Out of my mind: Being a Hindu

No one should be surprised that many Dalits left Hinduism. Indeed the puzzle is that so many remained.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Published:March 29, 2015 12:30 am
ghar wapsi, reconversion, vhp, vishwa hindu parishad, conversion, inter caste marriage, meghnad desai column, indian express column Who needs ‘ghar wapsi’ if the ghar you are being invited back to treats you like dirt?

There is joy in heaven when even one sinner repents. So goes the Christian prayer. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad may not be best placed to be greeted as a Christian sinner, but the good news is that it has repented. It has finally discovered that the curse of untouchability may have been the reason Dalits preferred to abandon the Sanatana Dharma and migrate to other more egalitarian religions. Who needs ‘ghar wapsi’ if the ghar you are being invited back to treats you like dirt?

No one should be surprised that many Dalits left Hinduism. Indeed the puzzle is that so many remained. There is a fundamental misunderstanding among the champions of Hindu nationalism. We are constantly told that Hindu religion is so tolerant that secularism is in its very spirit. You don’t need to contrast a secular India with a Hindu India. This tolerance is something of a myth, but not too far from the truth.

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Hindu religion may be tolerant, but Hindu society is intolerant and inegalitarian. One may admire the contemplation of Advaita, but then how can one reconcile the contempt for the Shudra and the ati-Shudra with the assertion of a universal abstract Brahman? Hindu society mistreats the majority of its people. Even the Bhagavad Gita displays this prejudice when it contrasts the “virtues” of the two upper Varnas with the “mundane character” of Vaishyas and Shudras (Adhyaya 18, shloka 41-48). For all the spirituality and loftiness of the Vedas and Upanishads, the unassailable facts were of inhuman treatment of Dalit men and even more so of their women, who were treated as sex objects. Shudras did not do better. The Bahujan, the majority, were the losers in Hindu society.

Much of Hindutva ideology is propagated by the upper castes, particularly Brahmins. There is no discussion about how the lowly jatis felt about the mythologies and philosophies of Brahmanism. Jyotiba Phule was the first modern writer to articulate a trenchant anti-Brahminical message. Dr Balasaheb Ambedkar wrote tirelessly in a critical manner against the pretensions of Brahminical spirituality. Read his critique of the Bhagavad Gita and you will realise how different that great text of Brahmanism looks to the lower castes. He fought tirelessly against caste and Brahmanism. At the end of his life, he gave up his efforts at making fellow Hindus aware of the defect in their society and took his followers to Buddhism.

Mahatma Gandhi tried his best to convince Hindu society of the evils of untouchability. He did not want to break up the Hindu mass support for independence by dividing it on the untouchability issue as Ambedkar wanted to. Yet he failed to persuade Varna Hindus to abandon untouchability. They all paid lip service to his Harijan Seva programme, but the exploitation and contempt remained. India still needs SC/ST reservations even after 67 years because Hindu society is unreformed and unrepentant.

Hindu society was lucky that the Muslim rulers of India, through the six centuries that they ruled in North India, left the jati system undisturbed. They converted the untouchables but, throughout Muslim rule, Hindu society survived intact. Then the British did something much worse than conversion. They gave free access, regardless of caste, to modern education. This was revolutionary in a society where education was the monopoly of the top two jatis. A Shyamji Krishna Varma could never have been a Sanskrit scholar nor a Mohandas Gandhi a barrister if the British had not brought modern ideas and education to India. It was education more than Christianity which challenged Hindu society.

South India gained the most from this revolution. The anti-Brahmin movement, which the Justice Party launched, followed by the Dravida movement of the Periyar, has made South India very different from the North. It is the North which is still stuck in the past. It is the BIMARU states which are the strongholds of the Hindutva movement. South India has scores higher on the Human Development Index than North India.

The jati system fragments Hindu society. The VHP may dream of a Hindu nation, but to be a Hindu is to be divided and fragmented. That is what will save India from the VHP.

