A spectre is haunting the nation. The spectre of communalism. The rough
beast, its hour come round at last, has been unleashed and slouches its
way across the land. Even those who turn away, cannot escape its breath,
now slowly poisoning the air. As the curtain begins to descend on the
first phase of the saffron regime, they watch in disbelief, realisation
dawning that what has been witnessed thus far is merely an overture, a
prologue to the tragedy of history repeating itself.
If the last decade of the previous century saw the destruction of the
Babri Masjid, clearing the ground for the cornerstones of a new edifice,
the start of the new millennium has ushered in the era of holocaustian
“Gujarat brings home to us with poignant intensity the consummation of
the practices of communalisation of governance. These manifold practices
reach, at the end of the day, the same ends: minority communities may
exercise and enjoy only those basic human rights that the ideology of
Hindutva may justify….The Gujarat carnage sculpts an ominous principle
of governance: the democratically elected government owes concrete
duties to the dominant majorities to devise ways and means that
facilitate communal revenge.”
The hidden agenda
In the campaign leading to the Lok Sabha elections of 1999, political
speculation frequently revolved around the possible “hidden agenda” of
the BJP, as it attempted to clobber up the coalition, that ultimately
formed the government as the National Democratic Alliance(NDA). These
concerns were mostly centred around issues such as the construction of
the temple at Ayodhya, the repealing of Art. 370 (defining the status of
Kashmir in the Constitution of India), a uniform civil code, and so on,
that is to say, concrete, physically definable political goals and
objectives, that could be used to hijack the coalition into directions
other than what was stated in the NDA manifesto. And at the time, the
BJP strained every sinew to vehemently deny any such secret motives or
The BJP could of course justify its righteous indignation at such
accusations, as it would have been politically naïve and premature for
it to embark on any such adventure, at that stage. With hindsight, it is
easy to see that it would need at least three to four years, to prepare
the groundwork, for such an outrage to appear at least acceptable, if
not reasonable and inevitable. And its task was cut out and clear to its
ideologues and pracharaks. The partition of 1947 had carved up the
country physically. It was now necessary to partition the Indian mind.
Such social surgery had to be done skillfully, with sharp scalpels
wielded by adept surgeons trained in the shakas of the RSS, while the
patient was anaesthetized with fear.
In the words of K. R. Malkani, Vice-President of the BJP, “History is
the philosophy of nations. And the Sangh Parivar has a very clear and
candid conception of Indian history. Here was a great civilization whose
glory spread from Sri Lanka to Java and Japan and from Tibet and
Mongolia to China and Siberia. While it weathered the storms of Huns and
Shakas and Greeks it wilted before the Islamic storms of the Turks.
However, a 1000-year resistance saw this country bloodied but unbowed.
Its civilization survived through the heroic efforts of the Vijayanagar
Empire and of Shivaji, Rana Pratap and Guru Govind Singh and countless
heroes and martyrs. ….The RSS, founded by Dr Hedgewar in 1925 and
consolidated by Shri Guruji after 1940, is the heir to this heroic,
And a few pages later referring to the politics of Mandal and Masjid,
“Historic wrongs had to be righted, however, symbolically, for a lasting
solution of the Hindu-Muslim problem.(emphasis added).”
The hidden agenda of Hindutva has as its leitmotif the righting of these
“historic wrongs”. And it therefore includes such diverse aims as the
re-writing of history, the reconstruction of places of worship, the
capturing of all secular space, the narrowing of liberal discourse
within which democracy can function, and setting a style of governance
where the minorities survive at the sufferance of the majority.
As Upendra Baxi has pointed out, in the essay referred to above1 , “the
distinctive point of departure entails the following propositions:
1. Political power must always retain monopoly over construction of
truth. (The truth of history, as well as the truth of “minor incidents”
such as a pogrom).
2. Civil society and human rights movements ought to be marginalised.
(”Where are the human rights activists when terrorists attack innocent
3. The mass media ought to be always socially responsible. Since there
exist no ways to silence mass media, protected by constitutional rights
of freedom of speech and expression ( a freedom that as much serves
regime purposes as it occasionally contradicts these), all forms of
investigative journalism ought to be tormented at the bar of
This brief report is an attempt to understand the events of these last
four years in this light. A mere listing of the present government’s
sins of commission and omission would be an endless litany. The events
mentioned and described are those that reveal the underlying
perspective. The “hidden agenda” of an organized and concerted effort to
change the rules of the game, to once and for all, set up an
environment that wipes out all possibility of a secular and liberal
dialogue, filling civil society with a sense of fear and foreboding.
