The concluding part of the series on Indian nationalism explains how Nehruvians and Marxists, in the name of social justice, institutionalised the system of caste by giving it state patronage.
This single step has negated hundreds of years of effort of Indian philosophers from Kabir and Chaitanya to Narayana Guru and Vivekananda to alleviate the rigidity of caste.
The nationalist believes that the Marxist and Nehruvian conception of social justice and secularism has, rather than unite the country, created deep fissures in the social and religious fabric of the nation. Social justice has become a ploy to keep the Hindu society disunited, so that they fall easy prey to the ideological machination of philosophies that contradict the Indian philosophical core (as defined in Part III).
Yes, the fossilisation of different professions into hereditary caste (jati) has been the most retrograde development in Indian society. Varna, which is inherent in Hinduism, and caste, which has nothing to do with Hinduism, have been the two parallel developments in Indian society. The varna system was fluid, as can be figured from the lineage of kings, saints and philosophers, while jati was hereditary endogamous units, and a basis of social identity and elaborate social restrictions. They got intermixed because the system of caste tried to draw its legitimacy from the varna system, where the member of a certain caste would also claim to belong to a certain varna category.
The system of caste, inherent in Indian society, spans across religious divide, be it Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, or Christianity. There have been consistent reform movements in Indian society to uproot the system of caste. The rapid industrialisation of India and the mass movement of people based on modern transport were expected to destroy the economic basis of caste.
However, Nehruvians and Marxists had other ideas. In the name of social justice, they institutionalised the system of caste by giving it state patronage. The Nehruvian state issues caste certificates to Indian citizens based on birth. The hereditary caste becomes the basis on which the Indian state provides patronage to its citizen, be it jobs or education. Even relatively affluent communities want to be categorised as ‘backward’ so that they become eligible for state patronage.
This single step has negated hundreds of years of effort of Indian philosophers from Kabir and Chaitanya to Narayana Guru and Vivekananda to alleviate the rigidity of caste. Now in India we face an extraordinary situation. The state perpetuates the system of caste, and Hindu society gets blamed for the stultifying effect of caste on Indian social life.
In Independent India, it is the nationalist organisations that have consistently stood against providing state patronage and dividing society based on caste. However, the Nehruvians and Marxists, while blaming the Hindus for the deleterious effect of caste, have consistently tried to etch the caste system in the Indian psyche by regular state interventions.
Yes, historically, members of Indian society were discriminated based on caste. But should the state compensate for the ills of its ancestors? There is not a single society on earth which did not discriminate against some of its members. But does this discrimination become the basis of a modern state? Does the United States provide any special privileges to its black and native American population? Does the European states provide any special privileges to its Jews and Roma community? An enlightened modern state is based on incorporating the highest humanist ideals of its ancestors while discarding the baser ones.
An Indian nationalist is not against affirmative action based on certain economic criteria, but the basis of the affirmative action cannot be hereditary caste. It goes against the constitutional ideal and natural laws of justice and fraternity. The nationalist wants equality of opportunity, that even the poorest child in India can have access to high quality primary education in state schools and the dream of becoming scientists or doctors studying in their mother tongue.
Nationalism and Secularism
The Indian Constitution doesn’t define secularism. It was surreptitiously inserted in the Constitution by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency era. The term ‘secularism’ on a broader level means that the state does not discriminate between its citizens based on their religious beliefs. But the historical role of the modern Indian state belies this definition. The state has different civil codes for different religious beliefs and controls the Hindu temples with an iron grip.
The nationalist believes that secularism of the Indian state is a ploy by Nehruvians and Marxists to keep the identity of religious ‘minorities’ separate from the national mainstream, so that they can be used as a vote bank. The nationalist is aware that this separatism will, sooner than later, want a political outlet. To provide an intellectual cover to this separatism, the Nehruvians and Marxists give it fancy English names such as multi-culturalism, pluralism, and heterogeneity.
The nationalist believes that diversity is the very condition of human life; diversity is what makes progress possible. Our ancestors accepted and cherished this idea of diversity. Here is the famous hymn to the Earth in Atharva Veda:
“The Earth, bearing upon her many different peoples, speaking many languages, following different beliefs as suit their particular regions. Pour upon us a thousand-fold stream of bountiful treasures to enrich us like a constant cow that never faileth.”
