Dalits: Still doing the savarna’s dirty job?

Image for representation purpose only 

The semi-secularism of the secularist who ignores caste realities, and the semi-secularism of Dalit politicians and intellectuals who act as willing handmaidens of Hindutva, together endanger the secular agenda for India

Secularism is a classical concept. Normally people do not understand the basic concept and in their ignorance, political leaders especially choose to interpret it as sarvadharma samabhav (Equal respect for all religions). In fact, secularism means keeping religion away from politics and the State.

It was in 1648, after the brutal 30-year war in Europe between the supporters of Protestants and Catholics, which led to the Treaty of Westphalia, that this now historic term came to be applied and understood. This 30–year–long brutal war was a kind of fratricidal religious war fought between two sects within the Christian faith to maintain their superiority and hegemony over each other. Germany was one of the worst victims of this war and the historic Treaty of Westphalia was signed to end this bloody conflict.

According to the provisions of the Treaty, religion was to be kept away from politics and the State. And this is how the modern concept of secularism emerged in the world and many countries pursued and adopted the idea. Fundamentally, it suggested a means to operationalise this relationship in politics.

It came to India through the British and the understanding developed in the wake of the post–colonial struggle. Our political class, however, has deliberately or otherwise abandoned the genuine origin of the term. This has gone on for some time. But under the present NDA dominated by the BJP, it has reached an all–time low where the Indian State, which is mandated by a secular and democratic Constitution is, in fact, talking and implementing the religious policy of an influential majority.

This is a very dangerous trend which, in my opinion, has already rendered the Constitution redundant. This increasing and visible tendency, to ask for votes on the basis of religion, is against the provisions of the Constitution. Yet it is happening blatantly. The Constitution is being violated by the NDA government and the politics of the sangh parivar and India has, pathetically, reached the stage of pre-Westphalia treaty Europe, where xenophobic communal pogroms are being used against sections of the population.

Another key issue in the Indian context is the issue of caste in relation to secularism. Now, we must keep in mind that the caste system is a product of the Vedic system and was created by religion in this country. Basically, the problem is that even those parties and leaders who believe in secularism, understand only half the basic concept of secularism: keeping religion away from politics. They cannot, or refuse to, relate to the caste issue.

Now, if for the sake of argument, they keep religion away but use caste in politics, and caste is an intrinsic part of religion and religious identity in India, is it genuine secularism and abdication of religion from politics? No, because caste is part of religion.

Here I would especially like to come to Dalit politics because even the category or identity of Dalits has been created by religion — notions such as sudras or atisudras are created by religion. Any kind of casteist politics, Dalit or non–Dalit, amounts to using religion in politics. Therefore, from the secularist viewpoint, ignoring caste reality or the caste question is only half–secularism because only one aspect of religion has been kept away from politics.

And to Dalit politics I would like to say: emphasising caste and caste reality alone and not recognising the other manifestations of communalism apart from caste again amounts to only half–secularism. To explain further, my belief is that using caste is also using religion in politics. Therefore, even ‘Dalit politics’ is part of religious politics because caste is the pillar of Hindu religion and, therefore, if you use caste, you are, in effect bringing religion into politics. Dalit politics to date falls into this category.

If we go back in history to the concept of the caste system and the fight against it, we come to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Dr. Ambedkar’s philosophy was not for a casteist movement. His fight was against the caste system itself. And, therefore, he wanted to wipe out the very basis of the caste system, that is Hinduism. Caste system is the life–breath of Hinduism; minus caste, Hinduism would die. If Hinduism has to survive, caste has to survive, he believed. Therefore, throughout his life, Ambedkar tried to destroy the caste system and that is also why he embraced Buddhism.

Ambedkar was conscious of all the parameters of the debate when he authored the Constitution. He kept in mind that since the wellspring of caste is Hinduism, caste should be legislated against. There was a huge resistance to this so he settled for the abolishment of untouchability, a heinous practice under caste Hinduism. But it was through this deep understanding of the insidious functioning of caste and the inequities dealt by this practice that inviolable equity and secular principles were enshrined in that document.

The trend among Dalits to collaborate with the BJP is dangerous and has diverted them away from what should also be their prime struggle: fighting for secularism. This process has been ably abetted by some Dalit intellectuals who crack crude jokes about secular ideas. 

That is why the Constitution speaks of the equality of every person before the law. Hence the Indian State as mandated by the Constitution has wiped out religion in the document and is effectively a document that has separated religion from the State.

It is this Constitution that remains the major target of the fascist designs of the sangh parivar because it carries the writ of equality, democracy and secularism. Every other week, the RSS sarsangh-chalak, K Sudarshan attacks it; just recently, he called it a ‘foreign made Constitution’. In the third week of January, the country’s deputy prime minister, LK Advani, addressing a BJP state committee meeting, raised a finger against a symbol in the national flag — the dhamma chakra — which is a Buddhist symbol. Why? Is Buddhism a foreign faith? The chakra represents the Buddhist symbol of panchsheel, of world peace. It even guided Indian foreign policy in the first decades after Independence. Why is world peace unacceptable as a concept?

Secular parties have let the concept and the country down by their self–serving definition of the word. But I also find Dalit politics in the doldrums, with, on the one hand, some among Dalits who want to destroy the Dalit community in politics, and the sangh parivar, on the other, which wants to convert India into a religious, ‘Hindu nation’ with Dalit collaboration. This is a dangerous development in respect of secularism and the tragedy is that Dalit parties are not conscious of this danger.

