Dalit Identity

Dr. K. Jamanadas,


This is in response to an article "Gospel and the Dalit Struggle for a new identity" by M. Deenabandhu, who teaches at Gurukul Theological College in Chennai, India and published in "International Review of Mission", vol. LXXXIV No. 334.

He writes that the Dalits are the most exploited people in this "text book like" picture of social hierarchical society. He tries to trace the origin of Untouchabilty in racial theory that those resisting aggression of Aryans became untouchables.

He describes the dictates of "Manusmruti" as those imposed by "Aryans" against them. He also avers that the Indian Church comprises mostly of such people, and accuses the Church of "denying them participation", specially by the "wealthy and powerful institutional Church".

He made certain presuppositions such as: 1. They are different from main mass of "Hindus". 2. Their story is of saga of "service and self-sacrifice" as producers of food and servants of society. 3. Their struggle is for not only themselves but for establishment of new social order.

He, therefore, appeals the Indian Churches to stand behind them and the World Churches to have a new opportunity in Indian Churches for conversion of these dalits.

Dr. Ambedkar and Dalits

While agreeing with all three presuppositions put forward by him, and also thanking him for expressing the concerns about Dalits, we like to point out to the world community, that Dr. B. R. Ambedkar who struggled all his life for the dalits, has brought in a huge amount of literature about Dalit History, their origin, their aspirations and their course of action to emancipate themselves. He had declared in 1935, that though born as a Hindu, he would not die as a Hindu, and in 1956, he denounced Hinduism along with millions of his followers and got converted to Buddhism and declared boldly, that he would bring whole of India to the path of Buddha. Unfortunately, within less than two months, he was found dead in the morning in his bed, by the lone occupant of the house - his second wife, who was Brahmin by birth. It is upon his followers to complete the mission started by him, and they are doing it, to such an extent that the enemy - the Brahmanical Social Order (BSO) - finds "Ambedkar Dead more formidable than Ambedkar Alive". It is a pity Mr. Deenbandhu seems to be ignorant about his work.

History of Untouchabilty

Racial and occupational theory of Untouchabilty is already discarded and contrary to Deenabandhu's beliefs, origin of Untouchabilty is already put forward by Dr. Ambedkar long time back and has not been refuted by anybody for last half a century or so. The following is the gist of it, as explained by Prof. Nair. [Dynamic Brahmin, p.29 ff.]

Ambedkar's analysis takes us farther into the past of Indian society through clearer paths than the work of any writer, Eastern or Western in this field, except perhaps the illuminating study of Dr. D. D. Kosambi. By citing the example of the Fuidhirs of Ireland and Altudes of Wales, Ambedkar demonstrated that the case of untouchables of Indian was not only the case of people living outside the village but was an example of a universal phenomenon which was marked by the following features:

1> In primitive times the village settlement consisted of two parts; one part occupied by the Brokenmen of different tribes. Broken men means: "fugitives from other territories, men in fact, who had broken the original tribal bond which gave them a place in community and who had to obtain and thus get on as best as they might in a new tribe and new place." These men were thus created at times of the disordering of society.

2> The part of the settlement occupied by the tribal village community was regarded as the village proper. The Brokenmen lived outside the village.

3> The reason why the Broken men lived outside the village was because they were aliens and did not belong to the tribal community.

The picture of the primitive tribal community in India is thus clear in its main outlines. It can easily fit into the reconstruction of the situation in any part of peninsular India before the advent of the Brahmins and the beginnings of local Hinduism. It was with the arrival of the Brahmins in the scene that further regrouping was started. The Brahmins could only penetrate into the tribe and exercise their social control through religion. If they had attempted bringing the Brokenmen also within the orbit of their social control that would have created conflicts between themselves and the socially integrated and partially aryanised tribes which did not admit the Brokenmen within its ranks. So then, the Brahmins had no other alternative but to leave the Brokenmen in their original condition and remain consistent in the matter of this treatment. Later on, when the Brahmins as a religious group reoriented their techniques of social control, this attitude became more stiffer and exclusive, so that the Brokenmen, outside the pale of tribal organization under the full or partial control of Brahmins, came to be considered as untouchables. The attitude became one of downright hostility when the Brokenmen came to be absorbed within the fold of secular religions such as Buddhism and Jainism that came into being as violent reactions to the prevailing Brahmanical ascendancy and monopoly in the matter of religious practices. It is in this context that Ambedkar's main propositions regarding untouchability are worth restating:

1>There is no racial difference between the Hindus and the untouchables.

2>The distinction between Hindus and untouchables in its original from before the advent of untouchability was the distinction between Tribesmen and Brokenmen. It is the Brokenmen who came to be treated as untouchables.

3>just as untouchability has no racial basis, so also has it no occupational basis.

