The RSS is trying to spread a series of lies about its dearest ideologue and the foremost creator of the concept of “Hindu Rashtra” – Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Shamsul Islam has exposed some of them in his book Savarkar: Mithak Aur Sach (Savarkar: Myths and Truth). Now, the RSS is vending another untruth – that Savarkar was India’s first Dalit emancipator. This is the biggest falsehood that the RSS has mouthed in the recent past. The proponent of this idea is Vivek Arya, who wrote a blog that focused on Savarkar as a Dalit emancipator on 27 May 2012. Desicnn.com shared the article on 26 February 2017 and the RSS organ Panchjanya may also have published it. The article has now appeared in the latest (July 2017) issue of RSS’ Dalit Andolan Patrika.
The RSS has been concocting history to brainwash Dalits. It has been stirring up people using fake news, misrepresentative photos and distorted facts, and inciting riots. Vivek Arya’s article is the latest in the series of these falsehoods. Let us see how. The writer (Vivek Arya) describes Savarkar’s decision to apologize to the British to secure his release from jail as “act of diplomacy”. He says, “Like Veer Shivaji, Savarkar too chose to be diplomatic, as he knew that if he spent his life in the dark dungeons of Andaman, it would be a wasted life. And as a part of that strategy, he requested the government to release him conditionally.” He was released from the jail on 6 January 1924 after he offered an apology to the government. The conditions for his release were that he would stay within the limits of Ratnagiri district for five years, he would not leave the district apart from in an emergency or with the permission of the district magistrate. That was not all. He was not to participate in any political activity either in public or in private. These restrictions were to remain in force till January 1929.
The writer, Vivek Arya, determined to prove Savarkar’s Dalit-emancipator credentials, writes, “On 8 January 1924, Savarkar announced that he planned to stay in Ratnagari for a long time and he would launch a movement to end untouchability. He told the people present that if anyone among them was an untouchable, he should come forward. And then he seated some Mahar brethren on his bullock cart.”
Is this story believable? Is this the way a movement to end untouchability is launched – “let untouchables come forward”? Even if the writer wanted to fabricate a story, he should have used his brains. What kind of Dalit emancipator was Savarkar? For no Mahar writer has even mentioned his name. Dr Ambedkar describes Savarkar as an extremist Hinduvadi leader. Had he been India’s first Dalit emancipator, wouldn’t have Dr Ambedkar mentioned it in his history of the Dalit movement? The reality is that this despicable project of the RSS is aimed at undermining Dr Ambedkar. Reason? 1) Dr Ambedkar also hailed from Ratnagiri district and the RSS is out to prove that Savarkar was the first Dalit emancipator from Ambedkar’s home district. 2) Dr Ambedkar launched his first movement in 1927 by asserting the right of the Dalits to draw water from the Mahad pond, and that is why the RSS wants to bring Savarkar on the scene in 1924. But probably the RSS men do not know that even before that, in 1922, the Bombay Legislature Council had passed a Bill tabled by S. K. Bole allowing Untouchables access to public utilities and that this Bill had formed the basis of the Mahad Satyagraha. These dimwits do not even know that Ambedkar had founded the Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha on 20 July 1924. Its objective was to make the Dalits aware of their rights. Were the problems of Untouchables only about “touchability”? Come, touch me. Were education, dignified occupation, freedom from menial jobs and political partnership not their issues? But Vivek Arya has not quoted even one example of Veer Savarkar launching an agitation for Dalits’ right to education, dignified work or political rights or standing by the Dalits in such struggles.
Another question is that when Savarkar was virtually under house arrest from 1924 to 1929 and was barred from participating in public activities, how could he have launched a movement for emancipation of the Dalits, given that the nature of any such agitation had to be essentially political?
