Tamil Brahmins in the Mysore Presidency, owing to the latter’s ‘over-representation’ in services. The ‘Malayali Memorial’ submitted in 1891 was a concerted effort mostly by Nairs, Syrian Christians and marginally by Ezhavas against the supremacy of Tamil Brahmins.
It should be noted that Dalits were not included in this endeavor. More than 10,000 Nairs, Syrian Christians and Ezhavas gave a written petition to the Travancore State, asking for representation in state jobs. While the state considered the demands of the Nairs and Syrian Christians, the Ezhavas were denied any opportunity and nobody really bothered about the Dalits.
The formation of ‘Indian State’ does not weaken the position of the Tamil Brahmin. In fact you would find an explosion of opportunities and choices for them in public and private sectors. This is the case with most of the Brahmin-Savarna groups.
We need to bear in our minds that Universities, like other state-supported public institutions, have been the meeting place of the ruling social classes or the Brahmin-Savarnas. Educational Institutions of National Importance have always witnessed an alarming presence of these groups. JNU or any other university is no exception. If one goes through the surnames of teachers in the JNU faculty directory, one would find an alarming diversity of Brahmin-Savarna surnames cutting across religion and region. I could list almost seventy such surnames, many of them often appeared more than five times in the list. Let us be assured that the situation would be no different in other universities. What does this supremacy indicate? It tells us about the nature of public institutions – its composition, its beneficiaries and decision-makers.
In his message to the Maratha Community (dated March 23, 1947) Dr. B.R. Ambedkar writes-
“The Brahmin Community is able to maintain itself against all odds, against all oppositions; it is due to the fact that strategic posts are held by Brahmins”
Babasaheb points out that Brahmins, a numerical minority, continue to maintain their supremacy by ‘having a controlling influence on the State’. Such an influence is assured through the ‘capture’ of strategic posts. Even during the Muslim rule in India, key ministerial berths were captured by Brahmins. Such capture over finite resources and positions has meant exclusion and betrayal of the majority.
In the light of the above discussion, let us reflect on a few statistics provided by the Deputy Registrar of JNU to the Parliament in 2013 and 2014.
As per 2013 data, number of SC/ST/OBC vacant teaching posts is as follows -
Associate Professor: 34
Assistant Professor: 11
Associate Professor: 15
Assistant Professor: 03
Professor: Not applicable
Associate Professor: Not applicable
Assistant Professor: 10
SC/ST reservation in Associate professor and Professor levels were adopted in 2007 by the JNU Executive Council. OBC reservations (27%) have not been adopted at the level of Associate professor and Professor. In 2014 more than half the sanctioned OBC positions at the Assistant Professor level remained vacant, even after seven years of adopting the implementation of 27% OBC reservation. According to replies to an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act filed in 2015, there are 29 OBC assistant professors, which is again less than the sanctioned positions.
Let us take a look at the non-teaching Group C and D positions at JNU. As per the Deputy Registrar, between 2009 and 2013, JNU has not appointed a single SC cook. In spite of 10 sanctioned positions. 141 Safai Karamchari positions were exclusively 'chalked out' only for SCs. During the same period the appointments of Vice-Chancellor, Registrar, Finance Officer and Librarian were made under the 'Unreserved categories'.
None of these statistics should come to us as a surprise. It simply reaffirms that universities are like any other place within a Brahmin-supremacist, patriarchal caste order.
Dalit-Bahujan diversity cannot be achieved by ‘reserving’ 141 sanitation worker posts for SCs, nor can it be achieved only through implementation of affirmative action in enrolling students. Heterogeneity can be meaningful only when it is achieved at the higher echelons of power and decision-making.
We also need to acknowledge that increasing student heterogeneity of certain universities is simply a faint reflection of the real heterogeneity of our geography. We are more than 5000 castes and tribes with several sub-groups, genders, speaking distinct languages, residing in varied geographies, involved in diverse occupations.
To my mind, ‘heterogenising’ universities would ideally mean
(a) Establishment of fully state-supported universities in accessible physical and cultural locations
(b) Universalization of University education: Where everybody has a right to University Education
(c) Active participation and agency of all castes and tribes in accessing and shaping Higher Education
(d) Meaningful affirmative action in teaching, non-teaching/administrative positions. However, all these conditions go against the grain of the established Brahmanic and neo-liberal order. Implementing these conditions would also mean decentralizing Higher Education and dismantling the false hierarchies of state and central universities. Most importantly, the ruling social class (read as Brahmin-Savarnas) doesn’t and wouldn’t support such propositions aimed at heavily undoing their hegemony.
Who has laboured for heterogeneity in Universities?
Having said that, let me also acknowledge that the faint reflection of heterogeneity in certain universities is not the generosity of the ‘university’ or its predominantly Brahmin-Savarna faculty. It is a consequence of the politics, labour, time and energy put in by communities, especially Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi women and men.
The reiteration of these collective struggles is important to ward off ‘heroic individualism’ of any kind. Angela Davis uses the term ‘heroic individualism’ to express how people reduce collective struggles to the heroic individuality of a place or a person in the context of the Civil Rights Movement in U.S.A.
It is their ability to creatively organise meagre resources to ensure that their children reach the examination hall to write JNU’s (or any other university’s) entrance test. It is often a result of generations of out-migrations from places of origin to ensure dignity, social security, education and access to modern institutions in the face of great social hostility. It is a result of political mobilisations to enter schools, colleges, hospitals and public offices. Such political mobilidations have meant creation of hostels, schools, colleges and hospitals. For example, the creation of Ambedkar student’s hostels, social welfare hostels has been a watershed in the history of access to higher education.
Neither JNU nor any other university can explain its student heterogeneity by only looking for the reasons in its rulebooks or protests within its executive councils or physical boundaries. Most of the reasons lie clearly outside its territory and purview. The image of the ‘university’ as a modern space with emancipatory potentials is cultivated and nurtured through social movements and community mobilisations outside of universities. These social meanings emerge from the modernist visions of anti-caste movements which always placed ‘education’ as their central focus (of mobilization).
It is extremely important for all of us to constantly reiterate the significance of anti-caste community mobilisations which fought to access ‘public institutions.’ Why is this reiteration important?
Sunny Kapicadu underlines that public places and institutions were made ‘public’ by Anti-caste mobilisations. It is only with the entry of historically excluded groups that places and institutions achieve a ‘modern’ character. He recalls the market-entry and school-entry movements led by Ayyankali in early 20th century Kerala to substantiate this observation. The Entry of Dalits has historically meant ‘entry for all’. The idea that places and institutions can be ‘accessible to all’ emerges from anti-caste movements in the Indian sub-continent.
This contribution was not an unexpected by-product. It was/is the central plank of anti-caste struggles- imagining and politically articulating dignified and accessible places and institutions for everyone. The fact that Jotiba and Savitribai Phule opened schools ‘for everyone’ is another example of how the idea of ‘public’ was made meaningful in our geography. Drawing from the first reason, one can argue that making places and institutions ‘public’ was the first step towards making them democratic and representative. Anti-caste mobilisations for representation in public office, jobs and universities continue to be very important for democracy.
Warding off the ‘Heroic Individualism’ of Universities
The reiteration of these collective struggles is important to ward off ‘heroic individualism’ of any kind. Angela Davis uses the term ‘heroic individualism’ to express how people reduce collective struggles to the heroic individuality of a place or a person in the context of the Civil Rights Movement in U.S.A. She underlines that a series of ‘non-heroic’ everyday tasks are involved in making a movement. She remembers the Black women who mimeographed pamphlets all night to execute the bus strike in 1955 America. However, nobody remembers the names of these women.
In India millions of unsung, unknown poor, Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi women and men are toiling, migrating, mobilising, fighting to make certain ‘spectacles’ of heterogeneity possible in Universities. The four decade old struggle of Tamil Nadu’s Narikuravar community to get enlisted in the Scheduled Tribe List is one such fight. They are single-mindedly continuing this struggle to ensure meaningful access to Hostels, Higher Education and jobs. The idea of meaningful representation is a product of collective struggles; it flows from collective struggles to the university and not the other way round.
However, it is interesting to note that Nivedita Menon (in her speech delivered at JNU administrative block) remembers the ‘white bearded’ men who ‘worked out the deprivation points’ in the 1970s which, according to her, ‘ensured the heterogeneity of JNU’. Her recollections of JNU’s struggle for ensuring representation is significant but is not rounded or complete, to say the least.
Without active community mobilisations among Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi communities to access education in the face of a hostile Brahmanical order, none of the ‘deprivation points’ or by-rules would have been of any use.
Selective recollections, which single-mindedly argue that heterogeneity is a consequence of a few men’s ability to chalk out ‘deprivation points’ makes any keen listener feel that there is something ‘very special’ about JNU. Something very unique about the place which makes it naturally intelligent and sensitive!
It is important to understand Indian Universities as historical products of a caste society. In recent times we are also witnessing its intimate collusions with neo-liberalism. They mirror the larger structural realities of an unequal society. Its everyday life is based on gendered and caste-based labour, like any other historical product.
This being the case, how do we understand glorious slogans such as JNU is ‘Tarq ka Gadh and Nyan ka Jad’ or a place where everyone questions, discusses everything under the sun and imagines a new world?
Well, such claims and dreams operationalise only when large portions of reproductive labour are outsourced to women and men who are not part of these discussions and deliberations. In other words, a ‘non-participant’ is effectively cooking, cleaning, mopping, washing, or sweeping for every participant. As mentioned above, if 141 seats are reserved for SC sanitation workers, we know who are the ‘non-participants’!
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar in the constitution of the Republican Party of India highlights the importance of ‘education’ over ‘propaganda’ in the functioning of a government. This is true in the case of universities as well. Universities, their history and composition should be subjected to a detailed critique. This critique should be linked to the society and its realities and not as stand-alone islands. Such an exercise would be educational.
While the current struggle against criminalising students is important, one does not require fighting in binaries or in other words, hail universities as ‘heaven on earth’. Dalit-Bahujan struggles for public-institutions include destruction of Brahmin-Savarna hegemony and reclaiming democracy for everyone. Heroic individualism of certain universities would simply help in reinstating Brahmin-Savarna supremacy, as they ‘embody’ these spaces more than any other group. Glorious accounts of universities (any university) in a Brahmin-supremacist, patriarchal caste order would essentially invisiblise the majority. Universities should be understood as part of larger social realities which need radical reconstruction.
 George Mathew, ‘Communal Road to a Secular Kerala’, p.52
 P. Laxmi Narasu in his book ‘A Study of Caste’ re-published in 2009, Samyak Prakashan , p. 105
Based on the response filed to the Parliament by JNU deputy registrar on the status of new sanctioned appointments, dated 8th August 2013 and the reply filed by deputy registrar to MHRD, dated July 25th 2014; Material for reply to Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question No. 1136 for 16.12.2013 asked by Shri Ali Anwar Ansari regarding “Reservation policy in Central Universities”.
Illustration by Nidhin Shobhana
(The writer is an artist and writer. He is a Programme Associate with NCDHR, the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights)
The return of BJP to power in 2014 was the return centre-stage of the caste question. Not that caste had gone away. Far from it.But our public life had been unmistakably altered by caste radicalism in the last few decades. 1990s onwards, powerful and triumphant dalit voices – intellectual, literary and political – transformed the nature of our democracy such that questions of caste injustice and caste assertion could no longer be circumvented, passed over, as it was done in earlier decades, by both reactionaries and progressives.
Nor could the dalit and the low-caste subject be any longer portrayed as mere outcast or victim. She had come into her own as an autonomous and assertive political subject, sometimes even the ruler. Christophe Jaffrelot called this India’s silent revolution, and rightly so. What we see today with the rise (and imminent fall) of Hindutva nationalism is an attempt at a counter-revolution, nothing less.
The Counter-revolution – Targeting Dalits
The signs are easy to read. Right after Modi’s win began the so-called gharvapasi campaign of the Hindutvavadis, seeking to reconvert to Hinduism those who had earlier seceded in favour of Islam and Christianity. While the issue was pitched as an issue of religion, it was clear that at the heart of the matter was caste.Those who had left Hinduism for other religions in the hope of escaping their low-caste status were now being offered reservation in exchange for their return to Hindu society. But were they being offered a high-caste status?
