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Dalits’ Assertion and agitations

“I am thankful to all those who said NO to me. It is because of them I did it myself.”    Einstein 

“The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal”                                                                                                                                                   Aristotle 

The unity of backward castes under the label of “Dalits” is

                   an illusion created by vested interests.

Introduction – Times news reported on January 3. 2018, that Dalits came on Mumbai streets on 2.1.20 to protest against the violence that took place in Pune. In-wake of violence at Bhima Koregaon village in Pune district on 1.1.18., Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) leader Prakash Ambedkar and some political parties called ‘Maharashtra Bandh’. Sources said –

  • Maharashtra Bandh! How dalit agitation brought Mumbai to standstill.
  • Massive protest by Dalits on 2.1.18 and 3.1.18 halted Mumbai local trains, blocked roads, and pelted stones.
  • A large number of agitators, allegedly in the “garb of activists championing the cause of the backward classes”, ensured that the police machinery was cornered and government suffered losses.
  • Economists say the never-seen-before Mumbai shutdown may have led to business losses worth thousands of crores of rupees.
  • Maharashtra Dalit protest spreads to Gujarat and other states as well.

Therefore, it becomes necessary not to sensationalize or politicize such news or publicize irrational comments or irresponsible  acts of various political parties or biased views of some intellectuals. Invariably, it creates misunderstandings and atmosphere of tension in the society and put unnecessary pressure on the government. Also national policies and plans should not get influenced because of dirty politics or irrational comments, fiery speeches or deeds of a few cynic/irresponsible persons.

In present day Dalit-politics, vested interests of a few persons or leaders/their political parties are spreading many misconceptions through social media.  In this age of social media or mass media, it is not difficult for a leader to appeal to the targeted audience.

It is not desirable for any mature leader to pass on comments based on half cooked information, half a truth, partial or incomplete knowledge, which could be harmful for the whole society. Reality is much deeper than what is seen on the surface. One should not form an opinion or take a decision without analyzing rationally the whole scenario.

Greed for powerGreed for power is increasing every day. Craving for more power – muscle, money or political – of some individuals or groups tends people to adopt discriminatory practices. Discriminatory practices work on whims and fancies/likes and dislikes of strong persons. Controlling the destiny of others satisfies their ego and serves their interests.

Discrimination caste-based or class-based in India?Within every society and a nation, there exists numerous identities based on factors like caste, race, class, religion, gender, language or region. Dalit Activists hold caste responsible for its being highly discriminatory and keeping 750 million Hindus – dalits, tribals and other backward classes – poor, “subjugated, discriminated against and humiliated.” “Technologies for human survival …. were all developed by lower castes”, but “upper castes took away the fruits of their labour and invention.” “In the hearts of the oppressed castes, there is anger and hatred.” They say, ‘Social-justice’ demands their emancipation by ending all kind of discrimination. Agitated comments of Dalit Activists and political leaders arouse emotional sentiments of poor masses, generate venom in their heart and create a feeling of ‘otherness’. They  are trying hard to make the entry in power echelons/government, including government services and create as much space for themselves as possible.

Dr. Dean Harmison  says that Discrimination in India is ‘Class-based’, and not caste-based. So is all-over the world. “I have travelled to nearly all the states,n visited villages and slums, temples, mosques and churches, shared meals and conversations with people there of all stations in life. I have not experienced discrimination to the extent, it is being painted here; but what I have seen is class discrimination, Yes I have seen economic poverty.” (quoted from his speech at 53rd session of Sub-commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, N Delhi Aug., 2001)

Intolerance reason behind discriminationUsually, in every society, differences in behavior, character, education, language, way of life, culture, social background create a distance between two individuals or groups. Resistance to tolerate, adapt or appreciate each other widens the distance. Some become so aggressive that they openly abuse or oppress others. In order to be one up, either they let down others or try to control their destiny by adopting discriminatory practices. And in this rat-race, stronger always wins and weaker suffers.

Electoral politics encourages narrow loyalties of caste and religion  – In the past, British rulers in India, while laying foundation of democratic institutions of India, started many discriminatory practices to keep balance of power and counter Brahmins hold on Indian society. That was the time when caste Hindus were very conscious about their Hindu identity. But after Independence, it has been observed that despite all their venom against Hinduism and its caste system, lower segment of society is sticking strongly to its caste-identities.  Narrow loyalties of caste and religion are encouraged generating sub-cultures like caste-ism, favoritism, and lure for easy money, nepotism, parochialism, communalism, regionalism, bigoted sentiments and irresponsible comments, spreading in-discipline in the society. The rising aspirations and demands of people, with the spread of education and awareness, has created added problem for the government.

Policy of appeasement – It is because of adopting the path of appeasement, and pacify agitating people, most of measures taken by the Governmental authorities touch the problems superficially at its periphery only. These solutions are unrelated to real issues and day to day problems of poor people. Instead of benefiting or helping the poor, on one hand such developmental programs increase corruption, and on the other it encourages lethargy, agitation and attitude to depend on authorities for each and everything.

A large number of ‘Dalits’ have already entered into the corridors of power, are occupying important places, and are exercising authority. Under their leadership, different pressure groups and regional political parties are wooing  with vigor the poor, innocent and illiterate Dalit and Muslim masses. Even Naxalite groups find in Dalits an allies, as most of their action squads are formed of Harijans. No political party could dare to annoy them. All concede to their demands openly or discreetly.

Journey of Dalits towards Empowerment – The transformation of untouchables into Harijans, Depressed class and now Dalits is a classic example, where a fraction of society is increasingly distancing itself from the mainstream and establishing firmly its separate identity. The organized intolerance and  over-consciousness about their separate identity has grown out of proportions now, perpetuating agitation and violence. They desire a complete hold on political power plus protection of those laws and policies indefinitely, which were started seventy years ago for ten years for enabling them to join the mainstream. They want to have a cake and eat it too, but without much effort or blending their ways.

Journey of Shudras BeginsExistence of Shudras (at present referred as untouchables/Dalits) was recognized, as early as, Pre Mauryan Period (6th century BC to 3rd century BC). Though given a lower status, they were always an integral part of Hindu society. Since then, they have traveled a long distance and has passed through various stages, at present known as Dalits. Till the beginning of 20th Century, the lowest strata of Hindu Community were known as Shudras, Panchamas or outcastes. The whole of 20th century, especially the first and last two decades have been especially important for political empowerment of Shudras (Untouchables). Different terms have been used for Shudras at different points of time. Each one assumed importance, as Dalit movement has passed through various stages – ‘Shudras’, ‘Outcastes’ and ‘Panchamas’

  • Who were Shudras in ancient times? – In ancient India, Shudras were supposed to do all sorts of menial work under the guidance of the three Varnas -Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. Individuals or groups belonging to the fourth Varna Shudras were –
    • Conquered groups or individuals in a war;
    • Groups engaged in menial or unhygienic occupations;
    • Groups clinging to the practices, which were not considered respectable;
    • Persons born illegitimately or
    • Groups engaged in anti-social activities were treated as Shudras and were given lowest status in the society.
    • Breaking the caste rules meant loss of caste, meaning complete ostracism or having no place in the mainstream of society.
    • Permanent loss of caste or out-caste- were considered to be the greatest catastrophe for an individual, short of death penalty. By the beginning of Christian era, the out-castes themselves developed caste hierarchy and had their own out-castes.
  • Why Lower Ranking for Shudras? – In ancient India, Shudras performed basic/essential social services. They  also worked in economic as well as in agricultural sectors under the guidance of caste Hindus. Still they were placed at lower level. Why?
    • Segregation of lower castes in Hindu Society was not based on economic status nor on their incapability to do any intellectual work.
    • In ancient India all the social groups were placed more or less as a series of vertical parallels.
    • It was on cultural grounds – unclean habits, in-disciplined life style, speaking foul and abusive language etc.
    • All of the people living in a local area, whether high or low, were bound together by economic and social ties and had a strong bond of mutual dependence.
    • They cared and supported each other in fulfilling different kind of their needs.
  • Concept of forwards or backwards non-existent in ancient India – Higher rank in the society or respect to a person or group was never given on the basis of material success or control of power. There was hardly any room for any section of society to consider itself, as being placed in greater or lesser disadvantageous position with reference to another. Concept of forwards or backwards or feeling of exploitation of lower strata by upper castes was almost non-existent at that time.
  • Masses reconciled, if not contended – Many studies have shown that Hindu system always kept masses reconciled, if not contended in the past. Hindu Dharma taught the people that instead of holding others responsible, for all their sufferings, exploitation and miseries it was their own “Adharma” (immoral behavior), “Alasya” (laziness) and Agyan (ignorance) which were to be blamed.
  • Respect for Shudras with knowledge or character – Society never prevented Shudras or others to rise in the scale of society or to earn respect of the society. In many parts of the country, people belonging to lower strata held position of power/superior status or earned respect of Hindu society. Many warrior kings of Shudra and tribal origin sought Brahmins’ help to acquire Kshatriyas status for themselves. Many Shudras were accepted and revered as philosophers or spiritual teachers.

Shudras position during medieval Period – All troubles of lower strata of society along with other sections of Hindu society started after the downfall of Hindu Raj and old Hindus values.

  • Sufferings of the whole Hindu society under alien rule – It was not only the Shudras, but all the sections of Hindu society suffered a lot during medieval period. Seventh century onwards, continuous invasions by Turks, and Afghans earlier drained out the wealth of the nation to foreign lands and afterwards Mughals made India their homeland and ruled the country for centuries. Feudalistic attitude, extravagance and luxurious life style of rulers and those at the helm of authority, increased the disparity between the rulers and the ruled. Therefore, blaming caste Hindus out-rightly could not be totally justified. It was not out of malice, but the circumstances under foreign rule, that had pushed Shudras away from the mainstream.
  • Continuous suffering without the help of government or society responsible –  The low status and continuous sufferings for centuries, because of poverty and deprivation had gradually stopped growth of their personality and made them completely dependent on others for their livelihood. Centuries old enslavement, their total dependence on others, ignorance, superstitions, suppression and ostracism shook their confidence and instilled in their minds inferiority complex are the factors responsible for their poverty,exploitation and became victims of insensitive and inhuman treatment by others.

Depressed class/backward class – During British rule,  Shudras were addressed as ‘Depressed class’/Backward castes or ‘Exterior class’ in official circles. British rulers as well as Missionaries launched an ideological attack on the social-structure of Hindus and tried to upgrade their social position.  With the promise of giving lower strata of society modern education and government employment, lured many people to get converted into Christianity. British rulers passed many Legislative regulations and administrative orders declaring denial of access to untouchables to schools, well, roads and public places as illegal.

Separation between Backwards and untouchables – Uptil the beginning of twentieth century, untouchable attempts for getting space in power-structure were combined with the Backward Castes movement of intermediate castes. But with the beginning of 20th century, untouchables were inspired to enter into the political arena under the name of “depressed class” and get a reasonable share in political power separately. British government in India regarded untouchables ‘Oppressed of the oppressed and lowest of the low’.

