New Delhi: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s line that the caste system “was created by Pandits” has prompted Hindu religious heads to mount a fervent defence of the caste system.
Speaking at an event to commemorate Bhakti poet Sant Ravidas’s birth anniversary, Bhagwat had said that the system of caste divisions “was created by Pandits”.
Indian Express had translated the relevant portion of Bhagwat’s speech, referring to Ravidas’s beliefs on god, as such:
“I (god) am in all beings. Whatever be the name or colour, all have the same ability, same respect. All are my own. No one is superior or inferior…based on scriptures, what the Pandits say is a lie. By getting entangled in this imagination of superior and inferior castes, we have lost our way. This delusion has to be done away with.”
Bhagwat’s comment drew endorsement from Samajwadi Party’s Swami Prasad Maurya, whose take that Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas was a casteist text found him on the receiving end of a first information report.
जाति-व्यवस्था पंडितो (ब्राह्मणों) ने बनाई है, यह कहकर RSS प्रमुख श्री भागवत ने धर्म की आड़ में महिलाओं, आदिवासियों, दलितों व पिछड़ो को गाली देने वाले तथाकथित धर्म के ठेकेदारों व ढोंगियों की कलई खोल दी, कम से कम अब तो रामचरित्र मानस से आपत्तिजनक टिप्पड़ी हटाने के लिये आगे आयें।
— Swami Prasad Maurya (@SwamiPMaurya) February 5, 2023
Days later, finding itself in a spot, the RSS said Bhagwat’s Marathi was not targeting ‘upper’ caste Hindus. He meant ‘scholars’, they said.
When asked to react to Bhagwat’s comments by a devotee, Nischalananda Saraswati, the Puri Shankaracharya, appeared to defend the caste system and slammed Bhagwat.
“The name of the first Brahmin is Brahma ji. You should study the scriptures. All the sciences and arts in the world are explained by Brahmins alone. Education, defence and other services should always be balanced. If we do not accept the Sanatan [literally eternal truths, used to refer to Hinduism] system, then what system should be there?” he asked.
Nischalananda Saraswati went on to say that the RSS had no knowledge of its own.
“The caste system has been created by Pandits, not by fools. Even today people come to the Brahmins of India to solve the problems of the world. Coming to us has solved all the knots of the United Nations,” the Puri Shankaracharya told reporters.
He also said that in the absence of the Sanatan societal structure, there is a need to “create an alternative caste hierarchy” in western countries like the US and France.
As criticism over Bhagwat’s comments grew louder, the RSS resorted to damage control with a clarification that claimed that Bhagwat has been misquoted by the media and that he was referring to “scholars” and not “Brahmins” when he mentioned the word “Pandits.”
Responding to Bhagwat’s comments and the subsequent clarification by the RSS, Swami Avimukteshwaranand, the Shankaracharya of Dwarka Peeth said that Bhagwat has “gained immense wisdom” of late.
“Have you done research?…We read in the Bhagavad Gita that Lord Krishna created the four varnas. Bhagwat is saying that god did not create this (caste system), they have been made by Pandits. Then he says that ‘Pandit’ means ‘scholar’ and not ‘Brahmin’. If scholars have said something then why are you denying it?” the Shankaracharya asked.
Controversial Hindutva priests like the Dasna temple’s Yati Narsinghanand and Tapasvi Chhavni’s Mahant Paramhans Das, who are often in headlines for their anti-Muslim comments, have also attacked Bhagwat for his “anti-Brahmin” comments.
“Every now and then, anti-national forces conspire to create disunity amongst Hindus but some Hindus don’t understand their designs,” Paramhans Das said in a TV interview.
Edited by Soumashree Sarkar.