Mainstream, VOL LIV No 39 New Delhi September 17, 2016
How Can there be an Indian Lincoln, Mr Udit Raj?
Sunday 18 September 2016
by Ram Puniyani
Dalit activist and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha Udit Raj, in his recent article in The Indian Express titled “Where is The Indian Lincoln?” highlights some pertinent questions and brings forth the issue of caste-related atrocities. But he goes on to hide things which are more crucial to the process of caste annihilation.
He is on the dot when he says that atrocities against Dalits are due to a mindset which regards them as inferior. While this explains how such acts have been taking place earlier as well as now, he undermines the fact that this mindset is due to a political ideology which upholds the caste system in a subtle way.
What he hides is the fact that such atrocities have gone up during the past two years. What he does not state is that the Jhajjar violence in Haryana was legitimised by the late Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore, who belonged to Udit Raj’s political family called the Sangh Parivar.
It is true that many countries in Europe could do away with birth-based hierarchy of class and gender due to the industrial revolution ushering in a journey towards substantive democracy.
India could not achieve such a desirable goal due to the objective restraints imposed by the colonial rule. The industrial revolutions of the West did away with the feudal classes along with their feudal mindset which was justifying the birth-based hierarchies.
In India due to the colonial rule, we have seen the birth of modern institutions along with the foundation of a modern society. The foundation and growth of Indian nationalism did aspire for the formal equality of all irrespective of caste, religion and gender.
The colonial masters in India were least interested in doing away with feudal powers. The ‘feudal-clergy’ nexus persisted and gave rise to nationalism in the name of religion. Both Muslim nationalism and Hindu nationalism thrived.
The pace of change in colonies is not comparable to the other places where the industrial class along with the workers and women combine overthrows the social and political alliance of the feudal-clergy combine.
So in colonies the process of secularisation remains arrested and in post-colonial societies the feudal mindset persists with the patronage of certain sections of society.
In these societies the meaning of the word revolution has to be restricted to social trans-formation. The-day-to-day efforts for social transformation are the revolutionary steps. In that sense India had its own trajectory.
Starting with Jotirao Phule, the Dalits began a slow and long journey towards equality. The journey for women’s equality begins with Savitribai Phule. These streams were totally opposed by the conservative religious elements. These conservatives later crystallised themselves as the Muslim League on one side and the Hindu Mahasabha-RSS on the other.
The march of Indian nationalism accommo-dated Ambedkar in some form. While he struggled for social democracy through means of temple entry (Kalaram Mandir), access to public spaces (Chavdar Talao), he want on to support the burning of Manusmriti and state his resolve for social equality. We can’t be mechanistic in understanding revolution in diverse societies.
These steps like those of Jotirao, Savitribai and Ambedkar, Periyar are revolutionary. These are hesitantly supported by Indian nationalism and totally opposed by Hindu nationalism.
Gandhi, a symbol of Indian nationalism, did his best to oppose untouchability, while his stand on reserved constituency can be questioned. Nehru, the architect of modern India, later oversaw Ambedkar formulate a Constitution which not only gave formal equality to all but also affirmative reservations to the Dalits.
Nehru’s attempt to bring in reforms like the Hindu Code Bill were sabotaged by conservatives within his party and conservatives and Hindu nationalists outside his party.
The persistence of subordination of Dalits was mainly due to the persistence of the mindset of Hindu nationalism, which had even opposed the Indian Constitution when it was being formulated.
The Hindu nationalists have been strong opponents of reservations all through; this is what led to anti-Dalit riots in Ahmedabad in 1981 and the anti-OBC violence again in Ahmedabad in 1986.
The Hindu nationalist BJP intensified its Ram temple movement in the wake of the Mandal Commission implementation.
Udit Raj is right that those perpetrating crimes have not been punished; but that again is due to the prevalent mindset, which has its roots in Hindutva ideology, which spilled beyond the parties and organisations working for a Hindu Rashtra (nation) directly.
While longing for revolution is good, ignoring the revolutionary changes at slow speed is disastrous and the likes of Udit Raj sitting in the lap of the BJP, which has been the vehicle of counter-revolution as far as social changes are concerned, is a big setback to the process of social change.
Since the BJP is the political arm of the RSS, which aspires for a Hindu nation, Hindutva via Hindu nationalism, Raj is contributing precisely to the processes which are hampering the transition of caste equations towards those of equality.
If he wakes up to understand as to how mindsets are formed, he will realise that among other things his party has been transforming national institutions towards the values which will promote an anti-Dalit mindset.
Just one example from many such incidents: the BJP has appointed one Sudarshan Rao as the head of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). Rao argues that the caste system had no problems and nobody had complaints against that.
The RSS, the BJP’s ideological patron, goes on to say that all castes were equal and problems came in due to the invasion of Muslim kings!
All this is putting wool in the eyes of the society to perpetuate the ideology which is inherently castiest and leads to the strengthening of a mindset which looks down upon Dalits.
So a Rohith Vemula or a Una violence happens.
If the Indian nationalist movement was a mini-revolution, the present politics being unfolded by Hindu nationalism is a counter-revolution, duly supported by the likes of Udit Raj.
And lastly, if one concedes that there has been no Lincoln in India, one can also look forward to the post-Rohith Vemula-Una upsurge of youth, Dalits and non-Dalits, which is going in the direction of caste annihilation!
The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.