Many of us have at some time or the other made a reference to Rahul Gandhi's visits to Dalit homes, much of it not complimentary.
Baba Ramdev took it a step further, and in some ways a bit too far:
"Rahul doesn't want to marry a 'desi' girl, however, he likes going to Dalits places for picnic and honeymoon," the yoga guru said, adding, "if the Congress vice president had married a girl from the particular community, not only the girl would have become rich, but Rahul would have become the PM."
We know he not only supports Narendra Modi, but is an active participant in the BJP's campaign. The party has not responded.
The Congress members have reacted, but it is quite obvious that this has to do with who he targeted. However, it just sounds more appropriate to express concern for a social issue.
The general anger is over the remarks being anti-Dalit and anti-woman, for it assumes that Dalit women are available and all they are interested in is benefiting from the interactions with a powerful man.
This is a fairly straight interpretation. However, how many people have bothered to question where this attitude stems from?
"The fourfold varna has been created by Me according to the differentiation of guna (qualities)." (Bhagavada Gita, 4.13)
There is much in Vedic literature too that is complex and not static. However, the ritual of 'purification' is intrinsic to become a Brahmin.
The Manu Smriti says:
"The brahmin acquires his status by his knowledge, the ksatriya by his martial vigor, the vaisya by wealth; and the sudra by birth alone."
Does it not mean that the sudra has no way to prove her/himself?
Temple devadasis are always from the 'lower' caste. What "qualities" make them so? Is it not due to the community they were born into?
The fact that even today there is discrimination against Dalits — although we must remember that many among the Scheduled castes/tribes do not have the benefit of such nomenclature — should awaken us to it as a huge social problem.
After a controversial statement and resultant outrage, how many are willing to engage in the larger debate? If the BJP is silent because it does not wish to antagonise its Brahmin constituency, what does it say about the society we live in? If Modi has kept quiet, after projecting himself as a chaiwaala and capitalising on poverty, what does it convey? The questions will be laid to rest.
Will the FIR against Ramdev achieve anything? We have recent examples of such action taken against those who make hate speeches, and they get away.
While on Dalit matters, what about the Congress and Rahul Gandhi, who had said in October last year:
"If you want to take this (Dalit) movement forward, then one Dalit leader or two Dalit leaders would not be enough. Lakhs of Dalit leaders are needed....the leadership of the movement has been captured by Mayawati. She doesn't allow others to rise."
It is clear he was talking about power politics, but we do know that a good deal of reaction to Mayawati is also casteist and misogynistic.
On the Newshour debate last night, Dalit activist Kancha Ilaiiah was angry, and rightly so. When Ramdev appeared on the show, he asked him, "Do you know what honeymoon means?" And then went on to state that it is when a man and woman have sex.
If the connotation was lost, this made it sound like a parody. I have much respect for his writings on Dalit issues and understand where he is coming from, but how do such words make amends for the general tone of the abusive content that was being debated?
When Ramdev publicly withdrew his comments, whatever be his motive for doing so, there was a demand by Ranjana Kumari that he apologise to Dalit women. I do not know how many Dalit women were watching the show. The ones who are paraded in the public square and have no recourse to legal action? The ones who are killed for marrying someone from an upper caste? The ones who are treated as chattel?
Mr. Ilaiah said he should wash their feet and drink the water. Isn't this playing the same game that they accuse the 'high-born' of? Ramdev is a shrewd man; he immediately said that he had done so often. There are probably some sadhus who perform rituals that include Dalits.
There are other rituals too. Isn't there a Brahmin practice of taking soil from a prostitute's house to mix with the clay for Durga puja sculptures? Aren't eunuchs considered auspicious for certain occasions? All of these obfuscate the problems that they face.
We do not help matters by only using an incident and forgetting about how it manifests itself in daily life.
Instead of merely calling Ramdev anti-Dalit, why not flip his ridiculous statement and throw it back at him — that, yes, marrying a Dalit would be a normal and regular thing to do, provided the woman has a choice in the matter?
Instead of the National Commission for Women calling Ramdev's remarks anti-women, why not go all out and condemn the general perception that women are gold-diggers, or the more polite assertion that they look for security?
All these are about mindsets. Do we have the time and patience for them?
© Farzana Versey
Images: 1) Ramdev with Sunita Poddar, a devout disciple who invested in his Scottish island; 2) With Uma Bharti; 3) A devadasi