Caste: A HAF-baked Lamentation

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Kalavai Venkat

Kalavai Venkat is a Silicon Valley-based writer, an atheist, a practicing orthodox Hindu, and author of the book What Every Hindu Should Know About Christianity. Follow him on Twitter: KalavaiVenkat

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Caste: a HAF-baked lamentation

By Kalavai Venkat

A critique of the Hindu American Foundation’s report

Hinduism: Not Cast in Caste Seeking an End to Caste-based Discrimination 2010”

Why this critique?

Hinduism_Not_Cast_in_Caste_HAF_critical_reviewThe Hindu American Foundation (HAF) is a US-based Hindu advocacy group, and its volunteers have dedicated themselves to the Hindu cause for many years. The HAF recently released the above-mentioned report on caste primarily aimed at the American public and agencies. In the past, caste has always been portrayed in an inimical and distorted manner by forces hostile to Hinduism. It has always been portrayed with the intent of dividing the Hindus and alienating them from their spiritual traditions so that they can be converted to Christianity. A wide array of resources, including the funding of Christian groups under the guise of the US Faith Based Initiative and the creation and funding of militant hate groups operating under the banner of Dalit organizations under the aegis of Christian churches, have been used to systematically attack Hinduism. Textbooks have been portraying caste in a manner that would wean Hindu children from their religion.

 

A Hindu perspective was definitely in order. It was not going to be easy for any Hindu organization to publish a report on caste in such a hostile environment. Such a report would have required immense knowledge of how Hindus have perceived and lived caste for millennia, the economic safeguard and social kinship caste offered, an in-depth knowledge of Hindu scriptures going beyond the English translations written by Christians, and above all, the resoluteness and courage to stand up for the truth to present the caste system without caving in to Christian pressure tactics. A report produced without adhering to these principles could very well end up as a half-baked lamentation and as a potent weapon in the hands of forces hostile to Hinduism.

 

A discussion on caste discrimination would not only have required the willingness to discuss facts but also the wisdom to contrast the measures Hindus have initiated to end inequities with similar efforts or lack thereof in Christian societies such as the USA especially so because the HAF report is aimed at the American public and agencies. No society has done as much as Hindus to end inequities. Hindu religious and social leaders, drawing inspiration from Hindu scriptures and traditions, instituted legal and social measures to uplift the erstwhile untouchables. These measures included the introduction of reservation in education, the workforce, the judiciary, and the legislature, thus enabling the descendents of erstwhile untouchables to attain proportional representation. On the spiritual plane, Hindus vigorously implemented temple entry rules which allow members of every caste to comingle in Hindu temples today and denial of entry has become a non issue.

 

The finest tribute to the Hindu effort to end discrimination comes from Martin Luther King Jr. His words show that Hindus not only dedicated their efforts to end discrimination within their own society but also extended their support to the blacks, who are the victims of Christian oppression in the USA. He visited India in 1959 and was, in his own words, “enthusiastically welcomed by (the Indian Prime Minister) and other Indian political leaders at a time when he lacked similar access to America’s top leaders.”

 

MLK Jr. contrasted “India’s constitutional and legal protections for untouchables with pervasive racial discrimination in the U.S. While India’s leaders exerted their moral power against caste discrimination, in the U.S. some of the highest officials declined to render a moral judgment on segregation, and some from the South publicly boasted of their determination to maintain segregation.”[1] MLK Jr. declared that his public meetings were packed because Indians were keenly aware of the need to end social inequities. As a result of this experience, MLK Jr. would use the Hindu method of satyagraha to usher in civil disobedience in an effort to end the oppression of blacks in Christian America in the 1960s.

Since then, Hindus have made significant progress in uplifting the erstwhile untouchables. Today, descendents of the erstwhile untouchables have risen to the ranks of President of India, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, and Chief Ministers of India’s states. Contrast this to the US, where the first black President was elected into power hardly a few years ago; President Obama has since faced a shocking onslaught of racism and resistance from sections of the American populace who cannot stomach the idea of being governed by a black president.

Even after five decades since MLK’s efforts, America’s Christian churches remain the bastions of religious apartheid. There are separate churches for blacks, whites, Hispanics and others. Blacks and Hispanics, both victims of Christian oppression, remain grossly under-represented in America’s institutions. They are over-represented in America’s prisons. One in nine black males in the age group of 25-35 languishes in America’s prisons, bearing testimony to the fact that Christian apartheid is alive and well in the USA.

 

So, any Hindu report cataloguing inequities in Indian society should contrast Hindu efforts and progress with the lack of similar progress in the Christian USA. After all, any meaningful analysis has to be done on a comparative basis since no phenomenon can be analyzed in a vacuum—any analysis of purported discrimination within Hinduism should also compare it to the violent Shia-Sunni divide (as an example) within Islam and the racial apartheid embedded within Christianity and Christian societies. Shining the spotlight selectively on random acts of injustice in Hindu society would not only be unfair but also render the report a weapon in the hands of those hostile to Hinduism.

 

It was in this milieu that the HAF report on caste was released. It was a report primarily aimed at the American audience. It caused an anguished and justified outcry among the Hindus for its content and the manner in which the HAF promoted it. The serious concerns expressed about the report are:

 

  • It repeats the false propaganda that Christian missionaries and academic fellow-travelers have spread about Hinduism in the past.

 

  • It glorifies militants that committed despicable acts of persecution of the Hindus and desecrated Hindu temples.

 

  • It perverts the celebrated Hindu bhakti traditions by repeating the Christian and Marxist storyline to suit propaganda.

 

  • It used data in a selective and irresponsible manner to vilify Hinduism and Hindus.

 

  • The HAF misused and betrayed the trust of Hindu swamijis and sannyasis by misleading them about the content of the report.

 

The last bullet point needs elaboration. Hindu swamijis and sannyasis are not editors or reviewers of reports. They do not endorse contents of reports. They bless the efforts of a Hindu organization based on trust. It is imperative that Hindu organizations do not betray their trust. The HAF should have been transparent about the content of the report with the swamijis when it obtained their blessings. They were not. None of the swamijis would have blessed the report had they known that the report glorifies anti-Hindu demagogues and that it repeats false Christian propaganda about Hinduism. As soon as Hindu critics brought the contents of the report to the attention of the swamijis, many of them told the HAF to withdraw the report. A number of the most prominent Hindus Acharyas and Swamijis have since expressed disapproval and sought to disassociate themselves from the HAF report on Caste.

 

The reaction from the HAF upon receiving this directive from the swamijis has been shocking. They begrudgingly took the full text of the report offline (while keeping the endorsements and statements of support online) but also issued a statement in India Abroad that “they are under no obligation to fulfill [Swami Dayananda Sarasvati’s] request, and stand by their report enthusiastically.” The HAF then went on to state that they are temporarily making the report offline because “it made sense to them to do so until final edits are incorporated.”[2]

 

Vinaya towards swamijis is the hallmark of the Hindus. The condescending and arrogant tone of the HAF towards swamijis is disturbing. It made many wonder that if HAF is not obliged to listen to our swamijis, then who are they accountable to? Is it the US State department, the various anti-Hindu human rights groups, or the Christian missions such as World Vision that benefit the most from the faith-based funding and play a key role in demonizing Hinduism? Why would the HAF be deferential to the Christian establishment academics on its panel but display such arrogance towards our swamijis?

In any case, having publicly stated that they stand by their report enthusiastically, the HAF reached out to Vishal Agarwal, Krishnan Ramaswamy, and me to help revise the report. I understand that they have sought feedback from some others as well. My concern is for Hindu dharma and not for any individual or organization. I agreed to help with the revision. My expectation was that the HAF would be sincere about incorporating the substantive changes and produce a factually correct report.

 

This expectation was belied when the HAF subsequently declared that they were only looking for cosmetic edits and that they consider the original report sound. They also refused to allow any mention of Christianity in the revision. How can the Hindu achievement be understood unless seen in the context of what other religions have failed to do? Christian missionaries would be unable to pontificate to Hindus on human rights if religious apartheid in their churches is mentioned. The HAF strangely refused to allow any such mention. I do not know whether they were keen on not offending the powerful Christian groups so as to partner with them in some future human rights initiative or whether they were under immense pressure from Christian academics on their panel not to allow any negative portrayal of Christianity.

