I’m not a scholar. I haven’t read books on the Dalit cause. All the source of my knowledge of how they were treated, or sometimes, how they are treated even now, are the sundry articles I have read, or the movies that I have watched, or the blog posts I’ve stumbled upon, or people’s thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.
Yes, I must confess I’m biased. This tweet of mine can explain to you, to an extent, the reason for my bias:
So, yes, if you are supporting, vocally, intellectually, politically and literally, some sort of an issue and you belong to people I don’t trust much or trust you to be in cahoots with anti-India forces, I cannot relate to the issue. By default, that issue turns into a propaganda for me, and even if eventually it turns out to be a genuine issue (never happened so far) I have my inhibitions.
I’m making an exception with the Dalit issue because one, I truly believe that a big section of our society has been badly treated over the centuries. Indescribable atrocities have been committed against people of lower castes in the name of tradition, culture and worse, religion.
Although atrocities might had been inflicted upon people from upper castes too simply because they have always been in a minority compared to people from the lower castes, since these atrocities are not documented, let’s for the timing focus on a single issue.
I’m not saying it still happens abundantly, but under the ashes, somehow, the fire is still live, and it needs to be doused with the water of understanding, compassion, and reconciliation from all sides.
Two, whether we like it or not, we all live here. We all belong to this country. We all want a better country for our kids and our future generations. Whether you believe in the concept of a nation or not, we all need a balanced environment to grow. We cannot grow if we are constantly resenting each other, constantly spewing venom against each other and constantly wishing destruction for each other.
The only way forward is, understanding each other’s problems and solving them as citizens of a single nation. Nobody is going anywhere. Even if you believe in that atrocious Aryans invasion theory, those Aryan’s aren’t going anywhere. Learn to live with that.
So, this is what I think, of the Dalit issue, as a layperson
Again, my thoughts are based on my current knowledge. Tomorrow, maybe after reading some more, maybe after reading a few books or a few essays, my thinking may change, but for now, these are the thoughts that I have.
Before I proceed, I would like to take out a quote from an excellently written article on the issue of how gender and race conflicts are mostly amplified for political and ideological gains:
We turn victimhood into a mechanism for attaining disproportionately large power, then do what humans do best when we wield too much power — abuse it.
I think this has been happening in India too. In the name of caste and minority appeasement, a demon has been raised and now it has gone out of hand.
Also, read Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines By Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan to know how famous activists and social workers, in collaboration with many anti-India forces, are constantly working at creating more and more caste and class divisions among the Indian society. They have a very elaborate plan to balkanise the country and turn it into smaller countries. The idea may seem very ridiculous to you if you haven’t before been introduced to it, but if you carefully start observing things around you, you will notice how obvious it is.
Coming back to the issue, the caste divide is there. It isn’t as severe as it used to be a few centuries ago or even a few decades ago, but it is there.
Maybe the divide is dissipating because of the churning the society and the culture go through constantly or due to some sense of fairness, or whatever, the caste divides are not as stark as they used to be.
When you are in the lift with someone and if it is not a pretty woman, do you think what caste the person is, or what sort of car he owns it (most probably it is the latter)? Nobody cares these days, especially in the cities.
Even Lalu said to a judge recently that caste is just political, in real life, people of different castes are marrying each other.
Casteism has been India’s bane. No matter how scholarly intellectuals try to explain to the masses that casteism isn’t actually casteism but division of labour and duty and they were actually Vernas and not castes, the Hindu society was irretrievably harmed by the caste system.
Blame various invasions till the cows come home but ultimately, it was a divided society that undid us. We could never put up a joint fight against invaders because we were constantly squabbling with each other and it wasn’t always about geography and politics.
I don’t believe caste is steeped into our indigenous religion and mythology.
I totally, totally don’t believe in that.
Yes, aberrations are there, but over a history of thousands of years, such aberrations are bound to be there. There are 200 separate versions of the Ramayana only.
Often, Dalit activists and Marxist intellectuals use our scriptures to highlight the fact that it is the Hindu religion that teaches upper caste Hindus to treat lower caste Hindus badly.
Their favorite example is the Purusha Sukta of the Rig Veda from which Manu takes reference and says the following about different classes/sections of the society:
- Brahmans (carriers of knowledge and wisdom) came from the mouth of the Purusha (God)
- Kshatriyas (warriors, kings, commanders or protectors) came from the arms
- Vaishyas (traders, merchants and entrepreneurs) from the thighs (although in the Bollywood lingo a vaishya is a totally different connotation)
- Shudras (laborers and who performed very low, manial jobs) from the feet.