The writer also says that Savarkar had the “Patitpavan” (purifier of the fallen) temple – a temple meant for both the savarnas and the Dalits – built. Just pay attention to the name – a temple that purifies the fallen. Now who is fallen here? Obviously, it could not have been the savarnas. They are born “pavan”. Clearly, the Untouchables must have been “patit”. When they visit the Patitpavan Temple, they become “pavan”. This is what emancipation of Dalits means to the Brahmins of the RSS – hypocritical, false and phony. Which Dalit will believe that Savarkar, who considered them “patit”, can be their emancipator? Dalit consciousness strives to give Dalits the status of a human being – not of a “patit” or an Untouchable. A person who considers Dalits “patit” can never be their emancipator.
The writer has referred to some incidents to prove the Dalit-emancipator credentials of Savarkar. The first among them is:
“About 10-15 days after reaching Ratnagiri, Savarkar ji was invited to a function for ‘pranprathistha’ of Hanuman ji’s idol at Madia. Savarkar told the priest of the temple that Dalits should also be invited to the function. First, the priest refused, but eventually, he agreed. A teenager called Shri Moreshwar Dayal asked Savarkar why he was having such a long discussion with an ordinary person like the priest. Savarkar ji’s reply was that actions spoke louder than hundreds of articles or speeches and he would see that at the next Hanuman Jayanti.”
The writer does not reveal what miracle took place on the next Hanuman Jayanti, but there is a second story:
“On 29 May 1929, Shri Satyanarayan Katha was organized at Ratnagiri, in which Savarkar ji gave a speech against casteism. His speech was so impressive that Mahars and Chamars, who were sitting separately, decided to have refreshments together.”
It is but natural that being a victim of casteism, every Dalit likes to hear anyone speak against the practice. But the writer does not tell us what exactly Savarkar said in his speech. The third story goes like this:
“In 1934, community feast and bhajans were organized in the locality of the untouchables at Maalwan. The untouchables were ceremoniously made to wear the sacred thread and the children started being seated without any discrimination in school. In 1937, untouchables cooked the lunch served at the farewell function for Savarkar when he was leaving Ratnagiri, and both savarnas and untouchables partook of it.”
The writer should also have revealed as to which Varna the Untouchables who accepted the sacred thread were placed in – because the scriptures do not allow the Untouchables to wear the sacred thread – and also the present condition of the descendants of the thread-wearer Untouchables. Be that as it may, here is the fourth story:
“Once Satyanarayan Katha was organized at the home of a chamar of Shirgaon, to which Savarkar ji was also invited. Savarkar ji discovered that the Chamar ‘mahodaya’ had not invited a single Mahar. He told him, ‘I know that you will feel happy if we Brahmins come to your place but I will accept your invitation only if you will also invite the Mahars.’ Then, the Chamar ‘mahodaya’ also invited the Mahars.”
The fifth story is like this:
“In 1928, Savarkar ji gave a speech at Shivabhangi on opening the Bitthal Temple to the untouchables. In 1930, flowers were offered to the idol of Ganesh ji in the presence of Savarkar ji, even as Shiv Bhangi read the Gayatri Mantra.”
What a similarity of names – Shivabhangi and Shiv Bhangi.
The sixth story is:
“In 1931, Shankaracharya Kurtkoti inaugurated the Patitpavan Temple and Chamar leader Shri Raja Bhoj performed the ‘padapuja’ (worship of the feet) of the Shankaracharya. Veer Savarkar announced that all Hindus would have the right to perform puja in the temple and a non-Brahmin would be appointed its priest.”
Bhagoji Seth Keer built the Patitpavan temple in Ratnagiri in 1931 and it was meant only for the Untouchables. Savarnas did not visit the temple. This temple was built because at that time, a movement for allowing Untouchables into temples was sweeping through the subcontinent. The conservative Hindus were opposed to this movement. Through his movement for opening the doors of the Kalaram Temple in Nashik to Untouchables, he had shown to the world that there was no place for social and religious equality in the Hindu religion. All Hindu leaders, including Gandhiji, were partners in this movement that aimed at doing away with untouchability and converting the Untouchables into Hindus. But Ambedkar had made it clear that only temple entry was not the objective of the Dalits. Their objective was freedom from slavery under the Hindus. That was why the leaders of the Congress, the Arya Samaj, the Hindu Mahasabha, the RSS and other Hindu outfits turned Dalit emancipators overnight. Shuddhi Andolan emerged; it arranged the testimony before the Simon Commission of “Untouchables” wearing new clothes in which they said that they had no complaints against the Hindus and they wanted to stay with them. Later, it was revealed that those “Untouchables” wearing new clothes were, in fact, savarnas. Had Ambedkar not seen through this sham and not made the Simon Commission aware of the reality, the deceitful move of the Hindus would have succeeded and the liberation of the Dalits would have been scuttled.
