What Hides Beneath RSS’ New-found Love for Dalits
R Arun Kumar
SUDDENLY the RSS is showering Dalits with lots of love. Suddenly? Or is it planned? As things are unveiling, it appears more of a design than a spontaneous realisation. The RSS leaders, reports indicate, have written forewords to three books on Dalits written by the spokesperson of their political arm – the BJP. Whenever the RSS and its associates dabble with history, it is sure to evoke enormous interest. The reasons are not far to fathom – as an organisation that had its genesis in the early decades of the 20th century, it has got nothing to boast about in its CV except for contributing to the spread of religious hatred, separatism and upper-caste elitism. In spite of all its tall claims of being a ‘nationalist’ and ‘patriotic’ organisation, it has nothing to show of its role in the Indians struggle against colonial exploitation. With such recorded history, its purveys into the past give rise to genuine apprehensions that these attempts are nothing but to rewrite history to suit its socio-political project.
The RSS of course cannot be credited to be the innovator of this great art of “moulding history to suit political goals” Heinrich von Treitschke claimed that for him history “always remained a tool or even better a weapon” to be wielded in “pursuit of his political goals”. Mommsen is even clear when he says, “my history was continuation of politics by other means”. He unashamedly stated, “Historians, particularly the contemporary historians, are duty bound to be political mentors. They have to assist those for whom they write to formulate their future attitude to the State.” What the RSS indeed is doing today is carrying forward these reactionary ideals in pursuit of their goal of converting ‘Democratic, Secular, Socialist, Republic of India’ into an avowedly Hindu-rashtra.
The problem for the RSS and its associates in realising their aim is the strong syncretic historical tradition of India and, more importantly, the heterogeneous nature of what they consider as a unitary religious belief system – Hinduism. It is this presence of varied, often-at-odds groups in ‘Hinduism’ that they find to be the chief impediment in creating a ‘pan-Hindu’ identity. To overcome this handicap, the RSS is attempting to unite these groups by posing a perceived external threat as a danger to their belief system. Their past attempts have shown that they cannot attain or retain State power unless they create a ‘pan-Hindu’ presence in order to expand their base all over the country. They desperately crave to shed the tag of being a party of the upper-castes and north Indians. Attempts on this count are already put in place during the recent elections in the name of social-engineering. Promoting the OBC leaders is already actively pursued with Narendra Modi as their mascot. Taking a step forward now, they are out to woo Dalits through an appropriation of Dalit icons. Recent observance of the anniversary of Ayyankali, a Kerala Dalit icon is one such instance. Through this, they want to not only expand their ‘social base’, but also ‘geographical space’. Similar means are employed in many other southern and eastern states.
In order to ensure a theoretical justification for their efforts and also explain the ‘otherness’ of the marginalised social groups, they have now come out with three books and these are only the samples with many more such commissioned works in the pipeline. It has been reported that they had recently organised a conclave of over 100 ‘historians’, to ‘discuss historiography and changes required to give a proper perspective’. What these intended changes are and the perspective is, one had seen in the textbooks prescribed for reference in all schools in Gujarat. What a ‘great historian’ Dinanath Batra turned out to be, needs no elucidation.
The question is not about the ‘intellect’ or the lack of it of individuals like Dinanath Batra. What is evident from the recently released books, is that, it is more about propagation of an ideology rather than commitment to intellectual honesty. Raymond Aron in his celebrated essays on Politics and History states, “Our perceptions of the past and our will to act in the future are closely related. Historical experience and political programs – what has been and what ought to be – must be understood as continuing dynamic whose progressive or regressive features for human dignity and the good of the whole community often depend on the very terms under which the dynamic is perceived, that is, the very lengths people and their leaders are willing to go to realize their beliefs about the future.”
The RSS and the BJP now sensing an opportunity to cement their hold on State power are willing to go to any lengths to realize their goal of establishing a Hindu-rashtra. That they are adept at manufacturing and circulating lies, is by now well documented. Today, to serve their political purpose of wooing Dalits into their fold, they are now into distorting the whole socio-economic history of ancient India. At a single stroke they want to write off the oppressive nature of the caste system and attribute all its ills to the ‘foreign invaders’, read Muslims.
Bhayyaji Joshi, the supposed number 2 in RSS hierarchy in his foreword to the aforementioned books, states that ‘sudras’ were never untouchables and it was due to ‘Islamic atrocities’ during the medieval age that led to the emergence of Dalits and untouchables. Media quotes him, “To violate Hindu swabhiman (dignity) of Chanwarvanshiya Kshatriyas, foreign invaders from Arab, Muslim rulers and beef-eaters, forced them to do abominable works like killing cows, skinning them and throwing their carcasses in deserted places. Foreign invaders thus created a caste of charma-karma (dealing with skin) by giving such works as punishment to proud Hindu prisoners.”
