Dalits are openly pronouncing their anguish against the Varna system and the innate discrimination in Hinduism against Dalits and other backward castes. It was only a few weeks ago when Ram Raj, or Udit Raj converted with a large number of Dalits to Buddhism in a grand ceremony in New Delhi. Thousands more followed in another ceremony in Bulandshahar. And soon it is going to be followed in another conversion ceremony in Kerala.
It is only the tip of an iceberg of the simmering discontent among the Dalits and other backward castes in the country. They feel betrayed, cheated and marginalized by the upper caste Hindus. And they are not taking it like sitting ducks any more. They are showing their angst openly out of frustration suffered for centuries. In the given environment, the book under review could have never been more timely.
Though it was meant to be a reply to an absurd allegation levelled against Muslims by Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Ashok Singhal, who tried to turn the whole anti-upper caste tide against Muslims by saying that it were not upper caste Hindus but Muslims who created the whole caste based problems for untouchables. This allegation is nothing amazing when seen in the light of facts that these people have tried on many occasions to make others look responsible for their shortcomings, malaise and crimes. What Singhal said in a press conference was aimed to change a historical fact and something that is etched deep in the Hindu psyche and is ordained by Hindu scriptures so obviously and so many times. This Varna system has also been imposed on the Indian society by upper caste Hindus for thousands of years and Dalits have always been at the receiving end.
The book aimed to answer the allegation turns out to be a masterpiece on the subject that forced a number of Dalit intellectuals and other historians to admit that they were pleasantly surprised to know that the masterpiece had come not from any Dalit intellectual or any historian, but a Muslim author. The book has received accolades from all quarters. The author has also been praised for the fact that he has not played with the facts, and has not written anything out of his own thought but has proved every aspect of the malaise from Hindu scriptures themselves. The author says in the beginning that he decided not to write anything from his own thoughts on the issue, and it is surprising how he kept his words till the last para of the book.
The author has posed some questions in the beginning of this masterpiece and has then systematically answered his own questions. These questions include, whose religious scriptures say that Dalits were born from Brahmas feet?, who banned Dalits from getting education?, who established the rule of their living away from population centres?, who forced them to walk on roads barefoot and carry pots in their necks to spit in it if they wanted to?, who tried to keep away from their unclean shadows?, who forced them to stage protests for being debarred from drinking water from ponds?, can any Dalit dare drink water from any pond in high caste Hindu areas?, whose religious places are still closed for Dalits?, who had closed gates for great Dalit thinker Ravidas from entering Vishwanath temple in Varanasi?, who had suggested harsh punishments for Dalits and soft punishments for upper caste people for the same crimes?, and numerous other questions concerning the oppression of Dalits for thousands of years.
He expresses surprise over the fact that Varna system or caste based discrimination system that can be called the eighth wonder of the world is still so fervently being followed. The author says that the varna system is based on teachings of Vedas that date back to 1500-500BC. He concludes that the verna system was conceived in Vedic age and it was further developed by Brahmin writers who prescribed the rights and duties of the four groups which are the products of this system. He says that even great liberator of the society like Mahatama Gandhi, who is against untouchability, doesn’t find anything wrong in the caste system.
The book clearly shows as to how pathetic the situation has been for Dalits for the last thousands of years who have been at the receiving end in this brutal practice. Umpteen passages from Vedas and other Hindu scriptures, quoted to show how Hinduism had tried to validate the caste-based discrimination, make everything obvious and leave little for the author to say on the issue.
The book also discusses as to how the untouchables were created. A passage quoted from a book, Hindu Videshi Hain by SL Sagar says, ‘these were the people who directly fought the Aryans. These were the army men. When they were defeated they were given meanest works to do out of revenge. Then they were proclaimed untouchables, and again given mean works to do. ’The author also says that the untouchables, or Dalits are not Hindus and goes on to prove that even they do not consider themselves as part of Hindu society. He says that when asked, if untouchables are Hindus, people on some basis or the other try to prove that they are Hindus. Some say that whoever is born in India is Hindu and so untouchables too are Hindus. But the author says that their argument cannot be acceptable as these people do not call Muslims as Hindus who too are born in India. He says that Muslims, Christians and Sikhs too are born born in the country but they are not accepted as Hindus. He adds that untouchables are not Hindus on any ground and goes on to prove that in principle if untouchables are taken as Hindus where caste system is a part of the religion then no untouchable will be prepared to accept such religion. He says that the argument cited by some that they pray same gods and goddesses and so they are Hindus is also misplaced. The author infers that as untouchables cannot perform religious rites under Hinduism, they cannot be called Hindus. Hindus and untouchables do not perform religious rites together.
The author also questions the belief that socially untouchables are a part of Hindu society. ‘Is there any human relationship that could prove that they are part of Hindu society?’, the author asks. Not to talk of having any relationship with untouchable, Hinduism even bars touching any untouchable, the author says and concludes that Hindus and untouchables are way apart and this system proves it amply.
The book also gives account as to how the Hindu religion invented ways to exploit untouchables and how it continues even now. Not to talk of the denial of fundamental rights of today to them, they were not even accepted as human beings by the Hindu society. The book gives a detailed account of the ways invented to perpetuate their collective social, moral and economic exploitation and how their girls were forced to submit themselves for carnal desires of Hindu priests in the form of Devdasis. The system continues even now and so the denial of rights to them and their oppression.
It is a magnificent book and a must read for everyone who is interested in Dalits, untouchables and the history of their oppression. The book gives much more than one can desire and is also very beautifully laid out. q