Now, let us come to the so-called Dalit-emancipator Savarkar. We cannot claim that the six stories Vivek Arya has narrated to prove the Dalit-emancipator credentials of Savarkar are made up. But it would be patently wrong to describe him as India’s first Dalit emancipator on the basis of these stories. It would be equally wrong to say that nothing was done for the emancipation of the Dalits before Dr Ambedkar came on the scene. But what was done was mainly cosmetic.
In the Muslim era, a large number of Untouchables embraced Islam and this process continued till the 16th century. At the time, the Brahmins launched the Bhakti movement to save the Hindu religion. Ramanuj and his disciple Ramanand, raising the slogan “Jaatpaat puche nahi koyee, hari ko bhaje so hari ka hoyee” (Caste is of no consequence; whosoever prays to the god becomes his), had started turning Chandals into Vaishnavs by chanting the “Ram Mantra” from a distance. They later came to be known as Vaishnav Chandals. These untouchable Vaishnavs were not allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum of temples. Vaishanavan Ki Varta tells us that these Vaishnavs were served leftovers of the Brahmins and the day there were no leftovers, they had to go to sleep on an empty stomach. The logic was that the leftovers of the Brahmins were leftovers of gods and eating them opened the doors to salvation. In the Muslim era, Hindus only faced religious and not political threat. But after the British arrived, the Hindus also faced political threat. Christian missionaries started educating the Untouchables and many of them converted to Christianity. In this respect, Christian missionaries became the first Dalit emancipators of India.
The British also brought with them the idea of democracy. The untouchable castes had access to education, which made them conscious of their rights. This is when Hindus came under political threat.
The demand for separate electorate by the Dalits only worsened the apprehensions of the Hindus. The Hindus were now facing twin challenges – first, religious, triggered by Dalits embracing Christianity and the second, political, which arose from the Dalits emerging as a political force. That was why the Hindus started taking a stand against untouchability. In the 19th century itself, Swami Dayanand and Swami Vivekananda, among others, had started working for the emancipation of the Dalits. Undoubtedly, Swami Dayanand did great work. He started Arya schools in Dalit localities. His opposition to untouchability, religious dogma and idol worship deeply influenced the Dalits. Didn’t then Swami Dayanand precede Savarkar as a Dalit emancipator?
But all these programmes for the emancipation of the Dalits were basically political in nature and aimed at keeping the Dalits in the Hindu fold, so that the Hindus could continue to lord over them. What Veer Savarkar did was nothing great. His concerns about Dalits were confined to the Shri Satyanarayan Katha, Hanuman puja, community feasts, temple entry and the construction of Patitpavan Temple. What else did he do? Did he do anything to make the Dalits aware of their political rights? Did he establish any school, college or hostel to help educate Dalits? Did he launch any movement to free Dalits from dirty and menial occupations? Did he lobby for government jobs for Dalits? Where was Savarkar when Dr Ambedkar launched the Mahad Satyagraha in 1927? Where was Savarkar when Ambedkar launched the Kalaram Temple agitation in 1930? Savarkar did not play any role in these two path-breaking movements. Does he become a Dalit emancipator only because he got Dalits access to the Satyanarayan Katha or Patitpavan temple? If that is so, Savarkar’s efforts are just laughable.
