Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Constitution Review and the 'Hindu Constitution':

The present Constitution of India, framed by Dr. Ambedkar, himself a Dalit, clearly has its own limitations. It is, in essence, a liberal bourgeois document. Yet it also affords the Dalit-Bahujans vital spaces and opportunities closed to them by Brahminical law, including, particularly, the Manusmriti. The notions of equality, freedom, democracy and secularism contained in the present Indian Constitution, all of which are integral to the project of Dalit-Bahujan emancipation, are vehemently denied in Brahminical law. This explains why Dr. Ambedkar publicly burnt the Manusmriti in 1928 in a symbolic protest against the entire Brahminical tradition.

Dalit-Bahujan intellectuals have argued, and rightly so, that the long-standing Hindutva demand for scrapping the present Constitution and replacing it with a 'Hindu' Constitution, is aimed essentially at doing away with even the limited opportunities and spaces that the Indian Constitution provides the oppressed castes, and to re-impose the varnashrama dharma or the rule of caste.[15] For, as Sangeetha Rao, a leading Dalit ideologue, argues, Ambedkar's Constitution is, in spirit, vehemently opposed to the law of Manu, and that is the main reason why Hindutvawadis wish to scrap it. The 'Hindu Constitution' that they wish to replace the present Constitution, would, in Rao's words, provide legal sanction to 'Hindu fascism', 'Brahminical dictatorship' and the 'Manuvadi Vyavastha' (the Manu-ite social system)'. Rao writes that behind the Hindutva demand for a Presidential system of governance and for a 'Hindu Constitution' is the actual goal of establishing the 'Brahminvadi or Manuvadi
system', for the 'social, political and economic democracy' that Dr. Ambedkar championed is completely opposed to the 'system based on 'Manu-ism'. As Rao sees it, the 'Hindu' system of government that the Hindutvawadis are crusading for is nothing but the 'caste system', the rule of the 'upper' castes and the permanent slavery of the Bahujan Samaj. He writes that the 'Hindu Constitution' that the Hindutvawadis advocate aims at clamping down on democracy and further suppressing the Dalit-Bahujans, because, as he argues,

The Hindu social order does not recognize the necessity of representative government composed of the representatives chosen by the people [.] It is nothing short of Hindu fascism. It is reflected in the statement of Sangh Parivar mafia leader Ashok Singhal, 'A lasting government will be a Hindu government. If the people do not like it they can go to the country of their choice. Otherwise, they will be at the mercy of Hindus'.[16]

Rao sees the close collaboration between the 'upper' caste elites and western imperialists, the sharp curtailment of social welfare programmes, the Hinduisation of the education system, the non-implementation of anti-untouchability laws and the sharp increase in atrocities on Dalits in India under BJP rule as all part of the wider Hindutva agenda that aims at the firm suppression of the Dalit-Bahujans and the reinforcement of 'upper' caste hegemony, faithfully following the commandments and underlying spirit of the Manusmriti.[17]

Another leading Dalit spokesman who has subjected the Hindutva project to incisive critique is Ram Khobragade. In his Indian Constitution Under Communal Attack, Khobragade links the destruction of the Babri Masjid with the Brahminical Hindu and anti-Ambedkar agenda of Hindutva, and argues that the Hindutvawadis:

[In] the heart of their hearts bitterly hate Dr. Ambedkar, who made their religion thoroughly naked [.] Dr. Ambedkar was the architect of the modern social order of this country, and this very thing these Manuvadis, the protagonists of the Manuvadi social system could not digest. Consequently, on his 37th Mahaparivaran Day [6 December, 1992, when they destroyed the Babri Masjid and unleashed a wave of bloody attacks on Muslims all over the country] they showed to the entire world that henceforth India would be governed not by the Constitution of Dr. Ambedkar but by the social order created by Manu, and by other religious scriptures created by various rishis-the supporters of the varnashram caste system.[18]

