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Who are the real Dalits of India?

By Francois Gautier
October 18, 2005 19:06 IST
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When we hear that a resolution is to be tabled in the US Congress next month to address the problem of 'caste discrimination and untouchability' in India, one feels like asking Americans if they forgot the horrible treatment they meted out to their Negro slaves!

And look at the condition of their own poor black people today, as seen recently during the New Orleans Katrina cyclone.

United States Congressman Christopher Smith, one of the sponsors of the resolution, said that for all the progress India has made over the years, it was highly regrettable that the lot of these 'untouchables' remained in such a terrible state as they continued to be victimised under the yoke of a shameful caste system.

Has Congressman Christopher Smith ever been to India? Probably not. He no doubt relies on the testimony of Indians like Kancha Ilaiah, founder of the Dalit-Bahujan (Scheduled and Backward Caste) movement, and author of the book Why I Am Not A Hindu.

What would Congressman Christopher Smith find if he bothered to visit India and make an honest assessment?

That true, there are still atrocities committed against Dalits in India, but that there are also a number of atrocities committed against upper caste Indians, including against the Kashmiri Pandits, thousands of them having been butchered (ten of them during the recent earthquake in Kashmir) and 400,000 of them being refugees in their own country.

That Dalits are coming up, thanks to a reservation system put into place more than 40 years, ago, to the extent that India's last President was a Dalit.

That many of the saints and avatars worshipped in India are from lower classes: Maharshi Ved Vyas, who wrote the Mahabharata, which also contains the Bhagavad Gita, was the son of a fisherwoman; Valmiki, once a highway robber, who composed the Ramayana, was also from a fisherman's caste; Chandragupta Maurya of the Maurya dynasty originates from Muria, a tribe which used to collect Peacock (Mor) feathers; and today's Amrita Anandamayi, who hails from Kerala's fishermen caste and has millions of followers, many of them upper caste Indians.

That in a country of 85 per cent Hindus, we find today a Sikh prime minister, when Sikhs represent only 2 per cent of the country's population; a Muslim President, when the Muslims are only 20 per cent and a Christian supreme leader, who rules this country with an iron fist, although she is not elected and holds no post, whereas Christians are only 3 per cent of India.

Who are the real Dalits of India then?

When the British arrived on the subcontinent, they found, as many other invaders had discovered before them, that the biggest stumbling block to a strong grip on India were the Hindus and that they could not govern such a huge country without splitting this community.

They thus used three tools:

1. The Aryan invasion theory, of two civilisations, that of the low caste Dravidians and the high caste Aryans, always pitted against each other -- which has endured, although it is now totally disproved, as it is still today being used by some Indian politicians -- and has been enshrined in all history books, Western, and unfortunately also Indian.

Thus were born wrong 'nationalistic' movements, such as the Dravidian movement against Hindi and the hatred against the much-maligned Brahmins, who actually represent today a minority, which is often underprivileged.

Many Brahmins were chased out of Tamil Nadu in the early sixties. It is also very difficult nowadays for a Brahmin, however qualified, to find a job in the government as many posts are reserved for Dalit and backward castes, even if they are underqualified.

This Aryan invasion theory has also made India look Westwards, instead of taking pride in its past and present achievements. I am a Westerner and a born Christian, but I always wonder why there is such great fascination for Sonia Gandhi, a White-Skinned Westerner.

Is she unconsciously perceived as a true Aryan by the downtrodden Dravidians and a certain fringe of that Indian intelligentsia which is permanently affected by an inferiority complex towards the West? This fake Aryan invasion may even have given a colour fixation to this country, where women will go to extremes to look 'fair.' But isn't black beautiful?

2. The vilifying of the caste system: 'Caste was originally an arrangement for the distribution of functions in society, just as much as class in Europe, but the principle on which this distribution was based was peculiar to India,' wrote Sri Aurobindo.

But the British and Christian missionaries quickly targeted the Adivasis and the Dalits for conversion by telling them: 'You are the first inhabitants of India and you were colonised by the bad Brahmins, during the Aryan invasion. By converting to Christianity, they continued, you will become free from the grip of your masters, who have enslaved you both socially and religiously.'

Thus they set the Dalits and Adivasis against the mainstream of Hindu society and sowed the seeds of an explosive conflict which is ready to blow-up today. Missionaries have also always been advocating covertly a breaking-up of the country.

Kancha Ilaiah has been lobbying hard at the UN so that the Adivasis and Dalits are recognised as 'the original settlers of India.'

Belgium historian Koenraad Elst writes that the missionaries were ultimately all set to trigger a Christian partition in India: 'At the time of Independence, Christian mission centres had dreamed up a plan for a Christian partition in collaboration with the Muslim League. The far Northeast, Chota Nagpur and parts of Kerala were to become Christian states, forming a non-Hindu chain with the Nizam's Hyderabad and with Pakistani Bengal.'

3. The weaning away of the Muslims from the Hindu majority which ended in the Partition of India. The British used to the hilt the existing divide between Hindus and Muslims. The Congress was weak; it accepted what was forced down its throat by Jinnah and Mountbatten, even though many of its leaders, including Nehru, and a few moderate Muslims, disagreed with the principle of partition.

It was also Gandhi's policy of non-violence and gratifying the fanatical Muslim minority, in the hope that it would see the light, which did tremendous harm to India and encouraged Jinnah to harden his demands.

Today the Congress has taken up this dangerous game again, witness the Andhra assembly which just approved a 5 per cent job reservation for Muslims; and Sonia Gandhi wants all other Congress-ruled states to follow Andhra Pradesh in providing Muslims with education and job quotas.

It is a measure of how the British and the missionaries were successful in planting the seeds of dissent, even amongst Indians, that this misinformation endures today in India and finds a sympathetic ear in the US Congress.

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Francois Gautier