Published in Issue IV, October 2013
Caste is a phenomenon deeply entrenched in Indian society and the struggle against it began in the late 19th century. Despite the social movements, initiated around the ideas of Phule, Ambedkar, Periyar and many such legendary figures, it continues to pervade in the Indian society like a malignant cancer, refusing to die easily. There are two set of streams which are addressing the caste, though from opposing angels. One is through the social movements and struggles which revolve around the concept of social justice, which was also an integral part of India’s freedom struggle and has been enshrined in Indian Constitution as a major goal of Indian society and state. The other stream which addressed caste was to retain it in a newer form, in a more subtle form. According to this stream caste, Varna is what has given Hindu society its stability over centuries. The later ideology keeping in tune with times has modified its language and the term ‘social harmony’, has been coined as a new and attractive label to maintain graded hierarchy in Hindu society. The latter efforts began with the streams which were opposing Indian nationalism; the one’s which espoused the cause of Hindu nationalism.
From this stream of Hindu Nationalism emerged Hindu Mahasabha in 1915 and later Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925. These streams aimed to work towards the goal of Hindu Nation. RSS to achieve its goal floated an organization called Samajik Samrasta Manch (SSM). Recently Narendra Modi, currently projecting himself as the one devoted to the issue of development, has come out with a book on Samajik Samrasta. In this book he poses himself to be working for the cause of dalits and says, “The shilanyas – on November 9, 1989 – for a Ram Temple was performed not by some religious head or mahant, but by a Dalit from Bihar. It was not just for the cause of laying the foundation for the Ram Temple, but social harmony itself. It was a signal for cultural revolution,”
Many a dalit scholars had pointed that Babri demolition was planned on 6th December as it happens to be the death anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar. They opined that the politics for Hindu nationalism, wants to co-opt and subjugate dalits at the same time, so such a planning. The concept of Samajik Samrasta stands for a harmony between the castes, and not for its abolition. Dr. Ambedkar was for annihilation of caste, the Samrasta program, while sounding for harmony is a subtle program to bring about Hindu unity, retaining its inner caste-varna differences, and to launch its onslaught against the minorities, Muslims and Christians, as a ‘unified’ Hindu community.
It was in the direction of caste annihilation that Dr. Ambedkar initiated his agitation of Chavdar Lake, where he agitated for access to public drinking water for the dalits. It was for this goal that he also asked for the right to temple entry through Kalaram Mandir agitation. Parallel to this when he realized the obstacles to his path that he burnt Mnusmirti and declared that since this holy book has provisions of slavery of dalits and women, and he stands to oppose this. Same Dr. Ambedkar as the Chief Architect of Indian Constitution went on to ensure incorporation of provisions for the dalits and abolition of caste for political purpose. At social level the movements for land rights, the movement for economic justice was also core to Dr. Ambekar’s thought and he went to form Independent Labor Party, to look after their economic rights. Here the caste-class dynamics got proper synthetic expression as Dr. Ambedkar was clear that caste is a division of labourers.
The RSS politics on the other hand, stood totally opposed to the struggle for rights, for the issues of dalits and workers and so brought up identity issues, Cow protection, Ram Temple, Ram Setu and the like. RSS- Modi agenda is aimed at bringing in dalits to Hindu fold through these identity issues. For these goals, apart from Samajik Samrasta, they also started Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams which again harped around the identity of Adivasis, projecting them to be Hindus and trying to bring them into Hindu fold. While the agenda of Dr. Ambedkar and Phule, the struggle around material-social issues of dalits, struggle for dignity and rights, remains incomplete, the opposing agenda of identity has come up in the society in a serious way. The very rise of this identity politics has been a throw back to the process of social transformation of caste and gender. This identity politics asserted itself mainly from 1980s, to begin with in opposing the reservations for dalits and than of OBCs. Simultaneously the efforts to co-opt dalits, went up leading to strengthening of this Samajik Samrasta Manch (SSM) and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA). Through these forums the process of social engineering has gone on and it has operated at multiple levels. Along with this there is also a process of Sanskritzation, where a section of dalit-Adivais, try to emulate the upper caste.
The most ghastly part of the process has been the Gujarat violence, where a section of dalits and adivasis was cleverly manipulated to attack the Muslim minority. To think that by giving the privilege of ‘Shilanyas’ to a dalit, the caste problems will be solved is an illusion. Rather it is precisely a move contrary to their interests. Dalit-Adivasi issues are related to hunger, survival, education and employment. All this requires a powerful affirmative action from the state and a mass movement of these sections to ensure that state does it. The delusions of Samrasta are a mechanism to bypass the core issues of these deprived sections of society, a way to further the agenda of status quo at social and economic level. Dalit Adivasi struggles for land, dignity and rights has to associate it with other deprived sections, whatever be their religion, to achieve their goals. To get trapped in one or other identity is a regressive thing being engineered by the likes of Modi to perpetuate the graded inequality of the society and is supplementary to the anti-minority agenda on which the likes of Modi thrive.
The difference between the Dr. Ambedkar’s approach to dalit issues and the one of RSS-Modi are polar opposites. Dr. Ambedkar called for annihilation of caste, RSS-Modi talk of caste harmony. Dr. Ambedkar went on to burn Hindu holy book: Manu Smriti and became the architect of Indian Constitution. RSS ideologue K. Sudarshan in year 2000 said that Indian constitution is based on western values, meaning the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity are western, so it should be replaced by the one based on Hindu holy book. Modi’s attempt is to further what Sudarshan said, reflecting their agenda at social level.