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
    2. 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
          2. 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
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