Likewise, another Dalit spokesperson, R.D.Nimesh, argues, the Hindutvawadis' opposition to the Constitution stems from the fact that the Constitution allows some limited possibilities for Dalits to take to education and better employment, which in itself is a direct contradiction of the varnashrama dharma that the Hindutvawadis seek to revive.3 'In the name of establishing Hindu rule', he argues, the Hindutvawadis actually seek to impose the 'Brahminical law of caste exploitation'.[19] This view is echoed by Lalloo Prasad Yadav, former chief minister of Bihar, who argues that, 'There is the hand of Manuvadi, fascist and casteist forces behind the move to change the Indian Constitution'.[20]

Of course, this actual intention is not stated openly, for in the present political system, which the Hindutvawadis so despise, the Dalit-Bahujans, well over 80 per cent of the population, constitute such a vital force that cannot be ignored. Hence, the Hindutva opposition to the Constitution is camouflaged in different terms-as an effort to promote 'Hindu' 'cultural authenticity' or to do away with legal guarantees for religious minorities, such as their right to administer their own educational institutions, regulate their personal affairs in accordance with their own personal laws and so on.

While critiquing the present Constitution as 'anti-Hindu', the Hindutvawadis seek to replace it with an authoritarian set-up that would more effectively serve the interests of the 'upper' castes and western imperialist forces. Thus, the communist leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet argues that in calling for a review of the Constitution and suggesting a presidential system of government in place of the present parliamentary system, the Hindutvawadis seek 'the perpetuation of bourgeois-landlord rule'. Surjeet adds that, 'The RSS has always been in favour of a unitary authoritarian state structure in the image of its own organisational structure, based on the principle of one leader, all the rest working as followers'. The Hindutvawadi demand for a presidential system is a major step in this direction.[21] Similarly, Prabhat Patnaik, a noted Indian economist, writes that behind the Hindutva demand for the rewriting of the Constitution is the aim of 'abridg[ing] democracy in order to
consolidate the collaborationist bourgeois state. It is no accident that the need to amend the Constitution is being felt by the very government [the present BJP-led regime] whose pursuit of pro-imperialist policies is marked by unprecedented vigour'. Patnaik sees the Hindutva efforts to do away with parliamentary democracy and replace it with American-style presidential rule as a response to the growing participation of the lower caste/class masses in elections as a means for the assertion of their rights, which is now threatening the rule of the 'upper' caste/class minority who now find parliamentary democracy a major challenge to their entrenched hegemony. At the same time, Patnaik argues, the western imperialist-imposed 'globalisation' that the Indian ruling classes have so willingly embraced also demands the 'rolling back' of democracy to smoothen the way for multinational corporations to loot the country.[22]

Behind the Hindutva critique of the Constitution in the name of doing away with its allegedly 'anti-Hindu' elements one can discern a cleverly thought out Brahminical strategy of attacking the very spirit of the Constitution that lays down the principles of equality, democracy and social justice that are so stridently opposed to the Brahminical tradition. This explains how and why the entire Constitution, including its fundamental values of equality, democracy, social justice and freedom that are specifically mentioned in its preamble and later elaborated upon in the document, is branded as 'un-Hindu' by many Hindutva writers. One of these is a certain Bengali Brahmin, Abhas Chatterjee. In a booklet titled The Concept of Hindu Nation, published by a hardcore Hindutva publishing house Voice of India, Chatterjee goes so far as to claim that, 'Leave other things alone, even the preamble of the Indian Constitution does not contain any Hindu idea. It enumerates no principles based on Hindu ethos and ideals'.[23] Likewise, another Brahmin scholar, P.N. Joshi, president of the Rashtriya Hindu Manch, writes in a book tellingly titled Constitution: A Curse to the Hindus, that 'Pakistan is an Islamic country. It is governed according to Islamic law. India is a Hindu Rashtra. Here it ought to be Hindu law'.[24] Naturally, he does not elaborate on what misery Hindu law would bring to the vast majority of the Indians themselves-the 'lower' castes, whose cruel oppression was given religious sanction precisely by the Hindu law that he so passionately advocates.

