Political radical and social Tory' is the phrase Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar used in his famous polemic work 'What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables' to describe Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the great nationalist leader, whose slogan 'freedom is our birthright' reverberated throughout the anti British freedom struggle of India and who suffered intense torture in the British gaol for opposing British rule in India, but who was in equal measure, also a social reactionary. Dr. Ambedkar, who too was a Marathi like Tilak, had great respect for Tilak for the inspiring courage and forbearance he showed for his political convictions but resented his socio-religious views which was out and out reactionary and hindered India's social progress. Dr. Ambedkar wrote that India abounded with political radicals and social tories like Tilak. It was Tilak whose hard status quoist position on social issues and rabid temperament did not allow the 1905 Social Conference in Poona ( the home town of Tilak) to take place, which had till then been held as regular feature simultaneously at the same venue with the annual conference of Indian National Congress. In fact Tilak had threatened to burn the 'pandal' of the Social Conference. The Social Conference used to discuss the social decay of India and how to revitalize India's social life which was rotting and stinking. Child marriage, illiteracy, female education, widow's remarriage, untouchability, socio-religious taboos connected with obnoxious caste system, socio-religious reforms etc. were the topics that were hotly debated in these conferences. Slowly the debate began to acquire a critical tone against India's, particularly Hindu's, religious and social traditions and the role of priestly caste in preserving these socio-religious evils. This alerted the extremist Poona Brahmins who had already been severely and uncompromisingly criticized and held responsible for India's social decay by Jotiba Phule (of the same Poona), widely held as the modern India's first social revolutionary. Tilak, himself a chitpawan brahmin, represented the social reactionaries of Poona and so took a position against the Social Conference. This had a lasting effect as the Social Conference so thwarted from taking place in 1905 in Poona never took place again anywhere in country and the agenda of socio-religious reforms, progress and change that was growing in the womb of Social Conferences was aborted without any hope of reconception till the first decade of twenty first century i.e. the time location of this article.
Of course, India does have the agenda of socio-religious transformation but that has been propagated by the marginalized castes and that seems far away from being realized in near or not so distant future because of India's ruling castes' antipathy towards this agenda. But in the Social Conferences it was India's privileged castes that were debating India's socio-religious evils and, therefore, there was a hope. But Tilak's intransigence chased away the liberal minded leaders of privileged castes from the agenda of socio-religious reforms and transformation and created a situation which made India's independence from the British occupation the sole preoccupation of India's nationalists belonging to traditional dominant castes. All the talks of socio-religious reforms were set aside by the subsequent leaders of Indian National Congress on the plea that India's independence from the British occupation was of paramount importance and the agenda of socio-religious reforms might be postponed till attainment of freedom. For the dwija leaders of Indian National Congress the agenda of socio-religious reforms and transformation were controversial as it 'divided' the people.
The leaders of marginalized sections like Narayana Guru, E.V. Ramaswami Naikar Periyar, Dr. Ambedkar and numerous other leaders unlike the leaders of Indian National Congress made socio-religious liberation of Shudra and Ati Shudra their main concern but their struggle could not become the mainstream of India's political life. It was hoped that leaders of free India would set right the historical wrong committed by Tilak in not allowing the Social Conference to take place in 1905 in Poona. But as it turned out, the plea of dwija leaders of Indian National Congress to postpone the socio-religious agenda in favour of the 'larger goal' of freedom struggle was mere pretence to sidetrack the agenda of socio-religious reforms. The leaders of free India who assumed power on attainment of freedom did not show any interest to fulfill the promise of taking up the cause of socio-religious reforms. Whether it was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister and a Brahmin by caste or Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first president and a non-brahmin upper caste, they all showed their inclination to preserve the rotten traditions by default or by scheme. The phrase that Dr. Ambedkar used to describe Tilak could now be appropriately applied to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who was like Tilak a political radical but surrendered meekly to the social 'tories' of free India. The end result of complete neglect of the agenda of socio-religious reforms by the ruling elites is there for all to see.