HarijansNational leaders, humanitarians and reformers made several attempts to improve the position of untouchables during late 19th and beginning of 20th century. When during census operations of 1911, British rulers proposed to exclude ‘untouchables’ from  Hindu population, National leaders got alerted. In order to retain the Hindu identity of untouchables population, Gandhiji and his followers called them, ‘Harijans’ meaning the “people belonging to god”. On one hand, Gandhiji tried to create compassion for Harijans in the hearts of forward communities  and on the other he appealed to Harijans to observe cleaner habits, so that they could mix up freely with other sections of society. However, Dalit leaders did not like the word Harijan as it symbolized a meek and helpless person, at the mercy and benevolence of others, and not the proud and independent human being that they were.

During this period, the attention of humanitarians and reformers was also drawn towards the pathetic condition of untouchables. They took the path of Sankritization to elevate them. In order to prevent alienation of untouchables from Hindu community, they drew the attention of forward communities towards inhuman condition of lower strata of society and tried to create compassion in their hearts for downtrodden.

  •  They gave top most priority to the abolition of untouchability.
  • They tried to clarify that Untouchability was neither an integral part of Hinduism nor an outcome of Varna/caste system, nor have any religious sanctity, but an external impurity and sinful blot on Hinduism.
  • They laid emphasis on education, moral regeneration and philanthropic uplift.
  • They also appealed to untouchables to observe cleaner habits, so that they could mix up with other sections freely and become proud and independent human beings, that they were.

Political rise of Untouchables under the supervision of Dr Ambedkar Till 1909, the lowest strata of Indian society was known as Depressed class/backward class. Emergence of Dr. Ambedkar on the political scene provided the leadership and stimulus to untouchable movement.

  • He insisted to address untouchables just as untouchables. He regarded the terms ‘Depressed classes’, ‘Dalits’, ‘Harijans’ either confusing or degrading and contemptuous. Dr. Ambedkar made it abundantly clear, ‘It was through political power that untouchables were to find their solution, not through acceptance by Hindus’. He gave untouchable movement a national character and a distinct identity during late twenties and early thirties.
  • Criticism of Hindu hierarchical structure – Some prominent Dalit leaders like Mahatma Phule, Ambedkar or Gopal Ganesh vehemently criticized Hindu hierarchical structure and regarded untouchability as an inevitable concomitant of Varna/caste system. They taught the lower castes to get united and make eradication of caste system their major plank as it engaged them to forced labor or unsavory jobs, imposed many restrictions on them and prevented them from joining the mainstream of the society. According to them, Hindus treated lower castes as lesser human beings, meek and helpless persons, who should always remain at the mercy and benevolence of upper castes. They tried to find the solution of their problems through political power, not through acceptance by Hindus.
  • Rise of political groups on caste-basis – By 1920’s, numerous caste organizations, specially in the South and West, organized themselves into larger collectiveness by keeping contacts and alliances with their counterparts at other places; formed associations and federations at local and regional levels and emerged as a powerful political force. Together, they demanded special legal protection and share in politics and administration on the basis of caste.
  • Untouchables separated from Backward class – In 1928, Simon Commission established their separate identity at national level, independent of intermediate castes as untouchables. It readily accepted their demands through Communal Award of 1932. Gandhiji along with other National leaders regarded it as the Unkindest cut of all”, which would create a permanent split in Hindu Society, perpetuate casteism and make impossible the assimilation of untouchables in mainstream. Dr. Rajendra Prasad said, The principle of dividing population into communal groups, which had been adopted in the Minto Morely Reforms, had been considerably extended, even beyond what had been done by Montagu Chelmsford Reforms….The electorate in 1919 was broken up into ten parts, now it is fragmented into seventeen unequal bits… Giving separate representations to Schedule Castes further weakened Hindu community… The British introduced every possible cross-division.

Known as Scheduled Castes in Independent India – After Second World War, the whole of the world was swept along with the concept of  the ‘welfare-state’. Independent India, also became a Welfare Democratic nation pursuing justice -social, economic and political. The government considered it its humanitarian obligation to plan for uplift and empowerment of the submerged-sections of the society.  After Independence, seeing the overwhelming-poverty of millions of people, especially  belonging to the lower strata of the society and their near absence in echelons of power, Government of India took up some concrete measures.

Why the term Scheduled Castes? – As per the directions of the provisions of the Communal Award of 1932, instructions were issued, in July 1934, to schedule a list of the people entitled for preferential treatment in matter of special electoral representation and appointment in the Central Government jobs. This gave birth to the term Scheduled Caste in 1935. Scheduling was a legal activity having sanction of legal authorities. Therefore, no one had any objection to this term. This term was used even after the independence.
The Constitution of India- The Constitution of India has directed the Government to promote social justice and educational, economic and other interests of Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes with special care. It instructed the Government to remove the poverty and reduce inequalities of income and wealth, bring submerged sections into mainstream and provide adequate representation to them in power echelons. Public facilities, which were denied to untouchables so far, have been made accessible to them. The successive governments both at national as well as provincial levels have initiated various Welfare Plans and Policies for employment generation and their social, economic and political growth from time to time.

Emergence of  ‘Dalit’ word for untouchables – Dalit, a ‘Maraddhi’ word means ‘suppressed’. The term was chosen and used proudly by Ambedkar’s followers under the banner of various factions of Republican Party of India (Formed in 1956). The Mahars of Bombay (8%), Jatavs of UP (Half of the SC Population in UP) and Nadars and Thevars of Southern TN being numerically significant, played a decisive role in taking forward Dalit movement. Maharashtra Dalit movement has a longest and richest experience.

  • Dalit Panthers , a political party in Maharashtra – In 1972, a distinct political party, in the name of Dalit Panther was formed in Maharashtra. It organized the lower castes under the banner of ‘Dalit’ throughout India. One of the founders of Dalit Panther, Mr. Namdeo Dhasal widened the scope of Dalit by including SC, tribes, neo-Buddhists, landless labor and economically exploited people. Its orientation was primarily militant and rebellious. Dalit Sahitya Movement legitimized and reinforced the use of the term Dalit. Since then, this term is very popular amongst the untouchables.
  • Main aim, abolish of caste-system  – Earlier, a few leaders of untouchables had at least some regard for the cultural tradition of India. They did not reject Vedic literature or the foundations of Hinduism, out-rightly. Dr. Ambedkar accepted that all parts of Manusmiriti were not condemnable. Gopal Baba Walangkar had said that Vedas did not support untouchability. Kisan Fagoi, another Mahar leader of pre-Ambedkar era had joined Prarthna Samaj. But present Dalit leaders are vehemently against cultural traditions of India, which according to them, are based on inequality and exploitation. it has given rise to a fear of upper caste or intermediate caste backlash.
  • Dalit’s March towards Bihar – In mid sixties, an aggressive Dalit movement started under the banner of Shoshit Samaj Dal in Central Bihar, which has, presently, become a major center of Naxalite movement. Dal was founded by Jagdeo Mahto, who began to mobilize the lower castes against economic repression and exploitation of women by upper caste feudal elements.
  • Dalit’s rise in UP – The new phase of Dalit assertion is most prominent in the most populous state of UP, where the upper caste domination has been challenged by BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) formed in 1984 under the leadership of Kanshi Ram and Mayavati. They redefined Dalit politics especially in north India.                                                                                                                              Their approach to Dalit issues was more socio-political rather than economic. BSP has started pursuing power with militancy since 1990. Its supremo Mayawati succeeded four times in becoming Chief Minister of UP. Of late, BSP has made significant inroads in UP, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.                                                                                                                                              BSP has borrowed all their phraseology from Dalit Panthers. Most of their utterances are arrogant, revengeful and opportunistic. Political and economic vested interests of its leaders has aroused militancy among discontented youths of different castes and communities all over the nation. They care only for rights and pay scant attention to their duties. There started a cutthroat competition for scarce positions of power and prestige.
  • Dalit Vote Bank – Bahen Mayavati had one said that through election Dalits will takeover the posts of PM and CMs and the posts of DMs nd GMs through reservations. Political parties and its leaders are well-aware that the number of Dalit population is large and it can be a large vote-bank for them. Therefore, they try to appease Dalits creamy layer  from time to time, in order to increase their own political strength. Dalit leaders are in no mood to play a second fiddle to other national political parties. Dalit leaders are aware of their growing influence and crucial role as a kink-maker in today’s highly competitive and unstable political atmosphere.
  • Dalits vs. Non-Dalits – Once again, the tendency of ‘divide and rule’, as was there during British domination, has emerged in national scenario. India has been divided sharply into two unbridgeable compartments  – Dalits and Non Dalits (caste Hindus).                                                  The growing desire of Dalits to get control over political power has made them very sure of their friends and foes. Dalit leaders, even after so many years of Independence has identified Upper Castes as their enemy and intermediate castes sometimes as their friends and sometimes as their enemies. Kanshi Ram, a BSP leader initiated a formula of DS4, meaning Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangarsh Samiti, taking into its fold untouchables, STs, Muslims and OBCs.
  • Creamy Layer amongst Dalits – There emerged an elite section amongst Dalits, which protects its turf under the banner of Dalits at the cost of poorest of Dalits. The Supreme Court In famous Indira Sawney case in 1992 had observed that the benefits of Reservation policy had been cornered by influential and dominant sections of different Dalit caste groups covered under the scheme . In order to make it available to really needy persons, it directed the Government to identify creamy layer among the backward castes and exclude it from taking the benefits of Reservations. Because it was a measure of protective discrimination to help the socially disadvantaged. The inclusion and exclusion of a caste or a section of caste would have to be periodically reviewed, to take care of the changing circumstances. The court had directed the Government to specify “within four months”, the basis of exclusion – the basis of income or extent of holding or otherwise of creamy layer.
  • Vested interest of Dalits creamy layer – Creamy layer  amongst Dalits does not care much to bring poor Dalit masses into the mainstream. For some, presence and miseries of large number of dalits is a recipe for Dalit vote-bank, for others enjoying all the benefits of affirmative action programs initiated and implemented by the Government of India and other concessions given to them. Whatever might be the condition of Dalit masses, but the political power and arrogance of Dalit leaders and intellectuals are at rise. And here lies the crux of Dalit poltics.

Analysis Of Dalit Empowerment

Role of Dalits in electoral politicsAll the major national political formations, national or provincial, Front, are wooing frantically Dalit leaders and competing with each other to have a pre or post poll alliance with them. Instead of demanding a share in power structure, equity or social justice, Dalits now want to reverse the power equation and to transform the society by capturing all political power. Their aim is to get hold over the posts of PM-CM (Political Power) through electoral politics and control over administrative authority – the bureaucracy – through Reservations/Affirmative Action Program.

