Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Manu Reloaded! Brahminism Yesterday, Hindutva Today?

- Subhash Gatade

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
                                                                                  - Du Bois, 'Souls of Black Folk'

Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva. Unless it is made clear what is meant by the latter the first remains unintelligible and vague....Here it is enough to point out that Hindutva is not identical with what is vaguely indicated by the term Hinduism. By an 'ism' it is generally meant a theory or a code more or less based on spiritual or religious dogma or creed. Had not linguistic usage stood in our way then 'Hinduness' would have certainly been a better word than Hinduism as a near parallel to Hindutva. Hindutva embrases all the departments of thought and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race.
                                                                                                  -Savarkar, 'Hindutva'


The idea and politics of Hindutva is normally presented/understood in the form of religious imaginaries.

For its proponents, it is THE way to correct 'historical wrongs' supposedly committed by 'aggressors' of various hues against 'Hindu Nation' - which according to them has been in existence since times immemorial. It does not need recounting how this strange mix of mythology and history which is fed to the gullible followers unfolds itself before us with dangerous implications.

The dominant antidote to this exclusivist idea, rubbishes the 'us' versus 'them' rationale provided to justify its actions, denies any such continuous strife on the basis of religion amongst people, talks of emergence of composite heritage and the flourishing of many syncretic traditions etc. It is no surprise that the explosive manifestations of communal conflict are presented here as a handiwork of 'few bad apples' within the communities which need to be weeded out or quarantined. A logical consequence of this understanding is that secularism as it is practised here as part of statecraft similarly veers around Sarv Dharm Sambhav (Equal Respect to All Religions) and not to separation of religion from running of the state and society as it is normally understood.

Looking at the fact that the politics of Hindutva has been on ascendance since last two and half decades - despite witnessing temporary setbacks here and there - and the established/standard response to it loosing its lustre, and the strategies devised to deal with loosing their appeal and impact, it is time to look at the phenomenon in a more nuanced way. It is time to move away from standard questions and their pet answers to an arena less probed and investigated. Perhaps it it time to raise questions which were never raised or did not receive the attention they really deserved.

Would it be correct to say that the idea of Hindutva popularly presented as Hindu Nationalism emerged as a 'reaction' to the politics of Muslim nationalism or vice versa or a correct depiction could be both emerged independently as an elite strategy to bring under its canopy the rising voice of the subalterns within the community ?

Would it be proper to say that Hindutva is rather an extension of the ongoing Brahminical project of hegemonising and homogenising of Indian society and in fact could be seen as part of Brahminical strategy/reaction against the Shudras-Atishudras ? Remember under the twin impact of policies promulgated by the colonial regime coupled with the path breaking movements led by the social revolutionaries, one was witness to the loosening of the age old social bondages and restrictions of these depressed classes.

A question could be why Maharashtra - where the population of minorities has never crossed ten per cent mark, and where they were never politically dominant, metamorphosed into a region which saw not only emergence of many leading Hindutva ideologues - ranging from Savarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar - and their organisations but a strong base as well as popular legitimacy as well.

A satisfactory answer to all these queries can only be had if we are able to look afresh at all those assumptions about ascent of Hindutva and are ready to break new grounds in pursuit of this aim.


It was Sir T. Madhava Rao who speaking of Hindu Society of his time said :

"The longer one lives, observes, and thinks, the more deeply does he feel that there is no community on the face of the earth which suffers less from political evils and more from self-inflicted or self-accepted or self-created, and therefore avoidable evils, than the Hindu Community."

This view expresses quite accurately and without exaggeration the necessity of social reform in Hindu Society.

The first Social Reformer and the greatest of them all is Gautama Buddha. Any history of Social Reform must begin with him and no history of Social Reform in India will be complete which omits to take account of his great achievements
                                                                                                      - Ambedkar

Dr Ambedkar's discussion about genesis of Manusmriti which he takes up in his incomplete work 'Revolution and Counterrevolution in Ancient India' can act as a starting point to understand the dynamics of this struggle in our context.

Photo: frontlineonnet.com
Manusmriti forms parts of the edicts called Smritis - which appeared roughly from 300 B.C. to 600 A.D. Taken together, they were called the Dharma-Shastras, implying religious injunctions. The Smritis included everything that today we call civil and criminal law, because of which, in English, they are usually referred to as law books. Smritis reveal the complexity and all -embracing character of the bondage, the servitude of the Shudras and Vaishyas, Atishudras and women and laid down '[t]he rights and obligations (duties) of Brahmins, kshatriyas, vaishyas, shudras, and untouchables, in every speher of human life, personal, marital, social, religious, economic, political, et al. It would be more appropriate to say that they laid down the rights and privileges of the brahmins and Kshatriyas and obligations of all the rest. They also laid down the punishments, from religious penance to corporal punishment, for any breach of the laws laid down by them." (S.G. Sardesai, Progress and Conservatism in Ancient India, PPH, 1994, Page 41)
Coming to Ambedkar's monograph, it need be mentioned that he had originally thought to write seven books to be included under this broad title. It is a different matter that he could not finish the work as he had envisaged it. The monograph hinges around Dr. Ambedkar's basic argument where he considered the rise of Buddhism as revolution and for him the its decline and fall occurred because of counter-Revolution pioneered by Brahmins. The incomplete work comprises of following titles : 1. Ancient India on Exhumation, 2. The Ancient Regime—The State of the Aryan Society, 3. A Sunken Priesthood, 4. Reformers and Their Fate, 5. The Decline and Fall of Buddhism, 6. The Literature of Brahminism, 7. Triumph of Brahminism, 8. The Morals of the House—Manusmruti or the Gospel of Counter-Revolution, 9. Philosophic Defence of Counter-Revolution (Krishna and his Gita) ,10. Analysis of Virat Parva and Uddyog Parva, 11. Brahmins V/s Kshatriyas, 12. The Shudras and the Counter-Revolution, 13. The Women and the Counter-Revolution. (Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol. 3 by the Government of Maharashtra)

