A Critique of the Hindu Council Report 'Caste in India' by Gail Omvedt
Caste in India
* This article was written as a reply to a document on “Caste in India” issued by the Hindu Council of the UK, which was itself a response to Dalit organizing globally as well as nationally. The issues it deals with are very general, and I have attempted to give a full alternative account. Those interested in the Hindu Council’s document may download it from the Hindu Council UK's website. I owe thanks to Michael Witzel [Wales Professor of Sanskrit Studies at Harvard - Editor] for his help in note citing Vedic references on caste and his careful reading of an earlier version of this essay - Gail Omvedt
The author of this critique Gail Omvedt is a world famous scholar of Dalit Studies. She has also been very supportive of Dalit issues globally. [Editor].
The essay submitted by the Hindu Council of the United Kingdom on “Caste in India” contains no surprises. It seeks to justify and legitimate the continuation of the caste system. It argues that in its origin the caste system was a way of maintaining a harmonious and integrated society, that it was not by birth but by “merit”, and that today it functions as something like a “club” in which likeminded people can associate freely with one another. Caste, according to the Hindu Council, took on its severe and birth-related qualities only during the medieval period in India, when a wave of invasions, mostly by Muslims (though the report mentions at first the Kushans), forced a retreat into a defensive form of integration. It has not been stagnant, and is in the process of being reformed today. The Report concludes by saying that “Historically, varnashram has enabled Hindu civilisation to survive repeated invasions. It has made Indian society stronger….Today it has outlived its usefulness.”
Does this mean it should be destroyed? Not according to the Hindu Council:
Hindu Caste/Varna Ideology-the Roots of Nazi Philosophy
The seemingly pagan and esoteric thoughts of the Nazis was not rooted in any madness but in a rational which upheld extreme notions of hierarchy and racial pollution. German Nazi philosophers found their perfect master race model in the Brahmin and Kshatriya supermen of Krishna who claimed to have created the caste/varna system; in the perverted and ruling class Zen-Buddhist warrior model of the Japanese samurai and in the Tibetan elite Buddhism which combined master race warriors in both its perversion of Tantric religion and in the fighting man machine best described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. To the Nazis Tibetans were long lost Aryans. To the upper caste Hindus Hitler was not less than a Mahatma and the extreme right wing of Hindu society still looks upon Hitler admiringly.
Annihilation of Caste
We can think of no better document which is a better antidote to Hindu Council UK's distortion and propaganda regarding the Indian caste system and Dalits, than Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste . This document is a form of a speech that was drafted in 1935 but not deliveredÂ at the Jat Pat Todk Mandal's[roughly-Break Caste System Society] public meeting. Jat Pat Todak MandalÂ officials had invited Ambedkar to deliver his speech. However, later they withdrew their invitation because Ambedkar's speech was considered to be too radical. The issues raised by Ambedkar remain relevant today as these were at the time his speech was written.
Coulmbia University's website has a "multimedia study environment which now includes The Annihilation of Caste, explanatory annotations and some of Dr Ambedkar's other important writings."
Embedded in this multimedia document annotations are a number of videos which deal with some important issues relating to Ambedkar.
Problems of the Term Hindu
It is often assumed that everybody understands the term Hindu.Â This in fact is not the case when it comes to understanding the politics of Dalit oppression.Â Ambedkar himself had written about the problem of defining a Hindu in his essay The Riddles in Hinduism.
In this video Prof Rachel McDermott of Harvard discusses the relationship between the colonial construct and the politics of the term Hindu.