Strong caste identities pose serious challenge to brahmanical supermacy
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Hindu Society is a myth but caste is a reality. And this reality has been widely accepted in Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar where caste assertion is growing and those without any political representations are living on the margins. It would look absolutely fanatical if you talk of caste as a nation but reading V.T.Rajshekar’s book ‘Caste, a Nation with in the Nation’, recipe for a bloodless revolution, reveals the importance of the subject. He is not the only one who speaks on the issue but definitely perhaps among very few who are unapologetic about speaking it and quotes reasonably well from Anthropological survey of India report ‘ People of India’ which was headed by an IAS officer Mr K.S.Singh. Singh maintained that there are 2800 castes in which 450 are scheduled castes, 461 scheduled tribes and 766 backward classes. The report, which says that ‘ Indian society continues to be a collection of castes and communities,’ has been hidden in the dusty files of the ministry.
It is a fact that people closely connect on the basis of their caste more than any other identity. A person lives in various identities including the individual one. There are identities, which are linguistic, regional, and ethnic yet the Indian sub continental reality is that it would be entirely baseless to say that the caste identity does not exist. If caste were not a reality, Bangladesh would not have come into being. The fact of the matter is the Punjabi Muslims had always treated the Bangla Muslims with utter contempt. A former general in Pakistan justified in his book for non-inclusion of the Bengalis in elite services of Pakistan for they ‘lack’ merit.
Caste Identities will ultimately eliminate the brahmanical supremacy
What Rajsekhar has tried to put in bravely is that caste system has to be opposed but castes are different identities. That is a fact because Dalit is not a one word or one world as it includes a variety of castes and each one has its own world. Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar, when drafted the constitution, mentioned it as Scheduled Castes. So he was aware of the fact of the diversity with in the Dalit Bahujan societies. Caste is a reality and not rhetoric and has been wonderfully explained by Mr V.T.Rajshekar. In fact, he was among the very few whom out rightly supported quota on the basis of the percentage of the community. The issue of Mala Madiga, Mahar-Mang, Chamars-Valmikis and others would get resolved easily if there were broader feeling of sharing the space with even the nondescript communities. It is also interesting that the author says the abolition of sub castes would not help the Dalit Bahujan but to the brahmanical Hinduism. If Hindus are so interested in caste elimination why the elite want to confine their marriage in their communities. If caste is a rural phenomena and not an urban one, why the hell it is not eliminated from our English newspapers and their matrimonial columns? The caste consciousness of the Dalit Bahujan would make the struggle stronger which the upper caste Hindus fear too much and therefore the ‘saintly’ advise of ‘elimination’ of castes without touching the caste system.
Rajshekar is unique in theorizing and people like me have always taken those theories further. Like, the demand for elimination or annihilation of castes normally comes from the powerful groups. It is no secret that why this issue has rarely been raised by the poor. Why are Brahmins so interested in demolition of caste they so wonderfully created? The answer is provided by the author himself. Today, using caste identity is not beneficial for the Brahmins. It is beneficial for the Dalits and the bahujans for democracy is a number game and therefore assertion is important. Secondly, it is important whether denouncing caste has in fact resulted in demolition of the brahmanical structure. It is easier to say ‘ I do not believe in caste’, but how many of them have excluded from their social rituals and practices based on caste system. The answer would be in negative.
