CULTURE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

[‘फारवर्ड प्रेस’ अंग्रेजी और हिंदी में साथ—साथ प्रकाशित होती है. यह आलेख भी मार्च 2016 अंक में दोनों भाषाओं में एक साथ प्रकाशित हुआ है. ‘आखरमाला’ के पाठकगण भारत और बाहर लगभग समान हैं. इसलिए इस बार अंग्रेजी पाठ ब्लॉग पर दिया जा रहा है. अनुवाद फारवर्ड प्रेस की ओर से है, साभार प्रस्तुति.]

Every society is known by its culture. It is culture that binds a people together and hence, by necessity, it should be steeped in social relations, universal values of life and dreams of the future. Generally, culture and religion are taken to be the same or nearly the same thing. This is erroneous. With its baggage of faiths and beliefs, religion can be a part of culture but not its synonym. The desperation of a society to break free from the shackles of religion only shows its eagerness to adhere to reason. As far as Indian culture is concerned, most scholars describe it as a “culture of diversity” and glorify it as being ”sanatan” (eternal). However, none of these notions is value-based. Cultural diversity is meaningful only if it is a spontaneous extension of human consciousness and promotes democratic thinking. As far as antiquity is concerned, it is a relative concept. It only indicates the historicity of a particular event. The greatness of a culture lies in ensuring justice, equality and harmony among the people; in what it does to resolve the internal conflicts; in how democratic it is. The Indian culture does not fare well on these parameters.

The fact is that the culture which permeates our society is based on Smritis, Puranas and epics; it has been thrust upon the majority, the common man by a minority elite; it corrodes communal wisdom and blocks social justice. Instead of standing by morality and public ideals, it has become a tool in the hands of religion and allows itself to be easily manipulated by the feudal forces. It wants to decide what work the people should do, what they should eat and drink, what they should study and teach, and what kind of relationship they should have with others. It does not take an individual’s wisdom, choices and interests into account. Instead, it makes unwarranted interferences in his life; it undermines equality and liberty and declares inequality to be human destiny – sometimes in the name of religion and at other times in the name of society and diverse traditions. It is a monarchial culture where a person’s birth decides whether he will be the ruler or the ruled. Every strand of this elitist culture strains to protect the privileges of the elite, and if one born in the class of the ruled tries to overcome his handicap or even harbours such dreams, it creates as many roadblocks in their path as possible and moves in to extinguish the desire for change in them. It wants to stifle the questioning mind and dehumanize people. All this erodes the community feeling, the building of which is one of the key objectives of culture; it sows the seeds of communalism and the people’s power gets diluted and blunted due to fragmentation. The result is that change is never forthcoming.

RITUALS: THE WAY TO DOMINATION

We Indians, especially those of us who call ourselves Hindus, are tied to a variety of rituals from birth to death. They are of different kinds and vary from community to community and from caste to caste. The objective of rituals is to propitiate a supernatural power. On the one hand is the giver (imaginary, of course) and on the other, the seeker. The seeker lies prostrate before the giver and is ready to offer whatever he has. Enter the priest – the representative of the giver. To what the seeker offers to the giver, the priest adds his fees. The wide acceptability of rituals has led to stratification of society. The seeker has to pay whatever the giver demands through his self-appointed representative. This is used to their advantage by those perched at the top of the social pyramid. Without doing any productive work, they usurp the biggest chunk of the gains. They thus assume the position of the giver. Culture is reduced to the performance of rituals under their leadership. All the treatises that describe rituals have been authored by Brahmins. The non-Brahmins do not have the right to question, revise or alter them. They are just expected to follow without demur or doubt what the Brahmins have ordained. Any attempt to criticize or review the treatises or question their veracity is considered sinful. The opposition to this culture that promotes cultural and social inequality is as old as the culture itself. Documentation of the voices of this opposition can bring us closer to a relatively liberal and inclusive culture –the people’s culture or the culture of the indigenous people.

The fact is that culture can never be the end. It only helps us choose the means. It is meant to refine and better the basic human instincts. Its objective is not and cannot be to control the everyday life of the people. It is ironical that Indian culture has been a culture of negativities. Stopping people from doing this or that has becomes its mainstay. It has become a tool in the hands of the people who aim at violating the fundamental rights of others. Brahmins form its apex and they are the creators, interpreters, patrons and enforcers of culture. In rare cases –rather as exceptions – some propagators of specific culture, who were not Brahmins by birth, were given the status of “Brahmins by deeds”. Vyas, Valmiki, Mahidas, etc were not Brahmins but they were given the status of Brahmins as they were the codifiers of the culture that considers Varna system as the ideal and bestows all powers on the Brahmins, who are given the supreme status. Some people say this shows how flexible and liberal Indian culture is. The fact is that this is a shrewd device to appropriate the intellectuals of other classes and their achievements. This ensures that the talented members of the lower classes continue working for perpetuating the stranglehold of the upper castes.