As already mentioned apart from many other important aspects of ancient India, Dr Ambedkar discusses the genesis of Manu Smriti in this important monograph - which according to him is a 'record of the greatest social revolution that Hindu Society has undergone' . He sees it not only as a law book but part ethics and part religion as well. It is important also to note that whatever may be the understanding of a section of the elite about these edicts, which still feels enamored about it, Dr Ambedkar is clear about its aims, he terms Manusmriti as 'gospel of counterrevolution'.

In a nutshell what are his main points which he raises via this debate around Manusmriti.

- relates it to the Brahmanic revolution by Pushymitra Sunga which was unleashed to destroy Buddhism

- underlines the tremendous violence which accompanied, involved in this revolution

- explains how it accords special privileges to the Brahmins

- debunks the idea that it is 'divine in origin'

- zeroes in on its authorship

- suggests the time period of its writing

Question can be posed : Why was Brahminism opposed to Buddhism ? Apart from many other things, which hit at the root of Brahminism, its denouncement of caste system in very many terms was highly destabilising for it. Although one can say that things were flexible and not rigid as they are now but the principle of inequality which is the basis of the caste system had become well established then and it was against this principle that Buddha had unleashed a determined and a bitter fight. And there was no hiatus between what he said and what he implemented. Buddha practised what he preached. If in the Aryan society the Shudra or low caste man could not become a Brahman but with Buddha things were entirely different. Not only Buddha preached against caste but admitted the Shudra and the low caste to the rank of a Bhikku who held the same rank in Buddhism as the Brahman did in Brahmanism.

According to Dr Ambedkar claims made about Manu Smriti's authorship - which was said to be divine in its origin - are utter fraud and also the beliefs arising out of this false claim are untenable. He elaborates it further by saying that since the name Manu had ' ..great prestige in the ancient history of India and it is with the object to invest the code with this ancient prestige that its authorship was attributed to Manu. That this was a fraud to deceive people is beyond question.' Quoting from Narada Smriti which was written in 4 th century A.D. he shares that 'Narada knew that it was one Sumati Bhargava who composed the Code of Manu'.

Basing himself on 'scholars whose authority cannot be questioned' he infers that the Code was composed between between 170 B.C. and 150 B.C. "Now if one bears in mind the fact that the Brahmanic Revolution by Pushyamitra took place in 185 B.C. there remains no doubt that the code known as Manu Smriti was promulgated by Pushyamitra as embodying the principles of Brahmanic Revolution against the Buddhist state of the Mauryas. That the Manu Smriti forms the Institutes of Brahmanism and are a proof that Pushyamitra Revolution was not a purely personal adventure will be clear to any one who cares .."

But who was Pushamitra Sung who led this 'revolution'. Refer to history books and one finds that Pusyamtra Sunga (died 149 BCE, r. 185–149 BCE) happened to be the founder and first King of the Sunga Dynasty in Northern India. It is widely known that he was originally a Senapati (General) of the Mauryan empire. In 185 BCE he assassinated the last Mauryan Emperor (Brhadrata) during an army review, and proclaimed himself King. He then performed the Ashwamedha Yajna and brought much of Northern India under his rule. Inscriptions of the Shungas have been found as far as the Jalandhar in the Punjab, and the Divyavadana mentions that his rule extended as far as Sagala (Sialkot).

Looking back it is clear that the social agenda of Pushymitra's political revolution was 'restoration of Brahminism to its supreme status' and Manusmriti did just that. It not only castigates the Buddhists and other 'heretics' in no uncertain terms but also accords special privileges to the Brahmins.

The way Manusmriti castigates the Buddhists as heretics in no uncertain terms is clear :

Note the following provisions in Manu Smriti :—

IX. 225. ". . .. Men who abide in heresy . . . the king should banish from his realm."

IX. 226. "These robbers in disguise, living in the king's realm constantly injure the worthy subject by the performance of their misdeeds."

V. 89. "Libations of water shall not be offered to (the souls of) those who (neglect the prescribed rites and may be said to) have been born in vain, to those born in consequence of an illegal mixture of the castes, to those who are ascetics (of heretical sects) and to those who have committed suicide."..