 

This was unacceptable to me. I was not going to be a fellow traveler in this assault on Hindu dharma. I expressed my dissent to them and parted ways. This critique is the result of the sequence of events narrated above.

 

There are also many other disturbing patterns that one must mention:

 

  • Ramesh Rao, the Human Rights Coordinator of the HAF, argued that sacred Hindu texts such as the Ramayana are racial narratives. He was repeating the 19th century propaganda originally invented by Christian missionaries and subsequently disseminated by militant anti-Hindus.

 

  • The HAF report was endorsed by the anti-Hindu group Navyashastra and it willingly carried such endorsements. In the past, the prominent leaders and office-bearers of Navyashastra have denigrated Hindu gurus and have advocated that sacred Hindu scriptures should be burnt and that the United Nations (UN) tribunal should try Hinduism for (some unstated) guilt. Prominent Navyashastra leaders have also disseminated views that are racist and derogatory of women, including the repugnant view that unless married women are kept under surveillance they are susceptible to promiscuity.

 

It is beyond my comprehension why the HAF would seek the company of such groups and individuals.

 

It is with sadness that I write this critique for this constitutes a censure of a Hindu organization. Condoning the report is not an option because that would make me a silent witness to this unjust attack on Hinduism from within. I hope and wish that the HAF will make amends by undoing the damage they have done to Hinduism with this uninformed and cowardly report. In Hinduism, such repentance would be called prayaschitta. The onus of doing so is entirely upon the HAF. They must realize that they have betrayed the trust of swamijis, their supporters and donors in this episode. They have lost the moral right or adhikara to represent Hindus and their causes. I hope that good sense will prevail upon them and that they will do the needful to regain the trust they have lost as a result of this shameful incident. It would be honorable for them to fully and permanently withdraw the report instead of secretly updating it each time a serious flaw is pointed out. I do not yet know what motivated them to come up with this report in the first place. The HAF should be transparent about the motives.

 

I will now proceed with a detailed critique of the contents and conclude with my recommendations.

 

HAF hails the evil

 

Can anyone imagine a Jewish advocacy group hailing Adolf Hitler as a reformer? Every Jew would be startled, widespread protests would ensue within the Jewish community, and the advocacy group would become irrelevant. Yet, for reasons beyond my comprehension, the HAF has done precisely that: It has hailed E V Ramaswamy Naicker, the Indian fascist often known as EVR, as a social reformer.

 

EVR ran his politics by espousing unbridled hatred towards Brahmins and Harijans. He often thundered that he would physically eliminate the Brahmins, and called for a genocide, along the lines of Hitler’s “Final Solution.” He required his followers to wear black shirts reminiscent of the fascist uniform. He declared that the Brahmins were “outsiders” and based his ideas on the now discredited and racist “Aryan Invasion Theory.” He ran repeated campaigns desecrating Hindu temples and smashing the sculptures of Hindu deities. The source of the wealth he amassed into a private trust is mysterious but it is likely that Christian missionaries and the British government funded him. EVR, in turn, supported the colonial rule and pleaded with the British imperialists to continue ruling over the colored Indians despite the fact that the colonial rule resulted in the deaths of millions of Indians.

 

Let us consider a sample of EVR’s statements from a scholarly Tamil treatise, “E V Ramaswamy Naickerin Marupakkam” by the celebrated scholar M Venkatesan. This translates into “The other side of E V Ramswamy Naicker.” Venkatesan is a Harijan by birth, a proud Hindu by identification, and a philosopher by training. The statements of EVR he cites should make any civilized person recoil with disgust:[3]

  • Mahatma Gandhi and other Hindu leaders ushered in social justice by enabling the temple entry of Harijans. The equal status accorded the Harijans piqued EVR. He ran a militant campaign opposing the temple entry movement and argued: “I will not allow temple entry because it will result in equating the Harijans with the (dominant) backward castes.”

 

  • Tamil is a classical language of India and a treasure trove of sacred Hindu texts and philosophies. EVR saw it differently when he declared: “For more than 40 years, I have been describing Tamil as a barbarous language (Kattumirandi Mozhi) used only by barbarians (…) The only language that ought to replace Tamil is English. What is not there in English which can be found in Tamil Language?”

 

  • EVR’s views on Harijan women and youth are obnoxious. On one occasion, discussing the cause of inflation, EVR sarcastically remarked, implying a shocking sexual innuendo: “Do you know why fabric prices have increased? Because Harijan women have started wearing blouses. Do you wonder why there is so much unemployment? Because Harijan youth have started getting educated and have taken up all the jobs.”

 

I cannot fathom why HAF would hail such a demagogue as a reformer. Having seen the ignorant praise HAF has heaped on EVR, let us now turn to M Venkatesan for a factual assessment of EVR. Venkatesan writes:

 

“EVR had very warm feelings towards the gods of Islam and Christianity. I am really ashamed of those people who have veneration for EV Ramasamy Naicker and his perverse philosophy of selective hatred of men and things.”

 

Venkatesan could as well have prophetically anticipated HAF’s misguided report. I hope that the HAF can explain what compulsion led to their ignominious praise of EVR.

 

HAF plays the fiddle in the missionary choir

 

The HAF-baked report alleges that the Hindu bhakti movement originally was a rebellion against Hindu orthodoxy, Brahmin priests, Hindu rituals, and the caste system. This is the pet theory of Christian missionaries and Marxist propagandists. The report faithfully repeats what the Hindu-baiter Romila Thapar wrote in her book Early India that I critiqued at length a few years ago.[4] The efflorescence of the Hindu bhakti movement was signaled by the arrival of the Saiva Nayanmars and the Vaishnava Azhwars in the first half of the first millennium in the Tamil country and flourished until the 16th century. The report alleges, without basis and echoing the Christian propaganda, that the bhakti movement was originally considered unorthodox (by the Brahmins).

 

Nayanmars and Azhwars sang their hymns advocating devotion to Siva and Vishnu respectively. The only polemics in their hymns are directed at Jainas and Bauddhas who are portrayed as opposing Vedic sacrifices.[5] Those were the times of the Kalabbhra rule in the Tamil country. The Kalabbhras are believed to have patronized Buddhism and Jainism. Bhakti saints bemoan the fact that paraphernalia needed to perform rituals in temples have been withheld by the Jainas. There is nothing in their writings that can be construed as a polemic directed at Brahmins or against rituals.

 

The great Saiva saint Appar, one of the Nayanmars, praises Siva as the Lord of the Vedas.[6] He declares that he was a Jaina ascetic once, during which time he was distracted from pursuing the truth. Sambantar, another great Saiva Nayanmar, has written at length about the greatness of the Vedic sacrifices, and has sharp words for those (the reference here is to the Jainas and other heterodox sects) that oppose the Vedic sacrifices. The absurd claim that bhakti saints opposed caste is belied by the very words of another great Saiva Nayanmar and exponent on tantra Tirumular, who sings:

 

Of crystal made is the Linga, the Brahmins worship

Of gold, the Kings worship

Of emerald, the Vaishyas worship

Of stone is the Linga, the Shudras worship[7]

 

The bhakti tradition was the torchbearer of Hindu orthodoxy during the medieval period. Will the HAF please illuminate which of these verses can be perceived as a rebellion against orthodox Hinduism, caste, or rituals? What compulsion made them distort Hindu texts and traditions and lend credence to a propaganda originally instituted by Christian missionaries and disseminated by the likes of Romila Thapar who deny there was any negative impact on Hinduism owing to iconoclastic invaders? Is this merely the case of sheer ignorance of Hindu traditions and texts on the part of HAF writers? Do they derive their knowledge of Hinduism only from tracts and translations written by Christians that are antagonistic towards dharma?

 

It is important to understand te Bhakti movement in its historical context. The Sangam literature is the precursor to the Bhakti movement. In the Sangam texts, the four Varnas were the norm as well as the ideal. One of the songs says that even though a person may belong to a lower Varna among the four, if he were to acquire knowledge, then those born of the higher Varnas would respect him.[8] Another song says that even if those of higher birth fell into poverty, the virtues of their higher birth wouldn’t desert them,[9] while yet another says that one’s character could only be commensurate with what is befitting the Varna into which he is born.[10] The oldest extant Tamil grammatical treatise also recognizes Varna.[11] The great Tamil savant Tiruvalluvar categorically stated that a Brahmin who forgets the Vedas could learn them again, but should he ever cease to be moral, the virtue of his high birth is lost forever. Elsewhere, he argues that the scruples of a king are measured against his ability to safeguard the Vedic learning of the Brahmins.[12] Thus regard for Brahmins, the Vedas and for learning in general was a feature common to all Hindus, and it was in this milieu that the Bhakti movement was born.

