Casteism is the chink in the armour
S. Biswas
Two very controversial views have been expressed by Francois Gautier in `Buddhism to blame for India's ills' (IE, September 26). According to him, ahimsa or non-violence as propounded in the Vedas and the Bhagwat Gita did not prevent the Hindu Aryans from defending the frontier. On the contrary, it also helped them to expand their kingdom from Afghanistan to Kanyakumari. The Buddhist ahimsa, preached and practised later in time, failed to maintain this tradition.

To come to these controversial conclusions, Gautier has unabashedly resorted to using myths for facts and facts for myths. It is, however, a historical fact that the non-violent Buddhists suffered terrible atrocities at the hands of hostile brahmanical rebels under the leadership of Pushyamitra Sunga. The unarmed Buddhists had no reply to these armed attacks. But there is no historical evidence to suggest that Buddhists had at any time ever persecuted brahmanical Hindus. It went to prove that for a truly non-violent movement, that was not necessary. There is also no historical incident to suggest that any Buddhist ruler ever faltered in defending his country.

Gautier's suggestion that Alexander was motivated by the emergence of Buddhist ahimsa is also far from true. In the first place, the western satraps which met Alexander's army on the bank of Hydapes were not Buddhists. Ashoka (273-232 BC), for the first time, organised missionary preaching after the battle of Kalinga. However, the battle of Hydapes took place in 327-326 BC, which was about 150 years before Buddhist ahimsa was propagated and spread by Ashoka. Ashoka was, on the contrary, responsible for a totally different kind of victory across the border. His cultural mission in foreign lands fetched India a lasting place in the world.

The spread of Aryan kingdom from Afghanistan to Kanyakumari through so-called practical non-violence, as propounded in the Vedas and Bhagawad Gita, is a contradiction in terms. Aryanism evidently stood for necessary and social subjugation. The term ahimsa, stated to be a holistic policy, was evidently concocted to efface the mercenary antecedents of Aryan inroads. After all this, it would be a specious dilution of myths and history to give the alien Aryans credit for spiritual non-violence which was hardly practised in actuality. If Gautier is to be understood, ahimsa as per Vedic parlance, was a cult of double entendre which ultimately evolved into a cult killing philosophy of Lord Krishna.

Even Gandhiji's aversion to violence in the struggle for independence actually stemmed from social cause, not political exigency. As a votary of the Bhagwad Gita, Gandhiji was keen to uphold the social validity of occupational caste fixation. Gandhiji feared that if the shudras and social subalterns (who were prohibited from holding weapons) were allowed to violate the social rule, it could be next to impossible to persuade them to surrender arms after Independence.

The root cause for the weakness in India's defence was, therefore, not ahimsa, but the water-tight caste fixity of occupation. This reduced the scope for military recruitment. This could have been the case even during the Buddhist period. The defence of the country always remained entrusted to a small, clannish group. Even today, there is no SC/ST reservation in the Indian Army.

Incidentally, the defeat of the army of the Sultanate in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, is very pertinent. The sultan's army went down to the guns of Clive's small force and India lost her independence for 200 years! Clive himself said that about ten lakh able-bodied villagers flocked to watch the battle. Clive observed that instead of doing that, if each one of them had brought a quarter-staff and hurled it at them, his forces would have been buried under a hill of sticks.

Similarly, in the battle of Haldighati, Babur defeated the confederacy of the Hindu princes under Rana Sanga. Perplexed by the huge line up of Sanga, Babur was wondering whether to fight or withdraw. But when he looked through his field glasses in the evening, he noticed that each camp was emitting smoke and came to learn that all the Hindu soldiers did not share a common kitchen. Inspired by this show of caste disunity among the soldiers, he decided to go ahead and strike. Sanga was defeated.

Often Hindu national leaders and historians play down this grassroots reality. But to what good?

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