Impact on paternalistic policies on Education- The following has been the effect of focusing on quantity rather than quality in the sphere of education: –

  • Tremendous pressure has been exerted for expanding the educational facilities at the higher and professional level, reducing hopes for more funds for elementary education;
  • Capitation fee colleges are getting a boost. Earlier, most of them were found in the South, but in post-Mandal period, the trend of Capitation fee colleges started in the North as well;
  • There has been pressure for opening up gates fully for private sector in the field of education, so that at least students get admission, even if the rate of payment is inflated.
  • Brain drain, which already has been a problem, got intensified further after the Mandal. Earlier when anti-Brahmin movement and Reservations started in the South, many Brahmin families migrated from Madras Presidency and settled in other parts of the country or abroad. Now with Reservation spreading in North as well, they are exploring the greener pastures abroad. The sad part is that the reverse discrimination has forced the cream of the nation to go out of country and serve others. Many organizations have come up during Post-Mandal era to help the bright students and professionals to get nice jobs in foreign lands.
  • Students agitation and unrest is continuously increasing with the growing number of educated unemployed,
  • Whether amongst youth or grown ups, the casteist, religious and ideological intolerance has generated communal violence and caste animosities everywhere in the country.

Inter and Intra-Caste rivalries – Every caste is a conglomeration of sub-castes and sub-sub-castes. For political actions, they come together, bearing the same caste tag. But they do not forget their separate identities. The political classification of society into caste Hindus, backwards, SCs, STs and minorities for Reservations and other preferential measures has increased the in-fights between these categories and created social disorder, making the task of governance difficult. The unity of backward castes under the label of Dalits is an illusion created by vested interests. Neither the term Schedule caste”, nor OBC nor Dalit makes them a homogenous class. In the opinion of MSS Pandian, an academic with Madras Institute of Development Studies, the current inter caste rivalries are part of a series of periodic revolt, whose prime object is self assertion.[i]

Intra-Caste rivalries – Not only are there inter caste rivalries, but intra-caste rivalries exist as well. Every caste has both, rich and poor people. The rich amongst them not only oppress the caste lower to it, but also the poor people of its own caste. It is not that forward castes, SCs, STs and OBCs are rivals of each other. Many emerging castes within each political group are fighting against each other for power, such as amongst intermediate castes – Jats, Yadavs, Koeries are fighting with each other for power. Also, the attempt of each political party to woo the same Dalit, OBC or minority group has given rise to intra-caste rivalries. In order to be one up each party tries to please different castes within each group by taking up different sectional issues. Each powerful caste now acts independently during elections and seeks political alliance before and after election with other caste groups. Post-election alliances, in an attempt to secure a majority, have led to the rise of inter-caste and intra-caste rivalries. (Sunday, pp. 12-13, and 8-14, June, 1997).

Anger against upper caste in rise The circumstances has resulted in the rise of anger against the Elitist upper caste people. After Mandal, this anger has engulfed the whole nation. Anyone doubting the efficacy of Reservation Policy is labeled today as a part of Manuwadi Brahminical system, which for ages has used religious scriptures, injunctions, propaganda and plain force to impose on masses many deprivations. The politics of revenge makes people irrational, and the authorities to go for reverse discrimination. At present, the forward castes doubt that they are being treated as second rate citizens in their own country, because they are scattered and other categories are united, well organised, and have the advantage of their numerical strength. In such an atmosphere, it is easy for the political authorities to withdraw opportunities from them and bestow it on the Backward classes; not necessarily the real disadvantaged sections.

The animosity of has tended withdrawal attitude amongst forward castes Recently the talented youth started withdrawing themselves from active politics or joining bureaucracy. Liberalization and globalization has opened up a new vista for them. They either join private sector or multi-national companies or go abroad in search of job. Information technology or software industry is full of such people. The private sector takes good care of them. It again breeds inter-caste jealousy.

Rift between OBCs and Dalits The Backwards and Dalits do not have much in common among them, except for their hatred for the caste Hindus, especially Brahmins. Intermediate castes always wanted to be aligned with power. Earlier in the social sphere, when upper castes were strong, they were their right hand persons. Forward castes, have always been non-militant and passive by nature. Therefore, they could not exert force on the lower strata. On behalf of them, the intermediate castes exerted the force on the lower castes. At present, when the wind is blowing in favour of Dalits, OBCs have joined hands with Dalits, to displace the forward castes and to grab the political power.

Dalits have always been in conflict with OBCs at social level, in politics, they have no option, but to support them to achieve their mission to change the power equation. Too much assertiveness of Dalit and backward leaders has already created growing confrontation between the lowest and different  intermediate castes in various parts of the country – Dalits Vs Marathas in Maharashtra, Dalits Vs Yadavs in UP and Bihar or Dalits Vs Thevars in Tamil Nadu. A huge social churning is going on the margins of the society.

The fight initially started between rural poor (marginal and marginalized) – Poor OBCs with a bit of land and some degree of political protection infuriated poorer Dalits, who neither had land, nor education, nor political power. In urban areas the fight is again for property and jobs. The main fight is for land, jobs, education and other opportunities to ensure security and progress. This fight is moving from the margins to center stage of Indian politics. Therefore, there is not much in common between a BC landless agricultural laborer and OBC landowner.

Very often, the rudeness of OBC towards BC is the main cause of social tension in rural India. Caste-Hindus, even Brahmins have been more considerate to an untouchable than intermediate caste such as rich Jat, Maratha, Reddy, or Patel etc. In the post-Mandal era, the intermediate castes have become very strong economically and politically. They own big farmland and employ landless tillers for farming. Their numerical strength gave them the political power also. The economic and political strength made OBCs to exploit the downtrodden.

Dalit assertion and a massive shift in power in favour of Dalits – Along with OBC, the post Mandal era has witnessed Dalit assertion and a massive shift in power in favour of Dalits as well. With the caste equation hardening, the Dalit groups got united. They have come together and are fighting for their rights. Earlier they allowed OBCs to exploit them, now they resent it. Todays’ Dalits are aggressive and militant enough to take the OBCs head on. OBCs are getting it back with the rise of Dalit reprisal attacks, which often results in heavy loss of life and property on both the sides. Dalit militancy is increasing with the rise of new militant outfits like BSP, Devendrakula Vellalar Federation, Thyagi Immanual Paravai, Dalit Panthers of India etc. The striking feature of New Dalit militancy is their utter disregard for the present set up and their attempt to capture political power. Dalit leaders are pursuing Dalit empowerment with vengeance.

Dalits influence at International platformDalits are not satisfied even after having growing influence in ballot-box politics and attaining enough places in the government jobs. Since 2001, these activists have been pushing the cause internationally arguing that Indian Dalits are like blacks in US till 1950. They faced problems in workplace, at school and in temples.

In 2005, some Dalit leaders belonging to All India Confederation have sought intervention USA, UN and the British and EU Parliaments on the issues of ‘untouchability’. UN recognizes religion, race, language and gender as main causes of inequality in the world. Dalt activists want caste to be included too in this category. They desire to have Global alliance, global involvement and intervention of the international community to put pressure on the government of India to address the problem Dalit marginalization. They feel that globalization and privatization has made it difficult for Dalits, tribals and OBC’s to compete on equal footing or find enough space in the job market within the country or abroad. At the behest of the Republican Congressman from New Jersey, Chris Smith, the US Congress had held a hearing on 6.10. 05 on the subject. A resolution on the issue – “ India’s unfinished Agenda: Equality and Justice for 200 million victims of the caste system” was prepared by the house committee on International Relations and US Human Rights to be tabled in the US Congress. “Despite the Indian government’s extensive affirmative action policies, which aim to open government service and education to Dalits and tribes, most have been left behind by India’s increasing prosperity…. Much much more remains to be done.” The resolution says, “It is in the interest of US to address the problem of the treatment of groups outside the caste system… in the republic of India in order to better meet our mutual economic and security goals….”

So far, intensive lobbying by Dalit groups including followers of Ravidass sect succeeded in getting passed the Equity Bill on March 24, 2010 in the house of Lords. It empowered the government to include ‘caste’ within the definition of ‘race’. In 2001, India was able in keeping caste out of the resolution adopted at 2001 Durban Conference.

Along with it, staunch supporters of Human Rights, some Scandinavian countries, Church organizations around the world and Lutheran World Federation have shown interest and expressed their solidarity with Dalits. Recently the comment of UN Commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay asking India that “time has come to eradicate the shameful concept of caste” and proposals of UN Human Rights Council’s or US based Human Rights Watch (HRW) to recognize caste as a form of discrimination ‘based on descent and birth’ appear not to be based on rational understanding of caste system. Their opinion about untouchability is greatly influenced by the lobbying of powerful/influential Dalit leaders and Dalit intelligentsia.

No one knows where the Dalit assertion will lead the nation to? – It is not the paternalistic policies, (which have failed to yield so far the desired results) that are required for the uplift and empowerment of submerged sections of society, but there is need to educate, make them aware of their rights and duties, provide enough employment opportunities and basic civic facilities like health etc. at the grass root level for the sustainable growth of backward communities.

Conclusion –India has covered a long distance since its Independence. For political opportunism, its culture and traditions should not be blamed.

  • Indian culture has always preached, “whatever the colour of the cow,the milk is always white. Whatever be the background, lifestyle, race, religion or caste, each human is an image of God and a foundation of love, therefore, deserved to  be honoured.”
  • It is a matter of shame that after 70 years of its self-rule and giving so much protection to weaker sections, incidents of discrimination are reported to be increasing day by day. Instead of defaming it or single-it out for exploitation  or discrimination, it is desirable that law-implementing machinery should get tough on perpetrators of injustice. Discriminatory practices or oppression of weaker sections of society is unacceptable to the whole of humanity.
  • Instead of blaming an invisible institution (caste-system) for discrimination, deep wisdom and honesty of purpose is needed to find out right methods and courage to strive for it sincerely. To fight caste-ism, it is important to economically uplift the poor and prepare them through sound system of education and training and also making them aware of their rights and duties to fight their own battles and pave their way towards sustainable development.
  • So-called ‘Backward castes’ need to understand the spirit of Indian Constitution and try to adapt thinking, culture and life-style of the mainstream of the nation. Otherwise, there will always be cultural rifts, both in their lives and minds, threatening the unity of the nation from time to time.
  • Today, when the whole world is reeling between economic depression and and terrorism, people expect from the government to bring in change in economic situation and in fight against terrorism. Hate, jealousy, anxiety or fear leads to violence and give rise to wars, riots, antagonisms and class or caste conflicts.
  • After-effects of the great economic depression of 2008 has brought many social and economic changes and aggravated the problems for present government. The GDP growth has fallen there, business investment has dipped alarmingly. Unemployment has risen. Therefore, Government needs to be very careful, while planning for measures (developmental or punitive) to be taken. The needs and aspirations of the people as a whole should be taken care of by the government, not of any specific section of the society.
  • Present atmosphere demands to resolve sensibly the differences and clashes of interests peacefully with rational thinking and understanding for each other. For a change, India needs collective nation building efforts of both the authorities and the public with a sense of justice, commitment to the nation, understanding for each other and consciousness about duties along with rights.
  • Following steps could to be taken to bring to an end discrimination of any kind –
    • First of all, government should find out root causes of discrimination and deprivation,
    • Government should identify without bias vulnerable groups, which are discriminated against by the present modern society. It should not be on the basis of caste.
    • Identify the special needs or problems of each group separately,
    • Accordingly plan about the measures to be taken to protect the interests of vulnerable individuals.
    • Well meaning judicious laws, which could directly improve day today life of common men, should be carefully legislated.
    • Such laws should not remain only on papers but have to be executed/implemented in real life for dealing with social injustice effectively.
    • To give relief to ‘Have-nots’, the way out is to tackle effectively local crimes against common man whether in rural or urban areas and improve law and order position.
    • The money meant for the development purposes should actually be spent for which it is intended i.e. the betterment of submerged sections of society.
    • Power generally rests with physical strength, wealth and knowledge. Knowledge brings in both physical strength and wealth. Therefore, stress on knowledge through ‘education for all’ should be the top priority for the government for empowerment of weaker sections, which are victims of discrimination.
    • Widespread human rights violations should be stopped by punishing the culprits.
    • It is necessary to put honest and right persons at crucial positions. There are very few people, who have the knowledge/understanding what to do, how to do and when to do;

Winding up – A strong political will and courage is needed to bring to an end caste-ism and with it all kinds of discriminatory attitudes, repressive laws and practices. For the prosperity of the nation and tension-free/stress-free life of common man, as suggested by First Backward class Commission’s Chairman Kaka Kalelkar in mid fifties, “National solidarity in a democratic set up demands Government to recognize only two ends – the individual at one end and the nation as a whole at the other. Nothing should be encouraged to organize itself in between these two ends to the detriment of the freedom of the individual and solidarity of the nation. All communal and denominational organizations and groupings of lesser and narrower units have to be watched carefully, so that they do not jeopardize the national solidarity and do not weaken the efforts of the nation to serve the various elements in the body politic with equity. Mutual help, mutual respect and mutual trust are the touchstone, on which all communal and denominational activities will be tested.”

