Check The Outrage, Please: Don’t Get Into Fights Over Imagined Insults

Aravindan Neelakandan

May 13, 2017, 01:15 PM | Updated 01:15 PM IST

Pictures of Maharana Pratap (L) and Goddess Kali
Pictures of Maharana Pratap (L) and Goddess Kali
  • Hindus sometimes exhibit a short fuse. While this may be natural given that Hindu society is under siege, this tendency must be kept in check for good.
  • Recently two news items disturbed me. One is about the alleged threats a ‘Dalit’ writer received in Rajastan two years after she wrote a book on Maharana Pratap – the brave Hindu chieftain who fought against Mughal aggression. The title of her book, in Hindi, translates to ‘Maharana Pratap was not a Kshatriya or Rajput but a Bhil Rajputra’. The mischievous binary of Bhil versus Kshatriya is either because of ignorance or perhaps it was intentional.

    The colonial ghost of Herbert Risley still haunts our academic realms and affects our perceptions. During the colonial era, Risley wanted to use pseudo-scientific morphological indicators like the cephalic nasal index to categorise Indian communities into pigeonholes. The communities were broadly classified into two – the non-Aryan tribal population and the Aryan caste population. As Risley explicitly stated, the aim of this project of classification was “to detach considerable masses of non-Aryans from the general body of Hindus”.

    Yes, there were forest-dwelling communities and there were agrarian and urban communities. However, the boundaries were undefined and porous. Organic linkages existed not just in terms of trade and economic activities but also genes and culture. Genetic studies have repeatedly showed linkages between so-called caste and tribal societies. They come from the same stalk. They are not two different categories but one continuum. For example, this 2007 study points out the “autochthonous differentiation of the genetic structure of the caste and tribal populations in South Asia”. Again, this 2009 paper published in the Journal of Human Genetics, speaks about “a tribal link to Indian Brahmins”.

    So, even if Maharana Pratap was a Bhil, he could still be a Kshatriya. So what is the problem? Why should they object to the Bhil origin of Maharana Pratap?

    Organisations like the Karni Sena, which allegedly threatened and abused the writer over the phone, try to exploit misunderstood community pride through vote-bank politics to further their interests. Usually such organisations, which ultimately divide the Hindu society, are also one of the traditional tools of those forces which want the society to remain divided as vote banks – fighting against each other. Like Risley’s anthropology, this divide-and-rule policy is also a colonial legacy. The British used such caste-based antagonism to weaken the freedom movement. In independent India, the pseudo-secular forces have inherited this British legacy. They use such organisations to keep Hindus a political minority.

    The building of the Kshatriya as a political vote-bank identity is an evil gift of Nehruvian secular politics. In North India, Congress devised the KHAM formula – Kshatriya/Harijan/Adivasi/Muslim. This identity politics has been endorsed by the left and ‘secular’ intellectuals. For this formula to function, the term Kshatriya should be construed as referring to some castes and Adivasi as a separate category referring to some other communities and each as having separate political, cultural identities and interests. This is exactly what the British colonialists and missionaries wanted and this is exactly what Mahatma Gandhi opposed.

    Today, the Congress and the ‘secular’ left have embraced the colonial game. So those who consider themselves Rajputs should now see this problem in perspective. The honour of Maharana Pratap never suffered because of his alignment with Bhils – in fact, it is because of his alignment with the Bhils against the alien oppressor. His honour did become suspect when he seemed to yield to the alien invader. So a Bhil origin for Maharana Pratap as such is actually welcome. It is the ‘secularists’ who should be alarmed at the impact of such a narrative gaining currency among the Hindu society.

    Equally disturbing is the Internet Hindu’s reaction to pop star Katy Perry’s publishing of the image of Kali with the caption "current mood" on Instagram. The Internet Hindu community reacted angrily with comments numbering almost 12,000. While this writer himself has criticised the Western Christian insensitivity to Pagan spiritual traditions in general, and Hindu spirituality in particular, in this case I think we have reacted rather harshly and hastily. It is not uncommon even in our social and domestic environments for our womenfolk to express their mood as reflecting that of Kali. It is a common expression in many Indian languages. So when I see a Western woman using the image of Kali to represent her ‘current mood’, that may actually be a good thing – qualities of Kali do reflect in certain moods of the feminine. This shows the extent to which the West is slowly becoming Paganised again, and it is happening through Hinduism. It is more an opportunity for Hindus to help the West rediscover its lost Pagan spiritual roots rather than consider this an insult to the Goddess.

    Hindus do sometimes exhibit a short fuse. It is natural as we are a society under siege, as late Sitaram Goel explains often. And I write this as a fellow Hindu and not as a secular ‘holier than thou’ preacher. As a society under siege both from within and without, we need to be intelligent. That is how we can convert every challenge into an opportunity to strengthen and spread Dharma.

    Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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