The Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS
Faced with the growing assertiveness of Dalits and other Shudras against Brahminical hegemony and with their conversion to other religions, from the early years of the twentieth century onwards increasing numbers of orthodox Sanatani Hindus began to support the Arya Samaj’s efforts to convert the indigenous Muslims to the Hindu fold and to Hinduise the Shudras so as to boost Hindu numbers and political clout. This represented a radical change in their attitude, because prior to this they had exhibited no concern at all for the despicable conditions of the Shudras. In his Presidential address to the Hindu Mahasabha in Benaras in 1923, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, a hugely popular Sanatani Brahmin leader, went so far as to appeal-
to the Sanatani Hindus to accept the Untouchables as ‘true Hindus’.[i]
It is instructive to note that when Gandhi established the Harijan Sevak Sangh in 1932 in order to keep the Dalits within the Hindu fold, he arranged for Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya to preside over its first meeting.[ii]
These Brahminical revivalists had by now clearly realised that unless the Shudras were fully Hinduised, there was little that could be done to prevent their mass conversion to Islam and Christianity. If this were to happen, the entire edifice of Brahminical supremacy, based on the labour and the enforced and religiously-sanctioned degradation of the Shudras, would come crashing down. Hence, they realised the need to devise various means to retain the Shudras within the Hindu fold. This was one of the main objectives of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which was established by a group of Maharashtrian Brahmins in 1925. Explaining the reason for its formation, its first supremo, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (d. 1940), confessed that-
it was because of the emerging and rapidly escalating conflict between Brahmins, on the one hand, and non-Brahmins, on the other.[iii] This conflict was nothing but an expression of the growing assertiveness of the Shudras against Brahminical hegemony.
In order to Hinduise the Shudra and keep them firmly trapped as slaves under Brahmin hegemony, the RSS began spouting the rhetoric of ‘Hindu brotherhood’. It continues to do this today, and in this way has succeeded in attracting vast numbers of Shudras to its fold. Yet, its firm commitment to Brahminism and caste hierarchy remains unaffected. Thus, the second supremo of the RSS, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar (d. 1973), an orthodox Maharashtrian Brahmin, candidly professed that-
The RSS firmly believed that disparity was an ‘indivisible part of Nature’,[iv] this probably being his way of defending caste- and class-based inequalities and hierarchies. He went on to insist that all efforts to do away with this allegedly ‘natural’ inequality in society were bound to fail.[v]
One can clearly discern here a trenchant critique of the demands for equality of the Shudras and their critique of Brahminism. Golwalkar also did not hesitate to lavishly praise the Manusmriti, the Bible of slavery for the Shudras. This is clear evidence that the major objective of the RSS is to prevent the conversion of the Shudras to non-Hindu religions, including Islam, and to ensure that they remain as slaves of the ‘upper’ caste Hindus.
Golwalkar did not conceal his passionate commitment to Brahminical supremacy and Shudra slavery. Thus, for instance, he approvingly related the following incident in his Bunch of Thoughts:-
‘In the South, there was an English officer. His assistant was a local person, probably a Naidu. The orderly of that Englishman was a Brahmin. One day, when this Englishman was walking in a street, followed by his orderly, the assistant came from the opposite side. The two officers greeted each other and shook hands. But when the assistant officer saw the orderly, he took off his turban and touched his feet. The Englishman was amazed. He queried, “I am your senior officer, but you stand erect and just shake hands with me, whereas he is only my peon and you prostrate before him on this busy road. What is the matter?” The Assistant officer replied, “You may be my officer, but you are a mlechha. He may be a peon, but he belongs to that class of my people which is held in great respect all down the centuries, before whom it is my duty to bow down.”[vi]
In this way Golwalkar clearly sought to argue that a Brahmin, no matter how poorly-educated he might be, like the peon in this story, is worthy of worship by non-Brahmins, no matter how senior they are. This is, in fact precisely is what the Brahminical scriptures preach.
