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Modi Vomits Caste Venom

By Dr. Anand Teltumbde

10 May, 2010

On 25 April 2010 Narendra Modi is reported to have observed while releasing his book Samajik Samrasata that Dalits were like mentally retarded children. It created uproar in the Congress circles. Praveen Rashtrapal of the Congress sought to raise the issue in the Rajya Sabha but having been denied permission by the deputy chairman K Rahman Khan, the Congress members trooped into the well of Rajya Sabha and caused a ruckus forcing its adjournment. Earlier, Modi had said that Valmiki community was involved in manual scavenging for a “spiritual experience”. Activist circles were stirred with indignation and began discussing whether Modi could be booked under the Atrocity Act. The legal luminaries may decide whether this is feasible or not given the fact that he would certainly invoke spirit in which he said it, which may obviate the application of the Act. Modi posturing as the great spastic patron may plead that he said it for taking special care of Dalits as we do of the mentally retarded children.

This Modi speak in someway represents the thinking of most upper caste people. Not many people realize that this display of magnanimity is basically the worst expression of casteism rooted in the ideology of Brahmanism and as such deserves all round condemnation.

Stink of Brahmanism

The basic premise of Brahmanism is that people are created unequal by God in accordance with their merit in the previous birth. They should reconcile with this divine order and only practice their dharma to earn merit points in order to get better birth next time. The paternalistic attitude of the upper castes towards these fallen people is basically informed by this ideology. It assumes that Dalits are lesser beings and they are superior; being noble born it is their duty to have pity on Dalits, help them perform their dharma to ameliorate their destiny. This attitude is displayed so casually in self congratulatory manner that they do not have even inkling that it is most humiliating to Dalits. It is worse than insulting them with their caste names, which may be considered as cognizable crime as per the Atrocity Act.

It is precisely for this reason that Ambedkar had denounced Gandhi’s harijan and dismissed the Congress attempts at wooing Dalits through Harijan Sevak Sangh as the ‘Congress plan to kill Untouchables by kindness.’ Not only Gandhi, who was anyway propelled by political considerations, Ambedkar did not take kindly even the bhakti saints’ self pity or tame criticism of the caste system because they did not question the basic ideology behind it. His repeated denouncement of the then Mahar attempts to claim descent and or derive inspiration from the bhakti poet of fourteenth century, Chokhamela underscores the same logic. He saw the act of bhakti saints as the act of subservience to the will of God, and as conformist and anti-revolutionary. Anything that even faintly smells of this obnoxious ideology becomes thus insulting to Dalits. Modi’s statement stinks!

Spastic Minds, Sick Society

Modi is unduly presumptuous about his intelligence in regarding Dalits as mentally retarded. Firstly, the creed he swears by fundamentally treats him, a member of Shudra, as dumb. As such he may not be particularly in position to pontificate on others’ retardedness. Secondly, if he is truly intelligent, he must know that the disability, mental retardation or whatever, is not with Dalits but with the society. It is the Hindu society which is sick not Dalits. Dalits have definitely been infected by this sickness, insofar as they too have emulated this sickly system among themselves. They are surely infected because despite Ambedkar’s clarion call for annihilation of castes, many of them foolishly cling to the idiom of caste. But that’s another matter. Important thing is to see the society as sick because it is incapable of treating its own people equal. It is also mentally retarded as it could not learn from its long history of slavery, which is directly attributed to its myopic notion of caste division of society. Modi had better learnt to be a statesman and think of how to cure this society of its dilapidating sickness.

This is a serious point which is totally missed in reservation discourse. To think of Dalits as disable is pure Brahmanism. Dalits needed reservation not because they lacked merit or skills, but because the societal prejudice will never let them get their dues. With imposed backwardness over two millennia they did look weak to start with, which created an erroneous impression that reservation was a kind of helping hand. It has done a great damage. If reservation had been conceived as the countervailing measure to force society to behave, it would have been contingent upon the society overcoming its disability. The onus to do that would be upon society. Today it is on none, making the reservations appear perpetual and hence a cause of eternal conflict. Worse, with this ‘helping hand’ notion it has become a game to be played by unscrupulous politicians at the cost of polity.

Modi’s Slippery Samarasata

What Modi spoke is basically RSS’s samarasata solution to castes. It aims at strengthening the Hindu identity for its communal agenda. It believes in the greatness of Hindus, their religion, culture and everything and wants to regain it. Naturally, it does not see anything wrong with the varna or caste system, the defining components of the ‘Hindu’. In justifying it, its protagonists indulge in all kinds of ideological acrobatics and make things confusing for gullible people. A typical gem of wisdom on castes in its repertoire is taken from Golwalkar who gave a slogan - ‘sab jaati mahaan, sab jaati samaan’ (All castes are great and all castes are equal), which seems to inform the samarasta project. Actually, in this lofty declaration, Golwalkar has not made any departure from the orthodox Brahmanist position which argues that all the varnas ( and castes) were the parts of same virat purush and hence equal. What it truly means is that all the castes should perform their assigned tasks as their dharma. Valmikis should continue to scavenge and Modis should rule!