On December 16th, 1993 Rajshekar wrote a historic editorial in Dalit Voice: Strengthen every caste to annihilate Brahmanism’. This was an important departure from the so-called academic theories, which talks of ‘elimination’ of caste system without really intending to do so. In December 1992 Babari Masjid was demolished and Dalit Voice was the only journal, which wrote that myth of the Hindu tolerance was exposed. Some of us who developed our understanding though reading Dalit Voice and the material referred by its editor, realized that the aim of the Babri demolition was not really against the Muslims but subjugate the Dalit Bahujan masses further which were aggressively asserting their caste identities in the aftermath of the anti Mandal protests in north India. An analysis of the post Mandal situation in India reflect explains unambiguously that had it not been the assertion of Dalit-Bahujan, India would have turned into a fascist state. Is not it a reality that after the Babari mosque was demolished the Dalit Bahujan of Uttar-Pradesh joined hand and threw away the fascist government of the Bhartiya Janata Party which thought that they would come with thumping majority. Is not it true that both Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar, many of our educated elite might make us believe are the worst Indian states, have virtually decimated the Sangh parivar. And what are the reasons for the same? It is the growing assertion of the Dalit backward communities in these states, which has kept the Hindutva family thoroughly marginalized. In the latest round of bout, again the people of Uttar-Pradesh have brought back a government led by a Dalit woman and both the upper caste parties are at the margin. It is another factor that the fall of Mulayam Singh Yadav must be attributed to upper castes and hence Maywati has to be extra vigilant when she makes Brahmins her ally, as they have not come to Maywati leaving their feudal caste mindset but because of compulsions. And marriage of convenience breaks ones compulsions are over. It is important to understand that while the caste identities have challenged brahmanical supremacy, further degeneration of it would bring back the brahmanical elite. Uttar-Pradesh is a case example. While the main political struggle here is between the Dalits and backwards, it is the brahmanical elite, which has become the most sought after in the state. But if the Dalit Bahujan are understandable this question would also get resolved soon.
Connect to History
The best practice of the brahmanical manipulation was that they were non violently violent as Rajshekar has pointed out many times. They institutionalized violence and made everything that benefited them as sacrosanct. So, for the poor Dalit Bahujan, the Brahmins made them hate them, so most of these communities hated themselves and their communities. Abroad, people used to write their surname with the work they do like the Shoe maker put their sir name as Shoemaker, similarly other sir names originated as Smith, Goldsmith, Blacksmith, Butler, etc. But here the Brahmins asked to hate us. How can the people or a community progress if they do not know their own history and hate them. Every now and them the ruling elite talks of the contradictions among the Dalit and Bahujan classes but the fact is that contradictions are there in our lives as Mao Tse Tung said in his famous work ‘ On Contradictions’. Human history progressed with these contradictions. Is not there a contradiction between Brahmin and a Thakur or a Kayastha or a Bania. Differences are bound to happen in a diverse society and they will be there in the Dalit Bahujan also as they are among the upper castes also. However, contradictions would always be used to divide the Dalit Bahujan masses to fulfill the grand agenda of the brahmanical elites in India and therefore Baba Saheb Ambedkar said, ‘ As long as oppressed classes do not turn to ruling classes, internal contradictions would remain.
Hinduism is a Political Theory
Again, an important point expressed in the book is that Hinduism is not a religion but a political theory. Some people differentiate between Hindutva and Hinduism for they believe the idea of Hindutva was propagated by Vir Savarkar while Hinduism, they feel, is essentially a very tolerant religion. This is historically inaccurate and incorrect for various reasons. One, Hinduism as such is not a religion but essentially meant to address the people living in India, a name was given by the Mughal invaders. Originally, it was Varnashram dharma, a religion based on caste and colour. But in real terms it is a political theory as mentioned by V.R.Rajshekar quoting profusely to Baba Saheb’s writings, as define our civil laws and is aimed at controlling our freedom, our social and cultural life. This institutionalization has made every working masses totally depended on Brahmins to get social legitimacy.
How do you abolish caste system? Academics over simplify them in terms of education, urbanisation or industrialisation and inter-caste marriages. The author brilliantly exposes all the three. Education as he rightly points out is ‘an instrument of oppression in the hands of ruling classes to retain its dominations over its subjects. Secondly, caste is not just confined to rural India but also to urban India and therefore caste clashes would only strengthen the Dalit-Bahujan’s determination to understand and strengthen their caste identities. Inter caste marriages have not taken place yet. Most of the marriages are one like the Brahmins girl marrying elite Dalit mens who are either government servants or politicians. They is not really inter caste marriages as marriages at local levels and village levels have not been possible. So these cases may be termed as rarest of rare despite various interest factors involved in it.
