Modi’s Rise: Politics And Caste Conversion
By Gouthama Siddarthan
23 May, 2014
A recent tweet by Subramanian Swamy has created a big controversy. “With the authorities vested in me I hereby appoint Namo as a Brahmin since he has Brahminical gunas (qualities)”. We cannot ignore this as his usual clownish talks. It is the Indian history of the Brahminical authoritarianism of two millennia. It is a historical replay.
Swamy has tweeted many. We can ignore all his tweets as nonsense. But this opinion puts forward the Varnashrama theorem of the caste system.
It should not be ignored with the superficial Dravidian sarcasm thinking “Swamy just tells a good thing by saying there are Brahminiacal qualities in an individual called Modi”, but should be observed thoroughly.
Amidst the growth of political authoritarianism of the middle castes in Tamil society, the arguments for and against reservation quota, the changing dimensions in the structure of caste system, Swamy’s view craftily constructs a concept in the form of clownishness.
In recent times, the political rise of middle castes is well visible. As the foundation for that, the members of every caste come up with theories saying they are inherited from Kings; they write books to prove it; put forward arguments; search for proofs and evidences and they are rocking in data collection as well as in creating data artificially.
This trend has become a great threat to the society which has been overpowering others with authoritarianism for ages. Therefore, now they are in a desperate position to restore the Vedic Shastras.
Since the ancient times, these types of situations have been arising at the end of in every century. During the era of Sanga period, when the low castes such as Thudiyar, Paraiyar and Pulaiyar rose, the chants of Vedic Shastra subdued them. When the caste systems got strengthened during Pallava and Chola empires, they were weakened through segmentation in the name of ‘valangai’ (right hand) and ‘idangai’ (left hand) groups. In 19th century, the caste assosiations re-emerged. Every caste wrote about the pride of its caste and degraded the other castes. It was a big blow for the four caste system.
Consequently, the British Raj made the caste system permanent by census based on Varnasrama segregation. It became stable little by little and has now become an immense factor. In such a desperate situation, Brahminism brings up this concept.
Subramanian Swamy puts forward a hegemonical Ideology. that implies, ‘No matter how far you grow up, since you are a non-Brahmin, you can never come to the supreme status of ‘Brahminhood’. Only we can change it. You can attain that status, only if we wish to’.
This is the supreme authority of Brahminism. Swamy brings out an Brahminian ethno-supremacy through creating inferiority complex: although Modi wins a landslide victory, he still cannot get the qualification to rule India, because he belongs to low caste. Apparently Manusmrti says that Shudra is not eligible to rule. That is why in Mahabharata, Karna -the king of Anga desh whose caste was unknown had to perform certain yaga rituals to get the eligibility for the coronation.
In the same way, there was a big fuss against the enthronement of Shivaji of Maratha who belonged to tribal community. as the result of it, he had to follow the advice of the Brahmin pundits and performed certain rituals and yaga to become a kshathriya.
Thus Swamy’s statement brings up quite a lot of viewpoints in front of us.
By the way, one should not conclude that I hereby support Modi with a superficial approach. What I present here is completely different perspective: the micro politics that implies in Swamy‘s statement: his plan to convert a low caste to be a high caste.
It reminds the ritual observance ‘hiranya garbha’ which is mentioned in many copper plates and inscriptions. Rig Veda , Upanishads and Shastras proudly speak of this ritual. Many researchers portray about the activities and the manner of this ritual from various perspectives.
Now we can analyze one of those perspectives:
The British historian Michael Wood states in his book ‘The Story of India – Ages of Gold’ that the emperor Raja Raja Chola performed this ritual for his son Arulmozi Devan.
Hiranya garbha is a ritual performed for caste conversion. The meaning of ’Hiranya garbha’ can be roughly translated as ‘entering the golden womb’ (hiranya- gold; garbha- womb). The implication of this ritual is being born again, i.e., rebirth.
To perform this ritual, 101 wise Brahmins should start a yaga. A golden replica of a cow –which should be big enough for a man to enter and return- should be made. According to the traditional belief, if the person who is willing to convert from his caste to another enters that golden cow, waits for several hours and returns, he will get promoted himself as a high caste and he will be considered as a re-born man. (Meanwhile, the gold of the cow will be distributed among Brahmins.)
The copper plates state that these rituals had taken place plenty of times in the Tamil society of the ancient time. In Kerala, this Caste converting ritual had been conducted by Namboodiris until the 19th century.
We can see this ritual in a beautiful painting at the Sri Padmanabapuram Palace. We can compare that with the sculpture of a cow in Malampuzha anicut. The superstition about the statue is also noteworthy: folks believe that if a person enters into the cow statue and returns, all his agony will end and he will become a new man.
Thus, whenever it is considered that the social level of the marginalized people gets uplifted, the Hindutva psychology reminds about the caste system and its ancient strata over and over again.
I request you to match what I mention as ‘caste conversion’ with the concept of Varna conversion, because Varna is most vital factor in Indian political context. It is Varnashrama Dharma which does determine what an individual’s social status should be. Converting from a caste to another caste can occur among the various sects of the same caste. It does not matter. What matters is, converting from one stratum to another in the Varnashrama system.
