Meerut: Dalits Protest RSS Use of 'Untouchable' for Saint-Poets in Hoardings

The RSS was advertising its Rashtrodya Samagam meet to be held in the city

B.R. Ambedkar. Credit: Ajay Tallam/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

B.R. Ambedkar. (Representative image) Credit: Ajay Tallam/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

New Delhi: Members of the Dalit community have taken down hoardings put up by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), describing three saint-poets from the community as “untouchables.” Mounted across the city, the hoardings advertised the RSS-sponsored Rashtrodya Samagam (Nation Awakening Meet) scheduled for February 25, in Meerut.

Dalit leaders led a march to protest against a particular line in the hoarding that read: “Hindu dharma ki jaise pratishtha Vashishth jaise Brahmin, Krishna jaise Kshatriya, Harsh jaise Vaishya aur Tukaram jaise shudra ne ki hai, vaise hi Valmiki, Chokhamela aur Ravidas jaise asparshon ne bhi ki hai (Just as the likes of Vashishth, a Brahmin; Krishna, a Kshatriya; Harsh, a Vaishya and Tukaram, a shudra have increased the prestige and status of Hinduism, in a similar way untouchables like Valmiki, Chokhamela and Ravidas have increased the prestige of Hindiusm),” reported the Times of India.

Valmiki, the fifth century saint, was the author of the Ramayana; Chokhamela was a 14th century saint from Maharashtra and Ravidas a 15th century poet-saint, who lived in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

Kailash Chandol, a Dalit leader in Meerut, said: “The Sangh does not have any plans for the development of Dalits. They don’t think about our development or the eradication of untouchability. That is why they keep reminding us about the caste of our saints. They have contempt for us.” He added, “That is the reason why the Yogi Adityanath government scrapped the holiday on Valmiki’s birth anniversary. Now, they have dubbed our saints untouchables in their hoardings. We will protest against such an attitude of the RSS against our community,” reported the Telegraph.

Chandol said that Dalits would organise a protest rally in Meerut on February 25, the day of the RSS meeting, where over a lakh Sangh workers from 14 districts of west UP and over a 100 saints from across the country are expected to attend.

The RSS defended the line in the hoarding, claiming it to be a quote by B.R. Ambedkar. The hoardings however, had not attributed the quote to him.

Speaking to the Times of India, RSS prachar pramukh for Meerut Praant, Ajay Mittal, said, “The statement mentioned on the hoardings was actually first spoken by B.R. Ambedkar when he led a protest for allowing entry of Dalits to Amba Devi temple in Amravati in 1927. The statement is a part of Ambedkar’s biography written by Padma Bhushan awardee Dhananjay Keer. The only mistake was that the statement was not put in inverted commas and not attributed to Ambedkar, although his photograph is present on the hoarding. Because people have little understanding of this matter and their sentiments have been hurt, we have given instructions to take such hoardings down.”

While the statement Mittal refers to is indeed from Dr Ambedkar’s speech – as recorded  Keer’s 1954 book – and reflected the use of the word ‘untouchable’ at the time, the term is not considered an acceptable part of the political lexicon today.

The RSS’s use of Ambedkar, and indeed’s Keer’s biography, also appears selective.

A few pages down, Keer notes that one month after the Amravati speech, Dr Ambedkar took part in the landmark Mahad conference and satyagraha, where among the various resolutions passed, was one condemning the Manusmriti, the book revered by upper caste Hindus:

Extract from Dhananjay-Keer’s biography of Dr B.R. Ambedkar

Following this, a copy of the Manusmriti was actually burnt:

Extract from Dhananjay-Keer’s biography of Dr B.R. Ambedkar

This form of symbolic protest has continued down to the present era.

In November 1949, the RSS’s publication, Organiser, criticised the draft Constitution of India for ignoring the Manusmriti:

“But in our constitution, there is no mention of that unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat… To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.”