OBC Dalit Muslim Christian Relations - Then And Now

Dr. K. Jamanadas kjdas@nagpur.dot.net.in

Islamic Conquest

This is in response to Vijay Sonvane's comments on Kancha Ilaiah's article on the subject. Most of the points raised by both Sanvane and Ilaiah are discussed by me in "Decline and Fall of Buddhism" on www.ambedkar.org.

There is a lot of truth in Ashok Rana's opinion that Arrival of Islam was the cause of rise of Bhakti movement. The gullible masses, he said, lost faith in the power of deities, which the priestly class had imbibed in their minds for centuries, when they saw the Brahminic temples being looted the for gold, silver, pearls and jewels, by Muslim invaders in North India, and thus the lower castes in the caste ridden Hindu society got easily attracted towards Islam.

After defeating Buddhism, in eighth century A.D., Brahmanism had strengthened the rigidity of caste. Tantrism both Buddhist and Brahminical - i.e. Shaiva and Shakta - flourished and people saw their mantras proved ineffective against the invaders. Thus disillusioned by Brahminic tennets, accompanied by the scare of the Muslim State power, and the allurements of material gains, but mainly due to desire of escaping the harassment of caste, the shudra ati-shudra Bahujan population accepted the religion of the conquerors. In his earlier writings, even Kancha Ilaiah him self, has pointed out this aspect of Islam conversion.

A remarkable and revolutionary thought was put forward by Baburao Bagul, who said that, "Because of Islamic invasion the Brahminic tyranny on masses in social and political field had ended, giving rise to non-brahminical saints. If there was no Islamic Invasion there would have been no emergence of saints." So Sonavane's assertion that Kabir is a product of Islamic inva- sion, and consequent liberation of BCs, is correct; and thus Islamic invasion was a blessing in disguise and message of equal- ity - though in a restricted field - and attack on caste system by saints was the outcome of Islamic invasion.

Rana opines that the Origin of Review of work of saints in Maharashtra lies in 'Vedokta Prakaran' in the atmosphere of Tilak's follower criticizing Shahu Chatrapati being declared a Shudra and this being upheld by followers of Tilak. Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade in his book "Rise of Maratha Power" pub- lished in 1900 A.D., for the first time, stressed the importance of Marathi Saints in establishment of Maratha Empire by Shivaji. The followers of Tilak did not wish that memory of Ranade, and also the memory of "Vedokta" should be preserved and hence ig- nored the centenary of his book. At least the future generations should take note of this.

Present situation

But Kancha Iliahs's view that the Muslims today have to learn a lot from Christian missionaries and the participation of Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs in the Gujarat carnage has raised several questions with regard to the unity of SC/ST/OBC and Muslims in the present day, must be conceded.

It should also be conceded that there is a failure of Ambedkarites in preventing SC/ST/OBCs going into herd of RSS. They have forgotten their own carnage not very long ago in the name of Caste war for Reservations. What Vijay Sonvane calls Dalits and Ambedkaites, I like to call them Harijans and Dalits respectively.

"The Muslims unlike the Christians do not know how to under- stand the caste question and handle riot situations", says Dr. Kancha Ilaiah. It is a matter of opinion. It is hard to agree with this. As far as Christians are concerned, in my humble opinion, they are in no way better or worse than Muslims in unde- rstanding Dalit problems.

Though it is true that the Hindutva forces have succeeded in making a unity among Dalits Muslims and Christians very difficult to achieve, as Kancha Ilaiah says, to relate the Gujarat carnage with the political activities in Uttar Pradesh is not fair.

I believe that Muslims are more mature politically than the Christians, contrary to the views of of Kancha Ilaiah. Muslims like to fight but Christians like to surrender. At least one thing is certain that Muslims know that the solution to their problems lies in political struggle. In politics, many times, wrong decisions are taken by all. Muslims erred once - in siding with Mulayam Singh - but it may be corrected in future. If the Muslims in U.P., who can influence results of fifty per cent M.P. seats, had sided with Dalits under Mayawati instead of Yadavas under Mulayam Singh, they would have been in a position to rule the state. After all, the kind of unity we are envisaging is only political and not religious or social.

