‘Suffer’ for 200 years and be ready to atone for 2,000 years of ‘caste discrimination’

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s comments at Aggrasen Chhatravas, Nagpur, this week have stirred up a storm in a teacup, by also advising Hindus to be ready to eat meat and even beef, if necessary

RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat
RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat

AJ Prabal

Ahead of the elections in five states in December and the general election next year, Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, has admitted that caste discrimination continues in India.

Addressing students at Aggrasen Chhatravas, Nagpur, he claimed that officials had 'informed' him that caste discrimination prevailed even in ‘higher services’.

He also spoke of Dalits still being denied entry into temples and being flogged for their temerity to ride in palanquins. His address, as reported in the media, suggests he was unaware of both issues until now. “We didn’t bother even when they lived like animals,” he said.

The RSS has long been in favour of a casteless society, in which everyone is a Hindu, though it was not averse to reservation for the economically weaker sections, irrespective of caste. The government, however, pushed through a 10 per cent reservation for the economically weak from castes not availing any other reservation in 2019.

To be fair to the RSS chief, months after he suggested in 2015 that the system of ‘reservation’ should be reviewed and that it had been used for political purposes, he changed his tune. In December, 2015 he declared that reservations should continue as long as there was "social discrimination". He has spoken in a similar vein in later years.

But this week at Nagpur Bhagwat also said, it is reported, that while reservations mandated in the Constitution should continue, it was more a question of dignity and respect rather than political and economic parity. Samman, samvedna and samvad (respect, empathy and dialogue) were what was needed, he said.

The RSS chief’s belated admission that caste discrimination has existed for the past 2,000 years is unexceptionable.

The statement, however, that because people of lower castes and Dalits suffered for 2,000 years, ‘we’ too should be ready to suffer for 200 years has raised some eyebrows and caused some amusement.

Who was he referring to as ‘We’? If he were referring to upper-caste Hindus, how would they be made to ‘suffer’ for the next 200 years? Will they also be required to live like animals (pashu-samaan, as Bhagwat described) as the lower castes had during the last 2,000 years?

His address does provide a hint, though. He shared an anecdote that when RSS workers were invited to a sahabhoj (inter-community feast), they discovered that meat was being served and they were informed that it was beef. Unwilling to upset or insult the hosts, the RSS workers began eating without any fuss.

Can one then expect that the RSS chief’s conciliatory tone will prompt the Sangh Parivar and BJP governments to review and revise their hostility towards meat and beef? Since the Bharatiya Janata Party does not oppose beef in states like Kerala, West Bengal and in the North-East, it remains to be seen whether the RSS chief’s words have some effect on BJP governments in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere.

Welcoming the RSS chief’s ‘realisation’, a Rashtriya Janata Dal member of the Rajya Sabha wondered if Mohan Bhagwat would now be able to persuade the Union government to agree to a caste census too.

Mohan Bhagwat’s earlier statements on reservation:

  • There should be conversation in a harmonious atmosphere between those in favour of reservation and those against it. Those who favoured reservation should speak keeping in mind the interests of those who were against it, and similarly those who opposed it should do the vice versa.

  • The reservation policy has been used for political ends. 'Interest groups' do get formed in a democracy, but the aspirations of one section should not be met at the cost of others.

  • We should have an integral approach of welfare for all. It is sensible to realise that my interest lies in the larger national interest. The government also has to be sensitive to these issues (so) that there should not be any agitations for them.

  • RSS is of the firm opinion that there is no question of scrapping the reservation system. Reservation in the country should continue as long as social discrimination prevails in Indian society.

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