A Contention often heard in (indian) secularist circles, is that this Hindu revivalism is a form of Hindu fascism. Specifically, a BJP in power would soon reveal itself to be a Nazi government– but then it would be too late. I will not bother about quoting all the people who have made such allegations (there are many), and just deal with the substance of this allegation.
Actually, there are two radically different allegation of Hindu fascism. One merely is an allegation against the current wave of Hindu communalism. The other one says, that Hinduism is intrinsically fascist. The best-known proponent of the latter theory is V.T. Rajshekar, who publishes the fortnightly Dalit Voice from Bangalore. He builds his views on Ambedkar’s. But at the same time, he strongly subscribes to the theory that the Aryans invaded India, and instituted the cast system to preserve their racial purity, much like the Apartheid system in South Africa.
In fact, all his anti-Hindu views are put forward in ethnic and even racial terminology. The non-caste Hindus and the minorities are for him the oppressed nations of India, oppressed by the Aryan invaders who constitute the upper castes.
Of course, the racial view of caste, a product of the British fascination for race theories, has been debunked scientifically.239 Even Ambedkar rejected it.240 By now, the whole notion of Aryan invasions has come under fire. Western scholars start recognizing what many Indian scholars have since long pointed out : that there is not a single piece of proof for the whole theory, and that all the known relevant facts can just as well be explained with alternative and equally coherent theories.
But since is lost on Mr. Rajshekar. He has published a book in the West, titled Dalit — the Black Untouchables of India. On the cover is a photograph of, I presume, the writer. And the first thing you notice is : but this man is not black. He is quite a Caucasian, or white man, though slightly more suntanned than Europeans, but not at all a negroid type. And you start to realize : this man is a crackpot. In order to attract American Black support, or for other propaganda reasons, he makes the caste system into a racial issue. The rich white Aryan Brahmin invaders oppress the poor black non-Aryan Shudra natives.
Now this has a lot to do with Hitler. He too was a crank racist. While the reprehensible racism in South Africa is at least based on a actual racial difference between black and white, Hitler based his anti-Jewish racism on the erroneous notion that the difference between Germans and Jews is racial, which is biological nonsense. Moreover, he too had borrowed the concept of the Aryan race, which the British had developed in India, but which was totally alien to the Hindu tradition. Rajshekar has borrowed the same theory in the same place.
He holds the same kind of crank notion that the difference between upper and lower castes is a racial one. So, Hitler-Rajshekar bhai-bhai. With them, everything gets drawn into racial categories. The only difference is that Hitler is on the side of the Aryan race, while Rajshekar is on the opposite side.
Thus, in an article about the Israeli technician Mordechai Vanunu, Dalit Voice says that he is a Sephardic Jew (migrated from the Muslim countries), who are oppressed by the Ashkenazi Jews (migrated from Europe, and founders of Israel). When the technician revealed to the world some nuclear secrets of Israel, this was portrayed as an element in the ethnic struggle of oppressed (dalit) Sephardim against Zionist Ashkenazim, who also oppress the Palestinians. So it all fits : Dalits and Muslims should form a front against the Brahmins, therefore Dalits support the Palestinians, therefore they oppose the Zionists who are Ashkenazi Jews, and link up with the oppressed Sephardic Jews.
But here the racist logic breaks down : it so happens that the hard-liners in Israel, like many in the Likud Party, are precisely these Sephardim, who have fled Muslim countries and have no love lost for the Arabs, while the Ashkenazim are generally more liberal.
This goes to show once more the nonsense of these racial conspiracy theories on which the Hitler and Rajshekars of this world feed. So, what remains for the enemies of Hinduism to dub intrinsically fascist about Hinduism? The caste system, of course. Even if it is not racist, it is not equalitarian and institutionalizes inequality on the basis of people’s birth (just like in racism). Therefore, the caste system is reprehensible. And therefore Hinduism is reprehensible (through a remote influence of Marxism, everything gets reduced to its social dimension, so Hinduism equals caste system).
This matter is far too large and complex to decide in just one chapter, so I will limit myself here to some general remarks. Firstly, there is a distinction between theory and practice. This may seem an easy way out, often used by soft-Leftists when confronted with criticism of the implementation of socialist theory in the praxis of the Soviet system (But that is not the real socialism !). But the distinction is pertinent. On the one hand there were ideologues of the four varnas, the functions in society with their allotted duties and privileges, and they wrote Shastras in which they tried to fit reality into the scheme, complete with a slant in favour of their own caste. On the other there was the existing reality of jatis, roughly endogamous groups, roughly coinciding with occupations, but far more diverse and in motion than the crystalline theoretical framework of Chaturvarnya.
Secondly, this social system did not exist in isolation. Thus, centuries of foreign domination must have had an impact on it. We can say a priori that when leading groups in society come to groan under the weight of foreign oppression, they themselves will weigh heavier on the lower groups. That would not be the case if the new rulers would engage in reform of the existing society, but the Muslims never did this (in spite of the new myths about Islam as bringing socialist reforms). A society that is put on the defensive, will harden and develop internal friction. Again it may sound like an easy explanation, but it is just quite plausible that a part of the inhuman traits of the caste system as recent generations found it, must be attributed to later outside influences like the impoverishing, brutalizing and demoralizing effect of Muslim rule.
