Saturday, March 25, 2023
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Black Lives Matter must fire up India’s anti-caste movement to fight its central villain

India is yet to see a movement against caste on the scale of Black Lives Matter, even though both racial and caste discrimination share the notion of inferior and superior.

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The Covid-19 affected world is undergoing what can be called a “colour revolution”. The Black Lives Matter movement, which reached a new level after the brutal murder of 46-year-old African-American George Floyd by a White police officer, Derek Chauvin, is shaping this revolution. Blacks across the world are joined by Asians and White democrats and, in the process of rewriting history, are bringing down statues of slave traders and racist people eulogised by the colonialists.

Today’s India is yet to see a full-fledged movement against caste on the scale of Black Lives Matter, even though both racial and caste discrimination have a common aspect linking their past, present and perhaps future too — the notion of inferior and superior.

Similar to how the Whites subjugated Blacks based on notions of superiority for free or cheap labour, the so-called upper castes in India exploited the Shudras and Dalits by holding themselves as superior to achieve and sustain dominance in the hierarchical construct of the Hindu society.

Moreover, just like the current generation of White Americans and Europeans are not responsible for slave trade and colonialism but reaping their benefits, the ‘twice-born’ (dwijas), particularly the Brahmins in India, hugely benefitted from their ancestors’ oppression of the Shudras and Dalits. Now, as the ‘colour revolution’ begins attacking all symbols of exploitation, India needs a revolution against caste too.

Also read: Bristol brought down slave trader’s statue. This is what India should do with Manu statue

Down with racist, casteist statues

The lives of slave traders and historical figures such as Christopher Columbus, Vasco Da Gama — all those popularised for their geographical discoveries but in effect paved the way for White colonialism — are being re-examined. Not only are their statues and busts being taken down but suggestions are being made to create museums that depict human exploitation, oppression and violence, and put them there. Future generations must know that they have caused human pain, suffering and loss of life.

In India, too, there is some awakening now about the historically eulogised casteist figure, Manu, whose statue stands on the premises of the Rajasthan High Court in Jaipur. In December 2018, two Dalit women, Kantabai Ahire and Sheela Pawar, had blackened Manu’s statue, for which they were arrested. They are out on bail but the case against them is still on.

But it is through Manu’s statue that an anti-caste revolution can be initiated in India. A national-level peaceful movement is the need of the hour, and it must take inspiration from the ‘colour revolution’ to change caste relations and recognise Manu as the central villain.

Also read: Why Jyotiba Phule would have cheered White Americans out on street over George Floyd murder

Casteist Manu 

Manu is anyway the most prolific symbol of India’s caste system because he wrote what is known as Manusmriti.

A glimpse into some of his casteist views about Shudras, Dalits, and women reveals a character who is just inhuman.

But a Shudra, whether bought or unbought, he may compel to do servile work; for he was created by the Self-existent (Svayambhu) to be the slave of a Brahmana. [v.8.413.]

A once-born man (a Shudra), who insults a twice-born man with gross invective, shall have his tongue cut out; for he is of low origin. [v.8.270.]

By approaching Chandalas, one becomes degraded []

A Brahmana who unintentionally approaches a woman of the Chandala or of (any other) very low caste, who eats (the food of such persons) and accepts (presents from them) becomes an outcast; but (if he does it) intentionally, he becomes their equal. [v.11.176.]

By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house. [v.5.147.]

B.R Ambedkar had burnt Manu’s book as a protest during the freedom struggle. But instead of publicly kneeling down before a statue of Ambedkar and repent for centuries of caste oppression and untouchability — practices that continue to this day — the dwijas installed a statue of the purveyor of segregation, in a court complex of all places.

Also read: Annihilation of caste in Indian corporate possible. But firms must say Dalit lives matter

The anti-caste movement 

Manu and his believers give Shudras, Dalits and women a slavish position and this understanding spreads caste hierarchies, women’s inequality and societal oppression. The Gujjars of Rajasthan, Jats of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, Patels of Gujarat, Marathas of Maharashtra, and Yadavs constitute Shudra agriculturists. All of them need to think about the presence of Manu’s statues in a constitutional democracy like ours.

In Manu’s worldview, agricultural production — in fact, the very philosophy of production — has a negative place, which transcends to common Indian lives, too. Agrarian development in India is stagnated because of this so-called ‘polluted’ status because of its association with the Shudras. The systemic indifference to labour — both in villages and through migrants in cities, as witnessed during the Covid-19 lockdown — is because of this anti-production mindset that Manu has given to Indians.

Dividing the society into dwija and non-dwija and touchable and untouchable played a destructive role. It is time to change these caste-based social divisions. Removal of Manu’s statue from the Rajasthan High Court complex and placing it in a museum of the caste system of India will elevate India’s stature as a republican democracy.