Numerous Dalit ideologues have very rightly pointed out the sinister agenda with regard to the Shudras of the Hindutva lobby as represented by the likes of the RSS. For instance, the noted Dalit leader and scholar, Shankaranand Shastri, a close companion of Dr. Ambedkar, writes:-
‘The Brahmins started the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) […] to defend and promote the interests of Brahminism and caste hierarchy […] It is a fact that the RSS was established to save the caste system and the Brahmin priestly class. If the RSS were really sincere in uniting the “Hindus” under one flag, it should make first to destroy caste. The RSS is nothing but a revival of Pushyamitra[vii] tactics to destroy the integrity of the country and divide it into watertight compartments […] The RSS has been doing the same to revive caste hierarchy and bring about Brahmin rule in India. If this ever happens, the very first victims would be all those born in the Shudra community.’[viii]
Gandhi, Gandhism and the Shudras
Despite the efforts of Brahminical organisations and movements to halt the conversion of Shudras to non-Hindu religions and to stamp out Shudra protest movements against Brahminism, they did not fully succeed. Convinced that as long as they continued to labour under Hindu slavery the Dalits could never be liberated, Dr. Ambedkar expressed the desire to convert, along with a vast number of his fellow Dalits, to Islam. The prospect of so many Dalits turning Muslim so alarmed Hindu leaders, including Gandhi, that they tried to convince Dr. Ambedkar to change his mind.
Gandhi was a vociferous opponent of religious conversion from Hinduism, even though this had for long been the means adopted by the Shudras to escape Brahminical slavery. He wrote and spoke extensively against such conversion, seeing in it no merit at all, in contrast to the Shudras who had used it as a means to throw off the chains of Brahminical slavery. In this way he sought to prevent the Shudras from converting to Islam or Christianity in search of social liberation, and to keep them firmly within the Hindu fold. For this purpose he took some limited and seemingly reformist steps, such as renaming the Untouchables as ‘Harijans’ or ‘children of God’, staying in a sweeper colony, and establishing an organisation called the Harijan Sevak Sangh, ostensibly to work for the ‘uplift’ of the Shudras. At the same time, however, he did not conceal his ardent commitment to caste and to Brahminism. Thus, for instance, he confessed what he called his ‘firm faith in the varna system’. He argued that even by birth all human beings were not equal, but, rather, were divided into the four varnas; that the varna system was inherent in human nature and was ‘scientific’; that caste depended on one’s birth and could not be changed; that one must follow one’s ancestral caste profession, which was determined for one even before birth, and that one did not have the freedom to choose one’s occupation. He also insisted that inter-caste marriage and commensality were not necessary for promoting national unity. Defending Brahminical rules against inter-caste dining, he went to the extent of equating eating with excreting, branding both as negative actions that should be done by oneself, rather than in a group. He claimed that if the varna system were abolished, India would lose its very character and fall prey to utter chaos and disorder. Consequently, he announced his fervent opposition to those who desired to destroy the varna system. [ix]
It is ironical, however, that despite Gandhi’s spirited defence of thevarna system, he himself did not follow the occupation of his Vaishyavarna, which was trade and agriculture. Abandoning, against his own stated principles, these professions, he chose to become a lawyer and then a leader and, after that, tried to pass off as a saint.
How does one explain this clear contradiction in Gandhi’s words and actions? What was the actual objective of his philosophical defence of caste? The answer to this is provided by Gandhi himself, who claimed that the Shudra who willingly served the Brahmins and other ‘high’ caste Hindus, believing this to be his religious duty, and who had no desire for wealth, was worthy of such great respect that God Himself would shower flowers on him.[x] From this ridiculous statement it is clearly apparent that Gandhi’s major aim was to ensure that the Shudras remained within the Hindu fold. He was well aware that if the Shudras converted to another religion, say Islam, en masse, Hinduism, or, to be more precise, Brahminism, would be utterly destroyed, as would ‘upper’ caste Hindu hegemony. This is why he took some supposed reformist steps with regard to caste discrimination, although he was careful that these should not undermine in any way the edifice of ‘upper’ caste power. Most Dalit intellectuals, including Dr. Ambedkar, regarded these policies of Gandhi as a Brahminical conspiracy, and did not hesitate to call Gandhi an agent of Brahminism. They rightly pointed out that Gandhi wielded all these many weapons in order to keep the Dalits as slaves of Brahminism.
