November 4, 2002


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Varsha Bhosle

Remembering Varsha Bhosle on her birthday

Today is Rediff columnist Varsha Bhosle’s birthday, to mark which we are reposting this column she wrote during Diwali 10 years ago, to remember an extraordinary writer who decided to end it all a month ago.

Hinduism’s corpse

A very sombre Diwali to you all. Sure, I'd have loved to do a frothy piece for this day but just didn't have the stomach for it. And few of you will, if you see the kind of feedback I got for my article on the lynching of 5 Dalits for the sake of a goddamn cow. Here's one sample:

"Being a TamBram myself you can rest assured that you're hearing things from the horse's mouth... The very fact why casteism has assumed such a big importance in today's society is because we have a democratic system where the numbers count. And unfortunately or fortunately, the Shudras constitute the majority and hence all this big boogey [sic] about how dalits are being discriminated etc...

"Well I'm really amazed that the dalits [are] not being ethnically cleansed, as they rightly should be if they refused to mend their ways. I'm not trying to be a Nazi but am trying to be more realistic... The dalits are a major problem because they're blatantly blackmailing the Hindu society into submission with the threat that either you give what they want or they'll convert enmasse and affect the Hindu image of India into either a Christian or Islamic one."

When I read the long tirade, the first thought that came to my mind was: This is definitely not a TamBram or even a Hindu; it's somebody posing as one so that I take off against Brams in my column! But... the email address seemed vaguely familiar. I began going through the unusual fan/hate mail that I zip up and save, and, voilà, found two mails from 2 years ago, both indicating a fairly knowledgeable, immensely polite, intensely-Hindu writer, albeit one (like me) tending towards violence. This was an authentic mail, alright.

You know those disclaimers everyone puts up? For instance, "This is not to say that all Muslims uphold the validity of jihad," or "It would be wrong to assume that all Baptists support aggressive evangelism," or "I do not mean to suggest that every Pakistani is against the US." Well, it's a load of crap. The simple truth is, analysts notice certain infractions because they emanate from a fixed group, and vice versa. But, political correctness forces them to water down their observations. If they could be honest, they'd say, "the majority of Muslims uphold jihad, whereas the tiny remainder does not," and so on. Such disclaimers aren't my way. Therefore: the majority of TamBrams are utter casteists - some to the extent of mulling over the ethnic cleansing of "Shudras," and some adapting a Karunanidhi-style "secular" mask.

The key word here is 'secrecy.' The glass ceiling is not an open, overt act. It need not even be a conspiracy. Nevertheless, it is reinforced each and every time a member of the "upper castes" blocks out from his environment - by giving any reason but caste - a prospective employee, son-in-law, tenant, etc. The most glaring example of this I noticed was, of course, in Chennai: The entire top staff of a very popular and "secular" film star - who's known to ridicule religion and condemn caste on public platforms - comes from the same "upper caste" the star belongs to. I feel, this kind of person is any day more dangerous than the Nazi.

Following are the *reported* events from the last seven days (like, no incident occurred in Bihar, Orissa...)

  • "Just last week, a group of upper caste farmers had tried to destroy the soyabean crop [of Dalit farmers of Satpipaliya, MP]. The police were called in and the harvesting was done under police protection." (NDTV News, October 24).

  • "The Gujarat high court has issued notices to the Sabarkantha district collector and the state government on the basis of a petition challenging the economic boycott of Dalit Harijans by upper caste Hindus at Vaghrota village." (Times of India, October 26).

  • "Dalit elopes with Jat girl, death stalks Haryana village" (NDTV News, October 28).

  • "...all 101 members of the Chamar community of Vadgas village in Viramgam taluka were forced to flee on October 26 to Ahmedabad and nearby towns. This, after members of the Thakore community of the village threatened to kill them." (ToI, November 1).

    Such discrimination has always existed in India - so much so that it isn't news anymore. Which begs the question, Why didn't I make it an issue in my column till now...? There are no simple answers to that. I think I wished it away. I think I felt that the younger, hang-loose generation would change society. I think I believed we just needed to bide time. I think... I was just chicken. But then, three things happened on a single day: I got into a heated argument over caste with a TamBram; the news of the Jhajjar lynching broke; and, I read about the May incident in Thinniyam, which finally shook me out of my self-induced coma:

    About 100 Dalit families live in the village of Thinniyam in Tiruchi district of Tamil Nadu, with the Kallars comprising the predominant caste. Seven years ago, Karuppiah, a Dalit, paid a bribe of Rs 2,000 to S Rajalakshmi, the (Kallar) panchayat chief, to get a house allotted to his sister. However, since Rajalakshmi's term was about to end and the allotment hadn't yet been made, Karuppiah demanded the money back. Rajalakshmi denied having taken it. So, Karuppiah began talking about the bribe and the breach of trust to the villagers. Next, Rajalakshmi's husband, Subramanian, and her son thrashed Karuppiah with slippers. So, Karuppiah lodged a complaint with the police, with two of his Dalit friends, Murugesan and Ramasami, standing witness. The next day, Subramanian and 9 of his kinsmen assaulted Murugesan and Ramasami with hot iron rods - and forced them to feed each other human excreta...

