The Casting of Caste: A rebuttal to RSS propaganda

By Rajat Kain,

A little over 4 months of Modi led-BJP govt and its spokespersons are clear on a singular lucid task of publicising ‘economic achievements in a small time’, string of ‘unprecedented’ diplomatic moves and the follow-ups resulting into rare ‘deals’ right in the interest of the nation. This besides the string of other initiatives and sundry state tasks, including those faint skirmishes with judiciary making the incumbent Chief Justice of India stressing on the independence of institutions on tad occasions more than once.

However, what has set apart this BJP government from the one in the past seems to be a meticulous arrangement of dichotomies. Not a day has passed in the last 40 odd, when the term ‘Love Jihad’ hasn’t made to the news space, smaller or alarming proportion. Cadres of the Syndicated Sangh that covers the canvass from the party spokespersons to the legislators (and not just Adityanath) to the state cadres, youth wings and other by-arms of the RSS like VHP , Bajrang Dal and other ‘manch’ of the RSS have all come to add to the chatter and propaganda of a dangerous preposition. Yet the response from the Central govt and its officers has been that of a stark silence, including that of the Prime Minister Modi. Not surprising amidst all the screams of ‘Love Jihad’ and ‘reconversion’ of some members of the Jatav sub-caste of Scheduled Castes by the members of BJP and RSS, the PM was lending praise to the minority community in an interview to one overseas press.

Is RSS and BJP designing to swell by stoking enmity between the subaltern caste sections and the muslims?


The latest in this scheme to attract the subaltern castes, Dalits in particular, is a theory propounded by the RSS that Dalits being dalits are due to the atrocities of Muslim invaders. What they refer to are the invasions that began with the late 12th century sacking of Delhi region by Muhammed Shihab-ud-din of Ghur, establishing the foundation stone of Delhi Sultanate ruled over for more than a century by the Slave dynasty. Off course, as the history testifies, the Turko-Persians inhabited northern India with ‘invasions’ by Mongol Timurs, Pathan Suris, Sayyeds and Lodhis and offcourse the powerful Timur-Chagtai clan of Zahir-ud-din Muhammed Babur establishing the Mughal empire on the subcontinent.

It is here that RSS attempts to sow the phoney thesis of Castes coming into existence due to the atrocities of foreign (read muslim) invaders. In a recently concluded in-house conclave of ‘historians’, RSS chieftains read over the preface of three books concerning the subaltern castes. It goes on to say that the concept of caste didn’t exist in ‘Hindu’ religion earlier and most importantly, the dining choices of the foreign invaders forced Hindus corrupt their ‘caste’ and become Dalits. One of the speakers in RSS conclave, its no-2 in rank fold Bhaiyyaji Joshi goes on to say, “To violate Hindu swabhiman (dignity) of Chanwarvanshiya Kshatriyas, foreign invaders from Arab, Muslim rulers and beef-eaters, forced them to do abominable works like killing cows, skinning them and throwing their carcasses in deserted places. Foreign invaders thus created a caste of charma-karma (dealing with skin) by giving such works as punishment to proud Hindu prisoners.”

Surely, this view of history, if at all existed, is yet to be explored. Though, at best it is just a counterfeit corpus created by the RSS to seek political benefits. And it needs a befitting reply.

I am dealing with two main arguments. One, the transformation of societies from Indus-valley to later in a very, very and very brief write-up. And second, the relationship between the societies of Indian sub-continent with those of the ‘foreigners’.

To begin with, the word Hindu was a geographical and not religious term till good 14th century AD. For the best part of more than 2000 years, as Romila Thapar explains in ‘The Past as Present (2014, Aleph)’, the references to the region were made in the context of the river Indus, which was termed as Sindhu in Vedic Sanskrit. But with the region becoming a border realm of Archaemenid Empire of Iran around 500 BC, it began to be referred as Hinosh for the speakers of Old Persian replaced the ‘s’ sound of Vedic Sanskrit Sindhu with ‘h’ and, later the Greek travellers revised it further in their language as Indos. So, the concept of ‘Hindu’ being a term depicting a vast canvass of an old egalitarian religion doesn’t hold merit. The Indus-valley, which came into existence in 3rd millennium BC was a pre-Vedic settlement with some of its mode of communications and pictorial signs yet to be deciphered. There are however, arguments that doesn’t discount the possibility of Dravidian speaking people having its origin from this settlement apart from their romantic claims of origin from a mythical extinct continent Lemuria. It needs to be stressed that a segmentation on the basis of caste was absent in Indus-valley society as per readings of various history scientist (the term I prefer to use for the historians, archaeologists, linguist, philologists and other social scientists combined). The settlement covered between the Pamirs (now central Russian region) in north, ending at now northern Maharashtra region and stretching between Balochistan in the west to Doab area in the east.