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating” Kofi Annan

The only way – “You have to work-out your own problems, work hard everyday; you have to hold on to the real thing; believe me, there’s no other way!” Gertrude T Buckingham

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January 7, 2018 Posted by | Social and political values and systems | | Leave a comment

Caste politics

 “In present-day understanding of caste system, the element of caste is   predominant and   the element of system is suppressed considerably.”

Introduction

Very Sensitive issue – Entry of caste into national politics has turned it into a very sensitive issue –  both defended and opposed, mostly criticized vehemently by politicians, intellectuals, activists or reformers from other faiths. Critics  of caste system regard practices of caste system as problematic and complicated. It has become a fashion in certain quarters to criticize caste system. So much and so that the word ‘Caste’ itself has become a derogatory word in present political scenario. In recent past, entry of caste -politics has become a complicated and problematic issue, which is hampering the government’s efforts to provide a good governance to the nation and work for its sustainable development.

Caste system as problematic and complicated? – Indian society is being portrayed as a ‘caste-ridden society’ and caste for all the miseries of submerged sections of society – from illiteracy to creating disparities of power, wealth and culture, escalation of violence, crimes and corruption. It is blamed for  pushing the nation towards disintegration, discrimination and exploitation of weaker, unprivileged sections of society to forcing destitution on vast number of people.

No caste-politics earlier – There was not so much heart-burning because of caste earlier. Venom against caste in some quarters does not lie in distant past, but only about 150 years back. It got escalated during British Imperial rule in India. The roots of present socio-political and economic ills and deprivation of masses on large scale lie not so much in caste system as mainly on the issues like poverty, illiteracy, population-explosion, or mass-unemployment etc.

Is creation of a casteless society possible? – Common men are reluctant to replace or abandon caste-system – an institution of proven value on trial and error basis. So far the supporters of “caste-less society” have not been able to suggest a better alternative scheme, or not thought of new creating new support systems and norms needed to substitute caste-system. People in general are not willing to experiment a new system of casteless society. They are not sure about the effectiveness of caste-less society. They think, substituting present caste-ridden Indian society with a caste-less society is no solution for empowering weaker sections of society or removing its adverse effects caste-politics. Therefore, creation of casteless society remains a distant dream.

Majority wishes for rational reforms in the already existing system – Generally common men feels that ‘Politicization of caste’ needs to be arrested at its earliest. They wish to make improvements in the tried and tested old system by removing deformities developed into it with time. A change is good for the growth of a society. But changes must be based on constant interpretation of past experiences and opinions, present requirements and existing ground realities of the place and future prospects.

Caste as a recipe for creating vote-banks – Entry of ‘caste’ into politics has led to unchecked growth of caste-ism. For politicians, it is a recipe for creating vote-banks. Unfortunately, those very people, who criticize caste-system vehemently, them-selves cling to their own caste-identity very strongly.  For others, it is the base to enjoy special privileges/benefits of affirmative action programs initiated and implemented by the Government of India. Elite section amongst so-called lower castes protects its turf under the banner of backward castes. The interest of all lies in keeping the majority of people ignorant, insecure and out of mainstream, so that they can be lured easily by making appeasement, protectionist false promises to further their sectional interests. And here lies the crux of present day’s caste-ist politics.

Has caste system become obsolete  – Even today, caste-system has not become obsolete despite all the weaknesses developed into the system and all the attacks on it from time to time. It has survived the vicissitudes of time and saved itself so far by erosion from within or assault from outside. Had it become obsolete, it would have given place to other systems. Indian social structure based on caste still presents one of the oldest social institution. It presents a continuous and uninterrupted living culture still existing in the whole world.

Allover the world, many systems, institutions, structures, principles, and cultures have been developed from time to time, which created a wave sweeping the entire world with it for some time. But soon, they became obsolete and were replaced by anti-waves which replaced them and wiped off the previous influence. But caste system, on which Indian social structure is based, has proved to be an exception. After each assault, it re-emerged with greater force.

How and when caste entered into politics and developed into its present form?

Why caste system came into existence?

  • Stratification of a society, a natural phenomenon – Individuals differ from each other in natural endowments, intelligence, aptitudes, attitudes, skills, personal needs and other innate characteristics. Such differences are apt to give rise to the formations of different social groups and systems. In every society a number of groups emerge out of its functional necessity. Each society devises its own principles for stratification, for coordinated functioning of all parts together, for keeping its whole system fit and functional as well as for taking care of the interests of its people as a whole. Its basis may differ from place to place. It may be on basis of class, caste, religion, region, language or occupation.  ‘Class’ is the the basis of stratification in the Western Societies and Caste in India.
  •  Ranking of different classes in Western societies –  Usually factors like possession of wealth, occupation, education and qualifications, income, ownership of land, property etc. determines the status of individuals within a Western society. Hierarchical distinctions and status of different individuals within a society depend on their being powerful and powerless. Usually individuals belonging to upper class asserts more power and subordinate classes less power. Factors determining higher class status depend on their costume and grooming, mannerism, cultural refinement and political standing vis-à-vis church/temples/ mosques, government, and/or social clubs. Also use of honorary titles, reputation of honor or disgrace, language, race determine the degrees ofindividuals’ class status.
  • Caste’ as basis India – Caste system is an indigenous system, conceptualized, developed and practiced exclusively in India, it is difficult for Westerners and non-Indians to understand what ‘caste system’ is and what caste means to a common man. In India, stratification is done on the basis of caste system, it gives Indian society a distinguished identity, a solid social structure with a system of thought, way of life, and sense of direction. It is –

Inclusive by nature – In India, stratification begins with a social group, called caste. Caste-system is different from class on some points. It is not concerned with persons individually, but includes all persons belonging to a social group.

A natural social institution – For a common man in India Caste is a natural, valid and inevitable part of Indian society.  An individual is a natural member of Family and of extended family.  Caste is second only to the family.  Its members are bonded by same language, customs, thinking and way of living and occupation. Rules of endogamy, ritual purity, interdependence, specialization and hierarchical order of social units are its important traits.

Separates wealth from status – Caste-system separates wealth from status, power from authority and knowledge from temptations of worldly comforts. All individuals within a caste group – irrespective of their financial position – are equal having similar rank, rights and duties. Its constituent members are supposed to be independent, yet their roles complementary.

Ranking – According to caste-system, the ranking of different castes in Hindu society depend on the nature and social relevance of their work, contribution of their work for social subsistence, efforts required to perform their duties and amount of self restraint/self discipline, they exercise, their relative purity, morality, knowledge and spiritual standards. Considerations of self-discipline, hygiene and cleanliness on the basis of climatic conditions of the region are also given importance, while ranking different castes.

Covers entire social fabric of India – Caste system covers almost the entire social fabric of India.  It has influenced other sects. Muslims or Christians, Sikhs or Buddhist could not remain immune from its its influence and has absorbed many of the systems and practices of caste-system.

Closer relations – A person’s relations with members of his caste are closer than with those, belonging to other castes. Internalized caste norms define an individual role in the society. It makes one feel good and loved, when he lives up to these norms, and anxious and guilty, when he transgresses them.

Historical backgroundThere was no caste-politics in ancient India. It all started during British rule in India. Earlier to that cast-system had created –

