Bangaru Laxman as Hanuman & Buffalo Nationalism
Kancha Ilaiah, dalitbahujan intellectual and renowned author of "Why I am Not a Hindu", was in Madras to deliver a couple of talks on Sept 7 and Sept 8. He was brilliant; and my opinion of him has gone nothces up... many may object to my saying this, but i think he is one of the best intellectuals we have produced after phule, ambedkar, periyar, the dalit panther writers/ poets... mayawati... The pbm is in our country is that the caste hindus are very wary of identifying/ accepting people with nonbrahman/dalit-sounding names as scholars/ intellectuals. A Parthasarathy/ Venkateswarulu/ Madan Mohan Malviya are all brahman-sounding "respectable, safe names". But "Ilaiah" or "Karupputhaayi" (woman) can't be accepted as intellectuals!
Ilaiah was remarkably astute in his observations on "Hindutva Ideologues: Is there a Change in Thinking?", the topic at the Madras Theological College, a seminary, where he spoke on Sept 7, 2000. He started with bangaru laxman, a dalit, being made BJP president; and said we must see this in the context of the classic rama-hanuman syndrome; hanuman, the dalit-dravidian figure was always at the feet of rama, and wanted to just be there and is portrayed in hindu temple iconography too in a similar way -- at the feet of rama, hands folded.
At the nagpur meet, laxman after being formally sworn in bjp president, went and touched the feet of Vajpayee the brahman who gets his name because he comes from a family whose forefathers must have performed the dreadful "vajapeya yagna" (a vedic yagna for war in which horses/ cattle are sacrificed). You can say there has been some change in hindutva-bjp thinking only if vajpayee were to touch laxman's feet bcos the latter became the new party chief... so there is no real change. Ilaiah's take on laxman and the bjp's newfound pro-muslim poses was rather difft from the perceptions of my some dalit cricle friends who argue(d) that at least the bjp has recognised the symbolic value having a dalit prez, while the communist and congress-left "liberal" and even dravidian parties do not even go for such surface gestures. true, the politically conscious dalits are aware that the bjp is hardly their friend, but also say they would guardedly welcome a dalit-laxman as bjp chief. Ilaiah reminds/ warns us that laxman is someone who would only play the submissive hanuman-at-rama's-feet and never be the defiant vaali. Of course, the bjp has not given up the ram temple agenda at the babri site. But ilaiah says he wd agree there is at least a little change in bjp-hindu thinking if the temple they propose has a huge dalit-hanuman idol with rama at the feet... this would, of course, never happen.
Given that he was speaking at seminary, Ilaiah also took some potshots at christian-run ednl instns. He said the trio of Arun Shourie-Vajpayee-Advani are the worst enemies of india, now in power at delhi. Listen to the sounds of their names and the sounds of names like Ilaiah, Pochaiah, Karuppiah... he said Ilaiah seems more connected to Isaiah, Jeremaiah, Zacaraiah... than to Vajpayee, Lal Krishan Advani and Shourie; the latter sounded more foreign to the dalitbahujans of the country, esp. those of the south were several nonbrahman (sudra/dalit) male names have the "-aiah" suffix. But the irony is shourie, vajpayee and advani had the benefit of christian/convent education, while the ilaiahs of the world with lack of caste and money-power were not taken up by these institutions. (This remark drew applause.) Ilaiah noted that if only the chrstn instns had taken up education of the poor and oppressed more seriously, and made common cause with people who even had names whose roots could possibly traced back more easily to Jerusalem than to any imaginary vedic-aryan land, then more dalit-bahujans would have benefited by English education and been better empowered to liberate themselves. The evangelists had convents had taught only the brahmans and other caste hindus English and this he said was one of their greatest "sins". Even today if the christians took up the task of establishing one school in every village, with esp. dalit-sudra and girl chidren in mind, and perhaps secured world bank funding for this, it would be of great help. In these schools children shd be taught in English and their mother tongue.
