Hindutva advocates writing in the Indian media are always striking an oddly two-faced pose. On the one hand, they are eager to impress upon their readers that Hindutva is the "ethos" of the "mainstream", or the "majority" of Indians. On the other, theres a constant moaning about how Hindutva has been and remains completely marginalised in India.
The loudest moans, of course, are reserved for the sad state of the Indian press, which is apparently "controlled" by an overwhelming flood of "pseudo-secularists" and "Marxists", and so on. Yet these writers (which include stalwarts like M.V Kamath, Arun Shourie, Varsha Bhosle, Swapan Dasgupta, Arvind Kulkarni, A.R. Kanangi, Sudheendra Kulkarni, R.K. Karanjia, Olga Tellis, Jay Dubashi, Sanjay Raut, Bal Thackeray and Nilkanth Khadilkar) overlook their own numbers.
This strange dichotomy - brave claims to being the mainstream set against whimpers about "pinkos" -does not seem strange to these friends of the Sangh Parivar. Rather, a peculiar logic persuades them that in their dreamland, you can be in the mainstream and yet be one against the swarm.
Its not true that the press is overrun by Marxists; nor is it true that it is bristling with Hindutva heroes. What is true is that while most Indians are defined as Hindus, Hindutva is not the ethos most of them subscribe to. Therein lie some lessons for the propagators of Hindutva.
Back in British times, nearly 83 percent of Indians were classified as Hindus. That, however, does not mean that all those defined as Hindus are actually Hindus. This is where Kancha Ilaiah starts from in his book Why I Am Not A Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy (Samya, Calcutta, 1996).
By most reckonings, Ilaiah, a teacher of political science at Osmania University in Hyderabad (Deccan), is a Hindu. Indeed, the Sangh Parivar includes persons like him when it speaks of "the majority" ethos that it has appropriated for itself. But as Ilaiah points out in innumerable ways in this slim volume, he is emphatically Not A Hindu.
Instead, he is a Dalitbahujan, broadly meaning the backward and lower castes in the country - the "people and castes who form the exploited and suppressed majority". To Ilaiah, Dalitbahujans are utterly distinct from Hindus. Their very culture, their religion, has nothing to do with Hinduism. In fact, writes Ilaiah, "the opposite of Hindu culture is actually Dalitbahujan culture."
Just why does he see Dalitbahujans as distinct from Hindus? And what does that mean for the pretensions of Hindutva? The answers reach the fundamental reality of India: caste. Nothing in this country - not religion, not wealth, not power, not language - defines you quite as profoundly as caste. In a very real sense, caste has no bars: it cuts across every other demarcation, as is glaringly evident in the matrimonial columns of the Sunday papers, where Sanadhya Brahmins, Agraharis and Chamars are all equally intent on finding mates from among their own kind. Nadar Christians too, cannot escape their label.
What does it matter that we have cellular phones and Channel V? In too many corners of the country, some things never change. And the most important one is: you never lose your caste identity.
Ilaiah celebrates that identity: particularly, his Dalitbahujan identity. He fills his book with rosy - too rosy, perhaps - accounts of Dalitbahujan life: their gods, their rituals, their customs, the status of their women. Ilaiahs descriptions make the book a near-anthropological study, and, in every case, Ilaiah shows how far removed Dalitbahujan existence is from what the "mainstream" defines as "Hinduism".
Mandal and Ram
Ilaiah argues that the Hindutva movement appeared merely as a reaction against the backward class reservation movement. "Suddenly since about 1990," he says, "the word Hindutva has begun to echo in our ears... as if everyone in India who is not a Muslim, a Christian or a Sikh is a Hindu." He goes on: "This totally baffles me... [T]he very sight of this saffron-tilak culture is a harrassment to us."
Some history and a little arithmetic may help here. In 1980, the Mandal Commission reported its efforts to identify the so-called "Other Backward Classes" (obc) . Actual caste was only one criterion in the Commissions scheme to identify such OBCs. There were ten others, such as a school dropout rate measure, how far drinking water sources are, and so on. When these criteria were applied, says the report, "most of the well-known socially and educationally backward castes were identified as backward."
The reports vital point was that the OBCs it identified form 52 percent of Indias Hindu population. And since the great majority of Indians are defined as Hindus, about 52 percent of all Indians are OBCs. Add to that the nearly 23 percent already identified as Scheduled Castes and Tribes and you have three of every four Indians in the lower castes, Ilaiahs "exploited and suppressed majority".
This is where Hindutvas very thesis of speaking for Indias "mainstream" falls on its face. How can less than 25 percent of India form its "mainstream"? That explains why, in response to VP. Singhs 1989 promise to implement the Mandal Commissions recommendations of reservations for OBCs, the Sangh Parivar diverted the caste struggle and made it into a religious one.
The destruction of the Babri Masjid and the subsequent murderous violence were outcomes of this deliberate strategy of diversion. "The more aggressive form of Hindutva [is represented]," Ilaiah writes, "in the anti-Mandal ideologies, the Ayodhya-based Rama slogan... All these are part of the anti-Dalitbahujan package."
Certainly, as a reviewer pointed out, the answer to Hindutva cannot lie in the unprincipled politics of Kanshi Ram and his Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh - people who claim to voice Dalit aspirations. But in that context, this book and the arguments it contains can be used as a basis for dialogue and understanding, rather than just a source of friction between Dalits and Hindutva ideologues.
Image: Penguin India
Penguin India withdraws The Hindus
On 11 February 2014, Penguin India decided to recall and destroy all remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History. The decision was part of an agreement between them and Shiksha Bachao Andolan, a Hindu campaign group that filed a case against the publishers in 2010, arguing that the book was insulting to Hindus and contained “heresies”.
From our archive:
Diwas Kc reviews The Hindus: An Alternative History. (March 2010)