In its latest bid to appropriate Dalit icon BR Ambedkar on his birth anniversary, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) seems to have got at least some of its facts wrong.
An article by RSS joint general secretary Krishna Gopal in the collectors' edition in its mouthpiece Organiser to mark Ambedkar's 124th birth anniversary year celebrations claims that the Dalit icon thought untouchability crept in India about 1,200-1,300 years ago and linked to Islamic invasions.
However, Ambedkar's original writings do not seem to endorse the claim.
In fact, as his thoughts contained in Volume 7 of his writings and speeches – edited by Vasant Moon – make clear, he saw untouchability as beginning in 400 AD, the time when beef-eating was purportedly banned and beef-eaters shunned as untouchables.
Significantly, while Ambedkar's explanation sees Brahmanism – loosely, an ancient term for Brahmanical Hinduism – as responsible for untouchability, Krishna Gopal seems to be pinning Islamic invasions as the culprit, thus seeking to bring Ambedkar in line with the Hindutva worldview.
"He (Ambedkar) says untouchability encrypted Hindu society 12 to 13 hundred years ago," Krishna Gopal claims.
"The first instance… can be seen in the family of Dahir. Dahir lost the war against Islamic aggressors. When the invaders entered his palace, the women of his family said, 'They are coming. They are mlecchas (meaning dirty or bad). They will touch us and we will be impure. We should kill ourselves…' This is the first reference to untouchability."
Dahir was the last Hindu ruler in Sindh and parts of Punjab in modern Pakistan.
Ambedkar's own explanation for the rise of untouchability is vastly different.
"Can we fix an approximate date for the birth of untouchability? I think we can, if we take beef-eating, which is the root of untouchability, as the point to start from… The date of the birth of untouchability must be intimately connected with the ban on cow-killing and on eating beef….," he says.
"… Cow killing was made a capital offence by the Gupta kings some time in the 4th century AD… Untouchability was born sometime about 400 AD. It is born out of the struggle for supremacy between Buddhism and Brahmanism…"
JNU professor and expert on Ambedkar Valerian Rodrigues told HT: "For Ambedkar, the institution of untouchability evolves in the 4th century AD. He does not talk about its origin in relation with Muslim advent in India."