In the time of aggressive neo-liberal Hindutva led by the RSS-BJP in the leadership of the Hindutva poster boy Modi poses serious political threats to the regional identity and caste based political parties and constitutional democracy. In current time, the Shudra and Ati-Shudras political parties like SP, BSP, RJD and others have failed to make any socio-cultural and political agenda to counter the RSS-BJP led Hindutva juggernaut. The Shudra and Ati-Shudra leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Parsad Yadav, Kanshiram and Charan Singh have had created a narrative of its own kind of politics which was not a very sharp to counter the Hindutva cultural nationalism at the ground level particularly in the Hindi belt, where the RSS-BJP are getting more and more socio-political and electoral mileage.
More than three decades of the Shudra and Ati-Shudras politics that took shape under the Mandal politics in the line of reservation Politics. it seemed that they forgot to counter the question of annihilation of caste and capitalism along with the neo-liberal Hindutva politics. If the Shudra and Ati-Shudras political parties wanted a new phase of ‘India’s Silent revolution’, then they must make their core agenda like demand for the caste census, land reforms, reservation in private sector and Judiciary, English education etc.
It is high time to the Shudra and Ati-Shudras and the regional parties to counter internal caste conflicts, communalism and other similar threat posed by the RSS-BJP and the Brahminical neo-liberal and Cultural Hindutva. In this context, the only way out for the Shudra and Ati-Shudras is to create new political ideology in the perspective of Ambedkar-Phule-Periyar and Buddha to counter neo-liberal and Hindutva nationalism which is based on inequality and discrimination and having anti-women and minorities miind-sets.
Prof. Kancha illaiah one of the towering public intellectual in last two decades whose Academic works continue to attack the ancient Brahminical text and highlighted the social-political and economic aspects of Shudra, a producing community. Works like why I am not Hindu, God as Political Philosopher, Buffalo Nationalism, and Post-Hindu India can be considered as influentional writings on the subject. In the same continuation, he brings out another important book titled as ‘The Shudras: Vision for a New Path, edited along with Karthik Raja Karuppusamy. The book is dedicated to the greats egalitarian thinkers like Mahatma Jyotirao and Savitribai who initiated the Shudra revolutionary movement and stress the need for Read, Write and Fight for the first time in Indian history’. In this fifth volume, in the rethinking India Series Prof. Kancha illaiah and co-editor and a bunch of scholars explore the marginalized status of Shudra castes and way for the socio-political emancipation.
In the introductiory part, editor observes the present government under the leadership PM Modi, attack on Indian constitution and democratic system which is established by our founding fathers of freedom struggle. RSS-BJP led government tries to change the formal structure of secularism, socialism and democratic institutions which led India to become a nation more inclusive, democratic and egalitarian and reach to the status like modern nation state. If the RSS-BJP remains in power it should be more worrying for Shudras, SC, ST and minorities. In this context on 30 November 1949, M.S. Golwalkar wrote in the RSS mouthpiece Organiser:.‘… in our constitution there is no mention of the unique constitutional developments in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing’. (Subhash Gatade, ‘Modi: Fascinated by Manu’, mainstreamweekly, 2019)
On a particularly occasion of public gathering of RSS head Mohan Bhagwat in 2017 in his address to the Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta (Advocates) Parishad in Hyderabad had said that the constitution was written on the basis of ‘foreign sources’ which is something we must address. He and his organization always wanted the constitution to be changed ‘in line with the values system of the country’. RSS-BJP have problem with fundamental values and rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
If the Hindu Rashtra is established then it will disastrous for Shudra, ati-sudra, Adivasis and religious minorities because a Hindu Rastra will be based on caste system and which will have hierarchy among fellow citizens. In addition, in a 2014 internal RSS meeting in Kerala, RSS head Mohan Bhagwat had said that ‘The Sangh should not get into eradicating or opposing caste,’Caste is a system (though now perverted) that exists in the society. It would remain until the society believes in it’. (Dinesh Narayan, ‘Closed Ranks, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Tribulations over Caste’, Caravan, 2020) In such a scenario Bahujan will face violence and discrimination continuously.