Could a dalit Christian or a Muslim julaha be welcomed back into the fold by anointing him a new Brahmin – even as a gesture of high symbolism? In the name of God, no! S/he had to return as a dalit and a shudra. Ironically, all this while the BJP tried to make cunning inroads into Kerala’s communist strongholds by calling upon the Izhavas and the Pulayas to return to the cause of Hindu nationalism.
Then came the controversies around the release of the government’s socio-economic and caste data and around the question of poverty and birth-rates – all of which the BJP tried to pitch as a question of Hindu versus Muslim demographics, disabling any genuine nation-wide rethinking about contemporary sociology of India. Then we were treated to the anti-beef drama, putatively targeting Muslims but provoking dalit communities who consumed beef to forcefully respond by holding beef-festivals in public. This was followed by the Bihar elections. While Amit Shah sat in the backroom with constituency-wise break-up of caste data doing his cynical electoral arithmetic, the Hindutvavadis proclaimed a possible roll-back of the government’s positive discrimination policies, even invoking Ambedkar to argue that reservations were always intended as a temporary measure. The election results speak for themselves. But the BJP clearly did not learn its lesson, or rather if it had indeed learnt the lesson, it would no longer have been BJP.
The battle lines seem precisely drawn – between a Hindutva-based nationalism and a caste-critique that shows up the impossibility of Hindu unity (or indeed Muslim unity, if the recent pasmanda discourse is anything to go by). Ambedkar will be a symbol of this fight, but on the basis of a recognition that times have changed drastically.
So the BJP went on to incite, from the very top level of the government, systematic persecution of dalit students in Hyderabad University, a university that is known for caste-radicalism of both its students and teachers. Rohith Vemula died as a result, but instead of mourning the bright young man’s untimely death, the BJP went all out to disprove Rohith’s dalitness. Even his bereaved mother was not spared the embarrassment of having to publicly clarify the circumstances of Rohith’s birth and childhood. When it became clear that they were axing their own foot by what everybody now understood to be an undisguised anti-dalit campaign, the BJP took out its trump card – nationalism.
The Trump Card of Nationalism
Dissenting students were now labeled anti-national, and the whole might of the state executive and judiciary unleashed against them. In JNU, dalit students, poor students and Muslim students – all those who had fought their multiple social disadvantages to arrive at the country’s premier university and then had the temerity of adopting some shade of communism – were now all targeted as terrorists. Afzal Guru, Kashmir and the army were invoked, papering over the fact that some of the persecuted students in JNU too were dalits and had dared the Hindutvavadis by supporting the worship of Mahishasura (in an inversion of the traditional roles of gods and demons in Hindu festivals) and the eating of beef by those who chose to do so. As Rochelle Pinto says in her prescient piece, attention was successfully diverted from the question of caste injustice that had returned in the last few months to slap the BJP in its face. The caste question was sublimated as the national question.
The BJP and its various extra-parliamentary organizations now mobilized on the streets, outside universities, in the media and in the courtroom to teach the anti-nationals lessons in nationalism. Matters became clear as crystal in Gwalior a few days ago – where a meeting organized by the Ambedkar Manch involving an Ambedkarite professor Vivek Kumar from JNU was attacked by ABVP members, who went on to not only fire gun-shots at the gathering but even burn the Indian Constitution, perhaps to avenge Ambedkar’s burning of the Manusmriti half a century ago!
This is the place where I should dwell briefly on the question – why universities? After all, the BJP has always prided itself on its preoccupation with schools and primary education – in the time of Murali Manohar Joshi as much as in the time of Smriti Irani. Catch them young has always been the RSS motto. Why then this interest in universities and in higher education? This is because the Indian university today is no longer the Indian university of the 1970s – elite islands of higher education in a sea of mass illiteracy. India’s silent revolution has changed it beyond recognition.
The extension of reservation to higher education institutions in the last couple of decades has turned universities into a deeply diverse space with complex social dynamics and heightened social and political relevance – with lower-caste students, first-generation learners and vernacular languages challenging the erstwhile dominance of upper-castes in education. The late Sharmila Rege’s reflections on teaching caste in caste-ridden classrooms demonstrate this beautifully. Needless to say, since Brahmanvad was historically based on a systemic denial of knowledge, lower-caste claim to higher education shot the university through and through with unmistakable political charge.
After all, not for nothing did Ambedkar put so much value on education early on and at a time when communists thought of so-called bourgeois education as no more than mere means of coopting the proletariat! This new politicization of the university space – evident in Hyderabad, JNU, Banaras Hindu University and elsewhere – worry Hindutvavadis no end. Because today’s university is a volatile, charged, even dangerous place – where new questions are raised, academic common sense and established political ideologies challenged, traditional figures of authority brought crashing down and above all, new kinds of social interaction – including cross-caste and sexualized social interaction – become possible. The university is today a space of miscegenation – unregulated inter-mixing of peoples and ideas, in the classroom, on campus, in hostels. And if the Hindutvavadis’ love jihad discourse is anything to go by, they abhor miscegenation because it dissolves boundaries between races and castes and ideologies.
Today’s university on the other hand is precisely that, a space of miscegenation – difficult and fraught as it may be in terms of interpersonal dynamics – and achieves routinely what the Dr. Ambedkar Scheme for Social Integration through Inter-Caste Marriage could never do, despite high monetary incentives offered by the state to promote inter-caste falling-in-love! In a way, then, in the eyes of the Hindutvavadi, the spectre of caste radicalism becomes one with the spectre of a morally and culturally suspect university space. Hence the fury.
Caste Radicalism as Anti-Hindutva
All this is well-known. My purpose in putting all this together in one place is to push for a specific conclusion that to my mind needs stating in no uncertain terms. To put it directly, we are at a point in our history where caste radicalism has emerged as the critical force that will fight the Hindu right and its version of oppressive nationalism. The battle lines seem precisely drawn – between a Hindutva-based nationalism and a caste-critique that shows up the impossibility of Hindu unity (or indeed Muslim unity, if the recent pasmanda discourse is anything to go by). Ambedkar will be a symbol of this fight, but on the basis of a recognition that times have changed drastically.
If Ambedkar had had to face the immense obstacle of having to critique nationalism at the height of nationalism’s legitimacy as the only imaginable form of anti-colonial struggle, today we are no longer so burdened. Nationalism has by now been de-naturalized. Nationalism is no longer the only available political idiom, nor is it the default mode of expressing freedom and love for land and country. Above all, nationalism has by now blatantly and unmistakably displayed the unthinkable cruelties and exclusions that it can perpetrate on people in the name of the nation, peoples both its own and others’, peoples both inside and outside – by mobilizing unrestrained statism and militarism. A caste critique of nationalism – even more than ideologies of self-determination, which always teeter on the edge of degenerating into counter-nationalisms and duplicating nationalism’s evils – is the way forward in today’s India.
Left and the Ethic of Solidarity
The left, which despite its commitment to internationalism (or perhaps because of it) always bowed to the legitimacy of the nation-form, must learn a few lessons from this potentially new critique of the nation. The left must also wear its secularist credentials lightly, because caste radicalism is not always and not necessarily secularist. If Periyar was an atheist, Ambedkar was a Buddhist and many dalit communities have fashioned across India a variety of heterodox religions. Also, the left must mitigate its traditional penchant for using the party-form as an instrument of taking over mass movements and mass forums. It should learn to support and follow rather than always appear to lead.
In other words, at a time when we do see the possibility of a broadly Marxist-Ambedkarite critique emerging, there needs to be a delicate and sensitive rebalancing of intellectual equations and political alliances. For today, in the face of a resurgent Hindu nationalism, caste radicalism is indeed the crux – perhaps even more so than in the 1990s. Rohith is the symbol of the moment – a young dalit who did not only talk of dalit rights but staked a claim to science fiction, the most daring launch of imagination if any, beyond all sociological and cultural limits. If the nation has sacrificed him, the sacrifice must not go in vain.
(The author is a historian based at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi)
Singing songs of ordinary people, especially Dalits, Shital Sathe has been singing of the marginalised, Dalits and others all over Maharashtra, She is one of the vibrant singer-poet of the Kabir Kala Manch. Attacked for her trenchant critique of the caste order, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) – currently behind the attacks of students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and earlier at the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) – has tried to disrupt her performances in rural Maharashtra. See https://sabrangindia.in/article/my-songs-are-my-protest-sheetal-sathe
On February 7, 2016 she gave a rendering of unique compositions and songs of protests at the Press Club, Delhi. Sudhanva Deshpande interviewed her for this joint production of Communalism Combat and Newsclick.
“These are moments of acute loneliness and struggle. My son, Abhang, is without his father. (Sachin Mali has been in jail, denied bail, for 32 months). Sachin is without his son and wife. Sachin’s parents are without Sachin. I am without Sachin. We can’t be a family, many precious moments of life have been lost,” Shital Sathe
“I sing a song for Abhang anticipating the questions he may put to us. You were born in a storm, and the swing we have for you is tied to the sky,” Shital Sathe
Inssan ke liye gaana chahie, Isaan ke andar ke jaanwar ko maar dene ke liye gaana chahiye
-- Shital Sathe on Wamanrav Kardav her inspiration
‘We are paying the pricing of not bending, not giving in, holding up our self-respect; the cost of self-respect and resistance is the ‘Anda’ (isolation cell) at Arthur Road jail, a room of 5 X 15 feet,” Shital Sathe
“It was the collective and invisible violence of the caste system that killed Rohith Vemula. He was a victim of caste abuse. The Brahmanism in the education sector is shameful,” Shital Sathe. Her song about the killing of Rohith is powerful: Rohith gela, Dalit mela, Meli Lokshaahi (Rohith left us, a Dalit died, It is the Death of Democracy)
“Kabir Kala Manch sings the songs of the lives of ordinary people, the marginalised, Dalits”, Shital Sathe
“It is our fundamental belief in equality, dignity and opposition to the indignities of caste and the supremacist of Hindutvawaadis that is the real reason for the opposition of the ABVP. There is nothing remotely Maowaadi or Naxalwaadi in us”, Shital Sathe
“Hindu Rashtra can never be acceptable in our country with people of different faiths, different thoughts, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists etc. Hindu Rashtra is against Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Constitution”, Shital Sathe
“Mukta Salve, who studied in Savitribai Phule-Jotiba Phule’s school in Pune had asked, how can a religion that does not even consider us as human ever be ours,” Shital Sathe
“Babasaheb (Ambedkar) had said that though I was born a Hindu, I don’t want to die a Hindu,” Shital Sathe
“My songs talk of the newer manifestations of caste under the neo-liberal regime, our notions of patriotism is the struggle for the equality and dignity for all,” Shital Sathe
“Sachin Mali, my husband and comrade is the poet who’s songs we sing; I write some songs too. We are the children of the Maharashtrian Shaayri tradition. The saints of Maharashtra who questioned the caste structure, Tukaram Namdeo; this tradition carried forward to the shaayri (poets) tradition under Shivaji. During the nationalist movement and communist movement Annabhau Sathe and Amar Sheikh are our mentors. Then the Ambedkarite movement gave birth to Wamanrao Kardav and Bhimrao Kardav. We are children of that tradition,” Shital Sathe
On January 22, 2016, graduate students of the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University Lucknow, created history of sorts when they raised sharp and aggressive slogans against Narendra Modi, the prime minister. “Modi go back,” they shouted as he addressed the Convocation barely four days after Rohith Vemula’s “institutional murder” on January 17.
“If we had not protested, Modi would not have apologized,” Ram Karan Nirmal and Amrendra Singh Arya told Communalism Combat in this exclusive interview. Done in collaboration with Newsclick.in and Hillele, these two students and another, Manoj Kumar spoke at length on issues of discrimination and redressal in Indian society and on the campus. Teesta Setalvad of Communalism Combat conducted the interview.
“This is the first time after the Mandal commission agitation that campuses across the country are aflame with cries for justice. Caste, gender and minority rights, these are the three issues around which youngsters are agitating. All progressive forces need to join in.”
‘Today, even after the enactment of the Right to Education Act (RTE) and the provision that there should be 25 per cent entry to lesser privileged children, most schools do not meet this requirement. Those that do, single these children out, brand them, cut their hair, differentiate them; it is shameful,” Amrendra Arya.
