Hindutva and ethnicity

Gail Omvedt

(First published in February 2003)

The antagonism to conversion rests on an ideological foundation which takes ethnicity, that is a presumed community of blood and heritage, as central.

IN 1996, during a six-month employment in Bhubaneshwar, fascinated by the beauty and antiquity of the area, I travelled with friends to Konarak and to Puri. Here, I was interested in seeing the temple of Lord Jagannath, considered to be the symbol of Orissa. At the temple, however, while my friends were allowed to enter, and confront the solicitude and greed of the Pandas, I was not. The warning sign, "non-Hindus not allowed" clearly meant me. In the Puri temple at least, a white skin was the sign of a non-Hindu.

A couple of years after that, I attended a conference in Madurai, and decided to go see the great Meenakshi temple with a friend, a Chinese woman who had also read a paper at the conference. Though I was not particularly interested, she wanted to go into the inner sanctum, not taking the "only Hindus allowed" warning very seriously and hardly imagining that a temple of a god could be exclusionist. But she was also turned away. Clearly, yellowish skin and folded eyelids also indicated a "non-Hindu" to them.


Kashi secured, now for the Atlantic

Chandra Bhan Prasad

(First pubished in April 2003)

"How could Maya do it, without the cow-belt having undergone a cultural revolution?" the ecstatic D Shyam Babu, a new age Dalit scholar, exclaimed. We were analysing the BSP's triumph in the UP Assembly elections and, sitting glued to the news channels, watching Brahman/Rajput/Bania MLAs pay obeisance to Kanshi and Maya, by falling at their feet.

"Shyam, the cow-belt underwent a cultural revolution 500 years ago," I told him. Shyam thought I was joking. I said, "Don't you know, the Dalits disciplined cow-belt Brahmans in the 16th Century itself. Rajput kings and queens prostrated before an Untouchable at the time, and a religious Order practicing diversity adopted a Dalit voice in its main spiritual system 300 years ago."

I had begun with, "The cultural revolution was led by Saint Ravidas, greatest of all the saints. The revolution sprung up in Kashi, cradle of the Varnashram Order, headquarters of Hindu religiosity, and the seat of Brahman learning."


Neobrahmanism, human rights and social democracy

Braj Ranjan Mani

(First published in 2009)

The image of India is that of a democratic, multicultural, inclusive society. But more often than not, appearances are not reality. India is a republic—a secular, socialist, democratic republic—where millions of children, women and men remain demoralised, enslaved to the powerful, crying out for fundamentals of life. Fragmented along fault-lines of caste, class, gender, ethnicity, region and religion, each marginalised group is characterised as a "minority", but together they form an overwhelming majority.

The notion of 'majority' and 'minority' in India is deeply misleading. It is an elitist, hegemonic construct which enables the vocal minority, the ruling class, to pigeon-hole or ghettoise the oppressed majority into different categories of minorities or weaker sections. Children, women, dalits, adivasis, other backward classes (OBCs), Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and other ethnic-regional communities who account for 90 per cent of the total population are presented as minorities.

Every other religion other than Hindu is projected as minority, alien, foreign originated, and hence un-Indian or less national than the authentic Indian-national Hindu religious culture. The Hindu hardliners even portray them as anti-national if they have not been Hinduised enough, because everyone living in India, according to their perverse logic, is or has to be a Hindu. The militant Hinduism has a history of targeting other religions—Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism—but its worst bite has always been reserved for its own supposed co-religionists such as dalits, adivasis, OBCs. The devious concoction of "Hindu majority" has been a very effective ideological tool in the hands of the caste elites which they use to drive a wedge between each of the minorities/ weaker sections, and pit them one by one as per the exigencies of changed situations against the imaginary majority, thus keeping the marginalised majority divided and demoralised.


We need to battle the media mindset

Chandra Bhan Prasad

(First published in January 2002)

How do temple priests treat Dalits? An educated, decently dressed Dalit with some dignified source of income may be acceptable to them. Dalits with similar qualities may even get some acceptability among Varna landlords. But how does the media treat Dalits and the issues which concern them?

Last Sunday, the 18th Annual Convention of BAMCEF kicked off in Delhi. The four-day convention is a gala event which the Dalit intelligentsia awaits each December. Even Dalit NRIs turn up in considerable numbers. This year, over 6,000 BAMCEF delegates from 26 states/276 districts descended on the Ramlila Ground in Delhi. The ground was renamed BAMCEF city with all essential facilities, including a media centre and online internet facility, being made available. There was also a Dalit book fair where some 20 leading Dalit book distributors put up their stalls.


More than leaders, voters need to mend their ways

Dr. Udit Raj


Nearly a decade ago, it was considered to be in the domain of politicians to provide transparency in politics but now it is no more like that. It is a fact that corruption started from the top and percolated to the lower levels and gradually the public also became a part and parcel of this process. Due to a feudalistic society and lack of means, politics and bureaucracy attract everybody as these can provide both money and political power. These two attributes cannot easily be acquired through other activities like Agriculture, Art, Trade, Education and other fields. This is precisely the reason that people are attracted towards politics. Politicians want to win elections by hook or by crook. Now, if some politicians want to adopt fair means in politics, they are marginalized. It is more so in election politics, where it is difficult to overcome the evils of liquour, money, incentives, caste and religious equations. It is true that the electorate appreciates the honest politicians but when it comes to voting, they back out. At the end of the anti-corruption campaign at Jantar Mantar, Anna Hazare had rightly said that if he contested elections, he would miserably lose and forfeit his security deposit.


Nationalists versus people of India?

Chandra Bhan Prasad

 (First published in October 2001)

My Dalit scholar friend HL Dushad keeps coming up with ideas. This time he suggested, "The ultra-nationalist forces, the Left parivar and the Sangh should dissolve into their original Varna identities. That way, the people of India could fight them." I asked, "Just what has got you to you to theorise this way?" He answered, "Look at their stand on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the print media." Dushad's deep insight into things happening in India often stuns me.

 Only a few years ago, the makers of a "popular" scooter, a monopoly company in India, turned "Leninist" when foreign two-wheeler makers made a bid to re-enter India. Now we know that the particular scooter was technologically backward, polluting and accident-prone but left with no choice, Indians had to buy it. Similarly, when Coca Cola was coming in, Indian soft drink makers raised similar Leninist/nationalistic voices. Now we know Indians were forced to buy third rate and dirty soft drinks. And on every such occasion, the Left and the Sangh together opposed the entry of MNCs.


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