Kancha Ilaiah's view that, "The Muslims unlike the Chris- tians do not know how to understand the caste question and handle riot situations", may not be valid. Muslims have been facing riots since long, the Christians are being targeted only recent- ly. The problem with the Muslims is that their leadership is in the hands of Ulemas, though the majority of them come from the backward and poor families, their culture is more of a feudal nature than a democratic one and thus they support the status quo, as explained by Asgar Ali Engineer. [H.T. 23.7.2002] But the situation among the Christians is also the same. The leadership of Christians lies with those who consider themselves "higher" than the others.

Christians were attacked by the Hindutva forces in several places, even before BJP came to power. Dalit and Adivasi partici- pation in those attacks was all most nil, say Kancha. I do not agree with this. It was in Orissa that first clashes were report- ed between SCs and STs making all - including VTR - wonder what was happening in Orissa. Even now nobody seems to have analyzed the situation there. It appears two factors were involved. One was migration from outside and second was conversion to Christianity.

The causes for the situation, that SC ST are now gone against Muslims need to be probed not only by the by Muslim intellectuals as Kancha says, but also by the Ambedkarites to prevent the Hindutva forces continuing to use their muscle power against the Muslims.

Global Propaganda

It is true, as Kancha says, that India's Christian intelli- gentsia launched a global campaign against the fascist nature of the Sangh Parivar. But the Christians did nothing to elevate the status of Dalits in the country. What they did was social service. It was not social transformation. Dalits wanted a so- cial, educational change and political empowerment. VTR had written an article long time back "Unchristian side of Christian Church". Dr. Ambedkar, in 30s and 40s, had also blamed Christians for not looking after Christian converts' political awakening. With tremendous resources at their disposal, Christians could not achieve much success in conversion, mainly because - as Ambedkar put it - they wanted to convert the elites, a mistake they soon realized. They had even tried to convert Akbar the Great.

I have got my own doubts and reservations about the role of UN in Gujrat carnage. Whether it would have made much difference to ground realities, I doubt. Even then there might be a point there. We are seeing that even International Human Rights team is being refused permission to visit Gujrat.

So the achievements - whatever little they have been - of Christians in United Nations and other International fora can not be considered as deterant to Parivar's activities. These have to be fought not on foreign lands but within the country on the ground realities. How far Christians will succeed remains to be judged yet. The methods of Muslims are different, as observed by Kancha, "They remain inward looking and have adopted the tactics of mass defence and politics of retaliation". Though he calls this unfortunate, it remains to be seen what actions are taken by them in future.

Causes of failure of Muslims

The Muslim intelligentsia failed to establish a rapport with the SCs, STs and the OBCs at the ground level, may be true. The real reason appears to be that the Muslim leaders failed understand the difference between higher and lower caste "Hindus", for them - intellectuals like Shahbuddin not excluded - all are "Hindus" and deserve to be in opposite camp.

Role of media

Rajdeep has indeed done praiseworthy reporting of the Gujar- at events, as Sonavane says. I would not like to blame him for "imbalanced coverage on Dalit Muslim relations". When a dog bites a man it is no news, it is only when a man bites a dog, it becomes a news. What Rajdeep reported was in the back ground of Dalit Carnage by Hindutwavadis in early eighties and still the Dalits sided with them - this certainly was surprising and hence the reporting of Rajdeep was quite correct under the circumstances Yes, such reporting can create hatred among Dalit and Muslims, but blame goes to ourselves for that and not to Rajdeep.

Christians vis-a-vis Muslims

To say that before the British came, the Muslims rulers and scholars did not bother to understand the caste question would be injustice to work of Sufi saints. Remember Bulbulshah, who con- verted Kashmir, mostly single handedly. Kancha also recognizes the work. But his main objection is against Muslims in Post Independence Era, when he observes:

"... in the post-Independence period, no Muslim intellectual worth his name has worked among the Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs. No Muslim intellectual stood by Ambedkar when he started the liberative struggle of the Dalits. Following the Mandal movement no Muslim scholar wrote even one serious book formulating an Islamic understanding of caste and untouchability. How do bridges get built among communities? They get built only when one oppressed community gets the support of another and each relates to the other on a day-to- day basis. For that, a theoretical formulation is very essential."