So it is not surprising to see the Bhakti saints express the same veneration for the Vedas and the Brahmins. But their central focus was moksha or liberation whereas the karma kanda of the Vedas, as evident from the Purva Mimamsa doctrine of Jaimini, were primarily concerned with only three of the four purusharthas: dharma, artha, and kama. Bhakti transcends these and emphasizes on the the fourth purushartha. It would be the height of ignorance to interpret this as antagonism towards the Vedas.

 

Blame the victim, exonerate the oppressors

 

The HAF dedicates the report:

 

“To All Those Who Have Suffered From Caste-based Discrimination Over The Centuries

We Regret That Hindu Society Failed To Live Up To Its Highest Teachings

To Those Who Remained Committed Hindus Despite this Failure”

 

Untouchability is first recorded in India in the 12th century CE. Its origins in The Bible and its parallels from elsewhere in the world will be discussed in a future report. Many parts of India had by then been colonized by Islamic invaders. There was large-scale plunder and rape. Hindu society had well-defined rules that prohibited harming civilians during war. This fact is not only reflected in ancient Sanskrit and Tamil literature but is also recognized by Greek chroniclers who are surprised that peasants observe a battle in progress without fearing harm. The large-scale rapine committed by Islamic invaders would have shocked Hindu society in a way difficult for us to comprehend today.

 

Let us discuss a few examples of the circumstances that would have made it impossible for Hindus to fight inequities such as untouchability that came into vogue in India during this period.

Rishi Devala, appearing in the Sindh province in the 10th century CE, wrote a very laudable text called Devala Smriti in which he laid down the guidelines for the ablutions that a victim of rape might undergo so that she emerges pure—contrast this to the practice in Islamic society even today of “honor killings” when a woman is raped. In the west, even today, many victims of rape are psychologically and emotionally scarred for life because rape is essentially an act that signals the subjugation and total humiliation of the victim. It destroys, in Mahatma Gandhi’s words, one’s inner core. In pre-Islamic India, where crimes such as rape were unheard of, and where the feminine was considered sacred, the effect would have been traumatic. Rishi Devala’s benign and wise prescription would have helped those victims overcome trauma and perceive themselves as sacred again.

 

This pattern of plunder continued for centuries as evident from the fact that Rajput women, when faced with the inevitable rape at the hands of the Islamic invaders, after the Rajput men fought and died valiantly in the battlefield, resorted to sati and jauhar. In denying their would-be rapists an opportunity to rape those courageous women emerged victorious though they paid with their lives in the process. This practice did not cease after the British Christian conquest of India because resort to jauhar continued sporadically.

 

The Jats are another Hindu jati that put up valiant resistance to the invading Muslims. Needless to say, many Jat youth perished defending India. Many young Jat women were widowed and their children were rendered orphans. The Jat community resorted to the ancient Hindu custom of niyoga enabling the younger brother of the slain warrior to marry the widow. This not only offered protection and continuity of life to the woman but also enabled orphaned children find a new father who was a blood relative. In the west, even today, when a woman remarries, the child faces the prospect of abuse at the hands of the step-father when the child escapes the predatory attention of the Christian clergy. The Jat solution, on the other hand, rid two problems with one solution.

 

Even the pro-Muslim Cambridge Economic History of India (volume 1), edited by Marxist critics of Hinduism, Irfan Habib and Tapan Raychaudhuri, highlights the devastating famines precipitated by the brutal revenue collection of Islamic rulers that left the peasantry impoverished and dying, hardly propitious circumstances for Hindus to perform any kind of religious duty! It is the ignorance of this history that makes the attempted HAF critique of alleged Hindu ‘human rights’ violators, when they did not even have the ability to protect their womenfolk and survive hunger, particularly objectionable.

 

Islamic domination was supplanted by British Christian subjugation of Hindus. Mike Davis, in his well-documented treatise, The Late Victorian Holocaust, shows how exploitative British agrarian policies unleashed famine and starvation and pushed numerous agrarian jatis beyond the pale of civilized existence. Many jatis had to lose their lands to become indentured labor to pay exorbitant taxes to their Christian masters. Many such castes, having been cut off from all support systems, ended up as disenfranchised and eventually untouchable. Data proves that the practice of untouchability and the incidents of caste discrimination in the 20th century India are directly proportional to the extent of the lack of land ownership of the Harijan jatis. On the other hand, such practices of discrimination are practically non-existent in major Indian cities because anonymous cities are not governed by an agrarian economic system.

 

Dharampal was a highly trusted historian. Mahatma Gandhi asked him to research the plight of education in Hindu India. The factual findings were published in a research volume titled The Beautiful Tree. Dharampal marshals persuasive evidence to prove that wherever the Hindus could sustain their institutions, they educated all jatis in their traditional schools or patasalas. Every jati, including the Harijans, was proportionally represented as teachers and students, as evident from the Madras Presidency 1822-25 (Collectors Reports), Details of Schools & Colleges, Caste Division of Male school students:[13]

Brahmins Vaishyas Shudras Others Muslims Total
# of students 30,211 13,459 75,943 22,925 10,644 1,53,182
% of total student population 20 9 50 15 6 100

 

This would change in the 19th century when Christian missionaries, backed by the brute power of the colonial British administration, systematically destroyed traditional schools and denied education to a large section of Hindus. The new system of schools ushered in by the Christian missionaries charged exorbitant fees and denied entry to the Harijans. This resulted in disparate access to education across Hindu society. The celebrated patriot, social reformer, and scholar, Suddhananda Bharati documents the travails a Hindu family had to undergo to acquire education in missionary institutions. A lack of education led to difficulties finding gainful employment, plunging these Hindu families into poverty. It was not a coincidence that many revolutionaries in the initial phase of India’s freedom struggle hailed from Hindu families that had pledged everything so that their sons could get educated in missionary institutions.

 

Thus, Hindus were themselves a subjugated and disenfranchised people during the course of the millennium. How could such a people have marshaled the wherewithal to fight a social evil such as untouchability that emerged precisely during this period of Hindu disenfranchisement? HAF’s accusation against Hindus is not just absurd but also unethical. It is akin to blaming the blacks for slavery and the Jews for not attempting to save other Jews from the Holocaust. It is shameful that the report tacitly exonerates Christian missionaries and British colonial rulers guilty of instigating and institutionalizing many forms of discrimination by laying the blame at the doorstep of Hindus. The HAF report gives the impression that caste structure has been rigid in Hindu society. The American scholar, Nicholas R. Dirks, refutes this and highlights the hugely negative impact of attempts by British colonial administrators to enumerate and often artificially impute caste identities in censuses undertaken. In his view, these censuses artificially ossified caste identities, which were in reality much more fluid before. This view is confirmed by census data from the early 20th century that Prof. M N Srinivas marshals. As the sample from census data summarized below reveals until then entire jatis could move across the varna system in a very short span of time:[14]

Jati Name Occupation 1911 Census 1921 Census 1931 Census
Kamar Blacksmith None Kshatriya Brahmin
Sonar Goldsmith Kshatriya Kshatriya Brahmin-Vaishya
Sutradar Carpenter Vaishya Vaishya Brahmin
Nai Barber None Kshatriya Brahmin
Napit Barber Kshatriya Vaishya Brahmin

 

The following table summarizes the number of jatis and their new varna status per the 1931 census:[15]

Newly claimed Varna status → Brahmin Kshatriya Vaishya
Traditional Varna status ↓
Shudra 31 49 9
Harijan 2 26 5
Tribal 1 5 1

 

It was the British obsession with classification that would eventually lead to ossification subsequently witnessed in Hindu society.

 

Even Islamic and Marxist historians such as Irfan Habib have been more honest than the HAF on this count! Irfan Habib and his father Mohammad Habib fearlessly and unhesitatingly documented the subjugation of the Hindus at the hands of British Christian colonial masters as a result of the inhumane agrarian policies that were forced upon the farmers. Admittedly, the Habibs did not feel compelled to please the Christian establishment in the USA or to collaborate with them on some human rights agenda unlike ostensible contemporary defenders of Hindus.

