Emerging Political Discourse And Marginalization of Dalits In India
By Dr. M. Mohibul Haque
04 November, 2014
This article is an attempt to burst the myths and deconstruct the truth/truths constructed by the ruling elites. This exercise of building a political discourse with the support of the so-called mainstream media is posing a threat to democracy, justice, peace, and freedom and therefore, it must be resisted before the resistance itself is criminalized
It is indeed very difficult to disagree without facing the danger of being disagreeable with perspicacious observation of Antonio Gramsci when he analyses the role of the intellectuals in modern capitalist democracies as ‘experts in legitimation’. The emerging politico-religious discourse in India in the aftermath of appropriation of power in the parliamentary elections by the rightist forces proves once again the great Marxist theoretician not only correct but relevant as well. The popular media sometimes wrongly called mainstream media is busy in capitalizing on emotional lava that the rightist forces in nexus with the corporate-owned media have generated in this country. The aims and consequences are obvious—developing and maintaining a hegemonic politico-religious discourse and marginalizing all progressive and revolutionary forces. One of the most disastrous consequences of this organized attempt is weakening and marginalization of a great movement for social justice and equality i.e., the Dalit movement in India.
The politico-religious controversy unleashed by the reactionary forces and legitimized by the mainstream media on the issue of Sai-Shankaracharya dispute witnessed a monopolistic discourse on Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma. The discussions on the controversy on popular TV channels were monopolized by the Brahminical elites conspicuously marginalizing Dalit perspectives. There are Dalits in our country who find themselves as the victim of this hegemonic interpretation of the Sanatana Dharma. However, the Dalit perspective on the debate was completely missing at all public platforms. This intellectual euthanasia deliberately being injected through corporate media to a big chunk of our population is not only unfortunate but it also makes all the debates meaningless and one-sided. This attempt of the mainstream media to homogenize by bulldozing identities cherished by many segments of our population is alarming and disappointing.
In fact any discussion on Hinduism will be one-sided and misleading if great reformist traditions and dissenting movements are not given due space. This attempt to monopolize Hinduism as a private limited company by few elitist groups is disappointing. After all, Arya Samajis, Radha Soamis, Kabir Panthis, believers of bhakti traditions, Sai devotees and several hundred other groups practicing diverse rituals and symbols have every right to claim their affiliation with Hindu tradition. The puritan approach leading to ‘otherisation’ of those who are not like us is dangerous for the rich diversity of our country.
There is another angle of this discourse as we have to distinguish between the ‘Hindu by choice’ and the ‘Hindu by compulsion’. There are Dalits like Dr. Ambedkar and millions of the followers of the great organic leader who are not ready to consider themselves as Hindus. In fact, they consider themselves as the victim of a hierarchical caste system vertically divided and legitimized by religious scriptures held sacred by the so-called upper caste people from the Hindu community. Thus what should be challenged within the paradigm of Hinduism is not the style of worship or dress code but the caste system which is inhuman and cruel in nature. This caste system is responsible for continuous harassment of Dalits who have had the misfortune of being born, and growing up in a society that has been assaulting their dignity and delegitimizing their self-worth. The perpetuation of this caste system denied Dalits, the access to education, wealth and power. Therefore, the annihilation of the caste system should be the main agenda of the religious enthusiasts of the so-called Hindu community (Hindus like all other communities are not monolith).
The project of the rightist forces in contemporary circumstances should be understood in its proper perspective. Monocultural nationalism has been the ideology of the right wingers in India right from the beginning. ‘One people, one nation, one culture’, has been their project. In fact they cannot achieve their target of remonopolysing power, wealth and values in this country unless they hide their goals and objectives behind the veil of nationalism. Thus constructing a particular kind of cultural or organic nationalism and appropriating intellectual discourses through absolute control over media and other means of mass deception is their ideological necessity. The attempts of the rightist forces to do all these have been frustrated by the timely interventions of the organic leaders like Sir Syed, Mahatma Phoole, Priyar, and Dr. Ambedkar who stood up and spoke out loudly against such attempts. These great leaders achieved success in frustrating the designs of the reactionary forces in those days, but now the situation has changed to the advantage of the rightist forces in our country and therefore, they are making all efforts to achieve a mythic unity of Hindus by manipulating history and distorting facts. It should be borne in mind that their object is not to develop a discourse of unity among Hindus but using this discourse to achieve a definite end i.e., regaining their lost paradise of power, prestige and resources.
Samuel P. Huntington suggests in his thesis ‘clash of civilizations’ that ‘there can be no true friends without true enemies’. The rightist forces whoever or wherever they are need an enemy against whom they can mobilize people to act and defend. Hence, love jihad, cow protection, conversion, appropriating history to find some villains, are the projects underway. These issues might not be significant at all for the majority of Indians suffering from hunger, poverty, unemployment, malnutrition if they are taken as a class but the ruling elite does not allow them to think and act like a class by creating false consciousness through the means of mass deception. It is unfortunate that almost all TV channels with countable exceptions ran the shows in the service of the political masters and these non issues found the coverage that they did not deserve at all. There is no doubt that some courageous TV journalists tried to demolish these myths but their voices and efforts were lost amidst noises created by the cultural hegemons reinforcing the dictum that nuisance has a value. Now the rightist forces have stated a new project of denying the very independent existence of Dalits in India as they are arguing that caste system perpetuating untouchability did not exist in India before the Muslim invaders came to this country as if Manu-smriti was also written by Muslim invaders. The time demands Dalit assertion for cultural self-determination otherwise this politics of assimilation if not challenged will lead to denial of legitimacy to all symbols of Dalit identity. This ambitious project of homogenization and assimilation aims at erasing all marks of distinctiveness and diversity by asserting that all people living in India are Hindus.
If we follow the arguments given by emboldened rightist forces today that all people living in India are Hindu not in geographical but in cultural rather civilizational sense, it can be reminded that the word ‘Hindu’ itself is of foreign origin as it does not exist in any ancient scripture from Vedas and Upanishads to Ramayana and Mahabharata. It is also important to recall that a sprawling indigenous civilization existed on the bank of the river Sind which was destroyed by Aryan invaders. The Dalits perhaps were the people of that civilized world of the ancient times who were subsequently colonized and enslaved and made untouchables by the outsiders. It is suggested that on this unwarranted controversy, we should take recourse in the collective wisdom of our great leaders who while framing the Constitution of India deliberately avoided the expression ‘Hindustan’ and preferred ‘India, that is Bharat’ in Article 1 of the Constitution. This is because the leaders of our freedom struggle were aware of the implications of the terms in the long run. Moreover, the great Dalit icon and the father of the Constitution, Dr. Ambedkar himself had warned: “If Hindu Raj becomes a reality then it would be the greatest menace to this country.” For Dr. Ambedkar it would pose danger to independence, equality and brotherhood and therefore, he stressed that we should make all efforts to stop Hindu Raj from becoming a reality. Thus the attempts to distort and manipulate history for preparing a fertile breeding ground for a fascist takeover and maintaining a hegemonic discourse is unfortunate which must be resisted by all who believe in democracy, peace, justice, equality and human rights.
Dr. M. Mohibul Haque is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, AMU Aligarh. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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