Pokhran and Pakistan
On May 11th 1998, within days of the BJP-led government coming to power,
India declared itself to be an overt SNW (State with Nuclear Weapons),
by detonating nuclear devices at Pokhran. “The decision to conduct the
blasts was not taken in the cabinet, following a ’strategic review’ or
consultations with the defence services. As RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan
boasted, it was taken by the Sangh. Only a handful of RSS-loyal
ministers were privy to it.
“Thus, the VHP’s (Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s) first response to Pokhran was
to declare that the Hindus had finally “awakened” with the “Shakti”
series of tests, and to demand that India be formally, constitutionally,
declared a “Hindu State”. Identically, VHP leader Ashok Singhal now
terms Gujarat’s pogrom of Muslims as signifying, indeed proof of, Hindu
“awakening” or “resurgence”. … the VHP announced it would build a temple
to a new national goddess, “Atomic Shakti”, and carry Pokhran’s
radioactive sands in a rath yatra to each corner of India.”
The Indian establishment has been anything but clear about what the
nuclear blasts were intended to achieve, The excuses, justifications and
reasons range from a vague idea of deterrence (conventional and
nuclear) to the threat from Pakistan (sometimes China), to building
technological capability (The third anniversary of the blasts at Pokhran
was celebrated as ‘National Technology Day’, an occasion graced by the
PM). What, mercifully, was not advanced with any conviction this time,
was that it was for peaceful purposes. For what is now becoming
increasingly clear is that this is perhaps one of the most likely
regions for the site of the next nuclear war.
However, such comments were consistently dismissed by the “nationalists”
as racist slurs, emanating from the west. “Virtually the whole of the
Indian bomb lobby in welcoming those tests declared that both countries
going openly nuclear would actually bring about greater regional
stability and peace.
“Therefore, the temptation is to now claim that Pokhran II was
inevitable because Pakistan was threatening us anyway with its nuclear
capability, or some other argument resting on the wondrous powers of
nuclear deterrence. Anything to save face and the pro-nuclear argument,
except the truth. The presumed nuclear threats from Pakistan and China
were always the excuses, never the reasons. Indeed, the official
declared position of this Indian government - that the Indian bomb is
neither ‘country specific’ nor ‘threat specific’ - itself gives the game
away. Pokhran II was supposed to be an expression of India’s political
manhood, a way of equipping oneself to participate in the tough,
hard-headed game of global geo-politics as an ambitious and rising
“Obsession with political manhood through greater military belligerence
and power has always been the hallmark of Sangh ideology - the reason
why it has wanted the bomb since the Fifties, well before the Pakistan
or China threat could have been said to exist.”.
The myth of nuclear capability serving as a deterrent to conventional
warfare was blown away with the Kargil war in June-July of 1999.
Though the Indian military successfully repelled the intruders across
the Line of Control (LOC), BJP-led government found itself hard-pressed
to explain the initial failure to detect the intruders, the deficiencies
in the equipment supplied to the armed forces, communication failures,
and other controversies that constantly dogged it, as the dust of battle
settled down. The response was to heighten the anti-Pakistan hype and
raise the pitch of ultra-Hindu nationalist stridency to new levels.
“At the T. S. Narayanaswamy Memorial lecture on Nov.11, 2001 in Chennai
(’Proactive security measures can check Kargil-type intrusions,’
TheHindu, Nov. 12.) the main speaker, the Vice-Chief of Air Staff, Air
Marshal Patney, was surprisingly forthright and candid….He asked as to
why we were restricted from crossing the LoC and whether Kargil was a
missed opportunity to teach Pakistan a long-lasting lesson! …While
Pakistan has always been aggressively “pro-active'’, we have (only)
been “reactive'’! Also one of the aims of Pakistan, to bring Kashmir
back to international centrestage, has succeeded and the Kargil victory
looks “hollow'’ as the security forces have to now man 140 km of
(additional) inhospitable terrain!”
