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Large number of Dalit-OBC on Kanwar Yatra isn’t a sign of Hinduism’s inclusivity. Here’s why

Participation of ‘lower castes’ in rituals like Kanwar Yatra is just proof of how Hinduism uses cultural tools to enlist wider communities.

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That there is a high number of ‘lower caste’ participation in Kanwar Yatra is a fact. But we cannot rush to conclude that Hinduism is an inclusive religion based on just this. Religion also operates through tools of cultural appropriation, and often through the willing participation of those that it has historically excluded. It also offers opportunities for upward social mobility and a sense of kinship with systems of power.

This fact has been empirically proven by numerous independent observers through the on-ground exercise of asking Kanwariyas about their caste. A few years ago, a provincial civil service officer in Uttar Pradesh, who was posted on Kanwar duty, had conducted a similar exercise by placing his hands on the shoulders of the Kanwariyas to check for the sacred thread, and concluded that the twice-born rarely undertake Kanwar Yatra. He had also said that most of the people who go on the Yatra are male, although some groups do have female participants.

I cannot imagine someone from my apartment colony or from the offices where I have worked taking leave for seven to ten days, walk all the way to Haridwar to fetch water from river Ganga, and return to worship at a local Shiva temple. Most of these people are religious but Kanwar Yatra is not designed to suit their lifestyle. I can’t even imagine any of my ‘upper caste’ friends allowing their sons or daughters to spend ten odd days in the Kanwar yatra, especially with the academic session having only just started.


Also read: Kanwar Yatra has more Dalits and OBCs but Indian liberals still won’t notice them


Lower castes’ presence or upper castes’ absence?

Kanwar Yatra is for and by the subalterns – the ‘lower castes’ in Indian context — rightly discovered by Patna University assistant professor Guru Prakash. When he wrote that Kanwar Yatra is mostly undertaken by the Dalits and the OBCs, he inferred that the ‘upper caste’ people are not taking part in this Yatra or their number is negligible.

This brings us to the following six arguments that could be made while looking at the caste-based participation in Kanwar Yatras.

1. ‘Upper castes’ are a minority among Hindus, so it is natural that their number in the Kanwar Yatra will also be less. More than three-fourths of the Hindus belong to the Scheduled Caste and Other Backward Class (OBC) communities. The natural corollary to this is that there will be, proportionally, about 75 per cent Kanwariyas from the SC and OBC communities.

2. Guru Prakash’s premise is that Shiva is a subaltern god, so he is mostly worshipped by the backward and Dalit communities. In December 2018, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had claimed that “Hanuman was a Dalit”. Through his attribution of a ‘lower’ social status for Shiva, Prakash argued that Hinduism is an inclusive religion, and the caste-based discriminations, otherings, and social exclusion faced by members of the ‘lower castes’ on a daily basis are nothing but a canard, propagated by the “academics with ulterior motives.”

3. To the best of my knowledge, no systematic demographic study has been done to identify the social and economic profiles of the Kanwariyas. Based on limited data, I would argue that a large section of the Kanwariyas comprises small farmers, farm labourers, and unemployed or partly employed youths, who can spare few days from their schedule without disrupting their professional life. I am not suggesting that all Kanwar Yatris fall in this category. There can be several motivating factors. I would like to be corrected in my argument by any systematic study.

4. As far as their religiosity is concerned, the ‘lower castes’ find solace in these rituals because these are the times when they consider themselves to be part of the larger social group and also feel empowered because they can do almost anything that they want during the Kanwar Yatra – with active support from the administration. This gives them a sense of belonging in a society where they are otherwise positioned somewhere low in the caste ladder and many of them feel alienated. There is no such motivation for the ‘upper castes’ to obligate them into taking the Kanwar Yatra, so they either skip it or do it in a very personal way, without much fanfare and in small groups.

