A powerful Valedictory Address on decolonizing ourselves.
Why I am not a Hindu
A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy
Let me make it clear, however, that I am not writing this book to convince suspicious brahminical minds; I am writing this book for those who have open minds. My request to brahmin, baniya and neo-kshatiya intellectuals is this: For about three thousand years you people learnt only how to teach and what to teach others – the Dalitbahujans. Now in your own interest and in the interest of this great country you must learn to listen and to read what we have to say. A people who refuse to listen to new questions and learn new answers will perish and not prosper…
LABOUR AS LIFE
For Dalitbahujans labour is life. For a Dalitbahujan body, labour is as habitual as eating is to the stomach. In fact, every Dalitbahujan body produces more than it consumes. As a result, Dalitbahujan life recreates itself in labour more than it recreates itself through eating and drinking. While labouring, a Dalitbahujan mind does not disengage from thinking but goes on producing ideas that make labour a pleasure. If labour is not pleasure, if Dalitbahujan minds do not derive pleasure out of that labouring process, given the low levels of consumption on which they subsist, Dalitbahujan bodies would have died much earlier than they do. Even if Dalitbahujans were to consider work as a monotonous, tortuous course of life, given the amount of labour that they expend during their lifetimes, death would have invited them much earlier than it does today.
If without giving up such a practice of labouring, and labouring with pleasure, when adequate calories of food are provided, a Dalithahujan body will live longer and more healthily than the non-labouring ‘upper’ caste/class body.
In the process of labour Dalithahujans engage in a constant intercourse with the land. Their thorough understanding of land and its producitivity, its colour and combination, is solely responsible for increase in productivity. Even before ‘knowledge from without’ (what we call urban-based, expert knowledge) influenced Dalitbahujan productive skills, they had been experimenting constantly to improve their labour productivity, trying to understand scientifically the relationship between land and seed. They also tried to understand the relationship between the seed and human biological systems. Before cross-breeding was studied in modern laboratories, the Dalitbahujans had cross-bred seed systems. Dalitbahujan women selected and preserved seeds for planting. They maintained huge stores of plant genes. They grafted plants and worked out whole systems of hybridization. All this knowledge was a product of their labour and its creative intercourse with land and nature.
Dalitbahujan labour has creatively interacted with a whole range of non-agrarian plant systems. Dalitbahujans who were engaged in sheep-, goat- and cattle-breeding made tireless investigations of plants and their medicinal values. These investigations were done with an exemplary combination of physical labour and mental acumen. Dalitbahujan knowledge never separated physical labour from mental labour. In India this bifurcation took place in a caste/class form. For Dalitbahujans, physical and mental labour was an integrated whole. If we want to understand the process by which the contradiction between mental and physical labour is resolved as Mao did in the Chinese context, we must return to studying carefully the way the Dalitbahujan societies of India combined mental and physical labour, without a so-called wise man intervening, in the process of labouring to integrate, break open, reintegrate and finally discover new systems.
The Dalitbahujan masses have enormous technological and en~ gineering skills which are not divorced from their labour. One who lifts dead cattle also knows the science of skinning it. They themselves know how to process the skin and make chappals, shoes or ropes. All these tasks involve both mental and physical labour. This work is not like reading the Vedas or teaching in a school. Reading the Vedas or teaching in a school does not require much investment of physical labour or creative thought. Certain types of mental labour may not involve physical labour, but all physical labour involves mental labour. Dalitbahujan society has shown exemplary skill in combining both. Take, for example, the Goudaas who climb the toddy trees and combine in themselves the talent of mind and the training of body. While climbing the tree a Goudaa has to exercise his muscle power. He has also to invent ways of climbing tall trees which do not have branches. While climbing, if he does not focus his mind on every step the result is death. A Brabmin dance teacher, while dancing certainly combines both physical and mental labour but does not encounter a risk in every step. Despite this, why is it that brahminical dance has acquired so much value? Why is it that brahminical dance is given so much space in literature? Why not celebrate the beauty and skill of a Goudaa, which over and above being an art, science and an exercise has productive value. As I have already discussed, the tapping of a toddy tree layer by layer, involves enormous knowledge and engaged application besides physical and mental skill. Tapping the gela in a way that makes the toddy flow, but does not hurt the tree, cannot be done by everybody. It needs training and cultivation of mind. Training in this specialization is much more dangerous and difficult than training in reading the Vedas. All the same a Hindu is told to respect and value the training to read Veda mantras, but not the Goudaa skills of producing something which has market-value and consumption-value.