“In India, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) government
has claimed ‘’victory'’ in Kargil. It has drummed up jingoism but the
campaign, successful in many cities, has not helped the BJP cover the
costs of the Kargil operation: more than 400 soldiers dead and 600
injured (unofficial death toll is up to 2,000 considering the terrain in
which the infantry had to fight), and expenses so far of 2.5 billion
“The government is under pressure to raise military spending. Guarding
the Kargil LoC through a round-the-year military presence will cost 1
billion dollars a year. The demand for new intelligence-gathering
devices and upgraded weapons could nearly double India’s present
“The Government is drawing flak for its incompetent handling of the
crisis from sections of the media and opposition parties had demanded a
special session of the Upper House of Parliament to discuss Kargil.
“Instead, last weekend, it announced a four-man committee to investigate
the Kargil crisis. The committee is headed by India’s best-known
nuclear hawk K. Subrahmanyam. And, three of its four members are part of
the National Security Council, which was clearly unprepared for the
But Kargil, cross-border terrorism, the ISI, and all the demons from
across the border, gave the Sangh Parivar a convenient stick with which
to thrash everyone in sight, who was not with them - Muslims,
“pseudo-secularists”, intellectuals, communists, “leftist historians”,
English media-persons, NGO’s, missionaries, human rights organisations,
Amartya Sen, Mother Teresa - all now branded either as anti-national or
The last two were specially singled out by the VHP President Ashok
Singhal as deserving the highest condemnation. This report from The
Hindustan times says it all:
“Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) president Ashok Singhal’s reported remarks
against Nobel Laureates Amartya Sen and Mother Teresa have evoked sharp
reactions from political parties, including the Left and the Telugu
Desam, who said the comments were a manifestation of a “sick mind’ borne
out of inadequate understanding of Hinduism. In contrast, the BJP
responded guardedly to Mr Singhal’s statement terming the Nobel prizes
awarded to Prof Sen and Mother Teresa as part of a `Christian conspiracy
to propagate their religion and wipe out Hinduism’”
Attacks on Christians
But the attacks on Christians have not been confined to such verbal
volleys. In the run-up to the 1999 elections, physical attacks on
Christians and their property including churches intensified, especially
in Gujarat. Though not confined to Gujarat alone, the attacks here were
the most vicious and brazen, as the state too, was ruled by the BJP,
and these concerted assaults continued from April 1998 right through
According to a report published by Human Rights Watch, New York,
“Between January 1998 and February 1999, the Indian Parliament reported a
total of 116 incidents of attacks on Christians across the country.
Unofficial figures may be higher. Gujarat topped the list of states with
ninety-four such incidents. Attacks have also been reported in
Maharashtra, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh,
Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Manipur, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and
New Delhi. Attacks on Christians have ranged from violence against the
leadership of the church, including the killing of priests and the
raping of nuns, to the physical destruction of Christian institutions,
including schools, churches, colleges, and cemeteries. Thousands of
Christians have also been forced to convert to Hinduism.”
During the years under consideration, one of the regions that came under
particular attention of the Sangh organisations, was the district of
the Dangs in Gujarat. The Dangs is a forest area of some 1764 sq km. 94%
of the population being adivasis (tribals).
“Not only Christian missionaries and their institutions but poor
Christians, particularly dalits and adivasis, are under attack and have
been systematically harassed by Hindu fundamentalists under BJP rule.
The state machinery is more or less in collusion with or indifferent to
the miscreants. The Gujarat government has not only ignored the
recommendations of the Minorities Commission but also questioned its
need to visit the state. The prime minister has given a clean chit to
the state government and said that the chief minister was not at fault
and had taken action to prevent atrocities against Christians in the
state. VHP leaders have openly said that the Gujarat government is
carrying out their agenda. The Sangh parivar, including BJP ministers
and other office-bearers, allege that ‘people’ in Gujarat are getting
converted to Christianity, either forcibly or with all kinds of
allurements. There is a conspiracy to create a Nagaland or Mizoram in
Gujarat with a majority Christian population” Going back to the Human
Rights Watch account of what happened in the Dangs district, “In
February 1998 the heads of the village police attacked a prayer hall in
Divan Tembrum village while prayers were taking place, and physically
assaulted the worshippers. In April, a crowd of 400, used tractors and
iron bars to destroy St. Antony’s Catholic Church and several other
affiliated structures in different stages of construction in Naroda, a
suburb of Ahmedabad city. The crowd smashed icons and stole the contents
of the donation box. Witnesses said the crowd included members of the
police, the VHP, and the local BJP government. In an interview, the head
of the village council, Sumbubhai Maiatbhai, admitted to attending the
demolition but claimed that the church was razed because it stood in
violation of a local building code. Church officials said they were
unaware of any such code violation.
