‘I Could Not Be Hindu: The Story of a Dalit in the RSS’ review: The scourge of casteism

Why Bhanwar Meghwanshi, a former RSS member, became a harsh critic of the organisation and turned to Ambedkar

Updated - August 23, 2020 10:01 am IST

Published - August 22, 2020 04:52 pm IST

Bhanwar Meghwanshi was a devoted bhakt of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and joined the organisation at the tender age of 13 lured by the promises of equality. Unlike many bhakts, Meghwanshi was a hardworking cadre who wanted to give his life for a rightful cause in the service of Bharat Mata and if that meant taking down the rowdy ‘Muslim traitors’ so be it. Thus, began the journey of Meghwanshi, a Rajasthani Dalit, who hoped to hoist a saffron flag atop the unattended mosque in Ayodhya.

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Escaping death

Luckily, Meghwanshi nearly escaped death while on his way to tear down the symbol of Muslim rule. His survival offered him a preview into his beloved organisation’s terror-filled, hypocritical actions. As a Dalit, Meghwanshi couldn’t escape his caste identity in the Hindu brotherhood of the RSS but he chose to ignore it for a larger cause — the nation. However, one incident shook his belief. His senior functionaries in the organisation and religious sadhus refused to consume food in his house. Undeterred, he packed the food to be eaten on their way. He discovered next day that his home-cooked food was thrown on the streets left for animals to consume. Meghwanshi was put right in his place as a polluted untouchable. Hurt and betrayed Meghwanshi appealed to his organisation. Surprisingly, no one heard his plea from the local level right up to Nagpur, the headquarters of the RSS. And so, armed with Ambedkar, Osho and other progressive thought began the anger-filled revenge of Meghwanshi to expose the organisation.

In search of equality

The genius of RSS lies in allowing smooth transition from the ideology of supremacy to that of nationalism ‘through popular slogans to mislead the masses’. It is more often one and the same with mere change in tone and vocabularies. However, the ‘madness of nationalism’ got Meghwanshi to join the RSS. He felt ‘spiritual and uplifting’ but always ‘feared someone would ask [his] caste and then [their] behaviour towards him would change’.

Early on, the RSS was quick in identifying nationalist sentiments amongst the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes whose investment in nationalism had to do with their commitment to constitutional values that guarantee equality and justice. However, these values get corrupted in shakhas which manipulate the cadres into hating invaders from outside.

This book is an outsider’s perspective of an inside man. It is a hard-toned, confessional paradox of an ex-sanghi, who hoped for justice in a Brahmin republic. Meghwanshi is a scholar of his cause, a crisp narrator of decay in society, and an ethnographer of lies and deceits. Through his life story the author immaculately sheds light on independent Dalit cultures, religions, lifestyles, and heterodox spiritual practices that have existed for millennia bereft of any Brahmin-Hindu control.

A Hindu identity

Meghwanshi’s story is not only an indicator but an outcome of the concerted Brahmin-Baniya led assault on the fabric of India. Meghwanshi has given us more reasons to outlaw a group whose sole interest is to retain the good old caste system with Brahmins at the top and Dalits, Adivasis and Shudras in their designated derogatory position. The RSS is invested in the caste system because it believes this institution helped India retain its suave Hindu Indian identity. As much as this book is Meghwanshi’s story it is also about other dismayed RSS volunteers who were also brutally attacked in the process of redemption like Brijraj Krishna Upadhyay, a student leader who chose to fight against the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the RSS.

Meghwanshi is a man beaten by fate and insulted by faith. His lifelong quest to have justice, dignity and self-respect has cost him a lifetime of alienation with ‘trauma and agony’. Like Meghwanshi there are many Dalits, Adivasis and backward classes trapped in the poisonous well of the RSS. Many are there for reasons unclear to them. They are hating someone without really knowing the person or community. They are being utilised for unleashing militarised violence and tokenised for filling parliamentary and legislative seats. Every riot committed by the Hindu right has overwhelming presence of Dalits and Adivasis. It is their life and future that the RSS is playing with.

‘Betrayed, hurt’

I Could Not Be Hindu is a sad statement on the rightwing group whose legitimacy is yet again put to question by the passionate voice of a brave Dalit. The style of writing is so lucid that it can be read at one sitting. The strength of the book lies in its morally honest, justice-seeking call to action.

In the active voice of anguished author there is a betrayed soul that is gravely hurt. The brilliant translation by Nivedita Menon makes it a far more clear and concise reading for English readers. This is an essential read for those who are invested in the Hindu Rashtra. The author brings to us local level experiences and organisational strategies of the RSS that has deep roots expanded through the surrogate organisations making it the ‘world’s largest NGO’ which is unregistered with no books and records.

Like this exposé, there needs to be many such statements byformer RSS and Sangh Parivar volunteers from Brahmin, Baniyas Kshatriya, OBC, Adivasi, Dalits, Sikh, Muslim, Jain, Christian, Parsi backgrounds whose experiences need to be popularised in mainstream public spaces and counter cultures.

I Could Not Be Hindu: The Story of a Dalit in the RSS ; Bhanwar Meghwanshi, Translated by Nivedita Menon, Navayana, ₹399.

The reviewer, Harvard scholar, is author of Caste Matters.

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