The same media report quotes from another foreword written by Suresh Soni: “Dalits had their genesis during Turks, Muslims and Mughal eras. Today’s castes like Valmikis, Sudarshan, Majhabi Sikhs and their 624 sub-castes came into being as a result of atrocities against Brahmins and Kshatriyas during Medieval or Islamic age.”
The intention behind this deliberate distortion is clear. One, to cater to the growing identity consciousness among Dalits and other socially oppressed sections and try to assuage them by showing that they too have a ‘higher lineage.’ Two, this is then linked to their ‘fall from grace’ and present their oppressed status to an external factor – Muslims. And it isn’t for nothing that the BJP is consciously targeting Dalits in Uttar Pradesh and fomenting communal tensions against Muslims. Obscure and ignorant might be the peddlers of the RSS-brand of history, but they are in business with a purpose and a vicious one that is.
To counter the slanders propagated by the RSS/BJP lie-factory, let us relook at some of our ancient historical sources. Jaiminiya Brahmana, a later vedic text dated between 1000-500 BC stated that sudra is created from the feet of Prajapati without any god and therefore the lords of the house are his gods and he is to earn his living by washing their feet (sudro anustupchanda vesmapatidevas; tasmad u padavanejyenaiva jijivisati). The Dharmasutras of this period explicitly state that it is the duty of sudra to serve the three higher varnas and all of them had general social control over them. Apastamba states that the food brought by an impure sudra cannot be taken by a brahmin and is compared to food which is looked at by a dog or an apapatra to whose class belongs the patita (outcast) and candala. This, in itself, shows the presence of untouchability during those times, long before the advent or invasions of Arab, Turks or Muslims.
According to Gautama Dharmasutra, a son begotten by a sudra on a woman of unequal caste was considered as patita and the origin of many varnasamkara castes were traced to such marriages. In fact, it is progeny from such marriages who were considered to be the source of mixed-castes, many of whom were relegated to the position of untouchables. These people of lower castes were subjected to severe social oppression too. Apastamba Dharmasutra says that recitation of vedas should be stopped in the presence of sudra and particularly before candala. The Vinaya Pitaka (600-300 BC) refers to five low occupations (hinasippani) of the nalakara (bamboo worker), the kumbhakara (potter), the pesakara (weaver), the chammakara (leather worker) and the nahapita (the barber). Note the mention of chammakara, which according to the text is universally looked upon with contempt. Even the early Pali texts often mention the five despised castes – the candala, the mnsada, the vena, the rathakara and the pukkusa – as nica kula (low castes) or hina jati (inferior births).
What was the attitude of the society towards the candalas as prescribed by these texts? Apastamba holds that to touch and see a candala is sinful. Pali texts too clearly describe them as untouchables. Jataka texts describe them as the meanest men on earth and even a contact with the air that touched a candala was considered as pollution. Kautilya in his Arthasastra considers candala to be a despised caste and the tank of water used by them could not be used by anybody else. Conversely, they were barred from using water from tanks meant for other castes. It should be remembered here that all the texts quoted here are prior to the Manu's Smriti which itself is dated between BC 200-AD300.
Manu in his laws prescribes the punishments for violation of social order. He counts most of the off-springs of mixed-castes as untouchables, who were supposed to live outside the villages, near burial grounds, on mountains and in groves. He equates the candalas with village pigs, dogs and cocks, who were forbidden from watching the brahmana performing sraddha ceremony. He forbids the upper castes to even give grain with their own hands. Notice the mention of pigs here and there is also a Buddhist text of the same period which talks of a caste samkarikas (pork butchers), which means that rearing of pigs is a practice prevalent during this period, contrary to what the RSS wants us to believe.
An interesting feature of this period is that while many texts mention the separate identity of sudras and candalas, some like Amarakosa mention them in the same category. Whatever be their place of mention, one thing that comes out sharply from a reading of our ancient historical sources is the existence of candalas and untouchablity – a practice continuing till date and exclusively confined to Dalits. Going by evidence, it only comes out that the number of untouchables and the practice of untouchability further crystallised during the Gupta period – considered to be the golden age of Hinduism. Travellers to India like Fa Hsien and poets like Kalidasa too mention their prevalence. And all of this is well before the establishment of ‘Muslim’ rule in India or as the RSS calls it “Turks, Muslims and Mughal era”.
Indian history and historiographical traditions have well documented these facts to call the RSS/BJP bluff. Hence they are now bent upon to demolish the entire rational historiographical tradition and build upon it a tradition of bigotry and hatred based on utter falsehoods. If media reports are to be believed, the RSS has embarked on a gigantic project to rewrite the history of all the ‘670’ districts of our country basing themselves on the puranas. It seems they have discovered hundreds of ‘new’ puranas for the purpose. Left to their own means, to suit their political agenda they will not shy away from even tinkering with the already known puranas to suit their vested interests. About other facts, the less said the better. It is for us to rise to this challenge and safeguard our history from distortions. As Croce said, it is wrong to let historical facts be influenced by political opinions.