Let us come clean from our unequal past and move towards total equality.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author. Views are personal.

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  1. I’m hard pressed to detect anything new that this writer is attempting to relate in the entire piece here…..neither does he make a new point, nor does he offer any substantially new mode of amelioration for the disadvantaged masses…..this is just his ‘metoo’ moment, his attempt at force-fitting a western social movement into an Indian setting, and milking a few eyeballs worth of publicity by riding on its coattails.

    Now, it is ok for him to do that, for we recognize him being at a terrible disadvantage of having anything of substance to offer us. But if by positing himself as a messiah for the downtrodden as their voice, all he can do is mirror the west irrespective of the relevance of that reflection in question…then there’s little that he will achieve. Except for the few million dollars of missionary money that might come his way for any ngo that he might set up, not much more.

    Or perhaps that was the idea all along? One might wonder…..

  2. India suffers from an odd problem: while having the right-vs-left wing conflict on issues, its intellectual community succumbs to wanting to be west.

    Bringing me to point of Black Lives Matter. If we look at west, it has always treated issues as “good vs evil”. India, being 4000 years old civilisation, instead of looking at solutions within its own spheres, tends to look at others to see how to react (A side point, NDTV keeps running this is ad of “what do you think of India’s response to coronavirus”).. The very fact that we are arguing about caste in terms of Black Lives Matters movement, is odd to me. Black Lives matters movement has a lot of potential dangers, which we as indians must be willing to see. For instance, lets say this causes police reforms, better treatment of black people, you don’t think 10 years down the line there will be a major backlash? West reacted in an extreme manner to having a black president, this is much bigger and will face extreme reaction, once the initial movement settles. This exactly why west has never had a female president. The mental biases aren’t overcome so easily, despite arguements.

    If we look at Asian history, it runs with shades of colors, not in black and white manner. Resolution of caste issues is not something we should do as the people in West. We have to intensify our reforms with caste, but major focus should be on reducing poverty, giving good livelihoods so people are happy and don’t go towards divisive mindset. We have to capitalize on the general pacifist culture and mould it in our own manner

    • “Indra protected in battle the Aryan worshipper, he subdued the lawless for Manu, he conquered the black skin.” ***
      – Rigveda, Book 1, Indra 130.8 (I.CXXX.8) [ Anna.114 ]

      “Black skin is impious” (Dasam varnam adharam [Sanskrit]) ****
      – Rigveda, Book 2, Indra 12.4 (2.XXII.4) [ Muir Pt.I, p.43, II, p.284, 323 etc. ] [ Anna. 114 ff ]

      India is central to the BLM Issue.. It is the birthplace of Racism (Caste means Race)…

      Columbus was on his way to India, got lost in the Caribbean and today, some still call it The West Indies..

      • This reply seems random. The point is not that black lives matter. Point is the manner in which we counter it.

        Don’t know what West Indies has to do with anything.

  3. The difference is that no one reads Manus Smriti today.
    But Billions follow the other two holy books. Both condone slavery and other nasty practices.

    What India has done to abolish the Dalit persecution no other country including the US has not done for their oppressed.
    We have large number of benefits for the minorities especially the dalits, like the reservation.
    That does not exist in the US.
    It is true there still exists a prejudice against the dalit community in old fashioned people but that requires education to fix not riots.

  4. I guess vilifying Hindus and Hinduism is a fad these days. SMH. Tell me Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd , having enjoyed the perks of “Minority” reservations at the expense of bright intellectuals, How many articles have you written about the child abuse in christianity? Or the rape of Kerala nun and the silence of pope? or the rampant conversions to christianity offering money to the poor? Huh.. Please spare us this crap.

  5. For those who has never read the Manusmriti or any commentaries on the Manusmriti, if you take what Kancha Illaiah has stated literally, it would be the worst book on the planet. Kancha Illaiah also presents himself as the latest “Prophet” who can liberate those who are “oppressed”. Neither can be farther from the truth. The Manu Smriti is in Sanskrit. It is only one of the numerous Hindu law books. What many Indian leaders have done is read the English translations of the book, the intent of which is not to shed truth, but to compliment the British policy of divide and rule. A rift within Hindus naturally provides the zealous evangelists like Kancha a fertile ground to “harvest souls” (religious conversions) as the Pope stated. The author of this article is a total fool because he underestimates the power of Truth. This type of propaganda will only benefit the Christian missionaries who are bent on creating schisms based on gender, race, caste and color. Kancha Illiah should first talk to his Church Leaders and ask why Blacks where shipped forcefully as slaves and then used inhumanely as slaves throughout North, Central and South America. Hindus never sanctioned slavery. The Church did. Read the Papal Bulls before talking caste. Secondly, Caste or Casta is a Portuguese Catholic word they coined in Brazil. It has nothing to do with the Varna or Jati system of social organization that existed in large parts of Asia inhabited by Hindus. Spewing venom on a daily basis in order to promote a caste war in India is the sole motive of Kancha and his ilks. Hence, he is as hate filled as Hitler.