“The movement that has begun with the death/sacrifice of Rohith Vemula is not going to stop. India is a land of the youth. The youth want this country to change: they want casteism, gender and religious discrimination to go,” Ram Karan Nirmal.
“The nature of casteism may have changed but caste discrimination has not disappeared. I recall one bitter experience at the Banaras Hindu University where I had completed my LLB. I was presenting a paper on “The Marxist Theory of International Relations. I had worked hard and thought I did a good job. You know what the professor remarked? “Until now Brahmans and Rajputs used to speak. Now ‘others’ have also started speaking!’” This hurt me and made me feel very uncomfortable,” Manoj Kumar.
“There are so many vacant seats in central universities, this need to be filled. Adequate representation at all levels is a must, even in the judiciary, “Ram Karan.
“Others say, Garv se kahon ham Rajput hai!. When will we able to say, “Garv se kahon ham Dhobhi ya Chamar hai?” Manoj Kumar.
“This appropriation of Babsaheb Ambedkar is nothing short of a deification and saffronisation of a personality. Babasaheb was rational and scientific. You cannot deify him and take away this essence, which is a sharp critique of the Hindu religion itself which anoints and legitimises caste,” Ram Karan Nirmal.
“The RSS move to have a Samrasta Week –to assimilate or appropriate Dalits is hypocritical. As Dalits we eat non-vegetarian food. Then why the Samrasta week with enforced vegetarianism, without our food our culture?” Manoj Kumar.
“The patriarchal and casteist attitude towards Rohith Vemula’s mother, Radhika questioning her Dalit identity; the behaviour of ministers Bangaru Dattarya and Appa Rao (Vice Chancellor) is simply trying to weaken the movement. But this movement is not going away.” – Ram Karan, Manoj Kumar, Amrendra Arya.
A Dalit groom wears a helmet as upper caste people threw stones at his wedding procession near Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh. Image: The Hindu
‘I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write.’ – from Rohith Chakravarthy Vemula’s ‘suicide note’, January 17, 2016.
The death of this shining star of the Hyderabad Central University has once again brought to the fore the plight of the Dalits and other students from disadvantaged communities. The situation is particularly bad for those who dare to defy social norms and try to get into that segment of society or take on those roles that are not considered by the upper castes to belong to them. On the one hand their aspirations and dreams – no matter how high, are crushed before their very eyes, while on the other, elite students are told to ‘dream big’ for ‘unless you dream big, how will you attain it?’
Caste discrimination is not new and continues to be rampant even in places which are part of ‘modern’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ India, an India that is supposedly ‘dynamic’ and ‘forward looking’. While existence of separate kitchens for the Dalits was reported from the police lines of Patna last year, some years back the same scenario was highlighted as being practiced at the University College of Medical Sciences (UCMs), New Delhi. At that time too, SC/ST medicos of the UCMS were protesting rampant caste discrimination in their college and they were severely beaten up by the upper caste students and faculty of their college. Discriminatory practices in the cooking and distribution of mid-day meals across the schools of the country are so routine that they have stopped making news.
The brahmanical mindset is so deeply entrenched in the Indian psyche that its omnipresent oppressive structures are considered to be ‘normal.’ Few bat an eyelid at the thousands (upon thousands) of caste disaggregated matrimonial columns in the mainstream newspapers that run week after week, and have been doing so, for decades. These columns are not advertisements given by some illiterate farmers and daily wage workers from remote rural areas. These advertisements are issued mostly by the urban elite, most of whom would like to be counted among the ‘modern’ thinking and ‘forward’ looking of Indians. Marriage being a fundamental institution in Indian society, how modern and forward looking can we expect that society to be which contains within it, families that have such deep caste- based roots?
A day prior to the death of Rohith, there was news of the Dalit groom of a CISF constable, Neetu Meghwal of Pali District of Rajasthan, not being allowed to mount a horse for their wedding. This was the case, despite the presence of senior Government functionaries on the occasion.Fearing a backlash from the upper castes, the family of Neetu had sounded out the administration, for protection, to ensure that the wedding would take place without any disruption. Instead of ensuring the rule of law, the functionaries of the Government got the signature of a relative of Neetu on a document stating that they would not wish her groom to mount a mare during the wedding. As per brahmanical tradition, status quo was maintained and the groom could not mount a mare.
What is being increasingly witnessed over time is the alacrity with which the administrative machinery across the country is getting subverted to protect archaic, feudal and brahmanical institutions and practices in the country, which are in fact, criminal. This, despite the fact that these very institutions are meant to be protectors of the law and to uphold Constitutional provisions.Instead, these are the very agencies that are complicit in not discharging their legal duties with due diligence.
Caste discrimination is not new and continues to be rampant even in places which are part of ‘modern’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ India, an India that is supposedly ‘dynamic’ and ‘forward looking’
With the mainstreaming of these brahmanical forces in government, manifest in Hindutva forces coming to power at the Centre, what is even more disturbing today is that the state machinery is brazenly being used by the right wing to promote their brahmanical agenda and to actively silence any discussion, dialogue or debate, especially that which expresses dissent against the prevailing social order. The Dalit students of Hyderabad Central University, organized under the banner of the Ambedkar Students Association had organized a screening of the film on the Muzaffarnagar riots ‘Muzaffarnagar Abhi Baaki Hai’. ‘The movie connects and weaves many strands, highlighting the depth of the political and communal chasm. It exposes the propaganda that directs a bulk of violence against a particular community, in this case primarily Muslims’ (The Hindustan Times, August 28, 2015). As the film has raised searching questions, jolting rightist forces out of their comfort zones, and exposed their motives in the consolidation of the votes of the majority community, in the run up to the 2014 general elections, they did not wish that it be screened.
The disruption of the screening of the film by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) was an illegal act and restrictive of the constitutional right to free speech and expression. Not only was the screening disrupted illegally, false charges were leveled against Rohith and other members of the ASA. The University administration suspended the students while the ABVP activists roamed scot free. The involvement of the Central Minister, Bandaru Dattatreya in aggravating matters further --by sending a letter to the HRD Minister Smriti Irani, which labelled the ASA members as ‘casteist’, ‘anti national’ and ‘extremist,’ -- and the subsequent suspension of the ASA students, shows the complete takeover of the State machinery, and it’s use to muzzle any voice of dissent. The non payment of scholarship money for seven months was another ploy used to break the back of the ASA struggle against the saffronisation of education.
Rohith wanted to be a ‘writer of science.’ Instead he felt that he had become a ‘monster.’ There was apparently a tremendous amount of guilt that had built up in his mind as he faced a sense of being completely letdown. The absence of any redressal mechanism and the reinstating of the brahmanical order, ironically by using institutions and legal mechanisms created as part of the establishment of a democratic framework have left marginalized sections feeling disillusioned. The gains made after decades of struggles of toiling people seems to be withering away. Urgent corrective action needs to be taken. Voices of dissent and all democratic forces need to reconsolidate their efforts and we need to work more than ever before to wipe out the menace of caste which is the fundamental institution of undemocratic exclusion, Brahmanism.
(Rajeev R Singh is a rights activist and has been associated with various forums and rights issues,especially those concerning Dalits)
The hotel was an old mix of florid Mughal art and rather shabby modern contrivances. They ate breakfast in the dining hall and went out to explore Old Delhi. At the Red Fort Isaiah noticed two ticket counters. ‘Foreigners pay fifty dollars, Indians pay five!’
Jacob smiled a little. ‘The politicians choose to think you are rich.’
‘Fair enough. I suppose we are.’ The ticket collector looked at Isaiah quizzically, then motioned him into the Indian line. ‘Sir, whites pay the full price but since you are black you can pay the Indian price,’ he said.
Isaiah laughed and said, ‘I’m honoured to be a notional Indian. Thank you.’ They went round and saw the fort. Isaiah was impressed by its mass, its sheer size: it had been clearly intended to be the heart of a vast empire. He could see in its stolid permanence the eternal reality of Delhi: a place to rule from, with the business-like bustle of a military camp and the flamboyant decadence of a highly sophisticated court. He did not doubt that the modern reality would be no different.
The next day they chartered a car and went to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. This is the place where every foreign tourist spends some time. They found a guide there, a tall, distinguished-looking man in a churidar kurta who rescued them from the rougher gang that hung around the gates of the great monument. The man explained the Taj Mahal’s history and glory in sophisticated Urduized Hindi, which Jacob haltingly translated. Isaiah was impressed at the grandiose scale of the Taj, and the fact that unlike the Red Fort, this building was supremely purposeless: it memoralised a dead love who had never walked under its domes. He felt the flash of an insight into this culture: no one in America would build anything like this: if they did, the building would also have a function: it would be a concert hall, an art gallery or a theatre, or even a casino. But merely to exist, to embody memory through its beauty and grace, like a painting or a sculpture: that idea was strange and somehow humbling, as though a higher consciousness had conceived it. Would the British empire have ever built anything like this? ‘Is there any historical monument around here that the British built?’ asked Isaiah. There was none, replied the guide. Only the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta, which was a museum. ‘These inlays that you see are semi-precious stones,’ the guide said, pointing to a graceful creeper inlaid into the while marble. ‘Green malachite, purple amethyst, orange jasper, rose quartz, mother of pearl, blue lapis lazuli. The technique was called pietra dura and developed in Italy in the sixteenth century.’
‘What’s your name? asked Isaiah, intrigued by the man’s gentle air and fine features. ‘My name is Shahabuddin. I am originally from Benares; I used to be a scholar there. But times are hard, and being a guide pays the bills.’ He shrugged apologetically. ‘I have a particular interest in the Mughals. If only all our kings had been good kings the whole of India would have become Muslim.’
‘Why do you think that?’ asked Jacob with surprise.
‘Because of caste. All untouchable people and Shudra people have nowhere to go except to Allah. Before Islam came here they did not know there was Allah above the sky. No one had any love and brotherhood to give them, only curses and sops. Now sir, except Brahmins, Kayasthas and Rajputs all the others will go to Allah. Why should they not? What does Hinduism offer them? I know the truth of this because of my own history. My grandfather was a dhobi, a washerman, in the holy city of Benares. We too were untouchables, with no education, nothing.’
‘Really?’ said Isaiah, intrigued, when Jacob translated this for him. ‘How did you come here?’
‘We lived by clearing the dirty clothes of the upper castes. I remember one day my father toiled all day to clean a silk dhoti stained with crusted vomit. We laboured at washing and drying those clothes, but when we brought them back neatly ironed and folded, they would be sprinkled with Ganga water to ‘purify’ them before their owners would take them back. Because our touch defiled those upper-caste clothes, you see. They had to be symbolically washed again. In return, we would be given some rotten flyblown food that had been lying around the house. Thus we lived like dogs-worse than dogs, because dogs don’t labour for their beatings. Like cattle. Our people never looked at the face of a book, till we saw the book of Allah.’ He pulled a tiny, beautifully bound volume from his pocket.
‘Who brought the word of Allah to you?’ Isaiah asked.
‘If you wish to hear my story, let us sit in that tea-shop. It’s run by a friend of mine: he’ll let us sit there for as long as we want.’ He smiled a littled apologetically, his fine features creasing. ‘It is a long story, and will take up some of your time, so best to be comfortable.’
Isaiah and Paraiah sat on one of the string cots laid out for the customers of the dhaba. Several Muslim youths in pajamas and kurtas were running round serving tea and food to the guests with raw onion salad and green chillies. Isaiah and Paraiah were hungry but Isaiah was not sure of the hygiene of the place. Shahbuddin called a youth with a wave and ordered him to bring freshly made, piping hot food on a clean plate. ‘You will not fall ill, Sahib. They will take especial care.’
Tea arrived, then rotis with palak paneer. ‘Delicious!’ Isaiah exclaimed. Jacob translated, but Shahbuddin had correclty understood the broad grin on Isaiah’s face.
‘Now let me tell you how my grandfather, Dhobiram, found Allah,’ Shahbuddin resumed once the food was cleared away. ‘One day, my father says, his father was washing clothes at a stream near my village at a place called Dhobi Ghat. A Sufi saint came there to wash himself, do his namaz, and eat his food. He offered some of the food to my grandfather, who accepted it. It was nicely cooked biryani. The saint shared food with my grandpa from the same leaf plate. For the first time in a dhobi’s life a religious saint had eaten food with him and prayed for him. At the end the saint also gave my grandfather Allah’s book, the Holy Qur’an. But my grandfather was illiterate. He held that book in his hands as if it were solid gold. He kissed it again and again.