4>There are two roots from which untouchability has sprung : (a) contempt and hatred of the Brokenmen, (b) continuation of beef-eating by Brokenmen after it had been given up by others.

5>In searching for the origin of untouchability care must be taken to distinguish the untouchable from Impure. All orthodox Hindu writers have identified the Impure with the untouchables. His is an error. Untouchables are distinct from the Impure.

6>While the Impure as a class came into existence at the time of the Dharmasutras, the untouchables came into being much later than 400 A. D.

Dr. Ambedkar believed the period from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. to be most momentous period in history of India. It was during this period that Buddhism and Jainism were founded and spread rapidly to cause consternation in the minds of Brahmins. Dr. Ambedkar interprets the murder of last Maurya king by Pushyamitra Shunga in 2nd century B.C. as the beginning of Brahmanic counter revolution against Buddhism. Brahmins brought out a change in their strategy. Dr. Ambedkar quoted two causes for untouchability. One was general atmosphere of scorn and contempt for Buddhists, and other was habit of beef eating kept on by the broken men, while the Brahmins gave it up and became staunch vegetarians in order to regain their lost prestige and supremacy.

It must be noted that, contrary to Deenabandhu's assertion, Manusmruti was not because of a struggle of Brahmins against Dalits but against Buddhists. Untouchabilty came much later than Manu. This should be enough to clear Deenabandhu's idea of origin of Untouchables.

Why Christianity failed in India

In spite of spending millions and millions of rupees, within a period of two thousand years, as Christianity claims its spread in India as Apostolic by St. Thomas, there is appallingly low results, as explained by Dr. Ambedkar, who gives three reasons for it.

1. Bad morals of early European settlers. 2. Struggles between Catholics and non-Catholics and 3. Wrong approach by Early missionaries, that they approached Brahmins for disputations, and tried to woo them by opening hospitals and schools for them. The missionaries ignored the fact that Chaturvarnya, is the crucial matter for BSO, and to accept Christianity meant surrender of their power and prestige. Later missionaries realized this mistake and whatever now is seen is the result of this realization and winning over the lower castes, as Dr. Ambedkar observes:

"... The number of Christians we see in India today is due to the fact that some Christian missionaries saw the futility of this (wooing of Brahmins). If they had not realized this error and started to win over the lower classes, there would have been no Christians in India at all. ..." [W&S vol. 5, p.444]

Indian History

The study of Ancient Indian History, not only is illuminating, but it throws ample light on the happenings of today and guidance for the future. One finds that from times immemorial, the struggle between the so called upper caste savarnas on one side and the rest of population on other side is going on. It had assumed different names, shapes and forms during the course of different periods of history, and the history of India is nothing but the history of conflict between these two ideologies.

The present day protagonists of these are Phuley, Shahu and Ambedkar on one side and Tilak, Gandhi and Golwalkar on the other. All the leaders of Christians and muslims need to understand this point and explain it to the gullible ignorant and illiterate Christian and mausoleum masses, that these are the only two ideologies in present day India, and sooner the people understand this, earlier they will be freed from their slavery.

Unchristian side of the Indian Church

V. T. Rajshekhar, editor of "Dalit Voice" had very aptly described the situation. If I remember it correctly, in his article of above name published in "Dalit Voice" some years ago, he had commented that the missionaries are educating the children of oppressors, who tomorrow will come to power and see that these very schools, where they obtained first lessons of alphabets, be closed. It is like feeding milk to the serpents' offsprings. He had also suggested that at least 50% of seats in all Christian convents must be given only to SCs and STs at no charge, and the deficit be made good by charging double fees from the children of oppressors. I do not think that article made any dent on missionaries, they are following their own ways.

Ambedkar's Advice to Christians

I like to make all conversant with one of the speeches of Dr. Ambedkar, during the period of active consideration of choice of religion to adopt. May be, this might clear doubts, if any. The speech delivered to Indian Christians of Sholapur. Published in 'Janata' of 5.2.1938, reproduced from 'Dnyanodaya'

"From the available religions and personalities in the world, I consider only two - Buddha and Christ for conversion. We want a religion for me and my followers which will teach equality freedom among men, and how man must behave with men and God, how child should behave with father etc.

"Missionaries feel they have done their duty when they convert an untouchable to Christianity. They do not look after their political rights. I find this is a big fault in Christians. Because they have not entered into politics up till now. It is difficult for any institution to survive without political support. We, Untouchables, though are ignorant and illiterate, we are in movement. That is why we have 15 seats in the Legislative Assembly. Students are getting scholarships, there are government hostels. Such is not the case of Christian students. If an untouchable student getting scholarship gets converted, his scholarship is stopped though his financial status remains same. If you were in politics, things would have been contrary.

