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Why remember casteist Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan on Teacher’s Day?

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was a staunch supporter of the Varna and caste system. Dr Ambedkar and Rahul Sankrityayan have branded him as a hypocritical religious preacher. How can Radhakrishnan usurp the place earned by Jotirao Phule? asks Kanwal Bharti:

Jotirao Phule’s birth anniversary should be celebrated as Teacher’s Day

It is baffling why Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s birthday has been recognized as Teacher’s Day. What qualities of his prompted the Congress government of the day to take this step? What made it glorify Radhakrishnan as an educationist, when he was actually a hypocrite and a staunch casteist? He made no contribution to the development of education in India. Indeed, most of his recommendations as the president of University Education Commission, after his appointment in 1948, were downright backward, regressive in nature. Regarding women’s education, he observed that women and men are equal but they have different domains, hence women’s education should be such that she becomes an ideal mother and an ideal housewife[1]. This gives us an idea of his standards as an educationist.

How interesting that we blame the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for spreading the brahmanical culture even though the credit for its establishment goes to the Congress. Fascinated by the Vedas and Upanishads and the Varna system, it foisted on the country a staunch supporter of Hindutva as an educationist. How can someone who considers the Varna system as the ideal support universal education? No Hindu ruler can be given credit for universalization of education. The British alone made that possible. Had they not opened up education to the public, would Jotirao have been educated? It was after he received an education from the Scottish Mission School that he understood its importance, and along with Savitribai set up schools for Bahujans and women. Given this history, if there is anybody in India whose birthday should be celebrated as Teacher’s Day it is the great hero of the Bahujans, Jotirao Phule. How can Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan usurp Phule’s credentials?

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan is hailed as a great philosopher of India. In reality, he was a religious preacher, not a philosopher. In a very systematic way, he established himself as the last philosopher in the tradition of Adi Shankaracharya. Like Shankaracharya, Radhakrishnan also upheld the condemnable rules enunciated in the Manusmriti. He observed that the Manusmriti is basically a religious text, a compilation of moral values, and that it re-established the glory of customs and traditions at a time when they were being undermined[2]. He rued that with the loosening of traditional values the power of orthodoxy – which recognizes Vedic yagyas and considers Varna (determination of caste based on birth) as the will of God – also had waned. Therefore, he said, acquisition of knowledge is the duty of the Brahman; Kshatriya must protect the weak; business and agriculture is the responsibility of the Vaishya; and Shudra is duty-bound to serve others[3].

Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule, who introduced education to the Bahujans

This very same Radhakrishnan has proudly claimed in his book The Hindu View of Life, the way RSS does, that Hindu culture is not a recent culture; its historical evidence is more than 4,000 years old, and since then it has been evolving continuously[4]. Babasaheb Ambedkar has offered a strong rebuttal to this lofty claim in his much-discussed book Annihilation of Caste: “It seems to me that the question is not whether a community lives or dies; the question is on what plane does it live. There are different modes of survival. But not all are equally honourable. For an individual as well as for a society, there is a gulf between merely living, and living worthily. To fight in a battle and to live in glory is one mode. To beat a retreat, to surrender, and to live the life of a captive is also a mode of survival. It is useless for a Hindu to take comfort in the fact that he and his people have survived. What he must consider is, what is the quality of their survival. If he does that, I am sure he will cease to take pride in the mere fact of survival. A Hindu’s life has been a life of continuous defeat, and what appears to him to be life everlasting is not living everlastingly, but is really a life that is perishing everlastingly. It is a mode of survival of which every right-minded Hindu who is not afraid to own up to the truth will feel ashamed.”[5]

It is not the RSS alone that is enamoured by Radhakrishnan’s knowledge of Hinduism. Surprisingly, even the Supreme Court, in a judgment relating to R.Y. Prabhu and P.K. Kunde on 11 December 1995, based its decision on a line from Radhakrishnan’s book Indian Philosophy that says Hinduism is a way of life and a tolerant religion. No decision can be impartial or just unless Dr Ambedkar’s views are taken into account. Dharamvir Bharati[6] has aptly commented on this case: “But while pronouncing the judgment, the honorable Supreme Court has not taken into account what renowned scholar Rahul Sankrityayan has written: That Dr Radhakrishnan is an orthodox ‘religious preacher’.”[7]

Rahul Sankrityayan regarded Radhakrishnan as a hypocritical religious preacher

In the preface to Darshan Digdarshan Rahul Sankrityayan refers to Radhakrishnan’s remark that in ancient India philosophy was not muddled up with other sciences or arts at all and it enjoyed an independent and distinct status[8]. Sankrityayan’s response is that Indian philosophy may not have been muddled up with sciences or arts, but it has always been a muddled-up religion. He asks if there could be anything worse than this?[9]