  • An atmosphere of co-existence and harmony – It is a historical fact that caste-system had created an atmosphere of co-existence and harmony, coherence, stability, continuity and led to all round growth of the Indian society. Generation after generation people belonging different castes and communities lived together despite numerous foreign invasions, centuries of foreign rule, migrations and assimilation of various groups having diverse languages and practices. It provided unity of culture, which bound together all people of Indian peninsula from one end to the other, thus making unity in diversity a reality.
  • Concepts of forward castes or backward castes non-existent – There was not much disparity between different castes or between urban and rural people. The concepts of forward castes or backward castes, disparities between different sections of society and exploitation of the No caste politics weak were almost non-existent earlier. The tropical climate of the country compelled the people to the distribution of surplus, as it was difficult to store anything for long.
  • Stress on self-restraint and self-discipline – Every caste was supposed to lead a self restraint and self disciplined life in all respect, be it in the matter of daily routine, occupation or inter caste relationship. Brahmins, occupying the highest place in the society, were put under maximum restrictions and were denied accumulation of wealth. They were directed to lead a simple life, devoted to the spiritual and intellectual pursuits. The higher the caste within a Varna, the purer it was considered, and greater was the self-restrictions on its behavior through rituals. The system of each caste having a specific position in the society and a specific work to do with its rights and duties boosted the morale of the people and promoted social equilibrium and solidarity.
  • Inter-dependence because of its local character – Local character and semi-autonomous nature of caste system made close interaction and cooperation between different castes a reality. All the activities of urban or rural areas were confined within a small local area, having very little links with the outside world because of slower means of transport. Only merchants visited different distant places. The local societies used to be self-sufficient mutually `supporting and caring” for each other.
  • No caste took an all India character – No caste took an all India character. There was no nationwide hierarchy of castes. However, in a local area, the relative standing of castes was more or less fixed. All local castes, whether high or low, living in an area mutually depended and supported for fulfilling different kind of needs and cared for each other. All people living in a village or city, were bound together by economic and social ties and had a strong bond of mutual dependence. Rituals required the participation of all castes.
  • Interdependence in social life and self-reliance in personal life – Interdependence in social life and self-reliance in personal life were the intrinsic features of caste system making each local area self-sufficient and capable to fulfill all the needs of its people. People living in a local area shared moments of joy and sorrow with each other. All castes including untouchables were assigned important social duties. Harijan women helped all castes at time of child-birth. Harijan males beat drums in front of Hindu’s houses or in front of a procession on important occasions/ceremonies. Village barber spread news, arranged marriages and served food during celebrations. Occasionally non-Brahmins or Harijans served as priests of temples of goddesses like Sita or Kali, where all castes made offerings. The key, to understand the caste system, was not in seeing it as a framework of hierarchical layers of social order, each fitting neatly below the other, but as a series of vertical parallels. Each caste was an independent entity, with its own hierarchy, based either on a tribal identity or an occupational identity. All the castes were independent, yet their roles complementary.
  • Automatic checks and balances – Decentralized self-regulated systems managed various activities in social, intellectual, political, and economic life and controlled its malfunctioning or dis-functioning. There was hardly any question of all India tyranny of any caste group. There was not a single group identifiable as very strong-dominating all the others, or as an enemy to defeat. Laws remained unmodified and flexible with the capacity to adapt to local customs and situations. People in power and position cared for the lower castes in order to acquire and retain local followers. The system made upper castes generous in matters of food, drinks and loans, when required.
  • Control over arbitrariness of any social group – The plurality of society provided automatic checks and balances and controlled the arbitrariness or unbalanced growth of power of any group. Till medieval period, Indian peasantry in UP, Bihar and MP were armed and put pressure on Kshatriyas. In fact, non-Kshatriya peasant provided leadership of most armed bands, which were numerically predominant and economically and politically strong at the village level. The monopoly of powerful peasant was a reality of the rural life of Medieval India. The Brahmin strongholds were the centers of learning. The floating population, consisting groups like Gujjars, Bhattis, Rajput rangers, who remained outside caste system, were so strong, that they terrorized settled agriculturists for centuries. Forests, which competed with arable land in size and importance, till the 18th century, gave shelter and food to large sections of society and served as havens for those in search of escape from society. Thus, from time to time, and place to place, different castes rose and fell in their social order, some died out and new ones were formed.
  • More stress on duties – The system clearly specifies duties, privileges and restrictions of each role separately and managed relationship with others. It encourages self-discipline, self-control and self-direction. Sprees on one’s responsibilities/duties rather than on rights, combined with principle of inter- dependence provides its own system of checks and balances over arbitrary use of one’s authority and leads to automatic decentralization of authority.
  • Flexibility and adaptability – Caste system took different shades and meaning with the changing times and places. Once changed, it never returned to its original form. Its adaptability and absorptive nature has pronged its life. The system evolved its structures and systems leisurely and kept on coping with the slow changes, time brought in. Its character during Indus Valley Civilization was altogether different from what exists today. It is still in a transient phase. It is different in context of village, locality, region or religion.
  • High level of intelligence and specialization – The Caste system served as a spawning bed for social and technical skills. By its very nature, it encouraged the development and preservation of local skills. There was a tendency to bring in the most diversified skills to high level of excellence. It was encouraged with religious and semi-religious sanctions. Assignment of different functions to different communities led to the transfer of knowledge and expertise, from one generation to another, through inheritance and evolved an atmosphere, where a high level of Specialization and wisdom in different areas of activities could be achieved. 
  • Natural training without investment – The Caste system transmitted the tricks of a trade, hidden intricacies, solutions of their occupational problems, intelligence, abilities, experiences, values and skills from one generation to another in a natural way. They learned it while growing up, informally from their elders. It gave them confidence and saved them from confusion or unhealthy competition. Being in constant contact with the family occupation, it was natural for the people to learn maximum about their traditional occupations.
  • Acted as a shield – During medieval India, caste system was a major force for failure of Islam, Christianity and other religions to make headway even after mass conversion. Though many evil practices developed in the system during this period, but it acted as a shield for Hindus to retain their cultural identity, while living under alien rule, whether it was of Mughals, Portuguese or British.

 Caste-system worked so well and efficiently in ancient India that when the world was passing through Dark Age, India was full of light. First few centuries are recognized as the golden period of Indian history. Caste system had wisely organized all activities of society properly. The first few centuries are recognized as the golden period of Indian history. During this period, arts, commerce, crafts, philosophy and knowledge flourished magnificently. Its people reached a high level of intelligence having specialization in different areas. Many travelers visiting India, from alien lands at different points of time, confirmed that India possessed huge wealth, knowledge, and quality of life. It was a cheerful land. Each person found a niche in the social system. Its people reached a high level of intelligence having specialization in different areas. It was a cheerful land.

Derailment of Caste as a system after the downfall of Hindu Raj – Many deformities and social evils have been developed into caste system after the downfall of Hindu Raj and old Hindus values. Continuous invasions of Turks, Afghans and Mughals during medieval period, when most of the Muslim rulers and Priests humiliated and annihilated the value system of Hindus, destroyed their places of worship and made them victim of all kinds of excesses -like conversion of Hindus into Islam, willingly or forcibly, imposition of Zaziya on Hindus etc.

It was difficult for Hindus to preserve their identity and indigenous culture during medieval period. The conscious efforts by them to preserve their values and honour, made the caste rules and rituals stricter and more rigidly applied than before. (Basham, Ibid pp 181-82). Many social evils like Sati Pratha; Dowry, Purdah system etc. took birth. Religious fundamentalism was born. Hindu and Muslim priests, alike, arbitrarily distorted and misinterpreted the tenets of their respective religions. It led to the process of stiffening/ hardening/ crystallizing of the caste system. Besides, the feudalistic attitude, extravagance and luxurious life style of Mughal rulers and those at the helm of authority, increased the disparity between the rulers and the ruled.

Start of Caste politics during British Rule – British rulers had a double mission in India, one destructive, the other regenerating; the annihilation of the old Asiatic Society and laying the material foundation of Western Society in Asia. The regenerating character was concerned with social transformation through modern education, English language as a medium of learning and official language, modernization in economic sphere, political unification of the country and laying foundations for many democratic institutions. The reactionary and destructive character was seen in the economic and social sphere. The growth of casteism had a close connection with these developments.

Caste-politics and communalism fanned by British rulers for political reasons – British rulers purposely-(especially to divide Hindu population) launched an ideological attack on Indian social structure and its caste system . They portrayed caste-system as “highly stratified” dividing its people into vast number of groups having distinct and diverse thinking and life-styles. They called it “discriminatory,” “iniquitous,” “exploitative,” “oppressive” “barbarous,” and “uncivilized” system. They held caste system responsible for evil social practices, feudalistic attitude, backward thinking, belief in dogmas and superstitions sustained by a unique set of rituals, and whimsical concept of purity and pollution. They blamed caste-system for evil social practices, feudalistic attitude, backward thinking, belief in dogmas and superstitions sustained by a unique set of rituals, and whimsical concept of purity and pollution as well as spreading  prejudice, high handedness and rude behavior of caste Hindus towards the lower strata of society.

Growth of Caste-Politics – British rulers made caste and community as tools to make Indians fight amongst themselves. They adopted the path of ‘divide and rule’. Initially they recognized officially political formations of different sections of society on basis of race, religion, caste, creed, or place. Then they adopted policies, which gave a boost to caste-ist tendencies. They re-classified the castes from Brahmins (Learners), Khhatrias (Warriors), Vaishyas (Business men)and Shudras (workers under the guidance of above three groups) to Upper castes, backward castes, Scheduled castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities and politicized it according to their administrative convenience. British rulers showed to the Leaders of independent India the way how to ignite/enflame caste rivalries.

The way the following policies were implemented, had led to the entry and growth of caste-politics during 19th and 20th centuries were –

  • Modern education – Modern education disassociated Indians from their traditional way of learning, classical roots and knowledge. With it faded Indian values, philosophies and traditions. Tough competition between different sections of society to get hold on modern occupations, led to inter-caste rivalries, social tensions and group conflicts among Indians.
  • Modern means of transport – The modern means of transport and communications destroyed the local character of society. Modern means of transport had sharply restricted the hold of caste-elders over its members and replaced the traditional pattern of checks and balances and leadership by voluntary associations, social reformers and political leaders. Caste organizations emerged and entered into region-wise caste alliances.
  • Industrialization – Industrialization has led to urbanization and change in occupational pattern in India. The British discouraged local genius, cottage industries and fine arts. Many traditional occupations became obsolete, or less paying or were regarded more hazardous and more time consuming. The British apathy towards indigenous skills, knowledge and occupations had scattered efforts, sense of direction and manufacturing skills of millions of artisans, craftsman, weavers etc. Millions of people were pushed backwards in a very subtle manner and loosened the sanctity of caste rules and caste consciousness in matters of occupation.                                          Very few of them could join modern occupations. Majority belonging to different castes could neither enter modern sector, nor could stick to their traditional occupations considering menial work derogatory and lost their creativity, sense of achievement and pride. Such people added the numbers of poor agricultural laborers, industrial workers or marginal labors or unemployed. Outcome of such a development has been casualty of workers first, afterwards their work style, commitment, motivation and culture.It led to the decay of village industries as the competition was directly with the cheap machine goods.
  • Introduction of Electoral politics –  The introduction of electoral politics, in the beginning of the 20th century gave rise to “Power in numbers”. It gave political leverage to the non-Brahmin castes on account of their numerical strength. It started cut-throat competition for scarce positions of power and prestige under British Raj.                                                                                           Granting of separate Muslim Electorate by Minto Morley Reforms Minto-Morley Reforms, known as Government of India Act of 1909, brought the idea of communal electorate to the forefront in the minds of all the castes and communities, which led successfully to divide Hindu population also into two uncompromising groups, viz. `We” Non-Brahmins vs. `They” Brahmins and caste Hindus.
  • ‘Policy of Reservations’ – Muslims and Non-Brahmin castes resented dominance of Brahmins in education and administration. To restrict Brahmin’s entry in Government jobs and make it available to non-Brahmins communities, British rulers started practice of “Preferences” by giving them financial assistance and preferences in education and Government employment at local and provincial level. It served double purpose for them – getting credit for amelioration and protection of downtrodden and keeping natives busy in their in-fights.                                                           Privileges bestowed on ‘preferential-basis’ by the rulers – British rulers devised a novel method to distribute and balance the domination of Brahmins in education and employment on ‘preferential-basis’. The patronage of British rulers to non-Brahmin castes and Muslims led them to emerge as powerful pressure groups. The powerful voice of Non Brahmin leaders made government to pursue the principle of special attention on the basis of caste. It was strongly established in the South at provincial level, which ultimately gave birth to the policy of reservation. 1905 to 1940 was the period, when idea of Reservation/positive discrimination was conceived, experimented and established firmly. It opened up various channels of confrontation.                                            Communal Award, Poona pact of 1932 – Communal Award of 1932 created a permanent split in Hindu Society and perpetuated casteism further. It made impossible the assimilation of different castes under one fold. Dr. Rajendra Prasad said, ‘the principle of dividing population into communal groups, which had been adopted in the Minto Morley reforms had been considerably extended, even beyond what had been done by Montagu Chelmsford Reforms… The electorate in 1919 was broken up into 10 parts, now it is fragmented into seventeen unequal bits… Hindu community was further weakened by giving separate representation to Scheduled castes. Division on the basis of religion, occupation and service were made. Every possible cross division was introduced by the British. The Communal Award strengthened the roots of casteism in politics.