"Your society is educated. Hundreds of boys and girls are matric. These people have not agitated against this injustice unlike the uneducated untouchables. If any girl becomes a nurse or any boy becomes a teacher they are involved in their own affairs, they do not get involved in public affairs. Even clerks and officers are busy in their work, he ignores the social injustice. Your society is so much educated, how many are District Judges or Magistrates? I tell you, this is because of your neglect towards politics, because there in nobody to talk of and fight for your rights. ..." [translated from marathi-M. F. Ganjare's vol. III. p.142 ff.]

What is the present status

The situation does not seem to be different even today. While the Dalits have understood that the cause of their misery is Brahmanical Social order, and they are struggling to fight against it, the Christians have found pleasure in appeasing the rulers. They are happy celebrating the birth of Jesus. They are not bothered about the cause of His death. Why was He crucified? This question, they conveniently ignore. They ignore the revolutionary side of Jesus. Did you hear any missionary preaching that Jesus was such a revolutionary that His death was preferred by the rulers of those times, whose interests were threatened by His preachings, than that of a criminal? Do they teach you the revolutionary side of Jesus? A Brahmin talks of Philosophy, a Christian talks of Theosophy, but a Dalitbahujan Ambedkarite Buddhist talks of Sociology.

Revolutionary side of Jesus

Holger Kersten, in his "Jesus lived in India", Elements Books Ltd., 1994, Reprint 1997, USA, has explained the revolutionary side of Jesus's life. The political situation in Judea at the time of Jesus, was extremely turbulent, he says. Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.) had to deal with persistent civil unrest by guerrilla army of nationalist fanatics - men of strong religious convictions - trying to undermine Roman rule. Sadducees and Pharisees eventually compromised with Herod's successors and Rechabites continued to live in tents outside towns. Essenes and Nazarenes (to which Jesus belonged), returned from exile in Alexandria, perhaps after AD 6, when Herod's son was deposed, and started the struggle, which is described as:

"Essenes and Nazarenes were actively and bravely taking on the full strength of the mighty Roman overlord even while the conformists Pharisees and Sadducees were becoming integrated into the overlord's political system." [p.131]

The local Jew population was lurching from crisis to crisis and hoping for the Messiah. The activities of Jesus continued only for two or three years. He used to cross borders from one province to another of Palestine. Why he should go to Jerusalem and by so doing give himself up, remains a mystery, Kerston feels. On his entry into Jerusalem he was jubilantly feted as king who would bring the promised "Kingdom of God". This concept of "Kingdom of God" appears to be a spiritual one for Christian tradition, but the masses of Jerusalem wanted something more worldly like a military commander and statesman like King David of the past, to free the land of Roman yoke. About a week before the festival of Passover, Jesus decided to leave his place of hiding in mountain of Ephraim (John 11:54) and along with his followers journeyed to the Capital. What happened next, is described as:

"Five days before the great festival, they reached Jerusalem. Entering through the city gates, Jesus was noisily acclaimed by the crowds. But although Jesus was riding a donkey as a gesture of humility, meekness and peaceful intent, the acclamation was later to be tragically misunderstood, `The whole city was in turmoil' (Matthew 21:10, Jerusalem Bible version). Jesus' strongly worded statements, and the equally forthright, not to say violent, methods he used in driving the traders out of the Temple, might perhaps in a different atmosphere have been understood as being allegorical to the people to rise up. Some of Jesus' words were the very opposite of conciliatory: 'Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword' (Matthew 10:34) And `I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?' (Luke 12:49)."

"The very first thing Jesus did in Jerusalem was to mount an attack against the authorities, an attack such as no one had dared to attempt before. With unmistakable directness Jesus remonstrated and barbed denunciations (Matthew 23) were a public settling of accounts with his antagonists in front of a great number of enthusiastic pilgrims. According to the Gospels, he even went so far as to drive the traders and money changers out to the place of worship. Of course, such an attack on the authority of the Temple officials could not be allowed to pass unchallenged - but care was required, for in such a tense situation any untoward action was liable to trigger a mass uprising. 'And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine'( Mark 11:18)

"There was always the possibility of riots and other forms of civil unrest during the holy days of the festival, and Pilate (the Governor, as representative of the Emperor in Rome) hand marched in form Caesarea with his cohorts (each of 500 legionaries) to be ready to intervene if necessary. Such disturbances are only briefly alluded to in the Gospels. According to Mark, a certain Barabbas was taken prisoner together with 'them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection' (Mark 15:7). Mark also says that the chief priests and scribes 'sought how they might take [Jesus] by craft, and put him to death. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people' (Mark 14: 1-2) If Jesus was to be liquidated, both great speed and great caution were called for.