The way later day history was written a few important facts of this 'counterrevolution' either were deliberately not brought forth or got obliterated as time passed on. 

Ambedkar elaborates "..[t]he object of the Regicide by Pushyamitra was to destroy Buddhism as a state religion and to make the Brahmins the sovereign rulers of India so that with the political power of the state behind it Brahmanism may triumph over Buddhism ..".."Then there is evidence that Pushyamitra after his accession launched a violent and virulent campaign of persecution against Buddhists and Buddhism. How pitiless was the persecution of Buddhism by Pushyamitra can be gauged from the Proclamation which he issued against the Buddhist monks. By this proclamation Pushyamitra set a price of 100 gold pieces on the head of every Buddhist monk."

While discussing the triumph of Brahminism and decline and fall of Buddhism he raises an important point about how history has been written in this part of the world.

Reels and reels have been written to show how wave after wave of Muslim invasions came down like avalanche and enveloped the people and overthrew their rulers. The whole history of India is made to appear as though the only important thing in it is a catalogue of Muslim invasions. But even from this narrow point of view it is clear that the Muslim invasions are not the only invasions worth study. There have been other invasions equally if not of greater importance. If Hindu India was invaded by the Muslim invaders so was Buddhist India invaded by Bramhanic invaders. The Muslim invasions of Hindu India and the Bramhanic invasions of Buddhist India have many similarities.

According to him:

"[F]ailure to appreciate this aspect of India's history is due to the prevalence of some very wrong notions. It has been commonly supposed that the culture of India has been one and the same all throughout history; that Brahmanism, Buddhism, Jainism are simply diffeent phases and that there has never been any fundamental antagonism between them. Secondly it has been assumed that whatever conflicts have taken place in Indian politics were purely political and dynastic and that they had no social and spiritual significance. It is because of these wrong notions that Indian history has become a purely mechanical thing, a record of one dynasty succeeding another and one ruler succeeding another ruler. A corrective to such an attitude and to such a method of writing history lies in recognition of two facts which are indisputable."

What could be said to be the 'achievements' of this 'revolution against Buddhism' or what did this triumphant Brahmanism do? According to Dr. Ambedkar:

"The deeds or misdeeds of this triumphant Brahmanism may be catalogued under seven heads (1) It established the right of the Brahmin to rule and commit regicide. (2) It made the Bramhins a class of privileged persons. (3) It converted the Varna into caste. (4) It brought about a conflict and anti-social feeling between the different castes. (5) It degraded the Shudras and the women (6) It forged the system of graded inequality and (7) It made legal and rigid the social system which was conventional and flexible."

Here is a sampling of the shlokas from Manusmriti which declare the special position of the Brahmins vis-a-vis the rest of the people:

I. 93. As the Brahmana sprang from (Bramha's) mouth, as he was the first born,and as he possesses the Veda, he is by right the lord of this whole creation.

I. 96. Of created beings the most excellent are said to be those which are animated; of the animated, those which subsist by intelligence; of the intelligent, mankind; and of men, the Brahmans.

I. 100. Whatever exists in the world is the property of the Bramhans ; on account of the excellence of his origin the Brahmana is, indeed, entitled to it all.

I. 101. The Brahmana eats but his own food, wears but his. own apparel, bestows but his own in alms; other mortals subsist through the benevolence of the Brahmana...


"The laws of Manu relating to the Status of the Shudra make a very interesting reading for the simple reason that they have moulded the psychology of the Hindus and determined their attitude towards the Shudras who forms at the present and at all times the most numerous part of Hindu society. They are set out below under separate heads so that it may be possible for the reader to have a complete idea of the status given by Manu to the Community of Shudras."

                                                                                                       - Dr Ambedkar

"Lucknow: A teenaged dalit named Mukesh was beaten to death in Ferozabad district for daring to participate in Bhagwat Paath organised by the local Lodh Rajput community. The victim's brother and some relatives who came to the rescue of the teenagers were also assaulted. The incident took place on Tuesday night.

Though the police confirmed that the provocation behind the murder was caste bias, the accused alleged that they had caught the victim while stealing a goat.The police could arrest only two of the twelve named accused."

                                                                               - Times of India, 15 th June 2006 

It is easy to imagine the long term impact of such exclusivist ideas in such a system where a section of people with claims of high birth and purity of blood achieve pre-eminence and claim divine sanction for their actions and concerted attempts are made to dehumanise and demonise the others, broad masses of toiling people, the shudras, the atishudras and those falling outside the pale of Varna society.

Manusmriti which is part religion, part ethics and part law book openly declares ' the sight of mere possession of wealth by the Shudra injures a Brahmin' and an attempt made by a Shudra to attain knowledge is a crime. If such a lowly born merely listens to the recitation of the sacred texts, his ears are to be filled with molten lead ; if he dares utters the sacred text, then his tongue should be torn out and if he remembers it then his body should be split. A brahmin was divinely entitled to insult, beat and enslave a shudra. The killing of a Shudra by a brahmin was equivalent to the killing of a cat, frog, lizard, owl etc, tells the Dharmshastras. According to him, similar animal similes for Jews were used by Adolf Hitler, in his autobiography, Mein Kampf.