In no other part of the world has the (wild) buffalo been domesticated and used to yield milk and hence curd, butter and ghee. Yet the buffalo, according to ilaiah, is not revered as a national animal, but the cow is. Why? Because the buffalo is black. Ilaiah argues that we must posit buffalo nationalism (which represents dark/ draividan-ness) against the cow nationalism of the brahmanical forces. The buffalo contributes to 3/4ths of the country's dairy economy and yet is derided as dumb and useless; while the cow becomes sacred/holy and is worshipped by brahmans & co. And remember that the aryan-brahmans at one point, according to their own vedas, ate beef. In fact, our textbooks should talk abt the significance of buffalo domestication in this country and laud the positive historical contribution of the sudra-yadavas towards this. the yadava/sudra women are the ones who must have discovered the science/ technique of making curd-butter-ghee; but the yadavas and dalits do not ever get to consume these products... all these grease and fatten brahman-baniya bellies! And today, the brahmans and other caste hindus of urban india get heart diseases, diabetes and other costly illnesses after overeating and under-working, while the dalit-bahujans after all the toil and sweat remain underfed; the end result is both take sick and die -- one section because it is overfed and due to lack/ absence of physical labour; and another section due to too much physical work but lack of requisite food. Ilaiah in his classis treatise, Why I Am Not A Hindu, says these two maybe broadly divided into leisure-as-life and work-as-life groups. Instead of lauding/ positively identifying buffalo nationalism as our true culture, our newspapers in fact lampoon a Laloo Yadav -- all cartoons of Laloo show him with a buffalo mucnhing grass. both the buffallo and laloo are derided. And why? because laloo is corrupt? The court charges against him are about not accounting for Rs. 41 lakhs in 10 years as chief minister. But what animal is used to go along with P V narasima rao's corruption to the tune of crores and say of jayalalitha? why are these corrupt brahmans not lampooned using caste symbols but the buffalo dragged in to represnet a laloo? why is PVN rao never depicted with his caste thread or with a "holy" cow? (our agricuture too depended on the bull and never the horse which was anyway never an Indian animal, always imported.)
They do not want to review the Rg Veda, they do not want a review of the Bhagvad Gita... they do not want these and other "sacred hindu" texts purged of their anti-dalit, anti-sudra, anti-women pronouncements; but they want a "review" of the Constitution drafted by a Dalit. For 3000 years, the brahmans who monopolised writing could not come up with a solution to caste/ untouchability, but only enocuraged and sustatined inequalities, and finally when a dalit headed the constn-writing panel, and produced new laws based on equality of sexes/ castes/ communities, hindutva ideologues say since 50 yrs have lapsed it is time to review it! let their be major meeting called of all shankrachryas in new delhi and let this meeting be chaired by women/ dalits/ sudras who will "review" the gita/vedas etc and expunge/ amend them suitably... let the BJP ensure that this happens first. Then we will all produce a new national religious credo!
Hindus and violence:
Hindu gods are always seen with weapons -- vishnu with a mace, shiva with trishul, rama with bow & arrow, parasuram with an axe... -- and they always kill. (in no other world religion do we see gods who destroy/ kill/ maim/ hurt.) And the imaginary dates of killing of dalitbahujans and the imaginary birthdays of these gods are celebrated as festivals: diwali, holi, dussehra krishna jayanti... violence is celebrated, rejoiced upon. And the targets of such violence are always the dalit-bahujans heroes and heroines: ravana, bali chakravarti, ketaki and others who defied the vedic-brahmans' superiority and were opponents of varna and the theory of respect to bhoo-devas (`gods-on-earth' as bummans called themselves) and their yagna-sacrifice culture. And given hinduism's tendency to forge/ invent new gods, soon vajpayee too might be made/ declared a god (perhaps after his death). What was the first "achievement" of a Vajpee? In true hindu tradition (where myths/ epics talk of deadly mass-destructive wespons such a brahmastra/ indrastra) he exploded the phallic nuclear bomb, his own astra! rama with his bow and brahmastra-tipped arrows and vajpee-god with his own weapons/ armoury!
Reflecting on our textbooks and the need to rewrite them is such a way that the productive culture of the dalitbahujans is talked about as our cultural heritage, Ilaiah recllaed his own childhood learning. His Telugu teacher would teach him subject-object-predicate with this example: "Rama killed Ravana". Now, this might seem an innoucous and even a unproblematic example to caste-hindu children. But in a context, where even grammar-teaching is catsed, an ilaiah and several of his dravidian/ sudra/ dalit classmates were actually the ones who would/ should be identifying with ravana -- the just dravidian king who was against the aryan-brahman culture; but his murder by rama has been made so integral a part of "cultural commonsense" that it is used to teach grammar at school! Why can't such a sentence/ statement be replaced by a more productive one? Say, Pochamma cuts the crop/ Karupaiah makes the pot? "Rama killed Ravana" celebrates/ describes an act of violence; while the other suggested cases are everyday examples that are part of a productive culture of the labouring castes, who belv in work-as-life. Not only does the teaching of grammar in a brahmancial fashion alienate the dalits, sudra-OBCs and girls children in the classroom, but makes them acquire/ learn the oppressor's culture and forces them to resent the positiveness of/in their own lives/ cultures. The second example to explain subject-object-predicate the brahman teacher taught Ilaiah was "Krishna stole the butter." Thus "killing" and "stealing" constitute grammar-teaching in our country. And no wonder there is so much killing and stealing in this nation! (applause fill the hall...)