“In June several prayer halls were burned in Ahwa town, Dangs district.
On July 8, a Methodist man’s corpse was dug up in a Christian cemetery
in Kapadvanj and dumped near his church. Witnesses said local VHP
leaders led this desecration. Attacks and harassment of Christian-run
schools were also on the rise. On July 16, the Shantiniketan High School
in Zankhav village, Surat district, was broken into and stoned; its
playground was ploughed by a tractor. The school was run by Jesuit
priests of the Loyola Education Trust. The following day large numbers
of “hooligans” from the neighboring village entered the market place in
Zankhav, and violence ensued. Prior to the incident, two local language
dailies, the Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh, had published a series of
inflammatory articles charging that the Jesuit priests were engaged in
forcible conversions of tribals to Christianity and that the school was
admitting only Christian students. The same month, suspected VHP and
Bajrang Dal activists burned hundreds of copies of the Bible at the I.
P. Mission School in Rajkot district.
“On August 9, a church in Ahmedabad was demolished by RSS activists. On
October 9, the Home Minister of Gujarat, Harin Pandya, threatened
evangelist Roger Houstma with legal action if he continued to hold
preaching and healing meetings in Gandhinagar. The next day Houstma’s
meeting in Rajkot was attacked. On November 11, in Dahunia village in
the Dangs district, several Christian tribals, including an ailing
woman, were beaten up. Several Christian families in the village were
forced to undergo a “conversion” ritual and bathe in Unai hot springs
just north of the district. The village sarpanch (elected head of the
village council) supported the attackers and said that Christians could
not draw water from the village well or have their cattle graze with the
animals of other villagers. The sarpanch also issued a decree
preventing Christians in the village from working in any government or
But the attacks were not confined to Gujarat. Perhaps the most dastardly
act was the murder of Graham Staines and his two sons in Orissa.
“On January 23, 1999, in Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district,
Orissa, a mob of Hindu extremists burned to death an Australian
missionary, Graham Stewart Staines, and his two sons, Philip, nine, and
Timothy, six, as they slept in their car. Over one hundred people
reportedly poured petroleum on the station wagon and set it on fire. As
the family tried to escape, the mob held them back while shouting
pro-Bajrang Dal slogans and physically assaulted villagers who tried to
come to their rescue. Staines had worked for over thirty years in a
leper colony in the state.
“Police officials initially arrested forty-nine people in connection
with the killing and identified them as members of the Bajrang Dal.
Police also claimed that they had a photo of Dara Singh, the leader of
the mob and active member of the Bajrang Dal who had been leading a
campaign against conversions by Christian missionaries in surrounding
“Investigations by the CBI, the Crime Branch of the Orissa police, and
the Wadhwa Commission have all concluded that the conversion of tribals
was a motivating factor behind the Staines murders. According to CBI
Superintendent of Police Loknath Behera, Dara Singh had encouraged his
accomplices to “go and assault the Christian missionaries who have come
to Manoharpur, as they are indulging in conversion of innocent tribals
into Christianity and spoiling our religion and culture.
“While the BJP condemned the murders, India’s defense minister claimed
that the attack was part of an international conspiracy to defame India,
while Home Minister L. K. Advani came to the Bajrang Dal’s defense by
proclaiming that he “knew” these organizations, and that they had “no
criminality in them.”
The man charged with the gruesome murder of Australian missionary Graham
Staines and his two sons in 1999 wants to serve the cause of Hindutva
better by contesting in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
The VHP does even better, as this report from PTI (Press Trust of India) shows:
NEW DELHI, DEC. 20. In an apparent endorsement of Dara Singh, prime
accused in the killing of the Australian missionary, Graham Staines, and
his two children, the VHP president, Vishnu Hari Dalmia, honoured his
mother and gave her Rs. 25,000 at a function here on Wednesday.