If secularism is destroyed in India, the main victims will not be the minorities but the Dalits first and last because religion has always been, and will be used to torment them. The trend among Dalits to collaborate with the BJP is dangerous and has diverted them away from what should also be their prime struggle: fighting for secularism. This process has been ably abetted by some Dalit intellectuals who crack crude jokes about secular ideas. Dalit writers have joined the bandwagon, criticising and cracking jokes at secularists, cynically turning a blind eye to what the loss or death of secularism will be to their own people.

Dr. Ambedkar who understood caste and the Hindu religion, and the consequence of religion–based politics, waged his final battle within government on the issue of liberating Hindu women from oppressive traditions. After resigning from Nehru’s cabinet in 1951 over the Hindu Code Bill, he spoke at a public meeting in Punjab. He said there that what he could not contribute through writing the Constitution, he wanted to achieve through the Hindu Code Bill.

The obscurantist forces were so vocal then that even though Nehru wanted to get it passed, he could not. Thereafter, Ambedkar contested elections from Bombay in the first post-independence parliamentary elections in 1951–52. For this, he wrote a lengthy manifesto for the SC Federation under whose banner he was contesting. In this, he defined the concept of democracy and outlined a charter for Dalits. In the 54th point of the charter, he advises Dalits on whom they should forge a united front with during elections and forces that ought to be taboo for Dalits and their cause, and with whom they should never ally.

Here he has stated clearly that Dalits should never collaborate with the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. (Tenth volume of the 15-volume Political Biography of Ambedkar by Chang Dev Khairmore, a Brahmin).

What was the rationale behind Ambedkar’s advice? The rationale was that because such ideologies and their outfits believe in religion and caste politics, Dalits who are victims of religion–driven caste should never collaborate with them.

But violating every norm and ethic, abusing his name politically, Dalit political forces are today perverting what Dr Ambedkar stood for. Worse still, Dalit writers and intellectuals are militating against Ambedkar’s understanding of the long range impact of such organisations and, therefore, his cautioning people against mocking secularism and collaborating with the religio–fascist outfits of the sangh parivar that would bring fascism into this country through religion.

Dr Ambedkar has stated clearly that Dalits should never collaborate with the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. 

Dalit collaboration with the sangh parivar is strengthening the RSS in India today. This has dangerous implications. The climax was Mayawati’s campaign for Modi in Gujarat. She went there but did not say a word about the 36 BSP candidates who were contesting elections in Gujarat. That is, she did not espouse the political cause of her own people and party, but was simply misusing her identity for the BJP’s benefit. This is the bottom of the pit, the most wretched degeneration of Dalit politics that we have the misfortune of witnessing today. I consider it a dangerous and frightening trend that has far–reaching implications for Indian democracy and secularism.

In a similar cynical abuse of the Dalit condition, which the BJP and the sangh parivar in their fascist religious manifestation represent, Mayawati has assured the BJP of her and her party’s support in the 2004 general elections in return for being the unquestioned chief minister of UP (this agreement was struck before May 3, 2001).

What will we see? A BJP-driven state, firm on the destruction of the Indian State as we know it, and the Indian Constitution, through a shameful collaboration with a Dalit party? As we all know, the BJP has always been open in saying that the day they get an absolute majority they will not simply build the Ram temple where the Babri mosque stood but also change the Indian Constitution.

Which Constitution? The Constitution written by Babasaheb, founded and based on secularism. The same Constitution that provides for reservation for Dalits. That is, in one stroke they want to remove whatever benefits Dalits have fought for because Mayawati’s current allies have openly stated that they want a Hindu state and that means a re-affirmation of caste oppression. If the sangh parivar gets a majority, it will destroy all of society and not just Dalits.

Regionalism and it’s attendant anti–Congressism, which has prompted regional formations to ally with the fascist BJP in their keenness to defeat Congress, is also a threat to secularism today. Worse still, this is being accompanied by regionalism and is therefore playing havoc with secular ideas. At the same time, another great danger to secularism is the Congress party’s departure from an unflinching conviction to the secular ideal.

Society is passing through a dangerous phase. It is a kind of triangular puzzle: secularism vs. religion vs. caste. In this situation, the sangh parivar is being strengthened through violent campaigns and drives with Dalits as collaborators. The trishul diksha karyakarms are being allowed under Mayawati and hundreds of thousands of weapons are being distributed because she says that this activity is entirely lawful!

I don’t want to exclude the Congress from these developments. The Congress is doing dangerous things itself, using religious symbols and religious vocabulary. It is time that secularists and Dalits resuscitate a genuine commitment to secularism.

All parties must unite to fight these fascistic tendencies. Our basic and immediate concern should be to block every chance that the BJP may have of returning to power at the Centre the next time round. They are the biggest danger to us all. They are not just a danger to a particular section of society, but to very basic democratic norms.

If they come back to power, they will destroy the democratic concept enshrined in the Indian Constitution and will introduce fascist norms. They will debar universal participation in elections, they will destroy the Constitution. And the first target in this religio–fascist State will be Dalits. In this religious State, blind faith, the ‘God given caste system’, the defeatist karma theory, the propagation of bhagyavaad (leaving everything, including the Dalit condition, to fate!) will become a reality.

Any concept of the State ruling through the writ of religion justifies indignities, cruelties. In India, these will be in the name of religion and caste. That is why I am worried about the Dalit community in such a religious State.

(As told to Communalism Combat).

Archived from Communalism Combat, February 2003 Year 9  No. 84, Cover Story 4



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