New millennium, same "people"
AD 0001: Did those living eastward of Sindhu call themselves "Hindus" or identify themselves as a people with one common identity? AD 1001: Did S(H)indhus living eastward of Sindhu undergo any fundamental transformation, acquiring a new identity? AD 2001: Are Hindus or Muslims or even Christians genuinely identified with their assumed identities?
I was not surprised when LK Advani said, "In a way, everybody is Hindu." On what basis did he make the statement and the intent behind it, only he can tell. For all ritualistic and practical purposes, the Indians' pre-dominant identity remains their Varna/Caste origins. Assumed identities are only circumstantial in essence a few went on to become Muslims or Christians, but without divorcing their earlier "Hindu" identities.
Three thousand years ago, a Brahman knew himself as a Brahman, a Kshatriya as a Kshatriya, a Vaishya as a Vaishya and the Shudras were divided into numerous sub-identities. Muslims came as Muslims, with a relatively progressive system of faith, but degenerated into Shaiyyads, Pathans, Ansaries, etc. The Christians too, came with a more advanced system of faith, but again degenerated into several sub-Varna-Caste groups.
AD 3001: Will "Hindus" want to, or be able to discard their traditional identities, and allow all those living within the boundaries of India to evolve into INDIAN-CITIZENS, with similarities in loyalty, conviction and vision?
This question we ask for three very different reasons: 1. Why were untouchables and tribals (Dalits), while being demographically a part of India, never a part of "Hindu-hood"! In fact, there have been instances of the Dalits "fighting" to enter the Hindu spiritual universe, though unsuccessfully.
Swamy Acchutanand, who lived during Ambedkar's lifetime and was himself a hard-core Ambedkarite, had come up with the idea of "Adi-Hindu" for Dalits. The great Dalit saint Nandnar burnt himself to "purify" his body and, therefore, acquire the eligibility to enter the Hindu system. But even after that, he remained an untouchable saint!
This means the times have changed, but not the people or their identities. Before Christ, Dalits were thought of as "un-seeable", then "un-approachable" and then "un-touchable". As the times changed, changes at all levels occurred but they remained superficial, without resulting in a "rupture." Now, in the "other" India or the urban India, Dalits are thought to be "un-acceptable"! While the times are changing, the change at the societal level has not kept up. In fact, if we were to measure the two, we could state with near absolute certainty, that there has been a negative change. In other words, society has travelled in reverse-gear.
2. Why has this change been negative? We know that Dalits have always fought against the identity imposed upon them. Have others too, those falling within the Hindu or Chatur-varna order, fought against their identities? Can we recall any moment in history when the Brahmans, Kshatriyas or Vaishyas fought against their identities? Yes, the Shudras did, but with a purport radically different from that of the Dalits. Shudras fought to acquire Kshatriya-hood, and not against the very notion of Kshatriya-hood.
3. Have the beneficiaries of the Order consciously prevented changes? The Chaturvarna Order does not conceive of any doctrine of belief, faith, or spirituality. In other words, the Order now called "Hinduism", never did contain religiosity in the true sense of the term. Its religiosity is at best a ploy to mask its social divisiveness. The order was all about rights and privileges, about exclusion and inclusion. The Dalits' exclusion meant the denial of all their rights. Their being tied to an order was the administering of revenge for they, the Dasyus of the Rig-Vedic times, were the ones to resist the Aryans' march towards the Gangetic plans.
That civilisational conflict between the Aryans and the Dasyus is far from being resolved. Look at how the nature of change was defined. When Dvijas saw the virtues of urban civilisation and decided to move in, they handed over their agricultural assets to the upper Shudras, who have served them as their social police since time immemorial. Dalits, their historical rivals, remained landless agricultural labourers.
Thus, if Hindus are to fight for changes, they will have to accomplish the unpleasant task of social democratisation. That would mean sharing the nation's assets, institutions and culture with the Dalits. A Dalit's absence from the history department of JNU, or a Dalit not allowed to become one of the Shankaracharyas is not accidental. While we have entered the inaugural century of the third millennium, at least at the level of conscience, we are still at a stage where Christ had not arrived. The times are changing, but not the people, the order or the Dalits' exclusion.