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  1. J
    Jai Kumar
    Mar 29, 2015 at 1:03 am
    Could I ask what is wrong in a Hindu nation . Is UK not a Christian Nation .
    Reply
    1. C
      Camp
      Mar 30, 2015 at 7:59 am
      Well said . Not many people have the cojones to say it like it is.....the reaction on this board is indicative. The truth usually hits a nerve and gets the pretenders to Hinduism foaming at the mouth.
      Reply
      1. S
        Sanjeev
        Mar 29, 2015 at 11:11 am
        Mr Desai,:s understanding of Sanatan dharam is as superficial as of VHP. If he reads the Geeta superficially and does not try to understand the real meaning he is bound to misquote it. The shlokas he has quoted never say that the cast is by birth. They only convey that the kind of work you do will decide your category (not cast) and by doing your work with dedication you can achieve the Supreme. No need to go to a temple even. If Mr Desai really wants to understand vedant he should read Viveka Nand particularly his lecture, Vedant and Privilege.
        Reply
        1. H
          hayatlives
          Mar 29, 2015 at 4:15 pm
          true indeed !
          Reply
          1. D
            Dr khwaja
            Mar 30, 2015 at 3:08 pm
            I am not a Christian but do Christians believe Jesus is god do they worship Jesus
            Reply
            1. M
              manohar sharma
              Mar 29, 2015 at 7:51 am
              Mr desai yes the caste system has been the bane of the degraded form of Hinduism. The Hindu whom you call fragmented and divided is quite conscious of this fact and is trying to correct it . Your statement that Bhagwad Gita justifies it in the verses 41 to 45 of 18 th chapter is only your biased understanding. I am willing to debate with you any where about these verses and tell you that you totally missed the " tatav" and you have seen only your own biases and prejudices of Hinduism. This is the mindset of the western and Marxist intellectuals as their arrogance of the superiority will not admit that the spiritual concepts of the Upanishads and Vedas are far more relevant for peace of the world than their own authorised versions. Your comment that being Hindu is to be fragmented and divided is a very deable and highly condemnable comment
              Reply
              1. R
                Regrets
                Mar 29, 2015 at 8:30 pm
                South india vs north india is the underlying idea of this author. Very anti-national idea implantation.
                Reply
                1. R
                  Ruth Mesa
                  Mar 29, 2015 at 4:07 pm
                  Arya Samaj have Non-Brahmin priests trained in Sanskrit,
                  Reply
                  1. R
                    Ruth Mesa
                    Mar 29, 2015 at 2:34 pm
                    Dear Professor, Untouchability was mis understood. It was Practised by all castes in own home and public. It was infection control, a way of life and one of the civilian Dharmas modern NHS hospitals we have Gel to smear before going to wards and out of wards. Then when you say good bye the consultant shakes hand and gives his viruses obtained from previous consultant. Only one consultant said Namaste folding two hands.If you want to avoid Ebola practice untouchability with deep insight of Knowledge..
                    Reply
                    1. A
                      ambrish
                      Mar 29, 2015 at 1:21 am
                      It is the fact of human history that 'Haves' exploits 'Have-Nots, literates exploit illiterates and strong exploits weak. That was true in past & is true even now. We must learn from our mistakes, correct them wherever possible and move on. Hindu religion is not an organized religion. It allowed freedom of thoughts and allowed it's followers to follow whichever thought they liked. It sheltered many other religions which had impacted the way of thinking and the way of living. Christianity and many other religions are organized. They have 'authorized' interpretation of their scriptures and have strict rules to follow. That limits exploitation by misinterpretation and misrepresentation. Due to freedom of interpretation in Hindu religion, many misused this freedom and exploitation resulted. Yes, it is time that Hindu nationalists should focus on removing the short comings and restore the greatness of Hinduism. Ghar wapshi is just a cruel attempt of restoring Hindu Glory without removing the root causes.
                      Reply
                      1. A
                        Adv. Anand
                        Oct 22, 2015 at 7:07 am
                        Meghnad Desai is one of the most foolish author I have come across..... He happens to be one of Hindu bashers who feel that...by writing such pseudo-secular articles he may get some place in such English dailies. .. He needs to know that in South India Christians have different Cemeteries for Dalit Christians. Even today in Andhra Pradesh Reddiar Christians don't share church with Dalit Christians resulting which in April 2008 around 1000 Dalit Christians had converted to Hinduism in Tamilnadu as a protest. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar Ashrafi Muslim's don't share their graveyard with Pasmanda Muslims. 1400 years No Indian Muslim could become head Imam of Mecca masjid... so please research facts and come back....
                        Reply
                        1. A
                          avale
                          Mar 30, 2015 at 10:46 am
                          Dear sir, Bhagavadgita is spoken by Lord Krishna, who is the supreme personality of Godhead, so if you really want to understand the bhagavadgita then read it which commented by a devotee of krishna rather than one which is commented by different authors, philosophers or freedom fighters. So kindly read the "Bhagavadgita-As It Is" which is written by "A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada". You will get a clear understanding of Bhagavadgita & its purpose. Thank you.
