Equality in UnIndian: How to make it Indian is The Question

  0 comments   |     by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd

In my village in my childhood and now there was/is one common practice. Each occupation is performed by a single community. Each community has its own name. Tilling the land, shepherding or cattle rearing, fishing, toddy tapping, pot making, cloth washing, clothe weaving, barbering and chappal making, including handling of dead bodies of animals or humans are done by each caste. The only occupational mutation that happened was/is tilling the land. All other occupations remained stuck to separate communities.

In my childhood there was no inter dining among all communities but some inter- dining is possible now but inter marriage is not possible. The change is superficial but not structural. Graded inequality is still the same. The Brahmin and Bania castes remain as separate and far above all of them. Equality is not there in the village; it is not there in the city; it not there in the nation in day today life of people after 72 years of independence. As I was said to have been born in 1952, as per my school teacher’s decision but not by God’s decision (God gave birth to me on some other day and some other year hence mine is birth without birth day) I have lived for 67 years by now as per the school birthday record. That is from the mid twentieth century to the early twenty first century the human relationship remained graded and unequal in India. The God who is believed to have created all human beings- men and women- Equal has not reached out to our social structural fabric till today. The most shocking thing is that in every village the chappal or shoe makers and those who handle the dead bodies of animals and humans are treated as untouchable. The clothe washers and barbers are treated as most unequal. This is so in very village in India more or less in the same way. In North it is more rigorous and in South it is less vigorous. That is the reason why the RSS/BJP are stronger in North and are weaker in the South.

Historically even before the common schools reached the villages, what could have been the unifier to all occupational groups was —the Temple? Assume that the village temple was a congregational place for all occupational groups with an idea that God created all human beings Equal. The Indian villages would have been a different place. Imagine that the priest in the temple were to tell them: perform your duties in your occupations as all duties are needed for our survival and all of you along with your duties are Equal in the realm of God. On the contrary what did the village priest tells the villagers? Practicing inequality and human untouchability is your divine Dharma as God or Gods created you unequal. If this was what was God’s agent was/is telling the villagers, how does spiritual or social equality come about? The temple should have been a common congregational place before the school came into villages as common teaching place. If Equality was the principle of the village temple, equality would have been part of the village life. If the village temple were to tell that all occupational groups must eat food by sitting side by side no form of inequality would have survived. Many social theoreticians thought that the inter-caste marriage would be a solution for caste inequality and indignity. The most critical thing was/is not inter-marriage. Before the spiritual equality between all castes is established, any other anti-caste step will serve only little purpose. If the priest in every temple declares that God created no caste among us no-inter caste marriage would result in killing of girls and boys as is happening now. No Article 15 cinema would have been necessary. We lost Equality in the temple, and we are searching for it in the police station. Article 15 of the constitution does not address the temple. The police station cannot solve the problem that temple created. It has to be solved by temple and school as joint agencies. Unless the priestly community prepares for a change in the marriage structure inter-caste marriages do not succeed. The day when the priesthood becomes a profession of an individual but not of caste marriage system does change; caste relations do change; dignity of labour would come into family culture positively. If these basic things were to be achieved before the Islamic Masjid were to come here it would not have come. The Christian Church would not have come to India. Whether it were the Muslim invaders or Christian colonialists even if they were to come, they would not have succeeded in India.

In other words the system of spiritual democracy is foundational to human Equality in all of the modern times for all societies. That spiritual democracy were to be proposed by Brahmin pundits, and temple should have practiced the Spiritual Equality principle as a God given principle the nation would gone on a different direction. Normally in the colleges universities the discourse would be around political equality. But how does political equality get into the layers of civil society and spiritual society that controls the nerve of day today relations of human beings from the village upwards. This is where temple, church masque play a very definite role in building human society of equality. Even before Hinduism initiated struggle to get out of spiritual inequality of caste, indignity of labour, conscious impracticable communitarian vegetarianism the Hindutva forces are saying that pure vegetarianism is the nationalist food. All meatarians are un- Indians. Now the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi meatarians are inferior to vegetarian Brahmins, Banias and RSS. The RSS has become yet another most powerful vegetarian new caste only to perpetuate inequality but not to abolish inequality. Not a single Shudra working in those ranks can assert and say no, nationalism cannot be linked to the food economy of people because intellectually they are treated as inferior from the days of writing of Rig-Veda. They have no idea that the Harappans would not have built our great civilization 5000 years back if vegetarianism was their food. There was no vegetable production in India till about 1000 years back. Equality is negated in every sphere. It is not just an issue in the Hindu caste hierarchy it is a problem in Indian Islam, Indian Christianity.

The Indian Islam has serious problem in handling women’s equality issue and dignity of labour. Indian Christianity—particularly Catholic church suffering from caste inequality, lack of dignity of labour among its Jesuits and selling of English education to the Indian rich. The Christian private schools, when other private schools were not there were the only ones which taught English to rich Brahmins/Banias for money. For them money became God. English among anti-production forces and no education leave alone English among the productive masses created a society of huge Inequality. Though there is some educational service to the poor by the Christian institutions but mainly they sell English education to the rich even now. Since the rich happened to be upper caste who run the Hindu structures, there is mutual help in sustaining inequality in India. There is no qualitative change in the villages even today. The temple runs with same caste dharma. It approves of killings of inter-married girls and boys. It approves attacking Dalits if they try to enter the inner structure. Some outer space of the inner temple is available because every Dalit has a vote. If they are attacked the attackers are marked to not to vote. Vote saves them but not Hindu God. The priest’s stand is the same—practice caste dharma, which is the mother of Inequality. If we cannot change the temple let us ask our school children to do this prayer in every school every morning. Let school God bring about Equality in India, if not the temple God.

  • God you created all us Equal,
  • God you created male and female Equal,
  • God you created no caste among us,
  • God you allowed no untouchability among us,
  • God you told us to work and live,
  • God you told us to respect our parents,
  • God we pray you as proud Indians,
  • God you created all Indians Equal.

( From a Shepherd boy to Intellectual—My Memoirs)

( A translation of this article was published in Outlook Hindi Independence Special issue August 2019)

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is an eminent political theorist, social activist and author of many books, the latest being From Shepherd Boy to an Intellectual—My Memoirs. He is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. He is highly regarded as writer and speaker on Indian political thought.

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