Raj Rani, mother of Singh, who is behind bars after surrendering to
police, his brother Arvind Kumar and Mukesh Jain, president of the
Dharmarakshak Shri Dara Sena, were honoured at a function organised to
celebrate the birthday of the former MP and VHP leader, B.L. Sharma
`Prem’. — PTI 21/12/2002.
The Saffronisation of Education
In October 1998, at an Education Ministers’ Conference, Mr. Murli
Manohar Joshi, the BJP Education Minister, publicly announced the agenda
of “Indianisation, Nationalisation, Spiritualisation”, a coded and
loaded phrase for pushing through the RSS agenda in education and the
takeover of cultural and academic institutions by the saffron
“Through the Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan, the RSS
runs anywhere between 14,000-20,000 Saraswati Mandirs and Shishu Mandirs
all over the country. Of these, it is reported that as many as 5,000
are recognised by and affiliated to either the CBSE or state education
boards, most of them in states with BJP governments in power….In stark
and revealing contrast to the hold that the RSS has over education, the
Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) itself has a total of 5,391
schools affiliated to it.”
“Hate language and hate-politics cannot be part of history teaching in a
democracy. But, unfortunately, prejudice and division, not a holistic
and fair vision, has been the guiding principle for our textbook boards
and the authors chosen by them.
Over the years, our history and social studies texts, more and more,
emphasise a prejudicial understanding and rendering of history, that is
certainly not borne out by historical facts. Crucial inclusions and
exclusions (are to be found in) abstracts from state board texts, ICSE
textbooks and college texts as well.”
Below are a few extracts from the National Steering Committee on
Textbook Evaluation, Recommendation and Report II, NCERT (National
Council for Educational Research and Training).
Publications of Vidya Bharati (Section VI of the report):
The Committee shares the concern expressed in the report over the
publication and use of blatantly communal writings in the series
entitled, Sanskriti Jnan in the Vidya Bharati Schools which have been
set up in different parts of the country. Their number is reported to be
6,000. The Committee agrees with the report that much of the material
in the so-called Sanskrit Jnan series is “designed to promote bigotry
and religious fanaticism in the name of inculcating knowledge of culture
in the young generation”.
The Committee is of the view that the Vidya Bharati schools are being
clearly used for the dissemination of blatantly communal ideas. In its
earlier report (January 1993), the Committee had commented on
publications which had been brought out with similar objectives by the
Saraswati Shishu Mandir Prakashan and Markazi Maktaba Islami and had
recommended that they should not be allowed to be used in schools. The
Sanskriti Jnan series are known to be in use in Vidya Bharati schools in
Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere. The Committee recommends that the
educational authorities of Madhya Pradesh and other states should
disallow the use of this series in the schools. The state governments
may also consider appropriate steps to stop the publication of these
materials which foment communal hatred and disallow the examinations
which are held by the Vidya Bharati Sansthan on the basis of these
A series of booklets which is being used in the Vidya Bharati schools
has been published under the general title of Sanskriti Jnan Pareeksha
and Sanskrit-Jnan Pareeksha Prashn-ottari (Culture-Knowledge Examination
and Culture-Knowledge Examination Questions-Answers). These books are
in the form of questions and answers which are meant to be taught by
teachers and memorized by students. They are also used for assessing
children in an all-India examination which is conducted by the Sansthan.
The Sansthan claims that during 1993-94, 3,55,282 students appeared in
the examination based on this question-answer series. The total number
of schools run by the Sansthan is claimed to be 6,000 with 12,00,000
students and 40,000 teachers.
Each booklet in the series comprises questions and answers on geography,
politics, personalities, martyrs, morals, Hindu festivals, religious
books, general knowledge, etc. Much of the material in these books is
designed to promote blatantly communal and chauvinist ideas and
popularize RSS and its policies and programmes.
Some examples of the kind of ‘knowledge’ of sanskriti these booklets are disseminating are given below:
1. The booklets include information and questions and answers on the
‘geographical and political boundaries of India’. Besides Pakistan and
Bangladesh, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and ‘Brahmadesh or Myanmar’
are all supposed to have been earlier parts of India. There is a
question on Sri Lanka which reads, “What is the name of the island in
the south which touches the feet of Bharat Mother, and which reminds us
of Sri Ramachandra’s victory over Ravana and which was a part of our
country at one time?”
