March 24, 2024

Hindutva and Social Justice Cannot Go Together

B V Raghavulu

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THE cat was let out of the bag when Prime Minister Modi openly declared his support for sanatana dharma. In September of last year, when Udayanidhi Stalin made sharp and critical remarks suggesting that sanatana dharma opposes the notions of social justice and equality, Modi staunchly defended it. He rebuked those who criticised sanatana dharma, accusing them of harbouring a hidden agenda aimed at its destruction. He also goaded his ministers and party members to join the Hindutva propaganda brigade to mount a counter offensive against the detractors. This incident exposes the hypocrisy behind Modi's repeated claims of concern for social justice and the dignity of dalits, as well as the hollowness of his praises for Ambedkar and his reverence for Sant Ravidas' idol.

Modi proclaimed that sanatana dharma embodies "thoughts, values, and traditions that have bound India together for thousands of years." However, neither Modi nor his abusive brigade have ever elaborated on those connecting thoughts, values and traditions of sanatana dharma except from using vague terms like "ancient," "eternal," and "universal truths/laws." This lack of elaboration serves to obscure sanatana dharma's fundamental and distinctive feature: the varna/jati system.

Some of his resourceful lieutenants have stepped up to defend sanatana dharma, cloaking its essence in lofty yet vacuous rhetoric and defining it in terms of some common-sense, human values, individual duties and responsibilities, standards of behavior, and morals. The opaque mysticism they weave around sanatana dharma to conceal its true nature can be seen in the explanation provided by high-profile figures like Sadhguru Vasudev, who states, "The entire process of sanatana dharma is to raise questions in you… to deepen questioning in such a way that you will naturally find the source of all this." Another person of this ilk interprets sanatana dharma as being about "loving all and including all." Even if we were to accept these assertions as the essence of sanatana dharma, similar eternal truths can be found in all religions. But this assertion flies in the face of the day-to-day experience of dalits and other vulnerable castes who face inhuman caste and gender discrimination.

So what truly sets sanatana dharma apart? No matter the convoluted explanations and righteous indignation employed by Hindutva thinkers to extricate themselves from the untenable position of defending the indefensible, they cannot cover up the eternal truth that lies at the heart of sanatana dharma: the rigid, inhuman, hierarchical, hereditary, and birth-based caste system.

Modi and the Sangh Parivar appear to be suffering from selective amnesia, as how else can they overlook the fact that the most oppressive and obnoxious varnashrama dharma or caste dharma, has been the single most important thought, value and tradition connecting India for thousands of years? Can they deny that the vedas, upanishads, dharmasastras, gruhyasutras, puranas, and the Bhagavad Gita all endorse the varna/jati dharma system? Do they want us to overlook Manusmriti, which not only imposes severe punishments for deviating from varna dharma but also assigns the protection of varna dharma as the primary responsibility of rulers?

If Modi wishes to dissociate varna/jati dharma from sanatana dharma, he has to make it clear to the people before denigrating the critics. If he is not sure of that, he can implore sadhus, sants and Shankaracharyas to throw light on whether hierarchical and discriminatory varna/jati dharma is part of their revered scriptures or not. However, expecting Modi to do this may be wishful thinking because that will unmask his hypocrisy.

The controversy stemming from Udaynidhi Stalin’s remarks has further laid bare the true colours of the Hindutva brigade. Modi and his cohorts now stand revealed before the public as the true heirs of the reactionary sanatanists of the 19th century. During this period, numerous conservative orthodox Hindu organisations emerged to counter the reformist ideas put forth by Brahmana Samaj, Arya Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, and the Ramakrishna Mission and their leaders called themselves as sanatanists. It was these leaders who popularised sanatana dharma. It is interesting to note that these sanatanist votaries did not like the term ‘Hindu’ as it had a Persian origin and instead preferred the term sanatana dharma.


Modi's tenure over the past decade exposes his pretension that he has been working to fulfill the vision of equality and dignity of the dalit icon, Ambedkar. Instead, his rule has systematically eroded the few entitlements gained and whatever little dignity achieved through struggles by the oppressed and exploited people of our country. Even a cursory look at the rising crime rates, shrinking employment opportunities, growing economic discrimination and deteriorating living conditions relating to dalits and tribals confirms the above conclusion.