5. The religiosity and its public display by the ‘lower castes’ can be explained by the Gramscian concept of Hegemony by Consent. People from the ‘lower castes’ profess a religious scheme that denigrates them. But they do not express their religiosity out of coercion or compulsion – a population this large cannot be coerced into doing things that perpetuate their subjugation. There has to be consent from them for such projects. The whole process of their succumbing to the religious agenda is voluntary. The cultural industry plays a crucial role in this process. Such hegemony can only be achieved through the triumph of cultural dominance. Movies, songs, dance, posters, and other means of mass media have played a role in the burgeoning crowd on the Kanwar routes.

6. Guru Prakash argues that the religiosity of the SCs and the OBCs is a result of the ‘inclusiveness’ enshrined in Hindus’ religion. He says India’s liberal intellectuals ignore this connectivity. But I would rather argue that the participation, or the enthusiasm, of the ‘lower castes’ in Hindu rituals and yatras by itself does not prove that Hinduism is inclusive. Hinduism has strong elements that propagate people’s societal exclusion. This exclusion does not happen through conspiracy and neither is it an aberration. Division based on caste and varna is the basic tenet of Hinduism, the keystone without which the whole structure will crumble. One cannot be a Hindu without having some place in the scheme of graded inequality as envisaged by the shastras. The Kanwar Yatris can feel oneness and kinship – the inclusiveness that Guru Prakash refers to – in Hinduism only while they are on the Yatra. The moment they return to their homes with the gangajal, the same social order engulfs them. The temple where they perform puja at the end of the Yatra is perhaps still controlled by one social group, which has religious and textual sanction to be at the top of the Hindu social order. The priest at this temple will most definitely be a Brahmin.

I disagree with Guru Prakash on several points in his article but I completely agree with him that “a demographic study and analysis must be undertaken by the scholars of social anthropology to highlight the ever-increasing participation of Dalits and socially-backward in the large cultural canopy of Hinduism.”

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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29 COMMENTS

  1. Mr.Mandal- the arguments that you have brought to this space reflects social imprinting in the psyche and behaviour of both caste hindus and the bahujans. While the arguments presented in the article have internal contradictions, they do have very solid insights.

  2. I can understand why everybody is criticizing the article and the author. Talks about dalits are generally considered rubbish unless they’re abusing them of ENJOYING reservation.

  3. Mr. mandal and The Print seem to have lost their balance or they are purposely propogating idea of caste. Caste is getting obliterated in these days. In many cities even many Brahmins are selling chicken and eggs. Jain and Marwaris are selling eggs in their shops, in hotels the waiter serving food is from any lower caste or higher caste. The Print think that it is doing a great journalism, in fact Govt shall ban it. It is dividing society and anti national

  4. Why the hell are you doing this…..we are finally uniting and you guys want us to stay divided…… intercaste marriages are evident these days……

  5. I pitty you Mr. Mandal. “ThePrint” How can you call yourself a news media? Publishing crap in the name of journalism!

  6. Sick and desperate article written by motivated anti-hindus who neither know the religion nor practise it .

    The obvious logical fallacy that exists here is that on one hand this so called journalist claims that kanwars are a cultural phenomenon and not Hindu and then claims OBCs and Dalits do this yatra because of the group closeness and comradere of the yatra- so whom do they feel comradere with? Hindus of course and why? Because Hinduism includes them. If Hinduism has been so oppressive and discriminatory why have hundreds of millions of Dalits and OBCs continued to follow the faith of their forefathers for more than 4000 years despite having the opportunity to become Mohammedans and Christians for more than a 1000 years ??

    All these anti-hindu clowns cant answer this fundamental question.

  7. Like many self proclaimed ‘senior journalists’ Dilip Mandal has becone such a prisoner of his own agendas and prejudices that he has confused journalism with political sloganeering.

    His articles have 2 overarching themes: Hatred of the Hindu religion and denial of any harmony or integration between different castes. He should introspect on whether his claims reflect the reality of modern society merely his own personal desires.

