Caste

Hanuman as a Dalit – the Right's Latest Ingenious Caste Game

A significant political message appears embedded in these recent shenanigans: there is no lengths to which right-wingers will not go, and that even gods and deities are not safe.

In March, the ministry of social justice and empowerment directed state governments to “refrain from using the word Dalit” since the constitution only mentions “Schedule Castes”.

Subsequently, in its order on August 7 – citing a directive of Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court – the I&B ministry asked the Union government to “consider the question of issuing such direction to the media and take suitable decision soon within the next six weeks”.

Pushback to this motivated official diktat was quick and decisive: sections of the media, social organisations, notable individual voices correctly saw this move as a churlish and quixotic attempt to neutralise and erase the political-historical charge of the nomenclature “Dalit”, and to anaesthetise the gruesome memory and reality of caste oppression.

The word “Dalit”, as we know, carries with it the scent of a proudly mounted resistance to such oppression and a resolve to fight it in informed ways.

Also read: Do Not Say ‘Dalit’, For It Is Too Real

Now the redoubtable Adityanath has said that, after all, Hanuman too was a Dalit.

Some other spokespersons of the parivar have made it known that Hanuman indeed was no Dalit, but an “Arya”. One recalls a line in the ubiquitous Hanuman Chalisa which speaks of Hanuman as a janeu-dhari, namely, a twice-born.

Credit: Reuters

But a significant political message appears embedded in these shenanigans: there is no lengths to which right-wingers will not go in its lust for power. Proclaiming as they do on a regular basis – for public consumption – how all Hindus are one and how it is an enemy trick always to speak of diverse castes, when the need is felt, even gods and deities may be bestowed with caste identities, depending on what constituency and audience are to be placated. We shouldn’t be surprised if at some stage we also hear of Lord Ram being declared as Kshatriya-Thakur.

If the last four years or so of our political history has taught us anything, it is that the expediency of the right-wing has little to do with scruple, everything to do with realpolitik. Think of how little the Sangh has had to say about the fate of the hallowed cow in the states of Goa and Arunachal, where it runs governments but where the holiness of the bovine is happily subordinated to the food habits of the electorate. Ascribing caste identities to the deities is part of that thought process.

Those that can make a Dalit of Hanuman and a Thakur of Ram can well have made monkeys of vast numbers of people

For all the Sangh’s proclaimed aversions to Western ways , not only does its brand of nationalism draw from the monochromatic models from Europe – pinning nation-building on the exclusive privileges of a race, a language, a religion – but its nimbleness in taking up and then also dumping ideas and values likewise draws from successful colonial strategies.

Think of how the British in India first lauded Oriental learning (till such time as they needed time to master our forms of knowledge and official records) and then how, when the time for colonial-industrial dominance came, requiring a new Indian consuming class of a different orientation, Macaulay could say that one shelf of European books contained more worthwhile knowledge than all of Oriental learning. Among other things, the colonial power designated tribes and castes as and how it suited their purposes. Not to mention polarising religious communities – a form of statecraft that the Sangh has come to perfect.

Also read: Telling People Not to Use ‘Dalit’ Contravenes Both the Law and the Dalit Cause

Narendra Modi was proud to be recognised as an OBC during his campaigns in Uttar Pradesh; Sangh scions never tire of making it known how they gave the country its first OBC prime minister, even as they pounce on C.P. Joshi for making gauche casteist remarks.

Not surprising then that, in contravention of the directions and orders of two ministeries of the Modi Cabinet, and even an order of the Bombay high court, Yogi Adityanath has thought it fit to extend casteist identification from mere mortals to the gods.

Think  also for  one moment  what might have transpired if a Dalit scholar had said what Adityanath said – that Hanuman was a Dalit. A tsunami of high-caste, righteous hate might have poured upon the streets of the republic, where the Sangh’s ‘intellectuals’ would have launched a full scale attack.

The simple point is never to let any scruple, any value, any principle, however tom-tommed from one day to another, to come in the way of the primary object of the totalitarian Rightwing: ergo, never to lose state power at any cost.

Also read: To Be or Not to Be a ‘Dalit’?

One would like to think that the unprecedented plurality of nations within the Indian nation still remains a guarantee against the sort of whole-scale assimilation into the requirements of a totalitarian state. Yet, so devastating have been the ravages over the last four and a half years that, even if defeated at the hustings, the current ruling forces are likely to have left behind a residue so toxic that pulling out the polity and the institutions of the state from could well prove a herculean task.

Those that can make a Dalit of Hanuman and a Thakur of Ram can well have made monkeys of vast numbers of people, scratching their heads at the future.

If the establishment is so miffed at the current unprecedented organised revolt of farming communities across party affiliations, the reason does not lie merely in the numbers or in the proletarian dourness of heir resolve to be heard and seen. It lies in the fact that these protesters seem for now alarmingly beyond the reach of official spin. Their formidable weapon clearly is t heir grip on facts and their refusal to be conned any further by “alternate facts”.

Likewise, not many Dalit communities are likely to be weaned by this ingenious construction of Hanuman as a Dalit. India will know sooner than later how subaltern populations and subaltern gods – Hanuman foremost – are due to respond to the suffocating clasp of virtual governance.

Badri Raina taught English literature at Delhi University for four decades. He is the author of Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth, The Underside of Things: India and the World, Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters and other books.