Cursed By Caste


by- Dr Kanch Illaiah


I am a Modi watcher, like my father was a sheep watcher. Narendra Modi launched a massive campaign recently, with full-page advisements in national newspapers and on TV channels, with the caption “India First’’.

These advertisements declared that Mr Modi’s Gujarat, not India, is an “initiator, innovator and implementer”. In the 2004 elections, according to the Bharatiya Janata Party, India was shining, whereas now only Gujarat is shining. The “India First” campaign follows yet another famous campaign of Mr Modi: Chai pe Charcha.


The slogans “India First” and “Chai pe Charcha” are a contradiction in terms of the innovational history of Gujarat and the global drink called chai (tea). The concept “India First” implies that India should become as innovative as Gujarat. Quite tragically, however, when the BJP picked chai as a metaphor for Mr Modi’s innovativeness and creativity, they did not realise that the drink chai was invented by China, which is being projected as the Hindutva-wadi’s enemy nation.

Chai came to India through the British colonialists. According to Wikipedia, “The history of tea is long and complex, spreading across multiple cultures over the span of thousands of years. Tea likely originated in Yunnan, China, during the Shang Dynasty (1500 BC-1046 BC) as a medicinal drink. The earliest credible record of tea drinking dates to the 3rd century AD, in a medical text written by Hua T’o. Tea was first introduced to Portuguese priests and merchants in China during the 16th century… Drinking tea became popular in Britain during the 17th century. The British introduced tea production, as well as consumption to India, in order to compete with the Chinese monopoly on tea.”


Chai, thus, is universal. The cultural nationalism of the BJP is against multi-culturalism, through which chai evolved and reached India. The BJP is willing to own tea as Indian but not religions like Islam and Christianity that have foreign origin but are very much Indian as well. Like tea, religions also evolve through complex cultural transformation. Quite a lot of chaiwalas in India belong to those religions.


I am sure so far Gujarat has not invented or even innovated anything that can be picked up by Wikipedia. The only thing that India, including Gujarat, innovated is the caste system, which became a hindrance for the sort of innovations that people in China or Europe or America were engaged with.


Even the developmental model that organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Swadeshi Jagaran Munch are cooking up for Mr Modi’s campaign is silent about the social churning required for economic innovations.

Mr Modi, who talks of “India First”, does not seem to realise that so long as there exists caste and human untouchability in India, and so long as there is no cure for this disease in his discourse on development, innovation of any kind will remain a mirage. If I’m wrong, let Mr Modi’s think tank show at least one great discovery or innovation — at any point in time, leave alone the 12 years when Mr Modi was at the helm of Gujarat affairs — that Gujarat can lay claim to, one that has become part of global science.


Mr Modi and his think tank should know that Gujarat is a very superstitious society, with brutal casteism, communalism and obscurantist vegetarianism. How much scientific innovation can take place in an obscurantist, superstitious and communal society?


Thus, the BJP’s “India First’’ nationalism can only boast of constructing a social system that does not allow a “Chai pe Charcha” among pundits and producers of tea in the tea gardens of India. The nation will be happy if Tirupati or Vaishno Devi temple priests or the heads of Shankaracharya mutts that the Hindutva forces promote, sit with Mr Modi and drink chai made by his mother (whom I respect immensely). If he can invite me, a golla-kuruma from Telangana, for such a “Chai pe Charcha”, I will vote for him for the great change that he is bringing.


Mr Modi must know that development in India means economic advancement plus social change.


How can India be first in innovations and discoveries with a social system that does not allow people eating and drinking together? How can a nation advance in science and technology with a social system that considers all human beings unequal by birth?


The origins of that iniquitous philosophy are embedded in Hindu spiritual ethos. Which India, then, is Mr Modi talking about? Is it a dalit India, an OBC India or brahminic India? Which should be first, which should be second and third? In each of these Indias (even in the India the BJP likes to call “Bharat”) women’s position is horrible. What development can a nation have if women cannot think of inter-caste (choice) marriage?


Mr Modi and I are of the same age and from similar backward social backgrounds, but I feel ashamed of my community culture which does not allow a dalit girl to get married on her own choice, or into some other caste in my own village. Yes, so far my agenda of social reform is a failed agenda. What about Mr Modi’s? Did untouchability get abolished in his great state of Gujarat? Does Gujarat allow official registration of marriage by choice between a Hindu girl and Muslim boy? What about food rights of people there?


Mr Modi, can a Hindu dalit or OBC or a woman become a priest in Somnath temple, the one you have been promoting relentlessly? If all human beings do not have equal spiritual rights, how can your India be first in human dignity? Do you know that scientific discoveries had a breakthrough where there is dignity of labour? Every child and adult should have a right to pursue a profession of his/her choice, including that of priesthood. Is it available in the religion that you practice?

Yes, I too want India to be first in everything, including in admitting our weaknesses and mistakes. What about you?



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