  8. The author seems sur prised by the participation of dalit and o.b.c.in kawar yatra Brahmical hierarchy bnot only divided hinus in caste s but they also divided God’s into caste.,so much fasination of caste .brhma,Vishnu and it’s incarnation s are upper caste idols sarvasati upper caste diety there as Durga Maha Kali lower caste ideal.From time memorial Shiva is lower caste diety because he married to atribal and lived in jungle and crimotoriams where the Fattu upper caste s could not imagin of going there in their dreams so the people who worshipped Shiva we’re lower castes. Can you imagine aupper caste publicly smoking ganja,charas and drinking bhang and tharra.,these virtues of Shiva we’re the routine of lower caste so they were the real devotees of Shiva nothing wrong in it But this caste discrimination was not limited to the God’s only but there was vertical dividebin the disciple s ,Shaivaits.and Vaisnavaits .They fought amongst them sevelves and lot of men were lost in the battle.so it was altimately acaste war ,upper caste v/s lower caste .Even now you see the skermisshes going on between them in Kumbh melas for shahi snan.So don’t paint Rosy picture that Hinduism has brought them to get her and all is well.As long as caste is in existence there cannot be unity in Hindu s .

  9. Very unfortunate and shameful to read such thoughts on discrimination… Kawar yatra is for uniting a nation and you are diving it through polluted mindset. I believe you are not happy bharat is getting united… Very disgraceful what analytics you are presenting…

  10. The participation of subaltern cultures in Kanwariya rituals definitely does not show the inclusiveness of dominant and codified Hinduism. Nor is it hegemony by consent. This problem is open to research and my hypothesis is that many rituals like this were actually observed by the indigenous peoples and were appropriated into the dominant narratives. There are documented but poorly researched examples of this such as the rituals around Srisailam temple, the rituals around Ratha Yatra or the observances at Kamakhya temple. The list is endless. Dominant religious significations stand in the way of meaningful research on this issue. There’s another problematic issue that’s closely related. In any discussion on the subject we do not define the boundaries of what we choose to refer to as Hinduism.

  11. You seem to have missed the point that it is mostly the upper caste Hindus who put up stalls to serve the kanwarias, despite the knowledge that most of them are low caste. This is the beauty of the Hinduism. One more thing, the sacred thread has gone missing from round the shoulders of even high caste people. I for one wear it only when I have to attend a very important ritual at home which cannot be performed without it, like Shradh. And I have brought the kanwar four times.

  12. Why we are making all this huge and cry, on caste system? Society runs as a organization, and every organization is unnecessarily have a hierarchy, in absence of it you cannot run a organization,or society. Pattern may very but hyarchy is must. That’s that.

  13. Childish article. A fully clothed person perennially claiming to be nude. Now we are seeing this ugly culture of media engaging full time propagandists. Most articles by this fellow Mandal violate CRPC 153A.

  14. You pepole has always tried to divide Hindu community, you divide us on the basis of dalit,obc, upper caste etc. That is why other religions take advantage of this and convert the Hindus.when u say christian, Muslim, sikh at that time u don’t say this shia or suni, yazadi, wahabi Muslim or so on. In India we respect all religions all Indians r brothers so please don’t divide us,when u write this article u not only divide Hindus u divide all other religions also. So please stop this