Thus, Shankaranand Shastri, who himself witnessed the work of Gandhi among the Dalits and roundly denounced it, writes:-
‘The Harjian Sevak Sangh was nothing but a Brahminic conspiracy to kill the Untouchables by lip-sympathy and thereby make them better Hindus, meaning, thereby, better slaves. The management of the Sangh was deliberately allowed to pass entirely into the hands of the upper castes of the Congress. Babasaheb [Ambedkar] charged that the policy of the Sangh was to exclude Untouchables from the framing of its policies. Its sinister aim was to draw the Untouchables into the Congress […] [and] thus enslave them permanently. During the past five decades, the Sangh has done nothing, and now its social work is completely stopped.’[xi]
In a similar vein, V.T. Rajshekar, author of the widely-read Dalit journalDalit Voice, calls Gandhi
a ‘devious agent of the Brahminical system’ who ‘hatched a conspiracy to allow the Untouchables to enter Hindu temples so that the Untouchables, who are not Hindus, and have never been Hindus, and who have had nothing at all to do with Hindu temples, were branded along with the Hindus.’[xii]
Yet another leading Dalit ideologue, S.L. Sagar, holds Gandhi responsible for keeping the Dalits oppressed even today by denying them the right to separate electorates. This, he explains, ensured that the Dalits ‘remained the slaves of the Hindus’. He describes Gandhi’s calling the Dalits as ‘Harijans’ and demanding temple entry for them as ‘chains of slavery that ensured that the Dalits remained as servants of the Hindus’.[xiii] He writes that-
When Dr. Ambedkar announced his impending conversion to a non-Hindu religion as a means for the emancipation of the Dalits, Gandhi realised that this would gravely threaten Hindu rule in India as well as the very existence of the Hindu religion. That is why, he says, Gandhi devised some cosmetic supposed reformist measures, hoping, thereby to prevent the Dalits from abandoning Hinduism in their struggle for liberation.[xiv]
[i] Bipin Chandra,Quoted in Salahuddin Usman, RSS: Ta‘limat wa Maqasid, Nizami Offset Press, Lucknow, 1993, p.72 [ii] Shankaranand Shastri, My Memories and Experiences of Baba Saheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Bheem Sadan, Ghaziabad, 1989, p.27 [iii] Quoted in Danish Riyaz, ‘RSS: Chand Jhalkiyan’, in As-Salam, January-March 2001, vol.5 no.1, p.40. [iv] Quoted in Usman, op.cit., p.197. [v] Usman, op.cit., p.197. [vi] http://www.golwalkarguruji.org/shri-guruji/thoughts/bunch-of-thoughts-book/part-two-the-nation-and-its-problems/territorial-nationalism. (accessed on 10th November, 2010). Naidus, it should be noted, are Shudras. [vii] [viii] Shastri, op. cit., pp.61-67. Incidentally, Shastri was present when Golwalkar came to meet Ambedkar to seek his help in lifting the ban imposed on the RSS in 1948 following the murder of Gandhi. [ix] For details, see B.R. Ambedkar, vol. 9, pp.277-291, and vol. 1, p.90 (Quoted in Sheetal Markan et.al., Tri Iblisi Soshan Viyuh Vidhvans, Shoshan Samaj Jagrukta Muhim, Nagpur, 2002). [x] Ibid., vol. 9, p.291. [xi] Shastri, op.cit., pp.27-28. [xii] V.T. Rajshekar, Bhoodevata ki Bat-Cheet (Translated by Khalil ur-Rahman, S. Mujeeb & Iqbal Ahmad Sherif), Dalit Sahitya Academy, Bangalore, n.d., p.4. [xiii] S.L. Sagar, Hindu Mansikta, Sagar Prakashn, Mainpuri, n.d., p.9. [xiv] S.L. Sagar, Harijan Kaun Aur Kaise, Sagar Prakashan, Mainpuri, 1999, pp.11-14. This article has been taken from www.newageislam.com and is a part of the series of essays written by Masood Alam Falahi and translated by Yoginder Sikand on Caste & Caste Based Discrimination among Indian Muslims.