Thursday, 24 November 2011

My additional comment on S. Anand’s article against Periyar titled “Iconoclast or Lost Idol”

In his article against Periyar titled “Iconoclast or Lost Idol”, S. Anand uses a quote of Thirumavalavan to allude that Periyar and his followers have not worked for temple entry rights of Dalits which is a gross lie. Periyar and his followers pioneered temple entry movements for Dalits and were instrumental in legislation of a law for temple entry rights for Dalits during the life time of Periyar itself. The fact is that no Dalit can be denied entry into any temple under the control of the Hindu religious and charitable endowments in Tamil Nadu.

Periyar pioneered a law for abolishing the religious fountainhead of untouchability by making Dalits as temple priests by calling for a legislation that allows peoples from all castes – including Dalits - to become temple priests which was stalled by Brahmans by going to the Supreme Court despite Periyar’s proposed law being twice legislated by the DMK Government.

S. Anand quotes Thirumavalavan to belittle the Periyarist agitation for “entry” into the “sanctum sanctorum” of temples and in challenging Sankaracharyas. One should remember that the agitations for entry into the sanctum sanctorum is aimed at ending the untouchability imposed on both Dalits and backward castes which bans their entry into the sanctum sanctorum, and hence is aimed at empowering both Dalits and backward castes to enter the sanctum sanctorum which will demolish the theological caste supremacist status of Brahmans as the “most superior” caste with the sole right  to enter the sanctum sanctorum, and thus strike at the root of the graded caste supremacist bigotry which sustains the caste system. Similarly, Dalits and backward castes are banned from being anointed as Sankaracharyas and the latter are seen as custodians of Brahman racist supremacism. Therefore opposing Sankaracharyas is also an expression of challenging the graded caste supremacist system - the fountain-head of which are Brahmans and Brahmanism, which in turn empowers both backward castes and Dalits. If a Dalit can become a temple priest and a Sankaracharya by eradicating untouchability and overthrowing the theological racist supremacy of Brahmans, it will be easier for Dalits to break barriers at other hierarchies and levels of the caste system and bring down the caste system itself. Hence Periyar believed in going after the root factor that sustained the religious foundations of untouchability and the graded inequality of the caste system. In other words, Periyar believed in uprooting the tree and did not want to waste his time cutting the branches of the tree. Periyar believed that if the Hindu religious foundation for untouchability can be eradicated, other social manifestations of untouchability will wane and disappear. Now, one can realise the fallacy of the argument by some biased individuals who vainly and falsely argue that Periyar ignored untouchability.

One has to also cite the fact that the erstwhile Government of the DMK in Tamil Nadu state brought in a law to train and employ people from all castes – including Dalits - as temple priests by allowing them to enter the sanctum sanctorum, which was a measure to combat the Hindu religious foundations of untouchability, caste system and to create the mingling of the castes. But this law was stayed by some Brahman bigots who sued against the law by citing the Hindu law based on bigoted scriptures such as Manusmiruthi, even though the Hindu law runs counter to the constitutional provision that outlaws caste discrimination. This shows that Periyar believed in attacking the Hindu religious fountainhead of untouchability which will end religious sanction for untouchability and the caste system, which is a crucial factor in the fight against the caste system.

S. Anand also quotes Thirumavalavan as saying that Periyarists do not lead Dalits into temples controlled by “non-Brahmins”. All temples are in fact non-Brahmin temples because all temples were built by the blood, sweat, money, talent and artistry of non-Brahmans. Brahmans colonise and occupy the temples built by non-Brahmins as priests.  From a legal point of view, there are only two kinds of temples: In the first category are temples which come under the control of the state Government’s Hindu religious and charitable endowments board. In the second category are temples which are privately built and privately owned in land governed by private property laws.  No Dalit is prevented entry into any temple that is controlled by the Government of Tamil Nadu’s Hindu religious and charitable endowments.  As stated earlier, Periyarists conducted campaigns for temple entry of Dalits and pioneered the law to enable temple entry of Dalits during Periyar’s life time itself.  Hence all Dalits have all the right to enter all the temples under the Government’s Hindu religious and charitable endowments.  In a few places, Dalits may be refused entry into temples built on private property owned by caste bigots as an expression of untouchability and this has been the point of contention involving a few agitations, such as the agitation of Dalits to enter the Uthapuram temple. Untouchability is universally and constitutionally banned. Hence, to practice untouchability in privately owned property, businesses or in privately owned temples is anti-constitutional, criminal and illegal. Periyarists support all agitations and movements regarding temple entry of Dalits, but after pioneering the movement and the law enabling temple entry for all Dalits in Tamil Nadu, Periyarists may be constrained to go after a few privately owned and insignificant rural temples where Dalits may be denied entry because Periyarists (just as Ambedkarite Buddhists) may not want to be seen as proselytizing for Hinduism and want Dalits to shun privately owned Hindu temples which shun Dalits, and actually want Dalits (and backward castes) to shun Hinduism itself. But Periyarists (such as myself because I believe in combining Periyarist – Ambedkarite perspectives) may not be expected to act during each and every rare occasion when an insignificant and privately owned rural temple shuns Dalits because Periyarists prioritize advocacy for asking people to shun Hinduism and embrace atheism, Buddhism or even Islam. Periyarists have campaigned for temple entry of Dalits and pioneered a law that ensured temple entry for all Dalits in all temples in Tamil Nadu during Periyar’s life time itself, and hence it is biased to put all the burden of activism on Periyar’s followers regarding a few privately owned temples where Dalits may be shunned. Hence if untouchability is still practiced in some remote privately owned temples, I am sure other Dalit political parties, NGOs and communist parties will shoulder the responsibility for ensuring Dalit right to enter these temples using the law, as it successfully happened in Uthapuram temple recently.

It is also for wrong for Thirumavalavan to say (as quoted by S. Anand) that Periyar did not have a separate agenda for Dalits. Periyar spoke, wrote and organised socio-political action for Dalit rights on many occasions. Periyar did not have a separate agenda for any particular caste and he did not have a separate agenda for backward castes either. Periyar attacked the fountainhead of the caste system which are Brahmans, Brahmanism and Hindu religion, and called for annihilation of all castes, hence he focused on atheism for all castes, destruction of Hinduism, conversion of Dalits to atheism or even Islam and the overthrowing of Brahman – Baniya “twice born” racist apartheid governing class with representation for Dalits and backward castes in government, power, education and employment. But Periyar's thought and action were not restricted to these areas because he was a free wheeling rationalist thinker who spoke, wrote and advocated ideas on many social, political and intellectual issues including feminism, sexual liberty of women, Tamil language reformation, opposition to Hindi, separatism (which he advocated to bring in laws for annihilation of castes and not for reasons of linguistic chauvinism), and many other issues. 

Even though Mandal was for the advancement of all castes oppressed by the caste system, Mandal focused on affirmative action for backward castes because Dalits already had constitutionally guaranteed affirmative action. This does not mean Mandal ignored Dalits. Similarly, since affirmative action for Dalits was achieved already by Babasaheb Ambedkar, Periyar called for affirmative action for backward castes. This does not mean Periyar focused on only backward castes. Otherwise Periyar called for annihilation of all castes and the destruction of the caste system itself, and attacked all castes in his speeches for caste bigotry. Periyar has attacked caste bigotry of backward castes against Dalits in many of his speeches just as he attacked Brahmanism and Brahmans.  

It is also wrong for Thirumavalavan to state that Periyar has overthrown Brahman hegemony (as quoted by S.Anand). Brahman hegemony has not decreased even a wee-bit and Brahmans along with their allied “twice born” castes such as Baniyas (Vysyas) and Kshatriyas - are the ruling class of India who control the government machinery, bureaucracy, top leadership of national parties such as the Congress and the BJP, military officers corps, judiciary, business corporations, academia, arts and the media. Brahmans’ status as the “most superior” caste at the head of the caste supremacist system of graded inequality is intact as ever and they will safeguard their racist supremacist status and the caste system at all costs.  Brahmans have not lost their racist supremacist socio-religious status and their monopoly for priesthood in Hindu temples. Brahmans along with their “twice born” compatriots such as Baniyas (Vysyas) and Kshatriyas are indeed the apartheid governing class of India who are dividing and ruling the Indian Dravidian masses (backward castes and Dalits). Even though Periyar fought against Brahman hegemony, it is a fallacy to say that Periyar has overthrown Brahman hegemony, because Brahman hegemony is as intact as ever. 

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