But most of the Dalits do feel the same about the Christians too, and evaluate the comparative empowerment of Dalits by Muslims and Christians, to be on the same footing, during the post colonial period. Still then, he is right to a greater extent about Muslim scholarship mainly operating with feudal ideology, which is the reason for their today's policies.

Service by Sufis

It can not be gainsaid that Christian missionaries did a great service to Indian masses by introducing education to the Dalit Bahujans irrespective of whether they embraced Christianity or not, without this there would have been no Phule or Ambedkar, let alone Mayawati or Kanshiram. But the work of Sufi saints in earlier times is no less important. Such constructive work has stopped by the Muslim intellectuals since they stopped the con- versions.

If Dara Shikoh would have been on throne - instead of Au- rangjeb - the history of India would have been different. Also the works of Amir Khusro and Jaysi could not be forgotten. There was a time when Muslims were mingling with Dalits to a greater degree than the Christians, though the Christian Dalits were converted recently, whereas Muslim Dalits were converted for many generations.

In my childhood, Dalits participated in all Muslim festivals like Muharam. Our family was the "kotwals" to the "sawari" of Gond Raja, i.e. the patron was a Gond (ST), priests were Muslims and 'kotwals' were Mahars (SC), and the rest of the devotees were OBCs, mostly Telis, Malis, Kunbis etc.

My father - the richest Dalit in the District - used to re- ligiously escort the horse in front of Tajiya procession to Rana on 9th and 10th day of Muharrum, my mother was religiously fol- lowing the 5th and 7th of Mohurrum and "beg" from five houses to make khichara and we children were made fakirs on that day, and all of us used to participate in ten day long celebrations during Muhurrum. After the death of my father, I myself escorted the horse, till I went to College in 1949. The Durgahs of Baba Farid were visited by my family frequently and other Dalits and OBCs.

The Various mohollas were having their own "astana" - place for 'sawari', with their own internal rivalaries and quarrels, and the British Government had to make rules deciding the routes of processions and the precedence of each sawari and Tajiya. There used to be dancing of "tigers" and "Tantya Bhil". All this used to be celebrated by the non-Muslims. Such was the unity among the SC/ ST/ OBC and Dalits.

The blame of separating the lower castes from Muslims, must be placed in my humble opinion on the activities of Tilak, who started "Ganesh Festivals", this gaity and festivity gradually shifted from Muhurrum to Ganesh Festivals. Even the Tigers danced in Ganesh festivals in those in earlier days. Gradually all stopped and Ganesh festivals were "brahmanized", but even untill ten years ago, there used to be 'quawalis' during Ganesh festivals.

It is well known that early "satya shodhaks" - the followers of Phule - had complained against Ganesh Festivals to British Governor without any effect. Thus Ganesh festivals were started not for creating awareness against the coloniial rule - as claimed by Hindutwavadis - but against the movement of Phule and against the OBC - Dalit - Muslim unity that was being formed.

During Decline of Buddhism

Sonavane's view that the persecution of masses really started with the start of Counter revolution against Buddhism by Pushyamitra Shunga, around 185 B.C. is correct, and the age that followed, specially after Harshvardhana, in seventh century, the situation became very harassing for the Buddhists. The Rajput Age was the darkest period in the history of India for the Buddhist persecution was on peak. Untouchability had started as a religious persecution. As Sanavane put it, there was a great influence of poets like Ashvaghosha on Kalidas, who is arrogantly portrayed by Manuvadi scholars as Indian Shakespeare.

When the Muslims came, they annihilated the Buddhist external symbols like idols and monasteries, and gave a final blow to Buddhism, causing its fall. But the Buddhist population, which by this time had become untouchables completely, found great relief from Brahmanic hostility by converting to Islam. Untouchables like Malik Kafoor became high officer under Khilji and Khusrukhan became Sultan. Thus there was empowerment of Dalits during Muslim rule. Hence Sonavane's view that the deve- lopment of Shudras and Dalits during the Muslim and the British rule can be described best as `providential' in the stochastical sense, can not be termed as entirely true.

