Intro : The recent incident of some dalits from Bhagana village (Haryana) embracing Islam at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on August 8 in protest against the alleged atrocities on them exhorts the entire Hindu society for introspection. It is high time the Hindu society takes a surgical step effectively eradicating all the evils weakening the society.
The curse of untouchablility, an age-old problem continues to be paranoia of the Hindu society. Having been treated with indignity as social outcaste, the Dalits preferred to abandon Sanatan Dharma and migrate to more egalitarian religions where they could live with dignity and self-respect. The Hindu society though weakened due to continuing conversion to other faiths has not awakened and is still not seems ready to repent.
Even today, not a single day passes when reports of atrocities on Dalits are not reported in the media. On the slightest provocation, they are assaulted upon, not sparing even their women, their houses burnt. How long will they be treated as outcaste? They can’t live along with other people. In many villages they live a secluded life in huts on its periphery. They can’t draw water from the same well and their entry is prohibited in many temples.
In view of distressing rise in incidents of atrocities against Dalits, the government is now strengthening the implementation of “Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Amendment Bill on the subject is expected to be tabled in the next session of the Parliament.
For thousands of years, Dalits have been treated as untouchables. They were entrusted with all the menial work such as scavenging, cleaning of dry latrines, their women carrying excreta on their head. They were often treated as sex objects.
Having been despised by the upper castes, the Dalits drifted to Islam or Christianity in search of better life. Conversion to Islam during Muslim rule in medieval period took place due to persecution by Muslim rulers. Conversion to Christianity, however, was promoted by Christian missionaries who first started charitable activities, provided all material help, education and jobs and later gradually converted them to their faith. What fastened the rate of conversion was that after change of religion, the Dalits experienced a dignified life and started getting compassionate treatment of upper caste Hindus who earlier maltreated them. Kerala and North-eastern states have witnessed large-scale conversion resulting in Hindus either being relegated to minority status or fast heading towards that in many districts.
The consistent comparative fall in the rate of growth of the Hindu population compared to the continued rise in the growth of Muslim population in the country has shaken the protagonists of leading Hindu organisations in the country. According to Religions Census of 2011, still to be officially released, Hindus comprised 78.35 per cent of the total population of 121.05 crores compared to 80.45 per cent of the population in 2001. During the same period, the Muslim population increased from 13.4 per cent to 14.2 per cent. The decline in Hindu population in the last six decades in the post Independence period has been 5.75 per cent from 84.1 per cent in 1951 to 78.35 per cent in 2011. If this trend of decline in Hindu population continues, a day may come when Hindus may be reduced to minority status in their own country.
According to a study on “The Future of World Religion: Population Growth Projection, 2010-2050,” by Pew Research Centre, Muslims are rising faster because of the community’s higher fertility–3.1 children per woman–and the fact that 34 per cent of Muslims are below the age of 15 years.
Let it not be forgotten that even after division of Bharat on the basis of Jinnah’s two Nation theory and creation of Pakistan in 1947, Bharat continues to have the largest Muslim population in the whole world, surpassing even Indonesia. How to control this comparative decline in Hindu population in the country? One of the major causes of the drop is conversion of the scheduled castes to Islam and Christianity due to maltreatment by the savarna Hindus.
The turning point in the life of great social reformer and Dalit icon educationist–Jyotirao Phule came in 1848 when he was insulted by the family members of his friend, a bridegroom for his participation in the marriage procession, an auspicious occasion. He realised the divide created by caste/varna system and developed a keen sense of social justice and became passionately critical of the caste system. He argued that education of women and the lower castes was a vital priority in addressing social inequality. In 1874, he established ‘Satya Shodhak Society’ to prevent their exploitation.
Many social reformers and eminent leaders viz Swami Dayananda, Vivekananda, Aurobindo Ghosh, Mahatma Gandhi and Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya could foresee the danger and consequences of continued comparative reduction in the population of Hindus and launched massive corrective measures. Swami Dayananda started Arya Samaj movement and Suddhi of converted Muslims. Dr Ambedkar fought tirelessly against castism but having failed, he gave up his efforts at the fag end of his life making fellow Hindus accept the evils in their society and took his followers to Buddhism.
Mahatma Gandhi too tried his best to convince Hindu society of the evils of untouchablity. Malaviyaji launched Achutoddhar movement and established Harijan Sewak Sangh for amelioration of Dalits but all of them failed to persuade the Hindu society to abandon untouchablity and inhuman treatment of Dalits and atrocities on them continues unabated even today.
History is replete with innumerable examples, both in ancient and recent times, of people born in a lower caste, or those whose ancestry was not known, were treated as Brahamarshis and Maharshis. Vishvamitra, a Kshastriya by birth, was accepted as a Brahamarshi as a consequence of his tapas. Rishi Javala of the Chandogya Upanishad did not know his caste by birth but was accepted as a great Rishi on account of his learning, and wrote an Upanishad. Rishi Matanga belonged to the lowest caste, the Shudra but was honoured as a Brahmarishi. Maharshi Valmiki is acknowledged a great Rishi.
In the Gupta period, the golden age of later Bharatn history, Chandragupta Mau-rya, born a Shudra, became a mighty emperor after dethroning and killing the last king of the Nanda dynasty. Chandra-gupta’s own Prime Minister, Chanakya, a Brahmin permitted marriage between the three upper castes and the Shudras in his famous work the Kautilya Arthashastra.
However, for all the spirituality and loftiness of the Vedas and Upanishads and the tolerance of the Hindu society, the inhuman treatment of Dalits continues even today. There is deep social divide. The laws propounded and clarified in Manu Samhita, Bhagwat Gita are not being followed and all efforts made by eminent leaders and social reformers so far have failed to persuade the upper Hindu castes to change their mindset and attitude towards Dalits and abandon untouchability.
It’s high time, we take a surgical step and write off the Varnashram social order, which might have been appropriate in the Vedic era but today is a major cause of friction among the various varnas and castes and has done great damage to the Hindu society. For complete cohesion and social harmony in the Hindu Society, Dalits will have to be treated as equals and extended all opportunities and facilities available to others as regards clean and healthy habitation, education, job opportunities, financial support and above all common living will have to be encouraged.
A mass campaign by one and all—the governmental institutions, political parties, social organisations—should be launched to change the mindset of people to convince them that all are equal and should be loved and treated with compassion as human beings. Organisation of common meals and inter-caste marriage will go a long way in integrating the otherwise divided Hindu society.
PL Jaiswal (The writer is a veteran journalist and founder of Mahamana Malaviya Mission)