Braj Ranjan Mani, in his much discussed book 'Debrahminising History' (Manohar, Delhi) makes an important point.According to him, " the term coined to demonise the other, apart from rakshasa and asura, was mleccha, the 'unclean, unwashed other', which has a history, according to Romila Thapar, going back to around 800 BC and occurs originally in a Vedic text. Contrary to the Hindutva claim that the term was originally one of the contempt for the invading, barbarous foreigners, especially Muslims, it was used originally and frequently by the upper castes to refer to shudras and ati-shudras, considered the enemy. Thapar contends that demonisation/rakshasisation of the enemy - irrespective of who the enemy was - has been a constant factor with reference to many pre-Islamic enemies and going back to earlier time." (Page 22-23)

Taking the issue further he adds, the demonisation of the Shudra the commoner, 'born to sin' and the 'the untruth itself' has been an ongoing affair in the brahmanic phraseology and he is saddled with so much disabilities that ultimately he is made to loose his human status.' For the sake of the prosperity of the worlds (the divine one) caused the Brahman, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya and the the Shudra to proceed from his mouth, his arm, his thighs and his feet.', 'Once born man ( a Shudra), who insults a twice-born man with gross invective, shall have his tongue cut out : for he is of low origin'.

A natural corollary to this state of things is the legitimacy to violence of a certain kind against the 'other' which gets ingrained in this culture and is naturalised as well. This part of South Asia, seems unique in the world where majorities of various kinds still continue to perpetrate atrocities on own people and maintain and strengthen it by every resource of religious force and social sanction. Situation may seem to outwardly change but the inner logic remains. Hinduism seems unique in the sense it is difficult to find any other religion where social, cultural discrimination against co-religionists is perpetrated on the basis of scriptural authorities.Undoubtedly, Hinduism has a long history of battles, fights with other religions - Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam and Christianity - but its record of targetting dalits, tribals, backward castes is equally not less violent and if the oppressed castes took shelter in other religions, they also had to bear the fury.

As an aside it need be mentioned that looking at the stranglehold of Manusmriti on the minds of the oppressed Dr Ambedkar had organised thousands of people to consign to flames Manusmriti which epitomised and legitimised the subhuman existence of the socially and culturally downtrodden in the Indian society. Definitley this was a hard blow on the slavery of Dalits and Women going on for thousands of years. As a first step to this earlier on 19-20 March 1927 thousands of Dalits and others dedicated to social change marched under the leadership of Dr.Ambedkar , to the Chavadar Lake at Mahad (Maharashtra) and drew water from the lake which was prohibited to them by the upper caste people. This symbolic act not only challenged the ageold Brahminical system but was also a declaration of the Human Rights of the Dalits.

And as a second step, dalits and other fraternal organisations, came together again on 25 th December of the same year and burnt Manusmriti. In his speech before the august gathering Dr Ambedkar compared the significance of this act with French revolution (1789-99)which challenged absolute monarchy and led to an epic transformation in the French society, as feudal, aristocratic and religious privileges evaporated under a sustained assault from radical left-wing political groups, masses on the streets, and peasants in the countryside.

It is not for nothing that while we sing euologies to non-violence, certain type of violence not only receive the wider social sanction but is glorified as well. Here a fanatic ruler who engages in 'ethnic cleansing' of his own people and rationalise his crimes against humanity in Newtonian 'action-reaction' thesis can metamorphose himself into darling/hriday samrat of the masses. A son assuming reins of power after his mother's assasination at the hands of a misguided youth, can justify the genocide like situation meted out to the youth's community, as proof of 'earth trembling after a great tree falls and is not penalised/ostracised for that statement'. A murderer like Brahmeshwar Singh, bloodthirsty head of the private army of landlords called "Ranvir Sena' which has to its credit many massacres of dalits and other oppressed can be feted as a great leader of their community and could be projected as 'modern day Gandhi'.

To summarise, the persistence of graded hierarchy in a society with every other section revolving around the principles of purity and pollution, which gets conditioned to the 'us' versus 'them' logic and has the propensity of unleashing violence against the 'other' can become a fertile ground for exclusivist politics.


"If the ancestors of these progressive and liberal men had really understood the meaning of patriotism, they would not have written essays in their books in which their own countrymen, the shudras, were regarded as lower than animals."

- Jyotiba Phule in Gulamgiri, 1873, quoted in O'Hanlon 'Caste, Conflict and Ideology, Cambridge, 1985)

"Much of the ancient history of India is no history at all. Not that ancient India has no history. It has plenty of it. But it has lost its character. It has been made mythology to amuse women and children. This seems to have been done deliberately by the Brahminical writers. Take the word Deva. What does it mean? Is the word Jana Vishesh representing a member of the human family? It is made to appear superhuman agency. By this the pith of history contained in it is squeezed out...."