Christian missionaries should be grateful to the HAF for this unexpected windfall. Hope they would one day reciprocate by doing unto the HAF what the HAF has done unto the missionaries with this report.

 

Affirming the Christian hate speech

 

Next the report declares, quoting the words of Ambedkar, that:

 

“There is no nation of Indians in the real sense of the word, it is yet to be created. In believing we are a nation, we are cherishing a great delusion. How can people divided into thousands of castes be a nation? The sooner we realise that we are not yet a nation, in a social and psychological sense of the world, the better for us.”

 

What HAF has failed to understand is there is a world of difference between the nation as a political and territorial unit and the socio-cultural interconnectedness of a people. The former is a creation of the modern world, evolving and regularly challenged while the latter has ancient roots that highlight the profound potential unity of man immanent in the Hindu world view.

Hinduism is governed by the motto “Vasudaiva kutumbakam” or the entire world is a family. Hinduism celebrates diversity and preserves it. It recognizes the fact that unity is meaningful only where diversity exists. The caste system is a glowing example of the Hindu commitment to preserving all traditions. Each jati could follow different wedding, funerary, or dietary customs, or speak different dialects or languages. Yet they have always shared a common spiritual and cultural identity. Notions of dharma formed the core of such a shared identity.

 

Ancient Tamil Sangam literary sources, for example, express the belief that Sanskrit and Tamil evolved from two sides of damaru the drum that Siva beats. The celebrated Chola emperors would traverse the length of the Indian sub-continent to bring back the sacred waters of the river Ganga to consecrate the Brhat Isvara Temple in Tanjavur. According to traditional commentaries, the erudite Tamil grammarian Tolkappiyar patented his treatise on an ancient Sanskrit grammatical treatise named Aintiram. In the absence of an heir, a Chalukya prince (from Western India) would be invited to take over the mantle of the Chola Empire (in South India). Great philosophers and saints from the south would visit the various corners of India to propound their teachings. The Pallavas of the South and the Chalukyas of the West would share the same temple architecture. Not only would The Ramayana and The Mahabharata be translated across languages within India but Indians from different regions would also identify with these epics.

 

At the same time, Indians clearly knew how to distinguish themselves from foreigners who did not share either their culture or their notions of dharma. In the Sangam Tamil literature, Roman mercenaries (yavanas) serving the royalty were called mlecchas following strange customs. The lack of hygiene of the European Christian colonizers repulsed Indians so much that they considered their colonial masters untouchables. From time immemorial, dharmasutra texts clearly delineated the boundaries that separated those who followed the Dharma in the homeland of Hindu society and those who lived beyond the borders and did not share our cultural values.

 

It was expedient for the British colonial rulers and Christian missionaries to plant the canard that India as an entity never existed because that enabled them to divide, rule, and convert Hindus. What expediency governs the HAF in parroting the same canard?

This is not merely a canard. This is hate speech. Christianity and Islam seek to achieve homogeneity to dominate. Historically, Christian and Islamic invaders derived inspiration from their scriptures and committed genocide of many races including the Native Americans, Gypsies, and the Jews. Diversity, wherever encountered, first attracted the suspicion of the Christian church and then resulted in hatred of the “other,” leading the Church to create fault lines and fissures, which were then exploited by the Church to divide and conquer throughout its history.

 

Prof. D. E. Stannard, in his daring treatise, The American Holocaust, documents how the Christian intolerance of diversity resulted in the genocide of over 100 million Native Americans. In my paper, From the Holy Cross to the Holocaust, published as part of the anthology Expressions of Christianity, I have shown how the Christian intolerance of diversity resulted in hate speech directed at the Jews which finally culminated in the Holocaust.

To argue that a society cannot attain unity despite diversity and divisions among its many castes is a notion that must be vigorously opposed. Historically, homogeneity has been regarded by oppressive elites as essential for political domination and control. The virtual eradication of European Jewry by Adolf Hitler was very much in this political mould and tradition. It has also been cultivated by the Church in its endless wars over heresy and the succession of its chosen royal houses. The USA is a prime example of how the obsession for homogeneity led to the genocide of Native Americans. In subsequent times, the blacks would be denied their freedom to follow their African religious traditions and speak their diverse languages eventually getting absorbed into the American society as segregated Christians. But their churches remain separate since whites and blacks apparently ascend or descend to a different heaven or hell on expiring, depending on their antecedent skin color! The contrasting equanimity of Hinduism in the face of diversity and its serenity over religious difference is a dramatic contrast that has been remarked on by many thoughtful observers.

 

It is sad to see the HAF advancing Christian hate speech to claim that unity is dependent on homogeneity. Many white supremacist groups in the USA too harbor a similar notion that for America to exist as an entity all Americans should be white, Christian, and only speak English. Dalits Christians are also asserting that India’s national language should be English (code for endorsing Christianity as the national religion)! The HAF report will appeal to such groups but it would also earn the HAF a nomination for the Darwin Awards.[16]

Burn the Hindu sacred books!

 

The HAF-baked report was extensively reviewed, and possibly contributed to, by Jaishree Gopal and Prof. V V Raman (who goes by the fancy title Acharya Vidyasagar these days), two prominent members of the anti-Hindu group Navyashastra, which disseminates calls to burn sacred Hindu scriptures. The HAF report seems to prepare the way for this eventuality when it first acknowledges that none of the Hindu scriptures supports untouchability only to conclude that Hindu scriptures such as The Manusmriti promote caste bias, prompting HAF to call for their rejection by Hindu acharyas. The HAF is clearly oblivious to the fact that The Manusmriti is considered a defining text of great antiquity in Hinduism even though it has not been the code of law for millennia.

 

Hinduism is not a religion of the book(s) as HAF correctly acknowledges. Shruti and smriti are one of the many pramanas in Hinduism. Each sampradaya lays varying emphasis on a given shruti or smriti pramana. Then where is the need to reject an ancient text such as The Manusmriti? Internal analysis indicates that it was compiled in the Magadha province or the modern Indian state of Bihar. We do not know who its author was. The text attained a central place in Hindu history. Many other law texts were written over time but The Manusmriti was remembered as the gold standard. The great saint and philosopher, Tiruvalluvar, a Harijan by birth, renders sections of the Manusmriti into couplets in the Tirukkural. The legendary Chola king renowned for his sense of justice is remembered by the title Manu Niti Chola. The well-known poet Kambar hailed from a backward caste and rendered Valmiki’s Ramayana in Tamil in which he evaluates Sri Rama’s adherence to justice by using Manu as the gold standard.

 

The influence of Manu was symbolic, articulating the sanctity of the Vedas by its very presence, and not literal. It is futile to retroactively inject modern secular concerns in interpreting these ancient texts. Manu was the foremost lawgiver. Even though new texts emerged as society changed, and these various texts (rather than The Manusmriti) have been the codes of law during the historic period, Manu’s contribution was not forgotten. In other words, the HAF is asking our acharyas to reject a text that has not been in vogue for millennia and which is rare to obtain today. A powerful case was made affirming this point by the feminist critic of Hinduism, Madhu Kishwar.

 

Most of our saints and powerful emperors have been Harijans or shudras. Yet, none of them found The Manusmriti to be a discriminatory text. Instead, they hailed it as a lofty text that safeguarded everyone’s interests. Should not the authors of the HAF report have thought for a while as to why all attacks on this sacred text originated only from Christian missionaries while our saints had only words of praise for it? Anti-Brahminism and the stigmatizing of the word shudra are also of Christian missionary origin. Powerful kings of the past had proudly identified themselves as shudras. Vema Reddy, a great Hindu king who defeated the Muslim marauders called himself “a proud shudra who, like the sacred river Ganga, emerged from the feet of Vishnu.”[17] He also equated himself with the sage Agastya. Vema Reddy’s grandson was a celebrated Sanskrit scholar who wrote a commentary on the works of Kalidasa bearing testimony to the fact that learned men emerged from all varnas but none of them found our scriptures to be discriminating.

