Wednesday, 29 December 2010

diplomatic titbits: Shri Bhagwan Das - A Tribute

diplomatic titbits: Shri Bhagwan Das - A Tribute

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Mr. Bhagwan Das, our Guide and Mentor
By Arun Kumar

Hearing the news of the passing away of Mr. Bhagwan Das Ji, a wave of shock spread through out the Ambedkarite movement in the UK. He had a special relationship with the UK people. I feel privileged to see and meet Mr. Bhagwan Das. I had read most of his books especially his ‘Thus Spoke Ambedkar’ series. I was greatly impressed and influenced by his writings. I had an opportunity to meet Mr. Bhagwan Das in 1983 for the first time when he visited UK on the invitation of Dr. Ambedkar Mission society, Bedford. This Society had a long association with Mr. Das. Some of the NRIs in Bedford set up an organisation called Bheem Association in 1969. Due changing circumstances and to connect with the mainstream Ambedkarite movement, Mr. Bhagwan Das suggested to change the name. Hence Dr. Ambedkar Mission Society, Bedford came into existence.

Mr. Bhagwan Das was one of the few Ambedkarite scholars involved in highlighting the plight of Dalits at international level. He was one of the founder members of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP). He attended many sessions of the (WCRP) held in Kenya, Japan, Malaysia, USA and many other countries. Dr. Ambedkar Mission Society, Bedford was a part of most of his ventures in one way or the other. He gave testimony in the 36th Session of the United Nations Commission on Prevention of Discrimination of Minorities held at Geneva in August 1983 on behalf of Dr. Ambedkar Mission Society, Bedford and many other organisations from India and abroad. Before going to Geneva, he stayed with us about one week. At that time he was staying with late Mr. Chanan Chahal. I used to spend every evening with him.

While preparing his testimony, Mr. Das said that it would be nice if a few copies of his testimony are made for distribution to the delegates. It would leave a long lasting impact. At that time there was no facility of modern computers and photocopying. We bought an old type cyclostyle copier. Mr. Dass typed his speech on stencils and we made copies. We all finished this work about 2 O’clock in the morning. Over hundred copies were made which Mr. Das took with him to Geneva.

After this testimony, the Indian Muslim, Sikh and Hindu delegates turned against him and conspired to omit his name from the next session of WCRP to be held in Nairobi, Kenya. Mr. Das asked us to write to the Secretary General of WCRP and explained the situation. A letter was written to the Secretary General, Dr. Homer A. Jack and request was made for inclusion of Mr. Das in the delegation list as he was the only voice of the voiceless people in India. Dr. Jack was a genuine person. He thanked the Ambedkar Mission Society, Bedford for letting him know the conspiracy and assured us that Mr. Das would attend the conference. Das Sahib was invited as an ‘expert on the Asian Affairs’. All Indian delegates kept a distance from him. Indian High Commissioner in Nairobi invited all Indian delegates for dinner but boycotted Mr. Das. Bhagwan Dass ji told me later on that boycott incident went in his favour as delegates from other countries came to know the
truth and Mr. Das became a regular invitee to the future conferences. Since then we were in regular contact with each other.

In 1988, Federation of Ambedkarite & Buddhist Organisations UK had a preliminary meeting to celebrate Ambedkar Birth Centenary in the UK. Mr. Bhagwan Das was also present in this meeting. The meeting was held under his Chairmanship. On his initiative, an organisation ‘International Ambedkar Institute, UK’ was set up to take Ambedkar thought in the premier institutes in the UK and do some research work. Renowned actor and film maker, late Kenneth Griffiths was elected as a Chairman who later on made a documentary film on Baba Sahib Ambedkar. During this visit, Das Sahib came to Bedford where he was interviewed by the BBC Radio, Bedfordshire and Chiltern Radio. I requested the BBC presenter for a copy of his interview. He was kind enough to send me the original recording of his interview.

During the Ambedkar Birth Centenary years, Mr. Das visited UK several times. Most of the time, he stayed with Mr. M.S. Bahal and Mr. C. Gautam as all Centenary Celebration activities were in and around London area. They took him around. He took part in many conferences and seminars. He addressed the gathering at the inaugural function of Ambedkar Birth Centenary at the commonwealth Hall, the Royal Commonwealth Society on 14th April 1990. Again he gave a talk at the Great Hall of Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn on 21st February 1991. As I was a part of the Centenary Celebration Committee, UK, I often met him in every function. During his visits, he always spared some time for us and came to Bedford.

As a President of Dalit Solidarity Programme (DSP), he was invited to give talk in Edinburgh University in Scotland. He gave a presentation by showing a short film narrating the history and present conditions of Dalits. Because of a long distance from Bedford and the paucity of time, he was unable to come to Bedford. Instead late Mr. Chanan Chahal, Mr. Dhanpat Rattu, Mr. Satpal Paul and I went to see him.

Once discussing about globalisation and privatisation, he clarified that our people are more adversely affected than others. He gave an example that our people were employed as sweepers in the municipalities. With this new mantra of privatisation the sweepers were being made redundant. Before this privatisation, they had permanent employment with all benefits of a government employee such as job security, health benefits, holidays, pensions etc. Their children had a scope for education. But now the contractor is a ‘sharma’, ‘verma’ or ‘gupta’ who employ the same people on daily wages with no security of work, no pension, and no health benefit. In this situation, children help their parents to earn their livelihood and drop out from schools. Similarly the people who were engaged in the leather work had also lost out. All benefits are taken by contractors but the work was still done by scheduled castes and tribes. . As contractors are from
higher castes good jobs go to higher castes and our people end up with old menial jobs.

Last time I saw him about three four years ago at his Munirka residence at Delhi. Dr. Gurcharn Singh from Delhi was with me. We spent about two hours with him. He enquired about all friends and the movement in the UK. He was as enthusiastic as he used to be about 20-30 years ago. But I could see his failing health.

With his demise, we have lost our guide and mentor. I will always treasure his memories in my heart. He will always be missed but never forgotten.

I am attaching his testimony given in the UN in 1983. His views and facts are as relevant today as they were 27 years ago.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Bhagwan Das:The historian of ‘his people’


The historian of ‘his people’

Bhagwan Das (1927-2010). His life was given over to the fight against caste and untouchability, and towards the promotion of Buddhism.

During the monsoon season of 1991, I began my dissertation research in Delhi. I always knew that the project was going to be hard: to write the history of the Balmiki community of North India. In graduate school at the University of Chicago I studied with Barney Cohn, who guided me deftly into the study of a “people without history”. Nothing about the Balmiki community was without history, but its absence in the archives made writing the history difficult. Unlike commercial communities whose archives resided in their transaction documents and unlike royal families whose archives slumbered in palaces and in war notes, the “untouchables” of India did not seem to have their own archives, and only rarely made an appearance in history books.

My work began in the National Archives of India, where my friend Prabhu Mohapatra led me into the Revenue papers. Here, in the margins, I found a lot of information on the Chuhra community of Punjab – the people whose hard labour made Punjab’s fields flower. I also went out to the various colonies where the Balmiki community lived: in the Bhangi colony on Mandir Marg and in the Old City, along its walls. One evening, near Kalan Masjid, a community elder handed me a slip of paper that had a name and a number written on it. He told me to call the number and go and see the man.

A few days later, I called the number and asked to speak to Bhagwan Das. In less than a minute a man came on the line. He spoke with what sounded vaguely like an American accent. Very courteously he asked me to see him a few days later. Bhagwan Das lived in a modest housing complex in Munirka. His unpretentious apartment was filled with books and magazines, all well read.

One of the first questions I asked him was about his accent. He laughed, a bit startled by my abruptness, and told me about his childhood near Shimla, in the Jutogh cantonment. English came to him not from the colonial overlords, but in the 1940s when he encountered U.S. airmen during his service on the Burma front during the Second World War. We chatted about the American troops, and he told me that he had befriended a few African-Americans among them. He was curious about racial discrimination and they were interested in his Dalit community (a U.S. air force report in the 1940s noted, “Native persons here are of a dark race and the Negro fails to respect their rights and privacy”; certainly the airmen that Bhagwan Das met did not respect his privacy, but they did honour his rights). These evenings in Bhagwan Das’ house were my apprenticeship.

Many scholars came through Bhagwan Das’ Munirka flat. He offered us his encyclopaedic knowledge and his kind wisdom. When I heard he had died on November 18, I was reminded of his calm intelligence and his kindness. Born in 1927 in the Jutogh cantonment, Bhagwan Das came of age in the shadow of B.R. Ambedkar, whom he met for the first time in 1943 in Shimla. Ambedkar drew him into the Scheduled Castes Federation and into working for him as a research assistant between 1955 and 1956. Finishing his law degree, Bhagwan Das went to work at the High Court. This was his job. His life was given over to the fight against untouchability and caste, and towards the promotion of Buddhism.

Bhagwan Das helped found the World Conference of Religions for Peace (Kyoto, 1970), along with the remarkable American Gandhian, Homer Jack. In 1983, he spoke before the United Nations on the vice of untouchability. He pointed out that India has an enlightened Constitution, what many in his circle called “Dr. Ambedkar’s Constitution. Nevertheless, Bhagwan Das told the U.N., “Anything which the untouchables consider good for them is vehemently resisted and opposed. Whatever goes to make them weak, dispirited, disunited and dependent is encouraged.” It was a powerful presentation.

Bhagwan Das was also a leading figure in making sure that the Dalit issue was not seen only in its domestic context, but taken in an Asian and global framework. In 1998, he was central to the creation of the International Dalit Convention (Kuala Lumpur) and had a role in the Dalit presence at the World Conference Against Racism (Durban, 2001). I had presented a paper at the U.N. conference on Dalit oppression in the global context, a talk that greatly pleased him (it was later published in a volume in honour of Eleanor Zelliot, titled Claiming Power from Below, by Oxford University Press). At the time of his death, Bhagwan Das was working on a book on untouchability in Asia.

I went to see Bhagwan Das several times during the early 1990s. He had a remarkable memory: one day, in 1993 (as my notes tell me), he fired off a series of names of people I should meet: Kanhayya Lal, Bhagwan Din, Narain Din, Kalyan Chand, Shiv Charan, and so on. Each name came with a story. Bhagwan Das did not have to consult any paper or notes; he had their names and their biographies at his fingertips. It was exhilarating. What kind of idea was this that a “people have no history”!

Bhagwan Das was a living historian and his autobiography, Mein Bhangi Hoon (I am a Bhangi, 1976), provided a window into the life and lineage of one person who fought against the idea that he had no history. A part of his story is available from Navayana as In Pursuit of Ambedkar, 2010. I read his works eagerly. He also taught me how to create my archive. The state might have only put the Chuhra and the Balmiki into marginal notes; but the people were less dismissive of their own histories. In plastic bags, and wrapped in rope, under beds and in steel trunks, he said, there were documents galore; and indeed this was the case. The most precious papers that tell the history of the Balmiki community were not found in the National Archives but in the humble homes from northern Punjab to western Uttar Pradesh.

One day Bhagwan Das said to me, get out of Delhi. Go to Punjab. That is where the trick will be uncovered. He sent me to meet Lahori Ram Balley, the remarkable leader of Buddhist Publishing House at Phagwara Gate in Jalandhar. Lahori Ram told me the story of the Scheduled Caste Federation of Punjab and handed me an invaluable pamphlet by Fazul Hussain ( Achutuddhar aur Hindu asksariyat ke mansube, Lahore, 1930).

Lahori Ram had encouraged Bhagwan Das’ intellectual and political work. Both were followers of Ambedkar. In the 1960s, the two friends would publish a series of books of Ambedkar’s speeches, Thus Spoke Ambedkar (edited with superb introductions by Bhagwan Das; the first in 1964). The second volume opened with a poem by Khalil Gibran, demonstrating the open-mindedness of these men. They were not bilious like those dominant caste intellectuals; nor were they prone to compromise. The first volume was strongly criticised by the press, Bhagwan Das recollected. “We expected it and in fact welcomed the criticism,” he wrote in the second volume, “because we believe nobody kicks a dead dog. All great ideas have to pass through three stages namely ridicule, discussion and finally acceptance.” They were at the first stage. The next was before them.

The generosity of Bhagwan Das and his friends never ceased to astonish me. Lahori Ram and Bhagwan Das also sent me off to meet the leaders of the Balmiki community in Jalandhar and Ludhiana, and later, in Shimla. The trick was here. I had not noticed it. They knew where they were leading me. It was the classic matter of the novice historian being led by the intellectual engagé.

Just outside Jalandhar, in a Balmiki-dominated village, I spent several nights. One went poorly. It was cold, and I was not keen on the bed. I went for a walk just before dawn. In the field I saw a light flickering, and went toward it. There I saw an old man lighting a set of lamps and placing them in a set of pigeon-holes. He was in what might have been a trance. I watched him, and then retreated. The next morning I asked him what he was doing. He told me about Bala Shah Nuri and Lal Beg, the preceptors of the Chuhras, the great faith of his people that had been obliterated in the 1930s. It was in this decade that the Chuhras had been force-marched into Hinduism and encouraged to forget their own religion and customs. This was the trick.

I went back to Delhi. Bhagwan Das knew I had found it out when I walked into his door (it must have been in March 1993). He handed me his book, Valmiki Jayanti aur Bhangi Jati, which laid out part of the story. Later, I found Amichand Pandit’s Valmiki Prakash (1936), which was a catechism for the Chuhras; and I found Youngson’s collection of Lalbeg songs in The Indian Antiquary (1906).

Bhagwan Das appreciated how we had together uncovered a forgotten story: how his community’s deep cultural traditions had been vanquished by the Hindu Mahasabha and conservative sections of the Congress – eager as they were to increase the numbers of “Hindus” against “Muslims”. It was a tragedy for the Chuhras, the Lalbegs, the Bala Shahis: they now became second-class Hindus. It is from this kind of reduction that human dignity shudders. It was also out of this history that Bhagwan Das followed Ambedkar to Buddhism; better a new religion that one loved than an enforced one that treated you as beneath contempt.

The generations before us loved poetry. It is something that we have lost to our own discredit. To make a point, and to do so in an unexpected way, they would often offer up a couplet or a line of poetry. It was very graceful. Bhagwan Das loved poetry. He particularly liked to talk with me about the verse of the Punjabi branch of the Balmiki community. It is from him that I grew to love the writings of Bhagmal ‘Pagal’, whom I would later meet in Jalandhar, and Gurudas ‘Alam’, whose poem from 1947 stays with me.

After one trip to Jalandhar, I brought back Alam’s Jo Mai Mar Gia (1975) for Bhagwan Das. We sat in the main room in his house, me drinking tea, and him reading out the poems. Here is Azaadi,

My friend, have you seen Freedom?