When we study its theoretical conception, we find that the caste system is quite the opposite of Nazism in essential respects. Let us think clearly about this very charged matter. In the caste system, we may distinguish the following components:
- In society, different groups are recognized.
- These groups have their own mores and duties.
- Membership of a group is determined by birth.
- On the basis of their function, a ritual hierarchy exists between these group, which does not coincide with either wealth or actual social power.
The first point says merely that difference is recognized. This is not as evident as it sounds. Islam and Communism champion equality, which in practice means uniformity.
The second point means that these groups are defined by the role they play in society, and that duties as also privileges are allotted accordingly. This does not mean that the higher ones grab all the privileges. Thus, one who has the duty to guide society by communicating knowledge, commits a crime when he is untruthful, or drunk, whereas these things are of no consequence when committed by a manual labourer. This allotting of duties also concerns the different age-groups. As any anthropologist can tell you, the distribution of duties among age-groups is one of the most evident features of tribal society.
That is why the varna division is considered together with the division of life in stages, the ashramas, so that Hindu social philosophy is known as Varnashramadharma. While this recognition of different roles with their own duties and privileges is by no means a complete answer to every possible social question, it at least provides a framework which is perfectly true to universal human experience.
The third point means that one’s qualities are largely determined by birth. The most natural division of mankind, the two sexes, a division which brings with it a definite role, duties and privileges, is determined by birth. One’s gunas of qualities, which determine one’s vocation in society, are in turn partly determined by heredity. At this point Hindu society has hardened a statistical law, which generally makes people follow in their parents’ footsteps, into a rigid steel frame. In reality, an individual’s swadharma (own duty, own way) may differ from that of his parents, and that is why the Bhagavad Gita (which is of course only one voice in the plurality of Hindu tradition) simply states that one’s varna is determined by one’s guna (quality, type), regardless of whether this guna is in turn determined by heredity, by environment and education, or who knows, by the stars at birth. Of course, this is a point where historically the divergence between theory and practice has become quite substantial.
The fourth point is to modern socialists perhaps the most horrible : a hierarchy between the groups. Well, there is an undeniable hierarchy between social functions, even where an equalitarian law system has firmly taken root. Thus, an employee is equal, as a human being and as a citizen, to his employer; the work both do is equally indispensable; yet, the employee’s work is by definition determined by the tasks his employer allots him. So, while there is equality between human beings, there is a logical hierarchy between functions.
In that sense, the Vaishya function is superior to the Shudra function. Similarly, a ruler, even while autonomous in his decisions (remember secularism), is dependent on knowledge and a social philosophy, but the thinkers who devise this intellectual and ideological framework, should be independent in their thinking, free from the rulers’ interference. In that sense, the Brahmin function is logically superior to the Kshatriya function, even while rulers are more powerful and wealthy than thinkers.
In my opinion, it is this logical hierarchy of social functions which the early ideologues of Varnashramadharma had in mind. It is but human that people with a higher function were also honoured accordingly. But in how far that was translated into a cruel anti-human inequality in actual village and city life, is another matter. It is too vast to go into it here. Suffice it to say that I have become a bit skeptical of the abysmally grim picture of the caste system which all of us have been fed, after actually living among Hindus of both high and low castes, and after studying the research done by modern-educated Indian scholars.
As Meenakshi Jain has indicated, it is not because certain Brahmins were particular about not eating with other people etc., that other castes felt inferior or oppressed by this uptight and unprofitable kind of behaviour (much less inclined to imitate the difficult Brahmin lifestyle, as the Sanskritization theory would have it).
In Catholic circles, like in religion class, we used to get some testimonies from the missions, now and then. When asked for examples of how horrible the caste system is, missionaries would always mention the distance Brahmins keep from the inferior non-Brahmins. But so what? For orthodox Brahmins, as I have known some in Varanasi, I myself am an avarna, and they will not have dinner with me. But I don’t feel offended by that.
If they think I am impure (and I am : I have eaten many a beef steak in my life), then that is their choice. I don’t really care, and I think most Shudras in India’s long history didn’t care. But they did not not care in the intolerant way of the iconoclastic modernists, who like to trample on somebody else’s rules and taboos : while they themselves did not observe the near-obsessive purity rules of Brahmins, they would not think of forcing Brahmins out of their purist seclusion.
The effort to rewrite history and to see integration instead of separation and enmity as the norm of interaction between the different communities, should not be directed to the history of Hindu-Muslim relations (where it is gross distortion), but at the history of caste relations (where it is a correction of the extremely divisive picture created by the missionaries and colonialists). There was plenty of co-operation, amity and human concern across caste lines.
