On 6 December 2021, Wasim Rizvi, former Uttar Pradesh Shia Waqf Board Chairperson, became Jitendra Narayan Singh Tyagi in a ceremony conducted by Mahant Narasimha Ananda Saraswati of Dasna temple in Ghaziabad.
Two Indian National Congress (INC) leaders from the southern Indian state of Telangana, Feroz Khan and Rashed Khan, promptly announced bounties of Rs 5 million and Rs 2.5 million on his head for allegedly insulting Islam.
Four days later, former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine Dilip Mandal wrote an article in the web portal The Print titled ‘Becoming a Hindu is not that easy. Even if a Waseem Rizvi turns into Jitendra Tyagi’.
If one thought that it was about the open death threat Tyagi (Rizvi) received from two leaders of India’s main opposition and erstwhile ruling party, then she would be wrong. The article was about caste.
‘A Hindu must have a caste. ‘Casteless Hindu’ is an oxymoron, an impossibility’ says Mandal in the second paragraph of the piece.
Forget Hindu Dharma; even in the academically straight-jacketed entity which the academics and media love to call ‘Brahminical’ Hinduism, ‘caste’ is NOT a must.
There is room for avarna and athi-varna there: one who is outside varna and above the varna. Not only do both these categories have nothing to do with varna, they have nothing to do with jaati either. More often than not, both these categories fluidly mix with each other.
The foundations of Hinduism are often defined by those from this fluid category.
Now, a natural question is – 'but that is for those outside the normal society, what about those inside?'.
If varna itself is not foundational to the spiritual core of Sanatana Dharma, then cannot the society evolve to shed varna and jaati and develop new institutions when needed?
In fact, the Arya Samaj has been at the forefront of actively organising ghar wapsis for decades and caste plays no role in that process.
When asked if varna vyavastha was a must for Hindu society, ‘Guruji’ M S Golwalkar, the second all-India leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) answered:
It is not an avastha or a condition of society. It is only a vyavastha, a system. You may keep it or reject it according as it serves the purpose or not.
Following this, the author goes on to list three ‘problems’ a convert to Hinduism -here, specifically Tyagi, faces.
First, he rhetorically asks why Wasim Rizvi, a Syed, was inducted into the Tyagi and not into a Brahmin caste and answers his own question by saying that Brahmins are born thus and becoming one was not possible.
We have a Pandit Vamdev Shastri, who often uses his pre-Hindu name – David Frawley. A non-Indian avarna who, while converting, chooses the name Shastri and because of his knowledge of Sastras, makes himself a Pandit. There may be Hindus who may or may not accept this, but no Hindu traditional leader has ever put a price on his head.
Then again some may say that it was because Frawley is a white male that this has happened. So take the case of Alice Coltrane, the great Jazz musician and wife of the legendary John Coltrane. She founded the Vedanta Centre in her own home and later moved it to a hill in Los Angeles. She received spiritual guidance from Swami Satchitananda and Sri Sathya Sai Baba. She became 'Turiyasangitananda', and never faced any problems.
Further, it is also wrong to say that one can only be born a Brahmin but could not become one.
We know the classic example of Dr CP Mathew, who was the first head of the Department of Oncology at Kottayam medical college, Kerala. He received his upanayana from the very traditional Suryakaladi Mana – a famed traditional Sanatana Dharma centre in Kerala.
Dr Mathew, who passed away recently, was cremated according to Vedic rites. Here was a traditional Hindu institution accepting a person from another religion, even without changing his name, as a Brahmin. So, here we have a person of non-Hindu origin getting 'sacred thread' from a very traditional centre of Hindu culture and spirituality, thus falsifying the statement that 'Brahmins are born, so none can become a Brahmin'.
Thus, Hindu institutions in particular and Hindu society in general, have the vitality to envision and implement the 'Brahmin' not as a biological or racial entity but as a spiritual ideal.
Secondly, Dilip Mandal raises the question of whether the Tyagi community itself would accept Rizvi in their community and forge marriage alliances with him.
It is up to the family members, including the grown-up adults who are going to marry, to choose their partners. A lot of Hindus, prominent Hindus, have married within and outside their jaatis and are comfortably living as Hindus, practising Hindus.
That a person makes such a statement regarding the marriage alliances of a family in public space—just because he has converted to Hinduism—should be considered as insensitive and uncivil.
Thirdly, the author goes on to say:
"Third problem is about Narayan Singh Tyagi’s right to have upanayana sanskara (the religious practice of wearing sacred thread called janeu or poonal)… Historically and traditionally, Tyagis have the hereditary right to wear the thread. But will a neo-convert be allowed the practice?… According to religious texts, only Brahmins have the authority to perform the upanayana ceremony. Will they perform the upanayana sanskara for a neo-convert Tyagi? If they refuse to perform the sanskara, then this will make Jitendra Narayan Singh a Shudra or even a Pancham (formerly ‘untouchable’)."
As shown earlier, if a Dr Mathew could receive the ‘janeu’ from a very reputed Dharmic traditional Hindu centre, then what prevents a Tyagi from receiving it if he desires to wear one? Not even a dissenting Shankaracharya can prevent him from wearing the sacred thread.
Further, let us assume that a section of Brahmins do refuse to perform this sanskara for a Tyagi. Even then, that does not make him a Shudra or so-called Panchama.
In southern India, many Adheenams or the traditional heads of Saivaite monasteries, who follow Vaidhik Saiva Dharma, do not wear the sacred thread and Brahmins bow down at their feet regularly. It is not even a modern phenomenon, but a centuries-old tradition.
Mandal goes on to say:
"If RSS actually wants to make India a pure Hindu Rashtra, it must undertake the project of large scale shuddhikaran, and annihilate caste amongst Hindus. To do so, the RSS will be required to denounce religious texts, Shrutis, Smritis, even the Vedas and Bhagavad Gita, as these texts provide sanction to the caste system."
‘Shrutis, Smritis, even the Vedas?' Are not Vedas the Shrutis? In fact, he could have said Smritis and even the Shrutis, the Vedas.
Furthermore, the Bhagavad Gita is not a book of social conduct and cares not to provide sanction to any social system. The Gita is a Moksha Shastra. In fact, while Arjuna, in his confusion, speaks of jaati dharma and kula dharma, Sri Krishna speaks only of swadharma and swabhava.
If at all any societal implication can be derived from the value system of Gita, then it is that it goes against stagnant social structures – both caste and untouchability.
Hindu Dharma, if it does decide to convert, can convert and create structures for it. It contains both the spiritual strength as well as societal wherewithal to do it. Swami Shraddhanand, even during the unfavourable colonial times, proved the existence of such an ability by large scale ghar-wapsi of Malkana Rajputs.
Today Hindu society is far more capable of ghar-wapsi, if it decides and prioritises to do so. So far, it has not. Yet, in exceptional circumstances, Hindu Dharma does do it. In regions where such necessities arise, then there is ghar-wapsi.
And in all these, the above 'problems' which the author Dilip Mandal describes, do not exist.
By nature Hindu Dharma validates the spirituality and theo-diversity of fellow human beings and does not impose itself and convert as a mission.
But when someone wishes to return to its fold, he or she is welcome, without any imagined or real casteist criteria.
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