Socio-Economic Emancipation, Social Equality and Equity Vs the 'Social Harmony' of Modi and the RSS
THE Una uprising – in the BJP’s own ‘model’ state Gujarat – organically raised the issues of dignity, land and livelihood. Dalits, rebelling against the Gau-Goons, declared they would no longer handle animal carcasses and demeaning forms of labour – and instead demanded land and livelihood. ‘Gai ki poonch tum rakho – hame hamari zameen do’ (You keep the cow’s tail – just give us our land) was the slogan they raised.
In Bihar in the 1980s and 1990s, also, landless Dalits and oppressed castes had raised the issues of dignity, land, livelihood as well as political assertion as an organic whole. Just as the Una uprising is being met with a Sanghi and feudal backlash today in Gujarat, the BJP-backed feudal backlash in Bihar had taken the form of the horrific bloodbaths of Bathani Tola and Lakshmanpur Bathe and many other places.
Bihar’s BJP leader and Modi Cabinet Minister Giriraj Singh had described the Ranveer Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh as “a Gandhian thinker and a farmer leader, who had faith in peace and social harmony.” Indeed, Brahmeshwar Singh himself had said in his last interview to Dan Morrison of the New York Times, “Violence for the restoration of peace and harmony is not a sin.”
So, some of the worst massacres of Dalit landless poor in India are described by the BJP leaders as actions in the pursuit of “peace and social harmony.”
What does Narendra Modi mean when he talks (as he did in his recent IBN 7 interview as well as Independence Day speech) of ‘Social Harmony’ (Samajik Samrasta)? He means, as Brahmeshwar Singh and Giriraj Singh did, that
- Social harmony = social hierarchy
- Dalits and the oppressed castes should not break ‘social harmony’ by challenging social hierarchy and demanding socio-economic-political emancipation
- Just as the RSS tells women to be ‘familyist not feminist’ – i.e accept and celebrate family hierarchies of the patriarchal ‘ghar’ (home) – RSS tells Dalits to do ‘ghar wapsi’ and accept and celebrate the caste hierarchies of the ‘ghar’, which for the RSS is Hindutva.
It is worth reading Modi’s own book Social Harmony – Samajik Samrasta – available online at http://www.narendramodi.in/ebooks/social-harmony to get a better understanding of what Modi (and the RSS and ABVP) mean by “social harmony” and what Modi means when he claims to be a ‘bhakt of Dr Ambedkar.'
Here are highlights from Modi’s Social Harmony:
- Modi preaches “Samar nahin, samrasta”
- – that is, “not war but harmony”. He claims that Ambedkar sought not to wage war on caste and make a break with the Hindu religion and Hindutva politics, but to “unite” Hindu society.
- Modi approvingly narrates the story of ‘Vir Meghmaya’ (a Dalit figure of Gujarat, who is said to have sacrificed his life to bring water to a cursed stepwell and a parched kingdom. In return, he is said to have demanded that Dalits be allowed to live within the villages rather than in segregated hamlets.) Modi, speaking of Meghmaya’s demands made of the king in exchange for his life, writes, “Even his demands from the Government were noteworthy. He demanded the facility of worshipping the Tulsi and the Pipal tree…. We may think of asking for a two-acre plot of land so that our children may be prosperous. Vir Meghmaya did not raise any demand for his personal or material benefit. In fact, he thought about the happiness of the entire society. …it was his thought to integrate the entire Hindu community… The very thought that my community should not get detached from the cultural mainstream which came to Dr Ambedkar in the 20th century, in fact first came to mind of Vir Meghmaya nearly a thousand years ago.” So Modi is specifically telling Dalits here – you should demand the right to worship what Hindus worship, not demand land and other material benefits! (The Dalits of Gujarat don’t seem to be listening, however – they are demanding land not ‘integration’ with oppressors.) This is a familiar theme with Modi: at the 6th convocation of the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in January, he praised Ambedkar for suffering humiliation without complaint. To compare Ambedkar the radical with a Dalit figure who is said to have died to benefit his oppressors, and who bartered his life for his community’s integration with Hindu society, is a travesty. But Modi has no qualms about committing travesty with Ambedkar’s ideas – in a hagiographic piece on RSS founder Golwalkar, Modi described Ambedkar, the fighter against Manuvad who burnt the Manusmriti, as a modern-day Manu!