2. India is presented in extreme chauvinist terms as the ‘original home
of world civilisation’. One of the booklets (No.IX), for example, says,
“India is the most ancient country in the world. When civilisation had
not developed in many countries of the world, when people in those
countries lived in jungles naked or covering their bodies with the bark
of trees or hides of animals, Bharat’s Rishis-Munis brought the light of
culture and civilisation to all those countries.” Some of the examples
of the “spread of the light of Aryatva by Bharatiya Manishis” given are
(i)”The credit for lighting the lamp of culture in China goes to the ancient Indians,
(ii)India is the mother country of ancient China. Their ancestors were Indian kshatriya
(iii)The first people who began to inhabit China were Indians.”
(iv)”The first people to settle in Iran were Indians (Aryans)”
(v)”The popularity of the great work of the Aryans - Valmiki Ramayana -
influenced (Yavana) yunan? (Greece) and there also the great poet Homer
composed a version of the Ramayana”.
(vi)”The Languages of the indigenous people (Red Indians) of the
northern part of America were derived from ancient Indian languages”.
3. Many of these booklets have a section each on ‘Sri Ramjanma-bhumi’.
They present RSS-VHP propaganda in the form of catechisms to be
memorized by the faithful as absolute truths. Some of the questions -
answers in these sections are as followers;
Q. Who got the first temple built on the birth place of Shri Ram in Ayodhya?
A. Shri Ram’s son Maharaja Kush.
Q. Who was the first foreign invader who destroyed Sri Ram temple?
A. Menander of Greece (150 B.C.)
Q. Why is Babri Masjid not a mosque?
A. Because Muslims have never till today offered Namaz there.
Q. How many devotees of Rama laid down their life to liberate Rama temple from A.D. 1528 to A.D. 1914?
A. Three lakh fifty thousand.
Q. Why will 2 November 1990 be inscribed in black letters in the history of India?
A. Because on that day, the then Chief Minister by ordering the Police to shoot unarmed Kar Sewaks massacred hundreds of them.
The rot is not confined to school text books. Even text books at the
college level, including for the final year B.A. history course are full
of venom directed towards the Muslims, especially when discussing such
issues as the ‘Invasion of Mahmud of Ghaznavi’.
The RSS success in these areas is due to the fact that it has been able
to pack the managements of almost all important and prestigious
institutions and academis bodies with its own supporters, who do not
even make a pretence of academic autonomy.
This has led to a change in priorities and programmes for these
institutions, which include such bodies as the Indian Council of
Historical Research (ICHR) and the Archeological Survey of India (ASI).
The former has put on hold the entire project of the publication of
Towards Freedom, after withdrawing two volumes edited by KN Pannikar and
Sumit Sarkar. Instead what is now sanctioned is a project on the
mapping of the (mythical) Saraswati river civilization.
The ASI is similarly preoccupied with funding excavations and
publications to prove that the Aryans were the original inhabitants of
India and that Indian civilization is essentially Aryan civilization.
This is a crucial part of the parivar theory that Hinduism is therefore
the only indigeneous religion, and all other religions are either
foreign (Islam, Christianity, Zorastrianism) or merely tributaries of
this mainstream (Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism). This forms the core idea
of the nation, Hindu Rashtra and nationalism of the BJP.
“This definition has its roots in the writings of RSS stalwarts like
Golwalker and Savarkar, and is by their own admission inspired by the
experience and practice of Mussoloni’s Italy and Nazi Germany… According
to Golwalkar, ‘to keep up the purity of the race and its culture,
Germany shocked the world by its purging the country of the Semitic
races - the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here.
Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for races and
cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into
one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit
The Culture Police
Outside the realm of the formal education system, the Sangh Parivar
aggressively imposes its code of political correctness (in its most
perverted sense), on private citizens and their organisations, while
deciding what is compatible with Indian culture and ethos, as defined by
them. As will be seen from the following, this resort to violence over
cultural matters, is now no longer restricted to the Sangh Parivar,
though they emerge as the main culrits in a majority of the cases.
Writing in the Deccan Herald (”When Might is Right”, July 1,2001), K.S.
Narayanan gives this chronology (by no means exhaustive), of the
“achievements” of the culture police:
1998 - Disruption of Pakistani Ghazal Singer Ghulam Ali’s concert: Shiv
Sainiks disrupted Ghulam Ali’s concert at Centuar Hotel in Mumbai.
