If the Sangh Parivar has vigorously worked its way into an Ambedkarite bastion like Maharashtrian Dalits and put forth its Bhimshakti-Shivshakti campaign—which resembles unfortunately, an ad for a popular detergent—a Hindutvaization, that is even more shocking has been taking place in the land of Periyar, Tamil Nadu. The Sangh Parivar which currently uses the religion of the majority as its mobilization potential has no qualms about using caste in the same manner. As long as there is the possibility of a vote-bank involved, one can expect the Sangh to stand at the forefront. Recently, human rights organiza- tions in the state had to work hard to prevent the VHP International general secretary Praveen Togadia from participating in a Thevar (a land-owning OBC oppressor caste in Tamil Nadu) conference in Madurai where he intended to distribute trishuls apart from delivering his customarily hateful speeches. Look at who the natural allies of the Sangh Parivar are: oppressor castes who have a documented history of sexually exploiting Dalit women and have been the cause for a great number of caste-clashes in the southern districts in the state.
Or, take for instance one of the most anti-Dalit Hindutva measures of our time: The State Government of Tamil Nadu, ruled then by a so-called Dravidian Party, the AIADMK, promulgated the Prohibition of ‘Forcible’ Religious Conversion Act in October 2002. In theory this Act, enshrined with stringent penalty measures prohibits anyone from ‘forcibly’ converting Dalits and women; those doing so would be fined up to one lakh rupees and face up to four years of imprisonment. In practice, sections of this law can be twisted to penalize anyone who converts from Hinduism. Leaders like Ambedkar and Periyar declared that the only solution to the problem of Untouchability was to quit the Hindu religion and embrace another religion. As per his declaration, Ambedkar along with millions of his followers converted to Buddhism on 14 October 1956. But today, in Tamil Nadu, Hindutva has per- meated to the extent that Dalits have even been denied the right to quit the religion that subordinates and oppresses them.
Now, it becomes clear that what is scintillatingly masqueraded as Hindu revivalism is in fact a Hindutva imposition. These anti- conversion legislations of the state governments (Gujarat government followed the Tamil Nadu example), are a bid to keep the Dalits forcefully and legally within the Hindu fold. This is done as a next step to the already existing practice where Dalits lose their reservation benefits when they leave the Hindu religion. Further, patriarchal and tyrannical Hindutva, not being pleased with just restraining Dalits and ensuring the continuation of their slavery; has also taken the diabolical step of clubbing together women. There are chances that sections of this act could be misutilized to prevent Hindu women from marrying those outside their religion and which could transform into a surefire way to guarantee the end of inter-religious love marriages. Thus, it has to be noted that the anti-conversion laws specifically target not only Dalits, but also women. As a result, one needs to lay emphasis that combating Hindutva—whose primary aim (as in the ancient times) harbours on the preservation of purity— requires not only a secular and Dalitist/anti-caste approach, but also a feminist understanding.
This consolidation of Hinduism in the state was followed by a government direction that banned animal sacrifice in temples across the state, and therefore paved the way for the brahminization of all the temple rituals. This act of banning of animal sacrifice in temples, removed the non-vegetarian (and consequently, non-Brahmin elements) out of worship. With a single stroke of legislation, the pro- Hindutva government of Tamil Nadu decreed and converted the diet of the gods. Overnight blood-thirsty and malevolent gods and goddesses were forced into becoming timid vegetarians. Maariamma and Karuppu, and a host of village gods could no longer demand roosters and goats. The Madras High Court, to add hunger and insult to injury, suggested that as substitute rituals to animal sacrifice, pumpkin could instead be smashed and lemons be cut. Now, in the anti-Brahmin heartland, there goes on a catastrophic brahminization on the fast track. With the worst ever electoral drubbing in its history, the AIADMK that lost all the forty seats in the 2004 General Elections has withdrawn the anti-conversion and anti-animal slaughter acts, as tempestuously as these were introduced.
In a state known for its rationalist self-respect movement, the rise of the Hindutva forces is due to the degeneracy of the Dravidian movement. The opportunist tendencies of the Dravidian parties have opened the state for an infiltration by Hindutva forces. The percolation of this slow poison is having its consequent effects. As in other states, the Hindutva forces have registered a partial victory, in mobilizing and recruiting Dalits, by making use of the splits and factions within the Dalit movement itself. Here is an example of what Hindutva’s divide and rule policy could orchestrate: After the bill banning conversions became law, a Dalit organization based in Chennai planned a campaign tour all over Tamil Nadu to protest against the law and to bring awareness among the Dalits that they were not Hindus at all. Infuriated by this, the very Hindutva forces that were instrumental in bringing about the ban, funded some breakaway faction of Dalits, and this faction, with the ‘blessings’ of the Kanchi Shankaracharya, embarked on a simultaneous tour propagating to the Dalits that the ‘need to return to their thaimadham [lit. mother religion]: Hinduism’! I want also to record another instance that my activist friends and I have been discussing. Hindutva forces in the state, shaken and agitated by Dalit awakening and assertion, have started to undertake counter-campaigns in all possible ways. Because the Hindutva gang felt that the Tamil Dalit leader Thirumaavalavan’s name had found its way on too many walls, it funded opportunist and breakaway Dalits to whitewash those walls and instead inscribe their names there. The climax of this narrative is that these opportunist and ideology-lacking Dalits have been asked to paint ‘Swamiji Varugirar’ [lit. the ‘Swamiji Is Coming’] on the walls in Dalit localities and ghettos. For centuries, no Shankaracharya has ever ventured into any Dalit ghetto, because it would be ‘polluting’ to him. Though it is written so, when shall this celibate monk, the Kanchi Shankaracharya, finally come? What the Hindutva has partially succeeded in doing is to exploit every single avenue of encroachment in order to saffronize Dalits. Such political and ideological manipulations of the Dalit movement, has its consequent repercussions on the Dalit women too.
This excerpt from Hindutva and Dalits: Perspectives for Understanding Communal Praxis, edited by Anand Teltumbde, has been published with permission from Sage Publications.