                                 - Ambedkar, Revolution and Counterrevolution in Ancient India

The advent of Britishers and the policies pursued by them supposedly to strenghthen their rule and gain legitimacy presented before Brahminism multifarious challenges. Looking back it is easy to imagine how they must have felt threatened when for the first time in known history, doors of knowledge were being opened before all those classes who were debarred from doing so on the basis of religious sanction. An added disadvantage for upholders of Manu's legacy was that this breeze of modern education had brought forth leaders from these very sections who were keen to further empower these marginalised masses.

It is of interest to note that the experience of the Varna people and the Avarna people was found to be at variance in the domain of education. As noted by scholars, while the top echleons of the hierarchial Varna society performed badly when they first encountered British education, the experience of the 'lowest castes' among them was nothing but exemplary under similar circumstances. P.S.Krishnan, in an article "Logical Step' (Frontline, May 8, 2006) tells us how : 'Monstuart Elphinstone, the legendary British administrator, recognised in the mid-19 th century that "the missionaries find in the lowest caste the best pupils."It goes on "The Board of Education of Bombay Presidency in its report for 1850-51 was confident that if the doors of education were opened to 'the despised castes' they would turn into 'men of superior intelligence to any in the community'. Selections from Educational record ( 1781-1938, 1840-1859, 1860-1887) and Progress of Education in India also underline the fact that 'the native-indians were highly disinterested in Science and Education, two, they fared very poorly in science subjects and three, failure rates in science was very high'.

Take Mahatma Jyotirao Phule.

Perhaps it would be opportune here to take a bird's eye view over major developments in his life

1848 - established first school anywhere in India for Shudratishudra girls alongwith his wife Savitribai

1851 - another school for girls of all castes

1855 - evening school for working people

1856- attempt on his life for his 'divisive' activities

1860 - started campaign for widow remarriage

1863 - started a home for widows

Organised a barber's strike to protest tonsuring of widow's head

1868 - drinking water tank in own house thrown open to 'untouchables'

1 st June 1873 - publication of 'Gulamgiri' (Slavery) his best known work

24 th Sep 1873 - Satyashodhak Samaj ( Society of the Seekers of Truth) established

1876-1882 - nominated member of Pune Municipal Council

1882- Vociferously defended Tarabai Shinde ('the first feminist theoretician' according to Susie Tharu) when her book 'Stree Purush Tulana' evoked near hysterical reaction

11 May 1888 - a big public meeting conferred on him the title Mahatma

1889 - Publication of Sarvajanik Satya Dharma, his last book

28 Nov 1890 - Died in Pune

In his introduction to 'Selected Writings of Jotirao Phule' G.P Deshpande tells us 'Phule's canvas was broad, his sweep majestic. He identified and theorised the most important questions of his time - religion, Varna System, ritualism, language, literature, British rule, mythology, gender question, conditions of production in agriculture, the lot of peasantry etc....Was Phule then a social reformer ? The answer will be 'no'. A social reformer is a liberal humanist.Phule was more of a revolutionary. He had a complete system of ideas, and was amongst the early thinkers to have identified, in a manner of speaking, classes in Indian society. He analysed the dvaivarnik structure of Indian society, and identified the shudratishudras as the leading agency of a social revolution.' (Page 20, Leftword)

In fact, Phule judged Hindu culture by applying two values - rationality and equality. And the application of these principles demanded a total rejection of the unequal aspects of culture like the caste system, the authoritarian family structure, subordination of women, ban on their education, enforcement of lifelong widowhood, child marrieages etc.

Or take the case of Jyothee Thass (1845-1914) Jyothee Dasa, in the true classical line of philosophical dissenters that distinguished the Indian intellectual tradition from the days of Carvaka and Buddha, repudiated the Manu Dharma that created the caste hierarchy and aggressively canvassed for the total emancipation of the Dalits.

“Iyothee Thass (Ayodhya Dasa) is, perhaps, one among the several Dalit icons whose names have been blacked out by mainstream history.” The biographical sketch of this eminent Dalit, tells us that he knew English, Sanskrit and Pali. He strongly believed that Buddhism flourished in Tamil Nadu before the advent of the later Cholas and a conspiracy of circumstances, resulted in the decline of this non-Vedic religion. Eventually, according to Dasa, the Buddhists were deprived of their religion and they descended to the status of untouchables. It reads like a speculative theory but does not seem improbable. (From 'Venomous Past.. Ravi Kumar ..)

A look at the trajectories of other social revolutionaries can bring forth many hitherto lesser known facts about their lives and struggles and perhaps impel us to comprehend how their uncompromising struggle against Brahminical social order was no less revolutionary. Ayyankali, the great rebel from Kerala, organised agricultural workers strike (1904) to ensure 'right to education for the oppressed'.

Compare the social revolutionaries zeal to challenge the inequitous relations sanctioned by religion and culture, their unending zeal to spread knowledge to the broadest possible section of people and the status quoist approach of the conservatives.

Lokmanya Tilak, who was called 'father of Indian Unrest' and belonged to the 'radical section within Congress' presents before us a classic example which shows the deep anxities of dominant section of people fighting for political freedom towards social reforms'. While much is known about his strong opposition of Age of Consent Bill ( which sought to outlaw marriages for girls less than 12 years of age), it is less reported that he refused to permit Ranade to hold his National Social Conference at the Congress Pavillion in 1895 -as was the practice till then - and did not mind disrupting the session and threatening to burn down the pavillion if the conference was held.

In his long essay 'Educate Women and Lose Nationality' (Parimala V Rao, Critical Quest, 2010) the author deals with the nationalist discourse in Maharashtra spanning over forty years which "[a]rgued that educating women and non-Brahmins would amount to a loss of nationality. The nationalists, led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak during 1881-1920 consistently opposed the establishment of girl's schools, the imparting of education to non Brahmins and implementing compulsory education. They were also instrumental in defeating the proposals to implement compulsory education in nine out of eleven municipalities. By demanding 'National education' the nationalists sought to reshape the meaning and scope of compulsory education advocated by reformers, as their national education consisted of teaching the Dharmashastras and some technical skills. "

Emphasising that peasant's children be taught traditional occupations, and that the curriculum meant for other children was unsuitable for them, Tilak wrote :

"You take away a farmer's boy from the plough, the blacksmith's boy from the bellows and the cobbler's boy from his owl with the object of giving him liberal education ... and the boy learns to condemn the profession by his father, not to speak of the loss to which the latter is put by being deprived of the son's assistance at the old trade."

- (Mahratta, 15th May 1881, pp 3-4 'Our System of Education - A Defect and a Cure)

The anxieties of the conservatives were not limited only to the field of education. They were also faced with the challenge that Dalits and other members of the Bahujan Samaj were slowly coming under the influence of what could be said as celebrations of 'composite heritage' in that part of India especially Muharram processions. It need not be underlined that a caste ridden Hinduism, whose raison detre was the logic of purity and pollution, had never much encouraged such public spectacle type of celebrations.

To address this challenge, Tilak transformed worshipping Ganesha into Ganesh Chaturthi, (1894) which had twin aims. On the one hand it was a replacement counterpart to Muharram observance and on the other a mobilisational strategy to unite people. It is said that upon the inception of Ganesha Chaturthi, Hindus abandaoned participating Muharram festival and instances of riots were reported when the musicals passed mosques in Poona in 1894 and Dhulia in 1895, the same places, same places of teaching

“ Oh! Why have you abandoned today the Hindu religion?
How have you forgotten Ganapathi, Shiva and Maruthi?
What have you gained by worshipping the tabuts?
What boon has Allah conferred upon you
That you have become Mussalmans today?
Do not be friendly to a religion which is alien
Do not give up your religion and be fallen
Do not at all venerate the tabuts,
The cow is our mother, do not forget her. ” 

According to an analyst, with the Ganesh festivals militant Hinduism’s first modern cadre was born .


The communal overtones in the actions of the upper caste elite participating in the anti-colonial struggle can easily be discerned in all such actions. Interestingly communalisation of a section of the subalterns could be said to be a 'national' phenomenon. If Tilak and others tried to win them over to their side a la the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, followers of Arya Samaj were similarly trying to coopt the Dalits albeit with little success. The manner in which Hindu leaders tried to win over communities engaged in cleaning to their side in Punjab and the propagation of Valmiki as 'their' god would be a separate matter of study.

It would be of interest to note that the 'Aryan' racial origins of Brahminical civilisation, which were popularised by Western scholars like Professor Max Mueller, got enough adherents among diverse section of intelligentsia which included Vivekanand, Tilak, Ranade, Dayanand Saraswati, Aurobindo Ghose, B.C. Pal, Bankimchandra and others. The 'magic' of this theory was that it made the Indian elite feel equal to their colonial rulers and also buttress their social superiority over the low caste Shudras. (Joan Leopold, The Aryan Theory of Race, IESHR June 1970)

The birth of RSS should be seen in this background. The official biography of Hedgewar, written by C. P Bhishikar 'Sanghvriksh Ke Beej' throws light on its emergence. It is known that Dr Hedgewar alongwith B. S. Moonje, L.V. Paranjape, B.B. Thalkar and Baburao Savarkar who were all ardent advocates of Brahminical revivalism - founded Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925. Explaining the need to start RSS, Hedgewar is reported to have given two reasons : one, Muslim threat and second, assertion of the lower castes. 'Conflicts between various communities had started. Brahman-non-Brahman conflict was nakedly on view. ' One, can easily notice he has shown lower caste assertion on par with Muslim threat.