Uddhav Thackeray, Sena youth leader and son of Bal Thackeray, proudly
owned up to have caused the disruption. The Sena justified the ban on
Pakistani artistes citiing that country’s direct involvement with
militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.
April/May 1998. Paintings of Maqbool Fida Hussain: Bajrang Dal activists
on May 2 ransacked the celeberated Painter’s Cuffe Parade apartment in
Mumbai in prtoest against his paintings Sita Rescued. These works
recreated the scenes of Sita’s rescue as described in Ramayana, but with
a few artistic liberties. On April 28, about 400 Shri Ram Seva Dal,
Bhartiya Seva Dal and Bhartiya Yuva Morcha activists staged rasta roko
and burnt the effigy of Hussain in Mumbai.
August 1998. Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy: The Marathi play by Pradeep Dalvi
was disrupted by several Congress workers in Mumbai who protested that
the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi was being glorified in the play. After
several protests and court hearings, Maharashtra government was forced
to ban the play.
December 1998 - Fire: A Deepa Mehta film the central theme of which was
lesbianism drew flak from Mumbai’s thought police chief Bal Thackeray.
Criticism extended to acts of vandalism by Shiv Sainiks who were
unleashed on theatre audiences. Finally, Deepa Mehta had change the
names of the characters who bore Hindu names.
January 2000 - Water: The Shooting of Deepa Mehta’s film based on the
lives of Varnasi widows was stopped by the Uttar Pradesh government
following attacks on the sets. The Sangh Parivar alleged that the film
denigrated the country’s image and culture and was a part of a Christian
conspiracy to undermine Hinduism.
February 23, 2000 - Hey Ram: A group of West Bengal Chhatra Parishad
activists affliated to the West Bengal Congress (I) stormed into Mitra
Cinema in North Calcutta and disrupted the show of Kamalahassan’s Hey
Ram. The demonstrators alleged that a poem by Bengali icon Jibanananda
Das was recited in the backdrop of an erotic scene.
June, 2001 - Gadar: Muslim fringe groups in several places of the
country protest against what they call “blasphemous” representation.
They are against naming the heroine as Sakina, saying it was the name of
the Prophet’s daughter, and a scene in which she offers namaz with
sindoor(vermillion) on her forehead.
Besides these type of outrages that have gone on unabated through 2002,
are the yearly events such as violent protests across the country
against the celebration of Valentine’s Day. This usually involves
attacks on couples suspected to be dating, vandalisation of shops
selling cards or decorating their windows with Valentine’s Day themes.
In a moving interview, given to Communalism Combat in December 1998,
Mahesh Bhatt, director and film-maker, spoke about his feelings and
experiences of making Zakhm, a Hindi film dealing with the trauma of
communal riots and polarisation.
“The film has revealed a lot to me about people seated in power, people
who are supposed to be above biases. These people are so frightened. I
think one of the basest of all things is fear. Fear erodes the
individual. Fear erodes the Nation, the spine of the Nation. But you see
this very fear flowing in the veins of the Nation. People are
frightened. The bureaucrat who’s frightened to take action. I can get
angry with this kind of person for some days, but then I can also see
that there is some sort of shadow looming over his or her head that is
preventing him/her from acting. When I speak plainly, I see dread in the
eyes of people there in Delhi.
Is this the first film in which you’ve faced these obstacles?
Yeah, this is the first film which has run into this sort of problem. I
mean I’ve had problems with the censors, but most of the times we agree
with the kind of cuts that they ask for. And they’re not very major
ones. But, this, when you make a film like this, which is genuinely
built on one’s perceptions, painfully arrived at having gone through the
fires of living day-to-day life, having been scorched with the biases
that have haunted my childhood… I lived with my mother, I’ve lived with
my father and seen them suffer. Gone through the trauma of ‘92-’93,
which left me completely traumatised, humiliated. How helpless I felt.”
“I remember a terrible moment in my life. Just after the riots, we
started shooting for a film of mine, at Nataraj Studios. We were
shooting and I was at the unit on the phone, trying to reach help to one
of my workers, a lights’ boy, who was stuck at Behrampada. A letter was
brought to me, it came from one of my workers. It read: ‘Tell Bhatt
Saheb not to cry for the Muslims’ suffering so much, otherwise it
wouldn’t be good’.