 

If the HAF has bothered to read The Manusmriti and its various commentaries in the original, they would have realized that the text does not promote caste bias. It does not accord preferential treatment to one caste over another. The text promotes social harmony. In pre-modern times most societies were rural and agrarian. People had limited mobility. Most occupations were hereditary. In such a society, it is important to safeguard the interests of various castes. The dharmashastra texts and texts on polity such as The Arthashastra aim to achieve this objective. The Arthashastra introduces the concept of sreni or guilds (such guilds were common in proto-Industrial Europe and considered essential precursors to modernity) to protect the interests of artisans and transmit knowledge to succeeding generations.  The Chanakya Niti disallows the Brahmins from taking to dairy farming, weaving & dyeing, and selling oil. These would have been the mainstay occupations providing livelihood to a vast majority of people in the ancient period. The dharmashastra writers, by denying Brahmins entry into these professions, were protecting the interests of many castes. Similarly, they were protecting the interests of Brahmins and a few others by restricting who could perform Veda yajnas. These stipulations varied over time and across geography depending on social conditions and various dharmashastra texts addressed those needs.

 

For instance in The Silappadikaram, a Jaina saint considers it inauspicious when the Brahmins give up chanting of the Vedas and take to other professions. The newly married Kovalan and Kannagi are dissuaded from entering a settlement where the Brahmin musicians reside, again because they have taken to a profession that is not allowed for them.[18]

 

It is pointless to self-righteously denounce such ancient texts animated by western prejudices since their rationale was contingent and contemporary in ways hard for us to comprehend.

Many important Hindu monarchs were Shudras or Harijans. A significant number of key Hindu scriptures were written by Harijans. Vyasa, Valmiki, Tiruvalluvar, Tirumazhisai Azhwar were all Harijans while other great poets such as Kambar were from what is known as the Shudra varna. These saints even refused to please powerful kings. On one occasion, the tradition says, when the king ordered a Vaishnava to leave the town for refusing to eulogize the king, the Harijan saint Tirumazhisai Azhwar left the town. Not only that, he ordered Sri Vishnu to leave the town with them. Sri Vishnu promptly complied. The message here is very clear. The saints will not bow their head to anyone other than Bhagavan. Had the dharmashastra texts been promoting bias as a matter of principle none of these great thinkers would have held them in high regard.

Evidently, the HAF decided to seek their knowledge of the dharmashastras from hostile Christian missionary propaganda instead of understanding them the way Hindu traditions have usually understood them. Even their call to denounce sections of the dharmashastras is an echo of the Christian habit of denouncing and declaring texts the church did not like as heresy.

 

Hinduism has a rich tradition of dealing with texts and practices that are no longer relevant. Our acharyas do not deny or denounce them. They just move on and write texts relevant to the times as Rishi Devala did during the Islamic invasions. The appeal to acharyas to denounce those texts is absurd. Hindu scriptures have evolved by absorbing and modifying different traditions they encountered without the denunciation and purges that are the hallmark of religions that murder and burn those they describe as heretics. Which other sacred tradition views the atheism of Nastikas with such serenity? How can one insinuate bigotry and intolerance against such a plural and tolerant scriptural tradition except for the mundane purpose of aiding imperial subjugation, the norm for Islam and Christianity?

 

It is also a selective appeal.

 

There is no text on the planet which is more violent and discriminatory than The Bible. Prof. Norman Beck has documented more than 450 antisemitic verses in the Bible[19]. Other eminent scholars have shown that the Bible with its anti-Semitism is deplorable while without anti-Semitism it is unthinkable. Christians see it as a literal text revealed by God. Hence they persecuted the Jews and sent them to the gas chambers during the Holocaust. Jesus also calls for forcible conversions and the genocide of non-believers. These teachings legitimated the genocide of Native Americans in order to usurp their land. Abominable practices such as untouchability are first found in the Bible, which is also easily available in many languages and widely circulated.

 

Yet, the HAF has not called upon the pope or the leading pastors to reject sections of the Bible which are inhumane. This is strange because, in the foreword to the report, Prof. Ramdas Lamb first declares other religions inherited caste discrimination from Hinduism then hopes “that this report can inspire like-minded Hindus and non-Hindus to work together to bring justice and a sense of equality to all Indians irrespective of caste or religion.” It seems as though all religions should share the credit for removing discrimination but it is only Hindu texts that should be condemned. Ironically, a Hindu organization has made this call!

 

Hindu acharyas will not denounce any dharmashastra because, firstly, that is not a Hindu tradition, and especially so because they are knowledgeable of these texts and are aware that these lofty texts promoted social harmony. Hindus will denounce the HAF report, and by extension HAF’s ability and standing to represent Hindus.

 

Mark Twain wrote about the Bible:

 

“It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.”

Yet you don’t find Christians apologizing for it. It is a tragedy our déraciné westernized Hindus should feel so intimidated by the bullying tactics the Christians employ and falsely denounce their own sacred texts that promote harmony. Has the HAF been under compulsion from the anti-Hindu group Navyashastra to call for denouncing our scriptures? Can the HAF achieve anything virtuous by abandoning honesty and embracing cowardice?

 

No facts please, we are lamenting!

 

Hinduism teaches “Satyam vada” or “Speak the truth,” but the salient feature of the HAF report is its utter disregard for facts. In their zeal to lament, the HAF luminaries often present propaganda as fact. A UNICEF report, without providing any proof, declares that 250 million Indians are victims of caste discrimination. The HAF report reports it as fact. Even a fifth grader would be curious enough to ask on what basis the UNICEF has reached such a startling conclusion. The same child would be smart enough to notice that even though one in nine black men aged 25-35 languish in American prisons as victims of Christian apartheid the UNICEF does not talk about this discrimination. She would wonder whether UNICEF is indulging in propaganda. It seems our HAF luminaries are not as smart as a fifth grader. Perhaps they decided that a fantastic claim made by any Christian establishment is as good as fact.

 

The HAF-baked report alleges that caste is uniquely hierarchical, that it finds support only in a small subset of Hindu scriptures dealing with rituals, it is not intrinsic to Hinduism, and that many Hindu saints fought against this hierarchical system. The great Hindu sage Tiruvalluvar, a Harijan by birth, warned that the utterances of a fool ruin the assembly of the wise. The ignoramuses that wrote the HAF report have confirmed it. A vast majority of Hindu sacred texts accept caste. One can name the Vedas, Upanishads, dharmashastras, sutra texts, and the itihasas as examples. Even philosophical texts such as the Tirukkural, treatises on polity such as The Arthashastra, and grammatical treatises such as The Tolkappiyam insist upon the centrality of caste to Hinduism. The HAF may want to deny the caste system out of ignorance but they should not invoke our sacred texts and saints as false witnesses.

 

Caste is, among other things, biological in nature as is evident from the fact that each jati possesses unique genetic haplotypes, wedding and funerary customs, and linguistic traits. This is primarily the reason for the diversity in Hinduism and stands testimony to the fact that Hinduism preserved and nurtured this diversity. There is only one way to eliminate caste which is by physically eliminating members of that caste. I hope that is not what the HAF is advocating even though their caricaturing of the Brahmins comes close to the Christian missionary-fed advocacy to physically eliminate Brahmins.

 

What the HAF claims to be a progressive and articulate understanding of caste turns out to be an ignorant repetition of Christian missionary propaganda. The HAF has matched the levels of idiocy displayed by the anti-Hindu group Navyashastra which blames the practice of female feticide prevalent in some parts of India on the ancient Hindu funerary tradition of the son performing the final rites of the departed parents even though any scholarly text would have informed them that this evil is the result of the practices that came into existence under oppressive British rule in the 19th century.[20]

 

The HAF-baked report declares that in Hinduism Harijans are considered the most ritually polluting. This is a startling claim that cannot be supported by reference to any scripture. The lamenting authors of the report would be surprised to learn that the opposite is actually true. In Tamilnadu, the Paraiyah sub-sect of Valluvars believes that the sight of a “single Brahmin” is an ill omen.[21] Thurston recounts a practice among the Paraiyah community of Tamilnadu. The Paraiyah considers the Brahmin untouchable. So, if a Brahmin enters a Paraiyah settlement, once he leaves, Paraiyah ladies cleanse the place by sprinkling cow dung water on the place touched by the feet of Brahmin.[22] A government record indicates that in some places this Paraiyah hostility to Brahmins was quite aggressive. If ever a Brahmin entered a Paraiyah settlement, Paraiyah women followed him, ridiculed him, broke mud pots behind him and sang dirges till he left.[23] The Pallars, another Harijan Jati, would not allow Brahmins into their settlements.[24] In neighboring Karnataka, Harijan Holeyas threw footwear at the imprudent Brahmin who entered their settlements and drove him away.[25] In Karnataka, the middle castes of Okkaligas and Kurubas do not accept water or food from the Marka Brahmin, who is treated as an untouchable.[26]

 

Maybe the luminaries of the HAF-baked report should declare that in Hinduism the Brahmins are considered the ritually most polluting, characterize the Brahmins as the victims of caste discrimination, and apologize to them!

