26.4.14

Ramdev, Dalits and Our Mindset





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?

Krishna says:

"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

15 comments:

  1. void *Al {return NULL;}26/04/2014, 22:05

    FV:

    Just goes to show that starting a business based on mumbo-jumbo and utter nonsense is very profitable, almost as profitable as starting a religion. Given the usual cult of personality disease that pervades in the India, it is not surprising that a yoga instructor has morphed into a spiritual guru and also apparently an economist for the masses.

    "Isn't there a Brahmin practice of taking soil from a prostitute's house to mix with the clay for Durga puja sculptures?"

    Ewww. Any idea where in India this is done or a reference for this? I can imagine rituals adding cow dung to clay (cow dung is used for mopping floors in some spaces) as that is common practise. If the above is true, I wager somewhere in North India which seems to practise a very effed up version of hinduism compared to the south, at least these days. Hinduism in South India has been egalitarian for many decades since the empowering movement started by the Atheist EV Ramaswamy soon after independence -- temples overflow with devotees from all sections of society and many temples have had women and non-brahmin priests for decades, and many temples do all the chanting in tamil rather than sanskrit.

    However, other castes like thevars and nayakkars have become the new "brahmins" and are quite a bit more vicious in how they treat dalits with contempt. The brahmins are virtually non existent in numbers in the state, you will probably find most of them south chennai.

    These demographic changes in India are never documented or studied by the lazy jokers that populate Indian academia and research...grrr..okay, I'll cut short my rant now before I go off the deep end.

    ReplyDelete

  2. Farzana,

    Viz the Lord Krishna's "varnas," it follows that before its institution among adherents, there was either some then extant social pecking-order or none at all. If then extant, there may be some reason to suppose that society had indeed shaken itself out into something resembling brahmin, ksatriya, vaisya and sudra, with it only remaining for Krishna to so define them, i.e. settle for them those activities closest approaching . . . well, perfection, I guess. And yet:

    >>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."<<

    Can "status" above be interpreted any differently? The reason why I ask, is that a concern for "status" can convey a preoccupation with imagery -- the seeming in others' eyes; whereas "state," for example (in the sense of a condition), as in, "the brahmin acquires his state [or authentic condition of being a brahmin] by his knowledge."

    >>Does it not mean that the sudra has no way to prove her/himself?<<

    That's the problem with "status," if you ask me. Men (and women) apply these gradations of importance, as you have noted. How about the brahmin can be known by his love of knowledge, the ksatriya by his love of martial tests, the vaisya for his love of money; and the sudra by his love of life?

    >>Temple devadasis are always from the 'lower' caste. What "qualities" make them so? Is it not due to the community they were born into?<<

    Now you've got me wondering.  :)

    M.

    ReplyDelete
  3. void *Al() {return NULL;}27/04/2014, 08:01

    FV, just noting that this whole caste mindset pervades across religions in India -- casteist behavior is prevalent in Kerala Christians and Tamilnadu muslims too. This manifests itself in the form of demand for reservations for "lower caste" christians and dalits. One would expect these caste delineations to disappear when people get out of hinduism, but that is not the case for some reason.

    The reason may simply be a matter of economics/opportunity -- the shortage of quality schools and the prevalence of political culture of handing out reservations to castes in order to win votes has resulted in increase in demands for "reservations" for sub groups, while the number of seats in schools and colleges (and the number of quality education institutions seems to be declining). Don't see how this is all going to resolve itself without more schools and teachers being created in the future.

    ReplyDelete
  4. FV,

    1. I will leave the political bits aside, since you have said you eschew any discussion on them.

    2. You are spot-on as to your scathing analysis of the unfair patriarchy in Indian society. Ramdev's comments and the attitude they betray are both utterly deplorable. But unfortunately, he is only one among a million, if not more. Vicious misogyny exists in sections of every society in the world. But in India, it seems to have an implicit social sanction, often goes without counter in public discourse and even informs government policy at times. The state of affairs is shameful.