Everything that was practiced in India hundred or two hundred years ago or even earlier in the name of social and religious traditions is still practiced sporadically or widely in some forms or other. A country that sends satellite in earth's orbit, tests atomic bombs, extracts electricity from atomic power, is called super power in information technology, where billionaires are multiplying, whose big industry houses are turning multinationals, is called the world's largest democracy, is also the country, where half of the world's total population of illiterates reside, widow remarriage is still not prevalent, child marriages are still practiced, innocent lonely women are tortured or killed for practicing 'witchcraft', marriages are inconceivable outside caste boundaries unless one revolts against it, dowry system has ravaged the social life, dalits are wantonly killed because of low social status, sati is still glorified not only in the dark lanes of rural India but also in the national media and hundreds of such socio-religious evils are routinely practiced without any shame.
Who are the people who practice these obnoxious socio-religious evils and due to such practice have become the wretched of the earth without any hope whatsoever of any rejuvenation in their life? They are most particularly the shudra and ati shudra who form more than three fourth population of India and these socio-religious evils are the permanent shackle on their progress. It is not without reason that India's ruling elites have systematically kept these socio-religious evils in preservation and not carried any drive against these evils. Since the caste system is an essential feature of Hinduism and the caste system is safe as long as the shudra and ati shudra are in backward conditions of life, these socio-religious evils serve useful purpose of keeping the shudra and ati shudra down and out and ensuring the hegemony of the dwijas. That is the reason why India's ruling caste elites have not shown any interest in carrying out the agenda of socio-religious reforms.
One question often visits my mind. Why Ataturk Kamal Pasha of Turkey could carry out the modernization agenda of the Turkish society steeped in medieval and feudal ethos and mores and engaged in practicing myriads of socio-religious evils, in a matter of few months, but, why the leaders of free India, most notably Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, a leader educated in British schools and colleges and carrying impression of Marxism, a volunteer in Spanish Civil War and a writer of such celebrated works as Discovery of India and Glimpses of World History, could not even take up the socio-religious agenda for the modernization of Indian society? I think the answer to this question has already been hinted at even before posing this one.
Is the new Nepal i.e. Nepal after the abolition of monarchy and coming into power of the Maoist led coalition government as an interim government before drafting and adoption of new constitution, going the same way as India? It seems like so. Unfortunately the phrase coined by Dr Ambedkar to describe Tilak and which aptly suited Pandit Nehru may haunt Prachanda, the Maoist Prime Minister of Nepal, too, if he does not take a corrective measure.
I have been provoked to draw the similarity among Tilak, Nehru and Prachanda after a recent event in Nepal in which an eight year old girl was coroneted as living goddess not by the common public but by a government appointed trust. Earlier the coronation was done by the palace but after the abolition of palace the new government of Nepal appointed a trust to look after religious matters. It was widely believed that the new government would put an end to such irrational practices carried out in the name of religion and tradition. But the way the things have been compromised in the name of 'avoiding controversy' and not hurting the 'religious sentiments' of the 'people', a typical communist pretence of avoiding the socio-religious issues in Indian sub-continent, is ominous for the future of lower caste people of new Nepal. The socio-religious evils such as those seen in practice in India and Nepal have deep roots in caste system which in turn owes its origin to hindu (say brahminical) religion. The fight against caste system begins with fight against the socio-religious taboos and superstitions. The fight for reservation in jobs and education is an advanced stage of fight against the caste system. The compromise with socio-religious evils is in essence a compromise with caste system. It seems that new Nepal under the leadership of political radical Prachanda is neglecting the agenda of socio-religious reforms and shying away from fight against the caste system which in the long will prove disastrous for the dalits and other lower castes of Nepal. The shudra and ati shudra of Nepal should draw lessons from the post independence history of India and exercise maximum alertness to ensure that they should not be deceived in the manner their Indian brothers and sisters were. I end this write up with a quotation of Dr Ambedkar from the statement he issued when his extremely strenuous efforts stretching four and half years to pass Hindu Code Bill in the parliament of the new born free India was frustrated by the social tories: " The Hindu Code was the greatest social reform measure ever undertaken by the Legislature in this country. No law passed by the Indian Legislature in the past or likely to be passed in the future can be compared to it in point of its significance. To leave inequality between class and class, between sex and sex which is the soul of Hindu society untouched and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our constitution and to build a palace on dung heap."
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