 

Mahatma Gandhi, Narayana Guru, Subrahmanya Bharati, and many other Hindu leaders, many of them the so-called upper castes as well as Harijan spiritual leaders, were pioneers that relentlessly worked on removing caste inequities that arose among Hindus who had been conquered and colonized for a thousand years and sponsored legal safeguards to protect Harijans. As Arun Shourie shows, the Indian Constitution, which was mainly written by upper caste Hindus, ushered in numerous safeguards such as reservations to uplift Harijans. The Harijans were not an organized movement at that time. Yet, the authors of the Indian Constitution voluntarily extended reservations to the Harijans. Not only that, despite the fact that B R Ambedkar had collaborated with the British (but had been deserted by the British), and had harbored resentment towards Mahatma Gandhi, Hindu leaders did not show any resentment towards him. They made him the Chairman of the Committee drafting the constitution even though much of the constitution had already been drafted.[27] Strangely, the HAF report claims it was Ambedkar, not the Hindu leaders who introduced the safeguards even though reservation for the Harijans had existed in India since 1921 and Hindu kings had introduced reservation to uplift less fortunate sections of society even before that. Evidently facts are unnecessary in propaganda!

 

The authors of the HAF report assert that Ambedkar converted to Buddhism to escape caste discrimination. No doubt Harijans were discriminated against under the colonial rule but even the often resentful Ambedkar himself has a different story to tell. His last name originally was Ambavadekar. He had a Brahmin teacher at school who cared for him a lot and even fed him daily. His last name was Ambedkar, which the pupil would inherit.[28] There would be another Brahmin later on in his life. That would be his wife. In between these two Brahmins, another “upper caste” Hindu, the Maharaja of Kolhapur would give him the scholarship to go to Columbia University to study. An “upper caste” Parsi would accommodate Ambedkar in his room while he was at Columbia. Those genuine acts of solidarity and love come in the way of HAF’s portrayal of the Hindus as invariably oppressive, and had to be left out.

 

The report routinely demonizes Brahmins by implying that they used to oppress the Harijans as a political class even though one would be hard-pressed to find systematic evidence to support this claim. Could the HAF not find a better way to propitiate themselves to the US State department than by falsely demonizing an increasingly defenseless minority of people? The report also incorrectly states that reservation for Harijans and backward castes were introduced in 1950 and 1990 respectively – missing the mark by at least three decades!

 

The report surely seeks the approval of America’s extreme left wing for it caricatures the traditional, lasting Hindu arranged marriage with the quoted phrase “arranged by parents.” It seems any system of marriage that is at variance with the serial-dating, short-lived, exploitative western variety ought to be ridiculed. The complexity of cultural practices in finding partners and their eventual social outcomes seems to escape the attention of the report.

 

HAF-degradation of the Harijans

 

The report propagates the Christian missionary canard that the proper noun Harijan is patronizing. The word, meaning children of Hari, arguably first occurs in the dohas or couplets of Kabir Das, a renowned medieval saint, who sings:

 

“kam kahar aswar hai, sab ko mare dhaye

koi eka Harijan ubhare, jaka Ram sahaya”[29]

[Children of Hari transcend the push and pull of lust by His grace]

 

In the celebrated Ramacharitamanas of Tulasidas, Lakshmana, during his encounter with Sage Parasurama, uses the word Harijan to mean devotees:

 

sur mahisur harijan aru gayi hamare kul in par na surayin!”[30]

[Our clan does not show its valor against devas, Brahmins, devotees and cows!]

 

The great saint Narasimha Mehta, a Brahmin himself, campaigned to end untouchability, and called the erstwhile untouchables Harijans. Gandhi popularized it.[31] Mahatma Gandhi persuaded the upper caste women who became his followers to marry Harijan men hoping, perhaps idealistically, that such well-intended initiatives would end discriminations and help Harijans progress.[32] It was the only Gandhian advice Ambedkar would heed. It is such noble thinking that is behind the coining of this word, aimed at elevating an entire people disadvantaged in a period of history in which their alleged upper caste oppressors were themselves powerless politically.

 

On the other hand, the word ‘Dalit’ literally means a ‘broken person,’ and was likely coined by evangelical Christian missionaries. A Christian publication confesses that the term is meant to install in the minds of the Harijans a perception of “weakness, poverty and humiliation at the hands of the upper castes in the Indian society.”[33] It was adopted as a self-referential term in 1972, during the convention of the ephemeral Dalit Panthers Party in Bombay. It was largely a Mahar party, whose manifesto inculcated hatred in the minds of the youth.[34] We would not call our own children “broken persons.” What right do we have to call the Harijans “broken persons?” White racists have invented many such derogatory terms as “nits” and “niggers” to refer to the Native Americans and blacks respectively and have no qualms in inventing one such term for the Harijans. What motivated the HAF to rationalize such a term? Are they unaware that the National Commission of Scheduled Castes declared the term Dalit unconstitutional?[35]

 

A heartless advocacy

 

The HAF report reiterates its earlier support of the anti-Hindu Dravidianist party decision to only nominate members of other castes as temple priests in those Hindu temples where the Brahmins traditionally serve as priests.[36] This advocacy gives the impression that the job of a temple priest is sought after, monetarily rewarding, and powerful. Nothing can be further from the truth. Unlike Christian pastors or Islamic mullahs, Hindu priests do not control resources. Prof. Paul Younger, in his fine book Home of the Dancing Sivan, discusses the history and status of the dikshitar families who serve the Chidambaram Nataraja temple as hereditary priests. They have served the temple for nearly 2,000 years as evident from literary evidence. They never abandoned their service of Nataraja even when Muslims and the British occupied the temple. Younger documents the fact that dikshitars, like most temple archakas, live in abject poverty and lack any network support.

 

The report also gives a false impression that the Brahmins are the only priestly caste. The reality is quite the opposite. Since Hinduism is not a centralized religion, each temple embodies the local tradition. Often, these traditions are linked to the local jati. As a result, a vast majority of the Hindu temples are served by priests from non-brahmin jatis including the Harijan jatis. For example, some of the most famous Hindu temples such as Mata Vaishno Devi, Sabarimala, Melmaruvattur Adi Parasakti, the Pattadakallu Virupaksha, and the Palani Murugan temples are served by non-Brahmin priests. Likewise, other temples such as Tirupati Balaji are served by Brahmin priests.

 

It is not as if anyone from a given jati can become a temple priest. Only a few families are entitled to become priests. These families would have served the temple for many centuries and did not abandon their sacred duty even during the times of travail such as massacres by iconoclastic invaders. Serving the temple is a sacred right the descendents of these families have earned. What right does the HAF have to advocate that these archakas be denied even their precarious livelihood? Does the HAF advocate denying the Harijan and other non-brahmin priests too their right of priesthood? Since the HAF wants the government and external agencies to interfere with the nomination of priests in Hindu temples, may I ask why they have not demanded that Christian pastors and Muslim mullahs too be nominated by the government? Clearly, HAF assumes that Christianity and Islam ipso facto embody liberal democratic traditions unlike Hinduism, which obversely is imbued with an innately discriminatory historical culture. So, can we also demand that the HAF board members be constituted by an outside body with proportional representation from all Hindu castes?

 

The astikas are not offended by the fact that only a few families serve as priests in a temple. They understand the sacrifices made by these families. The demand for supplanting Brahmin priests has always originated from anti-Hindu groups and has been supported by the HAF, which lacks any understanding of rich and diverse Hindu temple traditions and attempts to homogenize Hindu temples along the lines of Christian churches.

