In the backdrop of the Indian National Congress taking a stand on the caste census, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has declared that it would work for the eradication of caste. Earlier, the sarsangchalak, Mohan Bhagwat, talked about God not creating caste but some pandits having created it. He also talked about the need for reservations remaining as long as caste discrimination remains. These are stray statements that the RSS leaders give to satisfy Shudra/OBCs and Dalits, as their votes are crucial for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Dattatreya Hosabale, the general secretary of the RSS, declared that the organisation should work for the eradication of caste. On October 11, in a meeting with its workers, he said, “any person has the right to enter a temple anywhere”, and also urged RSS cadres to work for “eliminating caste-based discrimination which brings disrepute to Hinduism”. He was reported to have further said, “Any person can enter any temple, and everyone has the right to fetch water from any source of water. We must not tolerate such discrimination in the name of caste or untouchability, because it brings disrepute to the entire Hindu community.”
The media reported his statement on the next day as if it was the first programme to eradicate caste.
Dattatreya’s plan is quite outdated. His plan is built on Mahatma Gandhi’s programme, which did not have any value for caste eradication, then or now. Temple entry for Shudras, OBCs, Dalits and Adivasis is now more or less accepted. The restrictions placed on Dalits for fetching water are also fewer now, though sporadic incidents still happen.
However, the RSS’s plan may reduce caste-based discrimination in a few areas but will not result in the eradication or abolition of caste.
This kind of typical old Gandhian programme does not suit the present times and demands of Shudras, OBCs, Dalits, and Adivasis.
What the Shudra/OBCs are asking for now is a caste census. The Bihar government has already done it and released the results. The RSS seems to have advised the BJP-run Union government and also state governments run by the party not to do so. If the numbers of Shudras and Dwijas (Brahmin, Bania, Kayastha, Khatri and Ksatriyas) are revealed, the resource and power-sharing will have to be done on that basis – which will have huge implications for the Dwija control of the economy and power – spiritual and social – in the future.
The RSS historically has been concerned about maintaining Dwija control of the nation’s wealth, power and also the Hindu spiritual system.
Since the Modi government buckled down against the caste count, in spite of the fact that the prime minister claimed OBC status, the caste discourse among Shudra/OBCs has been scaled up. The critical question among them is how come a Brahmin – Rahul Gandhi – is calling for a caste census while an OBC – Modi – is against it. The RSS strategy of having an OBC PM to mobilise OBC voters seems to be in deep crisis.
The RSS, which never accepted caste as a category of electoral agenda, projected Modi as the first OBC prime ministerial candidate in 2013. The mainstream media, which was also averse to a discourse on caste, carried this propaganda to every nook and corner of India. Now the same RSS and media are opposed to the caste census, whereas they were in favour of the 10% EWS reservation for upper castes and women’s reservation – without an OBC quota – in the parliament and in assemblies. The Shudra/OBCs see through this game plan of the RSS/BJP and the big media.
If at all the RSS is for the abolition of caste, they should have declared an agenda for priesthood training to all castes by abolishing the Brahmin control over spiritual institutions like temples, mutts, gurukuls and so on. Another equally important spiritual reform they could address is whether Sanskrit should still continue as the language of prayer.
But leave that aside. Why do they not take the initiative to admit boys and girls of all castes for priesthood training? Why do they not talk about opening up schools and colleges for Hindu theological training, which would be open for competition cutting across the castes that consider themselves Hindu, to run the temples and other spiritual institutions?
The Gandhian agenda in the early 20th century did not go that far. It was confined to temple entry and water rights to Shudra/OBCs and Dalits. The Hindu spiritual agencies agreed to allow Shudra/OBCs into temples but not Dalits at that time. However, the constitution of India and some laws secured temple entry and water rights to Dalits to a large extent. Why is the RSS talking about these old issues but avoiding the question of caste census?
All big media houses play up small inconsequential statements by Mohan Bhagwat or Dattatreya Hosabale on the same level as the prime minister’s. The reason is that the RSS has expanded the base that sustains the Dwija control of all systems of India. Now they think that the Muslims and Christians have been “shown their place” in the past 10 years and that Shudra, OBC, Dalit and Adivasi assertion has to be tackled with tact but without giving them any substantial space.
Similarly, the RSS does not talk about the present school and college education system where private, English medium schools are under the control of education business houses. The government school and college education in regional languages is of poor quality and has poor infrastructure. However, they directed the Union government to stress the importance of education in the ‘mother tongue’ (meaning regional language) in the government sector only. The RSS remains silent about providing the same medium and an equal standard school and college education to all – this will contribute to the eradication of caste. The RSS leadership knows this.
Nor does the RSS get into real issues that will weaken segregation based on caste in the agrarian sector. Caste is deeply rooted in the graded indignity of labour and production-related science. The graded inequality that B.R. Ambedkar talked about was institutionalised in the process of establishing graded indignity of labour and productive science. For example, leather-related scientific and technological work is treated as more undignified than tilling the land or making pots. Washing clothes and cutting hair were treated as more undignified than iron and gold smithy. Finally, temple priesthood and teaching in gurukuls were treated as more dignified than tilling the land and harvesting. Thus, the temple pujari and gurukul teacher, who were/are only Brahmins, treated all other tasks as beneath their body and soul. The RSS, in its 100 years of existence, never tried to take up a campaign against these indignities and anti-science belief systems that got entrenched into caste society’s belief systems.
If the RSS is serious about abolishing caste, it should push for courses about the dignity of labour and respect for science and technological knowledge that exists in tanning, cutting hair, washing clothes, making pots and tilling the land to be introduced in schools and colleges.
Until Rahul Gandhi, no political leader who claimed to be a Brahmin took a decisive stand on the basic task of counting castes and redistributing resources to the oppressed. Not even his own ancestors. Among upper caste leaders, after Mahatma Gandhi, a Bania, it is only Rahul who has taken a definite stand on caste. One has to wait and see if this genuine commitment remains in the future, but his stand must be appreciated.
The RSS, if it is serious about eradicating caste, should start a campaign about the dignity of labour, production and science and make it acceptable in the Hindu spiritual system. The course content in schools and colleges must have teach human equality and equal respect for every work and different food cultures. The RSS must ask for the same medium and equal quality of school and college education – whether the institute is government-run or private. Training for pujaris must be opened for all castes that claim to be Hindu.
But there is no evidence that the organisation’s top leadership, which mostly comprises people from the Brahmin caste, has the will for such a reform.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author.