At this point many question marks arise.
According to the Constitution of India, is there any way for caste conversion? Is there any chance for a person who is already in a caste to convert into another caste? Does the Constitution of India approve it? Does it accept conversion to another caste as the same as conversion to another religion?
Such words of those armchair activists who spew opinions from A/C rooms make fun out of the views on reservation quota. It can be viewed as the sign of the future political trend (actually it will be the extension of the current politics): anything will change in any way for one’s self benefits.
Then Bharathi offered the sacred thread poonul to Kanagalingam – a Dalit, and converted him to be a Brahmin. That event was a counter attack against Brahmanical authority which had been overpowering other castes. But what Swamy says is creating the authority. Brahmin psychology overpowers the uniqueness of Shudra identity by stating the superiority of Brahminism
W know the history of Ramanuja who converted a vast crowd into Brahmins. He named them “Thirukkulaththar”. In this regard there have been strong criticism and rejection up to this date.
However, all this great scholars did not try to uplift the people’s living status, but only attempted to convert them into Brahmins (which they considered ‘high status’). This is what called Hindutva psychology.
Bharathi became a victim of this psychology because of being emotional.
We know the history which says that the non-Vedic oriented jains were compelled to convert into Saivite sect and those who did not convert were impaled on spikes. However the contemporary expert historians tend to alter the history by denying these facts. This concept of Varna conversion is a prologue of this Hindutva politics.
It can be considered as the effort to demand the Constitution of India to legalize the conversion of individuals’ caste.
The Meenakshipuram incident of 1980s is a good example for this. Arya Samaj performed large scale yagas and reverted the Hindus who had converted into Islam. Those Hindus were resettled in the same caste sects which they had already been belonged to.
So, what seems significant in the current social environment is the conversion of caste accepted in the Constitution of India. The reasons for this situation are economics and the activities related to finances which are prominent in the mass society and depend on reservation activities.
What the caste structure which is approved by the government brings about are only the viewpoints related to reservation. Indian political analyst Anand Teltumbde criticizes this superficial aspect. There are three important matters in reservation quota. They are: economic rights, social rights and cultural rights. He points out that the struggle to achieve these rights is the real aspect of reservation.
Generally in Indian context, the caste-based reservation quota has been altered into mere model to get concessions. This has resulted in desperation to secure their place in reservation, the fear of losing the opportunities because of the emergence of new castes, jealousy, arrogant protests to avoid other castes from appearing in their caste list and rivalry among castes.
In such a situation, we can imagine what kind of reactions and pro-Hindutva effects will be aroused among the middle castes due to the caste-converting ideas put forward by Swamy.
The popular belivef considers that the reservation quota is the main reason for the economic growth of the Dalits who were once economically very much backward and are now moving towards the economic status of the middle class.
However, only the economic rights are not enough for the social mobility of Dalits. They are not given the cultural and social rights. Whilst analyzing the recent discriminative attacks made against Dalits, we can have a clear picture in this regard.
Fandry, a Marathi movie I watched recently pops up in my mind. A Dalit youngster who falls in (adolescent) love with a high caste girl tries to change his lifestyle into a modern one. For that he prefers to wear jeans. The discourse of mass society portrays jeans as the symbol of high status masculine gender. We can attribute this national viewpoint to Dr.Ramdoss’ statement: “Dalits seduce high caste girls by wearing jeans”.
This is the point in which we have to analyze the perpetual ideas about caste discrimination that have been prevailing for centuries. Caste supremacy is not based on economic rights only. It is based on cultural and social rights. Although the reservation quota of the Constitution of India classifies the castes into certain classes, still the place for your caste in the viewpoint of society is determined by the society itself.
Now let us scrutinize Swamy’s tweet. He states that he will appoint Namo as a Brahmin with the authorities vested with him. What that so called ‘authority’ might be? It is the authority of Brahminism.
Here Swamy’s point is very strong. According to Swamy, not only in the caste list accepted by Constitution of India, but also in the caste structure exists in the society Brahminism acts as the centre of authority. The need of caste rights is not fulfilled by the reservation which assures mere economic rights. Instead, only conversion of caste will help to be competent socially and culturally. The micro politics in Swamy’s statement craftily implies that such status can be achieved only if Brahminism prefers it.
Conversion of caste will uplift an individual’s status more significantly than converting to a religion does. Swamy presents the new trend of caste politics: i.e., converting to a higher caste. Through this concept he tends to change the viewpoints about reservation. In other words, the implication of this concept is, ‘reservation can be made questionable’.
We cannot ignore Swamy’s caste-conversion idea as an impossible one. The Constitution of India which accepts religious conversion was designed with many Manusmriti different viewpoints on caste. It would be no wonder if this caste conversion is accepted in the Modi regime as an extent of it.
Is the caste conversion accepted by the Constitution of India possible? It is time for the political thinkers to start a discussion considering its pros and cons.
Gouthama Siddarthan is a noted columnist, Short-Story writer, Essayist and a micro-political critic in Tamil, who is a reputed name in the Tamil Neo-Literary and Little-Magazine Circle
Translation by Ajnabhi
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