BRAHMINS: SOLE REPOSITORIES OF INTELLECT

This notion is palpable right from the Rig Veda to the modern literature. When Satyakaam Jabaali tells Guru Uddalak that he was born to a maid who worked in homes and that he did not know who his father was, the Maharishi says, “You have spoken the truth. Only a Brahmin putra can be so truthful”. And the Maharishi agrees to give him “Diksha”. The scholars of Indian culture quote this incident to underline the magnanimity of Indian culture. In fact, this is intellectual deceit, which, in one blow, pronounces all non-Brahmins as peddlers of lies. Like Satyakaam Jabaali, Mahidas was also the son of a maid – a Shudra by birth – but a brilliant proponent of brahmanical culture. He was the writer of Aitreya Brahmin, Aitreya Upanishad and Aitreya Aranyak. This culture snatched Mahidas from the Shudras. The morganatic tradition of conferring the status of Brahmins on exceptionally brilliant non-Brahmin intellectuals also ensures that even the talentless sons of Brahmins get a place at the top. While the non-Brahmin intellectuals have to display dazzling intellect, creative talent and unquestioning loyalty to the discriminatory brahmanical culture to grow in social stature, the Brahmins are superior solely by virtue of their birth. Needless to say, with their talented members moving to the other camp, the lower classes are deprived of intellectual leadership. In other words, Brahmins are not the sole creators of Indian culture, its presiding deities, its rituals, mythology and religious philosophy, though they are its biggest beneficiaries.

The commentators of brahmanical culture should be praised for one thing – to perpetuate their class Superiority, they refrained from taking personal credit for their works. They gave the credit to Brahmins as a class. In any case, being Brahmins, personal respect was already available to them. Vyas, Yagyavalkya, Vashistha, etc are not the names of individual scholars. They are the names of an order or a Gotra. They are named as the authors of Smritis, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas and even subsequent works. Yog Vashistha, a huge thousand-year-old treatise of over 29,000 verses, was compiled and revised over centuries by innumerable anonymous writers. Yet, Valmiki is credited with the authorship. And Valmiki is also credited with having authored the two-thousand-yearold work called Pulatsya Vadh, which later came to be known as the epic Ramayana. The stratagem of giving knowledge and wisdom the veneer of tradition benefited Brahmins immensely but hurt the interests of the Bahujans. Due to the Varna system, even Brahmin bumpkins became intellectual leaders of society. As generation after generation wrote on the same lines, originality became a casualty. Due to interpolations spread over centuries, these books became riddled with mutually contradictory notions. The Maharabharata (Shantiparva) says, “There is nothing like Varna differentiation. The entire universe is Brahm as Brahm is its creator.” In the same Mahabharata, the despicable act of Droncharya of seeking Eklavya’s thumb as “guru dakshina” is presented as something that has religious sanction.

On the other hand, the poor, who were conditioned to the system, kept on hoping against hope that the pandits who keep an account of the 64 lakh “yonis” (species) and who claim to read the future of all men would also keep their interests in mind. If the Almighty does not differentiate between the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the Brahmin and the Shudra – why would the pandits? This naive faith made them oblivious to their rights and indifferent to their history. The lack of interest of the lower classes in documentation of their times was exploited to the hilt by those on the higher rungs of the social ladder. They came up with the theory of Karma. The exploited were convinced that none other than they themselves were responsible for their miseries. In the name of culture, they were first deprived of opportunities and then stripped of dignity and respect. The upper classes branded the lower ones as uncultured, barbaric buffoons and kept on distorting history. In their history, the sheep and the lambs were held responsible for the disorder in the jungle and the jackals and the hyenas were absolved of every crime. They kept reserved for themselves adjectives like Pandit, Devta, Karunanidhan, Annadata, Rakshak, Seth and Sahukar. This culture was shaped by two thousand years of their shrewd manoeuvres and unprincipled alliances. To hope that this culture would do justice to the common man is deluding oneself.