Since the entire edifice of Brahminism and Brahminical law rests on the permanent subjugation of the Dalit-Bahujans as servants of the 'upper' castes, it is hardly surprising that Hindutva ideologues are vehemently opposed to reservations in jobs and in the state and national legislatures for the 'lower' castes that are provided for in the present Constitution. This is one of the major reasons for their demand that the present Constitution be scarpped or 'reviewed'. For electoral purposes the Hindutva brigade may not openly oppose reservations, but leading Hindutva spokesmen have repeatedly spoken out against them as allegedly 'dividing' the Hindus and promoting 'casteism', as if reservations were responsible in any way for creating the caste system in the first place.

According to the Brahminical scriptures the duty (dharma) of the 'lower' castes is simply to slave for the 'upper ' castes without any hope for recompense. For 'lower' castes to take to any other profession would be a violation of the iron law of dharma and would be a grave challenge to the Brahminical religion. That is why in the Ramayana Rama is said to have struck off the head of the Shudra Shambukh for having so much as dared to engage in tapasya and thereby threaten to ascend to heaven in his physical body. As an 'ideal' Hindu king, Ram, as Dr. Ambedkar notes, was an 'upholder of the varna vyavastha', or the caste system that spells out permanent servitude for the Shudras as their dharma.[25] Hence, for the 'upper' caste devotees of Rama today the 'lower' castes must not deviate from their jati dharma or caste duty of slaving for the 'upper' castes. The reservations in government jobs for the Dalit-Bahujans that the present Constitution provides is a flagrant violation of this
principle, and this explains, partly, the vehement demand of Hindutva forces to replace it with what they call a 'Hindu' Constitution, which would guarantee permanent 'upper' caste privilege and 'lower' caste slavery.

Reservations are only one aspect of the present Constitution that Hindutvawadis are vociferously opposed to and for which they label it as 'anti-Hindu'. In fact, the entire gamut of laws that flow out of the basic premises of the present Constitution that can be used in favour of the Dalit-Bahujans in their struggle against 'upper' caste/class hegemony is seen by Hindutva forces as 'un-Hindu', thus explaining their opposition to the Constitution itself. As Hindutva ideologues view it, the law is not what the Constitution says it is but, rather, what the pontiffs of Brahminical Hinduism, arch-defenders of the caste system and Brahminical privilege, say it should be. As Ashok Singhal, general-secretary of the VHP, declares in no uncertain terms, 'What the dharmacharyas pronounce as dharma, we will also accept as law' (The Pioneer, 4 December, 1992). Lest anyone labour under any doubt as far as what this would mean for the Dalit-Bahujans, we have it from authority of all the classical and defining texts of Brahminism that the caste system and the subjugation of the Dalit-Bahujans are an integral and inseparable component of dharma. As scholars of 'Hinduism' have pointed out, in the Brahminical texts, the sanatana dharma or 'eternal religion' is not defined as a single, universally applicable concept. Dharma, as reflected in the notion of varnashrama dharma, is caste and context specific, and depends on one's caste (varna) and stage of life (ashram). The dharma of the Brahmin is to study, teach the 'upper' castes and to receive donations. The dharma of the Shudra is simply to serve the 'upper' castes. It is this dharma that contemporary Hindutva aims to revive, despite its denials to the contrary. As Abhas Chatterjee writes, the state that the Hindutvawadis seek to construct would 'not only accord the highest place to sanatana dharma but [would] also protect its values, project its glory in the world, and make it its source of inspiration'. At the same time, Chatterjee calls for the scrapping of the present Constitution, arguing that, '[W]e have to change almost all laws and policies' and replace them by those rooted in the sanatana dharma.[26] Dalit-Bahujans must shudder at this menacing prospect.

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