    3. As I have said in my comment(s) before, this is a brutal battle women have to wage and win by themselves. Men are too cowardly and selfish to be by their side on this front. I, however, have faith that things will change.

    4. I must, however, counter your broadside against Varnashrama. Varnashrama is NOT based on birth. Varna is determined by Sanskar, talent and choice. Each one of us is born a Sudra, as we possess no Sanskar at birth. Our subsequent Varna arises out of our choices. Varna is also not a constant and can undergo change during one's lifetime. The present-day "system" of a thousand castes (each merely handed down by parents to child as a matter of right) jostling for political and economic space, perpetually nursing real and imaginary grievances and aggressively asserting historical superiority over others is a grotesque distortion of Varnashrama. No wonder the word Varna stands eternally condemned in the politically correct public mind.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Al:

    {{"Isn't there a Brahmin practice of taking soil from a prostitute's house to mix with the clay for Durga puja sculptures?"

    Ewww. Any idea where in India this is done or a reference for this? I can imagine rituals adding cow dung to clay (cow dung is used for mopping floors in some spaces) as that is common practise. If the above is true, I wager somewhere in North India which seems to practise a very effed up version of hinduism compared to the south, at least these days.}}

    It is mostly in West Bengal, that is why I mentioned Durga puja.

    Why is it an “effed up version of Hinduism”? Do you have the same issue with it as I do about the ‘use’ by Brahmins when it suits them? Also, why the parochial attitude towards N. India?

    {{casteist behavior is prevalent in Kerala Christians and Tamilnadu muslims too. This manifests itself in the form of demand for reservations for "lower caste" christians and dalits. One would expect these caste delineations to disappear when people get out of hinduism, but that is not the case for some reason.}}

    Certainly, there are forms of casteism in other communities, but the demand for reservations is not restricted to them and for them. If anything, they are a small percentage.

    Regarding Ramdev’s mumbo-jumbo making a killing, that’s how things work. Unfortunately.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Mark:

    The Varnas are not just Krishna’s definition. He, was, interestingly enough a Yadav.
    yet:

    {{>>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."<<

    Can "status" above be interpreted any differently? The reason why I ask, is that a concern for "status" can convey a preoccupation with imagery -- the seeming in others' eyes; whereas "state," for example (in the sense of a condition), as in, "the brahmin acquires his state [or authentic condition of being a brahmin] by his knowledge."}}

    Yes and no. Agree that it could do with following perception, it could also be a sense of entitlement for many. A matter of reputation, which though dependent on how others view you is also the ‘state’ you wish to see yourself in based on conditioning.

    {{How about the brahmin can be known by his love of knowledge, the ksatriya by his love of martial tests, the vaisya for his love of money; and the sudra by his love of life?}}

    In quite a few instances, knowledge is a weapon (martial) and gets the money (vaisya)...love of life follows! Same with military traits that pay, money that can buy knowledge. Love is quite forlorn in the scheme of things.

    {{>>Temple devadasis are always from the 'lower' caste. What "qualities" make them so? Is it not due to the community they were born into?<<

    Now you've got me wondering. :)}}

    Pondering, it should be...if you know what I mean...

    ReplyDelete
  7. F&F:

    This is not just about politics.

    Your remarks about Varnashrama are true to a large extent, but there are contradictory references in various texts. That aside, the social construct may be based on heredity, so why is there no attempt to break that? Does not sanskritisation bear witness to a need within the community to better its lot (i.e. the gunas cannot be a default setting)? What stops them are the prejudices, and the fact that even if they do ‘upgrade’ they have already been marked.

    Appreciate your views on gender disparity. However, I do believe that men should be a part of the change, too, not only to support women but to prevent failing themselves.

    ReplyDelete
  8. void *Al() {return NULL;}27/04/2014, 19:43

    "Why is it an “effed up version of Hinduism”? Do you have the same issue with it as I do about the ‘use’ by Brahmins when it suits them?"

    Less to do with brahmins than basic hygiene, as should be obvious -- they can use whatever the hell they want. No skin off my nose.