I’ve neither seen her nor eaten her.

I heard from Jaggu:

She has come as far as Ambala,

And there was a large crowd around her.

She was facing Birla with her back towards the common people.

In Jalandhar, I also met R.C. Sangal, the editor of Jago, Jagte Raho, from whom I got a stack of the papers. Bhagwan Das enjoyed the fact that the paper carried the verse of Baudh Sharan Hans and Alam (I also found Bodhdharam Patrika, another Ambedkarite newspaper that regularly carried poetry, including, from 1978, Alam’s great Chunav). The last time I met Bhagwan Das, we talked about poetry. I had thought to bring together some of these poets into a small volume. I was such a poor translator that I doubted my abilities. He was as encouraging as ever.

He called Ambedkar “an iconoclast and a revolutionary”. These words apply to Bhagwan Das himself, whose flat in Munirka was a stone’s throw from Jawaharlal Nehru University, but for me it was an intellectual haven like no other.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Testimony given by Bhagwan Das before U.N.O. on Untouchability in Asian countries and Japan

( Testimony given by Bhagwan Das, Chairman, All India Samata Sainik Dal, and
Ambedkar Mission society In the 36th Session of Commission on Human rights Sub-Commission on Prevention Of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, held at Geneva in August 1983)

I am grateful to the chairman of the sub-committee for granting me an opportunity to present the case of the Untouchables living in India and the neighbouring countries that came under the influence of Hindu religion and culture. I am giving this testimony on behalf of Secretary General (Dr. Homer A. Jack) World Conference on religion and Peace (WCRP). I also speak on behalf of various Untouchables and Buddhist organisations of India namely All India Samata Sainik Dal (Volunteers for equality) an organisation founded by Dr. Bheem Rao Ambedkar, Indian Buddhist council, Ambedkar Mission Society. Ambedkar Mission Incorporated (Canada) and Dr. Ambedkar Mission Society, Bedford, UK.

I take this opportunity to mention here that WCRP in its first conference held at Kyoto, Japan in 1970 discussed the problem of discrimination including the practice of untouchability. In its third conference held at Princeton (USA) the problem of the Untouchables in India and Burakumin of Japan was discussed and mentioned in the declaration. In the Asian Conference of Religion and Peace (II) held at New Delhi the problem of Untouchability and discrimination against the Buddhist converts was taken up and recommendations made in the declaration issued at the end of conference. Human rights Commission of ACRP decided to set up an office at New Delhi and an office is now functioning at New Delhi with the help of the Japanese Committee of WCRP under the title Asian Centre for Human Rights.

Untouchability is a phenomenon peculiar to Hinduism and it is an integral part of their religion. It took birth in India and it’s from India that this abominable practice spread to other religions and countries. No religion in India is free from this contamination; not even those who loudly preach from house tops the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man.

Hindu society is divided vertically and horizontally on the basis of caste. Christianity and Islam have allowed caste to exist in their society. Lower caste Christians especially in Southern states of India are meted out discriminatory treatment in the matter of burial in the cemeteries, appointment of parishnors, priests etc., and matrimony. Upper caste Christians seldom marry a girl from the lower caste Christians. Islamic society is also modelled on the pattern of Hindu society. It is divide into three or four groups namely ‘Ashraf’ upper caste, Moghuls, Turks Afghans etc., ‘Ajalaf’ converts from upper castes of Hindus and at the lowest rung of ladders sit the lowly ‘Arzal’, butchers, tanners, shoemakers, sweepers scavengers etc.
Sikhs who claim to be more progressive and egalitarian but unfortunately even they have not been able to keep their society free from caste system and untouchability. Even in a country like Britain they rigidly follow caste system and practise untouchability and discrimination against the Untouchables (Ramdaasia and Mazhbis) living in England. A ‘jat’ Sikh shuns the company of the Untouchables and avoids going to the pubs patronised by the Balmikis and Ravidasis-two untouchable castes of Punjab. An upper caste Sikh (Jat, Khatri, Arora,-trading communities of Punjab never misses an opportunity if he can offend an Untouchable by referring to his caste.

Untouchables in various countries


Nepal is predominantly Hindu state and 89% people either return their religion as Hinduism or are registered as Hindus in the census. Barely 7% of the Nepalese are Buddhists. Proselytization is prohibited. Hindu society is divided into as many as 59 castes and several artisan and other castes such as Paura (sweepers and scavengers), Damais (smiths), Sarakis (leather workers) goldsmiths in hilly regions are treated as Untouchables. Even though there is free education, very few among those castes can take the benefit owing to the practice of untouchability. In the Nepalese Panjyat (Panchyat) not more than one or two members of this community can get elected owing to the deep rooted prejudices against these people whose only fault is that perform useful duties. Their exact number is not known because unlike India Nepal census reports don not register caste. Owing to the fear of dominating upper castes Hindus, even Buddhists avoid contact with the Untouchables in Nepal. These communities suffer from numerous disabilities arising from untouchability. So far as I have been able to ascertain they have not been able to organise themselves for struggling against discrimination. Those who can in contact with these people were mulcted by the authorities and only paying the fine and performing some ceremonies they could be readmitted in the society.


Pakistan with 97% of its population owning Islam as their religion is divided into numerous castes, tribes etc., Hindus constitute about 2% of the population and are listed as caste Hindus (296,837) and Scheduled Castes (603,369). Scheduled Castes is the statutory title given under the government of India Act 1935 to the Untouchables. Most of them earn their livelihood as sweepers, scavengers, cobblers, weavers, etc.. Muslims also treat them as Untouchables like Hindus throughout the World. Pakistan also has a Christian population numbering about 908,000. Christians are divided into three groups, Europeans and Anglo-Pakistanis, Eurasians like Goanese, converts from upper castes of Hindus and Muslims and people belonging to upper stratum of society. At the bottom sit the most despised sweepers and scavengers who are known as ‘Christian Punjabis Sweepers’ (CPS). They are the descendents of the members of Chuhra community, traditional sweepers, who embraced Christianity to escape the tyranny of Hinduism and the stigma of untouchability but the partitioning of the country compelled them to revert to the traditional occupation of sweeping and scavenging. Although they are economically better than the rural workers so far as the wages are concerned but they are compelled to live in segregated localities and are treated as untouchables. Like their counterparts in India, CPS are the most despised people in Pakistan. They suffer from numerous disabilities arising from untouchability.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist (population 8,537,000, 67.3%) with Hindu constituting the second largest religious group (2,239,000) divided into clean and unclean castes. Among the Sinhalese, Goyigama is the highest caste and those engaged in occupations like butchers, drum-beaters. Toddy tappers, sweeping, etc. are considered ‘hina jati hina sippi’ people. Discrimination in the matter of marriage is practised among the Sinhalese. Siame Nikaya, a Buddhist sect does not admit the members of the lower castes as Bhikkhus but the other two Nikayas admit men belonging to the lower castes if they desire to join the order. But among the Tamilians, caste system is rigidly followed and untouchability practised in the Jaffana area which is predominantly Hindu (Tamalian). Society is divided into two major groups, namely clean castes and unclean castes. Among the unclean castes are included Palla (potter), Seneer (weaver), Parriyar, Kadaiyan (lime burner), Chikkalyan (leather worker and sweeper), Vunnan (washer man) and Thurumba etc. Upper castes (Vellala, Brahmin, Chetty etc.) treat them as Untouchables. Present conflict has temporarily obliterated the differences but after the trouble has subsided caste feelings revive.

Bangla Desh

Bangla Desh is predominantly Muslim (80%) with 4,926,448 (20%0 Hindus divided into two groups namely caste Hindus (Brahmin, Kayasthas, Baidyas etc.) and Namoshudras, Kaibartas, Hadis, Moschis, etc.). Many of the Muslims are converts from among the Untouchables and Buddhists. Yet discriminatory treatment is meted out to the untouchables in Bangla Desh. Our informants have stated that the Hindus of upper castes are treated as equals but the lower castes are discriminated in the matter of housing, employment etc.

All these countries were part of greater India until 1947 and were influenced by Hindu religion in the matter of rituals and customs.

Untouchability in India

Untouchability has not been defined by the sociologist or the legislators. At the time of discussion on ‘Untouchability Offences Act’ in Parliament when a question was raised about definition, the law minister said, ‘There is no need to define untouchability. Everybody knows it’. He was trying to avoid definition but he was telling the truth that everybody knows whom to avoid, whom to persecute. Untouchability is deeply embedded in the minds of Hindus and regulates their behaviour with other people. Stratification of society and restrictions on inter-marriage between different classes or groups are not unknown in other societies or cultures but to use the words of Dr. G.S. Ghurye, a renowned sociologist, “Hindu system is unique only in this that it alone classified some groups as untouchable and unapproachable.” Other religious groups only copied them. Since Hindus treated the scavengers, sweepers, cobblers, basket makers, weavers etc. as untouchables, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs also treated them as lowly, despised, degraded people. Since untouchability had religious sanction behind it, all efforts made by social reformers failed. Hindus avoided the discussion and foreigners did not want to take up the cause of the untouchables for fear of antagonising the Hindus. They were also taken in by the propaganda carried out by the followers of Gandhiji. Dr. Ambedkar had rightly observed, “The old orthodox Hindu doesn’t think that there is anything wrong in the observance of untouchability. To him it is normal, natural thing. As such it neither calls for expiation nor explanation. The new modern Hindu realises the wrong but he is ashamed to discuss it in public for fear of letting the foreigner know that Hindu civilisation can be guilty of such a vicious and infamous system or social code as evidenced by untouchability.”

Mass conversion of Untouchables to Christianity and Islam and growing importance of number in the politics of India coupled with criticism of Hindu society by Western writers, sociologists, travellers etc., led Hindus to introduce certain changes in their social system. While they wanted to remove untouchability, they did not want Hinduism and caste system to suffer in any way because Hinduism is sustained by caste system. If caste system goes, Hinduism cannot survive for long. On the other hand Hindus have developed a vested interest in Untouchability and caste system. More than 75% population of India is illiterate and people sincerely believe that caste is god-made and there is no hope or scope for change. Any laws made by man are interference in the God’s work. Hindu law makers had made elaborate laws and rules to keep Untouchables in degraded condition perpetually. Economic measures were adopted to perpetuate degradation, segregation and poverty. Laws were framed and strictly enforced to keep them divided, dispirited, poor, ignorant, illiterate and physically weak. They were not allowed to acquire wealth; higher interest was charged on loans; good, wholesome, nutritious food proscribed so that they may not grow strong. Right to bear arms was denied so they may never revolt. Low wages and excessive work was prescribed so they may have no leisure. Identity marks and symbols were prescribed so that even by mistake pure Hindus may not eat ot drink with them. This system was rigidly followed by the Hindus for centuries. Even Muslims did not disturb it. British especially after the sepoy mutiny of 1857 for fear of antagonising the Hindus tried to maintain those laws and enforce them through courts of law.

Progressive Western educated Hindus however felt uneasy and promised to bring about changes after attaining independence. Accordingly provisions were incorporated in the constitution abolishing untouchability and certain ameliorative provisions such as reservation in legislature, services of Union Government and states, educational institutions etc. Untouchables were subjected to some inhuman laws like forced labour in rural area. A provision to abolish slavery of this kind was made in the constitution but the law was enacted in 1976. Millions of Rupees were provided for the economic upliftment of the Untouchables in the Five Year Plans.

In spite of these laws the Untouchables suffer from numerous disabilities especially in smaller towns and villages of India. Untouchables don not have well in thousands of villages and upper caste people do not allow them to dig wells. Untouchables have to beg for water from a distance lest their shadow should pollute the upper caste Hindus. Sometime the water pipes are laid and stopped a few yards short of the Untouchable locality. The present writer struggled for seven years to get a public hydrant installed in a village of Himachal Pradesh while every Minister or even the Chief Minister announced that water had been provided.

If the Untouchables demand higher wages in villages, the caste Hindus pour filth or kerosene in the wells so as to starve them of water. Untouchability is widely practised. A mild and harmless law which was neither educative nor awarded deterrent punishment was enacted in 1955 under the title ‘Untouchable Offences Act, 1955’. This proved to be ineffective. This law was amended and passed as Protection of Civil Liberties Act 1976 containing a provision of minimum punishment. Owing to illiteracy of Untouchables majority who live in the rural areas, very few cases are reported and a very small number reaches the courts of law. Untouchability in worst form is practised in the Hindi region but the largest number of cases is registered in the state where the Scheduled castes people are awakened and better organised.

Of all the countries where untouchability is practised India has the best of laws and the most generous provisions in her constitution. British had introduced quota system with a view to giving share in administration to all religious groups and other minorities. Untouchables were however denied a share on the plea that there were no educated men available. Through the efforts of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar undisputed leader of the Untouchables ‘reservation in services’ was introduced in respect of the Untouchables also in 1943 during the vicerolty of Lord Linlithgow. Later o provision was made in respect of the Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes but reservation in favour of other minorities was abolished. During the early years there was little resistance because very few qualified people were available to fill up the reserved seats. Resistance was offered by non-implementation of government orders, or by declaring that suitable candidate was not available or if available ‘not found suitable’ and also through courts of law by filing writ petition. Since 1974 organise resistance is being offered by the upper caste employees who have enjoying monopoly of all government jobs. Private sector does not employ the Scheduled Caste people, excepting in the lowly, low paid and degrading situations. Table below gives some idea of the success in the part of the opponents of the reservation:

Quota Reserved


Reservation given in

Class 1 = 4.95% Class 11 = 8.54%
Class 111=13.44% Class 1V = 19.46%

Discriminatory treatment is being meted out to the Scheduled Caste people in the matter of recognition of their unions on the plea that it is the policy of the government that ‘communal’ organisations of employees will not be recognised. On the other hand organisations of the Hindu employees who are opposed to the reservation have the support and blessing of administration as well as the political parties, especially of those who have their base among the middle classes of Hindus.

Scheduled Castes (statutory title of the Untouchables) is an artificially created minority under the constitution. Names of castes can be deleted or added by the president. Pressure is mounting now through press to delete the names of more awakened and better organised castes. Majority of the Untouchables (about 76%) live in 568,000 villages of India. In some places they are allotted land by the government. Dr. Ambedkar demanded nationalisation of land with collectivisation of allotment on cooperative basis. The government favoured the creation of small holdings and peasant proprietors. Fragmentation of land is non-productive but the untouchable farmers who never owned land because of the laws prohibiting possession of land in some states desire to own land. The landholding dominating upper castes do everything possible in their means to obstruct distribution of land. Even if land is allotted, the upper caste landlords do not allow the Untouchables to take the fruit of their labour. If Untouchables demand higher wages or even the minimum wages prescribed by the Government, the upper caste landlords indulge in murders, torture, arson. Rape etc. to terrorise the poor ignorant untouchables. Thousands of men are employed as bonded labourers and kept away from the cities, police etc. Hundreds of women are forced into superstition by exploiting their ignorance, poverty and superstitious beliefs and sold into the brothels of Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Kanpur and Delhi.