‘My grandfather was so excited he felt that he should see Allah then and there. But the saint told him to wait and think seriously about Allah. After four days the saint again came to my grandpa’s house. My grandpa wanted to become a Musalman, but the saint replied as before: wait. My grandfather wept. He said, “I want to see Allah and become a human being.” The Sufi saint was convinced that he was genuinely interested in becoming a Muslim. He asked my grandfather to have a bath and come back wearing a pajama kurta. My grandfather had some old clothes about the house that no customer would claim. Among them was a kurta pajama set. He put them on. That was the first time he wore anything but a scrap of loincloth. He used to dress like Gandhi-you know Gandhi, yes?’
‘Yes,’ said Isaiah, listening with great interest. ‘I see.’
‘For my grandpa to be seen clothed from head to foot was a grave offence against Hindu customary law. He could have been abused, attacked and punished. But he decided to wear the clothes. His head was reeling. Yet there emerged an unusal courage in his mind. Maybe Allah was working on him. He felt different, stronger, more protected, with those clothes touching all of his body. His entire house was shocked. His wife – my grandma – started abusing him for wearing Muslim dress. She was scared of the consequences. My grandpa said nothing. He swallowed the filthy abuses from my grandma as he would swallow the tastily cooked food from her hand. He used to enjoy her cooking but they hardly had occasion and resources to cook food in their own house. Mostly dhobis survive on the cooked food – mostly rotten food at that-given by customers. My grandpa went to the Sufi saint who beckoned to him to follow.
Now let me tell you how my grandfather, Dhobiram, found Allah,’ Shahbuddin resumed once the food was cleared away. ‘One day, my father says, his father was washing clothes at a stream near my village at a place called Dhobi Ghat. A Sufi saint came there to wash himself, do his namaz, and eat his food. He offered some of the food to my grandfather, who accepted it. It was nicely cooked biryani. The saint shared food with my grandpa from the same leaf plate. For the first time in a dhobi’s life a religious saint had eaten food with him and prayed for him. At the end the saint also gave my grandfather Allah’s book, the Holy Qur’an. But my grandfather was illiterate. He held that book in his hands as if it were solid gold. He kissed it again and again.
‘He took him to a nearby mosque, a building so grand that Dhobiram had never even dreamed of the possibility of entering it himself. The Sufi saint opened a chapter in the Qur’an and asked Dhobiram to hold it open and read. Of course Dhobiram could not read, but the Sufi saint said, “That is all right, you can learn later. Come here to the mosque every Friday and they will teach you. For now, hold it and look at the letters.” He asked my grandfather to say “Allah ho Akbar,” and to repeat after him, “I bear witness that Allah is great and Muhammad is his prophet”. My grandfather repeated the words of the Kalima. The saint asked him to hold his hands up and look at his own palms. The palm is like a book for the illiterate, said he. The lines in it are the letters written by Allah. Read them carefully. Then he asked my grandfather to kneel and touch his head to the earth, then stand and fold his hands and look at the letters written on the wall of the masjid in the name of Allah. While this was going on the rich and the poor alike started to gather in the mosque for the midday prayers. It was Jumma….. Friday,’ said Shahabuddin.
‘This man is a great storyteller,’ thought Jacob as he finished translating the last part and sipped his third glass of tea. Not only were he and Isaiah listening raptly to the story, but the waiters, were standing around and listening too.
Shahbuddin continued, ‘A rich man who knew us spotted my grandfather and ran up to him. My grandfather always used to call that man “nawab” in his mind, although of course the man was not a nawab: it was because of his beautiful courtly manners. This nawab who was a customer of my grandpa saw him, came running to him. He said that Dhobiram, you have become a Musalman. Allah has brought you here. This is wonderful, this is excellent! He came and hugged him. Everyone around started hugging him. The nawab, actually hugging him! Dhobiram started repeating, Allah….ho……Akbar! Allah……ho……Akbar!
‘The Sufi saint declared that Dhobiram’s name would be Jalaluddin. What about my wife and family members? asked Jalaluddin. But the saint told him that Allah will take a soul only on that individual’s agreement. “If He calls your wife and children they will have to take to the Qur’an on their own,” said the saint. After the namaz was over, the nawab asked the Sufi saint and Jalauddin to have a meal at his house. Dhobiram the nawab’s washerman, was now going to be the nawab’s guest. He went straight there from the mosque. They set at a table and ate biryani from the same dish. My grandfather had never been close enough to a table to touch it. No doubt he made mistakes, but the nawab never once made him feel ashamed. Trembling, he told the nawab, “I am your servant.” But the nawab said, “Nonsense, in the eyes of Allah all are one.” And he gave him this little Qur’an I carry.’
As he looked at the ornate little book in Shahbuddin’s hand, Isaiah, mind was a whirl. He had known, of course, that India had Muslims as well as Hindus, but the implications of this had not occurred to him till now. Clearly this situation was different from that of the hypocritical church fathers he had met in Madras. Lots of questions started whirling through his mind. Were there surviving caste practices in Indian Muslim society as there were among Indian Christmas? Did converted Muslim untouchables live in slums as Rosy and Daniel did? He now had an answer for his local church: they had wondered why, if Christianity offered a way out from the oppressions and injustices of the caste system, Indian people were still unwilling to become Chrisitians? Clearly the persistence of caste in that socieyt held the answer. And if Muslims were comparatively caste-free, then of course the untouchables would prefer that option. He remembered that Ambedkar had chosen to be a Buddhist, but so far he hadn’t met a single Indian Buddhist. He filed this question away to ask Jacob later.
‘So what happened next?’ he asked as Shahbuddin put away the book. ‘Did the Hindus accept your grandfather’s conversion?’
Shahbuddin’s face became very grave. ‘I am sorry that the next part of my story will give you pain,’ he said. ‘News got about very quickly of my grandfather’s escapade. The village priest went to see the local landlord, and the landlord put his strongmen at the priest’s disposal. All of the strongmen were untouchables like us. But they were brainwashed into believing they are the counterparts of Lord Hanuman, the monkey servant of Rama, who did his bidding, fought for him, ran errands of him, out of great love. Even today people believe this story: it makes them feel wanted, vindicated. So, out of great love, the untouchable servants of the landlord came to my grandfather’s house. My grandfather had feared this would happen, but he had no idea what to do. Only my grandmother was clever: she took my father, who was then seven years old but very small for his age, gave him the Qur’an to hold with orders never to let go, and tied him up in a bundle of clothes in the courtyard with a straw to breathe through and strict instructions not to move a muscle. My father in that bundle saw nothing, but he heard everything, and perhaps that was worse. The men who knocked at the door were polite at first, pretending Dhobiram was a respected elder they had come to visit. Then the leader said, “I hear you have accepted a gift from a beef-eater. Can I see this precious object?” Then there was silence, broken by the words, “Search the house.” My father held his breath. Then the screaming started. It went on for a long time, interspersed with cries for mercy, curses from the men, and the sickening thuds of flesh being reduced to pulp. The women’s screams were the worst.
‘My father does not know how long he lay in that bundle. He says a part of him still lies there. All he could think of, all he knew was that he had to hold on to the book. At one point he felt a violent blow between his shoulderblades. Then, when everything around him was utterly black and quiet, he wriggled out of the bundle. A sword was sticking out of it, having run through almost of the centre, leaving a gash on the skin of his back: he still has the scar. Then with weak steps he left the courtyard. The house smelt of blood: he stumbled on something inside that was soft, and when he came out, his hands and knees were black with blood. In the middle of the road lay the body of his aunt, who had been eight months pregnant. Her face was untouched, but her body from the breastbone down was a mangled shell slit open and spilled. Beside her lay a bloody shape, no longer something that could have been human…..I see I am giving you cause for distress.’
‘No, no,’ Isaiah said. ‘I mean, I admit it’s hard to hear this, but my grandmother taught me never to fear the truth. You tell it like it happened: I can take it.’
‘Your grandmother was a wise woman.’
‘She saw much pain not unlike yours. Please go on.’
‘My father walked out of the village towards the nawab’s villa. He could not speak, only held out the holy book in his hand. A Hindu servant of the nawab’ found him outside the gate and brought him in. The nawab wept to see the blood on the boy’s face and body. My father fell into a kind of trance, from which he later learned he took several months to recover. During that time the nawab let him stay in his house. He slowly improved, though he was troubled by dreams and night terrors, and when he was better, the nawab sent him to Benares to join a madrasa. He got a job as a scribe, married a servant of the nawab’s, and had me. For many years I thought he was born a Muslim: he told me this story a few months before he died. It changed everything for me. Suddenly I understood the air of secret sadness he sometimes wore, and why my mother would be especially tender to him at certain times. To know that my family has been the target of such hatred, it turns the food in my mouth to ashes and the air to choking dust. Now I dream about justice. I dream about making those criminal suffer for what they did. If only I had the means….’
‘I am sorry,’ said Isaiah, knowing how inadequate the words were. ‘But what of your new life: has caste ever been a problem for you? Has anyone ever thrown your origins in your face?’
‘Never,’ said Shahbuddin with a fierce look. ‘I was once beaten for not knowing my Qur’an correctly, and once for drinking my own tears durng Ramzan, but never in all my life has a fellow Musalman treated me any different because of my birth. Hence I know that we are right, and we will prevail. Allah has made us good.’
‘Do you hate the Hindus?’
‘No, I love justice. That is why they must be punished: to wash away their sins against my family. Then both they and I can rest in peace.’
‘I hate to say this to you, but won’t that just perpetuate the cycle of threats and reprisals?’
‘Why should it? Rather I would say that if they go unpunished, they will torture others like this again. Some other child’s family will be butchered because they dared to embrace God. God has said that wrongs must be answered with just punishment, yet in this country, the law will never punish the killers of my family. I need a Samson to bring down this temple of hatred and falsehood.’
Samson was blind, thought Jacob Paraiah. But he said nothing, and led Isaiah back to the car.
(Extracted from Untouchable God, Kancha Ilaiah, Stree-Samya Publisher, 2013, pages 219-230 and published with the permission of the author)
During a recent session of Parliament, held to commemorate the Constitution and pay homage to Dr. Ambedkar; and again, during the Parliamentary debate on ‘Growing Intolerance’, Babasaheb’s name was mentioned repeatedly. It was recognized by all that he had made the greatest contribution to enshrine the principles of Democracy, Equality and Fraternity in the Constitution and fulsome praise and accolades were bestowed upon him, speciallyby members of the NDA II (read BJP) Government. No one, however, except for Sitaram Yechury (CPIM, General Secretary) referred to his conversion to Buddhism or the reasons for this.
Despite the enormous and significant role he played in drafting the Constitution, Babasaheb had to, eventually abandon the religion of his forefathers. Throughout his life he made untiring and valiant efforts to bring about a change in the attitude and thinking of high caste Hindus through argument, writings, historical research and continuous appeals to reason, humanity and compassion. The drafting of the Constitution and Hindu Code Bill were, of course, the most important of these efforts.
Unfortunately, the bill did not bring about any real change of heart, mind and outlook. Every one of his efforts had aroused the most vicious opposition and calumny. Every promise that the Constitution made to bring about equality between all citizens was opposed tooth and nail during the Constituent Assembly debates by conservative elements determined to thwart all efforts to legislate equality into the existing unequal social hierarchies that they were determined to preserve.
The Hindu Code Bill was met by such howls of protest both inside the Constituent Assembly and outside on the streets that it had to be abandoned. Babasaheb resigned as Law Minister saying in protest that, “The Hindu Code was the greatest social reform measure ever undertaken by the legislature in this country. No law passed by the Indian Legislature in the past or likely to be passed in the future can be compared to it in point of its significance.
To leave inequality between class and class, between sex and sex, which is the soul of Hindu Society untouched and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palace on a dung heap. This is the significance I attached to the Hindu Code.” (quoted from Dr. Ambedkar’s speech when he resigned from the first Indian cabinet of ministers).