    " Also, why the parochial attitude towards N. India? "

    It was an observation that rituals tend to be less gross (yes, I find that gross, so sue me) in south India, though not any less grosser than mobs worshipping in temples and other places of worship, but I digress...

    Less seriously, just my own little way of getting back at dorks from that part of the country who referred to me as a madrassi for decades...always took the pleasure of responding only in Tamil to any jackass who did that to me.

    "Certainly, there are forms of casteism in other communities, but the demand for reservations is not restricted to them and for them. If anything, they are a small percentage. "

    "backward" class christians and muslims cannot avail of reservations, but the demand for doing so exist is heard frequently was my general comment. (political parties have been trying to win votes by pushing to legislation on that front but know it will be an uphill battle in the courts).

    "Regarding Ramdev’s mumbo-jumbo making a killing, that’s how things work. Unfortunately."

    Then it follows that any sufficiently rich person can and will start interfering in politics once they have the money and the influence to do so, and Ramdev joining politics should not be surprising, and politicians seem to have a penchant for saying stupid things, and this one is no different.

    But he seems the kind of person who will fund political parties rather than be actively involved in politics, like corporations and entities that lobby politician. Pretty sure that is not an entirely healthy thing in a democracy. Anyway, this stuff bores me so I'll stop.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Farzana,

    Pondering it is!  :)

    >>He, was, interestingly enough a Yadav.<<

    Thank you. While I had a fairly thoroughgoing introduction to India's religions as a child in Delhi, I don't think I ever made the association. Certainly a plus for the family, one would think; though the requisite imperative to uphold Krishna's example might be burdensome at times. I found this quote on Wikipedia, in someone's description of the Kurukshetra War:

    Moreover, you Arjuna, are only a mortal appointee to carry out my divine will, since the Kauravas are destined to die either way, due to their heap of sins. Open your eyes O Bhaarata and know that I encompass the Karta, Karma and Kriya, all in myself.

    Thus it would appear either Krishna himself had experienced the varnas or simply possessed each of these "qualities" in himself.

    >>In quite a few instances, knowledge is a weapon (martial) and gets the money (vaisya)...love of life follows! Same with military traits that pay, money that can buy knowledge.<<

    They are and do indeed. I can also see where love of life, wealth, battle and knowledge might also, in that order, describe the stages of life -- albeit if only for some -- from youth to a more seasoned old age.  :)

    M.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Al,

    You wrote:

    >>It was an observation that rituals tend to be less gross (yes, I find that gross, so sue me) in south India, though not any less grosser than mobs worshipping in temples and other places of worship, but I digress...<<

    No suit in mind; but I would state the obvious by pointing out that such fastidiousness on your part is acquired -- we aren't nearly so fastidious in our infancy. And by this I don't mean to suggest such ritual as infantile, only that your aesthetic sense may preclude you from grasping its significance among adherents, many of whom remain intimately acquainted with such . . . well, "essences," we'll say, whether of necessity or of some similarly acquired personal preference.

    >>Anyway, this stuff bores me so I'll stop.<<

    Is that a ksatriya attitude, or is that more brahmin?  :)

    M.

    ReplyDelete
  11. void *Al() {return NULL;}28/04/2014, 02:25

    "No suit in mind; but I would state the obvious by pointing out that such fastidiousness on your part is acquired -- we aren't nearly so fastidious in our infancy."

    Mark, of course, a course on bacterial infections possible from excreta was learnt only after infancy -- I wager if the same had be taught to me as an infant, I would acquired the same fastidiousness of looking at germs with aversion (the mention of worms in vegetables as a fact to me by some one made me stay off vegetables for a few years as a kid.) I think this is It is like teaching kids to stay off flames where experience is a better teacher usually, except in this case, the delayed reaction makes it harder to kids to avoid such things first hand without instruction by people who know better. of course, such instructions is a butter knife (or sword, if you are a kshatriya :)) that cuts both ways, depending on how aware the adult is.