Untouchables are becoming increasingly convinced that the Hindus hate them not because they perform unpleasant duties but because their religion teaches them to hate certain castes. Many embraced Christianity and Islam. Dr. Ambedkar who saw no hope of Hinduism reforming itself exhorted his people to renounce Hinduism and embrace Buddhism which he had revived in 1956. Millions of people responded to his call and embraced Buddhism. Government of India immediately issued order that if an Untouchable renounce Hinduism and embrace any religion other than Sikhism he will become disentitled to concessions and grants allowed to the Scheduled Castes. When a few hundred Untouchables in Madras embraced Islam because the Hindus harassed and humiliated them and did not allow them even to wear shoes or loin cloth which went below the knee cap, Hindu militant organisations turned riotous and burnt the huts of Untouchables and molested their women. Even Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi forgetting that she was the head of a secular government showed concern and delivered speeches discouraging the conversion of Untouchables. Some states have enacted laws making conversion difficult. Those renouncing Hinduism have to obtain a certificate from the Magistrate that the person desiring conversion to Islam or Christianity is doing it voluntarily. Police is dominated by the upper landholding castes of Hindus and is generally hostile towards the Untouchables. Indian Penal code contains certain provisions under which police have power to arrest and detain a person if he has no ostentatious means of livelihood. This in a country where majority of the people have no employment, house or shelter of any kind. Police abuses its powers especially against the Untouchables and many people are killed or incapacitated through torture in police custody.

Hinduism have closed the doors of armed forces to the Untouchables for ever. Untouchables were admitted to the armed forces of Islam after embracing Islam which many did. During early decades of their rule, British recruited Untouchables in their armies but after sometime they began to close the doors especially in central India and Bengal under pressure from the high castes of Hindus. They introduced the pernicious theory of ‘martial races and non-martial races’. Later on they disbanded the Untouchable armies and raise class regiments recruiting men belonging to upper castes. Indian government has not completely abolished the class regiments and has officially removed the ban on recruitment. But Government have not taken any measure to change the mode of recruitment. Recruiting officers, mostly belonging to peasant castes owing to to deep rooted prejudices based on caste and their medical; officers invariably ask a man’s caste and reject him on medical grounds. Untouchables have little share in army (0.44% in officers cadre and 10.62% in other ranks), 7.63% in other ranks of navy and 0.156% in officers cadre and 2.568% in other ranks.

Untouchables have the equal right to vote and contest elections. 79 seats are reserved in the House of the People (Lok Sabha) out of the total number of 542. Out of a total strength of 3997 members in the state legislatures and Union Territories 540 belong to the Scheduled Castes. On paper the number appears to be very impressive but owing to the election system of the country it is the majority community which elects the representatives of the candidates. In the rural areas the Untouchables can not exercise their right to vote freely and independently. Very often police protection has to be provided. After the election heavy price has to be paid tb the Untouchables if the members of higher castes owning land feel that they did not get the support of the support of the Untouchables.

Violation in Villages

Scheduled castes in the rural areas demand land, better wages, right to wear dress according to their liking, assert the rights granted under the constitution. Hindus on the hand want to maintain status quo in all fields. Tensions arise and often result in confrontation. Landlords have raised armies of trained men released from army and police to terrorise the Untouchables landless labourers. Police protects the strong against the poor. Government through its machinery and religious policies strengthens casteism and superstition because it helps the ruling classes. Leaders of struggle are picked up and either involved in false criminal cases or murdered by the police in encounters. Men, women and children have been massacred and burnt alive whenever they put up resistance against oppression. Men have been killed for offering Ganges water in a shrine. A man was killed in Aligarh (UP) for affixing the word Chauhan to his name. Women’s toes were crushed for wearing rings. Man was killed for twirling moustaches. In Meenakshipuram where mass conversion to Islam took place, men were not allowed to sit beside the upper caste men in the state buses, nor allowed to walk through the streets; women were punished for wearing sandals. In Kafalta 11 persons were done to death for crime of riding a horse in marriage procession and for using palanquin. The incidents of violence in the villages have been showing an upward trend for the last five years:

Year No. of incidents of atrocities
1976 6197
1977 10,879
1978 15,055
1979 15,070
1980 13,341

Recent figures are not available but the Home Minister Mr. N.R. Laskar during the last session stated that the number was showing an increase but during the Monsoon session of last week, he said that number of incidents has fallen considerably. Figures furnished by the Government do not represent the fact. These represent only a tip of the iceberg because many of the cases remain unreported. Untouchables feel very insecure owing to the growing resentment against the declared policies and programmes of the government which are very rarely accompanied by implementation. Bureaucracy is being blamed for non-implementation but is the government which lacks the political will to take action against those who flout the government authority.

This weakness is evident from the fact that even a simple and harmless demand by the Scheduled caste legislators in the Parliament to have a portrait installed in the Central Hall of Parliament where Dr. Ambedkar played a very important and historical role both as a member of the Executive Councillor in the Viceroys Executive Council (1942-46) and as first Law Minister and Chairman of the Constitution Drafting committee (1947-51). Government have been resisting this demand on some pretext or the other. Similarly in recognition of the great services rendered by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in the field of education a unanimous decision was taken in the Maharashtra Assembly to change the name of Marathawada University to Ambedkar University. This university came into existence chiefly owing to the establishment of three colleges by Dr. Ambedkar in the most backward region of Marathawada of Maharashtra. Orthodox Hindus in the region felt offended and instigated the illiterate and ignorant villagers that now ‘Ambedkar’ an Untouchable will enter your houses in the form of degrees and diploma certificates and you will have to repeat his name. As a result many houses of Buddhist converts were looted. Women molested, old men insulted, buildings demolished or set on fire and some people killed. Hundreds of men were forced to leave their villages and seek shelter in the towns, railway platforms, footpaths etc. Government could not implement its decision and the oppressor won the field. Untouchables and Buddhists continue the agitation with unshaken determination.

In spite of the fact Indian Constitution has the most liberal provision, Government have failed to implement its own declared programmes and policies for the removal of untouchability and upliftment of the deprived and disadvantaged section of society. Prejudices can not be removed merely through legislation. Religious policy of the government is discriminatory and is based in favour of Hinduism and Sikhism and prejudicial to the religions like Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Government in accord with the wishes of the orthodox Hindus has used coercive measures to check the conversion of Untouchables to Buddhism lest they should unite and organise themselves for struggle. Present policy of the government appears to be based on the tenets of Hinduism. Methods may have changed but the aim of the Hindu law makers and religious leaders have not changed. Anything which the untouchables consider good for then is vehemently resisted and opposed. Whatever goes to make them week, dispirited, disunited and dependent is encouraged.


1. A commission should be set up to investigate and submit a report on the practice of Untouchability in the countries wherever it is practised.
2. Action should be taken against countries and institutions who encourage this practice an the name of religion and custom.
3. Government should be asked to eliminate discrimination against the despised and segregated groups in the matter of freedom of religion.
4. To set up a commission to monitor the activities of government and religious groups in the countries where untouchability is practiced.
5. Governments of the countries where the Hindus and Sikhs have migrated and practice untouchability and discrimination against the Untouchables should be approached to enact laws to discourage this practice.
6. A separate office should be set up to receive cases of untouchability and disability and the states concerned should be asked to report what measures they have taken to eliminate discrimination in their respective countries.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

An Untouchable's Life in Politics

An Untouchable's Life in Politics

In Pursuit of Ambedkar
A rare dalit memoir centred around Ambedkar
Published : January 2010
(Book Excerpt)

Introduction: In Pursuit of Bhagwan Das
S OMETIME IN THE MID-1990'S, I picked up a volume of Ambedkar's speeches from a pavement bookshop in Hyderabad. It was compiled and edited by Bhagwan Das and published by Bheem Patrika, Jalandhar. That was the first time I encountered the work of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. From then on, I wondered about Bhagwan Das and Bheem Patrika.
After a major struggle, in 1999, I managed to order all the available volumes of Ambedkar's writings as published by the Maharashtra state government's education department in the Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches series from Blumoon Books, a dalit bookstore in New Delhi. For good measure, Blumoon added a few selections of essays by Bhagwan Das to make up for the missing government volumes.

After Navayana was founded in 2003, I dug up a little more about Bhagwan Das and his work, and spoke to him on the phone. But it was only after I moved to New Delhi in 2007 that I met him for the first time. He was 80. Through the interactions that followed with him, I realised that well before the Maharashtra government began, in 1979, to publish Ambedkar's writings and speeches, Das had edited, compiled and produced a four-volume Thus Spoke Ambedkar series between 1963 and 1980. It was perhaps the first, professional effort to publish Ambedkar's writings in one place. Crucially, I found out that Das had had direct access to Ambedkar.

Having first met him in Shimla in 1943 at the age of sixteen as a member of the Scheduled Castes Federation, Das worked as a research assistant with Ambedkar in 1955-56 at the latter's residence at Alipur Road, Delhi. Yet the editorial committee that the Maharashtra government put together to oversee its Ambedkar volumes excluded Das and Lahori Ram Balley of Bheem Patrika-men who pioneered the publication of Ambedkar's writings and speeches. As Das, with typical understatement, recalls in his memoir, "Fifteen years after Babasaheb's death, the Maharashtra government decided to edit and publish his writings and speeches and formed a committee for the same under the chairmanship of Vasant Moon. Membership to the committee was limited to Maharashtra's politicians and intellectuals."

An unassuming, self-effacing man, Das does not make much of his association with Ambedkar. Yet, we see that he takes pride in recounting occasional disagreements with the stalwart. Das recalls both in his memoir and in the film that now accompanies this book, that his formal education amounted to nothing more than matriculation when he worked for Ambedkar, who had a clutch of degrees and two doctorates from Columbia University. (It was only in the mid-1970s that Das acquired degrees in Political Science and Law.) Yet, what draws Ambedkar to Das is his command over the English language, and his hunger for books and research.

I met Das several times in 2007 and 2008 with the intention of reissuing a value-added, annotated edition of the four volumes of Thus Spoke Ambedkar (the first of which is being published at the same time as this memoir). He was, however, in no position to write fresh introductions to the volumes. His memory was failing him, and he could recall only about seven or eight defining moments in his life. At the behest of a friend, I decided it was as important to bring out Bhagwan Das' story as it was to reissue his wide-ranging selection of Ambedkar's speeches. On reading his slim memoir, Baba ke Charanon Mein, published in Hindi in 2004, I decided to shoot a series of piece-to-camera interviews-merely as an exercise in keeping a record. Das, however, had just recovered from a serious illness and was suffering bouts of dementia. Yet, for me, it was important that his story-whatever he remembered of it-be rendered to the larger public. A mere reading of his memoir would not suffice; people would have to see and hear Bhagwan Das speak his impeccable English in his clipped accent. They had to fall in love with him and be charmed by him like I was, like the friends I took to meet him were. Hence the DVD that accompanies this book.

As we shot the interviews, Das expressed his desire to travel to Shimla, Nagpur and Ambedkar's Alipur Road residence where he had worked. Though we could not travel to Nagpur, our effort soon grew into a modest documentary feature on Das and his dedicated pursuit of Ambedkar's ideals. Navayana hardly had the funds for such a venture. Given Das' precarious health and fading memory, I could not risk writing a proposal and waiting for funding, but friends pitched in with contributions. After seeing the footage, amateur though it was, the editor of the film, Shikha Sen, refused to charge us. She too was charmed by the man, though piqued by the fact that he would sometimes forget the name of his wife (Rama Devi) or the year of their marriage (1957). But despite his failing memory, he would be alert to the details of his various interactions with Ambedkar. Clearly, here was a man to whom nothing mattered more than his association with Ambedkar. All said, we pieced together a viewable, hour-long film. The biggest compliment we received was that Das liked it.

In post-Independence India, we have hardly any record of the several men and women who played key roles in dalit movements across the country, especially those who donned the roles of the intellectuals and chroniclers of the movement. For instance, Bheem Patrika, the monthly journal founded by LR Balley, celebrated fifty years of existence in 2008. Balley has produced scores of books on the dalit movement and Ambedkar. People like Das and Balley rarely find mention in post-Independence histories of India. They are neither fĂȘted nor remembered. To see Das recount the story of his English, and how he gently underscores the fact that in 1943 when he met Ambedkar in Shimla they spoke to each other in English, reveals to us the unwavering faith many in the dalit movement had in the power of modern education, and especially in the English language. Ambedkar's slogan 'educate, agitate, organise' had clearly inspired Bhagwan Das and many like him.

As a Buddhist, Das was one of the founding members of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, first held in Kyoto in 1969. They subsequently met every four years in various parts of the world.

In August 1983, supported by a coalition of dalit organisations, Bhagwan Das gave a testimony on untouchability before the United Nations Subcommission on Human Rights in Geneva, much against the wishes of the official Indian delegation to the conference. He played a pivotal role in the 1998 International Dalit Convention held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a precursor to the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa.

Despite his many achievements, Bhagwan Das has led a lonely life. His lament is that few in the dalit movement have shown interest in the kind of work he has done. Given that the resource pool of educated dalits with an aptitude for research is rather meagre, especially of dalits who have a felicity with the English language, the chronicling of dalit history has seriously suffered. As someone born in a sweeper community, an 'untouchable among untouchables,' as Das says, he is not very popular among sections of the valmiki community that have been Hinduised under the influence of Gandhi, the Arya Samaj and other Hindu organisations. Das has consistently argued that the notion of 'valmiki' is a fiction (as you shall see in the book and in the film). He musters evidence to convincingly argue that the so-called valmikis were 'lalbegis'.

Bhagwan Das' flat in Munirka, Delhi, has been a mandatory stopover for almost every social historian and anthropologist who has ever worked on the dalit/anticaste movement, from Eleanor Zelliot, Mark Juergensmeyer, Owen Lynch, Marc Gallanter, RK Kshirsagar and Sukhadeo Thorat down to younger scholars like Vijay Prashad, Nicolas Jaoul and Maren Bellwinke-Schempp. He has been a storehouse of insight and information, generous with his time and knowledge for anybody willing to stop by and ask.