Actually Samarasata is the expedient political strategy of the Sangh Pariwar, inaugurated in Pune in April 1983. Until then, RSS did not feel particular necessity to woo Dalits in a conscious manner. What prompted this realization is the increasing competition in electoral politics in the impending coalition era in which Dalit votes could make a big difference. The decline of Dalit movement and degeneration of Dalit politics provided fertile ground to seed such a strategy. After the fall of Janata Dal government, the old Bharatiya Jan Sangh dissolved itself and formed a new party – Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980, which needed to try out new strategies. The main project the samarasata manch, the platform created for the purpose, undertook is to saffronize Ambedkar and paint the RSS gurus in radical colours. It worked with some half baked Dalit intellectuals but did not make much headway with people.

Samarasata means social harmony. Like Dengist China replaced the Maoist lingo of class struggle with social harmony, the samarasata means that various castes should coexist without conflict. How could castes in exploitative relations with each other coexist in harmony except for internalizing Manu’s ideology? It is here we can get the import of Modi’s statement about Valmiki’s ‘spiritual experience’ in carrying the upper caste shit on their heads. It is a shame, that such a grave atrocity as removing human excreta by humans, officially banned way back in 1993 by the Government of India, is eulogized as ‘spiritual experience’. No Dalit ever cared for ‘spiritual’; his concern has been solely material. If Modi values this ‘spiritual experience’, as he seems doing, anyone of the 14 lakh scavengers in the country will gladly handover his/her shovel and bucket to him. He must know as the chief minister of the state that Safai Karmachari Andolan has given a call for abolition of this atrocity by the end of 2010.

Congress’ Fake Concern

It is curious to see Congress agitated over the issue. Actually, Modi in a way voiced his concern for Dalits in the grand Gujarati tradition embodied in the word ‘harijan’ or in the idea of trusteeship that the rich people could go on enriching themselves but hold their wealth in trust for the weak in the society. Both incidentally came from Mahatma Gandhi, the patron saint of the Congress. Gandhi has been perhaps the pioneer in creating an ascriptive and patronizing label for Dalits in modern times. While he always claimed to identify with and represent the Untouchables, he has also used the term like ‘uncultured’ and ‘dumb’ for them highlighting his distance and difference from masses. Look at this advice from Gandhi to the caste Hindu workers for the Harijan cause: “Workers in the Harijan cause… must come in closest touch with utterly unsophisticated, innocent, ignorant men and women who might be likened to children in intelligence.”[Harijan, 07.11.1936] Is there any difference in this and Modi’s calling Dalits retarded?

Of course, Modi as a committed functionary of the RSS would openly uphold the tenets of Manusmriti that takes Dalits as inherently inferior. The Congress would never do so. It enjoyed BJP being condemned as communal and casteist by the progressive elements in the country. But as the vanguard of the ruling classes has it been any different? Its track record in communalism is at best suspect. Its dealing with Dalit issues has been surely muddy. Right from the days of Poona Pact that robbed Dalits of their political autonomy to the unscrupulous co-optation phase of Dalit politics, its role comes out antithetical to its own projection as friend of Dalits. The only difference between it and the BJP perhaps is in the intricacy of its strategy. While BJP appears muddled with its communal agenda, the Congress looks smart without any ideological anchors.

Interestingly, some years ago (around 2005), the Gujarat Congress had made a training programme for Congress workers at the instance of Sonia Gandhi. A course booklet was prepared for the purpose by one leader of the Gujarat Congress Seva Dal. This book had extolled praises on India’s ancient culture and social order, based on Manu’s code and articulated the objective for the Congress as to bring back this social order. This issue was exposed by Valjibhai Patel of the Council for Social Justice, Ahmedabad through newspapers. Embarrassed by this exposure, Amarsingh Choudhari, the then Gujarat Pradesh Congress president had to express his regrets to Dalits for hurting their feelings and expunge that passage from the book. Can one still see any difference between the Congress and BJP with regard to their anti-Dalit Hindu vision?

Caste venom is deep drawn into the body politic of this country. Modis occasionally vomit it, the Congress successfully conceals it!

Dr. Anand Teltumbde is a writer and civil rights activist with CPDR, Mumbai