Caste war in Gujarat

Sonia Gandhi recently said that in Gandhi's Gujarat, Godse's RSS is ruling and causing state violence against Muslims. Rhetor- ic apart, Gujarat had been violent in the past specially against the Dalits. We saw one of the most serious Caste riots against the Dalits in post-Independent India, lasting for months in 1981. We saw inumerable killings, loot, arson and molestation against the Dalits. The official figures of those affected in police firing alone were:- killed:34, injured:59. All areas of state were affected, but urban areas saw more violence than rural and tribal areas. The Caste war was fought against the SCs by police and UC together on the opposite side. Among the UC, most aggressive were Patidar Landlords in Kheda Ahmedabad and Mehsana Districts. [Desai I.P., Caste, Caste Conflict & Reservation, Surat, 1985, p.130 ff.]

Though it appeared to have started as an agitation by the medical students of UC demanding abolition of Reserved seats to SC/ST and OBCs, the mischief of such demands becomes obvious when we find that prescribed quota is not filled as yet, says Desai. [p.127] Students' demands were supported by Govt. and semigovt. employees, LIC and Banks workers and lawyers, doctors, University teachers and other business and industry. Most fierce fighter force was land owning agricultural class from rural as well as urban areas. SCs had 7%, STs had 13% and OBCs had 5% reservations, but only SCs were targeted. Desai avers that caste prejudice prevailed: "Another thing that is barely concealed is the higher caste prejudice against the untoucha- bles. How can these 'Dheds' demand equality with us? ..." [Desai: 136]

And Bose confirming the conflict is thus related to deep rooted caste prejudices among the upper castes on the one hand and the social mobility of the SC on the other. "In Gujarat SC constituting only 6.8 percent of the total population has the highest literacy (27.74 percent) among all the states except Kerala." [p.138]

In the background of this situation, how did the SCs joined the RSS in riots against Muslims? As Sonvane says, in a STAR TV programme Rajdeep sought an explaination of this phenomenon from Udit Raj and C.B. Prasad, and it is true, as he adds that, both, however, avoided the true answer and dealt the issue in the way of politicians and not like intellectuals. Here lies the impor- tance of ideology. I would like to comment that STs, (and proba- bly SCs too) were lured with Gandhian thought and were not fol- lowing the ideiolgy of Ambedkar. This is the reason we want a society based on Ambedkar ideolgy. Here we, the Ambedkarites, must admit our own failure.

The Bottom Line

"The persisting unfriendly relations between Muslims, Dalits and OBCs, mainly in the urban areas, are worrying" is very true. So what is the future of Christian Muslim Dalit OBC unity? The Muslims have more or less stopped all conversions to Islam and has thus become a 'caste' rather than 'religion' in that sense. The real worry of 'Hindutwavadis' is the conversion by Christians. For that they are finding various means - including violence - to prevent Christian conversions and to promote 'returning home' of STs who are converted. The day the Christians stop conversion - and there are reports in sections of press that some Bishops have agreed to stop - Christianity will also become a 'caste'. The educational and health services of the missionaries have no real value unless they are directed towards empowerment. The elites among both Christians and Muslims are against this empowerment. There is thus a need for recognition that the Muslim and Chris- tian masses have to be freed from the clutches of their respec- tive elites, and thus help the formation of 'Bahujan Samaj', working on the Ambedkarite ideology. Then and then alone, the country could hope to achieve prosperity. I have repeatedly stressed, for the Dalit Bahujans, the following points:

1. Unity among different fractions of Dalits is not enough.
2. Unity among Dalits and Muslims is not enough.
3. Unity among Dalits and OBCs is not enough.
4. Though Pope has declared Buddhism as their next target on Global level, in Indian context, Dalits must strive for unity with the Christians also.
5. It is the dream of Kancha Ilaih himself to have a strong Bahujan Samaj. We all must strive for it and try to unite all elements of Bahujans including the Muslims, Christians and OBCs and various fractions of SCs and STs. This should be based on Ambedkarite principles

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Published on: August 01, 2002
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