Navayana is proud to present the results of its pursuit of Bhagwan Das.
Excerpt: In Pursuit of Ambedkar
I WAS BORN INTO AN UNTOUCHABLE FAMILY in Jutogh Cantonment, in Shimla, the modern-day capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh, on 23 April 1927. My father, whom we called Abba, belonged to a well-off family-my grandfather was a contractor
who supplied cooks, cleaners, waiters, etc to the British Army. His work enabled him to own property in Jutogh, in Dera Bassi (near Ambala) and in Lucknow. Though I never saw him, I heard much about him. His name was Tota and he had four sons: the eldest was Dafi, followed by Shankar, then my Abba and Taaru.

My father's name was Ramditta/ Ramdutta-in government records, we find both names in English, Urdu and Hindi. Of the four brothers, my father and Shankar had Hinduised names, and both showed an inclination for Hindu ways, probably as a result of the religion's increasing influence at the time. Untouchables were otherwise usually required to have names that disclosed their 'low' caste and untouchable status. Our neighbours, for instance, had names like Meeria, Fakiria, Rachna, Jagga, Sadhu, Tilaku, Gainda-names that reflected the ethos of the period. Hindus then were less scared of their enemies than of the touch or even the shadow of an untouchable, which, they believed, would make them 'impure'. Therefore, everything from names to clothing was dictated by caste Hindus to make it easy to recognise untouchables and set them apart.

Though my grandfather tried to give all his sons an education, only Shankar and my father showed an aptitude for studies. The family lived in the cantonment in Lucknow, but there was tremendous discrimination against untouchables in Uttar Pradesh, then known as United Provinces. The only way to get by was to learn a few English phrases. Since my eldest uncle lived with an English family, he spoke the language well, but was the only one in the family who could. My father tried learning English and Urdu from books but had a better grasp of Urdu.

After my grandfather's death, my eldest uncle, Dafi, inherited his post; the other brothers sought jobs elsewhere. My father came to Jutogh. He married into a mazhabi Sikh farming family from a village near Dera Bassi. A few years later, however, his wife died. My uncle Dafi then got Abba married to a girl called Khairatan from a poor, semi-Muslim family of Lucknow. My father brought her to Jutogh after their marriage, and they never went back to Lucknow again.

In Jutogh, we lived in government accommodation in the Post Office compound. The campus held a big house for the postmaster and the postmen's quarters; there was also a mess for white soldiers underneath the Post Office, a Royal Indian Army Service Corps store to supply the soldiers' food, a wood depot, a bakery and a Military Engineering Service office for repairing government buildings. The children of the officers and employees of these offices were our friends and schoolmates.

My father was far ahead of his time in having taken out a life insurance policy, which he bought from a Canadian company. He was not only a hard-working man but had none of the bad habits,like gambling or drinking, common among men of his community. He was very fond of music-we had three gramophones and a radio at home. My mother, on the other hand, was brought up in difficult conditions. She had lost her parents in childhood and had worked as a farmer. She adjusted to her new circumstances at my father's house but never changed two things-her name and her religious refusal to eat pork (not that there was any pressure on her to do so). She cooked very well and kept our home in a state of high cleanliness. I had several differences with her but, for the sake of household peace, tolerated many things I never liked. For instance, she followed Hinduism rigidly and was keen on celebrating its festivals, but I maintained my distance from such customs from a very early age. My Early Years
W HEN MY FATHER ENROLLED my elder sister, Hukmi, and I in school, the headmaster did not want to take me in as I was not yet five years old. Since my father used to teach me Urdu, Mathematics, Hindi, etc at home, he asked the
headmaster to give me a test. I was asked to read and count, and I did well enough for him to agree to admit me. In the admission form, there was a column for one's caste. A Muslim teacher who held a low opinion of untouchables wrote khakroob1 in my form. He never touched me and always talked to me in an insulting manner. When my father complained to the headmaster (a very kind and sincere Hindu teacher), he shifted me from Hindi to Urdu classes. And that is how I learnt Urdu.

This was in 1931, and I was only four. At school, all children, Hindu and Muslim, used to play together; even the postmaster's children were our friends. No one practised untouchability as such, but we had to take the teacher's permission to drink water. He would send a caste Hindu or Muslim boy along with us, saying, "Go, get them some water to drink." There were separate utensils for Hindus and Muslims, but we could never drink directly from either. Instead, we would hold out our cupped hands into which water would be poured from a height.

It was clear to us that even if our names were like those of the Hindus, we were neither Hindu nor Muslim.

We were untouchables. In Class VII, I stood second and was chosen for admission to the Sanatan Dharm School; the topper was taken by DAV [the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic School]2. The school had a special period for religious training from which two Muslims, one Christian and I were exempted. Even if interested, untouchable students were not allowed to attend this class as the teacher practised untouchability.

A crucial role in my education was played by the European families living in our neighbourhood. In the cantonment areas, people belonging to the scavenging communities were employed for jobs like babysitting, cooking, etc. Two things provided for the betterment of such communities in these localities: reduced caste exploitation and contact with new ideas. For instance, the Andrews from England - Alexander and Edith Andrews - were like a second family to me, and it was from them that I learnt English, among other things. I used to read the Bible in the nearby church and would also listen to the BBC radio service. This helped me acquire an anglicised accent early in my life.

After completing my matriculation in 1942, I opened a night school for unlettered adults in Shimla. Whatever I earned giving tuition, I would hand over to my father.

During this time, a teacher named Shri Pamiram, from a bhangi (now also called balmiki) caste, was appointed headmaster of the Jutogh Primary School. He used to make it a point to meet educated, low-caste people, few as they were and most of them very young. When he got to know that my father was working as a jamadar [sweeper] in the cantonment and the Station Staff Office and had a few sweepers working under him, he came to meet him. He was surprised as well as glad to find that my father was an educated, propertied man. When he found out that I had not been able to study after Class x since there was no college in Shimla, and that I was running a night school, he advised me to apply to the District Officer for appointment as a teacher in his school. I got the job at a monthly pay of Rs 20, but after a few months, I was asked to leave and undertake formal teacher's training. An experienced teacher was appointed in my place. Exposure to Dalit Activists
S HRI PAMIRAM INTRODUCED ME to Teluram Baidwan3 who was one of Shimla's most highly regarded politicians. Baidwan used to work as a cleaner and caretaker at a beauty parlour run by an Englishwoman. He used to spend most of
his time reading and working for untouchables' rights and justice. Many people from castes such as koli and chamar used to come to him with their problems to seek his guidance. However, the members of the Congress party and other Hindu groups used to call him 'Bad Man' instead of Baidwan.

After attending typing classes in Shimla, I would spend an hour or two with Baidwan, helping him write letters. The rest of the time I would spend reading in the public library. My father was also fond of writing and reading, particularly books relating to ayurved and medicine. Copies of the Urdu monthly magazines Mastana Jogi and Hamdard-e- Sehat could be found at our home. We also used to borrow from our friends various newspapers and magazines such as the Madina newspaper published from Bijnaur, Pratap, Milap and Zamindar. I used to enjoy reading political articles in the weekly newspaper Riyasat, edited by Sardar Diwan Sindh Maftoon.

These newspapers used to publish a lot of things about Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, Subhash Chandra Bose and Mohammed Ali Jinnah but hardly a thing about minority and untouchable communities. We knew these leaders belonged to the upper castes, but, being an untouchable, I used to wonder, 'Who is our leader?' I asked Abba this, and he replied, "Ummeedkar, the one who brings hope," which is how Abba saw Babasaheb Ambedkar.

As far as I remember, Kranti from Lahore was the only Urdu magazine that used to report on Babasaheb's speeches and publish them in Urdu translation. Kranti's editor, Sant Ram, was a progressive thinker and writer. Born into a backward caste family, his knowledge of the Hindu religion and casteism was pragmatic and deep. Kranti was run by progressive Hindu members of the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal, founded in Lahore by the Arya Samajists. It was the only organisation at that time that worked against caste discrimination. In 1943, I also wrote an article in Kranti, "Acchut aur Azaadi" (Untouchability and Freedom). The article attracted a lot of attention, and through it I developed a friendship with Sant Ram.

Sant Ram was also the president of the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal, established in 1924 in Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province. Lahore was then a great centre of political, religious and literary activity and was home to a great many papers and magazines. Most colleges in North India were situated there, and Central ministries worked from Lahore in winter.

In 1936, the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal organised a major conference in the city and invited Dr Ambedkar to give the presidential address. He was, however, asked to send a copy of his speech beforehand. In it, Babasaheb said it would be his last speech as a Hindu. It was evident that he had decided to leave Hinduism.

Being Arya Samajists, all the members and organisers of the Jat- Pat Todak Mandal were against the conversion of untouchables. Babasaheb was asked to delete parts of his speech as a few Hindu leaders were afraid of his views. He, however, refused to change his speech and declined the Mandal's invitation. Sant Ram later got the speech published separately. In English, it is titled "Annihilation of Caste" and in Hindi "Jaatibhed ka Vichchhed". The speech was translated and published in several languages.

The Jat-Pat Todak Mandal did not, ultimately, have much impact. After Partition, Hindus on the Pakistan side of the border either were killed or they migrated to India. Some adopted Islam to save their lives and property and chose to remain in Pakistan. In India, a few of the earlier activists tried to re-establish the Mandal but they could not achieve much success.

Sant Ram went back to his village, Puranibasi, now in the Indian part of Punjab, but he travelled frequently to Chandigarh and Delhi. He also wrote a few books. Babasaheb deeply valued his dedication to the anticaste struggle and his impeccable character. He used to send copies of his new books to Sant Ram and would look forward to his comments.

Another person working for dalits in Shimla was Laxman Singh Salhotra. He was a Punjabi-speaking matriculate who worked in the Shimla Municipality Committee as a head clerk. He had good relations with Congress and Arya Samaj leaders. One of his friends was a head clerk in the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), and through him I got an appointment as a cpwd accounts clerk. I started working under Shri Rangaswami Lingaasan, who was the assistant engineer in the newly opened sanitary division. Rangaswami Lingaasan had worked during the First World War as a sanitary or executive engineer in Rangoon at the time of the Japanese attack. He belonged to an untouchable caste from South India. Basically Tamil-speaking, he had an excellent command of English, perhaps a reason why I was sent to work under him. It was said that he was related to the famous dalit leader from Madras Presidency, Rao Bahadur M.C. Rajah4, and probably also knew Rao Bahadur N. Shivaraj5, another prominent dalit leader from Madras.

The Ideological and institutional Incorporation of Dalits Into Hindutva maelstorm

The Ideological and institutional Incorporation of Dalits Into Hindutva maelstorm

There are many lower orders in the Hindu society whose economic, political and social needs are the same as those of majority of Muslims and they would be far more ready to make a common cause with the Muslims for achieving common ends than they would with the high caste hindus who have denied and deprived them of ordinary human rights for centuries.

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar – Writings and Speeches Vol 8., P. 359

(“[U]ntouchability, is a kind of disease of the is a mental twist.. I do not know how my friend is going to untwist the twist which the Hindus have got for thousands of years unless they are all sent to some kind of hospital.’

Dr B.R.Ambedkar , 1954 , Quoted in Bhagwan Das, 95 :53).


Dalits, or ex ‘untouchables’, comprising one-sixth of India’s population, a majority of whom still live at the bottom of the social hierarchy called caste system live a precarious existence. The plight of this section – which is routinely discriminated against and subjected to overt-covert violence of many forms – has of late been much discussed in the international fora as well.

There is no denying the fact that despite half-a-century of constitutional measures – which has helped a minority among it benefit from the affirmative action programmes and has helped emergence of a more vocal and assertive section among it – the system of exclusion in the form of untouchability continues in myriad ways and forms. Dalits till date are denied entry into temples or served tea in different glasses in hotels and restaurants or are not allowed to draw water from government wells which are situated in dominant caste areas or dalit women are driven to prostitution thru’ religious customs like Devadasi or are forced to do menial and polluting jobs like scavenging. And it is a sign of the longevity of this system that despite many a superficial changes due to the compulsions of modernity it has maintained the core of purity and pollution intact.

Of late one is witness to the growing awareness about the plight of this section of society. Individual researchers, political-social formations as well as national-international institutions have come forward to document the present lifeworlds of the dalits in all its dimensions and present action plans to ameliorate their situation. The latest report submitted by the United Nations ‘Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination ‘ presented in its seventieth session ( 19 February – 9 th March 2007) could be considered a classic case which has tremendous import for the policymakers as well as activists.

The following writeup does not intend to summarise what is being said in all the earlier reports nor does it want to reemphasise the ‘hidden apartheid’ practised by the rest of the civil society towards the dalits, which has yet to make a radical rupture with the ideology of purity and pollution even in the wee hours of 21 st century.

One could say that one wants to take a dispassionate look at an emergent phenomenon in the lifeworlds of the dalits themselves. And it pertains to what is popularly understood as growing fascination of a section of the dalits towards Hindutva.

The genocide in Gujarat (2002) led by the organisations affiliated to the Sangh Parivar – which officially saw deaths of more than a thousand innocent people – has made us aware of this ‘detour’ in the trajectory of the dalit movement. Close watchers of the dalit scenario who have seen militancy of this section on various issues of social concern ( may it be the street battles in Bombay between activists of the Dalit Panthers and the Shiv Sena in early 70s or their long drawn struggle to rename a university to commemorate Ambedkar’s contribution in the field of education) and their inbuilt hatred for the project for Brahminical fascism presented as Hindutva are baffled by the newfound bonhomie between forces of Hindutva and a section of Ambedkar’s own followers.

It is no less significant that this phenomenon of inversion of dalit consciousness and communalisation of the movement has occured / is occuring in the backdrop of the greater dalit assertion which had made its presence felt in the 90s – a phenomenon which has helped unleash the process of deepening and widening of democracy. It cannot be denied that wherever radical or democratic forces are strong, or dalits are a dominant partner in the political arithmetic, one finds that a large section of the dalit masses have aligned themselves with them and are engaged in struggles of dignity and livelihood and political power and seem to be aware of the designs of the Hindutva brigade. It has also been well documented that while a section of the thinking dalits has shown affinity towards the Hindutva project or preferred to side with the marauders of the Hindutva brigade during the genocide, a significant section among them decided to side with the minorities despite heavy odds and helped save them from the impending attacks. 1

The conflation of Dalit identity with that of a Hindutva fanatic can be said to resemble the behaviour of a section of women in the aftermath of Babri Mosque demolition. ( 6 th December 1992). One very well knows how this period witnessed large scale participation of women especially Hindu women in the riots and which posed quite a few uncomfortable questions before the women’s movement itself. To quote Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia “…Politically and methodologically this assertive participation of women in right wing campaigns, pulled down many of our assumptions in a state of crisis for we have always seen women as victims of violence rather than its perpetrators …” (Women and the Hindu Right: Ed. Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia, Kali forWomen 1995, Page 3).