‘Census operations’ – Through Census operations, British rulers divided Indian social structure in a fundamental way and gave rigidity to social stratification and hierarchical ranking.

  • The older four Varnas, embracing numerous castes and sub-castes within its fold were divided into five new unbridgeable compartments – Backward caste, forward caste (caste Hindus), untouchables or scheduled caste, scheduled tribes and minority. Through legal process, each one got a new separate and distinct identity. The new way of classifying the Indian society instigated caste consciousness, caste animosities and made caste a tool in political, religious and cultural battles that Hindus fought amongst themselves from now onwards without any sign of relief even as of today.
  • Destroyed the flexibility of caste system – Census operations are responsible for destroying the flexibility of caste system and giving rigidity to social stratification and hierarchical ranking. Caste was a flexible and fluid unit of Indian society. Census operations codified the castes and standardized the system by placing all the jatis into four Varnas or in the categories of outcastes and aborigines. Census operations, led to an all-round hardening of social-system and to frantic effort by each group-for upward mobility. It led to caste-ism in politics.
  • Pigeonholed everyone by caste and community – Middleton, a Census Superintendent remarked, “We pigeonholed everyone by caste and community. We deplore its effect on social and economic problems. But we are largely responsible for the system…Our land records and official documents have added iron-bonds to the old rigidity of caste…. The government’s act for labels and pigeon-holes had led to a crystallization of the caste system, which, except amongst the aristocratic caste, was really very fluid under indigenous rule.”
  • Census enumeration far from neutral – The process of Census enumeration was far from neutral. The British retained the distinctions between different sub-castes, relevant to them for organizing labor and homogenized all those sub-castes, for which they had no use, therefore, no interest. All the floating population like Gujjars, Bhattis, Ranger Rajputs, who remained out-side caste system were fused into one. The Census operation kept Brahmins, whom, the British administrators, Christian Missionaries and Orientalists, pinpointed as the potential threat to the British, at periphery and, instigated other castes against them.
  • Venom against caste-system and the Brahmin community – The leaders of the downtrodden like Mahatma Phule, Baba Saheb Ambedkar or Gopal Ganesh taught the lower castes to get united. They instilled deeply in the minds of millions of unlettered Hindus, venom against caste-system and the Brahmin community. Caste system, to them, was responsible for treating them as lesser human beings; engaging them in forced labour, unsavory jobs imposing many restrictions on them; preventing them from joining the mainstream of the society; and the subjugation of lower castes with the help of religion.
  • Suggestion to exclude Untouchables from Hindu-fold – The suggestion of Census Commissioner to exclude untouchables from Hindu fold in the coming 1911 census immediately increased the importance of untouchables in political circle, in social circle, and in their own eyes too. Around 1909, the non-Brahmin Community, which resented the Brahmins hold in modern occupations, was divided into two Backwards and untouchables. For the first time, the lowest layer of Hindu Community was conceptualized under the name of untouchability in the political circles.
  • The leaders vehemently criticized its hierarchical structure based on caste, and regarded untouchability as an inevitable concomitant of caste system. Dr. Ambedkar made it abundantly clear that, it was through political power that untouchables were to find their solution, not through acceptance by Hindus. Eradication of caste system became the major plank of ‘backward’ castes and ‘untouchable’ castes.

                                                                         After Independence

The seeds of ‘divide and rule’, sown by British imperial rulers, have blossomed in full in Independent India. Casteism, corruption, criminalization etc. are some of the direct consequences of political expediency and opportunism. Present-day politics encourages sectional forces, which are vocal and demand enough space for themselves in job-market and higher education aggressively. There is no respite from casteism.

Modernization, industrialization and urbanization, liberalization  and  Globalization have lessened the rigidities of caste in social arena. But its growing influence in national politics has created many problems. Focus of people on pursuit of money and materialistic pleasures and erosion of basic moral and human values has led to alarming disparities of power, wealth and culture amongst different sections of society. There is complete centralization of control systems in the hands of a few Individuals and groups with political, money or muscle power, who control destiny of millions and have say in almost every walk of national life. Casteism, communalism, rigid attitude, in-discipline, violence, corruption, and chase of materialism based on ruthless competition have weakened the social fabric beyond repair.

Attempts for social changes make a virtue of narrow loyalties of caste and religion, generating sub-cultures like favoritism, lure for easy money, nepotism and, in-discipline in the society. Caste and communal conflicts are increasing. There are sectarian and regional imbalances generating social and psychological tensions. The work culture has been degenerated.

Under-currents of caste politics have made the task of governance difficult, making the governance of the nation difficult and ineffective. The administration has become incompetent to solve the burning national issues. It has turned the vision of national development into an empty dream.

Caste more liberal in social sphere – In modern India, spread of literacy and growing awareness among masses has already brought to an end slowly but steadily many of the discriminatory practices and deformities developed in Caste system, while living under alien rule. It has become more liberal and less restrictive in social life of the people. Castes no longer enjoy legal or religious sanctions.

Castes Less restrictive – Expulsion from castes means little, while earlier it meant complete social ostracism. Old style of authority and power exercised by caste-elders has already diminished except for a few rural areas especially in Haryana and Rajasthan. Restrictions or interactions between different castes arising due to considerations for purity and pollution are fading away from public life even from rural areas. Traditional barriers on marriage, hereditary occupations and commonality are loosing its importance.

Poor governance – There is no respite to a large number of people. Even now, after 70 years of Independence, millions of people suffer from poverty, disparity, discrimination and deprivation. They are still exploited mercilessly by strong men of society. Why?

It is not the caste-system, but the bad politics and poor governance, which is responsible. Modern India is sharply divided into two – “haves” and “have-nots”. The most important factors responsible for disparities are vote-bank politics, irrational and corrupt ways of pursuing the paternal policies and government’s failure to address real issues at central and State levels.

‘Caste’, the most powerful tool for creation of  vote-banks –  ‘Caste’ has become a bye-word for Indian politicians. For the present-day political leaders caste is the easiest and most powerful tool to sway public opinion emotionally and to create a larger vote bank for them. It may be called ossification of caste-system fallen into the hands of power brokers and vote guzzlers.

Emergence of political identities – For political and governance purposes, modern Indian society has been stratified in most insensitive manner. For grabbing the political power, caste politics has  divided Indian people into the following unbridgeable groups – Upper castes, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled tribes, Other Backward Class and Minorities. Every time, before elections, groups formed on the basis of caste and community make fake promises to pursue sectional interests shamelessly.

Narrow loyalties of caste and religion  – Narrow loyalties of caste and religion are encouraged in political arena. It has generated sub-cultures like caste-ism, favoritism, and lure for easy money, nepotism, parochialism, communalism, regionalism etc. Bigoted sentiments and irresponsible comments are spreading in-discipline in the society. The rising aspirations and demands of people, with the spread of education and awareness, has created added problem for the government.

Under-currents of caste politics – Under-currents of caste politics have made the government incapable to solve the burning national issues. It has made to maintain law and order difficult. Inter-caste and intra-caste, inter-community and intra-community and inter-tribal and intra-tribal conflicts are increasing day by day in order to get more space in the corridors of power.

Real issues pushed into the background – Real issues like mass-scale illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, inflation, deteriorated law and order situation, increasing violence or general coarsening of moral fiber of the Indian society etc. are pushed into the background. the voice of upright and honest people belonging to middle class is being continuously throttled mercilessly. They are being punished for following sincerely family-planning norms, which has decreased their numbers. In present day vote-bank politics based on game of numbers, it is very easy now for the pursuers of political power to sideline them.

 Winding up

Empowerment of masses depends on inculcation of knowledge and awareness through ‘education for all’. Usually Power rests with those having either knowledge or physical strength or wealth. Knowledge brings in both force and wealth. Instead of putting blame on caste-system, it would be more desirable to make arrangements for sound system of education for empowering the submerged sections of society.

Despite all the undesirable developments taken place in the system, caste system is still quite popular amongst Indian masses. Not only Hindus, but other sects living in India, with all their egalitarian faith, whether foreign or indigenous, like Muslims and Christians, Sikhs or Buddhist, have not remained immune from its caste system. They have also absorbed many of its practices and systems.

Change one must. Past should not be idolized. Any system, which in light of modern times appears to be ineffective or inefficient should be replaced by a better one. But it will be suicidal to sacrifice something to an increasing passion for change. Changes must be based on constant interpretation of past experiences and opinions.

 

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January 5, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Humanism, Religion, Secularism and Hinduism

 

‘Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion. So be kind, be    compassionate.’

                                                                                                                                           The xiv, Dalai Lama

 ‘Nip Fundamentalism in the bud itself’.

Introduction – The word Humanism is linked with the civil society of the whole world, ideology of Secularism originated in West and Hinduism in India. The ultimate purpose of all the three, Secularism, Humanism or Hinduism is the same. Their role is complimentary not comparative or opposite to each other. All the three aims at no-discrimination or no distinction between people on the basis of religion. They seek development of physical, spiritual and intellectual nature of human to the higher possible point. They lay stress on human efforts to achieve material benefits within the framework of law and moral and intellectual values. Opposite to it communalism pushes people to have towards blind faith in their respective religions and advises them even to take extreme steps, if it becomes necessary.

Religion – Greatest religion in this world is that of Humanism, which embraces the whole world and all human beings living in this world. All religions teach brotherhood and harmony.   but all ways eventually led to one – the God of all Humans. Paths prescribed by different religions may be different. But objective is the same. Therefore, mutual respect for all religions must be promoted.

HumanismHuman values are social and ethical norms, which are common to all cultures, religions and societies. According to George Jacob Holyoake secularism is concerned purely on considerations on Humanism. “Secularism is that which seeks development of the physical, moral and intellectual nature of man to the higher possible point, as immediate duty of life” irrespective of religion and it, “selects as its methods of procedure the promotion of human improvement by material means proposes those positive agreements as the common bond of union of all who would regulate life by reason and enable it by service.”(Quoted from Kulkarni, Indian Democracy, pp 55-56)

Secularism – There is an impression that ….. the terms “Democratic” and “Secular” are alien ….. prior to 1950, Indian rulers did not know the concepts of Democracy and Secularism, and these were the gifts of the West to India.” It was during Medieval period, as a result of prolonged religious conflict over supremacy between the Church and the state, the expression ‘Secular’ found a place in English Dictionary. Secular formula separated completely the functions of State and the Church.

The meaning of the word ‘Secularism in itself is quite vague. There is contradiction in the perception and practice of the concept of secularism. The dictionary meaning of secular is “worldly”. According to Webster dictionary, “Secularism means a system of beliefs, which rejects all forms of religious faith and worship”, or “the view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element”.

