War against ignorance

Author-activist Kancha Ilaiah talks of ways to rid India of the curse of casteism

Updated - February 01, 2010 06:30 pm IST

Published - February 01, 2010 06:27 pm IST

Professor Kancha Ilaiah, author of "Post-Hindu India", in New Delhi. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Professor Kancha Ilaiah, author of "Post-Hindu India", in New Delhi. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Reading Kancha Ilaiah's statements, you might expect to meet an angry revolutionary. The eminent human rights activist and Dalit crusader, who teaches Political Science at Osmania University in Hyderabad, is known for his stance that India is on course for a civil war that will signal the end of Hinduism.

But the author of books like “Why I am not a Hindu: A Critique of Sudra Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy”, “Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism” and, most recently, “Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution”, speaks with gentleness. Even when he seems to defend U.P. Chief Minister Mayawati's proposal to allocate Rs.53 crore for a security force to protect the monuments she has set up across the State as symbols of Dalit-Bahujan pride.

Can spending taxpayers' money on self-glorification projects be condoned, even if upper caste Hindus have done the same in the past?

While Ilaiah would “definitely want her” to spend on education of Dalit children, he finds “another angle” pertaining to the symbolic, historical value of the statues. He feels they “are basically seen as Dalit-Bahujan shrines” and “anti-Hindu, pro-Buddhist”, making up for the Dalit-Bahujan icons that were demolished through history by the dominating cultures.

“If Mayawati was pulling down some masjid or some temple I would stand up and say no,” he states, “but she is trying to build her own historical agenda,” which will have positive consequences for the community's self-esteem.

Granted, but is there no movement among intellectuals like himself, either Dalit or pro-Dalit, to nurture an approach other than political and symbolic, to take India out of the caste quagmire? “Yes, if we didn't nurture a different kind of view why would I write ‘Post-Hindu India'?”

The book, recently released by Sage Publications, traces the history of cultures that have remained below the radar, so to speak, simply because they were non-Brahmin. Not accepting these cultures in the mainstream due to the “nexus between the Kshatriyas and the Brahmins,” Ilaiah explains, “resulted in anti-production, which resulted in anti-science. That stultified our growth of science.”

When Ilaiah, who was in the Capital some time ago for the launch of the book, describes how some people wept at the event, it hits home how little we have progressed in caste relations. “For the first time there was a Dalit book being released at India Habitat Centre,” he points out.

His use of the word ‘war' is scary, and his predicting the end of Hinduism sounds improbable, but, says Ilaiah, the largely unopposed “spiritual fascism” of the upper castes has led to a situation where “the three evangelical religions — Christianity, Islam and neo-Buddhism — are competing.” Because these offer equality, the increasingly aware Dalit and other downtrodden communities will convert, leaving Hinduism a minority creed.

“Here is a huge landmass of millions of people who don't have the right to spiritual equality and education,” says Ilaiah. Mahatma Gandhi was a “mediator,” feels Ilaiah. “Because of him the civil war didn't become severe all these years.” He feels the war of nerves may eventually reach weapons. “I am looking at the symptoms of the anger.”

But he talks of solutions too. “Reform your texts, reform your history. Say leather is not untouchable to God, the barber's knife is not untouchable to God. Take a Dalit priest and a Brahmin priest to celebrations. Do these symbolic things. Let them (high-caste Hindus) come and sit with Dalits in their huts and eat with them.”

Distinguishing between political Hindus (bodies like the RSS, VHP, etc.), the secular Hindus (Congress, the Communist parties, etc.) and religious Hindus of whom the Sankaracharyas are considered leaders, he says, “Let the Sankaracharyas declare that killing someone for an inter-caste marriage is a crime against God. It is not the legal thing which works.”

As for legal recourse, he notes, “Reservation is not a solution for this problem. We also don't want reservation. We want equal education from the age of three to 18, availability of teachers and good infrastructure.”

Eventually, “we should go for abolition of caste,” he says. But this goal can be reached gradually. “All of us should go towards dignity of labour. Let us put our hands in the soil. Let there be women Sankaracharyas.”

He suggests we stop gloating over past glory — “We made pushpaka vimana” — without comparable competence today. “I'm proud of Amartya Sen,” he declares, “but I'm not proud of Radhakrishnan.”


Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution

Sage Publications

The book talks of the high level of scientific and cultural development of the tribals and other communities of Andhra Pradesh, with chapters like “Unpaid Teachers”, “Subaltern Scientists, “Social Doctors” and, “Meat and Milk Economists” among othersetc.

While the tribal communities taught human beings essential skills, from distinguishing between edible and poisonous roots to designing hunting instruments, the barbers are the earliest protectors of health, and the leather workers the first scientists whose work the author says is “a fascinating process of converting something into something.”

Talking about researching for the book, he says he found each community produced “innumerable instruments of production”. But production and tilling were seen as “pollution”, and “the priestly caste was not supposed to touch any productive work.”

He asks, “Why were the communities that were cleaning the village, protecting the village (from disease), treated as soiled?” The concept of “professional pollution” doesn't exist in any religion other than Hinduism, he points out.

With the idea of pollution by touch entrenched, “this whole thing entered the food culture also.” Emphasising he is not against vegetarianism, he states, “But they didn't leave it to choice. It entered the realm of God.” Thus, he contends, “protein levels of the masses have gone down.”

Similarly, with business restricted to the Bania community, the economy suffered. “Once the business was confined to Banias, the European mode of mercantile capital could not come,” says Ilaiah. Instead of encouraging other castes to invest their money, the system ensured it became “gupt dhana (secret hoards).” He cites an example: The highest taxpayers in ancient India were the ganikas (courtesans), not the Banias.”

If the “spiritual fascism” of the upper castes is not corrected, the author predicts civil war and the death of Hinduism

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.