Hindu Brahminism defied all economic theories, including feminist economic theory, that all market-oriented societies valued labour which produced goods and commodities for market consumption. Feminist economic theory points out that though women’s labour in the house contributes to the economy, it does not find social respectability or receive economic compensation. In the brahminical economy Dalitbahujan labour (male or female) even if it is produced for market consumption has no value. On the contrary, the so-called mental labour of the Brahmins and the Banlyas reciting mantras and extracting profit by sitting at the shop desk has been given enormous socioeconomic value. Herein lies the Hindu delegitimization of productive creativity. The brahminical economy even devalued production for the market and privileged its spiritual-mental labour over all other labour processes.
Brahminical scholarship legitimized leisure, mantra, puja, tapasya and soothsaying, though these are not knowledge systems in themselves. Scientific knowledge systems, on the contrary, are available among the Dalitbahujan castes. A pot maker’s holistic approach to knowledge which involves collecting the right type of earth, making it into clay, turning it on the wheel, and firing it requires knowledge of local materials and resources, scientific knowledge of the clay and the firing process, besides a sharp understanding of the market. It requires mental skill to use the fingers, while physically turning the wheel, skill to convert that clay into pots, pitchers and jars—small or big—of all kinds. Firing is an equally skill-intensive process. The oven has to be heated to an exact temperature and the pots baked just long enough for them to become durable and yet retain their attractive colour. This whole scheme is a specialized knowledge in itself. Thus, Kamsalies (goldsmiths) have their own scientific knowledge, Kammaris (blacksmiths) theirs, and Shalaas (weavers) theirs. But all these arts and sciences, all these knowledge systems have been delegitimized. Instead of being given social priority and status, mantric mysticism has been given priority. These knowledge systems will get socioeconomic value only when their legitimacy is established.
Hinduism constructed its own account of Dalitbahujan knowledge systems. As discussed earlier, while the Dalitbahujans live labour as life, the Hindus inverted this principle and privileged leisure over labour. The ancient theoretical formation of the thesis leisure as life was propounded by Vatsyayana in the Kamasutra, where he constructs a nagarika (citizen) as one who embodies this notion. This very theory was reinstated at different stages of history whenever brahininical Hinduism was in crisis, or whenever Dalitbahujan organic forces rebelled against Hindu theory and practice. As we saw, the 1990 anti-Mandal Hindutva wave again aimed at reviving the ‘leisure as life’ theory as against the Mandal movement that aimed at universalizing labour as life’ (irrespective of caste, everyone should do both manual labour and work in an office). In other words, it aimed at dalitizing Indian society.
The whole world has overcome the theories of privileging leisure over labour. Whether it is countries like Japan and China or in the West itself, labour has acquired more market value and social status than leisure. Mandalization of the Indian state and society would have integrated us into these universal systems. But Hindu Brahminisrn reacted to this historical transformation and started the counter-revolutionary Hindutva movement by reemphasizing leisure, mantra and moksha as basic principles which will undermine the onward march of Indian society. But a quicker development of Indian society lies in privileging labour over leisure. Only Dalitization of the whole society can achieve this goal…
This of course will require that they [the upper castes] unlearn the many things. The task is much more difficult with the Brahmins /’//’and the Baniyas than it will be with the neo-Kshatriyas. Yet another major area of Dalitization will be to push the Brahmin-Baniyas into productive work, whether it is rural or urban. Both men and women of the so-called upper castes will resist this with all the strength at their command. This is because among them Hinduism has destroyed all positive elements that normally exist in a human being. During the post-colonial period their energies were diverted to manipulate education, employment, production and development subtly. Their minds are poisoned with the notion that productive work is mean and that productive castes are inferior. No ruling class in the world is as dehumanized as the Indian brahminical castes. They can be rehumanized only by pushing them into productive work and by completely diverting their attention from the temple, the office, power-seeking, and s