Urbanisation and industrialization has not really helped the Dalit Bahujans as it might have helped in other countries. The caste struggle would ultimately lead to revolution and rightfully the author suggests that Marxian dialectics of class has to be modified in Indian terms replacing it with caste. Another important point that the author mention is that urbanization in India has pushed the Dalit Bahujan to further brink unlike other countries where urbanization is considered to be a better option for replacing the old feudal system but in India urbanization is creating new slums. It is hitting the Dalit Bahujan rock hard.
Qualities of a True Ambedkarite
While speaking strongly for caste identities the author feel that an enlightened Ambedkarite must rise above the narrow caste interests. Dr Ambedkar always felt proud to be born in a Mahar community but his struggles and fight was for all the downtrodden communities. Can any one say that he fought for Mahars? The point that the author wanted to make is that every community is today seeking its space under the sun. The communities have to do that because otherwise they will be thoroughly marginalized. They go the other way because their aspirations are not fulfilled. Aim of strengthening caste identities is not to divide the Dalit Bahujan’s movement but to strengthen it. Basically with in ourself, there has to be a proportionate representation. Every caste has a history and they are tracing that history and it is good they are doing it. As Baba Saheb, no community can move forward which remains isolated and unknown to its history. So author want caste identities to eliminate the brahmanical system and wish every Dalit Bahujan individual to rise about the petty caste considerations which is the essence of is thesis.
Religion never unites
The author has come out very candidly that only Buddhism can unite the Dalit masses. It was the message of Baba Saheb to dalits to embrace the righteous path of Buddha. Rightly, he suggests that religion has never been uniting factor. Hinduism is nothing but caste and once caste are abolished Hinduism will be eliminated. Similarly despite conversion to Christianity, the Dalits still remain the Dalits. They are not allowed to join the churches of upper castes. Marriages are exclusively caste based. Even Islam has been unable to unite people. Pakistan came into being in the name of Islam but what happened. Bengali Muslims refused to believe the Punjabi Muslims as Baba Saheb has said, ‘ Religion can help to produce justice with in a community. Religion cannot produce justice between the communities. The call of nation and the call of community has proved more powerful than the call of religion for justice’.
Recently on a trip to Uganda, I was shocked to see that even outside India, people are unable to leave their castes. I met a few Indian Sikhs in a Gurudwara called a Ramgarhia Gurudwara in Kampala and most of those who come here are Dalit Sikh. A Dalit woman told me that there is a separate Gurudwara for Jat Sikhs. Similarly, there were several temples among the Gujaratis. A Ugandan friend Deo who is chairman Uganda Humanist Association blamed Indian to be confined to their caste interest and color conscious. So despite same religion, it is the caste which has been dominating factor.
Political Participation is essential to tame the Hindutva
In Uttar-Pradesh BSP has experimented one thing today. Brahmins and other upper castes have joined the party and became ministers and senior bureaucrats. There is hardly any Dalit officer close to Mayawati in charge of her office in Lucknow, which is a shocking reality. Now, most of these upper castes have joined the BSP without losing their identity. Whether they agree to the mission of Baba Saheb or not is not their concern. They joined BSP to save their interest and use this opportunity to strengthen them. Strengthening caste identity should not mean that we forget the racist nature of Hindu society. Strengthening caste identity does not mean that we follow the system given by the Brahmins and which was termed by Baba Saheb as graded inequality. It is this graded inequality injected the Manusmriti which has resulted in Brahmin playing the sole arbitrator of our disputes. It is this graded inequality, which does not allow the caste to come together. It is therefore important that caste identities are treated as per and used in terms of different ethnic identities and not a basis of exploitation, which has rightly been condemned by the author. The caste identities are strengthening our democratic process. I remember talking to a Muslim activist from Iran who was exiled. When I spoke her as why they not talk about each religion and target Islam only. I talked to her about Hindutva and the answer she gave was that India has such diversity of Gods, and Goddesses and caste and communities that it would be difficult for any one to impose one set of rules and laws. It is true that this diversity of caste and region has saved India from going to fascist way. Take for example the recent elections. Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan have strong Hindu undercurrent and violence against the minorities is very high in these states. While the state such as Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar have not seen much violence against minorities after the post Mandal transformation. Why? The answer is simple. The Dalit Bahujans in UP and Bihar knows well that the Muslims and Christians are their blood brothers. These political understandings of Dalit and Muslims have kept the Hindutva far away from revival. But in Gujarat, Rajsthan and Madhya Pradesh, there is very little assertion of Dalit Bahujan therefore they have become favorite hunting ground of the Hindutva. The Dalit and Bahujan are not proud of their community identity in these states. They are not politically mobile and there are no efforts to organize them at the ground level therefore giving the forces of Hindutva a free hand to hit at minorities.