The failure of his repeated and untiring efforts to bring about a change in the hearts and minds of his opponents was not unforeseen as far as Dr. Ambedkar was concerned. As early as 1935, he had announced to his followers that although he had been born a Hindu he would not die as one because he was determined to abandon a belief system that refused to accept the principle of equality. Finally, on the October 2, 1956, he embraced Buddhism along with many hundreds of thousands. Tragically, within two months, on December 6, l956, he was no more.
On the same day, 36 years later, the Babri Masjid was destroyed by members of the Sangh Parivar. This event is also commemorated, across the country, by some as “Shaurya (Valour) Diwas” and by others as a day of mourning.
There are also those, however, who feel that the choice of the date for the destruction of the mosque was no co-incidence. They believe that it was Dr. Ambedkar’s Constitution that was the real target of the attack by the Sangh. This is based not only on the choice of date but on the fact that the Sangh Parivar members who destroyed the mosque owed allegiance to the same RSS that had been in the forefront of the opposition to both the Constitution and the Hindu Code Bill.
The most uncompromising opposition both to the Constitution and the Hindu Code Bill came from Shri Golwalkar, head of the RSS. Along with his supporters, he held fast to the view even after the Constitution was passed, that it was the Laws of Manu, the Manusmriti, alone that could be accepted as Law by Hindus.
As far as the Hindu Code Bill is concerned, Golwalkar castigated it by saying that it would reduce Hindu men to puny weaklings. His views have never been repudiated by the Sangh Parivar. Today, Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s speech in Parliament is significant because while he heaped praise on the Constitution and Dr. Ambedkar, he also sharply criticized the later inclusion of the work ‘secular’ to describe the Republic that brought the Constitution into existence.
The reasons he gave for this criticism should be examined seriously by all Indian citizens. He said “‘Secularism’ is the most misused word in the country… India’s religion itself is dharma nirpeksh. ..”Does the Constitution permit India to have a religion? If India has a religion then can it continue to abide by its Constitution? Is it a co-incidence that the Home Minister who has now made known his commitment to a Religious State or a Hindu Rashtra was present at the site of the demolition of the mosque (Babri Masjid) on December 6, 1992?
Even at the time of its passage, Dr. Ambedkar feared for the future of the Constitution because he did not believe that the soil of India which had given birth to the worst forms of inequality would readily accept the seeds of democracy and fraternity. Those who had opposed him then have given notice, time and again, that they continue to challenge the writ of this foundational doctrine.
Until 1992, December 6 was remembered as ‘Parinirvan Divas’ of Dr BR Ambedkar, legendary son of the oppressed who had clearly recognised the true meaning of Hindutva and warned his followers about the dangers of Hindu Rashtra. Post 1992, December 6 has an added meaning and it relates to the demolition of Babri Mosque undertaken by the very forces hastily trying to appropriate him.
Apart from the fact that this event led to the biggest communal conflagration at the national level post-independence, repercussions of which are still being felt and whose perpetrators are still roaming free, we should not forget that it was the first attack of this scale on the principles of secularism and democracy, which has been a core value of the Constitution drafted under the chairmanship of Dr Ambedkar.
“If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.”
– Ambedkar, Pakistan or Partition of India, p.358
“Indians today are governed by two ideologies. Their political ideal set in the preamble of the constitution affirms a life of liberty, equality and fraternity whereas their social ideal embedded in their religion denies it to them.”
This is the first Ambedkar memorial lecture which is being organised, as the invite tells us, saluting ‘the contribution of the great visionary leader who not only fought for political revolution but also argued for social revolution’.
You have made this beginning at an opportune moment in our country’s history when we are witnessing a concerted attempt from the powers that be to water down Ambedkar’s legacy, project him as someone who sanctioned the illiberal times we live in today, communicate to the masses that he was friends with the leading bigots of his time and finally appropriate his name to peddle an agenda which essentially hinges around political and social reaction.
Wishing you the best for starting this conversation among students, who yearn to become a vehicle for social change in the days to come. I would like to share some of my ideas around the theme.
Yes, we definitely need to understand Ambedkar’s role as a chairman of the drafting committee of independent India’s Constitution and the skilful manner in which he ‘piloted the draft’ in the Constituent Assembly. But that is not enough. We also know how during his more than three-decade long political career he put forward a “variety of political and social ideas that fertilised Indian thinking” as in the words of the late Indian president KR Narayanan, which contributed to the rulers of the newly independent nation, India’s decision to adopt the parliamentary form of democracy. Perhaps more important for the ensuing discussion would be his differentiation between what he called ‘political democracy’ – which he defined as ‘one man one vote’ and ‘social democracy’ – which according to him was ‘one man with one value’ – and his caution that political democracy built on the divisions, asymmetries, inequalities and exclusions of traditional Indian society would be akin to ‘a palace built on cow dung’.
We also need to take a look at the unfolding scenario in the country today and also see for oneself whether there is a growing dissonance or resonance between how Dr Ambedkar envisaged democracy and the actual situation on the ground. Through this prism we should assess our role in confronting the challenges that lie before us.
While we remember and take stock as it were, this great colossal that Ambedkar was, not for a moment can we forget the mammoth task undertaken by other ‘founding fathers’ – which included leading stalwarts of the Independence movement – of the nascent republic. It was this collective that together introduced the right to vote to every adult citizen to a country reeling under abject poverty and mass illiteracy. This right to vote came to many countries of the West through struggles decades later. But our Constitution and fundamental rights were born overshadowed by the bloody partition riots.
Does the image and memory of Ambedkar, brought to us through textbooks and popularised by the ever expanding media match his actual contributions as a leader, scholar and renaissance thinker?
Try to imagine what sort of image(s) comes to mind when somebody mentions his name. I can mention a few: leader of the Dalits, chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution’, a man who ‘fought for the rights of scheduled castes’, ‘embraced Buddhism with lakhs of followers’. With some exceptions, the image of Ambedkar in the public mind does not transcend this.
The imagery excludes, somehow, the historic Mahad Satyagrah which was organised under his leadership way back in 1927. In Marathi this revolutionary moment has been captured euphemistically thus, ‘when water caught fire’, when it took place at the Chawdar Talab (lake). Nor does this public imagery stretch to include the burning of the Manusmriti in its second phase, which was compared to the French revolution by Ambedkar in his own speeches. The imagery cleverly excludes any details of the first political party formed under his leadership called the Independent Labour Party, the role of many non-Dalits or even upper castes in the movement led by him or the historic march to Bombay assembly against the ‘Khot pratha’ where communists had participated in equal strength. His historic speech to the railway workers in Manmad when Ambedkar asked them to fight the twin enemies of ‘brahmnanism’ and ‘capitalism’ (late thirties) or his struggle to ensure enactment of the Hindu Code Bill, which ultimately became the reason for his resignation from the Nehru cabinet. All these vivid and critical parts of his stormy life and varied contributions escape popular imagery. There are many others that do not fit in with the overpowering one of a ‘Dalit messiah’.
Is it really surprising that most Indians know so little of him, not the case with other great leaders who emerged during the anti-colonial movement?
This selective amnesia about Ambedkar is in large measure due to the way in which the more privileged sections, dominated by the upper caste elite, shaped a limiting image, albeit in a very surreptitious manner. Others involved in the work of a broader social transformation, which also included organisations claiming to be his legatees, also cannot escape blame for the critical silences around his image. These organisations and movements either remained oblivious to the designs of the varna (caste) elite or were not conscious/careful enough to comprehend their game-plan.
Any student of politics of the oppressed would know and vouch for the fact that this is the fate of most leaders of the exploited and oppressed, the world over. When they cannot any more be ignored completely, the image that is shaped needs careful scrutiny.
A similar process which unfolded itself in the United States where a very sanitised image of Martin Luther King, has been popularised. Instead of the MLK who opposed the Vietnam war, looked at capitalism as the source of all evil, who equally struggled for workers’ rights as black rights, we have before us an image of a uni-dimensional King.
As we celebrate Ambedkar’s life, and further discuss his ideas on democracy and their relevance today, this historic task beckons us: we need to fight with all our strength against the ‘reduction’ of his image and what a scholar describes as a deliberate process of ‘mythologising the man and marginalising his meaning’.
Ambedkar’s idea of democracy
The future of Indian democracy depends to a great deal upon revival of Ambedkar’s visionary conception of democracy with modern modifications.
But it would be opportune to know from Ambedkar himself how he looked at the idea of democracy. His speech on the ‘Voice of America’ radio (May 20, 1956) which he gave few months before his death could best summarise his ideas,
‘The roots of democracy lie not in the form of Government, Parliamentary or otherwise. A democracy is more than a form of Government. It is primarily a mode of associated living. The roots of democracy are to be searched in the social relationship, in the terms of associated life between the people who form a society.’
Next he comes to define the word ‘society’ itself. For him a society is conceived ‘as one by its very nature’ and ‘[T]he qualities which accompany this unity are praiseworthy community of purpose and desire for welfare, loyalty to public ends and mutuality of sympathy and co-operation.’
Interrogating Indian society further he questions whether ‘these ideals are found in Indian society?’ And elaborating on the Indian society which is nothing but ‘an innumerable collection of castes which are exclusive in their life and have no common experience to share and have no bond of sympathy’ he concludes that
‘The existence of the Caste System is a standing denial of the existence of those ideals of society and therefore of democracy.’
Then he further discusses how ‘Indian Society is so embedded in the caste system that everything is organized on the basis of caste’ and shares examples from daily life of individuals revolving around the twin concepts of purity and pollution and moves to socio-political arena and wryly concludes that ‘[t]here is no room for the downtrodden and the outcastes in politics, in industry, in commerce, and in education.’
During his more than three-decade long political career he put forward a “variety of political and social ideas that fertilised Indian thinking” in the words of the late Indian president KR Narayanan, which contributed to the rulers of the newly independent nation, India’s decision to adopt the parliamentary form of democracy.
Further he discusses other special features of the caste system which ‘[h]ave their evil effects and which militate against democracy’ and he focuses on what is called ‘graded inequality’ where ‘castes is not equal in their status’ but rather ‘[a]re standing one above another’ and form ‘an ascending scale of hatred and descending scale of contempt’ which has the most pernicious consequences as ‘[i]t destroys willing and helpful co-operation.’
Then discussing the difference between caste and class, he takes up the second evil effect in the caste system accompanied by inequality which is ‘complete isolation’ which manifests itself in the difference between stimulus and response between two castes which is only ‘one-sided’ and which ‘educates some into masters, educate others into slaves’ and this separation thus ‘prevents social endosmosis’.
Later taking up the manner in which one caste is bound to one occupation which ‘cuts at the very roots of democracy’ he tells how this arrangement which denies the right to ‘open a way to use all the capacities of the individual’ leads to stratification which is ‘is stunting of the growth of the individual and deliberate stunting is a deliberate denial of democracy.’
In the concluding part of his speech he discusses obstacles in the way to end the caste system and he points out the ‘system of graded inequality which is the soul of the caste system’ and also how ‘Indian society is disabled by unity in action by not being able to know what is its common good’ where ‘the mind of the Indians is distracted and misled by false valuations and false perspectives’ and ends his speech by emphasising that mere education cannot destroy caste system rather education to those ‘[w]ho want to keep up the caste system is not to improve the prospect of democracy in India but to put our democracy in India in greater jeopardy.’
One can also further add that as opposed to the conservative notion which promotes it as an idea which is an instrument to stop bad people from seizing power Ambedkar’s conception is geared to social transformation and human progress and he defines it as ‘a form and a method of government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people are brought about without bloodshed.’
Elucidating the conditions to make it possible it can be inferred that
“(1) there should not be glaring inequalities in society, that is, privilege for one class; (2) the existence of an opposition; (3) equality in law and administration; (4) observance of constitutional morality; (5) no tyranny of the majority; (6) moral order of society: and (7)public conscience.” 
In his speech to the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949 he also expressed three cautions and believed that paying heed to them was critical to ensure our democratic institutions did not get subverted : (i) constitutional methods: (ii) not to lay liberties at the feet of a great man: (iii) make a political democracy a social democracy.”
Looking at the fact that India happens to be a multi-denominational society where the common denominator could be secularism which is understood as one of the pillars on which the superstructure of our democracy rests and is a unifying force of our associated life, he emphasised:
“The conception of a secular state is derived from the liberal democratic tradition of the West. No institution which is maintained wholly out of state funds shall be used for the purpose of religious instruction irrespective of the question whether the religious instruction is given by the state or by any other body.”