One could definitely raise a query regarding the extra attention being paid to the dalits, while the role played by the different non-dalit caste groups is not being discussed. There is no denying the fact that if the genocide in Gujarat in the year 2002 made us aware of the new detour in the dalit movement, it also exposed the moral vacuousness of the middle classes -mainly belonging to the upper castes or to an extent backward castes – who were party to the crimes being committed against the minorities. Peace and justice loving activists and journalists have provided details in their reports about all such looting done by the middle and upper castes people who used all latest gadgets to ‘invite’ friends to this collective plunder.

There cannot be an iota of doubt that one needs to deliberate on all the dimensions of this phenomenon. It could be nobody’s intention that while discussing the growing legitimacy to the politics of hate and exclusion among the oppressed sections, one should not talk about similar processes unfolding themselves among the so called upper and backward castes and the cleverness with which they rationalised their crimes.

It need to be emphasised that Hindutva’s ascendance in the Indian polity and society would not have been possible if different caste groups from the Varna to the Avarna category had not found a common cause with its weltanshauung. This definitely demands a closer look at the dynamic underway in all such categories. Also a lesser-explored aspect of the whole Hindutva juggernaut has been the role played in its genesis by the Brahminical reaction to the proces of empowerment of Shudras-Atishudras unleashed by the likes of Mahatma Phule-Dr. Ambedkar.

But as far as the present write-up is concerned we aim to focus basically on the way dalits and their movement(s) have negotiated their path in the burgeoning Hindutva project. It cannot be disputed that the growing bonhomie between dalits (and tribals) and forces of Hindutva carries importance not only because it magnifies the threat posed by communalism but also because it weakens its potential resistance also. We also plan to look at the way Sangh Parivar has repackaged its hate agenda that despite its nearly half century consistent opposition to Ambedkar and his brand of social-political intervention, today it is in a position to attract a section of dalit masse as well as intellectuals to its side. One also need to understand the whole concept of ‘Samajik Samarasta’ ( could be loosely translated as social harmony) which the Sangh Parivar has fashioned to co-opt dalits in its gameplan to usher into a Hindu Rashtra.

Namdeo Dhasal : Not Just The Name Of A Poet-Activist

A picture is worth so many words. And definitely it was no ordinary picture.

It showed the present Sangh supremo Mr K. S. Sudarshan hugging and saluting Namdeo Dhasal,2 the radical dalit poet of the seventies.The next frame showed Dhasal returning the gesture in a similar manner. The occasion was a book release function where many other stalwarts of the Sangh Parivar were also present.But it was no just photo-op session. In his speech Dhasal underlined failure of the left to address caste question but simultaneoulsy sang paens to the RSS for its work among the dalits and also declared openly that he had lot of expectations from this work. The said programme to release the book ‘Samrasta ke Sutra’ was held on 30 th August 2006 at Hindi Bhavan, Delhi.

Keen watchers of the Dalit movement would vouch that it was unimaginable to even think of a similar photograph in the seventies. Times when its then Supremo Golwalkar had to face public wrath for his glorification of Manusmriti – the age old scripture of the Hindus, which legitimised and sanctified the secondary status of the dalits – in an interview to the Marathi newspaper Navakal. It was a period when the resurgent dalit movement found itself in continuous confrontation with this Brahminical project of Hindu consolidation.

It is clear that the abandonment of a radical agenda by a person of Dhasal’s stature and his ultimate cooption in the project of Hindutva brigade cannot be considered an exception. It is rather a marker of the deeper malaise, which afflicts the post Ambedkarian Dalit movement.

May it be the case of Bahujan Samaj Party, a significant experiment espousing the cause of Ambedkar , joining hands with BJP thrice to form government in Uttar Pradesh in mid-nineties and early years of 21 st century, or a section of the dalits metamorphosing themselves into footsoldiers of Hindutva brigade in the Gujarat genocide of 2002 or for that matter the ‘success’ of the Hindutva brigade in pitting significant section of the dalit masses against Muslims in the Eastern Part of UP, or the support a section of the dalit intellectuals 3provided to the whole idea of Bhimshakti-Shivshakti peddled by Uddhav Thakre, the heir apparent in the Shiv Sena, before the last elections to the Maharashtra assembly , all goes to show the deep inroads made by the idea of Hindutva among the dalits.

One could easily surmise that much water has flown down the Ganga-Jamuna as far as the trajectory of the dalit movement is concerned. Definitely it also shows the distance travelled by the RSS itself, which had since its inception, detested Ambedkar, the legendary son of the oppressed and his brand of social-political intervention to challenge the purity-pollution based regime of Varna-caste hegemony.4

Gone are the days when Ambedkar openly declared that ‘He might have been born a Hindu but won’t die a Hindu’ way back in 1937 and led his followers to embrace Buddhism, today a section of his followers have no qualms in cosying up to a project which is engaged in furthering a particular brand of Hinduism based on the weltanschauung of the likes of Golwalkars and Savarkars.5

Question naturally arises why have things come to such a pass that the most oppressed section among the caste-Varna hierarchy is happy adorning the Saffron bandanna and busy joining one of those fanatic gangs. How does one comprehend this metamorphosis of the age old victims of graded hierarchy of Brahminism into perpetrators themselves ?

Despite attempts to dwell upon into it and discern the different threads of the phenomenon 6 there are still many unanswered questions. If Hindutvaisation of the Dalit consciousness is a worrisome thing, then how does one look at the process of Hinduisation of these subalterns, which has been an ongoing phenomenon ? How does one look at the plethora of sects and jet-age Sadhus, many of whom have made deep inroads among the dalits? Is it possible to establish any interconnection between the two ? How does one decipher the strategies used by the forces of Hindutva – mainly the Sangh Parivar - to co-opt the dalits in their wider gameplan of reorganising the Indian society based on the weltanschauung of ‘one people, one nation, one culture’? Does one notice any continuity in the methodologies adopted by it or one can see a clear break in its journey ? Is it possible to draw on similar experiences of communalisation among other oppressed sections of society e.g. women, tribals etc ?

Dalits Fascination Towards Hindutva : Early Stirrings !

It was the year 2002 when the Indian Republic had to come to terms with many ‘shocks’ : A year which witnessed planned genocide of mainly Muslims in the western province of Gujarat in the aftermath of a tragic burning of bogey of a train which caught fire by accident.

It underlined the extent of brutality, which the hindu right could engage in and simultaneously exposed the myth perpetuated by a section of the liberal intelligentsia that power could moderate it. In fact the brazenness with which the ideologues of the hindu right glorified the planned genocide, wherein they talked of repeating ‘the successful Gujarat experiment’ elsewhere, came as a shock to many. All of us were witness to the tremendous communalisation of civil society which made it impossible to put any pan-Indian resistance to the machinations of the hindutva brigade. The way the state machinery connived in the carnage rather vindicated the ‘institutionalised riot system’ in operation in the country, a phenomenon made explicit by people like Paul Bremen.

But apart from many of these disturbing features , reports pouring in from diffrent parts of the state also provided details of another kind of news – namely participation of a section of the dalits and adivasis in the mayhem.The way a section of these subaltern classes joined the marauders of the Hindutva brigade, has come out in many of the reports filed by reporters on the Gujarat situation. One such report was filed by a Outlook correspondent ( date 1/7/2002). In the said report ‘Poisoned Edge: The Sangh Exploits Dalit and tribal frustration to recruit soldiers for hindutva’s war’ it was revealed :

“.. Of all the disturbing facts that emerged from the post-mortem of the communal carnage in Gujarat, the most baffling and alarming is the large-scale participation of Dalits and tribals in the rioting. Independent observers, researchers and social activists are agreed that their involvement was unprecedented. Never before was the divide between the Dalits and Muslims so pronounced and so violent. Even more shocking: tribals, who have little in common with mainstream Hinduism, brandished weapons, looted and killed as they violently avenged the ‘attack on Hindus’.”7

While one could easily find glee on the faces of the Sangh ideologues, who came up with readymade rationalisations of such acts, for a large section of the activists of the anti-communal movement, the very piece of news itself was incomprehensible as well as baffling. The reaction of the dalit/bahujan intellectuals was no better. In fact, the only explanation of sorts which was resorted to by most of them, talked of the dalits playing into the hands of the Hindutva brigade. It was told how they were lured into becoming perpetrators with simple promises.

Perhaps they did not mean it, but all these facile explanations were denigrating these subalterns further.8 They communicated an impression that dalits were mere pawns who could be waylaid by anyone. At a deeper philosophical level, this also led to the question of agency ? Can the dalits be considered mere victims who still remain at the mercy of the dominant castes or (to put it bluntly) whether the incorporation of the dalits in the Hindutva maelstorm could be considered a matter of choice adopted by quite a few among them ?

Of course, the simple sounding questions were not easy to answer. 9

A related question on mind was whether Gujarat 2002 which awakened us to this phenomenon could be considered as its point of emergence or whether it had a ‘history’ of its own which needed to be recovered.

A cursory glance at few of the old reports on communal flareups in post-independent India, makes it clear that eighties happened to be the decade when one could see dalits growing affinity towards communal elements or there participation in anti-Muslim violence.

It is a less reported fact that the infamous Moradabad riots in early eighties were marked by the involvement of Balmikis ( a dalit caste whose ‘occupation’ under the Varna hierarchy revolves around cleaning) in the carnage. One still remembers the event which had sort of triggered the flareup. The sudden (inadvertent or so) appearance of a pig from a nearby Balmiki basti in a religious congregation of Muslims held on one of their auspisious days had provided the initial spark.

The year1984 witnessed eruption of anti-Sikh riots in major part of northern India – aided and abetted by local Congress leaders – in the aftermath of the killing of Ms Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India. South India also saw similar flareups albeit with reduced intensity. Thousands of innocent Sikhs lost their lives and lakhs of people were displaced in the ensuing mayhem. Delhi, the capital of India, was one of the worst affected during these riots. The report brought out by different civil rights organisation like People’s Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Citizens for Democracy (CFD) etc .titled ‘Who Are The Guilty ?’ which documented the carnage in Delhi provides a glimpse of the manner in which Dalits also joined the mayhem.

The oral submission before the Citizens Tribunal on Ayodhya ( July 1993) made by Nalini Pandit, a retired Professor of Economics, gives us an idea about the thinking on the issue going on then. Her presentation before the tribunal focussed itself on ‘attraction or otherwise of Dalits towards Hindutva’, ‘changing attitudes of Dalits to Muslims’, ‘effects of Hindutva on caste struggles’ etc. In her submission she gave few examples of the participation of dalit leaders/activists in the December 92 riots in Bombay after the demolition of Babri Mosque.10 Of course she also observed that where the dalits ‘[l]ived as consolidated groups and one or the other Buddhist Party had an influence, they remained aloof and even gave protection to Muslim families living amidst them.’11

One also notices similar processes at work elsewhere. The activities of the likes of Hindu Munnani in the Dalit bastis of Chennai and the brutalisation of the Khatik community in Kanpur under some Kala Baccha (since killed) for use in the communal conflagrations during the Ram Janambhoomi movement are also part of the same process..V. Geetha in her perceptive essay on ‘Dalits, Hindutva and Dravidian movement’ ( Ref . Hindutva and Dalits, ed. Anand Teltumbde) shares her experience of the Tamil society. According to her :’ In Tamil Nadu, since the late 1980s, Hindu political groups aligned to the Sangh Parivar in one way or another have attempted to, and partially succeeded in, recruiting dalit youth to their ranks. This has been the case with groups in Chennai that have looked to swelling their ranks during the annual Ganesh Chaturthi processions with a posse of young dalits from the city’s various slums…’

Looking back it is clear that today the idea of Hindutva has quite a few takers in the Dalit movement . But there was a time when Hindutva was an anathema in the ranks of the dalits. Articulate sections of the dalit movement rightly knew that the essence of Hindu Rashtra is restoration of Brahminical supremacy and relegation of the dalits to a secondary status much on the lines of Manusmriti, the sacred edicts of the Hindus. People very well knew how the triumvirate of Hindutva Savarkar- Hedgewar and Golwalkar glorified Manusmriti.

Hindutva’s Love For Manusmriti

It was late ’60s when Maharashtra witnessed a massive mobilisation of people, cutting across party lines, which was precipitated by a controversial interview given by Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar,12 the then Supremo (Sarsanghchalak) of RSS, to a Marathi daily Navakal. Golwalkar in this interview had extolled the virtues of Chaturvarnya (the division of the Hindus in four Varnas) and had also glorified Manusmriti, the ancient edicts of the Hindus.13 Of course, it was not for the first time that the Supremo’s love and admiration for Manusmriti, which sanctifies and legitimises, the structured hierarchy based on caste and gender, had become public. In fact, at the time of framing the constitution also, he did not forget to show his disapproval towards the gigantic effort, claiming that the said ancient edict could serve the purpose.14

K.R. Malkani, a leading ideologue of the RSS admits in his book ‘The RSS Story’, that Golwalkar, the second supremo of the RSS, ‘saw no reason why Hindu law should break its ancient links with the Manusmriti’.15 Similarly, in his ‘Bunch of Thoughts,’ Golwalkar, quoting from the Rig Veda and echoing Manu, empathically declares, ‘Brahmin is the head, Kshatriya the hands, Vaisya the thighs, and Shudras the feet. This means that the people who have this four-fold arrangement, the Hindu people, is (sic) our God’.16

In fact it would be more prudent to say that the very edifice of RSS, which yearned for a Hindu Rashtra based on Brahminical worldview, was built on an inbuilt antagonism towards the assertion of the Shudras-Atishudras and women. And Maharashtra which never had a significant Muslim presence became a home to this project as it was witness to the massive social-cultural movement challenging the stranglehold of Brahminism and Patriarchy under the leadership of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule.17 The Phule’s struggle against the Shetjis and Bhatjis ( Traders and Brahmins) got a new fillip with the emergence of Dr Ambedkar whose first historic struggle for the dignity of dalits culminated in the burning of Manusmriti itself in 1927. Interestingly most of the studies of the origin and expansion of Hindutva brigade have rather concentrated on the anti-minority aspect of its foundation and have inadvertently or so skipped the anti-Dalit or anti-shudra aspect of its formation which has led us to a situation where a concerted attack on the foundations of the politics Hindutva has not been possible. Although of late one does notice a significant change in the appraisal and also a growing realisation that anti-caste struggle needs to be made an integral part of anti-communal struggle.