"The Pharisees first tried to get Jesus to incriminate himself in a public discussion. They asked him whether it was right to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor. If Jesus had replied in the negative, he would have been open to the charge of high treason, had he replied positively, he would have lost all the support and most of the interest of the people. Instead, he got out of the predicament by a stroke of genius (Mark 12:14-27). The Sadducees then attempted to ridicule his doctrine of reincarnation. "This attack too he parried skillfully (Mark 12:19-27)." [p.133]

What happened next is a common knowledge. Such were the revolutionary actions of Jesus. Present day Christian Missionaries in India seem to have forgotten the Revolutionary Jesus. Not only that, they seem to have forgotten a compassionate Jesus, who worked for poor and the destitutes. Now they are no more egalitarian preachers. There is hardly any difference in a Brahmanic caste system and Christian priestly caste system. Even untouchability is practiced not only in the Church but also in Christian grave yards.

Christians and agitational politics

A decade or so ago numerous dalit Christians in south India were massacred. We dalit Ambedkarites in Maharashtra took out a morcha to submit memoranda and representation, though we ourselves were fractured into various parties and groups. In spite of repeated requests to Christian community, they refused to join us. even though as a matter of fact they were the victims, and it was their "cause". It is only during last years atrocities, we are finding they are protesting openly, otherwise in the political struggles in the past, they always tried to favour the oppressors, and stand by them.

God and Dalits

Dalits in India are worshiping many gods of multiple descriptions and types. But none could remove their "untouchability". Now they have understood the futility of god and the prayers. Dr. Ambedkar has made them take 22 vows. These include non believing in god, their incarnations, their various forms and subordinate deities and refusal to pay them oblations. Now no amount of BSO propaganda can dissuade and deceive an Ambedkarite dalit. The formidable arguments against god are presented by Ambedkar in his "Buddha and His Dhamma" for anybody to see and understand.

Christians and Muslims are being made "Untouchables"

For those, who forget history, history repeats itself. Remember how Buddhists were made "untouchables" by BSO through contempt and atrocities and denial of human rights. All those tricks and all those factors are in operation even today. They are not only directed against dalits today, they are also directed against Muslims and Christians. They all are being gradually segregated and boycotted. Let everybody count the invitation cards received by them during the last few years for social functions from elites, and verify that their number is dwindling. Those who can not see the writing on the wall are doomed to perish. So let us all be awake and identify our enemy. The enemy of Christians and Muslims is not Communism or Buddhism, it is Brahmanical Social Order.

Social service and social transformation

This is the important point which one must understand. Medical ethics says, prevention is better than cure. Instead of curing a disease give more attention to its prevention. To mend a fracture is social service, to create environment so that fractures do not take place is social transformation. To give vitamin pills to malnourished Adivasi children is social service, to give their parents employment so that they can buy wholesome food for their children is social transformation. To give charity to a beggar is social service, to create social atmosphere so that nobody has to beg is social change. To give rice at Rs. two per kilo when market price is Rs.7/- is social service, to raise the income of the person so that he can buy the rice at market price is social change. To feed the hungry is social service, to create situation where nobody remains hungry is social change. To teach an illiterate is social service, to destroy the social structure which made him illiterate is social change. To open a new school in thee vicinity of an illiterate poor colony of zopadpatti could be social service, to motivate the poor hungry and illiterate man to send his child to school walking five kilometers away even on an empty stomach is social transformation. To protect a weak person by giving him weapons is social service, to make him strong enough to let him manufacture and use his own weapons is social change. To teach an egalitarian prayer to a school child may be social service, to dynamite the scriptures spreading inequality among human beings is a social change. To assure protection to scared minorities may be social justice, to give them power so that they can defend themselves is social transformation.

I have great respect for those missionaries who did a tremendous amount of good work in the past. If there were no such missionaries, there would have been no Phule, no Shahu and no Ambedkar, let alone Kanshiram and Mayawati. In my humble opinion, missionaries in India are doing social service, and are the very best at that, but still it is not social transformation. I think here lies the importance of Ambedkarism, which is not a political movement alone. It stands for not social service or social justice alone but for social transformation and economic emancipation.

The Remedy

We cannot progress by merely "Dalit Unity", or by only "Dalit Muslim Unity", or by only "Dalit Christian Unity", we have to build a Bahujan Samaj, which is not an easy task. One has to understand the mechanics of Bahujan Samaj. Let us forget for the time being at least, the international tensions between Christians and Muslims, between Christians and Buddhists and such similar tensions. The dragon BSO is facing us and trying to devour us one by one. Under such circumstances, the Unity of all the dalitbahujans can be jeopardized if you talk of proselytizing. We are aiming at only a political unity of sufferers of the system. Let everybody stick to his or her own religion. There is no other choice - either unite or perish.

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