In a debate in Parliament, he also underlined:
“It (secular state) does not mean that we shall not take into consideration the religious sentiments of the people. All that a secular state means that this Parliament shall not be competent to impose any particular religion upon the rest of the people. That is the only limitation that the Constitution recognises.”
Taking into consideration the possibility that a minority can become a victim of the tyranny of majority, he suggested enough safeguards for their protection:
“The State should guarantee to its citizens the liberty of conscience and the free exercise of his religion including the right to profess, to preach and to convert within limits compatible with public order and morality.”
Prof Jean Dreze brings forth an important point in his article wherein he underlines how ‘Ambedkar’s passion for democracy was closely related to his commitment to rationality and the scientific outlook.’ In this connection he quotes one of his last speeches “Buddha or Karl Marx”, wherein summarising the essential teachings of Buddha he elaborates:
“Everyone has a right to learn. Learning is as necessary for man to live as food is… Nothing is infallible. Nothing is binding forever. Everything is subject to inquiry and examination.”
This selective amnesia about Ambedkar is in large measure due to the way in which the more privileged sections, dominated by the upper caste elite, shaped a limiting image, albeit in a very surreptitious manner.
According to him it was important to bring this up looking at the ‘[r]ecent threats to Indian democracy (which) often involve a concerted attack on rationality and the scientific spirit.’ Perhaps one can go on elaborating further on the nuances of Ambedkar’s understanding of democracy but that is not the only aim of this intervention. As promised in the beginning we also need to take a look at the unfolding situation.
What is a sine qua non of democracy?
It is the understanding that minority voices will be allowed to flourish and they will not be bulldozed.
At the apparent level majoritarianism (rule by majority) sounds very similar to democracy but it essentially stands democracy on its head. For real democracy to thrive, it is essential that ideas and principles of secularism are at its core. The idea that there will be a clear separation between state and religion and there won’t be any discrimination on the basis of religion has to be its guiding principle.
Majoritarianism thus clearly defeats democracy in idea as well as practice.
While democracy’s metamorphosis into majoritarianism is a real danger, under rule of capital – especially its present phase of neo-liberalism – another lurking danger is its evolution into what can be called as plutocracy – government by the rich.
Recently two interesting books have come out discussing 21st century capitalism. The one by Thomas Picketty ‘Capitalism in the 21st Century’ , which demonstrates convincingly that the twentieth century exhibited a secular tendency toward continuous and widening inequality, has been received well in India too. It discusses increasingly disproportionate concentration of income at the top, and the widening inequality that goes along with it, is integral to the system and a consequence of “the central contradiction of capitalism,” (Capital, 571). Piketty’s core theoretical concept is expressed in the formula ‘r>g’, where ‘r’ represents the return on capital/INVESTMENT, and ‘g’ the rate of growth of the economy.
Much like Piketty’s contribution, a major study of democracy in America has also received almost as much attention in the West. It confirms our suspicions that oligarchy has replaced democracy.
The authors found that “policies supported by economic elites and business interest groups were far more likely to become law than those they opposed…. [T]he preferences of the middle class made essentially no difference to a bill’s fate”. The study “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” by Martin Gilens (Princeton) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern) – which entirely undermine the notion that America is a democracy – and carries wider significance has not received attention here. “Majority rule” accounts, construed numerically or by any “median voter” criterion, are found to be a “nearly total failure.” Controlling for the preferences of economic elites and business-oriented interest groups, the preferences of the average citizen have a “near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
The preferences of economic elites have “far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do.” This does not mean that ordinary citizens never get what they want by way of policy. Sometimes they do, but only when their preferences are the same as those of the economic elite…
“[M]ajorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts… [I]f policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”
According to the authors their results are ‘troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy.’ “When a majority of citizens disagree with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose… even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.”
In such an unfolding situation, where we are faced with the dangers of democracy metamorphosing into majoritarianism and democracy becoming oligarchy with the highly undemocratic, violent Indian society – which glorifies violence against the oppressed and legitimises, sanctifies inequality in many ways acting as a backdrop, the question of what needs to be done arises?
Jean Dreze, in the same article suggests a course of action which merits attention
“[t]he best course of action may be to revive the Directive Principles of the Constitution, and to reassert that these principles are “fundamental in the governance of the country” (Article 37)
Indeed, in spite of much official hostility to these principles today, there are unprecedented opportunities for asserting the economic and social rights discussed in the Constitution – the right to education, the right to information, the right to food, the right to work, and the right to equality, among others. Dr. Ambedkar’s advice to ‘educate, organise and agitate’ is more relevant than ever.
(This is an edited version of the presentation made by the author at the Department of Social Work, Delhi University, during their programme centred around the first Ambedkar Memorial Lecture, in April 2015)
Make Ambedkar’s thoughts part of school and college syllabi
A former DGP of Gujarat says that in place of the extravagant token celebrations of Ambedkar Jayanti by various political parties, there should be concrete programmes to implement Ambedkar’s thoughts. This articulation is a fitting tribute to DrBabasahebAmbedkar on his 125thbirth anniversary as also on the 65thanniversary of the Constitution. The retired IPS officer has written to the Prime Minister that the multi-faceted contribution of Ambedkar can be found in his programmes for the emancipation and empowerment of India’s long-enslaved and marginalised people and in the conception and creation of the Constitution of India. Implementing his ideas would be the true way forward for the country
Ambedkarism should be incorporated in the curricula of all schools at the middle and high school levels. For the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) course, a secondary text book is prescribed for the language papers (English, regional languages or Hindi). Till now, the Autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi and books by Rabindranath Tagore, Premchand (Hindi), Umashankar Joshi (Gujarati), ThakazhiShivashankara Pillai (Malayalam), Thiruvalluvar (Tamil), Ananda Murthy (Kannada), Sharat Chandra Chatterjee (Bengali) and Kalidas (Sanskrit) have been included.
As part of Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations, Ambedkar’s epoch-making incisive book ‘Annihilation of Caste’ (1936) could be introduced as an additional textbook for all SSC-level students in India.
At the university level, BA and MA courses on Ambedkarism could be introduced. Course material should include theoretical concepts as well as practical skill training in social welfare, gender justice and civil rights. To make the students who hold degrees in Ambedkarism eligible for employment in government welfare programmes, the course should include awareness-creation about social legislations on problems like dowry, child labour, drug addiction, empowerment of the marginalized,and qualitative improvements in the delivery of socio-economic welfare schemes for targeted people.
Incorporating Ambedkar in curricula should not be a problem as Madurai Kamraj University in Tamilnaduhas been conducting graduate and post-graduate courses on Gandhian thought for 10 years now.
Books by Ambedkar
(1) Annihilation of Caste, (2) Buddha and his Dharma, (3) Rise and Fall of Hindu women, (4) Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah, (5) States and Minorities, (6) Who were the Shudras, (7) Riddles of Hinduism, (8) Untouchables, (9) What Congress and Gandhi have Done to the Untouchables, (10) Revolution and Counter Revolutions in India, (11) Buddha and Karl Marx and (12) Speeches in the Constituent Assembly
Papers that can be designed for BA/MA courses in Ambedkarism:
(1) Life and basic work of Ambedkar,
(2) Ambedkar’s views on the origins and of the evil caste system,
(3) Ambedkar’s jurisprudence,
(4) Ambedkar’s ideas on welfare economics,
(5) Ambedkar’s contribution in the making of the Constitution and other legislations,
(6) Relevance of Ambedkar’s ideas for social upliftand enlightenment,
(7) Ambedkar’s ideas on science, technology, development and distributive justice,
(8) Ambedkar’s political ideology,
(9) Ambedkar’s vision for India’s future,
(10) Interface of Ambedkar with his contemporaries in public life,
(11) Ambedkar’s views on Buddhism and Marxism,
(12) Critical study of Ambedkar’s book ‘The Riddles of Hinduism’,
(13) Relevance and applicability of Ambedkarism in today’s India
Red Fort, 1993 Courtesy: Ram Rahman
The Constitution of India was adopted on January 26 1950. The life of the Indian Constitution is 65 years. I am two years younger than the constitutional life of India. In other words my entire life has been spent under the modern democratic constitutional system of India. But there are several other living Indians who were born before India adopted the modern constitution and they lived through the British legal system and also under the Hindu Manudharma. During British rule the Manudharma was surviving in various ways, and the rules of caste inequality, untouchability and women’s oppression were part of Indian life. The British did not interfere, preferring to interpret these inequities as part of Hindu customary life. Even in earlier periods Muslim rulers did not in any way dictate against the Manudharmic laws that were governing the non-Muslim populations of India.
Dr.B.R.Ambedkar submitted the Constitution to the then president of India Dr.Rajendra Prasad on November 25, and the Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution the next day, on November 26, 1949. The Constitution however came into effect from January 26, 1950. It was fortuitous for modern India that a man who burnt the Manudharma Shastra and replaced this with a modern constitution, a man who also laid down some philosophical and ideological guidelines to abolish Brahminic institutions from Indian soil, was its architect. He left Hinduism, which was the mother of many inequalities and oppressions in India, and embraced Buddhism.
Our prime minister, Narendra Modi, a product of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has had a long historical wish list that he publicly expresses, never mind that this is laden with embarrassing bloomers. One such oft repeated refrain has been the question “What if Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had been the first Prime Minister of India?” Here is my answer.
Even though born a Shudra, Patel would not have allowed Ambedkar to draft the Indian Constitution. That Patel’s had a political proximity to the Hindu Mahasabaha, which was responsible for establishing many Hindu fundamentalist organizations, including the RSS, is a matter of record. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, on the other hand, happened to be a progressive Kashmiri Brahmin. Thus it was the Ambedkar and Nehru combine that saved this country from the disaster of India becoming a Hindu theocratic state.
The Constitution of a nascent nation is not merely a legal and political document; it is also a cultural document. The Indian Constitution in fact is much more.
India as a nation has been living under the legal, political and cultural regime of human equality, irrespective of caste, creed, race, gender and religion, only for the last 65 years. In these six and a half decades the writ of the Indian Constitution has faced many a challenge mainly from the Hindu right wing forces. Their thinkers, like Arun Shourie, attempted to denigrate the role of Ambedkar in drafting a world class constitution for a country whose people faced multiple oppressions and inequalities. Many Brahmin pandits hate the present Constitution because it aims at human equality. Even the untouchables, whom they despise as unequally created people by God, have been given rights as equal citizens. This very Constitution was proposed to be reviewed by the NDA Government when it was in power between 1999 and 2004. Such a danger looms large even under the current dispensation, NDA II.
Hindutva forces, through a shared cultural commonality with Mahatma Gandhi, whom they also killed, managed to push for the cow as an animal to be protected by a constitutional provision within the Directive Principles of State Policy. Article 48 of the Constitution states that the Government will protect and breed cows. No democratic Government of India will work against this directive principle.
The Constitution of a nascent nation is not merely a legal and political document; it is also a cultural document. The Indian Constitution in fact is much more.
It is this directive that has created a food and cultural crisis in past months. Forces aligned to the ideology of Hindutva (a Hindu theocratic state) have been attacking minorities and Dalits on the illusory belief that only minorities eat beef. It was an irony that the Constitution mentions only the cow but not the buffalo as the animal that needs protection. This is simply because Hindutva respects the cow as it seen racially as a white and superior animal, while the buffalo is seen as a black and inferior animal.
Now invoking the same Constitution (that they otherwise reject when it comes to equality of citizenship) Hindutva forces have been passing very retrogressive laws against the historical food culture of Indian people. Beef is and has been the cherished food of Indian Adivasis, Dalits and several OBC communities. Of course during the anti-British campaign Gandhi used his own vegetarian culture, misrepresenting this as ‘Indian’ culture. Forces of the political Hindu right, including the RSS, which found him anathema when it came to composite nationhood and communal harmony and therefore killed him, have cleverly used his cultural campaign as theirs too. Somehow, Ambedkar did not see this danger and allowed the cow protection into the Constitution. This article, in my view, should be either removed from the Constitution or through an amendment; the buffalo must be incorporated as an animal that requires protection too. Discriminating against the buffalo over the cow is an extension of human discrimination manifest in the caste system.