Activists and intellectual, and people who like to call themselves liberal, believe that this “divine” classification has been used to keep Shudras and low castes in abject misery. There is no dignity for them. They are to be used as slaves and they shouldn’t be touched. There can be no social relationship with them and they must live at the outer peripheries of the society.
Basically, in their own country, on their own land, while doing the maximum amount of work, their existence is a burden.
Ambedkar laments that whereas castes and classes (in their own forms) exist in every religion, in every society and in every region of the world, it is only among the Hindus that these divides have been codified and legitimized. Read Who Were the Shudras? by B. R. Ambedkar.
There is so much literature, what has come to be known as “atrocity literature” that talks about the plight of the lower castes and Dalits that in other countries the Hindu religion is mostly known for its caste divisions and its ill treatment of the lower castes.
I don’t have an in-depth knowledge of these ancient texts. The people who speak up in support of these texts claim that the concept of caste was seeded by the British to divide the Indian society. It is also used by the missionaries to demonize the Hindu religion so that people from the lower castes can be easily converted to Christianity.
I don’t know if the caste system is an ancient concept or a mediaeval concept that arrived with the British, but there are many saints of the Bhakti movement that urge their followers to rise above their caste and class biases and connect with the one God that is not the sole right of the upper castes and the privileged.
Guru Nanak talks about the caste system. Kabir talks about it. All these saints were before the British.
Buddhism and Jainism, and later, Sikhism, emerged out of Hinduism because the religion became too oppressive and replete with karmkands.
What my limited knowledge tells me is that the divide has been there, it has been allowed to fester like a wound for centuries, and whoever wants to cause trouble, he hits at the wound, knowing that it’s the weakest spot.
This wound has been used by the outsiders and by our own. The way our own politicians and Marxist intellectuals have divided our society, not even the British could do.
The eradication of the caste system should have been the topmost priority as soon as the British left but our founding fathers had a very condescending approach towards the lower castes. They never treated them as equal citizens. Even Mohandas Gandhi called them “Harijans” (People of God) instead of equal, dignified Indians.
Personally I believe people who want to divide the society interpret the ancient texts according to their convenience. You need to keep in mind that these texts were written thousands of years ago when it was totally fine to abduct a woman if you wanted to marry her and she rejected your advances. All you had to do was, beat the crap out of the person who had a claim on her.
Most of our ancient rishis came from non-upper-class backgrounds. Valmiki who wrote the Ramayana was a Bheel, a lower caste tribe in India.
Ved Vyas was an illegitimate child of a fisher woman and Rishi Parashar and he wrote the Mahabharata. Gita, one of the holiest texts, is a subtext of the Mahabharata, and if Mahabharata was written by Ved Vyas, then Gita too was written by him.
Similarly, during the Middle Ages, there are many saints who were from the lower castes and despite that, they had a great following among all castes, and even among multiple religions, for example, Sant Tukaram and Kabirdas.
In ancient Hindu mythology, the greatest example of your conduct making you what you are, is Ravan. Despite being a Brahmin of the highest order, Ravan was an asur, which, Dalit scholars and activists like to claim, was a term for the lower castes.
The stories of Eklavya and Sravan Kumar, despite sounding unfair, are told with great reverence.
Which other religion in the world is so open, liberal and accommodating to have a mainstream monkey god?
Now, if you start saying that these stories represent the mentality of a particular class, then you will also start blaming Nabokov for what his character does in Lolita, or Tolstoy for how Anna Karenina behaves.
Religion has a great hold over the psyche of the masses and it has been used all over the world to control people, not just in India.
Similarly, portions might have been picked out of context and narratives might have been created to inflict atrocities in certain sections of the society saying that the religion mandates that. I’m not saying it is good or bad, all I’m saying is, this happens.
All over the world societies that have an upper hand over societies that are underdogs, sooner or later end up mistreating.
The Christian world used texts from the Old Testament to justify slave trade from Africa. They said that all black Africans are the descendants of the cursed son of Noah, Ham, and hence, they deserved to be treated as the lowest of the lowest slaves.
Do you know why the Hindukush is called so? Millions of Hindus froze to death while being taken from India to the Iranian and other Arabian slave markets. And this slave trade happened over centuries. You can easily imagine how many people died.
Do you know who are the original Bhangis, the community that worked as scavengers (they manually cleaned people’s toilets and carried bucketfuls of latrine over their heads) for a long time?
The old Indian cities had a very advanced sewage systems but when the Arabs and the Mughals attacked and conquered the kingdoms, they had no such system. They needed people to clean up their night soil. To humiliate, they used to bathe many people of royal lineage with their night soil and then assign them the job of cleaning up latrines. This is how Bhangis came into being. Read Nachyo Bohut Gopala by Amritlal Nagar to read more on the well-researched Bhangi history.