  15. The author is absolutely correct in his observation that the basic tenets of Hindu religion is based on the ethos of a social order based on the manuwadi caste system. The number of OBCs or other dalits participating in any ritual do not change this basic principle of Hindu religion and does not make it inclusive.
    But despite this basis tenet, things are changing.- there are more and more OBCs and other dalits and ladies learning Vedas Puranas and also karm Kanda and indulging in profession of pujaris and purohits conducting and practising the profession, which had Monopoly of only Brahmins. There are growing numbers of pujaris at temples belonging to the castes other than brahmins. They are steadily getting acceptability too. There have been many saints belonging to OBCs and other castes too who command reverence from Hindus at large.
    This, to great extent, indicate towards somewhat rewriting the Hindu ethos and rituals. Manuwadi philosophy was propagated to ensure supremacy of Brahamanism in Hindu religion and through the religion upon society and state too. This excluded not only the so-called lower castes but ladies (of all castes including brahmins) too. This may very well be overturned to suit the society of today. Not long ago, all the political parties too had the same brahmanical culture ruling and commanding the state too. The situation has changed now and in the social structure too Brahminism has already crumbled all over. Sooner or later this has to reflect in religion too. But this is going to take lot of time. The progress will be too gradual and slow and would naturally meet so much of obstructions too.
    History too has been written or facilitated to be written by the Kings and their court people. Whatever discrimination, untouchability or atrocities we are aware of, therefore, are grossly in lower side. These must have been much much more. There can’t be more paradoxical and contradictory anything than that ladies were though said to be worshipped and glorified, the Hindu rituals deliberately excluded ladies of almost all religious and other rituals.
    But a new face of Hindu Religion is already emerging. Initially Gods too were created by Brahmins but these gods were not for them – they were for others and the ‘others’ too had to reach gods place through Brahmins only. Now at least all the gods are accessible by all in the society.
    The civil society, if at all conscious about the development taking place at the social level must do everything to facilitate refabricating the social order as per the ethos and need of the present socioreligious needs. Religions too improve it’s character to include in it the new emerging tenets. No religion can be rigid and conservative. It has to be dynamic and liberal. Hindu religious order has to be rewritten – by neo Manus of the society!

  16. The fact is bramins and most of the upper caste people do not undertake such hard work like kanvari taking. In fact, they need not. Therfore, one finds large population of dalits and OBCs in such rituals. They undertake these rituals to fulfill their vow(Mannath). This they do despite the fact that Hinduism is not an inclusive religion. Their faith in Hinduism has made them bear with the inhuman treatment Hinduism has meted out to them. So. there is no sound point in the argument of Mr.Guru Prasad.

    • Shameful and partial writing with lack of groundwork before reporting.
      Editors are to be equally blaimed for publishing such article

  17. More and more communal and divisive content is being published on ThePrint. I am surprised that Shekhar Gupta’s leadership is allowing this on ThePrint. Well, I might have wrongly understood Shekhar Gupta.

    • It is a wonderful article by Mondal ji. The servants of Hinduism cannot digest blame on them. This kind of articles based on social research must be continued. Well done The Print.

  18. Dear The print
    Please go and fuck yourself for calling yourself as liberal and neutral media house

    The worst part is how you guys try to show yourselves as intellectuals without having any agenda but that remains exposed everytime when you come up with one such article

    Also an honest review you guys are not at all relevant and known in India so by using such gimmicks stop making attempts of being relevant
    I never had any political inclination but everytime you guys come up with such articles you make me go and vote for right wingers
    You guys should seriously analyse cause you guys suck on almost every agenda you work

  19. Being tolerant and being inclusive are two different things. A religion which tolerates people to worship different gods cannot nessarily be inclusive like those religions which condemn such tolerance as ignorance and want all to accept their view of the only god they worship as the truth. The inclusiveness of such religion is restricted to only those who accept their view and anybody expressing slightest difference is condemned and ostracized. A vivid example is the state of Ahmadia sect in Islam. Even the Sunni Shia divide does not show inclusiveness. Compare this animosity of the followers of wo sects of the same religion with those in the different sects of Hindu religion.
    The upper castes and lower castes may not enjoy same social status but that is partially due to cultural and economic differences, not due to intolerance.
    So the issue is what is preferable: tolerance with diversity in social hierarchy or inclusiveness by denying freedom to differ in religious beliefs and exhibiting extreme intolerance?

  20. Aacharya Sanjay Prasad Dwivedi Pandit of all 18 books of Hindu scriptures says Brahmans have devised different gods for non Brahmans where Brahmans rarely go. Gods like bramha, Vishnu,ganapati, Saraswati etc are favorites of Brahmans. He has put full details of his education and final part of directions for brahman Pandit on internet wherein he says orders are that non Brahmans are to be kept engaged in rituals of several gods round the year.

  21. Good but where had your stats gone the day when have posted that 50percent of suicide case in iits are of st sc and obc

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