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Hinduism and Casteism

This article which I originally linked on its own without realising it was an introduction to a republication of Ambedkar’s Anihilation of Caste, introduced me (raised Hindu in a diaspora) to Ambedkar and provided a reference to what I read about Gandhi in small South African print media or on various blogs. That said,it is appropriative of Ambedkar firstly because it introduces his book, and it is demeaning. If you must read only one criticism, I recommend Roundtable India’s.

Annihilation of Caste, by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, 1936 is freely available online (audio book). “Ambedkar’s writings are available online for free download at the Columbia university website. None of the Indian universities touched Ambedkar’s writings; they do not even think of hosting them on their websites. Ambedkar is still an untouchable for Indian universities and academicians.” Karthik Navayan

“Long before Nietzsche was born, Manu had proclaimed the gospel which Nietzsche sought to preach. It is a religion which is not intended to establish liberty, equality and fraternity. It is a gospel which proclaims the worship of the superman—the Brahamin—by the rest of the Hindu Society. It propounds that the superman and his class alone are born to live and to rule. Others are born to serve them, and to nothing more. They have no life of their own to live, and no right to develop their own personality. This has been the gospel of the Hindu Religion. Hindu philosophy, whether it is Vedanta, Sankhya, Nyaya, [or] Vaishashika, has moved in its own circle without in any way affecting the Hindu religion It has never had the courage to challenge this gospel. That Hindu philosophy that everything is Brahma remained only a matter of intellect. It never became a social philosophy. The Hindu philosophers had. both their philosophy and their Manu held apart in two hands, the right not knowing what the left had. The Hindu is never troubled by their inconsistency.” ~ B.R. Ambedkar

I grew up in a multi-ethnic society with an Indian majority, where the same Hindu caste (a fictitious caste Mr. Atma Doolooa’s research indicates but anyway major parties accept them as the leading caste and create alliances with them, campaign along with Hindu temples) is voted again and again to head parliament. Ambedkar’s words were, for me, “as though somebody had walked into a [stuffy] room and opened the windows”. Not ‘dim’, but ‘suffocating’ and with the stench from incense burning that also deprives one’s brain of oxygen.

By the way, incense (agarbatti) is rolled by the little hands of little children who later get diseases from doing this work, and I would guess the children are of the lowest caste/s or orphans. This is Hinduism, well, Brahminism. I’ve seen one brand of incense (from Auroville) stating ‘no-child-labour’ and never seen this disclaimer on others, which Hindus I know use, perhaps daily (temples use them all day). When folks go on pilgrimage in India why not go for surprise visits to incense factories to see their workforce instead of doing a corporate temples tour? Hindus I know use their fave incense because “they like it”, “it’s necessary”, or “it repels mosquitoes” (does it? for how long? why not put fly-screens on windows or burn dried lemons (Rodrigues could get a whole new industry) or citronella oil?). When they’re told it’s made by cruel child labour, they’d say ‘no it’s unlikely’ or ‘not in [insert their preferred incense’s place of origin]’. An online search on “child labour India” gives many results (academic and not) on the incense industry. An illustration of denialism among Hindus.

It seems that in Indian culture, one must to change from one religious institution to another to acceptably oppose or reject Brahminism (although Buddhism and Jainism are considered atheist, they are organised religions and in 2015 there was an Al-Jazeera documentary that showed conversion to Islam did not end casteism, to some extent it was in the Indian context). . There are rumours about the atheism of Periyar’s sympathisers associated with violence but there is so much to unpack about that it needs a new post now that I am more educated. Periyar had massive influence but here people have erased what he was really about. In Chennai they prevented tertiary students from having a reading/study group then there were protests from the students.

“The poor Harijans have no mind, no intelligence, no sense of difference between God and not God,” he explained to an aghast C. F. Andrews. To think that they could act as a group would be “absurd.” To the missionary John R. Mott, Gandhi insisted that untouchables lacked “the mind and intelligence to understand what you talked” and thus could never be the subjects of genuine conversion. “Would you preach the Gospel to a cow?” Gandhi asked, his full statement: “Would you preach the Gospel to a cow? Well, some of the untouchables are worse than cows in understanding. I mean they no more distinguish between the relative merits of Islam and Hinduism and Christianity than a cow.” After some of his missionary friends objected, Gandhi published an explanation of his comment. “I have no remorse about the propriety of the analogy. There could be no offence meant to Harijans because the cow is a sacred animal … That after a long course of training, Harijans can have their intelligence developed in a manner a cow’s cannot, is irrelevant to the present discussion.” “Discussion with John R. Mott” (1936) and “The Cow and the Harijan” (1937), in Gandhi, Collected Works, 70: 76–7 and 70: 258.

