Ambedkar Birthday With A Difference:
"WE ARE NOT HINDUS, NOR ARE WE ANYBODY'S SLAVES"
CHENNAI, APRIL 14:
DALIT MURASU, a well-circulated monthly magazine in its fifth year of publication, and DALIT MEDIA NETWORK today observed Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s birth anniversary -- Saturday, April 14, 2001 -- with a difference. In the last two issues of the magazine, a call was given to all Dalits, OBCs (so-called Sudras), women and those who do not believe in subscribing to the oppressive order of caste-driven Hinduism to take a pledge and declare themselves Not-Hindu. Wherever followers of Dr Ambedkar meet on April 14 they have been asked to take a pledge declaring themselves outside the fold of Hinduism. We have not given a call for conversion to Buddhism though. We only hope to initiate a debate on this issue, given that several groups in the country are already seriously considering this option -- conversion to Buddhsim on a mass scale. For instance, the All-India SC/ST Employees’ Association, with a strength of one million members, has announced that they would be embracing Buddhism on October 14, 2001.
As part of this campaign, several Dalit and humanist outfits came together on April 14 and met at the Ambedkar Manimandapam in Chennai under the initiative of ‘Dalit Murasu’. (To raise awareness 5,000 booklets have been distributed all over Tamil Nadu among dalit and ambedkarite organsiations and 1000 posters were pasted in Chennai. We also placed a quarter page adevertisement regarding this programme in "Dinanmani" on April 13 for which the resposne from various parts of the state was tremendous. Please find enclosed a copy of the Tamil booklet elaborating the campaign message.) At the end of the programme, the 22 vows taken by Dr Ambedkar on 14 October 1956 at Nagpur when he embraced Buddhism, were taken by about 500 participants standing by the Ambedkar statue at the Manimandapam (a stupa-shaped memorial). Those who spoke on the occasion included Punitha Pandian (Editor Dalit Murasu), P Chandragesan (Publisher, Dalit Murasu) Viduthalai Rajendran (gen secy, Periyar Dravida Kazhagam), Tamizh Mariyan (Buddhist scholar), S. Natarajan (Dalit activist), Prof. Aa Marx (writer-intellectual), S V Rajadurai (HR activist) among others.
This campaign was not meant to mobilise all like-minded people under one roof: we have reason to believe that the debate generated in "Dalit Murasu" since the last three months and the 5000 booklets that have been distributed across the state would have enabled dalits and nondalits to remember Dr Ambedkar at different venues and act on the lines suggested in our booklet.
Following is a gist of the campaign message.
"NAANGALI HINDUKKAL ALLAI, YAARUKKUM ADIMAI ALLAI" meaning
"WE ARE NOT HINDUS, NOR ARE WE ANYBODY'S SLAVES"
"That Hinduism is inconsistent with the self-respect and honour of the Untouchables is the strongest ground which justifies the conversion of Untouchables to another and nobler faith... To be a Hindu is for Hindus not an ultimate social category. The ultimate social category is caste, nay sub-caste if there is a sub-caste. When the Hindus meet, ‘May I know who are you’, is a question sure to be asked. To this question, ‘I am a Hindu’ will not be a satisfactory answer. It certainly will not be accepted as a final answer. The inquiry is bound to be further pursued. The answer ‘Hindu’ is bound to be followed by another: ‘What caste?’. The answer to that is bound to be followed by ‘What sub-caste?’..."
Dr B R Ambedkar, ‘Away from the Hindus’, Writings and Speeches Vol. 5.
Hinduism is synonymous with the caste system. In fact, the concept of castes has pre-existed what goes under the name of ‘hinduism’ today. There is no such identity a person can claim as ‘hindu’, even if for some 100 years ideologues of `hinduism’ have been harping on a seamless pan-indian hindu identity. All interpersonal and social relationships of so-called ‘hindus’ take place on the basis of caste, and most times subcastes. Under the impact of postbuddhist post-temple brahmanic hinduism a huge section of the population in the subcontinent fell outside the pale of the caste system — the dalits and adivasis. And we, by any stretch of imagination, have never been, are not, and shall never be hindus; for we have no caste. We are outside the fold.