On the other hand, as in other societies, there has existed oppression in Hindu society too. And this has been aggravated in the last few centuries by the decreasing prosperity, which in turn was due to Muslim oppression and plundering, to the disruption of India’s economy by its forcible integration into Britain’s colonial trade system, and to the victory of modern industry over the indigenous industries (which also affected non-colonies like China and Iran).
Increasing poverty invariably increases social friction and oppression.
While rejecting the immensely black picture which the missionaries have painted of Hindu society, and which has been very much interiorized in the Indian collective consciousness and is still being reproduced by the self- proclaimed Ambedkarites today, we need not deny that oppression and misery existed. And it must have taken the shape of the social structure in force, which happened to be the caste system. No-one in his right mind is inclined to denigrate the efforts at “bringing the Backward Castes into the mainstream of Indian society” (to use the politicians’ expression).
On the stand taken by the Hindutva people on the caste system, see ch.14.2. Now, in essential respects the caste system is the opposite of Nazism. This counts not only for the idealized theory but even for the raw practice. First of all, this system is not at all centralized. The traditional Hindu society knows many layers of social organization : family, kula, upajati, jati, varna. Now, this layeredness of society, this devolution of many organizational functions to intermediary levels, is the strongest possible buffer against dictatorship and totalitarianism.
When analyzing why the French Revolution quickly degenerated into a reign of terror and a dictatorship, Hegel state that it was the destruction of the intermediary levels of social organization which led to this polarization between the naked individual and the all-powerful state authority.
The first task of totalitarian-minded people is to break down those organizational units which they cannot control. In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the protagonist of the narrative regains a measure of mental independence from Big Brother’s total control, when he falls in love with some girl. Suddenly there is an emotional relationship, i.e. another form of human interaction than Big Brother’s state, a bond which escapes Big Brother’s control. These simple natural forms of human togetherness, like the family, the clan, the tribe, no matter what their drawbacks, are the strongest possible protection against totalitarianism.
Traditional societies all had clans and tribes. With the building of empires, these lost some of their importance. But the atomization of society into isolated individuals who find nothing above them but the all-powerful state, is largely a modern phenomenon, and fascism is one extreme outgrowth of it. It is not only factually incorrect to attribute the characteristics of fascism to a traditional society like the Hindu society, it also gives proof of a total incomprehension of larger historical categories, like modern vs. traditional, hierarchy vs. totalitarianism.
The unique thing about Hindu society is that it kept this tribe-wise and clan-wise organization even after setting up very large integrated state structures. By contrast, Mohammed, in his bid to form a state (after the admired models of the Persian and Byzantine empires), wanted to destroy these intermediary levels. Thus, he is not at all clan- and family-minded. While Confucianism, Judaism or Hinduism are very family-centered, Islam does not ordain family stability, but gives a man all the freedom to break up the family he started, by simply declaring to his wife: Talaq Talaq Talaq.
Moreover, Mohammed explicitly wanted his followers to put the loyalty to Islam above the loyalty to the clan. One may consider this an element of universalism, rising above narrow loyalties. That is certainly how Muslim apologetics puts it. But the other side is that the primitive loyalty to the natural family unit merely gets replaced by another, more demanding narrow loyalty: to the Prophet, to Big Brother.
All dictators like uniformity. The Spanish dictator Franco worked hard to destroy the linguistic diversity in Spain by suppressing the use of Catalan and Basque. Similarly, Stalin wanted to abolish all ethnicity and language diversity. These subnational identities were anathema to a centralistic dictatorial mind. It so happens that Islam too insists on uniformity, even in very small things. In world history, it is perhaps only the Mao outfit of the Chinese communists that matches the uniformity of appearance among Muslims. Women Should wear burqa, and men should trim their beards after the Prophet’s example. This outer uniformity is expressive of an imposed uniformity of behaviour and belief. I do not find this uniformist loyalty to the Prophet any more open-minded or universalist than the “narrow loyalty” to a tribe.
There is reason for suspicion against people who need to trample upon natural loyalties before they can establish their brotherhood. It is like a scorpion, who lifts his prey up from the ground and then stings. These natural social units are the ground under people’s feet, and if you want to enlist them in your own power trip, you have to take them out of these natural units, and make them vulnerable to your claims on them, by isolating them.
It is quite possible to teach people universal values and awareness of the larger whole, without breaking open the existing divisions in society. Actually, calling clans and tribes a division conceals the fact that they are just as much units, levels of integration. Few buildings these days are built from one massive rock ; the normal thing to do is to integrate smaller units into bigger and yet bigger ones. The global civilization which we are building today, will not be made up of scattered individuals. Organizationally, it will be a hierarchy of intermediary levels of integration, a two- way combination of unity and diversity. The current revival of ethnicity throughout the world is just one example of man’s natural resistance against atomization.
The essence of Varnashramadharma, the social philosophy that allots different duties to differently minded groups of people, as well as to the different age-groups, and that allows communities to develop at intermediary levels between individual and state, is quite the opposite of the uniformization so typical of totalitarian systems.
Powered by Facebook Comments