The latest incident of the dismissal of 11 Dalit students from a BJP state government-run school in Bikaner, Jaipur, on the grounds that they were drinking water from an earthen pot earmarked for an upper caste teacher once again highlights the continuing caste and social oppression in our country.
It is indeed the irony of our times that on the same day the RSS chief released three books authored by a BJP spokesperson, carrying forewords by three top RSS leaders attributing the genesis of Dalits, tribals and many other oppressed groups to “Muslim invasion in medieval times”. RSS leaders claim that these castes had come into existence due to atrocities by foreign invaders and did not exist in Hindu religion earlier (The Hindustan Times, September 22).
The RSS emboldened by the central government under its political arm, the BJP, has intensified its efforts, to validate a common Hindu thread to unify all groups under one Hindu identity. For this, it is essential that the history of the lands constituting our great country today is rewritten according to their narrative. This is essential for carrying forward the RSS ideological project of converting the modern secular democratic Indian republic into their conception of a ‘Hindu rashtra’.
The entire diversity of culture, traditions, language and customs of the people who have inhabited India over the centuries is sought to be straitjacketed into a monolithic ‘Hinduism’. Secondly, an external enemy (i.e. external to Hindus) needs to be created — the Muslims — against whom a hate campaign can be whipped up for achieving this objective.
In this latest exercise of rewriting history, Bhaiyaji Joshi, the second in command in RSS hierarchy, says that the ‘shudras’ were never untouchables in Hindu scriptures. ‘Islamic atrocities’ during the medieval age resulted in the emergence of untouchables, Dalits and Indian Muslims.
Echoing a similar tune another top RSS functionary writes that the oppressed castes and sub-castes came into existence as a result of atrocities against Brahmins and Kshatriyas during the Islamic age, “Dalits had the genesis during Turks, Muslims and Mughal eras”.
Focusing on such lines of rewriting Indian history, media reports that one of the RSS affiliates recently convened a conclave of over hundred historians to discuss historiography and changes (in our syllabi), to construct an overarching Hindu identity beyond any caste or sub-castes in order to achieve the objective of Hindu consolidation.
That the caste system and the accompanied social atrocities never existed in ancient Hindu society and were the creation or the incorporation into such a society by Muslim invasions is a gross distortion of recorded history as well as the rich experience of oral historiography that has run through millennia in these lands.
In fact the origins of the RSS itself are based on the religious sanction of the ‘Hindu code’ which the most sacrosanct of RSS sarsanghchalaks, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, endorsed.
In a 1939 tract titled ‘We or Our Nationhood Defined’, Golwalkar acclaims Manu as the “first and greatest law giver of the world” who “lays down in his code directing all the peoples of the world to go to Hindustan to learn their duties at the holy feet of ‘eldest born’ Brahmins of this land”.
In a much later work, the Bunch of Thoughts (1966), he says “Brahmin is the head, King (Kshatriyas) the hands, Vaishya the thighs and Shudras the feet. This means that the people who have thus, four fold arrangement, i.e. the Hindu people is our God.”
Now what does the Manusmriti say? “Serving Brahmins alone is recommended as the best innate activity of a Shudra; for whatever he does other than this there is no fruit for him” (Chapter X, 123).
The Manusmriti then proceeds to define the outcastes and untouchables who have no place in society at all and defines their menial activities. This intolerant caste structure finds expression in the RSS today as the Manusmriti is exclusively based on ‘Aryan social organisation’.
“Un-Aryan behaviour, harshness, cruelty and habitual failure to perform the rituals are the manifestations in this world indicating that a man is born of a defiled womb” (Chapter X, 58).
The establishment of such a ‘Hindu rashtra’ however, requires incontrovertible proof that Aryans originated from these lands alone and did not come here from anywhere else.
All questions of historical evidence are brushed aside by the RSS, by an assertion of ‘matters of faith’. Historian Romila Thapar, establishes that “the linguistic evidence of Vedic Sanskrit supports the coming into India of a Indo-European language from Iran but does not support the notion that India was the homeland of the Aryan speaking people”. (Seminar, 400, 1992).
All this is brushed aside as ‘faith’ takes over evidence, mythology over history and theology over philosophy. It is the tenacity of such a criminally oppressive social order that continues to perpetuate gross injustices in India today.
According to a report published by the ministry of labour in 2001, (the last of its kind), 15% of the population constituting the three upper castes (Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas) with no legal reservations occupy 66.5% of political representation, 43% of education, 87% of employment, 97% of business and 94% of landed estates.
The rest of the population consisting of the OBCs (Shudras), the SCs and STs, along with the Muslims, with a population share of 85% share the rest in hopeless conditions of inhuman inequality.
This social order has to be overthrown to begin the struggle for justice.
The RSS/BJP’s agenda of rewriting Indian history is designed to perpetuate such unacceptable levels of social oppression along with the denial of basic human rights for anyone they consider as un-Hindu — their blueprint for the future of India.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal