Just like a Dog

Written by Dilip Mandal | Published on: November 26, 2015

 
There is a Sinhala proverb which goes like this, “Like the dog that was getting lean from lack of food." The related story is of a very thin dog owned by a Brahmin. He was invited by another dog to come to a third dog's house, where there was plenty of food. The lean dog refused this invitation. He explained that he was related to the Brahmin; further, he said that whenever the man became angry, he called his wife a bitch. A bitch, therefore his (the Brahmin’s wife)" is my daughter, and the Brahmins my son-in-law." Because of his vanity in relation to this high caste, the dog starved to death.
 
This proverb and the story (verbatim) is carefully documented in a journal called Western Folklore. Is there any analogy between this story and the recent utterances of General V.K. Singh, a minister no less, holding the important portfolio of minister of state for external affairs in this government? Maybe. The language we speak and the phonetic sounds we make, have groundings in the social as well as in the self as well as in the intersection between the self and the social. A tree is a tree because we were told at some point in our life that it's a tree and when someone says that it's a tree the meaning of that word is grounded in our socialisation. It's also true of communication between two people or communication in a group. It even applies when we talk to ourself.
 
So if we want to de-construct the dog-style analogy in the General’s sound “bite” (byte), we need to visit and understand his primary and secondary socialisation.
 
The burning alive of two small children is a real tragedy. A house was set on fire knowing that two small kids were inside. In any modern nation, this should have provoked universal condemnation and national mourning. Even outrage. But as India is, in the words of B.R. Ambedkar, only a nation in the making, this did not happen. Barring few, only Dalits were perturbed by this incident. The onus of mourning was left to Dalits alone.
 
There was no apparent reason for General Sahib to even respond. He is neither the home minister nor a Member of Parliament from the state of Haryana, where this incident occured. He was travelling in his constituency in Uttar Pradesh and made this comment seemingly out of no where. The only possible relation could be that he belongs to the same caste as those accused of the crime. We don't quite know whether this triggered a subliminal process in his mind which resulted in the now infamous sound byte.
 
But why a dog ? Why is it dogs all the time (do you remember the famous statement coming from the very top that car ke neeche kutte ka bachcha bhi aa jaye toh dukh hota hai ? This statement relates to one of the worst communal riots in post independent India, Gujarat 2002.) Why always a kutta. Why not a cow or horse?
 
For this we have to re-visit the early years of the General Sahib or the PM Sahib. We may then presume that he, the General Sahib, was brought up in an upper caste Hindu family and his nani-dadi (grandmothers) who told him tales rooted in Hindu mythology. Hindu mythology has several references to dogs.
 
In the recently pulped book The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger there are as many as 91 references to dogs. These references are from a variety of caste Hindu sources and I’m assuming General Singh and most Indians would have heard these stories as part of their primary socialisation. So we can presume that dogs are well entrenched in the so called mainstream (read upper caste) Hindu psyche.
 
So what are these things, ideas or concepts related to dogs that Hindu mythology contains? The Hindu religion is based on two dogmas or beliefs, says Max Weber. This is echoed by the neighbourhood pandit. The Sansara believe in the transmigration of Atma or the soul and the related Karma doctrine of compensation or punishment in the next birth. So if your conduct is worthy you will, or could, enter the womb of an upper varna (caste) woman or even get released from the cycle of birth and rebirth entirely, finding ultimate release in Mukti or Moksha.
 
But if a person’s conduct is not deserving of acclaim, and he does not follow the Dharma of his varna, he can well expect to enter a the not so pleasant womb of a dog, a pig or  even a snake. Many animals are associated with the philosophy of reincarnation, but ‘good’ animals like the cow and horse are not among that list. So a sage or priest can curse someone by saying – Aglejanm men kutta banoge or ‘you will become a dog in your next life’. Had General Singh been cursed thus? We can only presume.
 
Dogs are so prominent in mythology that we just can not ignore them. They are all over. As in the consciousness of General Singh. In the Mahabharata, the dog is the only companion of Yudhishthira in his journey to heaven, the dog is also present as a pathetic creature in the story of Drona and Ekalavya. In the 13th century Telugu text called Vijnaneshvaramu, as cited in the journal Modern Asian Studies (43-1) there is mention: if a Brahmin commits a crime deserving capital punishment, this is what should be done: shave his head, mark his forehead with the sign of a dog's paw and so on. For others, less fortuitously born, the punishment is going to the gallows. So there is always some poor dog, or a dog reference, during life and even after death, the after life. We don't quite know if General Singh has heard about such punishments or not.
 
This dog creature is at the bottom of the chain, impure and an object of extreme hatred. The British knew this. So to humiliate their Indian subjects they used to put sign boards up stating that ‘dogs and Indians are not allowed’. The British Army Club(s) had such boards in many locations. Is it possible that General Singh has also seen one of these sign boards in an army godown? It is a possibility that one should not rule out.
 
 
References:
  1. Two days after upper caste Rajputs allegedly set fire to the home of a Dalit family in Sunpedh, killing two young children aged two years and nine months (Vaibhav and Divya) sleeping within, the minister of state for external affairs made remarks that invited widespread condemnation. The incident took place at a village near Faridabad barely an hour’s drive from Delhi, India’s capital  Singh who was in Ghaziabad at the time was quoted by The Indian Express on October 23 as saying, “ “To har cheez par, ki wahan par pathar maar diya kutte ko to, sarkar jimmewaar hai. Aisa nahi hai. (For everything…like if somebody throws a stone at a dog, then the Central Government is responsible…it is not like that)”. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/if-someone-stones-a-dog-govt-not-responsible-gen-v-k-singh-on-dalit-killings/#sthash.E1VWdjtB.dpuf
  2. Copies of American scholar Wendy Doniger's book 'The Hindus: An Alternative History' were ordered to be withdrawn and pulped in India after Penguin succumbed to this demand in April 2014. A copy of a settlement agreement between Penguin and an organisation called Shiksha Bachao Andolan ensured this destruction. Shiksha Bachao Andolan is headed by Dinanath Batra whose texts, based on an irrational and un-tested vision of the past are now being officially used as compulsory supplementary texts in the Gujarat and Haryana governments. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Penguin-to-destroy-copies-of-Wendy-Donigers-book-The-Hindus/articleshow/30225387.cms
  3.  Prime minister in waiting, Narendra Modi’s comments to Reuters in July 2014 had drawn a storm of protests. http://www.telegraphindia.com/1130713/jsp/frontpage/story_17112818.jsp#....