- Modi’s definition of ‘social harmony’ specifically excludes Muslims and Christians. He has a long passage against the slogan ‘Dalit Muslim Bhai Bhai’ (Dalits and Muslims are brothers) – and instead, throughout his book, he refers to Muslims only as “foreign invaders”, “cruelty of Muslims” and so on.
- What are Modi’s thoughts on inter-caste marriage? In a speech given in Rajkot in 2004, reproduced in the book ‘Social Harmony’, Modi expounded the rationale for inter-caste marriages in terms that rationalise the caste-based division of labour: “In the past, there used to be the consideration of economics behind sticking to marriages within the same caste. Suppose the daughter of a potter marries a potter, she doesn’t need to learn how to knead the clay.” Why should the potter’s family have had to do the work of making pots down the generations? Why should this occupation be based on birth at all? Why should the daughter of a potter – or the daughter of the priest - not decide who she would like to marry? Modi, rather than asking these questions, gives a spurious economic rationale for the social oppressions of caste and gender. Modi continues, “Things have changed now… It was fine to think about marriages only within the community about 15-20 years ago. But the situation is different today and we must accept the change wholesomely, wholeheartedly.” Ambedkar advocated inter-caste marriages in his own day, even before India became independent, as did Periyar and many other of their contemporaries. Yet here we have someone who is today India’s PM, saying that in his opinion, inter-caste marriage was not justified till the 1980s!
- Modi claims in his book that Ambedkar, addressing 20,000 Dalit women at the ‘Convention of Federation of Scheduled Caste’ in 1942, exhorted them, “You are the Lakshmi
- of the house. You have to be cautious that nothing unfortunate befalls the household.” Where did Modi find this reference? Is this an Ambedkar dreamed up by Modi in Manu’s or the RSS’ image?! On 20th July 1942, the All India Dalit Mahila Conference was attended in fact by 25000 women. Ambedkar wrote and spoke extensively on women and gender. But Modi’s Ambedkar does not exhort women never to be slaves to their husbands; to be concerned about maternal health and adopt family planning; never excoriates the Hindu Brahminical order that makes women gateways to the castes and polices those gateways rigidly; never pushes women’s freedoms in the form of the Hindu Code Bill in the teeth of orthodox opposition. No, Ambedkar as remoulded in Modi’s image merely repeats corny lines about women as ‘ghar ki Lakshmi’
- that could have been taken from countless conservative Hindi films!
- ‘We’ in the book, as used by Modi, always stands for upper caste, privileged Hindus. Look at how Modi speaks of the significance of Dr Ambedkar’s legacy and April 14th: “We need to change our behavior towards lower class people in society. Do we ever ask our maidservant about her son’s studies and celebrate his results? Should we not feel like celebrating the good results of the child of a poor woman who serves us by cleaning our homes? Let us celebrate April 14 in order to change our viewpoint towards society.” There is never a breath to suggest that the Dalits require emancipation from occupations as cleaners and servants, and equality, not condescension!
Here, we can recall another book of Modi’s – Karmayog, compiled and published in 2007, which was withdrawn after sanitation workers burnt Modi’s effigy in protest. In that book, Modi had referred to manual scavenging as a ‘spiritual experience’: “I do not believe that they (Valmikis) have been doing this job just to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after generation… At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their (Valmikis’) duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods, that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries. This should have continued generation after generation. It is impossible believe that their ancestors did not have the choice of adopting any other work or business.”
Just as in his book Social Harmony, Modi’s Bihar election speeches had also tried to deny reports of RSS wishing to dismantle caste-based reservations by inciting Dalits and OBCs against Muslims, suggesting that Muslims wanted to snatch reservations but Modi would not allow it!
Against the ‘social harmony’ of the killing fields of Bathani Tola and Bathe and the lynch mobs of Dadri, Latehar, Una and Ahmedabad, we must assert the struggling unity of oppressed peoples – the vision of Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh.