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Signpost
Victimhood Contest-III 
By M. Zeyaul Haque

If we focus too closely on past victims of history, it is only natural that we would
fail to notice today's victims

M. Zeyaul HaqueThe Black American claim to victimhood is no less worthy of recognition than the Jewish claim, for quite obvious reasons. Jews have got substantial reparations for losses in Nazi depredations, but nobody has even thought of compensating Blacks for the cruelties inflicted on them during slavery, and for indignities heaped upon the descendants of slaves till date. One gets to have some idea of the extent of brutalization of Negro slaves in America through literary works like Harriet Becher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Jews never had to undergo such soul-destroying experiences. No wonder some pious white women in the 19th century America believed that Blacks had no soul. Another touching account can be found in Alex Hailey's Roots.

In the classic Huckleberry Finn the young Huck recounts a recent picnic to an old, pious aunt. The lady asks whether something went wrong at the picnic, to which Huck replies casually: ‘Nothing. Only we shot dead a Nigger.’ The lady heaves a sigh of relief and thanks God that ‘nothing’ untoward happened. ‘Sometimes `people' get hurt in such outings’, she says. The Negro shot dead is ignored like a rattlesnake killed as a matter of fact. The ‘people’ about whose safety the lady is concerned are the Whites, those with souls. Negroes do not have souls and are no ‘people’. The story is similar in today's Mid-East: Israeli Jews are ‘people’, Palestinians are not. We can as well proclaim, ‘Palestinians have no soul’.

These people without souls, whose fathers and grandfathers are buried in Jerusalem and Bethlehem have no right to return to the land they have inhabited for five thousand years, while those whose fathers and grandfathers have been buried in Prague and Budapest have a right to return. Why? Because Jews have souls, Palestinians don't.

Punching a big hole in the myth about Palestine being the eternal home of Jews, historian HG Welles remarked that Canaanites (Palestinians) were there for two thousand years when Jews went there with Moses (peace be upon him). And the Palestinians remained there for another 2500 years after Jews were driven out by Romans. Despite that Palestinians driven out by Zionism in 1948 have no right to return home while Jews whose claim to the land is far more weaker have got the right. Still Jews claim to be the sole victim of history.

The fact remains that in the march of history many races, ethnic and caste groups have been hit hard and trampled over. All these groups nurse a feeling of collective hurt. The nationalists of the Balkans have a grouse against each other and Turks for historical wrongs (and recent atrocities), the Basques have a grouse against Spain, the remaining Aborigines of Australia and the Red Indians of America have a deep sense of hurt against White settlers for their genocide.

Nearer home, the Sangh combine has assiduously built in Hindus over the last 50 years a sense of hurt. The Sangh intensified its campaign in 1984 with special yatras and other embellishments. To sink the massage deeper Sadhvi Rithambara challenged Hindus to come up against Muslims. If they failed, she said, the Hindus would remain napunsak (impotent). Such challenge to Hindu virility from a woman was bound to inflame hidden anti-Muslim passions, and we saw the result on December 6, 1992 in Ayodhya and elsewhere. The violence unleashed in Ayodhya spread to Pakistan and Bangladesh and took months to contain. Exaggerated feelings of victimhood can be highly disruptive for normal life. 

Then we have the more legitimate grievance of Dalits (literally, the crushed) against high caste Hindus for having brutalized them for the last 5000 years. Men like Baba Phule, Naicker and Ambedker have articulated and recorded the monumental injustice heaped upon Dalits over millennia as Dalit poets and writers have narrated the pain and sorrow of being a Dalit. There are scholars who see a parallel between Dalits and American Blacks. In fact, men like VT Rajshekher, editor of Dalit Voice, see not only a parallel between the Dalit and Black American experience, but postulates some kind of racial and ethnic connection between the two. After the Black Panthers of America, Dalits formed Dalit Panthers in the 1970s.

That the denigration and marginalization of Dalits at all levels continues is evident from a reading of Arun Shourie's Worshipping False Gods in which he tries to snatch away the last possession Dalits have -- their just pride in Baba Sahab Bhim Rao Ambedker. 
Shourie tries to tarnish Ambedker's image by painting him as a British stooge who was not greatly interested in national independence. The fact remains that Ambedkar did think of transfer of power from British to Indian hands as mere change of masters. Between the two masters -- high caste Hindu and British -- Ambedker preferred the British because they had offered them education and emancipation while traditional Hinduism denied them the right to acquire knowledge and the right to seek spiritual salvation through religious pursuit.