In chapter one, distinguished scholar Arvind Kumar’s ‘The Nation and Its Shudras’ did not attempt to provide a comprehensive historical account of Shudras as a social category or study Shudra identity formation in caste system. He tries to examine why Shudra as a social category segregated and excluded in historically and contemporary time. There has been a conscious attempt of ignoring the majority of the social and cultural aspects of Shudras who are the majority of the Indian population which constitute more the sixty percent of present Indian society. Most of Shudras belongs to agriculture and produce more than any community to feed and make economic prosperity of a nation and its citizen. But Shudras miserably fail to claim their legitimate credit in the nation-building and political power process. Kumar revisits the philosophy and ideological praxis of Mahatma Phule and Ambedkar to understand of material aspect of Shudra deprivation after post-independent India and socio-political emancipation in modern nation.
Another chapter by Sunil Sardar titled as ‘The Socio-spiritual Slavery of Shudras’ historically examines the counter social-spiritual movement led by Ashoka’s support of Buddhist-dhamma, Bhakti movement led by Kabir and Guru Nanak’s revolt against Brahminical caste and discrimination traditions. And Mahatma Phule Truth Seekers (Satyashodhak Samaj) movement to promote equality, rationality aShudras, SC, ST and minorities. In this context on 30 November 1949, M.S. Golwalkar wrote in the RSS mouthpiece Organiser:.‘… in our constitution there is no mention of the unique constitutional developments in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day laws as enunciated in m Shudra prospective and finally Ambedkar and his Buddhist revolution to emancipate Dalitbahujan. Author Sardar observes that Mahatma Phule’s basic argument was that Shudra could find ultimate alternative in egalitarian Balirajya to counter the hierarchical Hinduism in order to find their spiritual freedom. These all five anti-caste movements led by Bahujan philosophers and reformers have rejected Hindu Vedas text and idols to bring social and spiritual freedom for Shudra. This is to see how Dalits counter Baraminical hegemony and develop the agenda of spiritual libration by converting to Christianity, Islam and Navayana Buddhism. But Shudra are still in the fold of Hinduism. In this regard Kancha ilaiah Shepherd said ‘Shudra cannot be free until they find it in the spiritual realm as Dalits have done by converting to Christianity or Buddhism’.
Most important chapter by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd titled as ‘Shudras and Democratic India’ discusses political discourse of Shudra politics in the post-independence after independence congress also has a barahaminical approach to address Shudra community across nation. Shudra have socio-political divide due to socio-political cultural differences nation-wide. Shepherd observes that it will appeal to the RSS-BJP to make them flag bearer of Hindutva juggernaut and also to counter Bahujan unity. Some states have seen the rise regional political parties like TDP, TRS, DMK, NCP, SP, JANTA DAL, RJD and AIADMK and after over a period of time Shudra politics has damaged the political domination of congress party at national level. RSS-BJP put hard efforts to accommodate socially and politically excluded Shudra at village level. After the implementation of OBC reservation both so-called liberal and right wing party played communal tricks like Babri Masjid and Ram temple issue to counter Mondal revolution. It will communalize and Hinduise Shudra against Muslim and Dalit. After 1999 Indian politics shifted in favour of Hindutva politics and in 2014 political power rose in the favour of RSS-BJP led Modi government.
Ex Member of Parliament Sharad Yadav and Omprakash Mahato’s essays try to highlight Ambedkar and Lohia vision of anti-caste movement in their own distinctly Indian version of socialism and ambedkar constitutional socialism. Lohia was an anti-English education; at the same time Dwija caste sent their children in English medium private schools to get intellectual and economical benefits of global language. The system denied the benefits of global English language to Dalitbahujan. In this addition Nehruvian socialist models like ‘five years plan’ also created more inequality at grass root level and more benefit to upper caste and class. Lohia’s slogan ‘Hindi-Hindustani’ now used by RSS-BJP as ‘Hindu, Hindi, Hindustani’ to create socio-political and cultural conflict with south Indian state. Lohia was well aware that historically Shudra and Ati-Shudras shall not be allowed to read and write Sanskrit education. But first time in the Indian history Mahatma Phule stressed on the need of modern and equal education particularly for women. Lohia during his political life he never recognize the great role of Ambedkar, Mahatma Phule and Periyar who developed radical anti-caste theory and praxis to build more egalitarian democratic nation. In addition paper explores conflict with Dalit and Shudra, tension between Hindu and minorities and Mandal commission report recommendations and its socio-political implications.
