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Caste And Hinduism

Gail Omvedt

(Written in November 2003)

M V Nadkarni's recent article "Is Caste System Intrinsic to Hinduism?: Demolishing a Myth", (EPW, November 8, 2003) comes as a follow-up to his earlier article "Ethics and Relevance of Conversions: A Critical Assessment of Religious and Social Dimensions in a Gandhian Perspective" (Januay 18). Both articles show the fundamental stamp of Hindutva ideology, primary of which is shoddy methodology, selective quotation (for example, his references to my work are to a 10-year old book and selectively at that), and illogic.

The illogic in the 'Caste System' article begins with a basic, unexamined premise: that there is some entity called 'Hinduism', a religion which has lasted 4,000 years and which comprehends 'classical' as well as 'medieval' and 'modern' forms. This is the most historically unjustified premise, since the term 'Hindu' to refer to a religious belief was never used until the establishment of Muslim regimes (and then only in some parts of India; for instance, Tukaram - who Nadkarni takes as one of the 'Hindu' bhakti sants, never in all his 4,700 abhangs used this word) and it never came into generalised use throughout India until the 19th century. This has been documented by numerous scholars and I will not cite them here. The illogic is that Nadkarni assumes, and documents, changes in the caste as a socio-historical structure (which I think is correct) but does not question the supposedly unchanging character of an essential 'Hinduism'. (Incidentally, Nadkarni is silent on whether Buddhism, Jainism and the shramanic traditions should be considered as part of 'Hinduism').

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Dalit Blood Taints Modi’s Claims

Anand Teltumbde

(From 'Dalit Rights' blog)

During the state sponsored carnage of Muslims in 2002, Dalits in Gujarat were unduly defamed having performed the role of foot soldiers of the Hindutva forces. These were stray incidents in Ahmedabad wherein Dalits were spotted in the crowds that attacked Muslims but there were several other instances that surfaced later all over the state in which Dalits had sheltered Muslim families daring the Hindutva marauders. But media in its characteristic way sensationalized the former and completely ignored the latter. Dalits who are always seen with jaundiced eye, became more despicable because of this canard. Intellectuals and commentators waxed eloquent for years thereafter in their stereotypical analyses of what appeared as sinister development without caring for the facts. These highbrow analyses feigning empathy and concern for Dalits only served to deepen hatred for them. In this negativity lay a positive implication that the upper castes and Dalits might henceforth have amicable relations in Gujarat eliminating the possibility of any caste conflict in the future. Mere glance at the facts would show how removed these commonplace notions and intellectual commentaries were from the ground reality in Gujarat.

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'Brahmins do not have the right to call themselves Indians!'

(This interview was published in January, 2001, in Rediff.com)

brahmins_ilaiah_copyDr Kancha Ilaiah, associate professor of political science at Hyderabad's Osmania University, is known for his fierce attacks on Hindu religious and political leaders.

In 1996, his first book Why I am not a Hindu was accused of inflaming communal passions. Last month, he published another controversial tract, God as a Political Philosopher: Buddha's Challenge to Brahminism.

Dr Ilaiah, 48, says his tirade against Hinduism stems from the inhuman and humiliating caste-ridden conditions in which he was born and brought up. Born in a backward caste family in Andhra Pradesh's Warangal district, he was lucky to get a university education because of the reservation system.

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A black stone among white marbles

Kancha Ilaiah

kancha_ilaiah_copy_copy_copy_copy_copy_copy_copyI am among the millions who live a life without a birthday. October 5, 1952 is what my school recorded as my birthday; beyond this, I am as yet unclear of it all. As I retire this month from Osmania University, where I studied, researched and taught over a period of 38 years, it may be of some value to now tell the story of Osmania and of mine.

Osmania is an old village-like university established by Osman Ali Khan in 1918. He did that at a time when millions of Telanganites didn't know who their ruler was and what a university would be. The first and deepest impression of the imposing Arts College building that was built with marble brought here from abroad is still fresh in my memory. I first saw it, and also the imposing portrait of Osman Ali Khan in the library building, as I came to take the entrance test for MA. It was in 1974.

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Ambedkar and the Left

Gail Omvedt

(From her blog 'seeking begumpura')

An article by Anand Telbumbde, "Not Red versus Blue" has been recently arousing controversy. Dalits have attacked it. In attempting to "mediate" between Ambedkarites and Leftists, Teltumbe according to many has fallen into the trap of turning Ambedkar into a semi-Marxist.

In fact, Teltumbe does distort Ambedkar in a subtle way. He writes, ""Ambedkar practiced class politics, albeit not in the Marxian sense. He always used 'class' even for describing the untouchables." The one example Teltumbe gives is to Ambedkar's essay on caste, which was written in 1916 for a seminar. In this essay, "Castes in India: Their Genesis, Mechanism and Development", Ambedkar begins by describing a caste as an "enclosed class." However, this is a beginning point, not a conclusion, and it is far from absorbing castes into a Marxian notion of class. Ambedkar's elaboration of the mechanisms and development of caste make it clear that caste is a very different category from the openness of class as determined by division of labor. He is apparently using "class" in a somewhat general fashion in his phrase, "enclosed class," not in any specific economic sense.

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A Life Lived Well, and Lessons Thereof

Braj Ranjan Mani

phule_savitri_copy

Jotirao Phule, and his wife Savitribai, declared war on brahmanic-casteist culture and religion. This Maharashtrian couple presented the first major anti-caste ideology and led a mass activism against the ascriptive norms and values. Their distinct brand of socio-cultural radicalism was based on uniting all the oppressed, whom they would call stree-shudra-atishudra. (Literally, stree means women, shudra is productive servile caste at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, and atishudra means 'those beyond the shudras', earlier despised as outcastes, or untouchables. In contemporary language, shudras and ati-shudras are other backward classes and dalits, respectively. But the Phules included in their notion of the oppressed, other marginalised groups as well such as adivasis and Muslims.)

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