Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd
The anti-Shudra, Dalit and women language of Tulsidas in his Ramcharitamanas engendered a major controversy in North India. Its impact could also be seen in the South, which already had a strong Shudra mobilization history. He equated them with animals and drums and wanted to keep punishing them forever. The new consciousness of the Shudras, Dalits and women is not going to accept this kind of writing. They do not want their children to study these historical humiliating books in the schools, colleges and universities. It is a known fact that the RSS/BJP want to impose all such books in our educational institutions.
All over the country the Shudra consciousness is opposing such books. Regional language articles and opinions keep appearing in the South Indian languages. It will not die down soon, because the defenders of Tulsidas are not saying that such abusive sentences were interpolations, not of original writer, as they do in the case of ancient Sanskrit books that used caste cultural abusive language. They earlier were making the Muslims and colonial rulers and writers responsible for caste division among the Hindus on caste lines to sustain their political power and economic exploitation.
This line of argument was first developed by the RSS supporting Dwija writers and speakers, as there were hardly any Shudra or Dalit writers in those ranks. All the defenders of Tulsidas and his book as their spiritual grandh are Dwija RSS/BJP leaders or the saints, sadhus, who are Brahmins. No Shudra/Dalit from the RSS/BJP ranks can defend this kind of abuse of food producers, cattle grazers, pot makers, leather workers, barbers, weavers and so on. This abusive language of Tulsidas is against the nation’s wealth creators, which in essence means against the nation. The Shudra/Dalit/Adivasis working in RSS/BJP cannot defend that language, as they too have self respect.
Tulsidas wrote this book during Akbar-Jahangir rule. As information available on the internet shows that it was written in the end of 16th century. That in essence means that it was written during Akbar’s rule. Akbar died in 1605 while sitting on the throne. Tulsidas died in 1623. That was the time Shudras/Dalits were struggling with nature to bring vast areas of land under cultivation. Deforestation, agriculture expansion were the main burden of the Shudras and Dalits. The Dwijas, more particularly the Brahmins, to which community Tulsidas belonged, were not even respecting agriculture work as spiritually respectable. They designated all agricutural operations as Shudra kaam (work). It was then he was writing that “ढोल गवाँर सूद्र पसु नारी। सकल ताड़ना के अधिकारी।(ḍhōla gavāomra sūdra pasu nārī. sakala tāḍanā kē adhikārī). “A drum, an illiterate, a Shudra, a beast and a woman — all deserve punishment”.
Punishment by whom? Punishment by his God Rama and by the Mughal State, which was imposing heavy land taxes on the Shudra farmers. Agrarian masses- men and women–were starving. But the Dwijas had protective valves in Akbar’s administration.
Tulsidas knew that the Mughal state during Akbar rule was run by Birbal and Todar Mal. According to Wikipedia Birbal, was a Saraswat Bhatt Brahmin advisor and main commander (Mukhya Senapati) of the army in the court of the Mughal emperor. . He had a close association with Emperor Akbar and was one of his most important courtiers, part of a group called the navaratnas (nine jewels).
Todar Mal was the finance minister of Akbar. According to Wikpidia Todar Mal was Kayastha with a scribe background. He was the Finance Minister (Mushriff-i-Diwan) of the Mughal empire during Emperor Akbar‘s reign. He was also the Vakil-us-Sultanat (Counsellor of the Empire) and Joint Wazir. He was one of the premier nobles in the Mughal Empire and was a Mansabdar of 4000. He was one of the Navaratnas in Akbar’s court. Under Todar Mal, there were 15 other Dewans nominated for 15 Subahs of Akbar. He must have appointed many Brahmins, Rajputs and Kayasthas as wazirs, Mansabdars Navaratnas in that regime.
The Shudras, Dalit and Adivasis must have been living in the worst oppressive conditions in that Muslim-Dwija medieval state that was collecting back breaking land rents and other taxes from the peasantry. Even a very well known expert on Mughal history Irfan Habib has not told us what was the state of the Shudras/Dalits/Adivasis in such Muslim and Dwija collaborated deep state. His Marxism remained blind folded when it came to examining caste cultural and economic relations.