In fact it would be more prudent to say that the very edifice of RSS, which yearned for a Hindu Rashtra based on Brahminical worldview, was built on an inbuilt antagonism towards the assertion of the Shudras-Atishudras and women. And Maharashtra which never had a significant Muslim presence became a home to this project as it was witness to the massive social-cultural movement challenging the stranglehold of Brahminism and Patriarchy under the leadership of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule. The Phule's struggle against the Shetjis and Bhatjis ( Traders and Brahmins) got a new fillip with the emergence of Dr Ambedkar whose first historic struggle for the dignity of dalits culminated in the burning of Manusmriti itself in 1927. Interestingly most of the studies of the origin and expansion of Hindutva brigade have rather concentrated on the anti-minority aspect of its foundation and have inadvertently or so skipped the anti-Dalit or anti-shudra anti women aspect of its formation which has led us to a situation where a concerted attack on the foundations of the politics Hindutva has not been possible. Although of late one does notice a significant change in the appraisal and also a growing realisation that anti-caste struggle needs to be made an integral part of anti-communal struggle.

Writing about this 'Symbiosis of Cultural Chauvinism and Communal Politics' Braj Ranjan Mani ( Debrahminising History, Page 237) writes :

"The Phule-Ambedkar ideology rejects the basic Hindutva concept of a Hindu as one who considers India to be both his punyabhoomi (holy land) and pitribhoomi ( father land). Not surprisingly, the RSS targeted Phule-Ambedkarism and touted the theory that such movements emanated from a divisive 'caste mentality.

Like the earlier versions of cultural nationalism, the RSS respects the principle of Varnashram Dharma, but pretends to oppose caste...The RSS pretension of forging Hindu Unity is basically built on its antagonism against Muslims - as Ambedkar once pointed out,' A caste has no feeling that it is affiliated to other castes except when there is Hindu-Muslim riot.' The RSS 'anti-casteism' serves the twin objectives of keeping the lowered caste people under the brahminical umbrella on the one hand, and fighting Muslims, with the unity thus achieved, on the other."

Yoginder Sikand , a leading scholar on interfaith relations, in one of his perceptive writeup 'Hindutva And The Dalit-Bahujans: Dangerous Portents' shares his experience interviewing leaders Hindutva leaders :

"Top Hindutva leaders are on record as arguing that the Hindu Rashtra of their dreams would, in emulation of the classical Hindu state that they so ardently espouse, be ruled according to the draconian Bible of Brahminism, the Manusmriti, that consigned the ‘lower’ castes and even ‘upper’ caste women to the most cruel form of slavery that humankind has ever devised".


Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a leading light of the Hindu Right, who is supposed to be the pioneer of the idea of Hindutva, has expressed his admiration for Manusmriti in no uncertain terms.According to him :

"Manusmriti is that scripture which is most workshipable after Vedas for our Hindu nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation. Even today the rules which are followed by crores of Hindus in their lives and practice are based on Manusmriti. Today Manusmriti is Hindu law."

K.R. Malkani, a leading ideologue of the RSS admits in his book 'The RSS Story', that Golwalkar, the second supremo of the RSS, ‘saw no reason why Hindu law should break its ancient links with the Manusmriti’. Similarly, in his 'Bunch of Thoughts,' Golwalkar, quoting from the Rig Veda and echoing Manu, empathically declares, ‘Brahmin is the head, Kshatriya the hands, Vaisya the thighs, and Shudras the feet. This means that the people who have this four-fold arrangement, the Hindu people, is (sic) our God’.

When leaders of newly independent India were struggling to have a constitution which was premised on the inviolability of individual rights with special provisions of positive discrimination for millions of Indians who had been denied any human rights quoting religious scriptures, it was Golwalkar who espoused the same Manusmriti as independent India’s constitution.'Organiser' ( November 30, 1949, p.3) the organ of RSS complained :

"But in our constitution there is no mention of the unique constitutional developments in ancient Bharat. Manu's laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing."

The RSS campaigned vigorously for the enforcement of Manu's code. Sankar Subba Aiyar, a retired high court judge, wrote in the same RSS organ (Organiser, Manu Rules Over Our Hearts, Feb 6, 1950):

"Even though Dr Ambedkar is reported to have recently stated that the days of Manu are ended it is nevertheless a fact that the daily lives of Hindus are even at the present day affected by the principles and injunctions contained in the Manu Smriti and other Smritis.Even an unorthodox Hindu feels himself bound at least in some matters by the rules contained in the Smritis and he feels powerless to give up altogether his adherence to them."

It was not surprising that Golwalkar did not take kindly to the affirmative action programmes undertaken by the newly independent state for the welfare & empowerment of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. He expressed his disapproval by saying that rulers were digging at the roots of Hindu social cohesion and destroying the spirit of identity that held various sects into a harmonious whole in the past. Denying that Hindu social system was responsible for the plight of the lower castes, he held constitutional safeguards for them as responsible for creating disharmony.

Dr Ambedkar had envisaged the special privileges for 'Scheduled Castes' for only 10 years from the day we became a republic in 1950. But it is going on, being extended. Continued special privileges on the basis of caste only, is bound to create vested interests in them in remaining as a separate entity. That would harm their integration with the rest of the society.