It is therefore ironical that we have to undertake a pledge that we are not hindus. But given the politics of our times, it has become necessary for us to set the record straight; to restate some facts formally. Caste hindus should not mistake that we are ‘quitting’ hinduism — how can we quit something we do not belong to? how do we leave a fold we are outside of? And this does not also necessarily mean we are embracing something new — converting — a word that invokes terror among the hindus today. We have our own region-specific traditions, goddesses and gods, beliefs, cultures... — aspects which brahmanical scholarship patronisingly belittles as ‘little traditions’. Those of us who wish to seek solace in few faiths have done so time and again — the Babasaheb Ambedkar-led momentous event of 1956 is perhaps the best example, down to the Meenakhsipuram effort in Tamilnadu in the 1980s and the more recent "convesrion threats" at Keezhpatti village, Madurai, some months ago. And longer ago, in the pre-Census days, intellectual giants such as Pandithar Iyothee Thass identified themselves as buddhist.
OBCs AND WOMEN: In this exercise, we welcome our OBC friends, who have been demeaned and humiliated by the brahmanical social order as ‘shudras’ (essentially meaning bastard children), to join us. We have a lot to share and make common cause with. Unwittingly and unfortunately we seem to be fighting each other today while the brahmanical forces sit back and watch the fun. We can, of course, continue to have our differences and perhaps even fight them out... but that need not deter us from realising that we have both suffered the worst kind of name-calling: being branded ‘hindus’. As Dr Ambedkar said, the shudra’s position is, in some aspects, worse than the dalit’s. The shudra is both in the varnashrama order and also out of it. The ‘lowness’ thrust upon him/her is what enables the ‘dwijas’ to set themselves up as ‘high’. So we call upon the OBC-shudras to join us by kicking the yoke of hinduism. Since the caste system encourages the worst of patriarchy, women within the hindu fold are subject to invisibilised suffering. At a symbolic level, caste-hindu women are eulogised in the form of goddesses/ deities; but in reality they are as structurally disabled as the shudras. We therefore also call upon all ‘hindu’ women to secede from a religion which proscribes its books for the majority — sudras, chandalas, adivasis and women of all groups; where a person from none of these groups can be initiated as a priest; where accepting graded inequality is a precondition...
MUSLIMS, CHRISTIANS TOO
In declaring oneself ‘not-hindu’, the muslims, christians, sikhs, parsis and buddhists and jainas, too, have a stake given the aggressiveness with which the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its hindutva cousins have been trying to claim them as ‘hindus’, the logic being that they were all '"once hindu"! So, we welcome all those nondalits who have reason to set the record straight to join us on this occasion. This needs to be done to shatter the myth of the so-called hindus being a majority in this country. It is the lie of the land. If the dalits, shudras, muslims, christians, sikhs, parsis, veerasaivas, ezhavas, buddhists, jainas etc formally assert their nonhinduness we would be able to emphasise that the majority of this country -- 90 % -- is, in fact, nonhindu and anticaste.
This might seem a mere symbolic exercise, but such a collective act on our part will have major ramifications at the national and international levels. Dalits have already had some success last year in getting the United Nations to recognise that there is ‘descent- and occupation-based discrimination’ in this country. This year the UN Convention for Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Xenophobia is to meet in South Africa in September where the issue of caste will be argued again. Our anticaste exercise of declaring ourselves ‘not-hindus’ would be of immense help in impressing the UN and other international bodies, and in putting pressure on a government whose fulcrum is hindutva. Turning the hindutva slogan around, we declare: Garv se kaho hum hindu NAHIN hain. Say with pride we are NOT hindus.
- "Dalit Murasu"
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