That Radhakrishnan was a great philosopher is merely a mischievous propaganda. He was a Brahman writer who injected Hindutva into Indian philosophy, particularly Veda-Vedanta into Buddhist philosophy. Sankrityayan wrote that only a Hindu writer like Radhakrishnan[10] could make the irresponsibly audacious claim that Buddha was Dhyana and Prarthana Margi and believer in the supreme power[11]. Dr Ambedkar, in his essay “Krishna and Gita”, has also vehemently attacked the opinion  that Gita was written before Buddha[12]. Dr Ambedkar has proved with evidence that Gita was written to thwart the “counter revolution of Buddhism”[13].

Dr Ambedkar has rejected Radhakrishnan’s philosophy as illogical and unsubstantiated

Radhakrishnan’s whitewashing of Indian philosophy with Hindu culture was refuted thought-provokingly by Rahul Sankrityayan in his second book Vaigyanik Bhautikwad. He wrote that only the Western-educated Indians made the blunder of regarding Radhakrishnan as a great philosopher. His cites this advice of Radhakrishnan as proof to the contrary: When attacked, the intellect may seek refuge in Bhakti (devotion). Sankrityayan wrote that Radhakrishnan, as his name suggests, is a follower of Bhakti, adding that seeking refuge is an act of a coward and one should deal with it to the very end. According to Sankrityayan, the intellect is being challenged to evolve and those who are intellectually enlightened do not cease to evolve[14].

While Radhakrishnan observes that in India God created man and the success of its culture and civilization lies in its illiberal liberalism, Sankrityayan counters by asking how the Indian culture and civilization managed to declare a third of Hindus untouchable. “How did it prevent caste unity by ascribing caste discrimination to the system that emanated from Brahma’s mouth? … All this is due to illiberal liberalism and therefore man is the creation of God in India … We know that devotees and philosophers like Sir Radhakrishnan have so thoroughly misrepresented India for centuries that it is now more dead than alive.”[15]

In the same book, Rahul Sankrityayan writes, “People like Sir Radhakrishnan are acting as feeders to exploitation in India and doing what scientists like Sir Arthur Eddington have done to protect the interest of the clergy class of England.”

There can be no justification for remembering a staunch casteist and an ardent Hindu – in other words, a Brahmanvadi – like Radhakrishnan as an educationist[16].


[1] Dr Sitaram Jaiswal, Bharatiya Shiksha ka Itihaas, 1981, Prakashan Kendra, Sitapur Road, Lucknow, Page 259

[2] It is hinting at the period of Buddha. Clearly, Manusmriti was created after the period of Buddha

[3] Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Bharatiya Darshan (Hindi translation of Indian Philosophy), Volume 1, 2004, Rajpal & Sons, Delhi, Page 422

[4] Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Writing and Speeches, Volume I, 1989, Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai, Page 66

[5] Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Jati Ka Vinash (Hindi translation of Annihilation of Caste), trans Rajkishore, 2018, Forward Press, New Delhi, Page 96

[6] Dharamvir Bharati, Dalit Bharatiyata Banam Nyaypalika me Dwij Tatva, 1996, Page 6

[7] Rahul Sankrityayan, Darshan Digdarshan, 1944, Preface, Page 5

[8] Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, History of Philosophy, Volume I, Page 2 (Hindi translation by Nandkishore Gobhil, Volume 1, 2004, page 18)

[9] Rahul Sankrityayan, Darshan Digdarshan, 1998, Preface

[10] Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, Volume 1, First Edition, Page 355

[11] Rahul Sankrityayan, Darshan Digdarshan, Page 408

[12] Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writing and Speeches, Volume 3, 1987, Chapter 13

[13] Ibid, page 369

[14] Rahul Sankrityayan, Vaigyanik Bhautikwad 1981, Lokbharti, Allahbad, Page 64-65.

[15]Ibid, 80-81

[16] Ibid, 85


Translation: Parmanand Baiga; copy-editing: Anil

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About The Author

Kanwal bharti

Kanwal Bharti (born February 1953) is a progressive Ambedkarite thinker and one of the most talked-about and active contemporary writers. Dalit Sahitya Kee Avdharna and Swami Achootanand Harihar Sanchayita are his key books. He was conferred with Dr Ambedkar Rashtriya Award in 1996 and Bhimratna Puraskar in 2001

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