It was the same period when attempts were made to give limited rights to Hindu women in property and inheritance through the passage of the Hindu Code Bill., which were opposed by Golwalkar and his followers, with the contention that this step was inimical to Hindu traditions and culture. Looking back one could say that RSS was one of the leading force of this all India campaign to stop enactment of the bill. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who later became the founding President of Jan Sangh - the mass political platform floated by RSS- , and who happened to be a minister in Nehru's cabinet then also expressed his opposition to the passage of the bill in no uncertain terms. It is now history how the bill could not be passed when Ambedkar was the law minister and he resigned from the cabinet mainly on these grounds only.

It was late ‘60s when Maharashtra witnessed a massive mobilisation of people, cutting across party lines, which was precipitated by a controversial interview given by Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the then Supremo (Sarsanghchalak) of RSS, to a Marathi daily Navakal. Golwalkar in this interview had extolled the virtues of Chaturvarnya (the division of the Hindus in four Varnas) and had also glorified Manusmriti, the ancient edicts of the Hindus.13 Ofcourse, it was not for the first time that the Supremo’s love and admiration for Manusmriti, which sanctifies and legitimises, the structured hierarchy based on caste and gender, had become public. In fact, at the time of framing the constitution also, he did not forget to show his disapproval towards the gigantic effort, claiming that the said ancient edict could serve the purpose.

Definitely no less troubling are Golwalkar’s ideas around ‘Hindu Experiments in Cross-breeding’ which extolled North Indian Brahmins at the cost of the rest of the Hindus themselves and in fact propagates an idea that India had a superior race or breed of Hindus and also an inferior race of Hindus, which needed to be improved through cross-breeding.

In his address to the School of Social Science of Gujarat University on December 17, 1960 ( Organiser, January 2, 1961, p.5) he formulated this racist thesis:

"Today experiments in cross-breeding are made only on animals. But the courage to make such experiments on human beings is not shown even by the so-called modern scientist of today. If some human cross-breeding is seen today it is the result not of scientific experiments but of carnal lust. Now let us see the experiments our ancestors made in this sphere. In an effort to better the human species through cross-breeding the Namboodri Brahamanas of the North were settled in Kerala and a rule was laid down that the eldest son of a Namboodri family would marry only the daughter of Vaishya, Kshatriya or Shudra communities of Kerala. Another still more courageous rule was that trhe first off-spring of a married woman of any class must be fathered by a Namboodri Brahmin and then she could beget children by her husband. Today this experiment would be called adultery, but it was not so, as it as limited to the first child."

As rightly noted by Dr. Shamsul Islam, in his book ‘Golwalkar’s We Or Our Nationhood Defined A Critique’ ( 2006, Pharos Media, Delhi.pp. 30-31) ‘The above statement of Golwalkar is highly derogatory in many respects. Firstly, it proves that Golwalkar believed that India had a superior race or breed of Hindus and also an inferior race of Hindus’..’Secondly, a more worrying aspect was the belief that only the Brahmins of the North, specifically Namboodri Brahmanas, belonged to a superior race.”

Although much water has passed the Ganges (and the Jamuna), it cannot be said that there is any rethinking in the camp of Hindutva about Manusmriti or the social system sanctioned by it .The only difference which has occured is that the critique of the present constitution - which at least formally (to quote Dr Ambedkar) 'ended the days of Manu' - has become more sophisticated. Not a day passes when one of the stalwarts of the Sangh Parivar criticises the constitution for 'bearing colonial imprints' or supposedly 'not caring to local traditions and culture'. It was not for nothing that the BJP had even appointed a commission to review the constitution under some specious plea.

Of course there are occasions when the criticism does not remain so guarded and it manifests itself in a blatant manner.One still remembers how Giriraj Kishore, a RSS pracharak, who happens to be a leading light of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, had rationalised the killings of five dalits in Jhajjar, Haryana ( October 2002) by a mob for committing the 'crime' of skinning a dead cow by saying that 'in our religious scriptures ( Puranas) life of a cow is more important than any number of people'.

It is now history how Uma Bharati (then a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party) led M.P. government promulgated an ordinance for banning cow slaughter with an official statement which extolled the virtues of Manusmriti.( Janurary 2005) It said : Manusmriti ranks the slaughterer of cow as predator and prescribes hard punishment for him'. It was for the first time in the legal history of independent India that a law was being justified for being in tune with Manusmriti.. It had no qualms in declaring its committment to Manusmriti although it very well knew that it was in contravention to the basic principles of constitution.

It is the same BJP which helped install a magnificient statue of Manu in the precints of Jaipur (capital of Rajasthan, perhaps the only state in India ) highcourt in early 90 s when Bhairon Singh Shekhawat - a longtime RSS worker and present incumbent to the Vice Presidents' chair- happened to be the chief minister.
Subhash Gatade is a New Socialist Initiative (NSI) activist. He is also the author of Godse's Children: Hindutva Terror in India, and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India. This is a Draft Paper that was presented at a seminar ‘Caste and culture in India :Dynamics of Power and Resistance', Phule-Ambedkar Chair, Mumbai University, 13-14 th March 2013.


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