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Respond Correctly


Bihar Education Minister Chandrashekhar’s statement about banning the ‘Ramcharitmanas’ and the ‘Manusmriti’, on the face of it, reflects the angst of certain sections against the ‘advocacy’ of systemic social repression in Hindu scriptures. The movement for social justice has a long history and has had a considerable impact on present day India. Reservations for what were designated as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Constitution came into being after society acknowledged past injustices. Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, for instance, very carefully examined the issues involved and played a major role in defining the corrective action presently underway. Mahatma Gandhi coined the word, Harijan (People of God), which is no longer preferred, today. With the cause now becoming more than the desire for justice and transforming into combative politics, the chosen identity is that of a ‘Dalit’ – the oppressed.

While Gandhi wanted the dominant sections of society to treat those traditionally discriminated against with compassion, even reverence, the present standard bearers of the ‘Dalit’ cause seem to prefer an antagonistic relationship. In the process, they have become a coveted votebank against those who may be projected as the privileged sections.

It is this votebank that Minister Chandrashekhar is targeting because, in the identity politics of Bihar, the BJP has succeeded, as elsewhere, in attracting Scheduled Caste voters to its ranks. If there is polarisation based on caste and community in Bihar, the Scheduled Caste vote will play a significant role. Hence, the willingness to attack Hindu scriptures in the hope that the ruling JD(U)-RJD combine’s passion for social justice would be acknowledged.

The Minister’s statement has naturally generated anger among Hindu outfits; even some threats have been made. However, what is required is not action against him personally but a scholarly rebuttal to his accusations by explaining the context and the content of these books. This is how Hinduism has evolved over the millennia – not by punishing questioners and critics for blasphemy. It is also important for Dalit activists to realise that, while acquiring political clout for the community is desirable, genuine progress and social advancement are only possible by placing emphasis on education and other necessary skills. As one Dalit community leader has emphasised, there is nothing better than building a flourishing business and having the satisfaction of having Brahmin employees do your bidding! That would be certainly better than becoming pawns in the hands of opportunistic and unscrupulous politicians, who change loyalties at the drop of a hat.