    In this case, my view is that this is just a matter of the probability of high risk to bacterial infection by playing around with human adult poop, so it is less a matter of preference, than one of risk aversion towards bacterial infections -- this is likely a case where "ignorance is bliss" applies, i.e., you perform higher risk behavior by just not knowing the worst-case consequences of doing something silly, where you wouldn't if you knew better. Like the case where some nemesis of some customer in the waiting staff who hocks a loogie into the food of the customer out of sheer malice, who then enjoys the meal out of sheer ignorance to what has been done to it. (Moral of that story is: be nice to people who work in restaurants).

    ReplyDelete
  12. void *Al() {return NULL;}28/04/2014, 02:27

    Mark: "Is that a ksatriya attitude, or is that more brahmin? :)"

    More of a nihilistic, irreverent punk attitude. :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. void *Al {return NULL;}28/04/2014, 22:49

    FV: He, was, interestingly enough a Yadav.

    FV, I am not sure such clan associations and names held true over millennia. Especially, if we go by other claims that castes in its earlier versions was not associated with birth but by skill set (not saying I buy this story, but just a data point). So over time in the order of many centuries, some random group of people get labeled as yadavs and get stuck with that label. This ossification seems like power politics in action again -- influential groups decided to keep labels that gave them power and influence and decided to create new rules that associated these labels with the accident of birth in a community.

    These associations seem as bogus to me as brahmins who associate themselves with specific sages in the past, like Agasatya, Bharadwaja, etc. -- which seems to suggest that the claim of fluid movements between varnas/castes at some point happened before this point or is just a figment of someone's imagination. Anyway, most of history seems like utter garbage and a figment of someone's imagination, so much so that I ignore it completely these days. life's too short for such garbage.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Al,

    Last I checked, the "high risk" for poop, adult or child, is if you ingest it. I don't think that was part of the ritual Farzana mentioned, where a prostitute's "night-soil" is mixed with clay for for Durga puja sculptures.

    And why do they call it "night-soil," Al? Is at night the only time people poop? Nay, I rather suspect they call it night-soil because that's when they hauled it off -- when the dark hid or obscured this business. Ewww, indeed.

    >>More of a nihilistic, irreverent punk attitude. :)<<

    Irreverent, maybe. I am, however, having a difficult time associating nihilism and punkdom with a squeamishness about poop. Is this composite a new . . . erm, movement?

    M.

    ReplyDelete
  15. void *Al() {return NULL;}29/04/2014, 07:45

    Mark:"Last I checked, the "high risk" for poop, adult or child, is if you ingest it."

    Mark, of course, getting it on one's hands is only a step away from ingesting it, which is why people wear gloves or wash hands etc. :) unless one has developed a strong immune system by consistent exposure to such things, speaking from experience. unfortunately, such resistance is also reversed quite easily with a namby-pamby germ free living environment.

    Also, not wanting to get violently ill from accidentally ingesting fecal material is less about squeamishness than it is about being careful. As I already mentioned earlier, people who want to roll in it and do other fun things in poop are welcome to do so. I shall wear a noseclip and cheer them along from a safe distance upstream from the direction of the breeze.

    "nihilism and punkdom with a squeamishness about poop. Is this composite a new . . . erm, movement?"

    Punk (the original thing not the Daft punk nonsense) is just a state of mind, like most things :)

    Also, GG Allin is hardly the norm when it comes punk acts :) -- he was the exception when it came to coprophagia as part of his live acts. Jello Biafra and the dead kennedys, The Clash, upto the more syrupy (for punk) Green day were all avowedly political in their lyrics, though I am sure some lesser known bands may have taken to GG Allin's "style" though I suspect not.

    AFAIK, Punk is mostly just about violent and irreverent and highly political imagery (and testing thick skulls against harder things like doors and such in live shows)....and the music is well, just a sideshow, but I think it takes Ornette Coleman's view on music "I didn't need to worry about keys, chords, melody if I had that emotion that brought tears and laughter to people's hearts. " or "I don't try to please when I play. I try to cure. " to heart, IMO etc.

    ReplyDelete

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.