Mr Kulkarni also says that, “In Britain and America, these words originated about four or five hundred years ago. They were the result of political and religious struggles in those countries. Even today, there is no uniformity to the interpretation of these two words, either in the Western countries or in India. Broadly, democracy signifies the form and structure of governance and secularism signifies the way of governance.” (Indian Democracy, p 42)

Technically, America can be called a secular state, but neither UK, where there is an officially established church, the Church of England, nor Scandinavian countries having Lutheran churches, nor Italy believing in Roman Catholicism can be called secular.

  • Secularism is relatively a recent word foreign origin. Its origin of lies in the West. It is an outcome of Renaissance movement of medieval period. Secular formula was evolved after a long conflict between Church and the State over power and supremacy. Concept of secularism was evolved.
  • The Peace of Westphalia’ in 1648 separated completely the functions of the State and the Church. According to it the State was responsible to provide good governance and well-being of society. It has nothing to do with religion. Religion was assigned to take care of spiritual interest of the people.
  • ‘According to Dictionary of Politics “A secular State is one which has no official ties to any religious movement”.
  • The concept of secularism is associated with George Jacob Holyoake, a British social reformer. According to him, Secularism, “selects as its methods of procedure the promotion of human improvement by material means and purposes those positive agreements as the common bond of union to all who would regulate life by reason and enable by service. (Quoted from Kulkarni, Indian Democracy, p.56)
  • According to D.E Smith, a great scholar, a secular state as “a state which guarantees individual and corporate freedom or religion, deals with the individual as a citizen irrespective of his religion, is not constitutionally connected to a particular religion nor does it seeks either to promote or interfere with it.”
  • On 12 October 1947, in a Press Conference in N. Delhi Pt. Nehru said that ‘some people think that the secular state means something opposed to religion. That obviously not correct’. Minoo Masani, a political leader stated that secularism can be practiced only in non-communist countries.

In nutshell, secularism is against the extreme stand for material benefits as well as possessing against blind faith in religion for human development. This is exactly what Hinduism has been teaching since long. When asked ‘whether India is a secular state, Smith replied, “My answer is a qualified ‘Yes’.”

Hinduism – India has been a land of many religions, all religions have flourished without any hindrance here  since times immemorial, in-spite of  majority of its people being Hindus. Their religion Hinduism or its caste-system is not an obstacle to secularism. Tolerance is most evident in the field of religion.

Hindu faith in an all pervading omnipresent god, multiplicity of god and goddesses as representing some portion of the infinite aspect of the Supreme Being, inspires it to accommodate people of all faiths.  Hinduism concedes validity to all the religions and does not lay down strictures against any faith or reject any religion or its god as false.  That is why, all the twelve major religions of the world are present and flourishing in India without much hindrance.

Hinduism has adopted the path of assimilation.  It does not believe in conversion or imposing its beliefs, practices and customs on others. Hindu religion has neither repulsed any trend vehemently, nor allowed others to sweep its own established culture off the roots.As far as Hinduism is concerned, since ages, there has always been religious tolerance, religious cooperation and freedom of religious practices. The spirit of secularism is imbibed in Indian traditions itself. Every person has a right to have faith in any religion, be it Hinduism, Islam, Sikh or Christianity. It has firm belief in ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhav principle’, ‘Live and let others live’, ‘Universal oneness’ and ‘Vasudhaiv Kutambkam’.

In January, Kumbh Mela is organized every year at Allahabad, (in Northern India). It is one of the world’s largest religio-cultural gathering. About 12 million people coming together for a sacred ‘dip’ in the Holy Ganges and to be together with the Saints and Swamies of India. There is no evidence of discrimination of any kind.

Tolerance is not confined to religion alone.  It is seen everywhere in the Indian way of life.  Indians believe in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – The whole world is one family.  Truth, Ahimsa, peace and non-aggression are the hallmark of Indian culture.  Hinduism has never tried to liquidate or absorb new groups artificially into its main stream. Rather it gave them opportunity to come under one umbrella, to preserve their own culture, style of living and traditions, as also an atmosphere to flourish in their own way. While other races and their systems have converted people belonging to other faiths into their own faith, imposing on them their own value system, caste-system has absorbed other groups as whole into itself without annihilating their originality, internal order, customs or language.

The assimilation of various groups be it racial, immigrants, locals, tribal, professionals or other groups under Hinduism has been done through caste system, by assigning each new group a separate caste identity. The culture of each identity, coming into its fold, has been carefully nurtured and preserved. It has absorbed the good points of other cultures also, which has enriched the composite culture of India. More than anywhere else in the world, it holds a multitude of thoughts, processes them and practices them. There has been co-existence of varied belief, pattern and thought due to inter-mixing and cultural mingling. 

Hindu Culture/Hinduism – The ethos of Hinduism has always been secular. Since ages, India has always been known for its secular outlook.

  • India has a Hindu majority population irrespective of who ruled the country. Still it has always remained a multi-religious society. It is a historical fact that for centuries, people believing in different faiths/religions are living together in different parts of India.
  • There had always been social and cultural intermingling. Nobody has ever doubted the secular character of India except in the political circle. The religion of majority Indian people, i.e. for its underlying principles of religious tolerance, religious cooperation and freedom of religious freedom.
  • Hindu philosophy believes that God is one and approach to seek Him are many. (ekma sat ivap’sbahuQaa vadint).
  • The spirit of tolerance and firm belief in the principle, ‘Live and let live’ has always been ethos of Hinduism. Tolerance is most evident in the field of religion. Hindu faith in an all pervading omnipresent god, multiplicity of god and goddesses as representing some portion of the infinite aspect of the Supreme Being, inspires it to accommodate people of all faiths.
  • According to Swami Vivekanand, Hindu culture/Indian concept of religion does not differentiate between religious communities. It honours all the faiths equally and gives them equal opportunities to flourish. Every citizen has full freedom to follow the religion or religious practices of his/her choice.
  • Tolerance is not confined to religion alone. It is seen everywhere in the Indian way of life. Indians believe in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – The whole world is one family. There has been a culture of ‘Vasudaiv Kutumbkam’ (whole world is a family), ‘live and let others live’ and ‘Sarva Dharam Sambhava’.
  • Earlier many foreign invaders merged with the Hindus. And for the first time in Indian history, during medieval period, Hinduism was confronted with an alien faith, which kept itself aloof and derived its strength not only from political dominance, but also from gradually increasing number of its followers. It was militant in character. In the zeal of their hatred, they destroyed temples, images and other religious symbols of Hindus. (The cultural heritage of India, published by Ramakrishna Mission Institute of culture, Kolkata). Still Hindus and Muslims have lived together for more than seven hundred years, though in watertight compartment. And ultimately, their hatred led India to be divided into two separate states – Hindustan and Pakistan.
  • According to Gandhiji religion is purely a personal affair. “”The state has nothing to do with it. The state should look-after secular welfare but not your or mine religion.”State has nothing to do with it. He says, “State should undoubtedly be secular. Everyone living in it should be entitled to profess his religion without hindrance, as long as citizen obeyed the common laws of the land. “My reverence for all other faiths is the same as for my own”…
  • John Fischer mentions,  Even during Bengal famine, an extreme situation – when necessity knows no laws, people did not take law in their own hands, nor was there any violence. No grocery stall, no rice warehouse, none of the wealthy clubs or restaurants were ever threatened by a hungry mob… They just died with docility, which to most Americans is the most shocking thing about India.’ (John Fischer, India’s insoluble Hunger – 1947, pp 7-8)
  • Basic Hindu philosophy and its religious values do not require to call India a Hindu State. In the same way, India does not require a label of ‘secularism’.
  • Hinduism emphasizes the universality of spiritual values, which could be attained by a variety of ways.
  • It preaches the importance of equanimity in all adverse circumstances. After Independence, national leaders like Gandhiji, Pt. Nehru, Sardar Patel, Dr. Radhakrishnan told the people again and again about this basic characteristics of Hindu culture.
  • Truth, Ahimsa, peace and non-aggression are the hallmark of
  • Because of its tolerant ethos, many times in the past especially during Muslim and British rule, Hindus had become the targets of religious intolerance. In large numbers, they had been converted into other faiths. Many Hindus resented and raised their voice against conversions. They accepted all kinds of oppression and exploitation without much protest, while such situations would have led to bloody revolutions elsewhere in the world.
  • Finding themselves weak and helpless during a very prolonged domination of Muslim and British rule, they turned introverts. To preserve their Hindu identity, they started following rigidly and blindly religious practices. And became the victim of superstitions and many social evils.
  • One of the reason why, when the Constitution of India was approved in 1949, it did not included the word ‘Secular’ in its Preamble along with the words, “Sovereign, Democratic, and Republic”. The 42nd Amendment Act of 1976 incorporated the words “Socialist and Secular”, more as a political strategy. During 44th Amendment Act in 1978, the term “secular” was defined as, “In the Preamble of this Constitution, the expression ‘Republic’ as qualified by the expression ‘Secular’ means a republic in which there is an equal treatment for all religions.” (The definition could not be adopted because of inadequate support in the Rajya Sabha.)
  • Even today, the people are tolerating the corruption, scams, scandals and criminal activities developed in political sphere, as well as inefficiency seeped deeply in administration without much protest. Administration is one such area, where tolerance is harmful, as it not only hinders the development, but also pushes the nation backwards.

Present position – Quite often, it is said that people of Hindu society are basically so tolerant that they endure injustice and unfairness, until they are pushed right to the wall. But at present, blindly following of the dictates of fake religious Gurus by illiterate and ignorant masses and fiery speeches of short-sighted politicians for electoral gains, has increased the rift between different communities and has adversely affected communal harmony. They are the people, who forget the salient features of Hinduism and spread venom against each other through their irresponsible utterances now and than.

Salient features of Hinduism – Following are some special features of Hinduism –

  • Hinduism has never tried to liquidate or absorb new groups artificially into its main stream or destroy other sects. It does not believe in conversion or imposing its beliefs, practices and customs on others. While other races and their systems have forcibly converted people belonging to other faiths into their own faith, imposing on them their own value system, Hindu religion has neither repulsed any trend vehemently, nor allowed others to sweep its own established culture off the roots. Liberal attitude of Hinduism towards other Religions is one of the reasons of happening a large number conversions in India.
  • Hinduism took thousands of years to develop. Starting with the arrival of Aryans hereditary kinship and tribal groups in India in waves and later on, of numerous social groups from different parts of the world, at different point of time, their association/mixing up with indigenous people (popularly known as Hindus) and their desire to come under one umbrella played an important role in developing the concept of Hinduism.
  • Hinduism had absorbed other social groups as whole into itself without annihilating their originality, internal order, customs or language. The assimilation of different new groups under Hinduism, be it racial, immigrants, locals, tribal, professionals or any other, had been done through caste system It has assigned each new group a separate caste identity, thus gave it opportunity not only to come under one umbrella, preserve its own culture, style of living and traditions, and also provided it an atmosphere to flourish in their own way. In its long process of assimilation, its caste-system has played an important role to develop such an atmosphere, where different identities can co-exist, generally in harmony and sometimes in rift.
  • Hinduism always believed in religious tolerance. Dr. Radha Krishnan says Hindu philosophy always taught God is One, but Paths to seek Him are many. Hinduism concedes validity to all the religions and does not lay down strictures against any faith or reject any religion or its god as false. The culture of other faiths/religions present in India, has always been carefully nurtured and preserved. That is why, all the twelve major religions of the world are present and flourishing in India without hindrance since ages.
  • When in 1947 India was divided into Hindustan and Pakistan, Pakistan chose to be an Islamic state, but India did not choose any particular religion, as ‘State Religion’. Many people say that in Pakistan, Hindus are treated as second hand citizens. But India has never considered it necessary to declare itself a Hindu State. India has always been known as a Hindu State/Hindustan, not officially, but by virtue of its geographical position (people living beyond Indus River) Hindu majority people residing here, irrespective of who ruled the country.
  • Origin of Hinduism can neither be found in one single authoritative text, nor can it be attributed to one single founder. It evolved in a natural way over thousands of years. The experiences and deep thinking of many learned sages and intellectuals belonging to different sections of society at different points of time have contributed to evolve this system. It is a very old and indigenous system, conceptualized, developed and practiced exclusively in India.
  • After partition also, Hindustan welcomed everybody who chose to live in India at that time. In India everybody has fundamental rights, or can occupy important positions. There had been three Muslim President of India – President Zakir Hussain, President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad and President Abdul Kalm Azaad.

