This volume of essays, published by Penguin, is a part of the Rethinking India series by the Samruddha Bharat Foundation, started with the objective to critically think structural transformations in India’s social, economic and political paradigms, while taking cognisance of its diverse identities. The essays contained in the volume edited by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd and Karthik Raja Karuppusamy, examine the issues concerning the “Shudras” as a complex category, which is defined as “the numerous productive castes which have historically built the material basis of our civilization, yet have been marginalized in terms of the power- and knowledge-sharing arrangement in the Brahminical order.” The volume probes the needs and aspirations of Shudras, Dalits, Adivasis and women, and is a sharp comment on how the discriminations faced by the said communities that have stalled the possibility of a progressive transformation of Indian society.
Here is an extract from the volume, where Pallikonda Manikanta interrogates how the ‘enemy image’ is constructed against Dalits, Muslims and Christians through the discourse propounded by the Brahminical RSS, extending his insights to the recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Shudras and the Enemy Image of Others
Shudras constantly get instigated by the Hindutva parivar to endorse the othering of Muslims and Christians. Shudras respond and participate in physical violence against these communities since structures under the control of Muslim and Christian elites too never aided in providing them with education and employment. There is a systemic disconnect between the institutional arrangements of these two communities and Shudras. Either because of existential fear or convenience, the Muslim and Christian ruling elite, during Muslim rule and British rule, respectively, helped Brahmin–Banias in education, employment and cultural engagement.
Though the economy that the British exploited was built by Shudras, they gave better positions to Brahmins–Banias during their rule. The colleges and universities that the British built were populated by Brahmins and Banias, and Shudras were forced to remain illiterate.
Brahmins–Banias benefited the most during British rule as they became better educated in English-medium schools. Some of them got education in the Persian language also. That education helped them become leaders in pre- and post- Independence India. At least Dalits became aware of this fact because of Babasaheb Ambedkar. But no such thinker- philosopher emerged even from feudal Shudra families.
Also, since Islam is projected as a Middle Eastern foreign religion and Christianity as a British colonial religion, Shudras bought into the Muslim other image very easily. They treated whatever the pandit told them as true, including their subordinate status.
CAA and NRC Controversy
By the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, India witnessed massive civil resistance. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the BJP-led government in 2019 engendered nationwide protests cutting across religion, caste, gender and political parties. Police firings, lathi charges, Internet bans, imposition of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and arrests of innocent people became a systemic normal. More than twenty persons were shot dead by the police in BJP-ruled states.
The Hindutva parivar has created an image of the Muslim other and used the muscle power and self-consciousness of Shudras against Muslims in India. Shudras, more so the OBCs, are likely to be lured towards such thinking because they are not aware of the international opinion on minority cleansing and its dire consequences. During these mass movements, the RSS–BJP stood on one side and the other sociopolitical forces on the other side. The BJP took several radical steps which fuelled tension along communal lines after they came to power in 2014, and continued to take further aggravating steps after winning the elections in 2019. The RSS–BJP operates under the Hindu/ Hindutva spiritual rubric, both of which are Brahmin–Bania- controlled structures. Though Kshatriyas have some place in these structures, the main driving forces are Brahmins and Banias.
Shudras in general and OBCs in particular, without understanding the long-term design of Brahmins–Banias, lend their muscle power and also vote power to the RSS–BJP with a view that the anti-Muslim position is to their advantage. But the ninety-five-year existence of the RSS and its functioning did not prove that. It did not alter the Brahmin–Bania monopoly and control of Indian institutions in any form. Shudra liberation in spiritual and social fields remains a distant goal. Unfortunately, Shudras are not aiming for socio-spiritual liberation from the grip of Brahmins–Banias as they have not yet imagined that their liberation is possible.
Shudra communities of all regions are not allowed to occupy the main Hindu theological structures, including priesthood. No Shudra can head a Hindu mutt, including the Krishna temple of Mathura, even though Lord Krishna himself has a Shudra background. Though Mahatma Jyotirao Phule initiated a philosophical discourse for their empowerment and emancipation, they did not understand the main message of the English-language education both Phule and his wife Savitribai Phule—who was the first woman teacher—gave in their lifetime.
Hence, using this situation of mental slavery of the OBCs and non-OBC Shudras, the Hindutva parivar is aggressively manufacturing a monolithic Hindu identity which is against minorities, especially Muslims, by systematically claiming the cultural injustice stance—that is, by showing Muslims and Christians as the other/invaders/enemies who suppressed or were trying to suppress the Hindu cultural and historical fabric of the nation.
Shudras and the RSS–BJP
Though the RSS–BJP stance is anti-Muslim, it adversely affects many other sections such as Shudras, Dalits, Adivasis and other minority religious groups like Christians, Sikhs and others. They first started the right-wing radical agenda of a beef ban with an idea called gau raksha (cow protection). This immediately affected the Dalit and Muslim food source and had a massive impact on the Shudra agrarian economy across the country. Cows, bulls and bullocks went out of market, which led to a huge loss for farming Shudras, Dalits and Adivasis. Their savings in the form of cattle were taken away by the goshala networks nurtured by RSS–BJP forces. They prospered with the freely accessed cattle wealth of farming communities. Many Muslims and Dalits were lynched, and often, it was Shudra muscle power deployed for the purpose.
Brahminism is more powerful today than ever before, with national power at its command and Shudra muscle power under their control. As long as Shudras have no intellectual power and don’t challenge Brahminism in its spiritual and sociocultural realm, it will not stop its exploitation of labour power. Right now, only a new Shudra consciousness can save India. A reformed Shudra consciousness should be able to offer equality to Dalits on the one hand and demand the same from Dwija castes. The RSS–BJP finds the self-negating consciousness of Shudras as very fertile ground to thrive in. Should Shudras remain in that condition and consciousness even in the twenty-first century?