Who had sent you this letter?
My own company. People within my own unit sent me this anonymous letter.
I freaked out. I asked, ‘Who has had the impertinence to send me this
letter?’ They were all quiet. I asked them: ‘If tomorrow you’re in
bloody trouble, if I try to help you and someone stops me from helping
you, should I listen to him?’ That’s when it hit me. The realisation of
how deep it all ran. Our unit was like the Nation. The biases were
The attacks are not confined to cultural events or expressions. They
extend tothe person of the artiste with equal vehemence.Shabana Azmi,
film actress, star and Rajya Sabha M.P., is typically one of those who
has to bear the brunt of such attacks.
The final characterisation comes courtesy Narain Kataria, the New
York-based secretary of the Indian American Intellectuals’ Forum. Mr
Kataria, in a vilifying note being circulated via email, says “it is
crystal clear that Shabana is a very dangerous woman and has the
potential to create trouble in the society….
“It is not understood on what grounds this vicious lady has been allowed
by the American embassy to come to this country and pollute the
peaceful atmosphere,” says Mr Kataria, a long-time member of the
Overseas Friends of the BJP.
“Calling the attack on Ms Azmi a “travesty” that comes from the “bowels
of the Hindutva movement,” Vijay Prashad, director of the international
studies programme at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, and author
of The Karma of Brown Folk, adds: “If Gujarat must not become the future
face of India, let Mr Kataria’s antics not become the future face of
the desi diaspora”
If cultural policing is one side of the coin, political censorship by the formal establishment is the other.
M. V. Ramana describes the ordeal of perhaps one of India’s most
well-known documentary film-maker Anand Patwardhan, in “India:
Censorship in the nuclear age”, writing in The Hindu of July 27, 2002:
In the past he fought and won three court cases to get films of his -
“Bombay Our City, In Memory of Friends and Ram Ke Naam” - shown on
Doordarshan. “Jang aur Aman” explores the many effects of the
acquisition of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan: the problems faced
by people living near the Pokhran test site and the Jaduguda uranium
mines, the human toll in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Sangh Parivar
groups and their hate crusades, the Kargil war, and the global commerce
of death offered by arms traders. But the film also offers hope by
recording the growing peace movements, both in India and Pakistan….
That such a film offering rich fare for thought has been held up at the
Censor Board is unfortunate. What is worse is that some of the Censor
Board’s objections are quite illogical. For example, it has called for
deleting speeches by Dalits and neo-Buddhists attacking the upper-caste
biases of the ruling elite, and visuals or dialogues about the Tehelka
The Censor Board has also demanded the deletion of a much larger portion
of Mr. Patwardhan’s film by issuing the blanket diktat - “Delete the
entire visuals and dialogues spoken by political leaders including
Ministers and the Prime Minister”. That much of this has appeared on
Doordarshan and seen by crores of people - many times the number who can
be expected to see Mr. Patwardhan’s film - only
underscores the Orwellian irony.
First published on June 30, 018
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
VII. 38. “Let him daily worship aged Brahmans who know the Veda and are pure…”
“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.”
“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 —
“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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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
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
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!”
(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
Collected Works sell sans Annihilation of Caste and the Riddles in Hinduism!
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)
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
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
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.”
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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”
“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
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 -
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
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 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-
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
(The author is a historian based at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi)
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
“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
“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
“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
“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.
‘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
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,
(Rajeev R Singh is a rights activist and has been
associated with various forums and rights issues,especially those
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
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
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.
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,’
‘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,
‘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
‘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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
‘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.’
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
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
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
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
“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:
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
Taking into consideration the possibility that a minority can become a
victim of the tyranny of majority, he suggested enough safeguards for
“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:
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.”
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
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
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
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.
(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
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
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
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.
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.
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.]
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)
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
(A version of this article appeared in the Hindustan Times, April 15, 2003)
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
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
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
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
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
Archived from Communalism Combat, September 2000 Year 8 No. 62, Cover Story 4
Questions related to detention camps in Assam have
been repeated, time and again, during the winter 2019 session of
Parliament. Last week saw a question in Lok Sabha, where the government
claimed to know the nationalities of the detainees and this week the
government stated that there have been 28 deaths in detention camps and
also made tall claims about the facilities provided to the inmates.
11 pm onwards
Benaras Hindu University