Explaining the reasons behind the formation of RSS Dr Hedgewar rightly tells his biographer Mr C.P.Bhishikar (considered the only ‘official’ biography, ‘Sanghvriksha Ke Beej’ ) two component parts of its emergence. Of course like any Sangh activist he does not say it so explicitly and one has to gather inferences from what he said. In it he talks about the rising communal tension because of end of Khilafat movement and secondly, the way non-brahmin movement ( which was founded by Phule) had raised its head

It was not surprising that Golwalkar did not take kindly to the affirmative action programmes undertaken by the newly independent state for the welfare & empowerment of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. He expressed his disapproval by saying that rulers were digging at the roots of Hindu social cohesion and destroying the spirit of identity that held various sects into a harmonious whole in the past.18 Denying that Hindu social system was responsible for the plight of the lower castes, he held constitutional safeguards for them as responsible for creating disharmony.

Dr Ambedkar had envisaged the special privileges for ‘Scheduled Castes’ for only 10 years from the day we became a republic in 1950. But it is going on, being extended. Continued special privileges on the basis of caste only, is bound to create vested interests in them in remaining as a separate entity. That would harm their integration with the rest of the society. 19

It was the same period when attempts were made to give limited rights to Hindu women in property and inheritance through the passage of the Hindu Code Bill., which were opposed by Golwalkar and his followers, with the contention that this step was inimical to Hindu traditions and culture. Looking back one could say that RSS was one of the leading force of this all India campaign to stop enactment of the bill. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who later became the founding President of Jan Sangh – the mass political platform floated by RSS- , and who happened to be a minister in Nehru’s cabinet then also expressed his opposition to the passage of the bill in no uncertain terms. It is now history how the bill could not be passed when Ambedkar was the law minister and he resigned from the cabinet mainly on these grounds only.

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, another leading light of the Hindu Right, who is supposed to be the pioneer of the idea of Hindutva, also expressed his admiration for Manusmriti in no uncertain terms.According to him :

Manusmriti is that scripture which is most workshipable after Vedas for our Hindu nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation. Even today the rules which are followed by crores of Hindus in their lives and practice are based on Manusmriti. Today Manusmriti is Hindu law. 20

Although much water has passed the Ganges (and the Jamuna), it cannot be said that there is any rethinking in the camp of Hindutva about Manusmriti or the social system sanctioned by it .The only difference which has occured is that the critique of the present constitution – which at least formally (to quote Dr Ambedkar) ‘ended the days of Manu’ – has become more sophisticated. Not a day passes when one of the stalwarts of the Sangh Parivar criticises the constitution for ‘bearing colonial imprints’ or supposedly ‘not caring to local traditions and culture’. It was not for nothing that the BJP had even appointed a commission to review the constitution under some specious plea.

Of course there are occasions when the criticism does not remain so guarded and it manifests itself in a blatant manner.One still remembers how Giriraj Kishore, a RSS pracharak, who happens to be a leading light of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, had rationalised the killings of five dalits in Jhajjar, Haryana ( October 2002) by a mob for committing the ‘crime’ of skinning a dead cow by saying that ‘in our religious scriptures ( Puranas) life of a cow is more important than any number of people’.

It is now history how Uma Bharati (then a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party) led M.P. government promulgated an ordinance for banning cow slaughter with an official statement which extolled the virtues of Manusmriti.( Janurary 2005) It said: Manusmriti ranks the slaughterer of cow as predator and prescribes hard punishment for him‘. As Shamsul Islam, in his piece in ‘Hindutva and Dalits’ ( Ed. Anand Teltumbde) writes ‘It was for the first time in the legal history of independent India that a law was being justified for being in tune with Manusmriti.’. It had no qualms in declaring its committment to Manusmriti although it very well knew that it was in contravention to the basic principles of constitution.

It is the same BJP which helped install a magnificient statue of Manu in the precints of Jaipur (capital of Rajasthan, perhaps the only state in India ) highcourt in early 90 s when Bhairon Singh Shekhawat – a longtime RSS worker and present incumbent to the Vice Presidents’ chair- happened to be the chief minister.

Yoginder Sikand , a leading scholar on interfaith relations, in one of his perceptive writeup Hindutva And The Dalit-Bahujans: Dangerous Portents shares his experience interviewing leaders Hindutva leaders :

‘Top Hindutva leaders are on record as arguing that the Hindu Rashtra of their dreams would, in emulation of the classical Hindu state that they so ardently espouse, be ruled according to the draconian Bible of Brahminism, the Manusmriti, that consigned the ‘lower’ castes and even ‘upper’ caste women to the most cruel form of slavery that humankind has ever devised‘

Interestingly, despite its fascination for Manusmriti, the RSS alongwith its affiliated organisations have been able to win over significant numbers of Dalits as well tribals to its side. Question would naturally arise how could it do it ?

Whether it is related to the dynamics of the dalit movement itself which underwent splits after splits in the post-Ambedkar era and could not figure out its correct bearings in the present polity ? Or it could be explained on the basis of the changed lifeworlds of the dalits and the process of Sanskritisation which has slowly overtaken wider concerns among them? The ensuing discussion would remain incomplete if do not take a look at the changes in the modus operandi undertaken by the Hindutva project itself to make itself ‘attractive’ for the subalterns.

Unfolding of A Movement

Nineties happened to be a decade of great turmoil in the life of the nation. Apart from the neo-liberal changes undertaken in the economy under the canopy of globalisation, there were two parallel ( at times overlapping) streams which made their present felt in the socio-political arena – namely the phenomenon of dalit-backward assertion and the ascendance of the Hindutva right. In popular parlance it was projected as ‘mandal’ versus ‘kamandal’ politics. The assertion of the subalterns was on the one hand a slow reflection of the coming into own of these sections as well as reflection of their growing frustration with the Congress, which had accomodated them under its typical paternalistic mode for quite sometime. The famous ‘Congress system’ was in fact a carefully carved out block of Brahmins, Dalits and Muslims mainly in northern India, which had proved to be one of its winning combination.

One could even say that the nineties which started with a bang wherein the whole phenomenon of Dalit- Backward assertion helped check the growth of communal fascism at various levels ended in a whimper with a significant part of the Dalit-Backward swell submerging itself into the ‘kamandal’ politics.This despite the bitter fact that the Sangh Parivar, the fountainhead of BJP, had never deprecated the Chaturvarna system largely responsible for the plight of the Dalits nor apologised , nor have missed any opportunity to castigate Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar for his alleged ‘pro-British’ opinions or oppose the policy of reservations under one or the other pretext.

It would be opportune to look at the post Ambedar Dalit movement and do a stock taking of the changes within the Dalit politics to understand the phenomenon.. The ups and downs through which the Dalit politics passed through after the death of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar can be broadly divided into three phases – Rise and decline of the Republican Party of India, emergence of the Dalit Panthers and thirdly the growing assertion of Dalits for political power and their consequent refusal to remain satisfied merely with education and job opportunities arising out of the policy of reservation.

There is no need to underline the immense potentialities in the phenomenon of Dalit assertion in today’s caste ridden polity. There is no denying the fact that it is a step ahead in the real democratisation of the Indian society and the polity dominated by Brahminical values and traditions despite fifty plus year experiment in electoral democracy. The impressive intervention of Bahujan Samaj Party under Kanshiram-Mayawati in the national politics underlines this third stage. It is noteworthy that while in the earlier two stages in the post Ambedkar Dalit movement , the unfolding Dalit politics in Maharashtra guided its orientation , its role has been increasingly marginalised in the third stage. The success achieved by BSP has certainly encouraged emergence of similar experiments in different parts of the country.

It is noteworthy that at this stage there is an another apparent groudswell in various Dalit castes also. One could say that the phenomenon of assertion of identities has trickled down to even subsections of the community/caste itself. These are organizing themselves under the banners of their respective caste and sub-caste for achieving their rights. Consequently their guns are trained besides the Varna system also on the so-called rich Dalit castes or the creamy layer in them which they feel have monopolised a large part of the reserved posts. The Mahar/neo-Buddhists vs. Matang and charmakar debate in Maharashtra, Mala vs. Madiga in Andhra Pradesh are symptomatic of this rising trend.. So much so that in Andhra Pradesh the dispute between Malas and Madigas, both of them coming under scheduled category, gave rise to a militant agitation of the Madigas. The Madigas under the banner of Madiga Reservation Porata Samity launched a statewide militant mass movement for castewise categorisation of reserved seats in educational institutions and jobs etc so that extremely depressed castes which could not avail of the quota for historical reasons could avail of it now.

It is indeed ironical that at a time when the issue of Dalit assertion has got acceptance even in the mainstream polity in the 90s a counter tendency has emerged which seem to fracture the new found identity. One could also perceive the whole process as an explosion of identities hitherto suppressed by the hegemonic caste and class structure. In the beginning of the 70s the term dalit denoted a broad, homogenous fraternity. This is no more the case. If you just say Dalit you are making an incomplete statement. It would be necessary to also specify whether he is a Mala or a Madiga or a Matang or a Charmakar. This process has thrown up new ‘icons’ from among the different castes and the subcastes as well. There is also a danger of the old leaders who earlier claimed pan Dalit status being reduced to their ‘own’ caste leaders. The emergence of Avantikabai Pasi in UP or of the famous author Annabhau Sathe in Maharashtra as new leaders of the Matangs underlines this ground reality. Incidently it is interesting to note that Mr. Sathe remained a Communist Party worker all his life and was a leading light of the progressive writers movement. Nobody would have imagined in his lifetime that one day he would be projected as the leader of ‘his caste’ and a saffron alliance in power would present his selected writings before the people.

Parties opposed to Congress have skillfully used the persisting differences between different dalit castes. For example, when the Shiv Sena-BJP government held the reins of power in Maharashtra in mid-nineties, it saw to it that there was representation of Matang and Charmakar in the ministry and the Mahars or NeoBuddhists are kept out.

It is worth noting that within the Dalit movement especially among its intelligentsia there are three sets of opinions as far as alliance with the saffrons is concerned. Whereas one stream of opinion advocates such an alliance on tactical grounds and says that such temporary unity would be beneficial in the longer run. Essentially its argument revolves round the inherent contradictions between the upwardly mobile backward caste people and the dalits especially in the countryside. They feel that at the turn of the 20 th century Dalits are more oppressed by these new kulaks largely coming from the backward castes and that their alliance with upper caste party like the BJP can save them from their onslaught. They clearly say that ‘social fascism’( as represented by the emergent Kulak leadership) is more dangerous than communal fascism. They even belch out statistics to show the number. of dalits killed at the hands of the Kulaks in different parts of the country.

The other stream while categorically opposing any type of alliance with the saffrons even for a shorter period advocates that the dalits should search for their natural allies which according to them can only be the leftists of various hues? According to them the fascist project is essentially aimed at the restoration of the Brahminical order and nothing should be done to sanctify such a medieval project.

The third stream advocates equidistance from both the opponents of ‘communal fascism’ or adversaries of ‘social fascism’. It talks of developing a strong dalit movement on its own strength and then only become a key player in the polity.

The Trajectory of Dalithood

Babasahebanchya Mage Kuni Kay Kele/ Kuni Jhale MLA, Kuni Jhale MLC, Aamhi Rahilo Upashi

( What we did after Babasaheb’s Demise, Somebody became MLA, somebody became MLC, We remained Hungry)- A Marathi song famous in 70 s

The lifeworlds of the dalits in the wee hours of 21 st century present a contradictory picture.

On the one hand we have before us a majority which is poor, which is landless, which is subjected to deprivations and injustices of different kinds.Caste discrimination still persists in most parts of the country. Untouchability might have been officially abolished more than half a century ago but it still exists. Crimes against this section of society are rampant. Ranging from the police to the administration to the judiciary, one very well witnesses the continuing stranglehold of Varna mindset.

A number of -protective and developmental.-measures have been initiated in accordance with Constitutional provisions by the government for providing protection to untouchables (Scheduled Castes or SCs)and the tribals. Under the ‘protective’ sphere, untouchability was legally abolished and its practice in any form forebidden by the Protection of Civil Rights (Anti-Untouchability) Act of 1955. To protect the category of SC and ST in a more effective and comprehensive manner a few other legislations were introduced. Policies of reservation and representation were adopted to improve the access and participation of these sections in the economic, educational and political spheres.

But as Justice V.K. Krishna Iyer, the legendary human rights activist and a former Supreme Court Judge puts it, all such ‘half hearted legislation has proved to be impotent and ineffectual in practice’. He also added that the aim behind these attempts was to have a ‘more effective, more comprehensive and more punitive provisions of law’. However ‘ the ruling classes saw to it that, at the functional level, the legislations were paper tigers’ ( All quotes from in ‘Forward by Justice Iyer to a book ‘ Dalit Utpidan aur Vidhik Upchar, by P.L.Mimroth, Nov 2000, Delhi)

As it is clear from many other reports, the overall impact of all such measures leaves much to be desired. But there is no denying the fact that a minority among the dalits has definitely benefitted from such measures instituted by the government. The affirmative action programmes – comprising of viz. seats in educational institutions, quotas in employment opportunities, political representation at various levels – undertaken by the state in the post-indepedence era, coupled with the changes in the economy has definitely impacted the lifeworlds of a section of dalits in very many ways. Despite the fact that the implementation of such schemes and policies has been tardy which still faces resistance at various levels, nobody can deny that a new middle class has emerged from among these oppressed communities, which was unthinkable in the pre-independence era.

The overall impact of Ambedkar’s movement is noticeable in the fact that education has spread in almost all the dalit castes. Quite a few of these educated dalits have joined government services, public enterprises as well as teaching profession. A significant section of this middle class is not a first generation middle class. Of course, looking at the stranglehold of the ageold system of purity and pollution in the minds of the people, their entry into new vocations has not completely eliminated the possibility of their being subjected to discrimination.

The difference in class locations and consequent social-cultural attitudes has led to a state where despite coming from similar social origin, one does find a perceptible difference between the experiences, grievances and aspirations of the dalit masses and that of the dalit middle classes. The way in which the internal dynamic of the dalit movement has unfolded itself , where radical transformatory slogans have given way to the idea of ‘capturing power’ in any manner, has also created an ambience which has reinforced this divide. The explosion of religiosity, which is evident among different cross-sections of society, has also impacted the dalits.

Talking about Dalit middle class, Sandeep Pendse puts it in one of his articles ( The Dalits and Hindutva : Gainers and Loosers, ed, Anand Teltumbde): It has now come into its own and developed distinct interests. It now aspires not for a distinct and separate identity but for assimilation and acceptance within the mainstream., including the Hindu fold. It no longer even promotes democratic, radical culture expressions. It wishes above all integration.