Those who argue that Hinduism is different from Hindutva must understand that the major agitation for cow protection was conducted by Hindu sanayasis like the Shankaracharyas in 1966. Shankracharya Niranjandev Tirth, Swami Karpatri and Mahatma Ramchandra Veer observed a fast against the killing of cows. Mahatma Ramchandra Veer fasted for 166 days at the time. At that time Congress regimes did not allow the cow protection issue to get out of hand. But now the very same issue has created countrywide havoc. Both Brahminic Hindu organizations and political Hindutva outfits are responsible for creating a major crisis in India's agrarian sector and food sector.
All social forces must fight to defend the basic Constitutional right of Indians to eat what they like to eat, to pray to whichever God they want to pray, to dress in whatever manner they want to dress, and marry whoever they choose to marry. As of now the multi-culturalism of India is in great danger.
On this 26th of November let us fight to together to save India from the danger of Hindutva onslaught and it anti-Constitutionalism.
There is a Sinhala proverb which goes like this, “Like the dog that was getting lean from lack of food." The related story is of a very thin dog owned by a Brahmin. He was invited by another dog to come to a third dog's house, where there was plenty of food. The lean dog refused this invitation. He explained that he was related to the Brahmin; further, he said that whenever the man became angry, he called his wife a bitch. A bitch, therefore his (the Brahmin’s wife)" is my daughter, and the Brahmins my son-in-law." Because of his vanity in relation to this high caste, the dog starved to death.
This proverb and the story (verbatim) is carefully documented in a journal called Western Folklore. Is there any analogy between this story and the recent utterances of General V.K. Singh, a minister no less, holding the important portfolio of minister of state for external affairs in this government? Maybe. The language we speak and the phonetic sounds we make, have groundings in the social as well as in the self as well as in the intersection between the self and the social. A tree is a tree because we were told at some point in our life that it's a tree and when someone says that it's a tree the meaning of that word is grounded in our socialisation. It's also true of communication between two people or communication in a group. It even applies when we talk to ourself.
So if we want to de-construct the dog-style analogy in the General’s sound “bite” (byte), we need to visit and understand his primary and secondary socialisation.
The burning alive of two small children is a real tragedy. A house was set on fire knowing that two small kids were inside. In any modern nation, this should have provoked universal condemnation and national mourning. Even outrage. But as India is, in the words of B.R. Ambedkar, only a nation in the making, this did not happen. Barring few, only Dalits were perturbed by this incident. The onus of mourning was left to Dalits alone.
There was no apparent reason for General Sahib to even respond. He is neither the home minister nor a Member of Parliament from the state of Haryana, where this incident occured. He was travelling in his constituency in Uttar Pradesh and made this comment seemingly out of no where. The only possible relation could be that he belongs to the same caste as those accused of the crime. We don't quite know whether this triggered a subliminal process in his mind which resulted in the now infamous sound byte.
But why a dog ? Why is it dogs all the time (do you remember the famous statement coming from the very top that car ke neeche kutte ka bachcha bhi aa jaye toh dukh hota hai ? This statement relates to one of the worst communal riots in post independent India, Gujarat 2002.) Why always a kutta. Why not a cow or horse?
For this we have to re-visit the early years of the General Sahib or the PM Sahib. We may then presume that he, the General Sahib, was brought up in an upper caste Hindu family and his nani-dadi (grandmothers) who told him tales rooted in Hindu mythology. Hindu mythology has several references to dogs.
In the recently pulped book The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger there are as many as 91 references to dogs. These references are from a variety of caste Hindu sources and I’m assuming General Singh and most Indians would have heard these stories as part of their primary socialisation. So we can presume that dogs are well entrenched in the so called mainstream (read upper caste) Hindu psyche.
So what are these things, ideas or concepts related to dogs that Hindu mythology contains? The Hindu religion is based on two dogmas or beliefs, says Max Weber. This is echoed by the neighbourhood pandit. The Sansara believe in the transmigration of Atma or the soul and the related Karma doctrine of compensation or punishment in the next birth. So if your conduct is worthy you will, or could, enter the womb of an upper varna (caste) woman or even get released from the cycle of birth and rebirth entirely, finding ultimate release in Mukti or Moksha.
But if a person’s conduct is not deserving of acclaim, and he does not follow the Dharma of his varna, he can well expect to enter a the not so pleasant womb of a dog, a pig or even a snake. Many animals are associated with the philosophy of reincarnation, but ‘good’ animals like the cow and horse are not among that list. So a sage or priest can curse someone by saying – Aglejanm men kutta banoge or ‘you will become a dog in your next life’. Had General Singh been cursed thus? We can only presume.
Dogs are so prominent in mythology that we just can not ignore them. They are all over. As in the consciousness of General Singh. In the Mahabharata, the dog is the only companion of Yudhishthira in his journey to heaven, the dog is also present as a pathetic creature in the story of Drona and Ekalavya. In the 13th century Telugu text called Vijnaneshvaramu, as cited in the journal Modern Asian Studies (43-1) there is mention: if a Brahmin commits a crime deserving capital punishment, this is what should be done: shave his head, mark his forehead with the sign of a dog's paw and so on. For others, less fortuitously born, the punishment is going to the gallows. So there is always some poor dog, or a dog reference, during life and even after death, the after life. We don't quite know if General Singh has heard about such punishments or not.
This dog creature is at the bottom of the chain, impure and an object of extreme hatred. The British knew this. So to humiliate their Indian subjects they used to put sign boards up stating that ‘dogs and Indians are not allowed’. The British Army Club(s) had such boards in many locations. Is it possible that General Singh has also seen one of these sign boards in an army godown? It is a possibility that one should not rule out.
Two days after upper caste Rajputs allegedly set fire to the home of a Dalit family in Sunpedh, killing two young children aged two years and nine months (Vaibhav and Divya) sleeping within, the minister of state for external affairs made remarks that invited widespread condemnation. The incident took place at a village near Faridabad barely an hour’s drive from Delhi, India’s capital Singh who was in Ghaziabad at the time was quoted by The Indian Express on October 23 as saying, “ “To har cheez par, ki wahan par pathar maar diya kutte ko to, sarkar jimmewaar hai. Aisa nahi hai. (For everything…like if somebody throws a stone at a dog, then the Central Government is responsible…it is not like that)”. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/if-someone-stones-a-dog-govt-not-responsible-gen-v-k-singh-on-dalit-killings/#sthash.E1VWdjtB.dpuf
Copies of American scholar Wendy Doniger's book 'The Hindus: An Alternative History' were ordered to be withdrawn and pulped in India after Penguin succumbed to this demand in April 2014. A copy of a settlement agreement between Penguin and an organisation called Shiksha Bachao Andolan ensured this destruction. Shiksha Bachao Andolan is headed by Dinanath Batra whose texts, based on an irrational and un-tested vision of the past are now being officially used as compulsory supplementary texts in the Gujarat and Haryana governments. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Penguin-to-destroy-copies-of-Wendy-Donigers-book-The-Hindus/articleshow/30225387.cms
Prime minister in waiting, Narendra Modi’s comments to Reuters in July 2014 had drawn a storm of protests. http://www.telegraphindia.com/1130713/jsp/frontpage/story_17112818.jsp#…
The worst part about any debate on political/social/religious issues in India is that you introduce a Muslim dimension to it and the whole discourse will turn into an emotive issue. This situation has greatly aggravated with ‘swayamsevaks’ ruling a democratic-secular India. Currently it is happening on the issue of beef. The Hindutva camp is using it to demonize India Muslims by arguing that consumption of beef started with the arrival of Islam/Muslims in India. This thesis was laid out by MS Golwalkar, the most prominent ideologue of the RSS in 1966 when he said: “It began with the coming of the foreign invaders to our country. In order to reduce the population to slavery, they thought that the best method to be adopted was to stamp out every vestige of self-respect in Hindus. They took to various types of barbarism such as conversions, demolishing our temples and mutts. In that line cow slaughter also began.” [M. S. Golwalkar, Spotlights, (Bangalore: Sahitya Sindhu, 1974), pp. 98-99.].
Thus, cow became another issue to attack Muslims and continues to be a factor in unleashing violence against them. The latest contribution to this theatre of the absurd was made by Haryana CM ML Khattar by arguing that Muslims can live in India but they would have to give up eating beef. He went on to say that “It is written nowhere that Muslims have to eat beef, not is it written anywhere in Christianity”. Khattar is right that in Islam and Christianity beef is not revered and is not a staple food. But he must know that Muslims and Christians got used to it in India. It was with the advent of Jainism and Buddhism which coincided with the rise of agricultural society animal sacrifices including cow and bulls (an integral part of Vedic rituals) were decried and cow came to be revered. The fact is that beef eating in India existed long before the advent of Islam on this earth and arrival of Christianity in India.
It’s shocking that a person holding a constitutional office in a secular-democratic country is touting extra-constitutional conditions borrowed from RSS shakhas for Muslims’ stay in the country. This gentleman, who is fond of flaunting his RSS background, should explain why only Muslims. Even Christians, Hindus and Dalits consume beef legally in seven states of the North-east, Kerala, Goa, Karnataka & West Bengal. Will they also be de-nationalized?
As a RSS senior cadre, he must be familiar with the name of Swami Vivekananda. This is what Swami said about eating of beef by ‘Hindus’ in ancient India. “You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it.” [Vivekananda speaking at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, USA, 2 February 1900, cited in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, vol. 3 (Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1997), p. 536.]
This is further corroborated by other research works sponsored by the Ramakrishna Mission established by Vivekananda. According to C. Kunhan Raja, a prominent authority on the history and culture of the Vedic period, “The Vedic Aryans, including the Brahmanas, ate fish, meat and even beef. A distinguished guest was honoured with beef served at a meal. Although the Vedic Aryans ate beef, milch cows were not killed. One of the words that designated cow was aghnya (what shall not be killed). But a guest was a goghna (one for whom a cow is killed). It is only bulls, barren cows and calves that were killed.” [C. Kunhan Raja, ‘Vedic Culture’, cited in the series, Suniti Kumar Chatterji and others (eds.), The Cultural Heritage of India, vol. 1 (Calcutta: The Ramakrishna Mission, 1993), p. 217.]
Christians, Hindus and Dalits consume beef legally in seven states of the North-east, Kerala, Goa, Karnataka & West Bengal. Will they also be de-nationalized along with Muslims?
Another great researcher on Hinduism, BR Ambedkar penned a scholarly essay (which is available on the internet) titled ‘Did Hindus never eat beef?’ According to his findings, “the Aryans of the Rig Veda did kill cows for purposes of food and ate beef is abundantly clear from the Rig Veda itself. In Rig Veda (X. 86.14) Indra says: ‘They cook for one 15 plus twenty oxen”. The Rig Veda (X.91.14) says that for Agni were sacrificed horses, bulls, oxen, barren cows and rams. From the Rig Veda (X.72.6) it appears that the cow was killed with a sword or axe”.
The Manusmriti which RSS wants as the constitution of India replacing the present Indian Constitution, in its chapter V mentions recipes of how different kinds of meats should be cooked/processed. The verse 32 says, “he who eats meat, when he honours the gods and manes, commits no sin, whether he has bought it, or himself has killed (the animal), or has received it as a present from others”. It does not bar beef.
This statement adds a new dimension in the Hindutva discourse on who is an Indian. So far Muslims and Christians were kept out of Indian nation for belonging to foreign religions, not being Aryans, not knowing Sanskrit and not having Hindu blood in their veins. They were described as Malechas. These conditions were imposed by VD Savarkar and Golwalkar. Now beef is another condition. The only problem is that with this new add-on many more Indians, Dalits and those Hindus who eat beef are going to be de-franchised.
(The author is a former professor at Delhi University. A version of this article appeared in The Indian Express on October 21, 2015)
Courtesy: Hindustan Times
THE FLAG-BEARERS of Hindutva, in their task of manufacturing history, have now picked on B.R. Ambedkar as the subject. The RSS has presented him as a leader in league with Hedgewar and Golwalkar and as a defender for the cause of the Hindu Rashtra. Vinay Katiyar, the BJP head in Uttar Pradesh—a state ruled by a Dalit chief minister—has been touring the state declaring that Ambedkar was supporter of Hindutva and the Hindu Rashtra, thus echoing Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's rhetoric. This is nothing but an injustice done to a man who had renounced Hinduism because of its repressive elements and converted to Buddhism.