  6. The so called holy books which promotes Slavery should also be denounced. The writing s in Bible and Quran shows that The God has no issues with Slavery and infact the messenger was one of the beneficiary of slave trade and had many slave girls. The Son on the other hand gave examples of how slave s should behave with his master. None of them asked to end slavery.

  7. Several things have to be pointed out regarding the article. Slavery in the US and treatment of blacks was extremely systematized. It pervaded entire society. The same can be said of the caste system. Many whites made a fortune with slave trading and became prominent members of the society. These people were recognized and monuments erected ignoring their ill gotten fortune. It is right to ask for their statues to perhaps be removed. That is a very different debate. Beyond some commonalities, there is not much to compare between Casteism and Racism. If, for all the casteism, all we have is a statue of Manu to remove, go for it.

    I am heartened by the fact that, Mr. Shepherd has to write and educate us on Manusmriti, rather than tell us of all the famous monuments we have erected to honor these caste discriminators.

    Coming back to caste discrimination, this is not something DWIJAs take lightly. Being a so called DWIJA myself, I hang my head in shame that such a thing happened under the alleged DWIJA watch. It also upsets me that it is squarely blamed on the DWIJA. How much of it is to the DWIJA is a different matter. Did the DWIJA’s try and get the caste system rooted out is also another matter. Was the DWIJA powerful force to have any influence to change it? To the extent they are blamed I am with the author that things have to be set right. We should have the leadership of different DWIJA matha’s come out and speak against caste discrimination.

    As for Mr. Shepherd, I understand his anger and a need to convert to a proselytizing religion that Dr Ambedkar chose not to. Please stop PROSELYTIZING and stop committing cultural GENOCIDE.

  8. The writer should work hard to get his religion free of casteism where there are separate churches and graveyards for the neoconverts

  9. I think Mr Kancha Illaih, doesn’t really understand the indian thoughts, more so the hindu thought. Unlike the western thoughts, especially the christian thoughts, which lead to the creation of slavery, and hatred & discrimination against all coloureds and jews. It continues till this day. Indians and more so the hindus have always been open to reforms as can be seen from the history. Yes Casteism is bad, no doubt, more so discrimination based on caste. Indians and more so a lot of hindus are doing their bit in bringing about this change. We have come a long way since 1947. We have a long way to go. I am sure we will get there. I have no doubts.

  10. After independence India provide reservations to socially backwards caste
    Now people wants to be backwards to get benefits in education and government employment
    Now the situation in India is quite different from USA
    It is a time pass game
    Media encashing the news and spreading wrong messages

  11. Yes there will be back lash and it is desirable . Special facilities provided by reservation phenomenon in Indian constitution has been usurped by these converts due to their English speaking ability . They are not letting other members of backward castes/communities/group (who were originally meant in constitution) consisting of around 90% of population segment which in absolute terms comes around a great number which surpass more than 30 crores of deprived SC & ST category.. Here this section is trying hard to keep others in dark and trying to change the goalpost to save their skin .
    It will not go long however.

  12. Timing of this article is suspicious. Why now ? We are facing covid 19 and a possible war with china. Yet the author wants us to rise agains “Brahmanism”.
    Brahmins haven’t been in power in India for more than 1000 years.

  13. When you change your religion, you have to prove your loyalty to your new religion as they will always suspect a person who has betrayed his earlier religion. Such proselytizers are very low rung in the new religion they have accepted and to increase their profile they spew venom and false equivalence hence they should be keenly watched for their nefarious activities.

    • Dear Shailesh
      You presume that the author is a new convert to Christianity. At least that’s what your words convey. First of all that may not be true. Secondly the person may be an atheist after all. Thirdly even if he/ she is a convert, don’t attribute motives to the opinion piece.

      Try to attack that article based on logic and reasoning. Otherwise you will end up looking like your imbecile people-hating, bigoted, irrational, gau mutra and cow dung loving manuwadis

      Peace to you my friend.
      (PS: my brothers name is Manu)

      • Dear Binu,
        Gau Mutra is good for Health. Try it if you can. Cow dung is the best antibacterial, anti septic. Our near Ancestors lived on it. We are open minded, liberal and have evolved over centuries. Thats why outsiders dominated us physically, never intellectually. They were never able to decimate our civilisation. Even after calling our gods false gods and so many other names. I think that should be worth something.

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