                          Reply
                          1. S
                            SMITESH
                            Mar 30, 2015 at 4:48 pm
                            I think tum logo ne kaafi boldia ... I WANT TO SAY SOMETHING ... REMEMBER THE WAR ... BECAUSE OF THE CASTISM SPREAD BY HINDUS DID IN THE 1818... 500 MAHAR'S SLAUGHTERED and defeated the mighty Peshwa army of 8,000 foot soldiers and 20,000 cavalry. .. ... and this was actually HINDUS fault who pushed people of lower caste to do this kind of macre ...
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                            1. B
                              Bharadwaj Narasimha
                              Mar 29, 2015 at 11:29 am
                              VHP in the very first Dharma Sansad after its founding, almost 50 years ago, brought in thousands of seers from different streams of Bharat and unanimously declared untouchability as against the spirit of Hinduism (). The plight of dalits is albeit improving only slowly - Shri Desai, your caustic remarks on VHP are misinformed
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                              1. B
                                Bbb
                                Mar 29, 2015 at 3:57 am
                                Poor understanding of jati problems by mr desai ... shocking that he had such a school book knowledge of indian social issues ... vhp ... it is a reaction against predatory forces and propaa that resulted in some indians being deprived of life and property... and he is pushing the agenda of predators by trivializing the issue and making it a pet hinduism-caste item ...
                                Reply
                                1. S
                                  sharma
                                  Mar 29, 2015 at 5:59 pm
                                  hindus treated women even worst.They were even burnt alive with the dead husband body in a pratice called sati.thank the British for banning such horrible practices.
                                  Reply
                                  1. H
                                    Harry
                                    Mar 29, 2015 at 4:58 pm
                                    "It is the BIMARU states which are the strongholds of the Hindutva movement. " Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka are by no means BIMARU state. it is Secutva that is ruling in bankrupt & Bimaru states like Kerala, West Bengal , UP & Bihar
                                    Reply
                                    1. D
                                      Dev Parashar
                                      Mar 30, 2015 at 3:55 am
                                      I think that Varna-system (cast system) was based on Profession but later on it became based upon birth that led to discrimination linked with poverty and ignorance. (I am not advocating cast-system).
                                      Reply
                                      1. K
                                        Kolsat
                                        Mar 29, 2015 at 6:34 am
                                        First of all the dalit leader was known as babasaheb and not Balasaheb. The strength of Hindu religion is that so far no one even the VHP has asked for a Blasphemy law present in every Muslim country. No religion has a right to actively try to convert anyone. Many dalits who have converted to Islam or Christianity do not understand the teachings of their religion therefore Islam threatens to kill anyone who decides to leave or criticise Islam and Hindus do not.
                                        Reply
                                        1. D
                                          Dr. Sonali
                                          Mar 29, 2015 at 4:52 am
                                          Agree. History has many many ugly acts of human race. Let us look ahead. Can we have a sustainable inclusive system with honest economics?
                                          Reply
                                          1. G
                                            Guest4321
                                            Mar 29, 2015 at 8:16 pm
                                            First things first; the mis-treatment of Dalits for a considerable part of India's history is highly deplorable and remains a blot on our society. Now; quoting Meghnad Desai - "Indeed the puzzle is that so many remained." Indeed, has he given a thought to why this was so? Muslims ruled India for close to 600 years, British for 200 years and still India remains a largely Hindu country. There are various factors but one thing that can be said is that the message of Gita, Vedas and Upanishads that emphasized rising above the mundane and appreciating the truth behind all the manifested world led to various reform movements like Shankara's exposition of the Advait, bhakti movement and reformist movements under British India. Meera Bai broke caste barriers to go and sit with common people in the temples, Sikh gurus preached against caste prejudice and set up common kitchens where all would get together for their meals and seva. Maharana Pratap got help from Bhil tribals during his campaign against the mughals. Countless such examples abound. Modern India is a secular republic that guarantees freedom to all its citizens, how many Islamic countries are secular and provide the same amount of freedom to minorities to practice their religion? It can be said that India is secular only because it is a Hindu majority.
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