The Dawn: Nov 06, 2015

PUNJAB NOTES: Not all the Hindus are Hindus!

Mushtaq Soofi 

Our post-Partition generations know little, for obvious reasons, about the baffling, complex Hindu society in India.

The Hindu society in India, though overwhelmingly dominant, needs to be differentiated from the overall Indian society that comprises, apart from Hindus, many other faith-based communities such as Jains, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.

What we in Pakistan perceive to be the Hindu community is not all that Hindu as it is made out to be. Dalit (the untouchables) and Adivasi (original inhabitants/indigenous people) are in fact not in the Hindu fold. But first, a few lines about the words ‘India’ and ‘Hindu’. India is derived from the Old Persian word ‘Hinduš’ which has its origin in the word ‘Indus’. Indus comes from the word Sindhu, the historical appellation of the biggest river of Pakistan. The ancient Greeks borrowed it from Persians and called it Indos. They referred to Indians as Indoi which means the people of the Indus. So both words India and Hindu, to the utter dismay of exponents of Hindutva, evoke an image of the land now called Pakistan. Bharat, the present official name of India, enshrined in the constitution, has everything to do with the history of the Punjab. It is named after the Vedic tribe of Bharatas that inhabited the Punjab in the second millennium BCE. So much for the Hindutva purity!

What the Persians called Hinduš and Greeks Indoi is a geographical description as it says a little about the nature of the society, religion and culture of this region. The Hindu society is unambiguously defined by caste system which has its roots in the historical encounter of epic proportion between Harappa people and Aryans. The Rig-Veda, revealed or composed on the banks of Erivati (present day Ravi) in the Punjab, tells us in a mythopoeic fashion about the origins of social division that still holds sway despite many a historical transformation. The Rig-Veda says that the self-destruction of Purush, the primal man, brought human society into existence. The whole society was divided into four Varnas; the Brahmins, the Kashatrias, the Vaishias and Shudras. The Brahmins came out of Purusha’s head, the Kashatrias from his arms, the Vaishias from his thighs and Shudras from his feet. Different organs of Purush determined the metaphysically sanctioned social status of different Varnas in an inflexible hierarchy. Thus the Brahmins were declared the religious/intellectual leaders, the Kashtrias the warriors/rulers, the Vaishias the farmers/artisans/craftsmen, and Shudras the labourers/menial workers. This stratification initially was an outcome of racial and ethnic discrimination that ensued from the fair-skinned Aryans’ victory over the dark-skinned Harappa people, the ancient inhabitants of the Indus valley. Varna (Varn) means colour. The social division was colour-based imposed by the victorious fair-skinned to their advantage. The victors became the masters and the vanquished the slaves. In the Punjabi language we still use ‘Van’ with letter R dropped for colour. ‘Vano Van’ means of different colours. ‘Van Savann’ means colour diversity, and ‘kanak Vanna’ means the one whose skin colour is like that of wheat.

Historical evidence suggests that not all the locals were branded as Shudras. Class factor also played a role in determining the status of local persons as to which Varna they would belong. The wealthy and powerful Dravidians could join the club of upper Varnas on certain conditions by offering high value presents and a share of their wealth. At the other end of spectrum Aryans who happened to live at socio-economic fringes were pushed into Shudras’ enclosure. It surprises you when you come across the dark-skinned Brahmins and Kashtrias (some of the Rajputs for example), and the fair-skinned sweepers among the descendants of Shudras. The myth of racial purity proves hollow if examined empirically and critically.

Then there were large groups which remained outside the Aryan fold. They were the wretched of the earth, lower than Shudras in status and were generally known as untouchables. Since the Brahmins had pathologically been obsessed with the idea of ritual cleanliness, they declared all those who did supposedly polluting jobs, untouchables. The untouchables of today are descendants of Shudras and pre-Aryan indigenous communities who after being subjugated were forced to adopt the so-called polluting professions. This was in fact a politico-religious ploy to retain the power of the dominant Varnas. Varna system was based on the distinctions of colour. But later on the Aryan elite, religious and secular, evolved caste system which stemmed from Varna division of society. Caste system (Jati Dharma) within the loose framework of Varnas gradually re-aligned different social groups along the lines of their supposed descent and professions. And most menial professions were assigned to the untouchables who were not allowed to touch the higher castes. They in fact were required to stand at a distance while talking to their upper caste overlords. Dalits and Adivasi, the perennial flotsam of Indian society, form the bulk of the untouchables in the present-day India. Though culturally Indians, they are not Hindus if viewed from the perspective of upper castes. Their ways of eating, dressing and worshiping are different from those of upper castes which set them apart as people with a distinct identity, older than Brahminic hocus-pocus flaunted as a marker of Indian identity.

Hindus are not a monolithic entity and have never been. Hindutva (Hindu hood) is a glossy con that reflects the upper caste extremist ideology driven by religious nationalism of Brahminc persuasion. On the one hand it is an attempt to hide the age old cleavage of the Indian society caused by caste system and on the other a strategic move to undermine the role of minorities (Muslims, Sikhs, Christians etc.) by appropriating the untouchables who are more oppressed than minorities at socio-economic and cultural level. The untouchables are not Hindus though they look like them to an undiscerning eye. So our young people who rarely interact with Indians ought to be aware that all the Hindus are not Hindus. And even a sizable number of enlightened intellectuals and thinkers from upper castes debunk loudly and clearly the pernicious myth of Hindutva that negates the historical evolution of Indian society as pluralistic and diverse underpinned by constant resistance against the people’s acceptance of human inequality by osmosis. —

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