Shourie went a step further and even tried to downplay the role of Ambedker in the making of India's Constitution. Shourie, a committed saffronite intellectual spearhead of Hindutva movement, was denigrating Ambedker at a time when the RSS was extending a grudging recognition to Ambedker. While the RSS was officially ‘recognizing’ Ambedker as a figure of national importance (with an eye on enlisting Dalit support to its programmes), one of its henchmen (Shourie) was busy demolishing Ambedker. True to RSS style of working, the two seemingly contradictory actions were going on together.

Hurt at this act of high-caste highhandedness, SK Biswas, an Ambedkerite bureaucrat, hit back with a 372-page tome, Gods, False Gods and Untouchables, in which he argued that the higher castes had brutalized Dalits for five thousand years and they were still busy doing the same. Biswas attacked the Brahminical religion which sanctioned and sustained the most inhuman practices against Dalits. Because Ambedker wanted to break this vicious cycle of caste oppression, he was attacked as a ‘false god’.
Ambedker was so deeply hurt at the iniquitous system that he declared in anguish: ‘I was born a Hindu, but I will not die a Hindu.’ He kept his vow by embracing Buddhism with a large number of his followers towards the end of his life.

Ambedker's sense of hurt and humiliation never left him as he was consistently denied equality even by high caste menial workers, though he was one of the most highly educated Indians of his time. Nobody let out his house to him on rent only because he was a Dalit. Even when he was holding very high offices, his own peons of higher caste, instead of giving office files to him, disrespectfully threw such files at his table. This is a common complaint of Ambedkerites.

Perhaps the Dalit claim to victimhood is far more worthy of consideration (and compensation) than any other group's. Ambedkerites like Biswas complain that Islam, which enjoins upon its followers to come to the aid of the oppressed, failed to help Dalits in India because the Muslim ruling elite allowed the oppressive Brahminical order to ride rough shod over Dalits. The Muslim rulers did it in the mistaken belief that they were following a policy of non-interference in religious affairs by allowing the Hindu society to retain its Brahminical order.

Over the years Ambedker has emerged as the main focus of Dalit struggle for equity. Biswas attacks Shourie's heroes like Vivekanand, Ram Mohan Roy and Dyanand Saraswati for their numerous failings and for their being symbols of the Brahminical project of Dalit oppression. Biswas includes Gandhi as well among these people though the Mahatma has only recently been adopted by the Sangh for purely strategic considerations. Biswas quotes Gandhiji's stand in defence of caste system. The Mahatma went as far as to declare that '...abolishing caste would be abolishing Hinduism’.

Biswas, like most Ambedkerites believes that Brahmanism is a racist doctrine and varna dharma (caste system) is nothing but racism. Incidentally, varna means skin colour, and higher castes happen to be a little fairer than Dalits, who are usually darker. This is why the Brahmanical obsession with Aryan descent is galling to Dalits who often take the Black races as their racial cousins and sympathize with disadvantaged groups like American Blacks. It is interesting to note that even AL Basham, who was extremely sympathetic to India, describes varna in his The Wonder that was India as an old form of apartheid.

Ambedker's disagreement with the Hindu religion was so radical that for him there was no way of reconciliation. Hinduism's salient and distinguishing features like Karma, by which Hindu thinkers had set a great store, were pointed out by Ambedker as precisely the sources from which the tormentors of Dalits drew their sustenance. For instance, Karma says that whatever we are in this life, we are because of what we did in a previous life. From this stand point, the miseries of Dalits in this life are because of their bad deeds in the previous life. 
Ambedker said this philosophy blamed the victim and was thus morally deficient.
Ambedker was deeply stung by the caste-imposed restrictions on Dalits and their ruthless enforcement down the ages. In the Mahabharata, the thumb of the Dalit Eklavya was cut off because he had broken the taboo on Dalits against learning martial arts. Eklavya had learnt archery. Ambedker was permanently scarred by the narrative of Shri Ramchandraji beheading a Dalit boy, Shambuk, for meditating because Dalits were not supposed to step into spiritualism, a field left open for Brahmins and other high castes. Dalits were only supposed to serve the upper castes and, as per Manu's Law, molten lead had to be poured into a Dalit's ears if he or she inadvertently or knowingly heard the words of scriptures. Eklavya and Shambuk were punished harshly because they had broken the caste rules.
Ambedker was convinced that Hinduism was innately incompatible with ideas of social equality and he and other Dalits would never be treated as equals with high caste Hindus. To him the only way of Dalit emancipation would be walking out of the Hindu fold, which he finally did.

The feeling of victimhood is very deep-seated, rankles in the heart for hundreds of years, for generation after generations, and is firmly embedded in historical memory of victimized groups. As we have already noticed, the Jews are not the only group to have such feeling of collective hurt.
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