Non-assertion of communities and apoliticisation has killed this aspiration to share power. As mentioned earlier, the Hindutva forces are powerful where the Dalit Bahujan have no political assertion and where they are hiding their own identities. Identity could be used to oppress and identity is the best tool in democracy to assert. In the past few years who are the communities dying of hunger and starvation? From my personal work among them, I can say, they are Mushahars, Bansfors, Kols, nomads, and tribals. Now, why are they dying of hunger? Because there is no assertion among these communities. Here their Jati become a symbol of oppression. They are oppressed because of non-assertion and non-political representation. In the absence of political assertion and representation, the religious thugs go and do the ‘charity’ work. Charity is never done to provide any body rights but to demean a community. The brahmanical charity can feed them for a few days but make them hate their identities.
It is here that caste thesis of VT Rajsekar is important. How do we ensure that even these minorities get a share in power structure? If we can provide them a share in our political structure and social structure on the basis of his population, it will ultimately give way for a social cohesion of Dalit Bahujan. Democracy is not majoritarian rule but it must ensure the minorities that they are safe and have space in mainstream structure. The minority among the Dalits remains unrepresented and therefore disgusted. This disgust is used by the upper castes easily to put them in fight against their own brethrens and therefore it is essential that while we strengthen caste identities we must condemn caste system and exploitation based on caste. We must not allow the brahmanical techniques to ruin the Dalit Bahujan Unity.
V T. Rajshekar’s book is an important milestone in caste debate. It has broken many myths and it has to be taken further. The important mention is caste as a nation. He has also broken the myth of nation hood and suggested that in the storm of Dalit Bahujan if the rights of a Brahmins are being denied, a true Ambedkarite would have to stand for the human rights of the individual. While, from the title of the book it looks as if the author is promoting rabid casteism yet reading it gives refreshing ideas.
Today when caste groups are behaving in primitive ways, I am sure an individual has to be saved from those who want to decide about every thing in the name of community identity. Despite caste identities, individuals take different route and go beyond their castes, and therefore become an issue in the communities. We have seen how the Hindutva gangs have terrorized the youths who married in different communities. Caste identities are good to assert and linkage to our culture and a way to stop the march of the Hindutva but at the same time they cannot be allowed to behave in the brahmanical fashion to decide about our future. That would be the most dangerous part. As I mention caste identity must not be allowed to oppress and exploit. If caste identities are based on equality, I am sure there will be more inter community marriages in future but if they remain confine to their self made beliefs that one is higher than the others, the greatest ‘gift’ the notorious Brahmins gave, then I am afraid mere assertion of identities will only strengthen the brahmanical system, though it may eliminate Brahmins as a community and might be replaced by others but at the end the ideas thrown by the Brahmins would always remain intact. The author has himself suggested that we must eliminate caste system based on hierarchical values of the Manu Smriti and once we do it, all the caste will be equal even when they have diverse profession and then there would be no violence even if two individuals crosses their own community line to get married. This is an excellent book and the debate must go further including the democratic rights of an individual with in the castes and how castes should follow their own customs and traditions leaving the dependence on Brahmins for every rituals. That would ultimately eliminate the brahmanical domination in our daily life.
Caste: a nation with in the Nation
recipe for a bloodless revolution
Published by Books for Change, Banglore
Pp : 121
Available in Hindi also.