Tulsidas wrote his horrible casteist book in that socio political and religious milieu in Akbar’s kingdom.
If Brahmins were against Muslims and Muslim rule Tulsidas should have appealed to Ram to punish the Muslim rulers or all Muslims. But he did not do that. In his entire writing there is no single sentence against Muslim rulers or Akbar. But he was pleading with Ram, his God, to punish Shudras/Dalits and women of all castes–including the Brahmin women. This writer for the RSS/BJP forces becomes a prophet and his abusive book becomes a ‘Holy Granth’. Is it not surprising? Do they think that Shudras and Dalits are still living under the spell of their karma theory even now?
The categories of Shudra and Chandala are now designated as Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Scheduled Castes in the constitutional scheme. They were not used just for social or work based identity purposes in Tulsidas writing. The designations were used to keep the productive masses as perpetual slaves in all Sanskrit texts. Tulsidas was not the first or last to use that language. Even later the Brahmin, Ksatriya mindset continued. The fact that Yogi Adithyanath, a Ksatriya, washed the CM house with cow milk and urine for Shuddikaran when he first occupied it, because Akhilesh Yadav was a Shudra living in that house prior to him. This is an expression of the same caste cultural arrogance. This has to be fought.
The present defense of Tulsidas’ anti-Shudra, Dalit and women heritage is part of the RSS/BJP hundred years cultural heritage. Its top leaders spoke one thing publicly and another thing in their Nagpur discourses. In public platforms the Shudra/Dalit masses are told we are all Hindus and we are one organic unit. The enemies are Muslims and Christians. Let us not forget that the RSS even now is headed by Brahmins. Most intellectuals in the country come from that community background, whether they call themselves left or liberal. They are all silent spectators of the present debate as they were during the Mandal debate in the 1990s.
However, there is no single text that the Brahmin writers wrote against Muslim rulers when they were in power. They started writing against Muslim anti-Indianness only while the British colonial rulers were in power. Savarkar or Bannkim Chandra’s writings against Muslims were written during British rule–particularly after the 1857 rebellion of soldiers. But they were continuously writing against the Shudra and Dalits.
During the Mandal movement a massive amount of literature was brought out against them in the name of merit. But the Shudras collectively never encountered them. Because they were more rigorously divided on caste lines. After the Mandal movement they were again divided as reserved and unreserved Shudras. Some Shudra castes hoped that they could join the ranks of Ksatriyas. In UP Jats went in that path with a hope they would be equal to Ksatriyas. But Yogi Adithyanath has shown their place. With the three farm laws they realized there is a deep state situation against them at Delhi.
Muslims are a global community with a population living in 56 nations with a common cultural identity and also political power. Though the RSS has been campaigning against Indian Muslims and Pakistan but they know if they continue this forever there will be a global mobilization against Hindutva and also RSS/BJP. The BBC documentary is one such global response. But the oppression or even violence against Dalits/Adivasis/Shudras will be treated as Hindu internal matter by the outside world .
And the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi historical backwardness in the backdrop of Tulsidas’ kind of violent campaigns against their education, employment kept them still backward and organizationally weak.
Not the Dwijas working around the Congress and other parties would behave differently when it comes to cultural and educational issues of the Shudras/Dalits and Adivasis. Abolition of caste cultural inequalities and oppression by disagreeing with the ancient and medieval Brahminic texts like that of Tulsidas will be seen as the beginning of erosion of their authority in the Indian civil society and the state. That is the reason why all Dwija intellectuals are silent on this issue.
However, the Shudras, Dalits and Adivasis will not tolerate such books and arguments now. They will be prepared to fight to the end of this humiliation and exploitation.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author. His latest book is The Shudras–Vision For a New Path, co-edited with Karthik Raja Kuruppusamy. He is now working on a book The Shudra Rebellion–History From the Field Memories