Throughout his life, Ambedkar opposed the communal politics of both the Muslim League and Hindutva forces. His book, Pakistan or The Partition of India (1940), stands testimony to his opposition to the nefarious designs of communal elements. In fact, his ideas and warnings about Hindutva, as contained in the book, can even now work as bulwark in checking the resurgence of communal forces.
Ambedkar writes, "If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hindusism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account, it is incompatible with democracy Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost." According to him, the idea of "Hindustan for Hindus...is not merely arrogant but is arrant nonsense". (p. 358)
Ambedkar was of the firm opinion that Hindutva was nothing but a ploy by upper caste Hindus to maintain control over society and its resources. He wrote: "They have a trait of character which often leads the Hindus to disaster. This trait is formed by their acquisitive instinct and aversion to share with others the good things of life. They have a monopoly of education and wealth, and with wealth and education they have captured the State. To keep this monopoly to themselves has been the ambition and goal of their life. Charged with this selfish idea of class domination, they take every move to exclude the lower classes of Hindus from wealth, education and power...This attitude of keeping education, wealth and power as a close preserve for themselves and refusing to share it, which the high caste Hindus have developed in their relation with the lower classes of Hindus, is sought to be extended by them to the Muslims. They want to exclude the Muslims from place and power, as they have done to the lower class Hindus. This trait of the high caste Hindus is the key to the understanding of their politics." (p.123)
Ambedkar, in his struggle to establish a secular State, did not differentiate between flag-bearers of Hindutva (the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha) and the Islamic State (i.e. the Muslim League). He treated them as two sides of the same coin, which were bent on destroying India. He wrote: "Strange as it may appear, Mr Savarkar and Mr Jinnah, instead of being opposed to each other on the one nation versus two nations issue, are in complete agreement about it. Both not only agree but insist that there are two nations in India—one the Muslim nation and the other the Hindu nation." (p. 142)
They want to exclude the Muslims from place and power, as they have done to the lower class Hindus. This trait of the high caste Hindus is the key to the understanding of their politics. (p.123:.B.R. Ambedkar on Hindutvawaadis)
Ambedkar did not mince words when he wrote, "It must be said that Mr Savarkar's attitude is illogical, if not queer. Mr Savarkar admits that the Muslims are a separate nation. He concedes that they have a right to cultural autonomy. He allows them to have a national flag. Yet he opposes the demand of the Muslim nation for a separate national home. If he claims a national home for the Hindu nation, how can he refuse the claim of the Muslim nation for a national home?" (p. 143)
Ambedkar, as a true secularist, stood for "forming mixed political parties based on an agreed programme of social and economic regeneration, and thereby avoiding the danger of both Hindu Raj or Muslim Raj becoming a fact. Nor should the formation of a mixed party of Hindus and Muslims be difficult in India. There are many lower orders in the Hindu society whose economic, political and social needs are the same as those of the majority of the Muslims and they would be far more ready to make a common cause with the Muslims for achieving common ends than they would with the high caste of Hindus who have denied and deprived them of ordinary human rights for centuries." (p. 359)
Why is it that despite such strong anti Hindutva ideas, the RSS is spreading white lies about Ambedkar's legacy? The problem with the RSS is that it played absolutely no role in the country's freedom struggle. Moreover, with its present political ascendancy, it is under great pressure to show that it was part of that great struggle. It hopes that by appropriating the legacies of Gandhiji, Sardar Patel, Subhas Chandra Bose and Ambedkar, it may be able to put a nationalist face to the organisation.
(A version of this article appeared in the Hindustan Times, April 15, 2003)
The new BJP president, Bangaru Laxman, may well turn out to be the first Dalit to occupy the Prime Minister’s chair. But India’s SCs and STs stand to gain little from such a likely scenario
Bangaru Laxman’s statement, after he formally took over as the president of the BJP, that “Nagpur is a place of both Ambedkar and Hegdewar” must have come as a surprise to the upper caste leaders of the RSS, particularly its chief, KS Sudharshan, who must all be Ambedkar haters. Nagpur, ironically, is the headquarters of both Ambedkar’s Buddhism and Hegdewar’s Brahminism.
Laxman made it somewhat clear that he would like to be loyal to both Ambedkarism and Brahminism but this may prove to be an impossible task. Laxman’s colour (the Dravidian black) is itself an anathema to the Aryan racism that Hegdewar and Golwalkar stood for. Laxman’s position at the top of the party pyramid and having to live with his ‘un–Hindu’ statements are certain to be seen as the result of the unfortunate presence of Ambedkarism in the Indian politico–social space.
The Hindu spiritual world has been hoping against hope all these years that it would not have to see a day when the Chandalas emerge as a powerful force and undermine the divine dictum of the Adi–Brahmin-Purush, Brahma, that the Chandalas forever remain untouchables. Ambedkar has become a modern Buddha and Laxman knows that only too well. But for the Ambedkarite presence in the Indian political scene, Laxman would still be elsewhere, possibly stitching a shoe and certainly not the president of a party that was meant to be a Brahmin–Baniya saddle.
Arun Shourie, who called Ambedkar a “False God”, must have licked his own boots as Laxman made his presidential pronouncements. Laxman’s statement proved that however weak a Dalit might otherwise be, when in a position of power he can make a difference.
The appointment (not election) by Vajpayee of Bangaru Laxman, a Dalit leader from Hyderabad, as the president of the BJP has been done with a design to woo the votes of Dalits and appeal to South Indians as the BJP has been accused of being an enemy of both Dravidism and Dalitism. As a party that aspires to be a ruling party on its own, the BJP has to overcome both these images.
In the sufficiently well established line of Dalit leaders like Jagjivan Ram, Damodaram Sanjeevaiah who were given similar positions in the Congress party, some Dalit leader was badly needed to salvage the anti-Dalit image of the BJP. Laxman, given his name, colour and caste, appeared to be the most suitable person. What Laxman can do to Dalits depends on how the educated Dalits assert themselves and how an ageing Kanshi Ram builds his party. In politics, the strength of the Bahujan Samaj Party helps in the Dalit bargain with other parties. It is in this political backdrop that Laxman climbed the BJP ladder.
The problem for the BJP would however be, that like Jagjivan Ram and Sanjeevaiah, Laxman seems to be behaving unpredictably. He has publicly stated that he got this post because of Vajpayee and like Rama Bhakta Hanuman even touched the latter’s feet of Vajpayee. In the process he has placed the self–respect of Dalits at the feet of a classical Brahmin. I do not think Jagjivan Ram and Sanjeevaiah ever did this to Nehru. But to overcome this surrender to a political ‘Swamiji’, he said his attempt would be to combine Ambedkar with Hegdewar.
This very statement, however, creates a tension in caste ideology. Laxman has to salvage Hinduism, which does not want to give Dalits the right to priesthood, but the party that emerged to safeguard upper caste interests has to mobilise Dalit votes. Hinduism as a religion destroyed the moral foundation of Dalits and without reforming that religion a Hindu political party cannot salvage the situation.
This is the reason why more and more Dalits are looking towards either Christianity or Buddhism. The Hindutva forces know pretty well that apart from Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram what threatens Brahminism is the “Acclesia in Asia” document that Pope John Paul II released at Delhi during his visit to India last year.
The Pope said that the Cross was planted in Europe in the first millennium, in America and Africa in the second millennium, and that Christ will return to his birth place – Asia — with all the strength at his command in the third millennium. The Christian resolve seems to be that the last segment of global spiritual slavery — India’s untouchables — have to be liberated by all means in this century. This resolution of global Christianity coupled with its cultural liberalism poses very serious challenges to Brahminism today.
Whenever Hinduism found itself in deep crisis because of the Shudra-Chandala revolt, it took the help of a Shudra or Chandala to overcome that crisis and they made these Trojan horses speak their language. Valmiki, a Dalit, was made to write the Ramayana, as they wanted it to be written; again a Krishna was made to write the Gita, as they wanted it to be written. Only Ambedkar refused to do that and that has pushed Hinduism in to a deep crisis.
Given the threat of globalisation and Christianity in the era of Ambedkarism in India, Laxman has been chosen to overcome the present crisis of Hinduism. But Laxman is too inadequate a person to salvage the situation. Despite the promise that Krishna would incarnate, yuga after yuga, to protect Brahminism would not turn up in this yuga because of the God who originated in Israel and has produced globally commanding capitalism and the English language. The gods who understand only Sanskrit are suffering a heavy loss of social base in their own land. The Dalits are the main social base of the expanding Christianity. The sangh parivar has to do something about it. Laxman seemed be the only alternative.
Neither Hinduism nor the Hindutva organisations can offer spiritual and social liberation to Dalits, tribals and OBCs. The OBCs are fixed to Hinduism like nuts and bolts; hence the sangh parivar does not see any threat from OBCs in spiritual terms. The sangh parivar does not mind marginalising any number of OBCs in the political sphere, too. Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharati are cases in point of this marginalisation. But that is not the case with SCs. But because of the overall impact of the organised church and Ambedkarite Buddhism, the SCs and STs have become a social force who can lobby for their Dalit cause in international fora.
The OBCs could not evolve as a force to interact with the West. They could not modernise and acquire proficiency in English, which could loosen their nut and bolt location in Hinduism and allow them to look for global recognition of their position. So they are becoming a butt of ridicule in the hands of Brahminical forces within the sangh parivar. Kanshi Ram once rightly said that the ruling classes of India are afraid of only SCs because they are a force to reckon with in the bureaucracy and in politics and section of them have got westernised.
So Laxman becomes a useful tool to address some of the socio-spiritual and economic problems that Hinduism as a religion and Hindutva as a political force are facing today. If Laxman realises the historical context in which he has been given this position, he can work his way to South Block and become the first SC Prime Minister of India. After Vajpayee, there is no leader from the BJP top brass who is acceptable to all the NDA constituents. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi have already burnt their fingers with their right–wing extremism.
Laxman, who kept a low profile in the aggressive phase of the BJP, leads a non–controversial life style and has no base of his own in the party or at the mass level. These are good qualifications for a Dalit to be seen as a candidate for the Prime Minister’s post.
Laxman has all the qualities that PV Narsimha Rao had when he emerged as a Prime Ministerial candidate in the Congress party after the death of Rajiv Gandhi. Laxman’s Dalit background is an added bonus. Judging by how Laxman has been speaking and conducting himself after being appointed the party president he is moving in the right direction. His statements on the minorities and Ambedkar seem to have been well–received in political circles.
Laxman is right when he says that minorities are “blood of his blood and flesh of his flesh” in so far as he speaks as a Dalit. When talking of Ambedkar or of minorities, Laxman is speaking like a Dalit. Laxman is also expected to ease the BJP’s relations with Christians as the latter also feel quite comfortable negotiating with Laxman as head of the party rather than some upper caste leaders. Thus, there is good mettle in him to aspire to becoming the first Dalit to occupy the Prime Minister’s chair.
But all this will be possible only if Laxman plays the part of Hanuman very carefully in a party of Aryan Brahminism. He must not think of crossing the laxman rekhas drawn by his Lord, Vajpayee. Of course, he can acquire his own small temples here and there. But his limited spiritual space will be safe only as long as the real Hindu heroes operating from Hindu temples feel secure with him as their watchdog. Advani, a Sindhi, a non–practising Hindu but a hard-line Hindutvavaadi, does have much support of the Hindu Brahmin priests. The NDA leaders do not trust him either.
The Indian media, too, takes its cues from the temple of Brahminism before it projects somebody as an acceptable man or woman for the highest position. The Indian media used to hate Ambedkar. It hates Kanshi Ram. Its love–hate relationship with KR Narayanan turned into a pure hate relationship after he delivered his two historic lectures on the occasion of Republic Day this year. Laxman is still a bird in the egg so far as the media is concerned. If he chooses to play the role of Hanuman well, the future for him is very bright.
But the Dalits as a historical community have every thing to loose. Just as the first Dalit president of the BJP, even the first Dalit Prime Minister of India would come and go without changing the socio-spiritual and economic status of Dalits even an inch. But many Kanshi Rams can be vanquished with this Dalit weapon called Bangaru (gold) Laxman.
Archived from Communalism Combat, September 2000 Year 8 No. 62, Cover Story 4
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