 

RESISTANCE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

Parallel to the attempts to perpetuate cultural domination, there emerged a movement to throw off the yoke. This is a historical fact. In India, the first signs of this movement can be seen in the life and works of Makkali Ghoshal. He was the first scholar to challenge the exploiter, parasitical Brahmanical culture by bringing together the toilers, artisans and others who earned their bread through physical labour. He did this by establishing the Aajivak sect. The popularity of Makkali is evident from the fact that during his lifetime, the number of followers of the Aajivak sect was higher than that of Buddhists. His scholarship was unmatched. Emperor Prasenjit considered Ghoshal a greater scholar than Buddha. The emperor had said this to Buddha himself. Buddha’s emphasis on non-violence and his anti-ritual, materialistic ideology was largely influenced by the Aajivak sect.

Besides Makkali and Buddha, Niganth Nagputta, Sanjay Vethliputta, Purna Kashyap, Ajit Keshankbali, Kautsa and other scholars also opposed rituals, including animal sacrifices during yagnas. Niganth Nagputta, who came to be known later as Mahavir Swamy, founded the Jain religion. But among them, Buddha acquired the most fame. Instead of initiating a discourse on the contemporary philosophical issues like “atma” (soul) and “parmatma” (Supreme Being), he chose to skirt them. As Buddha was a Kshatriya, his ideology came in handy for the rulers who were unhappy with the growing clout of Brahmin priests. The representative literature of “Aajivak” and “Lokayat” streams is not available today. We have to make do with some passing references in Brahmin, Buddhist and Jain texts. And these streams have not been shown in a positive light. Clearly, the victor cultures systematically destroyed the literature of the vanquished ones.

Even in the scriptures bandied about as the foundation of religion and culture, some elements that were the progenitors and propagators of an alternative people’s culture have survived, notwithstanding interpolations spread over a long period. Mahishasur, Bali, Puranic emperor Ven, Ganesh, Shiva, etc may have been real or mythical. But if we take them to be mythical then we would have to put Brahma, Vishnu, Indra, Hanuman and other gods and goddesses, who are the propagators of brahmanical culture, in the same category, as it is on the foundation of the former that the latter’s edifice has been built. Shiva must have been the lord of the Tribals of the country. His associates bhoot, pishasch, pret, etc remind us of the primitive tribes. The Aryans adopted Shiva but discarded his associates. And even Shiva was not spared. He was portrayed as an ascetic who consumes datura (thorn-apple) and aak (swallowwort) and who wraps his body in ash. And the right to run (rule) the Universe was given to the Brahmin Brahma and Kshatriya Vishnu. The myth of Ganesh also reminds one of ancient Indian republics. In republics, the head of state is given the first place. However, when republics were replaced by monarchies, his form was distorted and projected as one with a long trunk and a big stomach. The idea was to humiliate and belittle the leader of the people.

The intellectuals whose dream is to bring about social justice have to fight against religious domination, poverty and the Varna system, which has struck deep roots. This cannot be done without liberating oneself from the dominant culture. Brahmanical culture believes in celestial justice. It does not say how that justice will manifest itself and how it will help the deprived sections progress. The first objective of the proponents of social justice should be to build a culture that is liberal and democratic, with minimum interference of organized religion. For this, it will be necessary to bring into limelight those symbols of our ancient culture that stood against or parallel to the brahmanical culture. Will this not be akin to trying to locate another religion within one religion? Maybe. However, these symbols, heroes and myths should be used only to restore the self-confidence of the oppressed, exploited classes – to let them know that they were not like “this” since times immemorial, that, in fact, in many respects, their culture was superior to the brahmanical culture. In Ravana’s Lanka, Vibhishan was allowed to live with his own beliefs and loyalties. But in Ram Rajya, Shambuk was deprived of this freedom. Similarly, the Rakshak emperor Jalandhar lived happily with his wife Vrinda, who was an ardent devotee of Vishnu. There was not even a shadow of suspicion in their marital relationship. On the other hand, Sita was forced to undergo “Agni Pariksha” just because she had spent a few days in Ravana’s Ashok Vatika. The battle for retrieving the buried and forgotten symbols is also a battle against poverty and other inequalities born out of the caste system. The irony is that the groups that have been enjoying privileges and respect because of their caste are today accusing the pro-change groups of exacerbating casteist tensions. Those who are victims of the caste system feel that they can forge forward in their struggle by using the rights that democracy has made available to them. They are using caste as a tool for getting organized. But caste-based organizations have their own limitations. There are thousands of castes in this country and none of them, on its own, is capable of becoming an agent of change. That is why people have gradually come to realize that to take the fight for social justice ahead, a parallel cultural front also needs to be launched. Victory belongs to those who remain united and work with collective wisdom.

OMPRAKASH KASHYAP

टिप्पणी करे

Filed under CULTURE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

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