There is evidence to show that Samta Sangh, which Dr Ambedkar founded in the early days of his social work, included savarna social reformers, and that the Hindu Mahasabha, led by Savarkar, supported Vedic marriages and “janeu” festivals. This was the demand of the Mahar Dalits. But there were separate priests for them, who were called Gosavi or Joshi. There is also historical evidence to show that the Dalits of Vidarbha had worked for consolidating Hindu unity. In the 1920s and 1930s, however, they gave up savarna-centred Hinduvad under the influence of Dr Ambedkar. (The Caste Question, Anupama Rao, 2011, p32, 303, 65)
Another pertinent question is that why Vivek Arya has not quoted Savarkar’s view on the caste system. Just as he had related the stories of temples and Satyanarayan Katha, he should also have told his readers whether Savarkar believed in the caste system or not. To argue that had he believed in the caste system he wouldn’t have opposed untouchability does not hold water, for leaders like Dayanand, Vivekananda and Gandhiji too were opposed to untouchability, but they all believed in the caste system. For them untouchability and caste system were two different things. Needless to say, this is pure hypocrisy. How can you uphold the caste system and oppose untouchability, which is born of the caste system? Like them, Savarkar also believed in the caste system. That is not all. He believed that Manusmriti was a scripture that should be revered.
He writes: “Manusmriti is that scripture which is most worshippable after Vedas for our Hindu Nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture, customs, thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation. Even today, the rules, which are followed by crores of Hindus in their lives and practice, are based on the Manusmriti. Today Manusmriti is Hindu Law.” (Savarkar: Mithak Aur Sach, Shamshul Islam, 2006, p 90; quoted from Savarkar Samagra, Volume 4, p 415).
If the Manusmriti was worshippable for this so-called “first emancipator of the Dalits”, then the laws of Manu must also have been worshippable for him. Some of them are:
- Let him not give advice to a Shudra. (4/80)
- There should be no social interaction with the Untouchables. (10/53)
- A Shudra should not be allowed to accumulate wealth. (10/129)
- The remnants of their (Brahmin) food must be given to him (Shudra servant), as well as their old clothes, the refuse of their grain, and their old household furniture. (10/125)
The same Savarkar, whom Vivek Arya describes as a supporter of opening the temples to Dalits, gave assured the Hindus who believe in the caste system and untouchability on 20 June 1941: “The Hindu Mahasabha will never insist on framing laws to allow entry of Untouchables into ancient temples, nor will it demand any law on old customs or sacraments of such temples. As far as personal law is concerned, the Mahasabha will generally never support a Bill for thrusting reformist thoughts on the Sanatani brethren.” (ibid, Shamsul Islam, p 94, quoted from Savarkar Samagra, Volume 6, p 415).
It is clear that Savarkar’s Dalit emancipation was nothing but a big sham. He considered the caste system a good system that “conserved the purity of the Hindu race by preventing admixture of blood” (ibid p 74-75).
The RSS-brand Hindus have a misconception that Hindus, especially Brahmins, are of pure blood. Had that been so, all Brahmins would have been fair-complexioned. How is it that there are dark-skinned Brahmins and fair-complexioned Dalits? Why was Maryadapurshottam Rama wheatish and his brother Laxman fair?
It is true that Savarkar and his Hindu Mahasabha had opposed untouchability and had supported entry of Dalits into some temples but they had done it to stop conversions. They were not driven by any feeling of respect for Dalits. They feared that if Dalits converted to Islam or Christianity, Hindus would become a minority. Savarkar knew that the 70 million Untouchables could not be expected to stand by the side of the Hindus if the Hindus were not sympathetic to their plight. “This force of 70 million-strong Hindus is not on our side. Because of the inhuman boycott we subjected them to, they will not only be of no benefit to us but also become a ready tool at the hands of our enemies to divide our house, surely causing massive damage.” (ibid p 14, Shamsul Islam, p 117-18).
This comment alone by Savarkar is enough to expose the Dalit politics of all Hindu organizations, including the RSS, and to also show that Savarkar was not even the last emancipator of the Dalits, let alone the first.
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