Navyana, Dharma, And Dharmacharyas

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Oct 10, 2022 05:19 PM +05:30 IST
Navyana, Dharma, And DharmacharyasAAP leader Rajendra Pal Gautam at the 'conversion' event in New Delhi (Twitter)
  • The social-creationism we hold on to is worse than creationism of the Christian fringe.

On 5 October 2022, a second generation nephew of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, made a 'hate speech' against Hinduism. He called Hindu Gods and Goddesses as 'fake' and called Hinduism 'narak'.

The event was organised by the Buddhist Society of India at the Dr BR Ambedkar Bhavan in Jhandewalan in New Delhi. Rajendra Pal Gautam of the Aam Admi Party (AAP), who was then a Cabinet Minister in the Delhi government, resigned because he too was present in the dais where the speech was made.

The oath, specially designed by Bodhisattva Ambedkar as part of embracing 'Navyana' Buddhism does require the person embracing Buddhism to renounce his or her faith in Hindu Gods and Goddesses as well as renounce the concept that Buddha was an incarnation of Vishnu.

Renouncing a particular faith is legitimate freedom. But calling the Gods and Goddesses of another religion 'fake' is hate speech.

Further Dr Ambedkar, being a legal luminary, did not add the statement that makes a person completely reject Hindu Dharma - which would be that 'I reject Vedas and Upanishads.' This should have been the primary statement but it is conspicuous by its absence, pointed out Dr Ambedkar scholar, Ma Venkatesan.

The reason may be that Dr Ambedkar, though he explicitly wrote against the primacy given by Arya Samaj to the Vedas, would not bring himself to reject the complete Sanatana heritage of India.

After all, even in the most scathing attack he penned (and never published) on Hinduism, Riddles, did he point out that it was in the Mahavakyas of the Upanishads that one finds the spiritual basis of democracy.

So the 5 October speech does deserve condemnation.

But wait.

Not long ago the pontiff of a very important traditional 'peetham', or seat of 'spiritual' authority, was asked a question about social untouchability. The pontiff immediately started talking about the impurity associated with excretory organs.

The same pontiff when talking about inter-caste marriage also stated that then soon we could train a non-human animal to do the duties of a wife and marry that.

Incidentally, these outrageous statements which violate basic human dignity were made in the name of Sanatana Dharma. No Dharmacharya condemned these statements.

In fact, the speech of this pontiff, whose name I shall refrain from mentioning, is more harmful and hateful against Hindu Dharma or Sanatana Dharma than the speech made on 5 October 2022 which was no doubt a perverted vitriol against Hindu Dharma.

We need to condemn both.

We cannot afford to soft-pedal on one and agitate on the other. In fact, Hindu Dharmacharyas were duty bound to react to the statement of one of their own which was demeaning to humanity. Through their silence they failed Hindu society.

In the famous 1974 Vasant Vyakhyanamala of Poona, the third Sanghachalak of the RSS, Madhukar Dattatreya Deoras, made an enigmatic appeal.

He referred to the famous Scope's Trial and said:

A teacher in one of the states was placed in the dock. He was charged by a Christian citizen with teaching the theory of evolution in contravention of the story of Genesis and Creation of Man as told in the Bible. The teacher had taught in the light of the latest theory of evolution. The court declared him guilty and he was punished. However today no Christian gives credence to that story of origin in the Bible; but still they have not tried to destroy their faith in the Bible. This may appear strange, but has a great lesson for us.

The fact of the matter is that with respect to society we too seem to hold on to a creationist view - social creationism. We seem to believe that the jaatis came out created and well-defined and remain so since then. That is absolute nonsense.

Communities have mixed from time immemorial. Their cultural and genetic barriers have always been porous.

Still, not just that Pontiff from Govardhan but probably most of the traditional heads of Hindu Dharma from various sampradayas hold on to such a social-creationist view of jaati and varna. This is more foolish and more harmful to the health of Hindu society.

Perhaps here we can take a leaf out of how the evangelical movement in the United States behaved during the great churning of the Civil Rights Movement.

One should remember here that the Bible with its Hamitic myth was a theological backbone of racism and slavery. Yet it was a Christian pastor (influenced by a very Hindu Mahatma Gandhi) who emerged as the face of Civil Rights movement - Martin Luther King.

What MLK did for the Black movement in the United States, Mahatma Gandhi did for the Scheduled Community movement in India. MLK sought liberation of the Blacks within the US-Christian context. Mahatma Gandhi showed that social emancipation could be framed and achieved within a very Hindu—dominantly Vaishnavaite-Bhakti—context.

But Dr Ambedkar was skeptical, and rightly so. He was not sure about the sincerity of non-SC/ST Hindus. He realised that if he were not to provide a catharsis of transformation to the SC Hindus they might be lost for ever to Indian culture and civilisation. So he chose Buddha Dharma.

When one reads Dr Ambedkar and his framing of the Buddhist framework against the Gandhian Vaishnavaite framework with his trenchant criticism of 'Brahminical counter revolution', one should understand the context clearly.

Legislations recognising the rights of the SC people to public spaces, including water bodies, were becoming flash points of violence against the SC communities.

No Dharmacharya spoke then.

In fact we have on record Shankaracharyas of the time fighting against the entry of SC inside the Hindu temples.

That was the situation then.

Any change we see today has been achieved by the toils and sacrifices of many who were ostracized then. Dr TSS Rajan, who was a colleague of Savarkar and who spearheaded the Harijan welfare movement of Gandhi, had to live outside Sri Rangam. And that was the lesser of the humiliations.

Still we find that the mindset of the traditional heads who wield considerable influence among their followers has not changed. It is as if they are waiting for an appropriate moment.

Jaati gets justified with various euphemisms like social-capital. This is despite the fact that today with real strategist plans like the Joshua Project, jaati is more evangelical-capital than social-capital.

Unlike Christianity, Hindu Dharma has always emphasized on the evolutionary nature and intermingling of communities. Even Hindu Gods have inter-caste marriages. Valli-Skanda marriage is the famous one.

To this day, the Hindu society at large has kept the emotional divisions and wounds unhealed.

Politicians with their vote-bank politics and identity politics have played a great sinister role in it. But Dharmacharyas have not played any constructive role in healing the society either.

Great efforts are being made by spiritual and cultural movements like the RSS. But the traditionalist institutions and their heads, as said earlier, keep a strategic silence even in the face of inhuman and ignorant statements made by one of them.

The reason is because we cling onto social creationism. We need to embrace evolution. Social evolution is dynamic. Jaatis or communities are not biological species.

Varna is more conceptual than real. It is a social space into which in pre-modern times communities went inside and came out.

Now, in the modern era, we need to adapt and update varna to facilitate individuals moving in and out. It is more a psychological-spiritual-social system and hence should be more individualistic while keeping the associated Dharmic obligations intact.

We need to work out a system. Inter-jaati marriage is not varna-mixing. These fundamentals should be taken to the Dharmacharyas.

In the annals of Hindu history, Guruji Golwalkar created one of the greatest civilisational moments, when he made the Dharmacharyas sit on one dais and endorse a resolution stating that the untouchability has no Shastric sanction.

That was in 1960s. By now, we should have made great strides from that point. But that has not happened. Even today we have to discuss about this heinous crime against humanity and not fringe but mainstream traditionalists support it in round-about ways.

This is the problem we should discuss seriously. Perhaps the time has come for the Sangh to organise a conference of all Dharmacharyas, historians and scholars of humanities so that they can once and for all eschew the social creationism and accept social evolution.

Because this is the root cause of our problems.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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