In fact instead of wholesale rejection of the Hindu order, they seem to opt for this path in a belief that this would enable them to claim their due in matters of both faith and social status. As Nalini Pandit puts it in her above quoted writeup ‘These middle class Dalits have a desire to assimilate with the upper caste middle class which at least in Maharashtra is extremely communal. Naturally the Dalits imitate them in their thinking and behaviour.’

At general level the very dynamics of caste has also manifested itself.The caste system as is widely known is basically a system of social hierarchy based on the twin concepts of purity and pollution which is sanctified and legitimised by religion. Looking at the whole process of social mobility there are only two options open before the lower castes. They can either reject or renounce the whole edifice of religion which sanctifies this system and strive for an alternate identity or they can strive to climb the social hierarchy by imitating the way of life and ritual of the dominant castes

Mr M.N. Srinivas rightly explains : “The caste system is far from a rigid system in which the position of each component caste is fixed for all time. Movement has always been possible and especially so in the middle regions of the hierarchy. A low caste was able in a generation or two, to rise to a higher position in a hierarchy by adopting vegetarianism and teetotalism and by sanskritising its ritual and pantheon. In short, it took over, as far as possible, the customs, rites, and beliefs of brahminism, and the adoption of the brahminic way of life by a low caste seems to have been frequent though theoretically forbidden.’21

It would not be incorrect to say that the cumulative impact of deradicalization of the dalit movement coupled with the growing hiatus between the broad sections of dalit masses and a stabilized dalit middle class , the overall spurt in religiosity has led us to a situation where it would it is not easy to map the dynamic of dalithood in a linear fashion.

One could even say that the dynamic of Dalithood has simultaneously traversed a terrain which has contradictory features.While one of its stream is showing a newfound enthusiasm for Hinduism or the political project of Hindutva, the second stream has aligned itself with democratic or radical forces and is involved in struggles of dignity or livelihood, including political power. The ‘guest actor’ role (to quote Prof Gopal Guru) of the Dalits and their leaders in the unfolding dynamic of Indian polity is long passe, today they happen to be the most vibrant section of Indian society able to make choices for themselves.

Of course apart from the internal logic of the dalit movement which has created a basis for the spread of statusquoist ideas gain wider currency , there has been a sea change in Sangh Parivar’s whole strategem as far as coopting dalits in its hate project is concerned. One can see for oneself that it has shrewdly modified its focus keeping its essential understanding intact. Gone are the days when Dalits were abhorred like during the reign of Hedgewar-Golwalkar and Ambedkar was a hated figure in the Sangh circles, today not only Ambedkar has found a prominent place in the Sangh pantheon (Pratahsmaraniya – worth remembering in the morning). The Sangh patriarchs have of late been talking about Hindu community getting organised under dalit leadership. In an editorial in the RSS Hindi organ Panchajanya it said ( The Statesman, July 24,2006)

” So long as those believing in caste hierarchy continue to dominate among the Hindus, it would be difficult to instill courage in their spines …Hindu society too can jump over this ocean of crises, challenges and self-ignorance if they start viewing Dalits as Ram and Hanuman, touch their feet, organise under their leadership and as disciples form an aggressive organisation. Only Dalits and the deprived can uplift us, this is an undoubtable truth.”

Genesis of Untouchability – Pearls Of Wisdom !

Notwithstanding the attitude of the Brahmin scholars, I must pursue the task I have undertaken. For the origin of these classes is a subject which still awaits investigation … That the Hindus should not have undertaken such an investigation is perfectly understandable. The old orthodox Hindu does not think that there is anything wrong in the observance of untouchability. To him it is a normal and natural thing. As such it neither calls for expiation nor explanation. The new modern Hindu realises the wrong. But he is ashamed to discuss it in public for fear of letting the foreigner know that Hindu Civilisation can be guilty of such a vicious and infamous system or social code as evidenced by Untouchability…

- Dr Ambedkar, The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why They Became Untouchables? –

The speech delivered by the Supremo on the foundation day of RSS has a special import in the eyes of its Swayamsevaks as well as the rest of the country. With the growing acceptability of RSS or the political project of Hindutva in a significant sections of Hindus, the message delivered by the Supremo on the day of Dusshera is deciphered for what it said and what remains unsaid. But the chilling message which the present Supremo delivered on Dusshera in the year 2003 had few parallels which underlined what was being played on the grounds in the RSS Shakhas and outside.

The longish speech presented a new ‘theory’ about the genesis of untouchability.

Mr Sudarshan said :

..But the irony is, the descendents of that great saint – the Valmiki community – has been relegated into untouchable community today. How did it happen? In fact the people of Valmiki samaj were originally from warrior class.

Some historians maintain that the Islamic invaders used to place two options before the vanquished Hindu warriors; accept Islam or work as scavengers cleaning their toilets. While many so-called upper caste people opted for Islam, these warriors demonstrated their uncompromising commitment to their religion by opting for the mean jobs rather than giving up their religion. ..

Any layperson would notice that with this new ‘theory’ it tried to kill two birds with one stone. Forget Manusmriti, forget the age old Varna vyavastha which denigrated the Shudras-Atishudras and women to a less than human status, it plainly stated that the ‘Untouchability’ had its genesis in the ‘Muslim rule’ only.As a ‘proof’ of his sinceriety he even ‘apologised’ for the behaviour of the Hindus.

Instead of bestowing them with the highest honour, tragically the Hindu society chose to accord them the lowest place only.

Sangh watchers would tell you that it was not for the first time that any higher up in the fraternity had given such a spin to the genesis of dalithood. Another senior leader from the Sangh Parivar, who happens to be the International working President of VHP had stated in ‘Organiser’ (20th August 1995) that the Muslim rulers wanted that the dalits embrace their religion, but with the consistent refusal by the dalits, they confiscated their lands, expelled them from villages and thus the dalit community came into existence.

People would remember that the six year BJP tenure at the centre was marked by a similar attempt vis-a-vis women on behalf of the Sangh Parivar where it had tried to ‘discover’ similar ‘origins’ to the secondary status of women. In one of the documents released on behalf of ‘National Commission for Women’ then, it had plainly stated that women in India enjoyed all rights before the advent of the Muslims and the situation drastically changed after ‘Muslims entry into India’

Definitely neither Mr Sudarshan or Mr Ashok Singhal nor any of their other comrades in the Hindutva family could be considered innocent that they deliberately exhibit their ignorance about India’s past and the manner in which this purity and pollution based graded hierarchy took shape. Neither they could be said to be oblivious of the ongoing struggle in Indian history challenging Brahminism and its rule which at times took shape of a religious challenge to the authority of the Vedas. An organisation which took shape basically to counter the Shudra-Atishudra challenge to Brahminism and which couched its struggle in the language of hatred of minorities could not be expected to forget all these relevant details. In fact, they very well know the ramifications of what they mean.

Any student of history or society can easily comprehend that if this understanding of genesis of untouchability is popularised and gains acceptability, then it serves multiple purposes simultaneously as far as the majoritarian Hindutva right is concerned.

- It absolves the custodians of Varnashram from any complicity in its construction and sustenance and thus refuses to even acknowedge lest incorporate any sort of anti-caste struggle in its agenda. The essence of this new ‘theory’ which externalises the origin of untouchability is that there is no need for reform or reconstruction (including annihilation) of the caste laden structure.

- It provides an important rationale for the further consolidation of the Hindutva chauvinist forces which cannot brook any association of Hindus with Islam and Muslims.

- It brings into disrepute the rich local tradition of popular religion that defied the sternly Brahminical Hinduism that the Hindutva forces were so ardently seeking to impose on the country. Despite the ascendance of the majoritarian Hindutva right in our country since last around two decades one is still witness to Hindus -mainly belonging to the lower castes – still flocking to Sufi shrines in large numbers

- It serves the purpose of striking at the root of the composite heritage by pitting two of its strongest pillars who also happen to be the staunchest opponents of the project of Hindutva against each other.

- It helps the Hindutva right in construction and imposition of a monolithic Hinduism- Brahminical Hinduism – which is self-contained, completely apart to other religions, in fact antagonistic to other religions.

- It paves the way for the cooption of dalit icons into Hindutva pantheon and helps their projection as ‘anti-Muslims’.

Jai Hindutva Not Jai Bheem : Enter The Fanatic Dalit !

What is common between Rameshbhai Parmar, Valjibhai Patel and Anandi Parmar or for that matter TikajiBhai ? Well, as the name signifies all of them are Gujaratis, but the more important aspect of their being is that they are that part of the Ambedkarite/Dalit movement in Gujarat which refused to be part of the ‘genocidal politics’ of the Hindutva brigade when the stakes were high. Definitely it has not proved to be a catwalk for them when the postGodhra mayhem organised by the Parivar with due connivance with the state machinery was at its peak. They had to bear the brunt of the Hindutva goons while some of their own people decided to either join hands with their perpetrators or just stood mute. Anandi Parmar, a veteran activist of the dalit movement was himself attacked, Tikajibhai’s, another senior activists’ house was set on fire and Rameshbhai Parmar, one of the founders of the Gujarati Dalit Literature had to face prolonged alienation. As far as Valjibhai Patel ,one of the founders of the shortlived Dalit Panther movement, is concerned he received series of threats for not falling in line.

It need not be emphasised that such people who can think and act independently and yearn for an independent assertion of Dalits as envisaged by Dr Ambedkar do not have any place in the Sangh gameplan. In fact, in the post genocide phase when sinister attempts were on to further intimidate, terrorize the religious minorities planned attempt were also undertaken to browbeat those sections of Ambedkarites or independent dalits and tribals formally into the Hindutva fold who had refused to toe the line.

As opposed to Rameshbhai Parmar, Valjibhai Patel and Anandi Parmar Sangh prefers people who may be born into one of those oppressed communities but who are ready to peddle the Hindutva line. People like Ramesh Patange, Kishore Macwana and Madan Dilawar and many of their ilk represent this new dalit ‘face’ of the Sangh Parivar. People who are ready to present a new sanitised image of Ambedkar as a Hindu social reformer, as someone who was opposed to Muslims. People who have found a new commonality between the ideas of Ambedkar and Golwalkar or who find Ambedkar to be an extension of Hedgewar.

At present Ramesh Patange is a senior leader of the Samajik Samarasta Manch floated by the Sangh Parivar and also part of the editorial team of their Marathi organ Vivek, Kishore Macwana formally edits the RSS journal Sadhana in Gujarat and Madan Dilawar, is a minister in Vasundhara Raje’s cabinet and one who was said to be instrumental in the anti-Christian tirade in his home district.

Of course the creation of Hindutvaised Dalits or devising mechanism for co-option Ambedkar, has not been a very easy affair for the Sangh Parivar. One can say that there was a transition period during which RSS tried its hands at different ways to deal with the dalit issue. For the Sangh which had till then followed a very conservative, non-reformist type of Hinduism, which had no place for the dalits,it had not been very easy for it to arrive at full proof single plan to deal with the challenge posed by Ambedkar. But the key thing to remember is that the man who led the RSS from a Chaturvarnya based exclusive type of Hindutva to a more inclusive type of Hindutva was Balasaheb Deoras, the third supremo of RSS. He gave a piece of his mind in ‘Hindu Unity and Social Equality’ (1974) .In fact Deoras happened to be the first RSS leader to visit Deekshabhoomi the place in Nagpur where Dr Ambedkar embraced Buddhism alongwith his followers in 1956.

Looking back, broadly one can say that RSS tried its hands in two different ways to deal with Phule-Ambedkar or defang the challenge posed by their ideas.

i. Stigmatising Phule- Ambedkar, opposing reservation or resisting any struggle for dalit assertion

The book by Arun Shourie ‘Worshipping False Gods‘ which tried to portray Ambedkar as pro-British politician could be said to be one such attempt of stigmatising Ambedkar. The book by a known Sangh apologist witnessed tremendous uproar in the dalit movement for factual inaccuracies and misrepresentatin of Ambedkar. A few students of Ambedkar also exposed the manner in which Shourie had tried to concoct facts to suit his thesis and also quoted the legendary leader out of context to buttress his point. It was during this period only when another Sangh activist Bal Gangal, wrote a series of articles castigating Mahatma Phule in a Hindutva centred weekly called ‘Sobat’.

The late seventies or early eighties witnessed tremendous mobilisation on behalf of Dalits and other democratic forces on the issue of renaming the Marathwada University. A large body of people wanted that the name be changed to Ambedkar University to commemorate the work in the field of education undertaken by Dr Ambedkar. The year 1978 witnessed anti-Dalit riots in Marathwada when the then Maharashtra assembly passed the bill with a thumping majority. The stamp of approval by the assembly led to anti-Dalit riots in the region which witnessed enough participation of RSS and other Hindutva activists.

The RSS network was fully active in the 1981 anti-reservation riots in Gujarat also. One could find maturing of dalit-Muslim solidarity during this period where Muslims had sheltered Dalits at many places. The year 1985 proved to be a repeat of 1981 when Dalits faced the wrath of the same combine. It appears that the growing bonhomie between the dalits and Muslims prompted serious rethinking in the Sangh Parivar itself over its own strategem and it was compelled to change its track. Within one year, i.e., in 1986 during Ahmedabad’s annual Jagannath rath yatra, when riots flared up the Dalits were found enthusiastically supporting the RSS-BJP combine. During the riots all over Gujarat in 1990 in the aftermath of L.K. Advani’s rath yatra, Dalits continued their alliance with caste hindus. The BJP strategy of thus winning over Dalits and thereby consolidating broad sections of Hindus and polarizing the population along communal lines at least bore fruits in Gujarat.

ii. Sanitising Phule-Ambedkar, supporting reservation including struggles for limited dalit assertion but simultaneously constructing a new antagonism between the dalits and the minorities.

Sangh realised that instead of attacking Ambekdar it would be fruitful to construct his new image which would suit its own worldview.

A few affiliated organisations were floated to suit the purpose.The year 1979 saw the formation of Sewa Bharati supposedly to promote educational initiatives among dalits at an all India level whereas Samajik Samrasta Manch ( 1983) was launched basically to target the dalits and their movement in Maharashtra. Other affiliates of the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal or its political platform Jan Sangh/BJP were also asked to focus their attention on these ‘deprived sections of Hindu community’.

To gain wider acceptability among dalit masses, RSS even supported the inclusion of ‘Riddles in Hinduism’ in the government publications when there was a great uproar in Maharashtra over this spearheaded by Shiv Sena. The Shiv Sena people wanted that Ambedkar’s booklet ‘Riddles In Hinduism’ should not be included in the Collected Works as it supposedly contained ‘objectionable references about Ram and Krishna’

The spatial strategies of Hindutva were skillfully employed to help generate new antagonisms between the two communities. And the target of attack had normally been the syncretic traditions of people where members of both the communities – especially belonging to the lower rungs of society – mingled easily. 22

Samajik Samarasta: new praxis for co-optation of dalits

The nearly 25 year old trajectory of Samajik Samrasta Manch could be loosely divided into two phases.