Prachi Patil looks at ‘The Question of Bahujan Women’ and addresses a series of issues. First, it locates Bahujan women within the traditional matrix of the caste system. She talks about Bahujan feminist standpoint position is itself different from Dalit feminist and Dwija (twice-born) feminist point of views. Author further explores the hierarchical position of Bahujan women and their association to gender and caste issues, and tracing the question of representation, resources and rights of the Shudra womens in different socio-political domain in the contemporary time. Patil discusses many examples about Shudra women Saint like Janabai, Rajali, Gonali, Kalavve, Vïramma and Nimmavve Uttiranallür Nañgai and Alagi in folks traditions challenge during Bhakti movement to question patriarchy and caste discrimination and Barahminical notion of god to keep lower caste out of god worshiping. In addition she looked at OBC women’s reservation in education institutions.
Noted journalist Urmilesh’s important essay on ‘A New Beginning for Shudras Still a Possibility’ tries to cover current political movement accounts led by Shudra and Ati-Shudra leaders in UP and Bihar. He explains the politics such as Karpoori Thakur, RJD leader Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar from Bihar, and BSP founder Kanshiram, Samajwadi party Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP leader Mayawati from Uttar Pradesh for their contribution of empowerment of Shudra caste and its failure to counter Hindutva juggernaut.
Ram Shepherd Bheenaveni’s essay explores the nature of the God and deity in Vedic and the pre-Vedic time. He explores statues of Shudra in vadic and non-vadic spiritual discourse. Further, Bindu N. Doddahatti focuses on ‘Socio-cultural Identity Formation among Shudras’. She gives example of socially and culturally upper status identity of Shudras like the Vokkaligas and Lingayats in Karnataka. She claims that in her essay Lingayats are fighting for separate religion but behave like neo-Brahmin caste. And also she has same critical opinion about Vokkaligas neo-Kshatriya. And final section she addresses violence against Dalit and women.
Pallikonda Manikanta’s chapter on ‘sociocultural Identity Formation among Shudras’ traces Shudra socio-political consciousness in a complex Hindu social order. The Shudras have been excluded in Baramnical text, in this regard Ambedkar said in his 1946 master piece work ‘Who Were the Shudras?’: ‘. . . the book is written for the ignorant and the uninformed Shudras, who do not know how they came to be what they are. They do not care how artistically the theme is handled. All they desire is a full harvest of material—the bigger the better’. This observation is still relevant in today’s context. He also brings discourse of recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
In this book last essay, the Shudra Team’s discusses, ‘Caste and Political Economy’ looks at the development of capitalism and how it is controlled by Banias and Brahmins, the upper caste, historically and even today. Shudra team examine economic and caste data to understand caste monopoly on capital and its relation with RSS-BJP sponsored neo-liberal Hindutva brigade who made financial commitments that helped them to capture power in 2014. And how this deadly combination of cultural nationalism and neo-libral Hindutva would threat to constitutional democracy and capitalist modernity.
Shudra, Dalit and Adivasi were denied all spiritual and equal rights in Hindu Varna system for centuries. RSS-BJP Hindutva forces continue working for to control socio-economic and spiritual life of Shudras. Even today Brahmin and Banias continue to dominate in social and governmental domain to control national life. Also RSS-BJP dominated by Brahmins and Banias caste to control Shudra for their own political and social mobility. This volume successfully maps the trajectory of Shudrsa’s socio-political emancipation project, which still purposefully controlled by RSS-BJP.
This book has contributed to figure out Shudras in modern time after Ambedkar’s masterpiece work ‘Who Where the Shudras?’ in 1946. After seven decades, Kancha ilaiah Shephers and his team try to give new meaning to investigate Shudra spiritual, political identity, and political consciousness to find questions of radical emancipation which was imagined by Bahujan anti-caste crusaders like Buddha, Mahatma Phule, Babasaheb Ambedkar.
The Shudras: Vision for a New Path, edited by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd and Karthik Raja Karuppusamy, New Delhi, Penguin Random House, 2021, 224 pp. (Hardcover)
Dr Sanjay Kumar is currently ICSSR Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Center for African Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi-110067