The Shudra brand of ultra-Hinduism

ChandraBhan Prasad

In 1925-26, Lakho Chak in Munger district was burning. The Yadavs had begun wearing sacred threads, which had infuriated the local Brahmans. Social tension intensified, leading to clashes between the two. Three Yadavs died. The matter reached the courts and the Munger magistrate, in his February 1, 1926 judgement penalised the Brahmans for having prevented the Yadavs from wearing the thread. Since then, most Yadavs in Bihar have started wearing the thread and so have the Shudra caste Kurmis of Bihar and UP. The question is, when the Brahmans are discarding this comical practice, why should the Shudras demand the same? After all, Dalits didn't have the right either - but then, they hate wearing the sacred thread.

Only a few years ago, Laloo Yadav's daughter got married. Some 10,000 people attended the function. The occasion turned into a media event. The same happened with Mulayam Singh Yadav's son's marriage. Each year, we see Rabri Devi soaked in the waters of the Ganga, during the Hindu festival of Chhath. Ms Mayawati or Ms Sheila Dikshit never indulge in such practices and not many people knew when LK Advani's daughter's marriage took place or how many guests attended the function.

You may recall the page-32 photo in the May 28, 2001 issue of the Outlook. Two senior senior ministers, Ms Indira Kumar and Ms Madusudanan, from Ms Jayalalitha's cabinet, along with over a dozen women activists, had undressed themselves, worn only neem leaves and danced in the precincts of a temple - to bring their leader good luck. Most of the neem leaf-clad women were Shudra. We may also recall the mega-marriage ceremony of Jayalalitha's foster son, a Shudra. Thousands of people were invited. The practice of inviting so many guests was discarded long ago by the Kshatriyas. This sort of intense or bizarre religiosity and social functions are peculiar today to only the Shudras.

The nation's intelligentsia is yet to convincingly explain the twin aspects of the Shudra-dominated south, which is comparable to the Shudra-dominated societies of Maharashtra, Gujarat and the region around Delhi. Southern society's craze for temples and religiosity has no parallel anywhere in the rest of India. Forget not that South India has the thinnest presence of Brahmans while the Kshatriyas are virtually non-existent. Also remember the fact that the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra thrives on the Shudras at its main social base?

Kashi is thought of as the cradle of Hindu civilisation. Prayag, Ayodhya, Gorakhpur and Haridwar are equally important centres of Hinduism, an Order inseparable from its evil of untouchability and Dalit exclusion. But no one can cite the practice of the Two-Glass system ever in all of the cow belt. That does not mean the Brahmans' cow belt does not practise untouchability. In many parts of Telengana, which has also witnessed large scale communist movements, several roadside tea shops keep separate glasses for untouchables. Karnataka and areas of Tamil Nadu also practise this form of untouchability. Till independence, even Kerala society practised the Two-Glass system.

During my December 2001 tour of the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh, I noticed several older women wearing sarees only till the knee. I was told they were mostly Dalit women and that traditionally, they were not allowed to wear sarees down to the ankles. I was also told Dalits were not allowed to walk into local hair cutting saloons. They get their hair cut outside of the shops where separate razors and scissors are kept. From a distance, however, they are allowed to look into the mirror hung inside the saloon. When I narrate these stories to my cow belt Dalit friends, they think I must be joking. But yes, in large parts of Rajsthan, Haryana and western UP, the southern India type of untouchability does exist. But again, this entire region is dominated by Shudra castes - Jats, Gujjars and Bishnois.

The country's media outfits and several academic institutions often indulge in surveys. But no attempt has ever been made to figure out the region-wise composition of kar sevaks who descended on Ayodhya during or after the Babari masjid demolition. Journalists covering Ayodhya and the officials in charge of the town testify to the fact that the largest number of kar sevaks came from Gujarat, Maharashtra, the western parts of UP. Large contingents also came from the south. In other words, from the Shudra-dominated societies of India. How do we read into this phenomenon and understand the anti-minority violence in Gujarat? What is clearly visible today is the fact that upwardly mobile Shudras, after having established their Brahman/Kshatriya-like hold over assets, institutions and politics, are also emulating the Brahmans' and Kshatriyas' social and religious practices of the past. Although they have established a Brahman/Khsatriya-like hold, neither do they get a Brahman/Kshatriya-like legitimacy to rule nor social acceptance. This societal dynamic brutalises the Shudras' conscience, who then turn more fundamentalists in their social and religious conduct and often articulate themselves through violent methods. The Brahmans' Hinduism was more Brahmanical and less religious but the Shudras' Hinduism is both more religious and more Brahmanical. A fundamentalist Hindutva is flourishing in the wombs of the Shudras. The Dalits have learnt it. The minorities must ponder over it!

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