Wonderful fusion of different faiths/cultures in India – The process of assimilation and fusion of different cultures has been a continuous process of the India civilization. India especially presents a unique picture of composite culture, which grew out of intermixing of people of different cultures, belonging to different identities. For centuries, Hindus, Muslims, Christian and followers of other religions lived together. There has been social and cultural assimilation. However there has always been some hindrance in bringing religious and political assimilation. Underneath there has been mutual suspicion between Hindus and Muslims since approximately 7th-8th centuries onwards – Hindus being the majority community in India and Muslims first being invaders and then the rulers.

By living side by side  for centuries, people belonging to different faiths have contributed a lot to each other. They have absorbed the good points of each-other’s cultures, which has enriched the composite culture of India. More than anywhere else in the world, it holds a multitude of thoughts, processes them and practices them. There has been co-existence of varied belief, pattern and thought due to inter-mixing and cultural mingling.

The impact of different religious communities on Indian culture is as follows:

Vedic Hindu Culture- Vedic Hindu Culture is one of the oldest living cultures in the world. The word ‘Vedic’ is derived from the word ‘Vid’ meaning ‘Knowledge’ and signifies’ ‘knowledge par excellence’.  The Vedic culture came into being due to intermixing of the culture of Aryan invaders, who came to India in waves, with the culture of indigenous tribal people of India during 2nd century BC to 650 AD.

The origin of the Vedic culture cannot be traced in any single founder; neither can it be confined in one single authoritative text.  Its sacred knowledge has been handed down from time immemorial, earlier by verbal transmission and later on, in written form by the ancestor to succeeding generations. It has not prescribed final absolutes. It is a constant search for more knowledge.

The Rishis and Munies have always held that Vedas are not the end of quest for knowledge. It is a non-ending process. This is what the Indian culture is. Vedic belief system later on became increasingly ritualistic, susceptible to misinterpretations which supported certain power structure.

It is identified with the whole of India. To foreigners, it represents the ancient culture in its eternity.  It mainly originated and flourished in northern parts of India and later on spread throughout India.  The strength of Vedic culture is proved by the facts:

       despite of centuries of foreign rule over 75% of Indian population remains Hindu.

       Had Hinduism become obsolete, it would have given place to other religions and cultures.

       Value-system of Hinduism has influenced almost all other religions found in India.

Buddhism and Jainism – Both the religions were offshoot of the later Vedic culture, but with certain basic differences. These religions influence the thought, moral and life style of Indian people. Buddhism attracted equally the elite as well as the lower strata of Hindu society.  The main contribution of Buddhism to Indian culture is an attempt to draw the attention of people towards the harsher effects of the caste system, sympathetic attitude towards lesser human beings and system of organized education.  Major contribution of Jainism is the principle of non-violence.

Dravidian culture – After the sudden disappearance of Indus valley culture, of which the most characteristic feature was its town planning, Dravidian culture with its advanced social system, industry and trade made a mark, in the South.

Islamic culture– After the tenth century, under Muslim rule, Islamic culture influenced the Indian culture substantially. Its influence could be seen in the rejection of elaborate rituals and caste pretensions. It preached a simple path of faith, devotion, brotherly love and fellowship.

Sufi tradition and Bhakti movement – With the growing political strength of Muslims, the need for mutual understanding and communal harmony gave rise to Sufi tradition of Islam and Bhakti movement of Hindus. Bhakti movement questioned notions of  casteism/communalism etc. Both these emphasized the need for mutual appreciation, tolerance and goodwill.  Like Buddhism, Islam also provided an alternative to people, wishing to opt out the caste system.

Western/British Culture– Eighteenth century onwards, the British culture influenced the Indian culture substantially, especially that of elite and intellectuals. Access to modern education, Western literature and philosophy gave Indians the understanding of liberal and humanitarian ideas of the West. It produced many great leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji, Ferozeshah Mehta, Gokhale, Gandhi, Jinnah, Ambedkar, Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Moti Lal Nehru, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose, Patel and many more. The efforts of missionaries, reformers and educationists influenced the thinking of the masses. Missionaries converted many people from the lower strata to Christianity. British systems gave India political and administrative unity. Institutions like Parliament, bureaucracy, and concepts like rule of law, unified nationality, a common currency, a common Judiciary are some of the contributions of the British.  They gave a new economic structure based on industrialization.  The British also gave impetus to social progress and brought many reforms.  The British influence on Indian minds was as discussed below: –

  • Some people welcomed rationality and other good features of Modern English culture, but wished to remain firmly rooted to the Indian Culture. They organised people and made them aware of social evils like Sati, Polygamy, child marriage, untouchablity and many superstitions prevalent at that time. They advised the people to eradicate the same without foreign intervention. Emphasis was laid on education and science.  Brahma Semaj, founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1928, inspired the people of Bengal, UP, Punjab, Madras and other provinces, to form similar organizations and interpret religion rationally.
  • Some people were so influenced by the alien culture, that they developed a complex about the primitiveness of Indian society. With the help of British rulers, Christian missionaries and religious minded Westerners like William Webberforce or Charles Grant tried to Christianize such people.
  • Some reformists tried to revive their own rich ancient culture and prevent the masses from being swayed away by the glamour and materialism of alien culture. Araya Samaj (1875 onwards) founded by Swami Dayanand, asserted the superiority of Hindu Vedic culture. It gave the call for ‘Back to Vedas’, as Vedas were to them the source of all knowledge and truth. Swami Vivekanand founded the Rama Krishna Mission to reveal to the world Indian Philosophy and culture.

Cultural Synthesis – As India passed through various phases in the past, each and every group left its influence on its culture, which came down to the present generation in an unbroken chain of succession, with some modifications and adaptations.

  • A major cultural synthesis took place during 6th and 10th century, between Vedic Hindu culture, Buddhism and Dravidian culture.
  • Another assimilation was seen after the 10th century, when the thinking of Arabs, Turks and Afghan, mainly guided by reason, influenced Indian thought. Sufi and Bhakti movements are examples of this. These two sects taught the people to love and respect all human beings irrespective of caste or creed. These sects also brought changes in the nature of mutual understanding, communal amity and accommodation.
  • Once again, during the period between 18th to 20th centuries, a major cultural synthesis took place with modernization and industrialization ushered in by the British.
  • All the sects present in India, whether foreign or indigenous, have been influenced greatly by Hindu thinking, practices and systems.

The wonderful fusion of different sects have contributed to the cultural richness of India.  Such flexibility is not seen in the West.  When Christianity broke away from Judaism, it departed totally from the common cultural traditions.  Therefore, it is very difficult for the Western world to understand and appreciate Indian culture fully.

In modern world, no society or nation can exist as a homogeneous cultural monolith. The presence of people following different faiths has led to many controversies. Tense situation arises when instigated by rogue elements in the society. They spread their own biases amongst innocent people. They somehow manage to escape from the  clutches of law for violating the law of the nation. It is a behavioural problem. Authorities quite often fail to identify the miscreants.

In recent past, all over the world, the greed of power and controlling the destiny of masses, intolerance in the sphere of politics and religion is continuously increasing. Along with ‘Secularism’, ‘socialism’ and ‘reservations’, the word ‘tolerance’ has also become the most misused word in the country. No one can imagine how some politicians and ‘messiahs’ of different faiths twist the words and polarize the society.

Some Indian intellectuals think that the terms ‘Democracy’ and ‘Secular’ were alien and are the gift of the Western world to India. In Britain and America, these words originated about four or five hundred years ago. They were the result of political and religious struggles in those countries. Even till today there is no uniformity to the interpretation of these two words, either in the Western countries or in India. Broadly, democracy signifies the form and structure of governance and secularism signifies the way of governance.” (P 42, (Indian Democracy, S.K. Kulkarni, Indus Source Books, Published in 2017)

Most of the politicians and political parties have been entangled in ideological debates on the above mentioned abstract issues rather than tackling its attention on real issues, solution of  which can lead any nation and its society towards sustainable development of the nation, and peaceful  and harmonious living of all in any nation or society.

It has been seen before Assembly or general elections that politicians belonging to national or regional political parties –big or small- give a call to all secular forces to join hands and fight against communal forces together. Most of these self-proclaimed ‘Messiahs of Secularism’ hardly understand in-depth, the true meaning, when and how did the word ‘Secularism’ came into existence, purpose of these ideologies or try to understand how to apply secularism positively in real political arena. They do not even know much about Hinduism or ethos of Indian culture, which believes that each person living here irrespective of which religion he belong to, gets equal treatment. Question arises do they themselves possess a secular outlook? It has been seen that mostly they use it as a political gimmick to divide people into watertight compartments on communal lines and to garner votes. For it, they adopt the path of appeasement to woo the voters.

Winding up

  • Thirty years after Independence, the word ‘Secular’ has been prefixed to ‘Republic’ in the Preamble of the constitution by 42nd Amendment, though nobody has ever doubted the secular character of India.
  • It is a historical fact that for centuries, people believing in different faiths/religions lived together in different parts of India. There had always been social and cultural intermingling. Different sects have contributed a lot enriching each other‘s, as well as the culture of India as a whole. But in political arena there has always been an atmosphere of mutual suspicion between different communities. During freedom struggle, many national leaders and reformers tried their best to create an atmosphere of harmony, but without much success. Intolerance for each-other has grown to such an extent that India was partitioned into two – Hindustan and Pakistan. Even 70 years after independence, the feeling of mutual suspicion is seen now and then in acts of terrorism and other violent activity across the border.
  • The ultimate purpose of Secularism, Hinduism or Humanism is the same. If ‘secularism is interpreted in a positive way, it becomes clear that it has been the sine qua non of Hindu religion. Hinduism believes in ‘oneness of human society’. There should be a harmonious atmosphere, so that everybody, belonging to any community, could live in peace and respect each other’s perceptions and beliefs.

 

January 2, 2018 Posted by | Social and political values and systems | , | Leave a comment

   

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