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Why Dalits Are Looking To Embrace Religions Other Than Hinduism

RAM PUNIYANI

MUMBAI: It is reported that close to 180 Dalit families from three western Uttar Pradesh villages embraced Buddhism as a mark of protest against the rise in atrocities against them with chief priest of the Gorakhnath temple, Adityanath Yogi assuming power in Uttar Pradesh, (May 2017).

Dalits, facing the brunt of Thakur fury in Saharanpur recently, maintained that Adityanath’s government “belongs only to his fellow Thakurs”.

Yet again in Moradabad about 50 Dalit families near Saharanpur, threatened to give up Hinduism if Adityanath did not put a stop on the attacks on Dalits by the “saffron brigade”.

Similarly in Aligarh nearly 2000 Dalits have threatened to embrace Islam. (TOI, May 22, 2017).

A Bhim army and sena’s has come up to take up the cause of Dalits. While the administration accuses them of precipitating violence, Dalits claim that the ‘Dalit Army’ has come as a savior for them. And that the local administration having an upper caste bias—as is largely the case in UP— is targeting this outfit rather than catching hold of the culprits responsible for the violence a few days ago.

There has been a spiraling rise in Hindu Vigilante groups that have been scouring the UP countryside to break up inter-faith relationships and protect the cow by attacking humans. The Bhim army comes as a sort of hope for large sections of Dalits, who have been facing the brunt of the rising saffron right. Many have decided to leave Hinduism and embrace Buddhism, even Islam that has fewer takers, to get away from the upper caste, right wing oppression.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh faces a big dilemma in dealing with the Dalit groups. On the one hand they want to take them along for electoral benefits, on the other giving them some status upsets the core upper caste constituency of RSS-Hindutva politics.

To overcome this there have been efforts to co-opt Dalits through cultural mechanisms on one level. RSS started the Samajik Samrasts Manch and with it the program of dining with the ‘low castes’. At another level it offered the lollypop of power to many of the Dalit leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan, Ramdas Athwale and Udit Raj among others. It has also been actively engaged in trying to win over the Dalit communities by modulating the community history to present as if it is these Dalits were the protectors of Hindus against the onslaught of Muslims. These cultural manipulations are also the basic part of the construct of Hindu nationalism.

Currently, during the last three years, in particular, the atrocities on Dalits have been manifest in various forms. One recalls that during this time the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle was banned in the IIT Madras. In Hyderabad Central University, the anti-Dalit policies of the administration led to the institutional “murder” of Rohith Vemula and to cap it all the Holy cow agenda of this politics led to the brutal beatings of Dalits in Una, Gujarat.

The politics of Hindu nationalism is the polar opposite of the path and goal of those oppressed by the caste system. One recalls Bhimrao Ambedkar, standing for social justice; democracy went on to support the burning of Manusmriti, while it has been the core book eulogized by RSS ideologues like M S Golwalkar. It is people like Golwalkar who opposed the formation of the Indian Constitution on the ground that we already have a ‘wonderful’ constitution in the form of Manu Smriti. While Ambedkar said that Gita is Manusmriti in a nutshell, the current government is promoting the religious scripture to the hilt regardless.

Hindu nationalism, has constructed a history where ancient Hindu glory around values of Hindu scriptures reign supreme. Its attempt is to revive the values prevalent in Vedic times, values of hierarchy which do not have place in a democratic society.

There are other streams of Hinduism, called Shramans (Bhakti stream for example), which rejected the hierarchical notions, but these have been eclipsed by the Brahmanical versions, which are the core of Hindu nationalism as propagated from the last nearly one century.

The massive protest in Jantar Manatar, led by the Bhim army is an indication that the very delusion of equality being created by the RSS cannot succeed. It reminds us yet again that Ambedkar had to finally renounce Hinduism to escape the religiously ordained caste system, and that’s what a large number of Dalits seem to be aiming at present.