The Indus-valley cities, however, declined around early 2nd millennium BC. The reasons best attributed for the decline are massive flooding of Mohenjon-daro with the change of the course of rivers Hakra (now extinct) and Sutlej. Fast forward to around 1400 BC, an era which Vedic texts claims depicting an agro-pastoral tribal society. Texts that forms the very basis of an ‘ideal society’ propagated by the RSS and its ilk. History scientists explain that this society was starkly different from Indus-valley in its dwelling nature and lacked a language script. It is here when Aryan speaking migrant community began its settlement. The settlers who came through the expanses between Siestan area and a present day Wakhan corridor, marks of the texts in Vedic Sanskrit that bears a canny similarity with Old Iranian Avesta. It is here that the fragmentation of society appears for the first time. The Indo-Aryan society, as the claims made through the interpretation of the texts written in Vedic Sanskrit, had the composition of communities namely Aryas, Dasas, Mleccha and others. Interestingly, the term Deva and Asura makes to the text. As per various ‘religious texts’ so devoutedly propagated by the RSS, here the differences were marked between a Sanskrit speaking group (Arya, Deva) and non-Sanskrit speakers (Dasa, Mlechhas and Asuras).

Thus began the fragmentation which few centuries later gave way to the caste based segmentation. As the Vedic society was devoid of any structured tax system, the mention of caste vis-a-vis subjugation was still absent. It was the transformation of a tribal Vedic society to a feudal Puranic society when the caste gets an occupational identity in ‘religious texts’. This transformation of Vedic to Puranic also bore impact on the deities as Vedic ‘gods’ Mitra, Varuna, Indra and Agni gave way to PuranicDattatreya (the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), Krishna, Ram, Durga etc. Further, the tax system became more rigid giving rise to the peasant economy where mention of Dasa-Bhritika and Kassaka is self-explanatory of subjugation and servitude afflicted on a particular section. This was coupled with an organised system of liturgy with idol worship and establishment of temples. Temples, where the access was governed by the caste order, a tradition which is still prevalent in some ‘tourist spots’. Also, more texts like Arthashatramentions of the Shudra cultivators settled by the state on a waste land. Thus, giving Shudra a distinct identity of an outcaste.

However, the history scientists explains that the evolution of a caste system was not that simplistic and was due to various intermingling factors ranging from the natures of marriages, occupations, rituals, access to resources, economy of labour supply and off course allegiance in an ideological context. The last being rabidly used by the elements of the RSS in its propagation of Hindutva and justification of caste order. But now they attempt to induce the same subalterns in their fold which they had long segmented and subjugated. It is important here to note that lot of texts which forms the core of Hindu religion were only penned in later 1st millennium AD…good 2500 years after they were claimed to have been ‘preserved and passed on carefully’. One study throws an interesting light over the differences in the values of similar sounding words in Vedic-Sanskrit and Iranian Avestas post the penning of orally preserved passages or Vedas. For example, Deva and Asura termed as deities and demons respectively in Sanskrit, have a role reversal in Avesta, with Deva being a demon and Ahura (Asura, with ‘s’ replaced by ‘h’) being the deity.

Now, a bit on second argument. The relationships between the ‘Indian’ societies with the ‘foreigners’. There was, undoubtedly, a contact between the post Indus-valley people and Old Persians in the Oxus plains. There were great trade relations with NO evidence of any hostility deciphered thus far by any historical preserve. The expression of ethnic terms like Turushkas for Turks, Yavanas and Shakas for Greek does points to a contact between various civilisations and a rather non-hostile and lucrative one. Therefore, the RSS hypothesis of ‘Bharatvarsha’ being under recurrent invasions from ‘outsiders’ that gives them traction to blame outsiders and especially the Muslims for all ills can easily be contested and defeated. What the ‘historians’ of RSS fails to read or conveniently overlook is an intense enmity and persecutions among various heterodox religious sects across the land. Beginning with the major sect of Brahamanas and Shramanas (Jain and Buddhist monks), as Thapar points out of various Asoka era edicts where the Emperor is constantly refraining and issuing pleas to maintain calm among the two. Similarly, the later Shivaite sects’ persecution of Jains, hostility between the Dasnamis and Vairagis for the control of Kumbh and also, the lootings of various temples by the Hindu rulers for purely economic reasons. How conveniently they chose to overlook or bury the statements of Kalhana in the write-ups of Rajatarangini that Harshdeva, an 11th century king from Kashmir, looted temples to cover up the treasury losses. Clearly, a singular religious community depicting no hostility between the castes and any regional or linguistic lines was absent in early India.

There are various arguments put forth from historians to social scientists terming the caste system as the one initiated by the few ‘upper caste’ to maintain their supremacy in rituals and trade. The system provided a subjugated labour for few to assert a continuity of their rule. As S.K. Biswas in ‘Gods, False-Gods & the Untouchables (1998, Orion)’ points out to the emphasis laid by the upper-caste Shastras on Swadharma, which is the tenet of basic rights in one’s caste and governing an order where the caste rights were non-crossable and were subject to strict adherence. Biswas further states that “the lower caste people were made to believe the theory of getting liberated from the divine slavery in the next birth by remaining a slave with absolute devotion in present life”.

To sum up, the self-proclaimed chieftains of Hinduism (many of whom populate the shakhas and shikhars of RSS) never initiated any reforms to disband the system of caste or varna or a jati. And if now, for some reason, they chose to address the hideous and inhuman caste system/order they must come up with a way of correction of the interpretation concerning the varna/jati/caste in those ‘holy’ texts and not corruption of the history and its proven narratives to further their convenience of dichotomies.

The author is former journalist turned story teller.


Leave a Reply