Under the Hindutva-corporate regime of Modi, there has been a marked surge in anti-dalit and anti-tribal crimes, indicative of the entrenched prevalence of the Manuvada ideology throughout society. Over the span of four years from 2018, more than 1.9 lakh cases of crimes against dalits were registered. Uttar Pradesh emerges as the epicenter of these atrocities and attacks, accounting for 49,613 cases. Comparing 2022 with 2021, crimes against Scheduled Castes have surged by 13 per cent, and against Scheduled Tribes by 14.3 per cent. Uttar Pradesh leads in crimes against SCs, constituting 26 per cent of all cases, followed by Rajasthan with 15 per cent and Madhya Pradesh with 14 per cent. Regarding crimes against Scheduled Tribes, Madhya Pradesh ranks highest with 30 per cent of all cases, followed by Rajasthan with 24 per cent and Odisha with 7.6 per cent.

Apart from the increase in the number of crimes, the extreme brutality of these crimes is very shocking. Incidents such as the Una incident in Gujarat, where seven dalit youth were publicly flogged; the Hathras incident in Uttar Pradesh, where a dalit woman was brutally gang-raped leading to her death; and the Sodhi incident in Madhya Pradesh, where a BJP leader urinated on a tribal person, have shaken the conscience of the nation. The sheer gruesomeness and audacity of these acts underscore how casteist forces have been emboldened to commit such heinous crimes against dalits and tribals within the Manuvadi environment created under BJP governments backed by the Sangh Parivar and Hindutva forces.

These very forces are systematically fostering an atmosphere of hostility towards any affirmative actions of the State to assist socially oppressed sections of society. Under BJP rule, the State itself colludes with these forces to undermine whatever scant benefits have been secured by the weaker sections.

The performance of the central government in addressing backlog vacancies is deplorable. According to information presented in parliament on March 24, 2022, nine ministries and departments of the central government, including railways, finance, atomic energy, defence, housing, and home affairs, among others, had a combined total of 82,022 vacancies reserved for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Shockingly, only 42 per cent of these vacancies were filled. The situation in universities and prestigious institutes is equally dismal. 45 central universities have failed to fill 42 per cent of vacant posts reserved for SCs, 39 per cent for STs, and 54 per cent for OBCs. The Indian Institute of Science stands out as the worst case, with 80 per cent of backlog vacancies reserved for SCs remaining unfilled.

Under Modi's leadership, the acceleration of privatisation in public sector industries, public services, and higher education, coupled with the absence of reservation policies in the private sector, is rendering the constitutional mandate for reservations increasingly infructuous.

The Modi government itself has become complicit in perpetuating discrimination by significantly reducing allocations and cutting expenditures for SC and ST welfare. Between the financial years 2014-15 and 2019-20, central government budget documents reveal that only 20.8 per cent of the share of the total allocated amount, based on population proportion, was actually spent on their welfare. This equates to withholding a staggering Rs 7.51 lakh crores from what was rightfully owed to these communities. Added to this, in 2017-18, by abolishing the Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan, the Modi government dismantled the mechanism intended for targeted intervention in the development of Scheduled Castes and Tribes.

As a result of these changes, during Modi's second term, from 2019-20 to 2023-24, the total allocation for SCs amounted to only 10.6 per cent of the funds earmarked for central and central sector sponsored schemes, as against the 15 per cent that was their due share according to the government guidelines. Even out of this allocation, only 3.3 per cent was directed towards targeted schemes for SCs, with the remainder being allocated to general schemes. A similar trend is observed for allocations intended for STs, with the total allocations amounting to 7.1 per cent, below the 8.2 per cent share they are entitled to. Only 2.5 per cent of the earmarked funds were allocated to targeted schemes for STs. And, even the allocated funds were not fully utilised, with fund utilisation under the SC budget reaching only 80 per cent in 2019-20 and 85 per cent in 2020-21.

Even after seven and a half decades of independence, the general condition of dalits remains abysmal. A staggering 58 per cent of dalits are landless, and under Modi's administration, an increasing number of dalits and adivasis are being forcibly displaced from their lands in the name of development. 50 per cent of dalit-owned lands lack irrigation facilities. The situation is dire, with 65.8 per cent of dalits and 81.4 per cent of tribals living in multidimensional poverty, compared to 33.3 per cent of the general population. Shockingly, the literacy rate among SCs stands at only 66 per cent, and among STs, it's even lower at 59 per cent, significantly below the national average of 73 per cent. Moreover, the unemployment rate among Scheduled Castes is alarmingly high at 8.4 per cent as of 2022. The share of informal workers is the highest among SCs at 84 per cent.

These statistics highlight the inherent anti-dalit and anti-poor nature of the present communal-corporate government under Modi. Any search for social justice within Modi's Hindutva/sanatana dharma ideology is akin to searching for water in a mirage.



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