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How high caste Hindus undermine a great religion

September 01, 2016 11:56 IST

The hypocrisies of high-caste Hindus have cost their followers very dear. Millions have left their dharma, their great religion which boasts of the loftiest philosophical ideas, says Tarun Vijay.

Image: A Dalit woman stands outside her shanty in Bhaddi Kheda village in Uttar Pradesh, in this photograph taken on January 15, 2012. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters.

Two recent incidents should disturb Hindus the most. One is about the demolition of a 800-year-old temple (external link) built by the Chola kings in Tamil Nadu, and the other is the stoppage of an ancient Hindu temple festival, again in the southern state.

On the temple demolition, none of the usual voices was heard as if it is not a matter of concern to anyone. The other issue involves human relations being destroyed due to caste-based hatred. 

The danger bells ringing from Nagapattinam, a little more than 300 km from Meenakshipuram where Hindus embraced Islam en masse in 1981, must make caste Hindus shed some of their arrogance. It’s not the previous century any more, a time when most Scheduled Caste Hindus were illiterate and hence subjugated by the high-handedness of other Hindus. Now, thanks to reservations and a robust democracy, the so-called low-caste Hindus have awakened, hold high positions in society and are unwilling to accept any longer the discrimination being practised by ‘high caste’ Hindus. 

It’s the reformist strength, the readiness to change and adapt to the times that has kept Hindu dharma strong, hence it is called Sanatan Dharma, the righteous way of living that is based on eternal principles. Swami Ranganathananda of Ramakrishna Mission describes it as ‘eternal values for a changing society’. 

It is wrong to think that Dalits want to happily leave Hindu dharma. It is their way, the last resort, of cautioning Hindus against the ill-practices of the most savage kind. It is their appeal to end apartheid against humans, and a way to express their frustration, angst and hopelessness. 

High caste Hindus, in most rural and urban areas, are living in their own shell. They hold large Hindu festivals inviting only those who walk the beaten path of Bhagwad Bhajans and sing glorious songs to their great religious heritage. They refuse to see the writing on the wall and hear the cries of their Hindu brethren who are demanding justice and equality. 

It is true that in the last two hundred years many high caste Hindus, mostly Brahmins, have been taking the lead in abolition of discrimination against the Scheduled Castes and making pandits and other diehard ’defenders of the faith’ see reason. B R Ambedkar tried his best to convince Brahmins to open the gates of temples to Dalits and let them draw water from the village pond. But that didn’t happen and he had to announce that even if he was born a Hindu, he will not die one. 

The mass conversions that Ambedkar led from Hinduism to Buddhism, in a way saved Hindus from a catastrophic situation. Just think, if he had instead converted to Islam or Christianity, the consequences would have been far more devastating. But despite his act, we still see caste-based hatred getting more and more entrenched due to various reasons, politics being a major one. 

The moment an atrocity perpetrated on a Dalit comes to light, the first reaction of high-caste Hindus can be expected to be along these lines:

  • It’s all politics, nothing genuine about it;
  • It is because of local animosities between two warring groups;
  • It’s all media hype;
  • The Opposition is trying to encash on a local issue;
  • Some financial conflict has been made out to be a caste clash which will subside with time;
  • Our scriptures do not allow such discrimination. 

All these explanations fall flat on the ground when no one, absolutely no one, comes forward to help the Dalits when they are wronged and need words of support. These explanations by high-caste Hindus are bunkum and unacceptable. The hypocrisies of high-caste Hindus have cost their followers very dear. Millions have left their dharma, their great religion which boasts of the loftiest philosophical ideas.

The latest example of high-caste arrogance and their anti-dharma attitude is the discontinuation of the annual festival at the 800-year-old Pazhankalimedu Bhadrakaliamman temple, approximately 40 km from Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu. This was done in order to prevent Dalits from offering a puja and hosting the mandagapadi (a special puja performed to the deity). The Dalits are as much devotees of Bhadrakali as the high-caste Hindus think they are, and wanted that the temple car taken out in procession should pass through their village Pazhankalimedu also, which has a sizeable population of Dalits and falls in the way. 

But this was not accepted by the high-caste Hindus, resulting in a stalemate, and the district collector, in the name of keeping the peace, ordered the festival discontinued. 

It was all done in the interests of the high castes, who would rather accept the discontinuation of the festival than allowing Dalits perform the puja. Their god is a high-caste one who won’t accept a puja performed by a Dalit -- can there be a more self-defeating attitude?

Is this the same Hindu dharma which was propounded by Swami Vivekananda and practised with great devotion by Babu Jagjivan Ram, who faced all sorts of discrimination but never once thought of leaving his ancestral dharma?

Instead of being grateful to the Dalits for keeping the flame of dharma intact for so many centuries in spite of the most barbaric discrimination practised against them by a section, the high caste Hindus act as medieval fossils. 

We think, or at least try to convince our reformist minds, that in most urban areas caste is melting away and the new generation is going in for inter-caste marriages in large numbers. Nothing very special about it, it’s been in vogue since the days of Raja Rammohan Roy and Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. The voices against such ill practices have found an echo in the creations of Thiruvalluvar, Kanak Das, Kabir, Guru Nanak, Sahu Maharaj and so many other saints. But, still, at the ground level, in our matrimonial ads every Sunday, we find that caste reigns supreme. 

Dalits want equality and it is their birthright. The government must make sure that temples and Hindu festivals are open to all Hindu castes without discrimination. Those who are ranged on the side of fossilised ideas and hide behind the shamanistic cover of ‘long observed practices’ are in fact hurting Hindu dharma.

One word of caution here for the merchants of other peoples’ agony. This problem concerns Hindu society and those who are trying to fish in troubled waters must refrain doing so. They must concentrate on removing the injustices prevailing in their flock. Leave Hindu issues to the Hindus to be resolved and they will certainly do it, as they have shown the greatest inner strength to reform their society more than anyone else. 

Mother India's daughter in Tamil Nadu

A few days ago I had the chance to meet  Kowshalya, wife of Shankara who was brutally murdered  in Umadilapettam (Palani) for being a Dalit and ‘daring’ to marry a so-called upper caste girl. He was brutally murdered and now poor Kowshalya lives under heavy police protection.

What was their "crime'?

Both were Hindus, and married in the Hindu way, yet Hindus were against them?

But the grit and courage displayed by Kowshalya is inspiring. She is younger than my daughter but her resolve and mission statement inspired me. She said she will devote her life to eradicate untouchability and caste-based hatred from society.

I would like to ask one question of Hindu leaders, why have they remained silent on this issue? Is it because of the fear of losing vote banks? Is vote bank more important to us than saving Hindu society? Why don’t atrocities against Dalits stir up the same emotions of revolt and disapproval from those who believe in Thiruvalluvar and read his Thirukkural every day?

Would Thiruvalluvar have approved of such atrocities?

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Tarun Vijay