Natives in the Americas (both north and south continents) and Australia were ruthlessly massacred. Do you know that even up till 1960 the Australian aboriginals were dealt under the “Flora and Fauna Act” because they were considered animals?
A book called Churchill’s Secret War describes how Churchill’s hatred for Indians was primarily responsible for the Bengal famine during which 3 million Indians died simply because Churchill thought that they deserved to die.
Remember “Indians and dogs not allowed” during British times (the recent Mehar heros)?
The various Muslim and Mughal rulers carried out the world’s biggest genocide on Hindus and this genocide lasted for, again, centuries. The Hindus under the Muslims during the Middle Ages had just two options: either convert to Islam or live as second-class citizens with no civil rights and pay extra tax for not being a Muslim.
In the ancient Rome, if a single slave ran away and the rest of the slaves failed to stop him or her, the rest of the slaves were tortured to death.
If a black slave in America ran away from his master and if he was caught, he was tied to a pole, and people, the general public, your neighborly ladies and gentlemen, and even kids, were free to do whatever they wanted to do with the slave. They could gorge out his eyes. They could cut off his ears and nose. They could cut different parts of his body. They could set him on fire. It used to be like a neighborhood fair, but only with a diabolical twist. Can you imagine such an event taking place in contemporary America except for in a Gaulish horror movie? Read Roots by Alex Haley.
Should Dalits find consolation in the fact that black slaves in America were treated so badly? Or millions of Hindus perished in the Hindu Kush? Should upper-class Hindus assuage their guilt considering that other societies did much worse in the past?
No, I'm not saying that.
What I’m trying to say is, societies evolve, cultures change and traditions go through transformations. Prejudice is still rampant in the western societies but they have also had Obama who was certainly not a perfunctory President, the sort of lower castes and minority presidents and prime ministers that we have had here in India.
The Indian society too is going through religious, social and cultural changes. We could have done better, of course, but considering the political dispensation we had been burdened with, the slower pace was expected.
Unfortunately, we keep scratching the wound so that it never heals. We do it purposely. Even if somehow, the wound begins to show the signs of healing, we create more wounds.
The current problem that we have in our country is less social-cultural and more political. Just as many European countries are pandering to Islamist forces for political gains, political parties in India are constantly competing with each other to create vote banks. These are mostly minority vote banks and caste vote banks.
The BJP, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, to a great extent, has been able to nullify the power of the minority vote bank. Most of the political parties have realised that they cannot win elections by simply pleasing Muslims and annoying Hindus.
SP, BSP and RJD were able to create a concoction of Muslim, Dalits and OBC votes and lay waste a big chunk of the country for multiple decades.
What Muslims couldn’t see through, the lower castes and the OBCs saw — their political representatives were only interested in making themselves fat with cash instead of helping the communities they pretended to champion the cause of.
With most of the lower castes and OBCs deciding to vote for the BJP, the Muslim vote alone couldn’t help these parties.
In the previous few elections, the caste had ceased to matter. This new development had started eating into the vote share of political parties that depend on caste-based votes, especially the Congress and its various mutations. Lalu, Mulayam, Mayawati, they have all been cast into oblivion.
Hence, the bogey of the caste divisions is being resurrected again.
The caste problem is a very grave problem in our country. As soon as the country became independent, the caste system should have been abolished and given the positive atmosphere prevailing in the country at that time, it could have been easily achieved.
But no, the more India stood divided, the greater number of opportunities our politicians saw. Instead of abolishing the caste system, they created further caste categories and subcategories and sub- subcategories.
The VP Singh-Mandal duo dealt one of the biggest blows to the hope, if there ever was any, that our society will rise above the fissures of caste and become one whole nation.
Unfortunately, the caste divide isn’t going anywhere. In fact, in the coming days, it is going to be raked up more, and it seems, no political party is eager to change the course. Even if someone wants to change the course, the current is so strong that it makes more sense to flow with the current rather than swim against it and lose all your energies and still get swept away by the strong current.
Only the people of the country have the intellectual ability to swim against the tide. Only they can communicate to the political parties and all these activists and social workers that the caste no longer matters. I think the signs are already there.
We are better connected now. People can easily communicate with each other. Misinformation can be easily quashed. Here’s a good example of how citizens can tackle rumor-mongering journalists:
What we need is one-to-one interaction as it already seems to be happening. This will definitely defeat the casteist designs of these politicians and activists.