    People say that I write with "passion" - and they don't mean that as a compliment. But it's true; my passion-pieces emerge only after I put myself in a victim's place and cannot bear the pain or humiliation s/he must have undergone. I truly did not feel sorrow or pain over the death of 5 Dalits - I felt anger at the waste of human lives over a stupid quadruped, and that's why there was only anger there. But the swallowing of human waste is something I could not even BEGIN to imagine! And so I avoided writing about that incident altogether. I escaped.

    But I couldn't keep it locked away. My mind had tripped out to my great-aunt's house in Indore's Chhavni. How, as a child, I had recoiled at the paati sandaas - where the excreta dropped into shallow wicker baskets piled high with more of the same... How I would tie a scarf around my nose and keep my eyes squeezed shut till I fled that dreadful place... How I begged my mother to please, please, take me somewhere, anywhere, else to poop... How I kept grilling her, where does that foul basket go, who on Earth empties it... How, from a window, I saw the frail girl, not much older than me, pulling the basket to a cart... I screamed for my mother, "Aai... it's a girl, she's taking it! You said animals ate it!"

    Even now, the hair on my arms are standing stiff as the little girl at the window changes places with the little girl dragging the paati... I feel ashamed of being privileged to be at the window... But - no matter how hard I try - I cannot imagine what that frail little girl felt when she looked up at the fat little screaming thing at the window.

    These are the sins - there is no other word for it - that Hindus have to pay for. Age after age, the "upper castes" have kept strata of human beings in a condition where they have no choice but to clean others' excreta, burn corpses, tend morgues, haul away and skin dead animals... Foul, dirty, stinking jobs from Hell that nobody else wants. THAT is the only reason why caste exists today. THAT is the reason why the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, Jayendra Saraswathi, when asked about the mistreatment of Dalits, said on November 1: "Different sections are assigned different duties according to their eligibility." When asked who decides the "eligibility," he shot back, "We."

    "We"...? Yes, we who believe that discrimination is a bogey, and that reservations is a bane specially devised for the "all-suffering," "now-underprivileged" "upper castes"... (On reservations, next time.)

    Thinniyam was my turning point. That was the moment I realised that what's sorely missing from the Dalit debate is the voice of the committed Hindu. You see, the moaning and wailing by the manipulating pinkos and the holier-than-thou "secularists" can make waves only on Western platforms - leaving the core Hindu society untouched. Whereas, the other kind of devout Hindu is even worse! We need a class of committed Hindus from all walks of life who have the guts to reject caste altogether - and do it loudly and with fanfare even if it is merely with their small environment - regardless of the threats from the Hindu jihadis. We need rational Hindus to speak out - and in full throat.

    The post-mortem report of the Jhajjar cow has established that the animal had died 24 hours earlier. But, have you heard a word of remorse from any of our "Hindu" organisations who have supposedly been doing so-bloody-much for Dalits and tribals...? Instead, the VHP's Bireshwar Dwivedi said, "even if Brahmins had done what the deceased had done, there would have been the same reaction." Meaning, the cow is so damn holy that anybody can be killed in her name. In line with this thought, about half of my mail that week admonished me with "The cow is our mother"...

    Excuse me, maybe your mother has two horns, four feet and a tail, but mine is an intelligent being who has left stupid bovines far behind in the evolution race, and thus has raised her children to be staunch Hindus who keep their eyes and mind wide open. Don't give me this holy-cow bullshit to justify your casteism.

    Meanwhile, a bunch of Dalits in Jhajjar district converted out of Hinduism on October 28. Udit Raj writes, "when I along with my Lord Buddha Club and All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations, went to Gurgaon to carry on the planned conversions, I found that several other organisations of Muslims, Christians and others had converged there as well. People began converting spontaneously in big numbers."

    Yes, the vultures had already collected at Gurgaon to gouge at the remains of Hinduism's corpse. But WHY should I blame the vultures?? It is their dharma to feed off the dead - off those who have been murdered by "devout," "cow-worshipping" Hindus themselves.

    If I were in Udit Raj's place, what would I do...? Well, thank your stars that Udit Raj, I'm not. For, I wouldn't go for idiotic ploys like urging change through conversion - which would only convert me to a "Dalit Muslim" or "Dalit Christian." I'd do a lot worse. After all, aren't I a lot like Balasaheb Thackeray...?

    Varsha Bhosle

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