Passive aggressive or not, Brahminists are violent and not only one group somewhere. Praising Gandhi also entrenches that mindset. Buddhism is violent too – look at Myanmar, Sri Lanka or pedophile monks. And of course in Abrahamic religions, e.g. how widespread and condoned pedophilia has been in the Catholic Church. These happen within the religious institutions and there is at the very least apathy that enables it to go on.

Ahimsa, which seems irreconcilable with Brahminism, is borrowed from Buddhism, Ambedkar said. The concept originates from Jainism according to the Manimekhalai, it took me over 30 years to find the translation. While I can’t elaborate on this here, I must add: the concept of karma is an oppressive tool (often an excuse to condone violence or apathy, which I witnessed as being more common in ‘Hindu’ communities).

Hinduism is the umbrella term used for the different schools, including those I grew up getting familiar with, and what happens religiously in about all Indian ethnicities. What I was told about vedas, yoga or Tamil brahminist ritual, is Brahminism although some of it seem from Ajivikas. I learned that clans have become casts with Brahminic influence, and the uppermost caste is genetically more similar to Aryan Brahmins. Everyone but me in my biological family is Brahminist, and they are or have been in my extended family too even if they are multi-faith. There are Christians in my far extended family, not to do with opposing caste seemingly, then in Abrahamic religions too, classism is common? There is at least also a hierarchy of last names. So people would say caste is not relevant and there are intercaste marriages in my extended and nuclear family (but among other things, the wife wears the symbol of the husband’s caste/clan in gold hanging around her neck all her married life). When there are inter-ethnic marriages, the marriages were in part Brahminist ritual, or there was an acid attack on a spouse – perhaps a coincidence and not implying a generalisation.

It seemed, when I grew up here, that Mauritius has an established system of importing priests and other Brahmins then some travel to study priesthood or performing arts from Brahmins in India. The former marry Indian Indians, presumably Brahmins and I’m not aware of there being Brahmins from here, these are caste names I’d know (some names are familiar, some are perhaps fictitious as it is for North Indians – anyhow on this island some people seem to classify by asking one’s last name and asking where one stays or if one is related to X or Y but while the MGI is inhibiting access to records to the public, Hindu adults know, it’s encoded in last names even when they convert to something other than Islam). One tolerates casteism if one is to employ a priest for an event (i.e. employ a priest and they do for at least marriage, birth and death), and accept using new/reserved utensils for his food. Structurally, even the lowest castes are Brahminists if they are Hindus. They give their hard-earned money to temples on top of spending money on all the religious festivals they must partake in, to retain social capital and as mentioned above, they (as everyone else) help vote a Vaish male politician into power. Only a white man otherwise had nearly as much following. Whether one is Bahujan or Chamar or none, we always think there are only the 2 voting options. For the rest, it’s harder for lower castes to gain respectability or social acceptability and this country does run on nepotism e.g. one might seek a Hindu acquaintance to get one’s child into a better school, even a Catholic one (high chances of finding Hindus working there because of demographics so one would use that if they don’t know Catholics). I did not even know the people whom we visited once before claiming their address for public school re-enrollment, when we moved towns, and perhaps I visited them once again with Deepavali sweets or some such.

“Hitler is not a bad man” – Gandhi, 1940’s. Behind the little girl holding this poster is another one saying ‘Gandhi’s India Kills Minorities’. h/t Kim Katrin Milan, no other source specified.

There was a time when I didn’t think the level of oppressiveness of Brahminism is on par with that of others but I stay in a diaspora and I’m still figuring out how much I don’t know about what is allegedly my culture, after getting acquainted with 3 branches.

Like Mr. Doolooa, I hadn’t heard about Babasaheb Ambedkar and I discover crucial things online through the efforts of Dalit activists. I was told about the myth of polytheism and the various gods/ symbolism being representations of concepts and I read a few books or translations of various guru lineages – they are usually written by old Brahmin men. I have also heard of part of this history without it critiquing the caste system, but e.g. explaining Asuras/Ravanan and colourism. This is also linked to casteism. At my parents’ or in whatever Brahminist setting I knew, is preached the yoga concept that “thought is your enemy/ to be overcome” (except, of course, the thought of Brahmin book writers or scripture interpreters, their thought would’ve been purified and unified with Brahman :rolls eyes:).

There are epics between 2nd and 6th C C.E. (also writer was a merchant, so high caste?) that I didn’t know existed. I can’t understand the language at all. I was only taught or told about Brahminist epics, I mean I grew up hearing their verses over, over and over again, eventually read translations .