 

Hindus can welcome anyone to learn a given temple’s tradition and become priests regardless of which caste they were born into. But such initiatives should be the prerogative of the local temples and not of the government’s. The intention should not be denying the already serving families their well-deserved right. The right of the existing priestly families should be guaranteed and additional priests from other jatis added under the guidance of Hindu spiritual leaders. Anyone that travels in India will notice a proliferation of Christian churches and a comparative scarcity of Hindu temples. There is a compelling need to have many more Hindu temples and to make them the bastions of learning as was the custom in ancient India. Temple priests can play the additional role of teachers imparting knowledge about rituals, traditions, inscriptions, and customs. That would be the honorable, beneficial, and progressive way of ushering in change.

 

A dubious methodology

 

Appendix H of the HAF-baked report is a good example how not to analyze or present any serious issue. This appendix compiles media reports at random and deals with examples of alleged crimes committed against individuals that happen to be Harijans. There is no attempt to verify if the reports are genuine. It gives the impression that the crimes were motivated by the fact that the victims were Harijans and that there is a reticence on the part of police to record crimes if the victims happen to be Harijans. It mentions that 33,615 incidents of crime against the Harijans were recorded in a single year. In addition, the report claims that child labor, bonded labor, prostitution, and manual scavenging are all crimes directed against the Harijans.

 

Every crime, regardless of the caste of the victim, is an unconscionable act. It should never be tolerated. Hindus should not cease endeavor until societies they live in become crime-free, and until the last crime directed at a Harijan is prevented since a subset of the crimes in which Harijans happen to be the victims are crimes directed at them because they are Harijans. But there are many serious problems with the approach the HAF has taken in its presentation of crime.

 

  1. A well-known Hindu scholar who wishes to remain anonymous provided an analysis which I will summarize. He analyzed data for the years 2004-2005 and 2006-2007 from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and data for the year 2008 from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The conclusions are startlingly different from what the HAF arrived at even after allowing for variances between the reporting years.

 

The following table summarizes data from NHRC:[37]

2004-2005 2006-2007
Total # of cases reported 74401 82233
Total # of cases disposed 24936 17341
# of cases disposed relating to atrocities committed against SC/ST 593 330
% of crimes committed against SC/ST (based on disposed cases) 2.01 1.90
% of crimes committed against other castes (based on disposed cases) 97.99 98.10
% of SC/ST population out of total population 22.50 22.50
Per capita crime rate against SC/ST 0.09 0.08
Per capita crime rate against other castes 1.26 1.27

 

In other words, based on data available from NHRC, in 2004-2005, 14 times more crimes was committed against a non-SC/ST individual than was committed against an SC/ST individual. In 2006-2007, 16 times more crimes were committed against a non-SC/ST individual than against an SC/ST person.

 

The following table summarizes data from NCRB:[38]

2008
Total # of crimes committed 5,938,104
# of crimes committed against SC/ST (according to the HAF report) 33,615
% of crimes committed against SC/ST 0.57
% of crimes committed against other 99.43
% of SC/ST population out of total population 22.50
Per capita crime rate against SC/ST 0.025
Per capita crime rate against other castes 1.28

 

In other words, according to data available from NCRB, in 2008, 51 times more crimes were committed against a non-SC/ST individual than against an SC/ST person.

 

HAF failed to do this very simple analysis, which would have revealed that significantly fewer per capita crimes are committed against the Harijans than are committed against the rest of the Hindu population. The failure to do this minimal due diligence on the part of the HAF is an unconscionable omission. As a result of this failure, the report inverts the truth and selectively reports data to falsely implicate the Hindus.

 

  1. The report does not analyze how many crimes were committed against other castes. For example, more than 400,000 Kashmiri Brahmins have been ethnically cleansed and rendered refugees in their own country. Their property was stolen. This alone would constitute 400,000 incidents of crime against the Brahmins. Yet, the police have not recorded any of these crimes. Does this mean the Brahmins are the most oppressed caste in India?

 

  1. The HAF failed to analyze the per capita rate of crime committed against each jati before concluding that most crimes are committed against the Harijans. It is irresponsible to conclude that a crime is the result of one’s caste when the cause is often economic greed, flawed agrarian policies, and a predatory economic model that favors western multinational corporations and result in the loss of livelihood of many jatis that followed traditional occupations.

 

  1. The ex-telecom minister of India, Raja, is a Harijan by birth. His story is a testimony to the stupendous rise of Harijans in Indian polity. It is also the most egregious case of corruption were he illegally amassed USD 40 billion in the infamous 2G Spectum case. Subramanian Swamy a Brahmin has been trying to prosecute Raja but has not been able to get the police to record the case. This shows how corrupt and inefficient the Indian police system is. It is scurrilous to suggest that the police refuse to record a crime only if the victim is Harijan.

 

  1. Most devadasis hailed from OBC jatis and not SC as the report falsely claims. For example, in Tamilnadu, the anti-Hindu politician Karunanidhi hails from the Isai Vellala caste. The great classical singer M S Subbulakshmi and the doyen of dancers Balasarasvathi also hailed from this caste. In the past, most devadasis also hailed from this caste. I consider prostitution as something that is exploitative and morally repugnant. The poorest women are forced into it today. But one need not analyze the devadasi system through a Victorian prism. In pre-modern times, devadasis were economically independent and were relatively wealthy. They would choose to live with a wealthy person just as a model in the west opts for a sugar daddy. This form of existence, however undesirable, is quite different from the plight of a prostitute who is exploited and impoverished.

 

  1. The institution of bonded labor came into existence as a result of two Islamic and British systems: ryotwari and zamindari. The British would eventually displace Hindus as indentured or bonded laborers and settle them in the inhospitable terrains of Sri Lanka, Burma, the Caribbean, and South Africa. These Hindus came from all castes. The Brahmin V S Naipaul, a Nobel Prize winner, is a descendent of one such indentured laborer. The HAF has abandoned all objectivity in claiming that all bonded laborers are Harijans.

 

  1. Child labor is exploitative. In Kashmir and Pakistan, children constitute a significant component of the labor force in the carpet industry. These are Muslims. In Sivakasi, where firecrackers are made, children of the OBC castes constituted the bulk of the workforce in the recent past. Child labor is the result of poverty and lack of education. It is not driven by caste identity alone.

 

  1. Manual scavenging is terrible. Hindu customs, with their emphasis on hygiene, actually offered the best defense against such obnoxious practices. The advent of crowded and unhygienic cities under Islamic rule necessitated the need for manual scavenging. As Sri Aurobindo once said in the last century, scientific methods should have replaced manual scavenging.[39] But lack of political will has allowed this practice to linger on. In the past, as the HAF report correctly states, most scavengers were Harijans. In recent times, as Francois Gautier shows, in cities such as Delhi, many scavengers are Brahmins.[5] So, there is a very strong economic causality to this problem.

 

Each of the practices listed and discussed above is terrible. But to argue that these are crimes directed at Harijans, as HAF falsely does, is superficial and obviates the need to understand and correct each of these practices in their own right. The HAF has abandoned scruples to falsely project every social problem as a crime against Harijans. Such political gimmicks make it difficult for well-meaning social reformers to identify, address and correct those instances of crime that are directed against Harijans solely because of their caste identity.

 

Concluding words and recommendation

 

As I stated at the beginning of the report, I have always held the HAF in the highest regard. The members and volunteers of the HAF have served Hinduism well for many years. But they have let us down with this report. HAF collaborated with anti-Hindu groups such as Navyashastra to produce this report. It advances the Christian view point that while caste is a Hindu problem the solution should come from other religions as well. The report is full of factual errors as I have shown in the preceding sections. The report uses a flawed and dubious methodology to select and interpret data. The report distorts our scriptures to score political points. Hinduism treats every living being with dignity but the Islamic and Christian colonial rule of the last 1000 years has ushered in social inequities because of which crimes are committed against the Harijans. The report diminishes the real sufferings of Harijans by making fabricated claims. It attacks and indulges in hate-speech against other Hindus presumably to endear the HAF to the US Congress and its minions. The report is very anti-Hindu.

 

HAF wants to present this report to the American public, who have every right to know the following:

 

  • Caste is a noble institution that promoted diversity. It is simplistic, irresponsible, and propagandist to conclude that there are upper and lower castes in Hindu society. The reality is that many Harijan jatis such as the Meenas, Mauryas, and Bhils have been powerful ruling dynasties, whereas most Brahmins have been economically and politically weak. Traditional Hindu society was not driven by a centralized power structure with the priest at its helm. It was governed by a decentralized structure in which the power balance shifted from one jati to another depending on the locale.