In the first phase the emphasis was not on asking Dalits to join the Manch rather it was on convincing the non-dalits especially the upper castes that they need to moderate their stand vis-a-vis Ambedkar. The idea was to present Dr Ambedkar as a Hindu Social Reformer and convince the caste populace that he should also be included in the Hindutva pantheon. Emphasis was on to remove the stigma that the RSS has been an anti-Dalit organisation. Of course, during this initial phase also Sangh tried to attract individual Dalit intellectuals towards its activities. In fact the readiness with which Dr Gangadhar Pantawane, a leading Dalit intellectual and editor of ‘Asmitadarsh’ addressed one of the conferences organised by Manch (1988) created a big furore in the movement. The Manch as well as many other affiliated organisations of RSS started celebrating 14 th April as well as 6 th December at their own level.

To begin with, it would be worthwhile if one takes a look at a RSS activists own description of the genesis of Manch. In his writeup in ‘Vivek’ weekly ‘ Ramesh Patange tells us

It was the decade of 70s when the word ‘Samrasta’ was used as an idea in the theoretical field.And the credit should be given to Late Dattopant Thengdi. It was a coincidence that the year 1983 saw the birth anniversaries of Dr Ambedkar and Dr Hedgewar falling on the same date.This prompted him to launch a new Samajik Samrasta Manch in Pune with the understanding that it could be used a forum to further new ideas. Mr Thengdi gave a speech on this occasion which was later published as a booklet with the title ‘Samarasta Bina Samata Asambhav’ ( Equality Impossible without Harmony).(quoted in ‘Samrasta Ke Sutra, 2006)

In the present second phase when the Sangh Patriarchs felt that enough groundwork has been done to present a sanitised image of RSS, it went all out to to attract even Dalit masses towards its activities. To propagate the message of Manch it brought out booklets,( e.g. Samrasta – Dr Hedgewar, Dr Ambedkar), held workshops, organised conferences, took out Sandesh Yatras throughout Maharashtra supposedly to propagate the ideas of reformers like Phule-Ambedkar. Interestingly it even organised exhibitions of Buddha’s life when lakhs of people gather every year to commemorate the 1956 conversion to Buddhism. But one of the most daring steps taken by the Manch was the support it rendered to the publication of ‘Riddles In Hinduism’. Taking advantage of the birth anniversaries of Hedgewar and Ambedkar (1990) the said Sandesh Yatras throuhout Maharashtra were organised.

Commenting on the ‘Samrasta’ experiment, political scientist Suhas Palshikar explains that the RSS wanted to consolidate its image by upholding Ambedkar and at the same time did not wish to lay claim to the radical transformative legacy of Ambedkar. According to him Sangh accomplished this feat in the following manner :23

a.To begin with, the RSS conceded that Ambedkar was a national symbol and an icon of national stature (not just a leader of dalits)…

b. Secondly, Samrasata Manch sought to project Ambedkar as being favourable to Hindu interests and Hindu unity….

c.Having once asserted that Ambedkar was interested in the welfare of Hinduism, the Samrasata Manch further sought to depict Ambedkar as religious reformer within Hinduism…

d. Having pushed Ambedkar into the Hindu reformist framework, the Samrasata Manch further strengthened Ambekdar’s place as a Hinduist thinker by projecting that he was anti-Muslim…

It is for everyone to see that the appropriation of Dr Ambedkar’s radical legacy could not be resisted in any meaningful manner. The split within split in the dalit movement and the confusions rampant in the Dalit intellectuals themselves created a situation that Sangh did achieve a limited success in its expansion.

Reclaiming the real Ambedkar – Reinvigorating the Movement

The saga of Hindutvaisation of a section of Dalits or the appropriation of one of the biggest leader of the oppressed does not end here.

It is a tragedy of epochal proportions that the section which has been at the receiving end of the Brahminical system for hundreds of years is today metamorphosing itself into the biggest defender of a project committed to building Hindu Rashtra

It is disturbing that a significant section of the dalits ( and the tribals) who would form the backbone of any revolutionary transformation in future seem to have crossed over to a camp which is engaged in furthering hate and peddling its exclusive agenda.

It is no less shocking that the man who fought all his life against the injustice structured in the Hindu religion and ultimately embraced another religion asking his followers to be ever vigilant about the use of Hindu gods in any form, is slowly being turned into a Hindu reformer and a Muslim baiter.

It is disturbing to note that an organisation which opposed the assertion of Shudra-Atishudras and which is committed to such an exclusive agenda is today in a position to present itself in a ‘new look image’ couched in a liberal/sounding rhetoric.

For an external observer the absence of any significant theoretical-political challenge to the dangers posed by Hindutva may lead to the inference that the juggernaut of Hindutvaisation of the subalterns is unstoppable.

Nothing can be farther from the truth.

It is true that the internal dynamics of the dalit movement coupled with the chronic weaknesses of the radical transformatory or other democratic movements, and an ascendant Sangh Parivar which has operationalised a multidimensional action plan to coopt the dalits has definitely complicated things for all those forces who feel concerned about this new turn in the Dalit mindset. But with passage of time there is growing realisation in the ranks of the radicals within the dalit movement as well as the progressive forces which are committed to a revolutionary transformation of society that they need to introspect their mistakes and forge long term solidarities to face the onslaught.

One is finding new commonalities of interest and purpose in all those formations/movements who are in one way or other opposed to Brahminism,Patriarchy and Capitalism and want to usher into a society which has done away with discriminations, deprivations based on these categories.

They have realised that they need to reclaim the real Ambedkar, a legendary who asked the workers to fight against the twin enemies of Brahminism and Capitalism, a visionary who prophesised that “If Hindu Raj does become a fact it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with Democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost” 24 has never been so urgent.

Notes and references :

1. RamRahim nagar a large jhuggi cluster in Ahmedabad which is inhabitated mostly by poor dalits and Muslims stand as a towering testimony to the spirit of communal harmony which they precariously maintained despite agents provocateurss from both sides .

2. For those unacquainted with the literary and political sojourn of Namdeo Dhasal, a person supposed to be more close to the left in his youth, it may be told that his collection of poetry ‘Golpeetha’ is supposed to be a milestone in Marathi literature. Inspired by the Black Panther movement in the US, Namdeo along with Raja Dhale, had rebelled against the opportunist politics of Republican Party of India, the political formation founded by Dr Ambedkar before his sudden demise, and had formed Dalit Panther.(1972?) The Panther experiment in channelising Dalit anger in Maharashtra had inspired similar experiments in other states as well.

It is now history how Dalit Panther itself broke into many factions on flimsy grounds and how it got itself involved in the cesspool of opportunist politics much on the lines of the RPI. Dhasal later joined Shiv Sena, mainly Maharashtra based political formation, which also catered to the cause of Hindutva albeit in its own manner.

3. Raosaheb Kasbe, a leading Ambedkarite radical intellectual, who is supposed to be close to the progressive movement, became a leading protagonist of this idea then.

4. It may be noted that RSS had even questioned the formation of an egalitarian constitution based on one person-one vote and had publicly called for declaring the ageold Manusmriti to be the new constitution.

No sane person would forget that RSS in general and Golwalkar in particular opposed the affirmative action programmes for the Dalits and other socially oppressed sections on the specious plea that it would divide the Hindus further. It was under Golwalkar’s leadership that organised attempts were done to scuttle the move to confer limited rights to (mainly upper caste) Hindu women in matters of property and divorce which had been initiated by Dr Ambedkar under the proposed Hindu Code Bill.

5. It is an established fact that Dr Ambedkar was vehemently opposed to the idea of a Hindu Raj. In one of his historic books ‘Pakistan or the Partition of India’ (1946) he writes ” If Hindu Raj does become a fact it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with Democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost” (Ref . Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar – Writings and Speeches Vol 8., P. 358)

As Prof Nalini Pandit puts it further :

A Hindu Raj, he believed, can be prevented only by establishing a new party, different from the Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha, based on the co-operation of Hindus and Muslims. Such a Party having an agreed programme of social and economic regeneration can avoid the danger of both a Hindu Raj and a Muslim Raj. The formation of such a Party, he felt, would not be difficult. “There are many lower orders in the Hindu society whose economic, political and social needs are the same as those of majority of Muslims and they would be far more ready to make a common cause with the Muslims for achieving common ends that they would with the high caste hindus who have denied and deprived them of ordinary human rights for centuries.” (Ref . Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar – Writings and Speeches Vol 8., P. 359)

6. Hindutva and Dalits : Edited by Anand Teltumbde, Samya, 2005, Calcutta

7. Conceding this phenomenon, as a caveat it also need be added that many among these communities also proved to be the biggest defenders of the Muslims, which they did at great personal risk to themselves. It need be emphasised that their role in the genocide was not an all Gujarat phenomenon and was confined to a few districts only. There have many instances showing that they risked their lives to save their Muslim neighbours from the hands of the marauders.Rather they played a key role in maintaining a semblance of sanity in the otherwise gloomy atmospehere which prevailed when the Hindutva storm troopers descended on the streets and created a helllike situation for the Muslim community. Secondly , apart from the Muslims it is the dalits who, as a community, suffered most casualities and loss of property in this tragic aftermath.

8.For detailed discussions, See ‘Inverting Dalit Consciousness ‘ Subhash Gatade, Fascism In India, Manak Publications, Delhi, 2003

9. Apart from the reaction on classical lines where the dalits were said to have been lured by money, liquor and political prospects and were used like jehadis by the Hindutva forces, one could also see the growing deteriroation of harmonious relations between the dalits and the Muslims because of economic factors. Economists like Jan Bremen tend to “..attribute it to globalisation and the manner in which capitalism has grown in the State. .. Sections among these marginalised workers, mainly Dalits, are part of the Sangh Parivar’s lumpen elements.” ( Dione Bunsha, Frontline 12 May 2002)

An altogether different type of reaction to the entire gory episode was provided by the likes of Kancha Illiah, a dalit-bahujan scholar .While acknowledging that a gap does exists between the dalits and Muslims in many parts of the state he indirectly blamed the Muslim elite for this state of affairs and asked them to make special efforts to bridge the gap. In his article ‘Dalit, OBC and Muslim relations ( The Hindu 29 May 2002) he put forward this position in no uncertain terms. According to him “The Muslim intelligentsia failed to establish a rapport with the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the OBCs at the ground level.” He adds “..The Muslim intelligentsia must also be held responsible for showing indifference to the issues of caste and untouchability… “

10. ‘There is evidence to prove that in Dharavi in the R.P.iI.- Congress Corporator M. Y. Shinde led mobs in Chamda bazar in the December riots. Another Congress Tamil Corporator led a mob of Tamil Christian Dalits in the attack on Muslims…In Golibar colony in Santacruz where there was a violent attack on Muslims the Shiv Sena shakha pramukh was a Buddhist..,the A.C.P. was a Buddhist ..’( P. 62, P. 63, Nalini Pandit, Dalits and Hindu Communalism, Quoted in ‘At Cross-roads : Dalit Movement Today, Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Bombay, August 1994)

11.P. 63, Nalini Pandit, Dalits and Hindu Communalism, Quoted in ‘At Cross-roads : Dalit Movement Today, Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Bombay, August 1994

12. Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, part of the triumvirate comprising of Savarkar and Hedgewar , who fought for a Hindu Rashtra on this soil. He led the fledgling RSS for a period of thirty three years (1940-1973) is said to have not only provided theoretical foundation for the project of Hindu Rashtra but also helped expand its influence through a plethora of affiliated ( anushangik) organisations ranging from the purely parliamentary like the Bharatiya Janata Party to the purely extra parliamentary like the Bajrang Dals which has been charged with many unsavoury incidents in the past.

13.Manusmriti or the Laws of Manu is believed to have been codified by the second century A.D. It presents in totality the system of jurisprudence of Hinduism. Max Muelller, the famous German Indologist, got it translated as the ‘Laws of Manu’, which was first published in 1886 under the series The Sacred Books of the East. It need be noted that it was in the year 1927 that Dr Ambedkar had burnt a copy of the book for its total disregard of the principles of equality, justice and humanism, as part of a massive Satyagraha held at Mahad

14. ‘Organiser’ ( November 30, 1949, p.3) the organ of RSS gave vent to his ideas :

But in our constitution there is no mention of the unique constitutional developments in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.

15.K.R.Malkani, The RSS Story, New Delhi: Impex India, 1980, p.73.

16.This quote appears in the first edition of the book, published in 1966, but curiously disappears in subsequent editions.

17.Jotirao Phule 1827-1890, founder of Satyashodhak Samaj, termed ‘The Greatest Shudra of India’ by Dr Ambedkar was ‘India’s first systematic theorist of caste’ and ‘the most radical 19 th century opponent of it’ who desired nothing less than the complete smashing of its oppressive structure. He alongwith his wife Savitribai started the first school for shudra-atishudra girls in 1848. People like Tarabai Shinde – author of the tract ‘Stee-Purush Tulana’- who has been termed the first ‘feminist thinker of India’ or Narayan Meghaji Lokhande, who formed the first labor organisation in India, were active workers of Satyashodhak Samaj.

18. Cited in N.L. Gupta, RSS and Democracy ( Delhi : Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee, nd) : 17

19. M. S. Golwalkar,. Bunch of Thoughts ( Bangalore : Sahitya Sindhu, 1996) : 363

20.V.D. Savarkar, ‘Women in Manusmriti’. In Savarkar Samagra ( collection of Savarkar’s writings in Hindi), vol 4, edited by Nishikant M. and others ( Delhi : Prabhat, 2000) : 415

21. M.N. Srinivas, Social Change in Modern India (Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 1996)

22.A corollary of this strategy has been to search for space among the dalits ‘by looking for Heroes of their communities, creating warring identities against Muslim invaders and relocating them in their broader project of constructing communal memories among Hindus as a whole, including the dalit castes.’ Quoted in ‘Memories, Saffronising Statues and Constructing Communal Politics’ -Badri Narayan, Economic and Political Weekly, Nov 11, 2006)

23. Suhas Palshikar, Maharashtra : Dalit politics in Hindutva trap, Hindutva and Dalits, edited by Anand Teltumbde

24.Dr Ambedkar ‘Pakistan or the Partition of India’ – 1946, Writings & Speeches Vol 8, P. 358

(Note: The above article appeared as part of a monograph published by a research group based in London)