We have noted earlier (Part III) that the very first condition of diversity is the acceptance of the Indian philosophical core. Once the philosophical core is accepted, the ideas get a level-playing field to compete. In the process, some ideas are rejected, while other ideas over the course of time assimilate to form bigger ideas. The materialistic school of philosophy finds its expression in the Nyaya and the Vaisheshika school of philosophy. The Rudra of Veda became the all-encompassing Shiva of the Purana. The Buddha became the avatar of Vishnu. The whole history of India is the assimilation of thousands of ideas under the broad umbrella of philosophies and traditions. Diversity and assimilation are two sides of the same coin. If diversity is the condition of human life, then assimilation is the fulfilment of human life.
The foreign tribes such as Greeks, Parthians, Sakas, Kushans, and Hunas entered India and over the course of time completely assimilated themselves into Indian society and its philosophical core. A number of inscriptions and coins shows how gradually these foreign tribes from Central Asia adopted the language, manners, religion and customs of India.
Notice the case of the Western Satraps dynasty of Sakas, who entered India around first century CE. The names of its earlier kings were Ghasmotika, Chashtana and Nahapaana, but its successor kings had purely Indian names such as Visvasena, Rudrasinha, and Vijayasena. In the case of the Kushan Dynasty, notice the chronological order of the names of their kings – Kadaphises, Kanishka, Vasishka, Huvishka and Vasudeva. These kings called themselves Devaputra. In the case of Greeks, we see the Hellenic king Menandar’s acceptance of Buddhist philosophy after a long philosophical discussion with Nagasena. There are so many coins issued by the Greek kings, which had Indian cultural motifs.
Even the arrival of the persecuted Zoroastrian community from Persia is a history of assimilation. These were the conditions that the king Jadi Rana gave to the Parsi community to settle in his domain.
Let me first of all see what your beliefs are, and we will then arrange for your residence here. Secondly, if we give you shelter, you must abandon the language of your country, disuse the tongue of Iran and adopt the speech of the realm of Hind. Thirdly, as to the dress of your women, they should wear garments like those of our females. Fourthly, you must put off all your arms and simitars and cease to wear them anywhere. Fifthly, when your children are wedded, the marriage knot must be tied at evening time. If you first give a solemn promise to observe all this, you will be given places and abodes in my city.(Qissa-iSanjan)
The Rana was eager to know what their beliefs were. The condition for the Parsi settlement in India ensured that their beliefs didn’t contradict the philosophical core. And when the Rana was satisfied with their beliefs, the next condition put forward was assimilation of Indian social customs. Now we are not sure if this is what exactly happened. But the important thing is that this is the historical memory that the Parsi community chose to preserve of their migration to India.
Similar is the case of assimilation of Cochin Jews to the social life of Malabar. Once the Jews assimilated, the king of Cochin was so deferential to the Jewish customs that he would refuse to fight on Saturday, the day of the Sabbath, in deference to his Jewish soldiers!
Even when Indians came in contact with the Islam of Turks, Arabs and Persians, a great degree of assimilation happened. This assimilation left a mark on the clothes, food, music, language, and social customs of Indians. The Sufis were inspired by the Indian idea of devotion to a personal god and finding divinity within. The Sufi dargahs in India draw a huge crowd, a substantial percentage of them being Hindus. However, the core Islamic idea, that my path is the only path, directly contradicts the Indian philosophical core. This has led to an immense strain on the thread of Indian social life, leading to multiple political divisions of the unified geography of India.
The Indian nationalist believes that more such divisions are in the offing, unless secularism is defined as the Indian state adherence to the Indian philosophical core. All ideas, religions, and philosophies in India have to operate within the framework of the philosophical core because this is the only condition of Indian territorial unity and its immense diversity.
The nationalist believes that the uncritical acceptance of Western political and social philosophies has done incalculable harm to India. Nehru’s acceptance of Marxist world view had tragic consequences. In Nehru’s words:
I approached her (India) almost as an alien critic, full of dislike for the present as well as for many of the relics of the past that I saw. To some extent I come to her via the west and looked at her as a friendly westerner might have done.
The present-day Nehruvians and Marxists would do well to heed the warning that Rabindranath Tagore presciently gave 100 years ago. He wrote:
Before we accept them (Western political ideas) and pay their value by selling our own inheritance, we must pause and think deeply. In man’s history there come ages of fireworks which dazzle us by their force and movement. They laugh not only at our modest household lamps but also at the eternal stars. But let us not for that provocation be precipitate in our desire to dismiss our lamps. Let us patiently bear upon our present insult and realize that these fireworks have splendour but not permanence….Our ideals have evolved through our own history, and even if we wished we could only make poor fireworks of them (Western political ideas) because their materials are different from yours, as is also their moral purpose.
The ‘fireworks’ of socialism have already been extinguished by the events of history. Indian nationalists must work towards remaking an Indian state that will extinguish the ‘fireworks’ of social justice and secularism. The future of our civilisation is at stake.