 

  • Hinduism, its saints, and its spiritual leaders do not support or condone caste inequities or untouchability. They have fought, and continue to fight, against inequities.

 

  • Untouchability and caste inequities are first recorded in the 12th century CE when India had already been subjugated by Muslim conquerors and then Christians.

 

  • Colonial rule made it very difficult for the Hindus to fight these inequities. Yet, wherever they could maintain a semblance of autonomy, Hindus fought against such social problems.

 

  • In the last 150 years, when Hindus found partial autonomy, they introduced significant measures to ameliorate the plight of those who had suffered caste inequities under colonial rule. No other society has done more than the Hindus to help the oppressed within their ranks.

 

  • This reality cannot be understood well by the American public unless contrasted with the fact that, as Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, America has done very little to uplift the victims of Christian apartheid in the USA.

 

  • A significant number of Hindu scriptures were written by the forefathers of today’s Harijans. Hinduism is the religion of Harijans. Nobody can whitewash this fact and inculcate resentment in the minds of the Harijans with the objective of converting them to Christianity.

 

  • Many Harijan jatis have had a glorious past before they lost their status and slided into untouchability under colonial rule. The Mauryas founded the most powerful empire of ancient India. Yet, today, Mauryas are a Harijan caste. The Valluvars are a Harijan caste but in the not so distant past, a part of South India was known as the Valluva Nadu (meaning the Valluva Country) and was ruled by Valluva kings. Each jati, including the Harijans, has the right to look up to role models within its own caste and to be proud of its lineage.

 

Strangely, HAF refused to include these most crucial facts in its report. I do not know what compulsion forced them to take this stance. Whatever may be the reason, I hope this critique allows the HAF to rethink what they have done. I hope they will correct their report by working with many other Hindus and Hindu groups before making it public again. It will be honorable for them to transparently say that they will correct the mistakes and publish a revised report instead of secretly modifying aspects of it as and when they receive criticism.

 

HAF should decide whether it wants to partner with Hindus or with their enemies. Their decision to partner with Navyashastra, which is a highly destructive anti-Hindu group, is inexplicable. Why did the HAF collaborate with Ramdas Lamb (he once confessed by email that he is afraid of opposing Wendy Doniger publicly because she is too powerful), who instigated the Hindu-haters on the anti-Hindu RISA list by alleging that only “upper caste” individuals are criticizing the report? HAF should be ashamed of associating with such individuals who play the caste card instead of responding to substantive critique. Likewise, HAF should not defend members that have made a serious judgment error. Ramesh Rao, its human rights coordinator, declared that the Ramayana is a racial narrative. Most donors of the HAF hold the text sacred. Ramesh Rao going rogue shocked the supporters of HAF.

 

There is a lesson for everyone here. Hindus should openly dissociate themselves from the report because it harms their fundamental interests. Our opponents can shut down any future lawsuit we may file to eliminate discrimination against Hinduism in textbooks by citing this report. Hindus should make it clear that the HAF does not represent their interests. Trust is something to be earned. HAF has lost with this report whatever trust it had earned over years. It has to work hard to earn it again. HAF should remember that they are answerable to Hindus and not to the Christian establishment of the US Congress. Hindus should also found other organizations that will represent their interests without fear. Such organizations will keep HAF honest.

 

I started this report with sadness because I had to criticize an organization I have admired all along. I close this critique with the hope that HAF will make amends for their misadventure, and one day, once again, I can look up to them with admiration. If I may issue a fatwa like a mullah, I would say:

 

Burn the report. Save HAF’s reputation!

 

Kalavai Venkat thanks four well known Hindu scholars who do not wish to be named for their editorial feedback and review comments. You may email your feedback to him at kalavai.venkat@gmail.com .

 

References:

 

 

[1]http://www.america.gov/st/diversity-english/2009/February/20090204161809xlrennef5.894107e-02.html

[2]http://www.indiaabroad-digital.com/indiaabroad/20110114?pg=10#pg10

[3]http://www.tamilhindu.com/2009/09/periyar_marubakkam_part15/ . See chapter 15 in the print version.

[4]http://www.indiastar.com/venkat1.html

[5] Tirujnanasambantar, Tevaram, “Alavai Patigam”

[6] Appar, Tevaram, “4th Tirumurai”, “Namacchivayat Tiruppatigam”

[7] Tirumantiram 1721

[8] Purananuru 183:8 – 10.

[9] Pazhamozhi 21. Pazhamozhi means adage. It seems even in the early medieval times, this was considered a collection of older proverbs.

[10] Ibid 310.

[11] Tolkappiyam Poruladhikaram 28.

[12] Tirukkural 543.

[13] Adapted fromhttp://www.esamskriti.com/essay-chapters/Indigeneous-Education-in-the-18th-century-1.aspx .

[14] Srinivas, M.N.: Social Change in Modern India, p. 97. I have used the Varna name Kshatriya where Thakur or Rajput is claimed.

[15] Ibid, p. 99.

[16]http://www.darwinawards.com/

[17]http://somasushma.wordpress.com/2004/03/26/vema-reddy/

[18] The Silappadikaram 13:38 – 40. Adiyarkkunallar, the medieval commentator, says that even though music itself

originated from The Sama Veda, by the time of the epic in discussion, the orthodox society considered it a deviation on the path of the Brahmins if they turned away from Vaidika lifestyle; and hence the notion of such musician Brahmins having been inauspicious.

[19] Beck, Norman A.: Removing anti-Jewish polemic from our Christian lectionaries, a proposal,http://jcrelations.net/en/?id=737

[20]http://www.shastras.org/PressRelease30.html

[21] Hanumanthan, K.R.: Untouchability – A Historical Study Up To 1500 AD, With Special Reference to Tamilnadu, p. 89.

[22] Thurston, E., Rangachari, K.: Castes and Tribes of South India, Volume 6, p. 88.

[23] Iyer, K.R.V.: A Manual of the Pudukkottai State [1938], p. 189.

[24] Gough, K.: Caste in Tanjore Villages [Ed. Leach, E.R.: Aspects of Caste in South India], p. 49.

[25] Thurston, E., Rangachari, K.: Castes and Tribes of South India, Volume 2, p. 336. Also, Ambedkar, B.R.: Untouchables, p. 75 [Indian Antiquary 1073, II, p. 65]

[26] Srinivas, M.N.: Social Change in Modern India, p. 7.

[27]http://arunshourie.voiceofdharma.com/articles/ambedkar.htm

[28] Keer, Dhananjay: Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission, p. 14.

[29] This couplet of Kabir Das has been alluded to in secondary sources. The couplet is cited in several Web sites dedicated to the dohas of Kabir but no information on the primary source is available. It must be noted that many couplets of Kabir have not been compiled yet. It is very difficult to ascertain whether a couplet ascribed to Kabir was indeed sung by him.

[30] Ramacharitamanas, Bala Khanda, Chaupai 273.

[31] Gandhi, M.K.: Removal of Untouchability, p. 13.

[32]http://www.bfg-muenchen.de/rahim.htm

[33] Victor Premasagar in Interpretive Diary of a Bishop: Indian Experience in Translation and Interpretation of Some Biblical Passages (Chennai: Christian Literature Society, 2002), p. 108. (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalit#cite_note-6)

[34] Joshi, B.: Untouchables! Voices of the Dalit Liberation Movement, pp. 141-147.

[35]http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/Dalit-word-unconstitutional-says-SC-Commission/262903/

[36]http://www.hafsite.org/media/pr/anticasteist-tamil-nadu-order

[37]http://nhrc.nic.in/Documents/AR/AR04-05ENG.pdf andhttp://nhrc.nic.in/Documents/AR/Annual%20Report%2006-07.pdf

[38]http://ncrb.nic.in/cii2008/cii-2008/Snapshots.pdf

[39]http://www.aurobindo.ru/workings/sa/22-24/eng_1_9.htm

[40]http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/may/23franc.htm

 

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Kalavai Venkat is a Silicon Valley-based writer, an atheist, a practicing orthodox Hindu, and author of the book What Every Hindu Should Know About Christianity. Follow him on Twitter: KalavaiVenkat

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